Wednesday, July 30, 2003
So the ADHD suffering New Zealander who has been entrusted with the BBC's flagship alternative music program on Radio 1 (that'll be Zane! Lowe! the! indie! Tim! Westwood!) plays the new Outkast single last night and reveals in the process that he knows nothing about anything apart from talking really fast and loud. When he actually slows down his hyperactive yelp and attempts to address what he's playing he comes up with "yeah, Outkast, man, they're just, such a banker, if you buy an Outkast record you know you're going to be... entertained... their music is just so... intricate... and... entertaining..."
"Ghetto Music" (muse-sick?) is, by the way, insane and brilliant. "Feeling good, feeling great / feeling great, feeling good / how are you?" I'm fantastic.
7/30/2003 10:08:00 am
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Alienation, technology, paranoia, beauty, evocation, space, silence...
(c) Phil Nicholls
7/29/2003 09:43:00 am
Monday, July 28, 2003
The following 2,300 words constitutes the last essay I ever wrote for my degree. As such it's over two years old now. It also received the highest mark for a written piece that I achieved in the three years at UCN - 73%, after the marking tutor (Graeme McBeath, a Great Man and Fine Archer) had given it 70% and sent it away to the external markers, who saw fit to raise its score by 3%. I'm not entirely sure how you can quantify something being worth "3% more" in an academic context, but there you go. Anyway, the essay is about the internet and I've just stumbled accross it after believing I had lost the file for the last two years. I thought you might like to read it.
Does Computer Mediated Communication Humanise or De-Humanise?
The other day whilst surfing through websites and internet messageboards of the various bands I have interest enough in to remember the names of when faced with a computer rather than a pile of records, I stumbled across an interesting signature line tacked onto the bottom of one individual’s postings on a particular messageboard;
“The internet is a mask that hides my face and reveals my soul.”
One can interpret this as meaning that the perceived anonymity of the internet allows a greater freedom of expression than is achievable in the outside world, but does this mean that the internet is a purely humanising technology? Is the internet and the freedom of expression and access to information that it allows us another step along the technological road to utopia as envisaged by Marshall McLuhan? The very act of using computers, like writing, reading (both of which are of course intrinsic parts of using computers), the cinema, music, etcetera, adds to our culture, to our understanding of ourselves, to the richness of the human tapestry. Possibly.
There are simple objections. It has been claimed that the internet could dehumanise people by allowing them to do whatever they need to do from home by computer, thus removing significant human contact from their daily lives. Certainly there are many elements of human interaction that may be minimised or eliminated by the existence of the internet, but these elements do not constitute the entire spectrum of human life. I can buy certain items over the net thereby eliminating interaction with shop employees. I can do some banking over the net thereby eliminating interaction with bank clerks. I could, theoretically, find a chatroom and spend an evening discussing topics I’m interested in with like-minded people while I have a relaxing drink. Indeed, on occasions, I have. But only on occasions. I have not been inspired to completely shun what might be termed ‘real’ social interaction with family and friends in favour of living out a purely ‘virtual’ existence. Certainly, there may be some people who would choose to eliminate as much human interaction from their lives as possible with the aid of the internet, but I would suspect that these people would shun such social interactions whether they had access to cyberspace or not.
Even a slight erosion of our individual levels of social/human interaction may be detrimental though. The theoretical vagaries and ruminations of Jean Baudrillard tell us that
all our machines are screens. We too have become screens, and the interactivity of men has become the interactivity of screens. Nothing that appears on the screen is meant to be deciphered in depth, but actually to be explored instantaneously, in an abreaction immediate to meaning – or an immediate convolution of the poles of representation… The machine (the interactive screen) transforms the process of communication, the relation from one to the other, into a process of commutation, i.e. the process of reversibility from the same to the same. The secret of the interface is that the Other is within it virtually the Same – otherness being surreptitiously confiscated by the machine.
(Jean Baudrillard, Xerox and Infinity, 9th page)
Baudrillard may have concerned himself largely with abstractions, and his methods of expression may have been confused and confusing, but from time to time his remarks and observations appear to be nearing profundity. The reality is that every day millions of people in the western world go to work, and increasingly to school and to college and then back home again, and sit before a monitor-screen for hours on end, working, learning, communicating, interacting. Whether this interaction works simply and primarily on the level of the brain processing new information, or on the level of the eyes focusing on streams of digitised text and images, or whether it is on the level of communication with other human beings with the screen as an incidental medium, the fact remains that the screen is intrinsic.
This may not necessarily be a bad thing. In some ways the screen equalises people by dehumanising them – it s hard to be intimidated or awed by a screen, hard to be distracted or enamoured and thus have one’s judgement impaired, because by and large the screen will be the same wherever it is, whoever is using it. It will almost always be an off-white plastic box housing a glass plate and a tube. If, as Baudrillard suggests, we become the screen when we are using it, then we all become equal.
