Sex on Fire, in my opinion, actually isn't that great -not only is the chorus lyric frankly embarrassing, but the song itself seems strained and laboured, a problem the Kings have ran into a few times before. If you're looking for this band's true contribution to the year's pop scorchers, look no further than track one of Only By the Night.
Kings of Leon have always had an ability to create substance from style, but on Closer that operating principle is taken to its most majestic limit. Almost minimalistic in its composition, defined as it is by the sombre, soft, modulated guitar line and deliberate drumming, both progressing at a languid yet certain pace that, when coupled with the gaping secondary guitar, opens up into an absolutely tidal movement.
This is pure atmosphere becoming pop and returning to the ether, but not before swallowing us whole.
And it has nothing to do with poor old Caleb's tacky imagery of spooky houses and stormy oceans, though it has everything to do with his yearning delivery.
Ah, these trebling, gutted digi-shards - couldn't possibly be mistaken for pop music could they? Well, I guess there's two ways you could say they are.
One just because these, no let's take an example and say this song - Air War - is of the now; contemporaneity one of pop's hallmarks. But not in just some narrow stylistic or trend sense (although that probz applies, choppy electronic music quite popular at the mo'), moreso in how this music pathologises our current techno-cultural condition. It is as if Air War is made up of the sonic bits and bytes of our day; the sound of our text message alerts, touchpad options, voice mail hang ups, laptop battery warnings, the noise an ATM machine makes when it spits your card back out. In one sense I guess this music always then teeters on the brink of being techno-fetishist, in the sense that it aestheticises this condition, it almost earmarks itself for the soundtrack to some IT company's latest cutting-edge commercial (too late).
This is partly why it initially seems an absolute joke that the outfit has a nominal 'singer' in the form of Alice Glass, whose role in the projection of anything resembling the unmediated human voice has long since been forgotten. Instead, Glass stands in as the voice-response, automated text-to-talk fembot that populates our phones and GPS systems, that nondescript femininity (woman always vocalises the machine) but now cut up into a thousand tiny little shreds like nodes in the network.
And yet all this likely off-putting-sounding stuff - vocal and digital snatches cut up and retracked as a song - is nevertheless thoroughly massaged into what is also a pop sound (not just 'concept', like 'being trendy'). Because the interesting thing about this song is really that its bits are far more than just 8. Crystal Castles enlist a fucking terabyte of engineering and data to produce sounds as if they came off a gameboy and kids electronic piano. All the glitch is also given a nice fat, rhythmic bass as bedding. And that's this song most finds its pop mark: over-production in service of simplicity. The only difference this time is that this simplicity is not rendered silk but mutated blip and blop. Because everything still functions in this song, integrates and hooks.
This is not the aesthetics of error, then, as one might initially peg Crystal Castles as making palatable. Instead, what they do allow us to swallow is the fact that no matter how many beeping buttons we push, how many times we get cut off, flipped out, dialled away, processed, connected, reconnected, no matter how much digital shredding our bodies and voices are subjected to/authorise, there is still something working in this techno-totalised culture that is soothing, satisfying, coherent. And Glass is the flesh in the shell.
Or you could just say they're pop becoz their album is not that gr8; stick w/ well-known, catchy singles like this one and Crimewave or Alice Practice.
Quantum of Solace is unaccountably awesome - wafer thin plot, brilliant action, a sense (but not sensibility) of emotional complexity, no real baddy. Then there's the Jack White and Alicia Keys theme, Another Way To Die.
So at the start it's all orchestral percussion section, with some far-out motorcycle-motor guitar effect, news-bulletin strings, etc etc.
But it's the subtle little things that really work this song into something great. Not the plinking piano key high notes that Alicia adds at various points throughout, though they are cool.
Nah, it's the really left-of-centre bits like the purposefully electronic-drum-kit-sounding electronic drum kit that lays down the bottom end, then the more-piano-than-piano lower notes that hang like butcher's hooks at around 0.36, then the hi-hat that sounds like the thing has had twenty cracks cut out of the metal. All of this over-produced/under-produced weirdness in the instrumentation is sweet.
But the best thing about the whole thing isn't even there yet - it's not only the fairly interesting gender tension between Jack and Alicia that gives this song a dynamic, but the fact that Jack (I'm inclined to think) has produced this thing in just the most bass-less, tinny way as possible so their voices come out as if they were gloriously untreated and without a bottom end. Like they're on one side of a concrete basement, mic at the other.
This textural quality lets itself loose across the whole song, actually, and every instrument starts to sound hollow, worn-out, ragged. Like a White Stripes song almost! But there's still the fairly controlled orchestral issues floating around the place, and a fairly rad guitar line, even some horns at some point.
Jack throws in a guitar solo quite irreverently over the top of what would normally be the 30 second highlight of this kind of song (a Bond theme song) - Alicia's wordless 'ooo bu do' female vocalist thingy, farting guitar just prickled all over it.
Quite possibly the most inspired moment, however, is the duelling, corkscrew 'o's that grate between Jack and Alicia at the song's climax (in trad narrative sense, ie, somewhere in the middle, then denouement) - it's got a bite and urgency behind it like Bond's never seen. It sucks up the whole song behind it, it's a barren desert no matter how much shit is going on.
And the lyrics, well 'another' gets trotted out like there's no tomorrow, the whole thing just piling up possibilities that can only end in the pseudo-nihilist sentiment of "It's just another way to diiiieee!" - it's more like Jack and Alicia are saying, what's this all for? It's just another way to kill and resurrect the Bond theme in a single blow. Quite suits this visceral Daniel Craig Bond, methinks.
[Unavailable thanks to DMCA drones]
In lieu of some bullshit year end wrap, I thought I might cap off the year with a series of posts on what I reckon are the year’s best pop singles, and try and get down to just why each one is so great.
First in line would have to be the smoothest darkest silk this year, Ne-Yo’s Closer. It comes off all intimate, erotic club romp on the first listen, with requisite elements: fast tempo, soft-padding doof beat vs wafered hi-hats, acoustic guitar loop for ‘live-ish’ authenticity quota, programmed handclaps, etc.
There's something quite melancholic about the whole thing, though. Beyond the very thematic thrust of the song, the whole seductive, possessive female bullshit, there's a kind of sadness in dude's voice that sort of gets echoed by the backing midi strings and acoustic guitar breaks, that can't quite be pulled under by the fast tempo, hi-hats and house beat.
The lyrics themselves contain some interesting bits. The first verse ends with this kind of transfer between certain object and unclear subject, a bit of a collegiate poetry manoeuvre but it shifts a kind of awkwardness into all the follows this:
"And I swear I know her face
I just don't know who you are"
The rest of the thing is this kind of sensory imbalance, with this fugitive female figure (I guess that's unavoidable, shit, I know, but unavoidable) kind of reorienting sound and sight as she pleases in order to rope in our protag:
"Turn the lights off in this place
And she shines just like a star
Turn the music up in here
I still hear her loud and clear"
It's like the club becomes a dream becomes some kind of washed out, darkened place of ambivalence and then even abandon to an uncontrollable force.
But this force, for me, isn't so much the woman's sexual advances as some kind of other feeling that is haunting Ne-Yo, something I'd like to call grief. Because notice in the chorus he's not referencing the woman at all, she's only there at most a distraction, or only the personification of a far more diffuse sense of resigned sadness that he is left crooning for almost the entire final half of the track.
The truly remarkable thing about this song for me, then, is how in both mood and lyric, it blurs the 'sense' one feels in romance with that in loss - something one can't stop doing (crying? making out?) that you "don't want to escape" or can't possibly?
It's even sadder then that the song itself never really comes to its own conclusion, that momentum that builds behind the whole thing is like a kind of dissipating.
So why not let's rewrite the lyrics, because this is how I heard them the first time, and it's how I'd like to keep them:
"And I just can't pull myself away
Under a spell I can't break
I just get by
I just get by"
Melancholy by (accidental) subterfuge; as is pop’s want.