Computer mediated communication, and this must be the internet by-and-large, eliminates much of the noise from lines of communication. When reading an email we are faced purely with the words upon the screen, presented in a clean, clear, instantly readable font or typeset rather than a messy, idiosyncratic, indecipherable script. We are given pure communication on the screen, with no distractions at its base level, the Other is not concerned with how they look or sound, the Other is not distracted themselves by noise. But the screen is not enthralling like a human face, is not captivating like the varied timbres of the human voice, and thus gives rise to other distractions outside of itself because of this. When faced with an anonymous off-white box and a ream of aesthetically monotonous text typed by a loved one, the temptation to turn and gaze out of the window, to stand, walk around, go to the kitchen and fix a drink, is greater than when in the actual presence of the real person. The screen is not possessed of charisma, even if the person creating the text one is engaging with is.
If computer-mediated communication is to humanise us it must do so through the culture it is part of, or possibly creates. No internet experience can be deep enough to be responsible for forming culture. And, perhaps more importantly, anyone using the internet already belongs to another culture. Internet experiences lack the depth of real-life experiences. Because they are limited to the auditory and visual modes, internet experiences cannot take advantage of the often more emotionally charged senses of smell and touch. The greater the emotional content of an experience, the more likely it is to be remembered, to be etched into our brains and hearts. Thus, many internet experiences will not be as powerful as real-life experiences with similar semantic content. These experiences will be less likely to have an effect on an individual's beliefs and habits.
By the time people experience the internet, they have already been greatly influenced by the real-life culture that they were raised in. That is to say, they bring their culture to, rather than taking it from, the internet. I have been made aware of bands that I have gone on to like over the internet, of books that I have gone on to read and enjoy, but the fact remains that my interest in music and literature stems from something outside of the internet cultures I have engaged with. Are the values of internet cultures or subcultures any different to the values of other cultures or subcultures? Are people who use the internet and engage in discussion groups, chatrooms, messageboards and so on a part of a separate internet culture, or are they members of other cultures who happen to use the internet? We may well do better to consider this to be the case. To decide what kinds of values groups using the internet have, we need only look to the kinds of values those groups have in real life. For instance, there are lonely people who use the internet in an attempt to find relationships with others. If we classify them as belonging to an "Internet Dating Subculture", then we are glossing over the more important, more human aspect of their situation, which is that they are lonely. The internet is the means by which they attempt to solve their problem, but it is not a defining aspect of their problem; they are lonely before they became the screen, and it is possible that all the screen can do is offer a simulacrum of the cessation of loneliness.
The question of whether computer mediated communication is humanising or dehumanising rests perhaps on the question of whether or not virtual or simulated activities are humanising or dehumanising. The internet is still in its infancy compared to the cinema, to literature, even to rock and roll, and the hermeneutics of the internet are still even more underdeveloped. For an invalid incapable of getting to the shops, online supermarkets which deliver may well be a massively liberating tool, not only for the individual directly concerned, but for friends and relatives who may have otherwise felt obliged to provide support. Likewise an email may well, by the nature of the remove of its medium, allow a freedom of expression that is rarely achievable face to face, but people have known this and exploited it through writing letters for thousands and thousands of years. Email, by its very nature, is quick and ephemeral, mails tend to be written quickly and ad hoc with little attention paid to the orthodoxies of traditional written communications, hence the rise of emoticons and truncated spelling and grammar in order 2 get the msg across quickly ;oþ. Most email service providers only provide limited space for preserving mail anyway, making the recording of emails a hindrance – one cannot simply place an email in a (real) box and keep it like one might do with a love letter.
Messageboards, chatrooms and emails are all forms of storytelling, which is an intrinsic part of human nature. Storytelling is one of the primary tools we have at our disposal in the quest to more fully understand our own natures. Indeed, culture could be said to be the telling of stories about the way we live and interact, and email and other forms of computer mediated communication allow more of us to tell more stories quicker and more easily than we ever have before. In this way we are able to more fully participate in the construction of our own localised cultures, even though those cultures may not literally be localised geographically. However, in order to have stories to tell via email or internet discussion groups, one needs to have experiences which one is able to articulate onto stories. That is, if the stories are to be based in truth. Computer mediated communication and storytelling is not a replacement for other more established forms of storytelling and culture – people did not throw away their radios when they bought televisions, did not stop kicking balls when video games became popular, they simply re-arranged schedules to allow time for new activities as well as old, dependant on what their individual preferences were.
I think a way of exemplifying how the internet can be viewed as representing culture, is how one as a tourist in a foreign country is afraid of behaving not in accordance with local customs. In some way, this fear is recognisable online, because entering a chat room for the first time can make you feel odd. People are talking, and when you join the conversation, you might be ignored after a while, because the others spot that you do not know the slang, the expressions, abbreviations and 'emoticons'. The acculturation of people's communication in, for example, chat rooms has taken form as 'netiquette', norms of accepted behaviour. Writing in capitals is understood as SHOUTING, and is not appreciated. After a while, one becomes used to this and gradually achieves those abilities and forms of behaviour which is required to be accepted as a part of the group. One has to learn the conventions of storytelling in that particular new environment.