But then you listen a couple of times and it all works itself out. Dude has latched on to the natural poetic meter of the Japanese language, its own inherent musicality contained within the pitch-accents of its formants, the way it trips along in ups and downs but in quite a harmonic, uniform sense. Like the highs and lows of the piano and beats that make up Makkuro Kurosuke, which builds itself from a Hayao Miyazaki film quote.
Gejius - Makkuro Kurosuke
Elementally, it's all tape recorder grot, fuzzy textures that seem very Chad Vangaalen influenced (dude recorded them), lot of wooden-sounding percussion that loops in interesting ways around the guitars which are kind of shitty-sounding but in a good way. The whole thing is very rickety and knife-edge but in a totally feel good pop way.
So anyway, I think Women's song-making ethos is informed by this kind of very straightforward attempt to shave off the extraneous but to still keep complexity and repetition within songs that might last only one minute. But 'Shaking Hand' goes for like a full 4.44. But it's an album unto itself. So, here goes:
You've just heard the kind of sunny-folky 'Transport Hall' which is one of those songs that goes for literally a minute, and it's all handclaps and tambo and strummed chorus that quietly builds to somewhere, and they've fit the chorus in twice by the time it gets to 1.06:
Soon we will be laughing
Out there on the landing
Now it's too bright
Dancing through ash
You made other plans
The last three lines are sung with an echo with this guy who don't sing normally and has a kind of raspier quality that pits off nice. Then it all winds up with this kind of amazing break for about two seconds after the glockenspiel stops and just at the very right beat, in come the guitars of 'Shaking Hand'.
So these guitars, this song, are a bit of a counterpoint to the whole album really. They come in real urgent, kind of barbed and almost with a kind of hardcore riff that you might get from say And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead. I'm thinking they might be arpeggio too.
They're soon joined by this brilliant stuttered, hollowed beat that kind of trips back on itself, and then in between these guitars and this drum a kind of full blown, 3D fucking circle of music emerges where every little inch of space within the song spectrum is taken up but only by two guitars and a drum beat. And they play off each other in this intricate way but it's not entirely intricate and it’s not really - but almost - prog or anything, because it's all going around like every five seconds and then starting all over again but not missing a beat. And it's cavernous and reverberates but whilst still being all treble and scratched tapes and moss.
Then the guitars cut and just this bom-bom-bom-bom beat comes in as "I saw it hit the ground / While no one was around" which then becomes another gorgeous arpeggio and one of them slurs some awesome sounding chorus that ends with "as you / as you" at each couplet. Then back to first cycle, then something about "bloody watches" and another set of complex drum paradiddles - this whole fucking song is just like an exercise in revolutions that pile up on another. It's this constant repetition that nevertheless builds on previous ones like some kind of crazy spiral that lends 'Shaking Hand' its amazing sense of progression and momentum. This song is all forward motion, and by the time it hits up with tom drum and tambourine-atop-snare double beat the whole thing has just got your head moving uncontrollably up-down-up-down.
It's like structure becomes form returns to structure then somehow finds pop. Artifice, precision, urgency.
The whole thing has an energy behind it that is so tightly wound that it always feels like it's just about to kind of somehow find itself stepping a little bit past real-time, like quicker than light, and with that tipping into politics. Like a serpent's head pop through the scrub.
Anyway, just buy the album. There's much more to find yourself dissected by.
Women – ‘Shaking Hand’
You've come to the right place: introducing, the latest genre of music/commercials - the meaningful, quiet/effusive folky song ad! It almost requisite has to be sung by a girl, or at the very least someone with a quiet, unassuming, airy voice. There's got to be hand claps, plinky percussion (glockenspiel more or less requisite), piano is good (very earnest, not too earnest like a violin tho), etc. etc.
Furthermore, the entire hook/melody to the song must be instantly graspable within 30 seconds (pref. 15sec) and the lyrics cannot mean anything. But they have to be seeming meaningful, like you know, like they really meant this song to be on this ad, and we're not really selling you anything, hey - in fact, why don't you even have this song for free?
Because, it seems, companies are getting nicer! No more harsh, shiny edges with electric guitar peels or thundering drums, or some kind of pseudo-futuristic synthy music (see most all shampoo adverts) - no, today's modern entertainment/car company cares about its customers. This care is expressed in their provision of dainty little songs for dainty little ads! It's all so happy and carefree. Kind of romantic actually.
Share the love ppl! Just don't think about the fact that your social life is so atomised you now need a mobile phn to contact separate friends/family for xmas!
It was all started by those trailblazers of uber-cool and urban and progressive lifestyles/products - Apple. Remember this ad? Although it would take a little while longer before things got more meaningful, seemed less product-focused:
(Extra dope bonus track/ad: the new NanoChromaticiPodCommercialElevatorMuzakQuirkyFemaleVocalHookAd)
Who provides this kind of music? Well, thankfully, there's a whole stable of obscure local and not-local indie bands that make folky quiet or folky happy songs for your backing track. All you need is someone with the 'inside knowledge' to hunt out these little 'gems'! Already taken: Whitley and Sia:
WARNING: MEANINGFULNESS OVERLOAD!!!!!! 2 meaningful can b 2 much!
Their categories of meaning are not directly meaningful, but they really sound or feel meaningful - the test is this: if you had this on your iPod and were looking out of a car window, would everything just seem really evocative/interesting/meaningful? But not too meaningful? Because only meaningful if you have the meaningful or useful product to go w/ your meaningful song.
Also, doesn't this song/ad/product just make you feel like it's time to have a good time with yr friends? But only through listening to and using this meaningful brand! In a fun way, too - there's a good chance the beach will be involved:
Wow, it's like a short film! So much meaning in such a little space!
In fact, it's all so meaningful that its a bit magic - isn't it? But only really in a whimsical way, nothing too heavy. Just remember what great fun this is - bouncing along in slo-mo and being carefree:
Talk about a techno-bubble LOL!!! Never mind, we've got our phone caps and lisa mitchell to make us feel meaningful and 'connected'
How long will it take before major financial institutions realise the awesome power of the alternative meaningful folky ad song? As soon as they roll these out it will end th 'credit crunch' in an overwhelming sea of goodwill and custom and community:
Bendigo Bank report that their profits and 'customer satisfication' rose 399% directly as a result of airing this commercial!!!
Like all great styles, there are many subgenres to the meaningful folky ad song - the 'old, unknown-til-now blues singer' brand is quite popular:
SAMPLE YOUTUBE COMMENT: "OMFG !!! u have no idea how long ive been trying to find this song and to find out wat add it was cos ive been lookn for ages and i eventually saw the add"
PS - This short/scruffy-hair guy is v. popular w/ Vodafone execs; someone in marketing is ttly crushin'
It's not like we even really made this music, says the companies, because our products are so meaningful to yr personal life that they just fit so well with already meaningful music, right? Well, that's the problem I guess - whaa happens when this genre becomes so codified that companies learn they don't have to find this shit anymore but they can just make it!
(Wait til the last 15sec!)
"For the Honda "Jazz Comes to Town" advertisement, original music was composed by Jamie Masters and Stephen Patmanby at Adelphoi Music, London, with producer Greg Moore. Vocalist was Jo Coombes. Sound was mixed by Paul Baxter at Risk Sound with producer Kath Momsen."
Becoz we all know that no one listens to radio or reads magazines or any other boring old media crap like that anymore - but neither does anyone even bother with last.fm or myspace or whatever antiquated 'social networking tool' you used to find music on. No, now advertisements tell us what to buy and what to listen to at the same time! What a relief! It was getting sooooo annoying trying to find new folkly girly singer songs! But, then, the problem is that these fucking companies don't list the song on the ad itself! Never mind, we are resourceful enough to GOOGLE IT for the lyrics - or ask on the YouTube page or whatever.
Like some resourceful laddy or lass did for the Honda Jazz ad!
Is there anywhere I can download this song. Its a very good song. Reminds me of Kate Nash, if you've heard of her.
Its a great ad though.
I'd buy the car."
Anonymous - bless him - provided the perfect reply to complete the circle of the evolution of the meaningful folky song ad:
i think its from feist .. the reminder."
From Feist to 'Jamie Masters and Stephen Patmanby at Adelphoi Music' - these meaningful songs have come a long way!
I can't wait for the next installment tho, I have no idea what to listen to atm!
Finally, seems things are getting a bit more sporty/rocky in the meaningful folky song/ad - are we witnessing the transition into the future with this Yves Mitsubishi Blue jam?
Take out the 'c', replace it with an 'a' and rearrange the letters and you actually get 'mariocastle'. Which is itself quite profound, but what I really just want to get down is this little tidbit:
There's nothing particularly amazing about Microcastle, and yet that is precisely why it is so brilliant.
I can't be bothered explaining that, but Deerhunter have never been particularly inventive, to say the least. Their genius lies elsewhere, and I think on this album they've hit onto it perfect-like.
PSSSSSSSSS : Bradford sez:
"I wanna make songs that, like, a wider, younger audience can get behind. You know? A kid who just now is getting over My Chemical Romance or something. Or like, just now thinking, like, 'I wanna hear something a little more experimental.'"
I HEAR DAT
We’re interested in noise as a sonic tool, not as an entity.
- Benjamin John Power, Fuck Buttons
What the fuck does this mean? What is the site of noise?
I guess pretty quickly you'd tell me that it's the body. Duh. But, then the problem is, why is it that so much noise is art-noise, the kind that sits very much in the cognitive, post-/anti-affective dimension? Like a kind of classical for technology? Fuck that.
Because Fuck Buttons make music that is for your bones. But not just to rattle them. Power and Andrew Chung got together initially, so they say, to make pain-inducing noise music. You know the kind, creepy shit that scratches at the back of your neck, repeats on itself in a really violent way. Then they wised up. And they realised that noise and pop/pleasure (well, something like it) were not ≠ - you can bring in structure and process and intention and melody and shit like that, but in a way that fucks with both ends o the spectrum.
Because - we're getting there - the end result is something like a sonic continuum between drone and pop, primal and culture, mind and body. It pleases a deep-seeded animalistic instinct in us (but not in those drums and monkey noises, no no, they're for this next desire) and yet it also appeals to our irreducible socialised sense of 'what music should sound like' - in doing so it deconstructs, no, fuck it, destructs, the barriers between noise and music and opens up once conservative ears to some truly outré shit.
Back to the question, though, what is the site? Mind and body? Well it's kind of actually not either really. Do you know that everything makes noise, that, as our fave John Cage found out, there is no such thing as silence? Well, then, that might give you a clue - FUCK BUTTONS IS EVERYWHERE. It's the horizon. It is the endlessness of sound, alien expanses of beats, drones, pitches, loops, bells.
But it's not all just some slap-dash throw it all together kind of 'world of sounds' bullshit. As if that would ever work. You can never actually include everything on an album, can you? But what you can do is kind of criss-cross bodies with their environments by passing through the ear, so that things kind of stretch in front and behind this music - I'm not really sure if I'm talking time or space, here, maybe both - so its special affect is like before and after you're listening to it.
That's where it is - it is both beating at your chest, and taking those bones well beyond whatever corporeal throne they were meant to stay inside, and it's doing it through your head - because you're processing the modulations, the harsh/nice sounds.
But, for me, far from acting like a helpful roadmap into understanding the territory he covers (well, makes, would probably be a better word, Person Pitch certainly beats it own path - even though I still do believe that it's largely the submerged, slightly theistic treatment of the vocal and samples that reviewers have mistaken for some kind of transcendent quality), this list is basically arbitrary and contradictory. For one, trying to join the dots between bands like The Police, Moodyman, Black Dice, King Tubby, Air, Jay-Z, Kylie Minogue, Spaceman 3, Duran Duran, Kraftwerk, The Kinks, Black Sabbath, Theorem, etc. etc. is a completely fucking futile exercise, and the multiplicity of sounds and styles this list references is not so much an indication of Panda Bear's 'eclectic' tastes (fuck I hate that word) but the unnerving, incommensurable, overriding difference that all sound is founded upon. And then as if trying to join everything back to Person Pitch was some way to make the connection - as a certain animated lizard might say, bull shit, no way.
In fact, it's almost like an affront or challenge - just you try and pinpoint the exact moment, sample, structure, whatever, on the record where X influenced me, Panda Bear seems to be saying. Because we're not dealing w/ Night Ripper here. Sure, you might be able to go, "oh his harmonic sunniness is clearly Brian Wilson", or "the repetitive nature of his samples is very 'Insert Hip Hop Act'". But have you actually said anything meaningful whatsoever? Have you even begun to understand how this record works, let alone sounds? Nein!
For me, this endless (ellipses cap it off) list ultimately affirms the uselessness of listing other bands as a critical practice - it's just not a matter of correspondence. Actually, it's only ever a connection made by the listener, wholly biased to their own history and potentially a very real impediment to actually considering the music in question. Sure, everything is a tissue of quotations, blah blah, but every combination is something unique and novel within itself. So deal with that! It just makes me want to try to vow to never listing another band name or genre as reference in a review, even if I can't quite help myself. But, then, at times, this almost tips over into a wish to just stop trying to describe sound at all, as if that were ever possible anyway. It's always connotation, metaphor, tangent - but then, isn't everything?
you're doing it right? of course, your crippled by musical simplicity and flutter!
yeah i just started it
are you sure you linked me to the right song?
The one with little electronic keys, violin and some guy singing through an intercom? Final
yeah thats the one
its ok, a little too detached for me
so not detached, LISTEN MAH BOI
lol this is gr8
listen to that viola stabs, how that little beat just ons and ons and how DESPITE his
intercomerising, it's still the most direct emotional shit you've ever copped!
it's not about the delivery but how he works around limits of delivery to make it even
its same ol' sufjan lod-my-ass-with-strings-and-call-me-shirly crap, it would probs be far
more affective with an aocustic guitar and natural vocal
nah it would suck it off all its off-beat power - guy-with-a-guitar is tired and old and
sapped of its potential
nah you cant ever kill that
its REAL man
and its so fucking different to Suffie it's not funny. this is no whiney choir pagent boy
grandiose bullshit but literally a raging queer singing about how the world's tallest tower is
meant for the dead
why does he have to be so pessimistic?
FF OWEN PALLETT CN TOWER BELONGZ TO DEAD 2 REAL 2 HANDLE!!! OG MUTHA
it's not pessimistic but - fucking look through it, you know, beyond the surface - and it's
really quite sweet and happy.
haha, yeah its quite sweet
"from the top of the tower / radio buzz in our ears / we can see you house from here" it's
like fuck this bullshit tower is killing us all but who cares because the little things (your
house) still exist
i guess i just don;t like the package this tune is coming in
i dunno, don't care really, but i just love it when i get so fucking obsessive over one song.
doesn't happen but often
BIG THINGS COME IN SMALL PAKAGES!
you what song i love atm
that 'little fat baby' sparklehorse song
how's that one go?
he got dragged by a donkey
through the dust and the myrtle
but he was once a little fat baby
it gives me this whole jesus imagery
it's really sad and wistful
we wre all just little fat babies once i suppose
its REAL man
LISTEN TO IT AGAIN RIGHT NOW
AS REAL TRU AS CN TOWER!!!
they complement one another
nah if FF had of said that the dead on the tower were once little fat babies then maybe
no i just mean because they both so HEART yall
but god FF so much more steez; that's one of s-horzes most latent
um - CN tower i think is better, because it's got style its got grace and pace, whereas
little fat baby is good lyrically, but musically/vocally just pedestrian Sparklehorse - he
could poo that song out in a minute
he poos clouds lol!!!!!!
nah, its got WEIGHT
nah i think you're mistaking a gradual momentum and some string flecks for weight; it's
airy as mutha. but then i guess that's where the two songs are similar - they kind of play
off the juxtapositions between lyric and music? and beyond that, Sparklehorse is always
really good at singing about fucked up shit like it was a lullaby, nah mean?
haha yeah they do do that
re: the lullaby thing
some of his lines are unforgettable - "toothless kiss of skeletons / and summer hail / i'm
the king of nails"
yeah that song is cool
Thanks go to the anonymous interlocutor; just getting started. Like mentioned above somewhere, the sweetest thing is just how infatuated I've gotten recently. It's funny, I guess, like how the music you listen to often crystallises around similar things, bands, whatevers. But shit, that's enough. Go listen. And fucking debate yall!