Today, as the geek is increasingly being numbered out by students, housewives, my ageing, semi-retired father and, roughly speaking, ordinary people (though predominantly still white, male middle class Americans and Western Europeans), it is even more important to study what relations we have to the internet and what is happening inside its cosmos. Not only how we interact with the new technology, but also how we understand the people we meet online, how we mirror ourselves in the screen in front of us, and not least how the technology shapes our selves and minds. Whether one should assign the responsibility for the foundation of an understanding of these issues to sociology, cultural philosophy, media studies, or anthropology, is debatable, but at least we can recognise that they need to be understood.
Does computer mediated communication humanise or dehumanise? I met my best friend over the internet, we were both aware of each other before we encountered each other in cyberspace, but we had never met or communicated directly until I began using a website that he ran. But the fact remains that our fondest memories of each other and our best experiences together are not based in cyberspace – we do not talk on the phone of chatroom exchanges that particularly moved us - but rather in the real world, in the times when we made the effort to traverse the country for each other’s birthdays, for gigs by bands we both like, for the sheer hell of seeing each other and enjoying each other’s real company. The internet can distract us from such activities, it can even facilitate the arrangement of such activities, but it cannot, for me and my best friend at least, replace those activities (though my best friend is a website designer, its his job to try to!).
Conquering new fields of knowledge and experience is always exciting and satisfying. It is human. If computer mediated communication allows us to conquer new fields of knowledge and experience, then one must assume that the ends, if not the means, is humanising.
Cultures Of Internet, Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies;
Edited by Rob Shields; Sage, 1996.
Virtual Culture, Identity And Communication In Cybersociety;
Edited by Steven G. Jones; Sage 1997
Xerox And Infinity; Jean Baudrillard; London: Touchepas 1988
Postmodern Media Culture; Jonathan Bignell; Edinburgh 2000
7/28/2003 09:05:00 pm
The smell of babies weirds me out. Part of downstairs in the library smelt like a baby's house earlier, that strange odorific coalescence of Marmite, digestive biscuits, stale milk and goo. Ughn. I don't like it.
7/28/2003 04:59:00 pm
I've got hold of the four Codename: Dustsucker tracks currently available on SoulSeek. First impressions are very good indeed. I shall endeavour to shed some light this evening.
7/28/2003 04:58:00 pm
Pete's considered opinion of Dizzee Rascal...
"That CD that Emma's got, that Dizzee, that's shit, his beats and rhymes are shit - you wanna hear some real UK hip hop."
The middle-class white 30-somethings in the music industry may well be spilling their jizz over Dizzee, but the 17-year-old provincial hip hop fan, a real life track-downloading, record-buying, Fubu-wearing fan who lives and breathes this shit whilst you're secretly listening to Steve Miller (more about that later, Tom Cox), thinks Dizzee is crap.
There's a kind of beautiful symmetry there.
7/28/2003 10:50:00 am
Sunday, July 27, 2003
I have decimated a bottle of port (x5 - decimate means reduce by 10% and I've done at least 50%). I am going to bed. Like you care. Like you even exist. All these names are real people.
7/27/2003 01:51:00 am
Saturday, July 26, 2003
Unfortunately it seems that crapulent is not an exclusive Southall neologism meaning "rubbish", but rather is an actual real word meaning "given to imbibing alcohol" or some such. I am understandably inconsolable.
In order to combat this distressing news I have now invented the word nobular, as in like a nob. You can choose whether this is an anatomical thing or not.
7/26/2003 11:08:00 pm
And now, exclusively for the attention of Kate St. Claire...
The Mechanical Forces of Love
Wall of Sound
Medicine emerged at the start of the 90s as common-or-garden shoegazers. Since then Laner has deigned his shoes uninteresting enough for prolonged examination and has begun seeking out new ways to address, create, and enhance the psychedelic experience, culminating in his vacation into laptop territory for his recent solo material. The Mechanical Forces of Love sees Laner interpolate his recent experiments into his pre-established Medicine aesthetic with frustratingly varied degrees of success. Comparisons have been made with Manitoba’s fast-becoming epochal Up In Flames, but where Dan Snaith is a laptronica prodigy moving into new sonic territory by acquiring and abusing guitars, vocals, and psychedelic touches, Laner is an old shoegazer moving in the opposite direction, and while he is obviously keen on what his new electronic tricks can do he also seems occasionally uncomfortable with actually implementing them. As such The Mechanical Forces of Love sounds less like a toy box come to life than tipped onto the floor.