People who enjoy this album may think I'm cloth-eared and unperceptive, and I accept it's the result of my personal shortcomings, but what I hear in Arcade Fire is an agglomeration of mannerisms, cliches and devices. I find it solidly unattractive, texturally nasty, a bit harmonically and melodically dull, bombastic and melodramatic, and the rhythms are pedestrian. It's monotonous in its textures and in the old-fashioned, nasty, clunky 80s rhythms and eighth-note basslines. It isn't, as people are suggesting, richly rewarding and inventive. The melodies stick too closely to the chord changes. Win Butler's voice uses certain stylistic devices - it goes wobbly and shouty, then whispery - and I guess people like wobbly and shouty going to whispery, they think it signifies real feeling. It's some people's idea of unmediated emotion. I can imagine Jeremy Clarkson liking it; it's for people in cars. It's rather flat and unlovely. The album and the response to it represent a bunch of beliefs about expression and truth that I don't share. The battle against unreconstructed rock music continues.Let go of expression and truth? Or reconstruct them?
Green Gartside of Scritti Politti on Neon Bible
I think much of post-rock nowadays has shed the initial ambition and weight of the world of the earlier stuff, like it had to tear everything apart and rise only from a broken rubble, and has concentrated on using the same musical elements to make just shamelessly emotive and pretty music. It's like post-post-rock. When rock finds itself back in touch with the tender side of it's history - or maybe borrows from the sweetness of pop, but never with the sour aftertaste - nevertheless underpinned by some dense riffage and beaten, stalling drum-work. To put it another way, it's like post-rock that has shed its ambition to thunderously document the apocalypse and turn inward once again, to explore emotional soundscapes. Still uses textured guitar, beaten, stalling drum-work, stretched out compositions, soft-textural vocals, spectral guitar timbres, etc. but it is to what these stylistic features are put in service of that is distinct, here.
Along these lines, A Maze and Amazement takes the atmospheric lessons learned and reverses the equation - the long tails and heady elements no longer thunderous signals of the social crumbling, but crimson internalisations of the personal, of thought and heart. Because it becomes more obvious from the second track onwards that Mark Roberts is a recalcitrant pop musician. A song-writer going straight for the heart strings, even if he discovers a more interesting path there might be through clouds and classicist arrangements.
So I start to think of him as strongly influenced by the Postal Service when I hear the third track, 'Up'. But there's also something more oblique here that stops that comparison from operating directly and opens up that crucial space between the 'personal expression' of the writer/performer and the 'personal import' such has for the listener, thereby preventing this from taking the 'all eyes on me' traditional singer-God [author-God] framing of rock.
The album is lined with strangely narrative-driven lyrics, like they would read as paragraphs in a story if you put them down on paper. Well, actually, tracks five and six feature the poetry of Mary E. Jones.
There is also something very relaxed, or maybe just considered, about this. Structurally and texturally. Lines do not obey their proper direction, electronic peels sweep/stretch across places. Languid, sombre, washed. In that, A Maze and Amazement opens itself up quite gradually, showing deeper complexity than you might first think.
Eventually, this album transcends all its geneses for an intensely idiosyncratic and fragilely beautiful music; an achievement ironically predicated upon its genre.
"Who? Little old me? He he! Oh no, you saw me!"
So this song clearly runs off the back of a cultural trend that may have reached its nadir moment in the Britney-Madonna incident at the MTV VMAs (hot rumour: might Perry and LiLo smooch at this years?! So naughty!), bringing to mind Philip Brophy's comment on The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert:
[T]he gay embrace of Priscilla is a cultural conundrum qualified by how gay iconography has been assimilated into mainstream currents of Australian imagery, and how gay content has strategically lubed broader media channels for PC reconciliation (2008: 54).Although I'm certainly not sure whether queer culture has exactly 'embraced' Katy Perry, her song certainly furthers this practice of heteronormativity annexing queer identity. Sure, hear it once and you might think, "Wow, pop music certainly is still at the forefront of progressive sexual identities, this is great". You know, "I kissed a girl / and I liked it", all sung with that kind of snarly, sassy conviction. It's all a bit Pink*, heavily-tooled guitar pop that synths and synchs up those countless vocal dubs. Nice, in a way, like a play on surface (ie. as if a girl kissing a girl is just surface).
Wait another line, though, and comes: "I kissed a girl / just to try it / I hope my boyfriend / won't mind it". This is the kind of faux-lesbianism perfected by teenage girls trying to impress their boyfriends, and exactly that - Perry is probably the biggest 'male chauvinist' of the lot. For not only does she insist that queerness is a sort of sexy play, nothing more than a little experiment and certainly ephemeral, thereby evacuating any consideration of bisexuality and/or lesbianism as lived and committed sexual identities (with definite struggles), but that it's all just a bit of fun for the boys! Watch the video clip, and for the most part, the mise-en-scène is splashed with cute girls doing cute things (but, interestingly and pointedly, definitly not kissing) - but then, at the end, we see Perry wake up in bed next her dude, a wry smile across her face as if, thank God [aside: Perry was originally a Christian singer], it was all just some silly dream!
I can see footy jocks unequivocally pumping this out at their next house party, because, you know, chicks are never real lesbians mate, you can always turn 'em, har har! And Perry sings:
No, I don't even know your nameHow unbelievably offensive to suggest that queer and love are mutual categories. Like I said, though, the worst thing is that heterosexism gets its cake and eats it too. Perry's song effectively does the work of 'heterosexing' alternative sexualities at the same time as it denies the latter any lasting significance. "Ain't no big deal / It's innocent" - bullshit it is.
It doesn't matter,
You're my experimental game
Doesn't mean I'm in love tonight
* I think this comparison is interesting in itself, for Pink is arguably another that appropriates queer signifiers into an undeniably straightforward (but empowered!) heterosexuality. But that's just it - the difference is that Pink plays only with signifiers, therefore effectively interrogating the 'taken for granted' images of queer identity (ie. the assumption that all lesbians are 'butch') which in certain instances are themselves points of discrimination. That Pink pushes these same images across to heterosexuality says that they are not inherently gendered. And, again, it's at the level of signifiers - Perry's song is so much worse because it registers certain attitudes and fucking narratively legitimates them.
...Such disagreements grew from deeper ones over whether the art [music] was to be valued for its emotional power, its sensuousness, its manipulation of abstract forms, or its enactment of "improving" ethical values. (Harold Love, How Music Created A Public)
Dipping my toes into some pretty heavy stuff at the moment, thinking about the place of music in the space of the public sphere, and further to that the role music criticism might play. Reading Love's historical account of the very emergence of a musical public (ie. a public that exists solely because of their love for music, to play or listen, which has not always existed but is actually a fairly recent phenomenon, roughly overlapping with the eighteenth century development of the literary public sphere) and I came across this quote, in which he is talking about the elements of debate that occurred between the musical public back then, and I come to realise that the mode (for want of a better term) of music is something that has been fretted over long before I came along, in fact ever since it emerged as a relatively autonomous sphere. Because to bring it back to the personal, I've been thinking a lot lately about exactly where music fits in for me, and I find myself moving closer and closer to an aesthetic, emotional connection or conception (that in my view links up with traditionally literary criticism centred on thematic insight), no matter how hard I try to politicise, economise, socialise the whole bloody thing. I'm not sure it's a necessarily bad thing, although I would like to devise a way of rejoining the aesthetic and social that is not through the moral or the personal, if that makes sense. I guess it might come through the affective, or possibly through a renewed 'textual' analysis that posits larger things within the text itself, (to paraphrase Barbara Johnson, herself speaking for Derrida, 'when one hears (or plays), we always hear more than (or less than, or other than) one thinks').