Manitoba trades less in songs than electronic pieces that resemble songs because of the palette they’re painted with, whereas Laner appears to have constructed a set of songs and then embellished them with technology almost to the point of overkill. Shannon Lee’s presence on vocals gives an air of 60s girl-group sophistication and bliss which fits the old shoegazer trick of masking simple bubblegum pop with layers of feedback and guitar effects, but at times her presence is invasive, especially considering the sometimes awful lyrics she’s asked to deliver. “Wet On Wet” sees her intoning the refrain “you’ll taste my poison / if you should try and fu-u-u-uck me / try and fuck me”, becoming almost unbearably cringe worthy by the end of the song, which also pilfers part of its arrangement liberally from Primal Scream’s “Higher Than The Sun”.
Too often during The Mechanical Forces of Love it sounds as if Laner has gathered a wonderful set of sounds and placed them in the wrong order, but when he occasionally gets it right the results can be tantalizingly brilliant. When the reassuringly existential “Best Future” gets going its hazy layers of sound and shuffling drums are carried wonderfully by Lee’s vocals, and “I M Yrs” is a terrific slice of subtle, shimmering psychedelic house that manages to balance the widening capabilities of technology with Laner’s synaesthetic intentions. The 12 songs on The Mechanical Forces of Love are sonically loaded and demanding of attention, yet Laner leaves little space or absence among them to add context and reason.
It’s enticing and positive that people like Brad Laner are embracing the possibilities of technology so enthusiastically, but in order for it to work effectively there needs to be a much greater understanding of the subtleties and nuances of the new musical areas being created. Medicine’s new album is a hyperactive and clumsy step in the right direction.
7/26/2003 11:03:00 pm
Time, speed, distance, culture, solipsism, removal and Dizzee Rascal.
Dizzee Rascal! Yay, he’s like The Streets, only actually black, and actually garage, and actually a teenager, and actually working class, and actually from London! It’s like a socio-politico-commenting music journalist’s wet dream come to life! He got kicked out of all his classes at school except music too, that’s why he’s so good, cos it’s all he did at school! Music! Five periods of music a day! (That’s a punishment?)
I don’t know; I don’t feel like I’m qualified to comment. I’m from a completely different world. Mind you, so is everybody else who’s commenting in binary and print on young Dizzee’s brilliance. Seems to me almost as if there’s a competition to lavish the most praise and the highest score on Boy In Da Corner (he even gets two Stylus reviews, saying almost exactly the same thing and giving almost exactly the same mark, one by Gavin and one by Scott, only Scott’s is on Pitchfork). Reynolds announced it as album of the year in fucking March or something. Marcello has waxed lyrical. Come December Dizzee and Led Zeppelin will be atop Meta Critic’s poll of polls and by a fair distance too I imagine, simply because no one has the- has the what? Bollocks? Gumption? Wherewithal? Courage? Insight? Honesty? Opinion? No one will say anything other than “Dizzee is a genius”. My suspicion-hackles are up, I feel like a rabbit in an open field, far from trees and cover and safety. I’ve had a copy here for the last week, listened to a few tracks, but never sat down and put the whole thing on, never attempted to relate to it. What’s the point? Everybody else has already decided. The Mercury panel, for fuck’s sake, have put it on the shortlist, 24 hours after it was released. So garage leaves me cold. So I don’t listen to dancehall. So hip hop isn’t really my thing. So do I bother? Am I denying myself something?
Ned asked about cultural consumption and novelty and individual reasons and responses and opinions the other day in I Love Everything. Do you feel an urge to go and see a film or listen to a record just so that you can keep up your stock of cultural collateral, maintain currency in the now, keep your hand in those conversations about that elusive thing which is the zeitgeist as it stands right now. Thing is, ILX is such a multinational democracy (meritocracy?), that the now, the zeitgeist, varies depending on what country you’re in. The internet, hyperspeed communication not tethered by location or even income/class or anything at all really (at least in the Western World) other than an ability to get to a computer, means that the now is no longer localised; it’s jus made even more essential and even more ephemeral. As such Reynolds can proclaim Dizzee a genius and an incisive commentator/observer/participant (idiot savant?- “well done chap, you’ve really captured the essence of being an 18-year-old in a rundown and crime-ridden part of London, here’s a pat on the back”- it’s as ludicrous as me thinking I understand the fucking Wu Tang Clan; which is why I don’t, I just enjoy their music some of the time) from the safety of New York, before Dizzee himself has never ventured beyond the Bow Bells (but fuck it, if people actually buy his album then maybe he’ll get to, now), and no one is bothered by this because accuracy and understanding are now no longer as important as the pure speed of the comment/discussion/reporting. “Look, we’ve torn down this statue of Saddam! War is over! [soldiers continue to die for the next four months] Look! We’ve killed these two Iraqis and they look like Saddam’s sons! War is over! [soldiers continue to die for…]” “Look! George W Bush has more votes! He’s won the election! [counting isn’t finished- final counting concludes he did not win, so the count is altered…]” And the circle keeps accelerating. When do people actually find time to enjoy the now in between the frantic moments spent searching for it? At a 200-mile remove from London (and a million-year remove from England Today) the now is not on my doorstep, is not attainable at the explicit point of its nowness. Do I drive myself mad trying to capture it from afar? I have little enough time as it is.
By the time I get to see The Matrix Reloaded or Hulk or hear Dizzee or Cannibal Ox the discussion has already finished. Running to catch up is almost impossible, not to mention objectionable. There is undoubtedly a desire to be able to consume it all, to ruminate and cogitate and appreciate and understand and value-judge it all, to review and rank and list it all, to be the ubermensch perpetually on the cusp of nowness and what’s more controlling and directing it as I see fit. But this is impossible. The simple fact is that I love some of these things I find. It’s why I look for them. Elbow or Manitoba or Gillian Welch or Radiohead or Outkast or Four Tet or whoever, wherever, whatever. The last track on Phantom Power which sounds like the most wonderful cosmic fairground. The reason I try and keep up is not so that I can keep up, but rather because I want to lag that slight moment behind, at that slight remove, and enjoy the sensation of the filtered nowness, capture and keep and revisit the moments that I feel make my existence that touch more- bearable? No, not bearable. Because I could live without it. Fun. Enjoyable. Worthwhile. Staying one step ahead, or even just on step, is too much effort. I’m not running to win; I’m running to run. The goal is not to stay current, but to find more things I can enjoy. Do I need to comment on the Beyonce single or the Girls Aloud single? Not really. Five years into his career and I’ve still not said anything about Eminem.
In completely unrelated news…
Just exactly who the fuck do the Radio 1 schedulers think they’re planning for? Who’s the audience they’ve got in their head? Who in this country is getting “warmed up” to go out to a club at 5pm on a Saturday teatime? I’d wager 40% of the people drinking and puking and fighting and fucking and maybe dancing in UK clubs tonight will be still at work or else eating tea right now (5.25pm), not dancing round their bedrooms shooting coke and chugging bottles of Reef in preparation for the big night out. And once they do embark on their big night out they are not going to be listening to the radio, you fucking piss-ant. So why churn out dance anthems from 5pm onwards at the weekends? No one’s listening buddy. Eminem knows that (“nobody listens to techno”). So isn’t their maybe room to use this time for something a little more appropriate? No. And why not? Because the people who are exerting influence over the Radio 1 schedules are the mates of Judge Jules and Danny Rampling and Pete Tong and Paul Oakenfold etcetera, the same names who’ve been standing in their little disco-pulpits for the last 15 years, who’ll try and stay there for the next fifteen too. Paul Oakenfold you are this generation’s Rolling Stones, suspended animation, frozen, repeating, trudging without aim or goal or reason beyond the trudge, always trying to recapture that feeling, which was so powerful and so fleeting that you have forgotten what it’s like and how to find it. Let us come and see you in your amphitheatre once every two years when you deign it is once again time to tour. You are irrelevant, a renaissance show, a throwback. Hope you die soon. Oh- you already did.
So Dizzee’s actually playing now. These actually accented childlike yelps and the war-of-the-machines undercurrent. It’s the sound of next week, maybe. 2010, Gavin reckoned. Gun Come Save Me. ”Dizzee Rarscoow…” It’s quite good, actually. I’m quite enjoying it.
7/26/2003 05:41:00 pm
Thursday, July 24, 2003
As you may be able to tell, I have discovered how to link images.
Which is just as well because I have nothing to say.
7/24/2003 01:39:00 pm
I love these very much.
The are, by the way, Sennheiser PX100 portable headphones, and they're what I wear with my minidisc walkman. The sound is great.
7/24/2003 01:35:00 pm
7/24/2003 10:16:00 am
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
I just watched a butterfly die, it's wings twitching as it spun to earth only it wasn't earth it was water, where it lands, sticks to the surface tension, flits and rises briefly before expiring. It was one of those white butterflies too, it's name something about a cabbage? Perhaps. How long do butterflies live?
I also watched the heron, posied with predatory patience, plucking silver fish from the ochre waters of one of the University's lakes, its body-language so like that of a cat waiting to pounce, taut and on edge, utterly focused, oblivious to my presence, sitting on a rock listening to Phantom Power and tapping my feet. Normally the heron at the first suggestion of human presence makes haste and flaps lazily to the top of the nearest tall tree, where he (don't ask why I think the heron is a 'he', I'm just convinced) will conspicuously avoid your gaze as if embarassed to be seen in pursuit of fish.
7/22/2003 03:24:00 pm
"(My mind keeps returning to the same thought: 'I need to get a haircut!' Why?)"
Because, buddy (abstracted, unreal, word-based binary buddy you may be but a buddy no less) it's that tiny grain of ridiculousness that says "sense" or something like it. If I'd had a haircut yesterday it wouldn't have happened like this... Chaos theory? Yes and no. Had you had a haircut yesterday then that could have taken some of the blame. All of the blame.