Nevertheless, it's comforting, and also somewhat annoying (in that it hasn't been sorted out) to know that these sorts of problems have been going on since wayyy back. And of course different positions are of course themselves submerged 'ideologies' - matters of taste are always far more than just that. Which one to choose?
manipulation of abstract forms
enactment of 'improving' ethical values
But of course - it's not so much a question of style (music outwards) but taste (listener musicwards). And yet is this demarcation itself something worthwhile, or is it itself a kind of ideological (discursive?) operation (see Adorno's typology of listeners...)? Nevertheless, do we still tend to privilege a particular mode of listening in the everyday?
I found a bridge. Or built one. I'm not sure. In two ways. The first is pretty restrained, and if I don't put it here the only other place it will languish is stuck between thing newsprint lying in a stack down the beige corridors of a sinking institution:
It would do to try build a bridge, then, lest the gap widen to the point where Wolf Parade becomes two bands with the same name. You might find it in musical cohesion – unlike the more ragged and disjointed debut, At Mount Zoomer gathers itself into a colourful tapestry of what might be called indie-prog, ornate arrangements, barbed and ringing, but all more lush and defined. Or maybe you pick up the lyric-sheet, noticing that, they’re both tired, preoccupied with radio wires and looking at the same sea. They might have gotten there from different places – Boeckner from within the decaying spires of the modern urban core, Krug, who long since gave up the city, riding horseback from a fantastic forest where he tried searching for some ritual, fantastic place to return to. They reach the edge of the cliff and pick up their tools (the rest of the band pitches in), building a giant, teetering helter skelter on the edge of the waves. It might topple, but we’re on it, and we gotta stay on it. It’s the modern world, baby, and whichever place you might sing and search from, don’t you know that you’re trapped in here. Or maybe not, maybe we can yell “fire in the hole” against this fucked up structure and jump as we sing with Wolf Parade: “Oh follow me / Allow me to play the voyager / Oh take a dive / Take a dive”.That's pretty restrained I guess. It's not too held in, like it's probably not suitable for the channel it's going to, but whatever. So that's all good, then, but I'd much rather, much rather, build the bridge another way. Oh no, actually, this bridge I found, I didn't have to do anything here, make tenuous connections and mythologise rings around it all.
That bridge is Animal In Your Care. Penultimate track. I love how it's actually lyrically written backwards. It's just the sweetest kind of melancholy, because you never really know whether this will actually happen as he sings at the start:
Time after time
You will forgive me
Like an animal in your care
But give it time
You will outlive me
And take the bow back you put in my hair
Because he sings the end, oh the end, well the whole song sings the end it is like its own undeniable chorus the most amazing first-to-second half song transition I've probably ever experienced (I though My Latest Novel had the monopoly on that, but no) and it's all built around that ivory, no more meandering it all just comes out like glass punches and then he sings:
You let me hang, hang, hang around
You put your ribbons in my hair
It's in this language that I found
I am an animal in your care
An animal in your care
An animal in your care
An animal in your care
So fuck it, Wolf Parade or Spencer Krug or whoever they're all just tags for the music, this is not about the modern world and all that, well maybe it is if 'you' were some kind of structure, but god that's just sad. So I take back my review and I put this song in it's place. This love song. Twisted one, that's for sure.
It's not like this is all mine. Like I'm hoarding Wolf Parade's magic. (I was on their Myspace and I saw someone had just left a comment with a few lines from I'll Believe in Anything - why not say something, I might of thought. But I knew why, it's like those times you just can't say anything - 'hey guys, I love your music' just doesn't cut it. You've just gotta try and reflect that feeling you get from it. And you can't, but the closest you can try is just stamping those lines there like they speak for themselves.) Though I do get that solipsistic feeling sometimes that I'm the only one that knows them - or maybe it's that feeling like me and the music are the only things left in the world. For this song at least. But someone else must be introduced. Another Beast.
Just to continue the obsession, I stumbled on a cover of Peach, Plum, Pear by Final Fantasy a little while ago, and I've been listening to it pretty regularly. Trying to work out what it's doing, yer, where it's going. Of course, it's all string-filled whimsy and plucking as is his steez, but there's something about the 'levels', umm no, the emphasis he places on the various parts of this song that just brings out a whole other side to it. For one, his vocals never get beyond this sort of mildly disinterested kind of talk-sing from the middle of the room into a tape recorder like it's all just something to be calmly and uniformally recounted, which in turn paradoxically gives the lyric even further desperation. And then like the whole plucking - it's a lot sharper, umm no, cleaner than Newsom's - less urgent, but still quick. Like is this a Disney film or something? Hahaha of course not, it's fruity indie chamber music, complete with strings that come in just where they should but of course are very surprising because you didn't expect them with the almost languid feeling of the song up until now. And that cobbling hooves sound? A tad obvious, but brilliant - just the right kind of discordance this whole thing needs to throw it all off the track it never really walked along anyway. Things stay vocally quiet all through the end, and why not. So what does it all mean Basil? Well, that's just it, it only can ever mean for me something secondary, and I'm not even sure what that is. It's like recently I'm losing some kind of analytic and thematic grip on music and to be really honest I love this. And this.
Final Fantasy - Peach, Plum, Pear
There's really no mountain here, not even a hill. I think if you had to spatially imagine this band it would be more horizontal, more like an ocean I think. Nevermind.
To begin: At Mount Zoomer is cleaved. Whereas, for me at least, it was difficult to tell if it were Boeckner or Krug singing on Apologies to the Queen Mary, each and every song on this album clocks on with full vocalist (and lyricist) details from the outset. And there's this annoying habit of having them one after the other, in this kind of two-man baton pass but I'm not really sure what the baton is or where they're going. Anyway, I think it's clearly an (unintended?) effect of their growing solo careers in Handsome Furs and Sunset Rubdown particularly, who have both released in the interim. They're staking out a territory and putting up flags - sure, fighting over the same general chunk of land, but it's like a Starcraft map with a river separating the two of them. Whereas something like Beast Moans (paging Krug) approached music creation as an antagonistic process of coming together, At Mount Zoomer seems to propose that gaps are inevitable, well, that they at least grow from somewhere and then it's like tectonic plates at the surface, when the road cracks and splits and gapes. I hope I find a bridge.
Thanks to emmy for the opportunity.
"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to."
Spring, eh? Anyway, time to get thoroughly autobiographical and live out the contradictions to two posts prior. Indulge me.
Die! Die! Die! - Sideways Here We Come
2008 begins and ends with Promises, Promises (literally, and musically); I'm quite sure that nothing will surpass it for me that I don't think I'll go through that arbitrary and thankless year end list exercise. So I've picked this one from the album because it is the most obvious and continually burrows itself through my consciousness/conscience but truth told I could have picked anything from this album, even Whitehorses. And I do admit that it is very hard to dissect this song, because for real it has become biomechanic - it would be like trying to pick apart your insides - do you know that feeling? But fuck it, let's try. It starts principally with the drums, fuck those drums like pounding pounding pounding, I'm losing articulate abilities here, and it's not the first time. But oh well, to continue... Or why bother, when "Some things are best left blind; darling I'll try make you mine" Oh yeah you're probably snarking to yourself, thinking that's real cute and quite trite almost for how obvious it looks as you scan across those lines. Fucking listen. Fuck you. Okay, sorry. Carried away, once again. I don't think I can really do this right now, so I'll just leave it with an observation from the horse's mouth:
"Sideways Here We Come was actually [written] a day before [recording the album]. Yeah, it was the last song we wrote on the album. What I found really funny was that was the song that was gonna be left off the album because we weren't gonna finish it, and that one - the structure’s actually not kinda finished."Seams, yeah - all the time, it just seems set to come apart and show its guts, and yet it is sutured just by pure force and emotion. This is the dialectic of Die! Die! Die! Nothing can beat this down, except itself.
No Kids - For Halloween
Where's this coming from? It's like harmony groups just found the keys to amazing beats and lyrics and collegiate ennui and they all just partied. It's like, get up to the downbeat, that superflat bass drum that just trips its away all through the paths and summer houses and ends up somewhere where slow, middle, and fast just unite in all their great ways.
Portishead - Silence
There are a lot of things that can and have been said about Third but I'll just leave mine as a little footnote to an already out of control mythos. And mine doesn't go far, well, it can't - Portishead won't let me. For two reasons: this is the first - and best - song on the album, and second, it ends in a way that just cuts you off to everything but it. I'm not sure how to describe this - because it's not like falling off a cliff. You fall off a cliff you know where you're going and usually you're going down and you see the chasm that you fall into and it's all quite a drawn out process actually (it usually takes a good few minutes in movies, at least). Well this is isn't a cliff. It's a ... fuck, what is it? Because it strings you along, literally - rising strings, a beat that just nods your head constantly, pulling over for a brief break before returning to the course and an amazing guitar lick creeps in and then some heavier strings and you're like, wow [4.30], this [4.41] is [4.48] ... 4.59! What?! Where did it go? I'm not sure, maybe it's like being thrown into a void, and it seems like the time they choose at which to throw you was completely arbitrary and yet fully calculated (like, why bother doing it at 4.59? - that is both way too obvious and yet perfect). And it's maybe more like limbo, because there's nowhere left for me to go when I reach this point. What comes after 59? Naught.
Chromatics - Running Up That Hill (cf. Kate Bush)
It's a funny thing, this - how does it all work when a cover is the first thing you hear? In the great 'pop covers' rulebook that is sitting dusty on some shelf up the back of some official building that not many people visit anymore, there's a section about covers having to 'add something' to the original. Well, how does this go when you've never heard the original? When Running Up That Hill you first heard (to complicate things even further) on the Placebo Covers album, fitting the general pattern of what that band was only ever good for - making human relations truly alien - and that was what you took as your template (maybe it fits)? Not the banging, crashing mess of a thing by Bush that you only first heard on vinyl a week or so ago, which, actually, you didn't really like? Well, maybe it's like preposterous history. It's like you only know or care about the original because not only has the cover 'added' to it, it has literally made it. The cover is the original. And the original is great, too, beamed in on a post-urban record player, floating lyrics and metallic puttering basslines bringing it all to its most cinematic fullness.
Thom Yorke - Black Swan
I know this may seem like I'm stealing, but honestly I'm not, just following the precepts laid down by the almighty meme. And meme directs me to enjoyment (a fuzzy category that only pertains in tangential ways to most of what is on this 'list') - and I must say I quite enjoy this song. And only for one reason - A Scanner Darkly. This song and that movie are like this amazing conjuncture in which two perceived wrongs truly made a right. Because, initially, I was avert to both these works - both were just, well, too schematic? Too obvious. "It should be obvious, but it's not". And then they came together - Darkly pulled a moral and a purpose out of the preceding near-two hours of mess, and Black Swan snapped into focus as the credits rolled and they became perfect partners. I can't quite describe what happened at this exact moment, but suffice to say, I love both. "People get crushed like biscuitcrumbs".
The The - This Is The Day
This is the day
Your life will surely change!
This is the day
Your life will surely change!
Joanna Newsom - Peach, Plum, Pear
I'm really not sure where to start here. Well, I stumbled upon this song one day whilst forcing myself to listen to The Milk-Eyed Mender once again, an album I find I have a very conflicted relationship to, so much that I've never really gotten past Sadie, the fourth track. Well, things have their way and it happened that I made it all the way up until this song, the ninth. And what a time to happen upon this, what a perfect time. It grabbed me and shook me seconds inwards, as the harpischord lights up after the preceding bundle of harp strings, placating and quiet for eight long songs. Drastic, urgent - that doesn't even begin to approach what I'm hearing. Always twice, too, for some reason, even on the very first listen, I am compelled to press rewind, to avoid the saccharine Swansea (well, musically at least - but that's always the first thing we perceive, isn't it?) and hear whatever I do again, often with as much force. Yes I hold to a notion of music coming from without and directing me, I'm not sure if this is idealistic but this is Peach, Plum, Pear, don't you hear it? It bleeds with pathos, things just all seem like they're breaking as they roll on insistent, and then they turn:
This was unlike the story
It was written to be
I was riding its back
When it used to ride me
And yet who is controlling who here? Where does the power in this song lie? Now no now no now no now no now no now; is that what (s)he is saying? "Galloping manic" to a point ahead that seems distant and yet forever imminent, it hits! Dozens of Joannas come out in full-blown force, clipping the edges of the recording and breaking beyond the barriers of what once barely contained it:
And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIII am blue!! [wait...]
I am blue!!! and unwell
Scream it! Or whisper it screaming if you're on the train replacement coach that takes an hour and a half longer. Things break down here, it's like the literary facade propping up this whole ornate (and yet very simple) structure beforehand just gets blown away by this wind. The only moment where a fucking hurting, knowing, feeling human comes out of the pixie forest and makes themselves be known. And it is hard, and harsh, and it cracks and scratches but it is catharsis. And for once that term is fully apt (look it up properly and just watch the connections fire). Because things slow down again, regain their calm ("Now it's done..."), and yet their is an indelible mark, no matter the metaphors that one tries to cover it with:
Peach, plum, pear
Peach, plum, ...
Time to go: garage, incurable, cmg (lol), cassettes, .al, rose, mechanics - hehe hope you haven't been memed yet, apologies, my circle is small.
You know this ad, right? Fucking annoying thing it is, too, I know - along with those godawful Optus ads featuring animals carrying out surveillance in cranky Telstra customer's homes, the telcos have the 'most nerve-wrenching commercials' categories tied up. Anyway, I think the wonderful thing about this ad (viewable here, if you are tricky enough to click 'Small & Medium Business' or 'Enterprise & Government') is how it dramatises the condition of these 'classic' Gold FM ditties. Because no one actually does remember the original lyrics (or artist) of the song it so shamelessly tears apart and rewrites according to its control society telematic narrative - this ad thematises the way in which this sort of music is so completely divorced from any original context and just floats around disanchored in our culture as a little harmony or rhyme or snatched lyric, ready and waiting to be snatched up by some misguided Telstra ad-man. Its lyric-sheet might as well read:
everybody's talking at me
i hear every word they're saying
with my phone and laptop combined
people conference call me
i can see there faces
send them files every time
(btw, it was Harry Nilsson who sang it 'originally')
(btw, how did we ever conduct business without this array of highly useless-looking technologies? The answer, of course, is that we did. Telstra always seem so desperate to concoct practices that never really need practicing)
I think the brilliant thing about M83's Saturdays = Youth is how it imagines teenagehood specifically as some amazingly poetic and romantic and idyllic time when in fact it never was. We live our relationship to our young selves through nothing other than the dioramae of nostalgic popular culture such as this, which sets a scene (full of sultry night air, violent romance and meaning, so much meaning) that never really existed. The album itself never quite gets to this youth it so insistently turns upon, the space it is looking for which is also a time, and that itself is profoundly melancholic and beautiful. I listen to You, Appearing and the rest of it all with bad teenage poetry lyrics and heavy solipsism and I just marvel at the time, the beauty, that becomes mist (and it certainly does after a few listens, losing all of its evocative force when you realise the rickety structure it is built upon - but you still have that initial moment, the youth of this album, which you remember as an idyllic time, and you find yourself looking for it, and on).
Just having a moment here, sorry...
Fuck I am sick of all these new pop stars that have come up grass roots style off social networks and the like. I don't care whether they do it themselves genuinely or if some marketing machine cooks it up, it's just terrible anyway. This whole ground up, 'DIY' thing where they post pictures of themselves with witty captions and blog about their life, I really don't care to know. I like my pop thoroughly adherent to the discursive division between public and private, in which the latter can only sublimate through songs. Here's to well-manufactured, primmed music celebrities whose minders actually hold back from throwing themselves all over the Internet. Get off my Internets!