7/22/2003 12:09:00 pm
MERCURY PRIZE NOMINEES
The Thrills (dull)
Lemon Jelly (tepid)
The Darkness (ridiculous)
Dizzee Rascal (violent)
Terri Walker (bland)
Martina Topley-Bird (tricky)
Eliza Carthy (folk)
Soweto Kinch (jazz)
No Four Tet, no Beth Gibbons. I am wondering why, as they are both British artists who have produced absolutely superlative albums in the last 12 months. If Radiohead don't stand out head & shoulders above the rest of this lot (Floetry and Soweto Kinch excused as I haven't heard them [has anyone?] but judging from the AMG entry for Floetry I'm not pinning any hopes on them) then I obviously cannot tell arse from Elbow. Who I hope get nominated next year.
7/22/2003 12:04:00 pm
Oh yeah, and fuck you, Grice.
7/22/2003 10:55:00 am
The SFA piece underneath this was written on auto-pilot, which is kind of worrying.
7/22/2003 10:55:00 am
This is not a record review.
Super Furry Animals
Phantom Power I can't imagine they deliberately stole this album title from The Tragically Hip, did they?
Imagine my surprise when I first put on Phantom Power last night and discovered it to be a country record. Wow. Gruff and co. socking it to Dubya with the music of his own home town, two or three tracks laden with pedal steel and and some forlorn strings poking through on occasion too. Very strange.
I slipped off Rings Around The World like an ant off frictionless glass, its expensive and slick production screaming 'maturity!' and 'longevity!' at me until I couldn't hold on anymore and had to let go. Nonplussed by Fuzzy Logic, in love with Radiator and Guerilla, keen on Outspaced and (sinfully, I know) never really arsed to listen to Mwng much (not because it's in Welsh but because it's got no techno). Where's the glam techno and frivolous pop stomp on Rings Around The World? All these mature meanderings about politics, these too-accomplished descents into electronic wibble, these ballads and suites- they're no fun, are they? And previously that's what SFA have been about. The title track managed it, just about, and "It's Not the End of the World" was sweetly melancholic enough, but- fuck, no, 'enough' is never enough; I mean is it? Come on.
The first side of Phantom Power (and at this point I've only listened to it two and a half times so these are just impressions rather than properly formed opinions) starts slow and has the country/ballady type tunes to wade through. "Hello Sunshine" has a Beatles title, some wistfully sampled female vocals to start (can't remember who they are as I left the sleeve at home), and is a sweet, winsome pop song with just a touch of Nashville. "Sex, War and Robots" is proper country though, lavished with pedal steel (I still wince slightly whenever I hear that particular instrument, though I'm getting better) and Tennesse sunsets. "Golden Retriever" is a relievingly ridiculous wiggle, short and to-the-pointless. But then we get "The Piccolo Snare" which begins as a woozy psychedelic ballad before finding something akin to a wicked groove for a minute or two, and is perhaps the first really top moment of the record.
Much of the rest of it is pretty 'meh' in a good way, like they're just doing what they do ("Venus & Serena" may not be a tune remarkable in any way but it's named after the tennis-dominating sisters and that rocks!), but the highpoints are great. "Out of Control" is a sinister Ziggy lurch with properly odd Super Furries lyrics and a riff you're sure they've filched off someone else, and it runs straight into "Cityscrape Skybaby" which is just awesome, and exactly what I want SFA to be doing at this point in their career. It'll almost certainly find it's way onto numerous compilations in the latter half of this year, as will closing track "Slow Life", which is not particularly slow but which does symbioses (is that a word?- it is now) techno better than anything else they've done before to my mind, with the possible exception of "Some Things Come from Nothing" off Guerilla.
Elsewhere there are a couple of short, pretty instrumentals and an armful of SFA-by-numbers pop songs. It's a shame to say it, but Phantom Power feels very much like business as usual for the Welsh wizards, as if they've made just another album, which is a shame, I guess, but far from a travesty. Gruff whispers more than I'd like, there isn't quite enough lysergic madness and stomping odd-pop, and the 'phantom' addressed is presumably US foreign policy and the people who come up with and support it. Still one of the most notable alternative pop bands in Britain, just not quite as magnificently unpredictable as they once were.
7/22/2003 10:47:00 am
I'm actually the least angsty person in the world 'in real life', believe it or not.