(talkin' bout this, and this was the archetype)
- Whereas vinyl offers the tactile fetish of a needle literally scratching across the grain of the record;
- CD obscures the particularity of the grooves for an unreadable surface sheen, that is nevertheless read by laser in a spiralling movement. We cannot see it but we can still hold it. (with burnt cds you get the unique phenomenon where one can ‘gauge’ the amount of data or length of recording via how much of the original surface has been burnt a slightly darker colour)
- MP3 quite stubbornly hides the process of its encoding/decoding within the player (be it mobile or computer terminal), there is nothing to penetrate or read or look at beyond the file, which of course can be constituted as a sequence of code, but only at great effort and still completely indecipherable.
What does this mean culturally? For music?
What about the sense in which this impetus to obfuscating stands in inverse relation to the quality (conceived of as 'fidelity') of the recording? Is it true, as Adorno argues, that the better a technology gets at reproduction the less 'real' the music sounds? This is attached to notions of authenticity and aura, which themselves are fraught with the danger of privileging the original artifact, something that cannot possibly be done in terms of sound recording (this is a positive thing, in my view).
Just some thoughts...
Amongst my biggest problems with these devices, or any other portable digital music players, is they way in which they structure a social tautology - the individual no longer moves to the rhythm of the urban soundscape but to their own daily schedule, continually modulating external events' affective states by bringing them in line with what's inside. Eg. I'm on the train, I don't like the sound of these people talking about whatever, I'll put on my iPod and listen to x because it will put me in the right mood for what I need to do when I get off the train, and then when I'm walking to there I'll put on y because it's good walking music, and so on and so on. Rather than attunement to whatever sonic textures surround one, the digital player allows you to continually collapse bodily and mental movement so that the only thing your listening practices mirror is yourself. Not even does the iPod force you to at least sit with a particular piece of music (say, a cassette or a disc), but at 'touch' you can switch things around endlessly, shuffle them up until all that's left in meaningful, affective, material terms is whatever you want it to be. Sure, this isn't some kind of liberated freedom rather a form of micromanagement of the self, post-Foucauldian control in action. Just what about the music though, at least? Does it even matter anymore? Is a politics of genre (or artist, or period, or any other identity of actual songs) even possible under these conditions?
"Frances Densmore, collector, with Mountain Chief of the Blackfoot tribe, 1906. On behalf of the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology, Densmore made many field trips using Edison's recently invented wax cylinder recorder, as pictured here. [T]his photo, taken in Washington, D.C., reflects the special aims and conditions not of the "oral poetry act" but rather of what might be called the "photography act." For the benefit of the photographer and posterity, Mountain Chief has donned his ceremonial native dress (his own?). At his side are emblems of the vanishing Native American culture that Densmore was doing her best to document. The collector adopts a non-assuming pose, eyes lowered on the machine. Mountain Chief gestures as if declaiming, although any sound that he is uttering at this moment would not be registered, for he is seated before the listening horn of the machine, not the recording horn."
I can't even begin...
No Age - Nouns
(Sub Pop / Stomp)
A reactionary evaluation of the debut proper from No Age might go like this: so they're signed to Sub Pop (after releasing a string of totally indie vinyls that were collected into Weirdo Ripper), therefore they had lots of cash to make Nouns, so how come it sounds like shit, like they just chucked the tape recorder in the middle of the room and pressed play? I want to hear the KILLER tracks underneath all this crap! Well sure, No Age do pile things on, it's rough, distorted and their tracks are buried under a certain mulch, but this itself is a subtle reconfiguration of the traditional lo-fi aesthetic that one might initially angrily attribute to Nouns. Because the very thing is, Nouns undoes the ideology of lo-fi the says it can only emerge from tape recorders and the dole, just at the same time as they trash the notion that studio production itself must aim for a kind of perfect sound. It's clear from a little closer listening that No Age truly didn't just set up the mic in the middle of the room and then bash around it, but that its lo-fi grain is actually as much an addition of production - they use overdubbing, looping, resonant atmospherics and so on that take what might actually have been a fairly crisp punk track initially and cast it in some kind of mystical, elemental aura. This itself also delays the orgasmic excess that your traditional punk listener might want from his tracks, as if music were reducible to ejaculatory actions - Nouns says 'fuck that', asserting that we MUST bury things under mulch, make the ears work a little harder and recognise the duality of things - that punk itself can be ambient, and that ambient can be punk. It doesn't let you hear it kicking, even though it clearly is busting out of its seams of that grainy, tactile cloth that lays over it. This sound is punk as an environmental force, not one that works to charge you in force and politics but that works through bodies and envelopes of noise until it reaches something like a scuzzy nirvana. As such, Nouns ceaselessly seems to extend beyond itself, reaching past its initial hearing to emanate beyond and take primal flight - it makes sense that this band have played at the foot of canyons and gorges in their American homeland.
Their mixture of studio production and what you might call field recording (live music or otherwise) also flies in the face of what might be a positive evaluation of lo-fi as some kind of pure sphere of 'press record and play' musical creativity that lends recordings a life-giving and totally authentic force (case in point: Springsteen's Nebraska, “OMG he actually sat at his kitchen table to record this and that’s exactly what we’re hearing!”). No Age more subtly understand lo-fi itself as a form of engineering or trickery, not the beginning and end of production but one means among others to arrive at a particular recorded sound. This particular recording also smashes the two-piece mentality, which amazingly is what No Age are - against that whole ‘what you play live should be what we hear on album’ bullshit, the endless layering and marks of far more than just four hands that pervade this sound force you to hold this album as its own material entity. We're not evaluating what they should sound like here (which the reactionary review might ask for), this isn't sheet music and it isn't a gig. It's Nouns, and it’s the sign of something great happening in music when it can steer a smooth course through knotty, ambient complexity and fuzzy, unbridled fun.
I spoke with Andrew Wilson, front man for NZ trio Die! Die! Die!, for their Australian tour, which is now underway - they hit Revolver on Thursday the 24th, it's well worth checking them out. They are insane live. We chatted about their new album Promises, Promises and what it means for the band. Andrew was warm and really nice to speak to, I'm not sure if that translates into hard text, but he was quite open and grateful to chat. I'm not sure if I interjected far too much, as well, stopping his flow and thoughts. Most of our conversation is below.
The last time you were out here, you played a gig at the Prince of Wales...
I had terrible food poisoning then, I went to hospital after that show. I was really, really, really fucked up – I don't want to go into too many details but I totally thought I was dying. It was probably a really laid back performance.
(Andrew screamed his way through the set, put his head in the hollow drum kit at one point whilst Michael Prain was hammering away at it. Meanwhile Lachlan Anderson, the bassist, is jumping up on the stacks and free falling.)
Well, by that stage, you were playing almost exclusively from Promises, Promises, despite the fact audiences here were yet to hear it.
We've started to play old stuff again now, it's just that we'd only gotten off touring the old stuff overseas and it was just kind of refreshing to play the new music.
It was strange for the crowd, but I thought still quite cool – an entire set list fresh to my ears was a great experience
We actually thought we got a really bad response from Australia, lot's a people were like 'ah you're not playing all the old songs', but see in New Zealand we kind of had the reverse reaction from playing all the new stuff.
(Andrew is at pains to justify playing this new material, but really the crowd should have just necked up.)
So how do you find Australian audiences in general? I find them very standoffish.
Yeah, sometimes, we've had really mixed reactions. They're either really, really, really super enthusiastic or they're super the opposite, and that Prince of Wales gig, well, I wasn't really sure. But I guess in Melbourne it's because you get exposed to so many amazing bands, so a band has to really impress you to get a reaction out of them, and really everyone is way too cool.
You tour shitloads, do you find you pick up many influences along the way?