7/22/2003 09:43:00 am
Monday, July 21, 2003
So I nip into Martian Records to see if they've got the new Jane's Addiction record sans bonus DVD for a tenner (they steal all their stock from the continent and are staffed by metal heads so this is likely) because I'm not arsed enough to pay £15 in HMV or Virgin for the limited edition version (which seems to be all they have) as I am convinced that while the single at least sounds like them, the album will be disappointing, as they are now old men (and, more pertinantly, because it's a photograph of the band on the cover and not a nude woman made of papiér maché fucking herself with a dinosaur bone). Only as soon as I walk in to Martian Records I have to walk out again because the kids behind the counter (I say kids, they're probably 20-22, and I'm only 24) are listening to Live. And singing along / nodding their heads in time. Oh for fuck's sake. That record's haunting me. Only this morning another email turned up in my inbox from some irrate fan of earnest post-grunge wank for 30-somethings ("why are you making personal attacks against the singer? what's he ever done to you?" - he made a fucking awful record, mate). I've had more mail about that Live review than anything else, it's ridiculous. Hasn't the total commercial and critical failure of the record (not to mention it's screaming crapulence) even hinted to these buffoons that it might be shite? Pavlov's Dogs, the lot of them. Urgh. What's more, they were onto the worst track, "The Sanctity of Dreams", which makes my guts contract and my chest tighten. Jane's Addiction and SFA release albums on the same day (and Dizzee Rascal too - picked up a copy for Emma) and the 'bright young things' of Exeter's 'coolest music shop' are listening to Live? It's like the death of culture round here, mate.
7/21/2003 01:50:00 pm
Saturday, July 19, 2003
Marc Nguyen is a Parisian video producer and graphic artist, and Again is his first album, recorded solo at his home studio in between commissions for his day job. If I was a cruel man I’d say that I hope it’s his only album. Oh, look what I’ve gone and done.
Nguyen meanders through dub, electronica, post-punk and krautrock during the nine tracks of his album, all sounds that are incredibly ‘hip’ right now, and what’s more he does it with a supreme sense of effortlessly tasteful Frenchness which goes even further towards stapling his fingers to the zeitgeist map. Unfortunately his music is also incredibly dull and lifeless, the utter valediction of substance as style finally takes over completely. “Crazy Love” and “Version” bounce along nicely enough on drum machines (the former), hiphop beats (the latter) and rubber-band bass (both), “Version” even rising from and then dissolving back into a shallow tide of radio-noise and found sound music concrete. “Shiny Star” melds Germanic repetition of simple musical figures and motorik rhythms to Nguyen’s comically French accent, while “One Night In Tokyo” does a limp dub which Nguyen is once again conspicuously French over the top of. The production is clean and sharp but never outstanding, the ideas conceived and realised with the minimum of fuss, and therefore also the minimum amount of serendipitous discovery, resulting in a characterless exercise in imitation and flattery.
The most interesting thing about Again is the inclusion of a DVD in which Nguyen flexes his day job muscles and adds videos to five of the songs from the CD, but even this adds precious little depth and sense to the record. In fact “Crazy Love” is made mildly irritating as opposed to merely inconsequential once it’s allied to the imposition of Nguyen’s own peculiar synaesthetic vision of a minimalist animated running figure. “Vision” is treated better, with a highly visually affected video of a car ride that echoes the seminal Stan Brakhage and the dizzying motorway journey from the first part of Tarkovsky’s soporific Solaris, but “Where” is given an impossibly dull sequence of a man shuffling some photographs. “This River” slowly melts a man standing at the aft of a ferry into nothingness, creating a sense of ephemeral beauty which put me in mind of Chris Marker’s exquisite 1962 short film La Jetée. The video for the title track is easily the best, a beautiful and iridescent shimmer of light and texture oddly redolent of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. If only the music weren’t so imperiously fucking bland and Nguyen had resisted the urge to plaster the lyrics of the song over the centre of the image making it look like a Beneton advert, it might’ve been approaching the greatness it clearly aspires to.
Again is an opportunity missed by such distance as to become pointless and even irritating.
7/19/2003 04:30:00 pm
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Cast Of Thousands
Guy Garvey's voice is fractured glass, opening your skin and letting loose blood which coalesces with tears and the trace of her eyeliner.
The new Elbow record is beautiful.
7/17/2003 10:09:00 am
So I finally heard a Dizzee Rascal track on the radio last night in the car, and I was all like 'meh'. Shuh. I guess I'll pick up the album out of a sense of obligation to know what's going on, but really, this isn't going to be my record of the year.
Plus it was being played by Zane Lowe, who really is the indie Tim Westwood (most intelligent comment I've seen in NME for years).
Oh, and Neil Kulkarni I'm sorry. I didn't realise it was you. I will buy the Aspera record by way of an apology.
7/17/2003 10:05:00 am
So I borrowed some Ludacris off Emma’s brother Pete, who is 17, because I figure if I’m gonna be known for arguing with Simon Reynolds about Ludacris I ought to actually hear Ludacris. I’d wager I wont really like it. I wont dislike it, I wont mind it. But I wont be blown away. I’m a 24-year-old white guy from Devon, I live by the sea. Much as I love Public Enemy or De La Soul or Tribe or El-P I feel like a complete cultural tourist when it comes to hiphop, as much as I would (and do) listening to Polynesian music or Buena Vista Social Club or Russian folk or heavy metal or hardcore. There you go. But I’ll give it a go.