Yeah, not really by choice we've spent a long time in America, which, um, I mean it was quite inspiring ... I haven't really seen that many bands which inspired me but just the hectic lifestyle and everything has just definitely inspired us, and we're really into dancehall and reggae this year because we ended up hanging out with all these, Rastafarian dudes who decided to really like our band and come on tour with us. So we've had some interesting stories, we're really influenced by the places we're at. When we were in LA we were hanging out with all these people really into Morrissey and the Smiths and stuff, and they're all like Mexican ... I wouldn't say gang types, but tough types. Everywhere has kinda got its own individual flavour and we definitely get influenced by where we're at.
The Locust Weeks EP looks like it has a photo taken in the US, on the front?
Yeah that was the street which we lived on in New York.
And was Locust Weeks the title any reference to your time there?
Nah: we practised on a street called Locust St, and then we recorded it there. I don't know about that recording - we did it in three hours.
Strange, I love that record, especially the last track - it feels like it's been made in three hours, but that lent it something.
Yeah, I mean, it was really - that song 155 has been around for a while. The other three we kind of wrote in NY, but 155 we wrote in Auckland before we moved.
Locust Weeks sort of seems like a bit of a continuation of the debut album, and it almost seems like it was kind of like it was the last chance you got to really kick out a lot of, not anger - but really expel something. And Promises, Promises seems a bit more calculated, do you agree?
Um, oh, I think a lot of that was that the first EP was done in a day, the Steve Albini LP was done in three days, Locust Weeks was done in three hours, and then Promises, Promises was done in 12 days. If you think about it, 12 days mixing and mastering in there too, is actually pretty insane. 12 days is not really that long. Although, I know what you mean calculated, but also the fact that we're working with the producer on Promises, Promises really affected, you know - working with Shayne [Carter, renowed NZ producer] really influenced Promises, Promises.
Kind of arrangements and moods.
Because it definitely has a different recording grain/texture than say the Albini one which seems a bit more polished, whereas this one seems rougher around the edges but the songs themselves seem a little bit more hemmed in.
Well, that's kind of it actually. The sound is actually a lot more budget because we didn't have as much money as the other three recordings but the songs are a lot better, I reckon.
They seem like they have a longer gestation.
Well, actually, probably the opposite - we wrote most of Promises, Promises a week before we recorded it. Sideways Here We Come was actually a day before. Yeah, it was the last song we wrote on the album. What I found really funny was that was the song that was gonna be left off the album because we weren't gonna finish it, and that one - the structure’s actually not kinda finished.
It’s my fave track on there, especially the ‘ooo’ [makes terrible imitation of modulating, wordless falsetto refrain] in the background.
That was the most unfinished song definitely on the record.
So how do you explain that then, so you're saying it’s a bit rougher in the sound and then the songs sound more measured/focused, even though you still only wrote them a week before? Is it the song writing process?
I think that we really did make it an idea not to write stuff we'd already done, make sure that it was kinda fresh. I dunno we've just kind of got in a real pattern of song writing with the other records and we really wanted to mix that up, definitely.
From the self-titled EP to the self-titled album, it did almost seem like a loop.
This one it seems like you guys have entered into a new phase, this is a maturing of the band.
I definitely reckon. I mean like when we did that first EP we were 19, you know what I mean. And now we're 23, well Lachlan is 21. And there's a new bass player as well. Well I mean we've definitely grown up a lot, and a lot of the shit which used to impress doesn't impress me at all and a lot of the shit which used to make my skin crawl like now I really love, you know what I mean. And I think that's natural to anyone who is involved in music, your tastes kind of change.
Well what are some examples of shit you used to hate and you’re now into?
I dunno, like Led Zeppelin, I used to despise them. When I was really young and you know, punk music - I was like fuck that dinosaur rock shit and now I love Led Zeppelin. Not saying that Zeppelin has got an effect on our band, but. And even like T Rex, that classic rock. And we've got quite a good scene of friends and music in NZ and they've all changed what they're into as well, and I dunno we're all kind of just creatures of the environment.
This is a difficult question to ask, maybe even retarded.
I love difficult questions.
I'll ask you first from your point of view - do you write the songs/lyrics mostly?
Yeah I wrote the lyrics but the songs we all kind of write.
Well, what is it that sort of – if you say that you’re not as angry as much that you used to be – well, what is it that is still driving you, because there's still a sense of pissed-offed-ness that comes through.
Well I'm definitely still kinda pissed off. I dunno, just life and love and stuff. It's just kind of, well I've noticed Promises, Promises is more direct in the lyrics, and you know, on the first record I dunno I kinda wrote about the stuff I didn't really put my head around. Just kind of let me put my head inside it. I dunno, it's really hard to talk about.
Yeah, your other records seem a bit more obtuse, you kind of put what you were talking about to the side, whereas this one it's just kind of head on.
Well that's pretty much exactly it. Before it was like ‘Oh shit, do I actually wanna sing about that, oh maybe I’ll add something else funny into it so I'm not actually directly talking about it,’ whereas on this record, I just went like ‘Fuck it, I’ll just be as honest as possible for the whole record.’ It's quite a hard record for me to listen to, but in hindsight I feel a lot better about it than the other record, where I was not really trying as much.
So have you found it hard to go back, to play it?
Oh yeah, it's been out in the New Zealand since October so we've been playing it a lot, it is quite a ... it does take a lot to play it. Yeah. But you know, we're all so involved in it now that it’s all pretty good.
Is it almost that it's beyond yourself now?
That’s what I've noticed about it, it's definitely its own beast.
Whether or not it’s hard for you personally, too bad you've just gotta keep going on the juggernaut?
Yeah exactly. And now we've kind of, yeah. I mean it's kind of like, in New Zealand when the first record came out, it was really hated on - actually all our recordings before Promises, Promises. And when this one’s come out it’s actually be quite well received in New Zealand for the first time ever. And the first other recordings did really well overseas but not in New Zealand, and then this record has done quite well in New Zealand, and it's been out in America for three weeks, and its already outsold the first record which we thought did really well. So it's just become its own beast, we've really get into the mindset of it, and we've written a lot more new music recently, in New Zealand, but then we can't really do Promises, Promises justice unless we just kind of go overseas and just play it over there.
That's a good background actually - because I read some overseas reviews on you guys and you're stuff was coming up on quite a few US sites and the reaction was good.
It's doing really well in America, I think we're playing on one of those American talk shows. They've chosen one of our more abrasive tracks off Promises, Promises as well - ATTITUD. It's pretty funny actually.
What a gauge of how big you've gotten over there.
Yeah it's doing surprisingly well. and when it came out in New Zealand and we found that people were starting to like it in our home country which was a really big step, and everyone in Australia hated it. But now people in Australia have started to hear it they're catching on to it, and people in America are really starting to catch on to it. Hopefully it will be good - it could just flop, and we could be back in Dunedin on the dole, writing more songs.
So where to for you guys now?
Yeah we're recording a new EP probably in the next month actually. But um, it's for this American label - I dunno if it's gonna come out in New Zealand or Australia yet. and then I think we're touring in America in their winter. And then at the end of the year we wanna, we just wanna settle down in Dunedin and probably write our next record.
You're pretty quick really.
Yeah, we are actually. I mean there's a hell of a lot more prolific bands, but you know - it's just because we were kind of stuck in a rut touring that first album so much, for so long.
And you know, so many of those songs on the album are on the EP as well.
We really weren't very prolific for a really long time, which was probably the time we should have been most prolific. Oh well, I reckon it's good, because we're not going to be like ‘first album fucking yeah’ and then, you know - we're quite glad we're not that band. And if we kind of reached our peak on our first record that would have just been a total disaster.
That wasn't quite the height you wanted to hit.
Totally not, just because we weren't prepared you know - we kind of wanted to get out of NZ so quickly and we didn't actually think about the music as much as we should have.
And so now do you feel like, not like you have more time because you're still on a strict schedule, but do you feel like you have a bit more space?
It's not really like we've got time, because we're playing more than we ever have, but I definitely feel like we've got a lot more space from it all actually.