New Muse track. Went to school with Muse, saw their first ever gigs. Used to sit next to Chris in science on Thursday afternoons (it could’ve been Monday mornings or Friday lunchtimes but you get what I mean). Bought their first album the day it came out, an inconsequential Monday in Northampton. And it fucking sucked, so I took it back and swapped it for a Leftfield album (the shit one). I never bothered paying attention to the next album cos the cover looked like Orange Can and they suck. But “Stockholm Syndrome” rocks like a demented demon with dementia. I’m tempted to get in touch with Bellamy and the others and try and sort out an interview for Stylus.
7/17/2003 12:07:00 am
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
What's my voice? My authorial voice? My written voice? The personality of my words? Do I even have one? I'm all over. I have no essence.
If you know what my essence is, email me. I need to be told. What am I good at? Anything?
7/16/2003 04:43:00 pm
Graduation day here. The girl from the campus shop is wearing a gown and cape and hat and shoes and stuff rather than a green t-shirt. The kid in the Stone Roses t-shirt and bad shoes is in a gown and cape and hat and still bad shoes. His mum's taking a picture of him next to the Tianeman Square statue (apologies for the spelling of Tianeman). She's so proud. I wouldn't be. His girlfriend's minging and he's 22 and still obsessed with The Stone Roses. Even I'd got over it by then. And my girlfriend is not minging; she's pretty as sin. I'm such a fuck. He'd have been 15 when they split up, and 8 when they were good. Shucks.
All this gown wearing shite.
Maybe I'm just jealous because I didn't go to mine out of some bizarre sense of idealism and inverted pride. I will not bee seen smiling and mugging for you fuckers to take publicity shots after you treated me liek shit.
Sitting in The Ram Bar at lunchtime, Erin eating chips and me eating a Mars bar, watching these be-gowned kids and their gurning parents sip Pimms and champagne and eat strawberries (oh, it's such a shame it's overcast today), it's fitting that the video jukebox is playing Coldplay and goth-Xtina (has she watched The Cell one too many times?). I guess this is the last real rite of passage. Off to work now.
7/16/2003 04:16:00 pm
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Auspicious fish are / is a Buddhist sign of happiness. Which I did not know until just now.
7/15/2003 10:18:00 am
I almost feel guilty because it’s one of the most indulgent, solipsistic things you can do, and I already do enough indulgent, solipsistic things, but I enjoyed it, and really, if there’s a better thing to do on a hot July evening, especially when you live where I live, I haven’t come across it yet. Part of me wonders, for a brief second, about authenticity, whether what I did this evening loses some of its charm and magic and power because it was pre-planned and not at all spontaneous, but what the hell’s authenticity anyway? Gavin’s been mulling it over for weeks (note to Gav; smoke less weed, man) but as ever I think I stand with Heidegger. It’s not about being real or natural or anything like that; it’s just about knowing what you’re doing, engaging with the world, being aware, aroused from the everyday world by angst (yeah, right), understand the existential structure of your life, etcetera ad infinitum. And there’s no doubt that I fully understood the ontology, the significance, the beauty, the preparedness of this evening. Hell, I’d been thinking about it all day. Do I stay in and work on my CV so I can apply for that job? Do I make notes on that David Sylvian record so I can review it? Or do I go to the beach with my walkman and skim stones across the mirrored surface of the river? Fuck me, it’s not a hard choice. And if I’ve got to set Pause recording onto minidisc while I have my tea so I can listen to what I believe to be the perfect accompaniment to the evening’s festivities, then so be it. That’s not fake, is it? I may have thought about it, planned it before it happened, but for the time I was doing it I actually was doing it.
Dawlish Warren is a sandbar which spits out from a big lump of sandstone at the end of Dawlish beach called Red Rock into the mouth of the river Exe. The Exe estuary is a haven for wildlife and seabirds, and while the seaward side of the Warren may be a tourist beach, the riverside is a nature reserve and members-only golf course. At the far end of the Warren is the Point, at which you’re closer to Exmouth than Dawlish by about two miles, which is strange, because to drive to Exmouth you have to traverse the river Exe as far as Exeter before driving down the other side, and the trip takes about 2 hours there and back. From Warren Point you can throw a stone and, if your technique is hot, hit Exmouth beach. On misty autumn mornings you can stand on the seaward side of the sandbar and see neither Dawlish nor Exmouth nor anything at all further than 20 yards away, and at those times you could be the only person in existence. On the riverside of the Warren the sandbar curves back in on itself in the river like a shepherds crook, and forms what at low tide is a wading-bird-friendly mud plain, and at high tide is a beautiful, calm, freshwater bay that faces onto Cockwood harbour and Starcross pier. It is, as far as I know, the perfect place in the world to go skimming flat pebbles across the water.
Walking across sand dunes is one of the most energy-sapping things you can do, each footfall absorbed into the sand, kinetic energy stolen by the drift of nature’s most luxurious shag pile, equal parts joy and frustration as grains both caress and irritate your feet. Marram grass absorbs any wind, leaving the dunes stultifyingly hot and bereft of breeze, whilst stinging nettles and thorn fronds scrabble for your bare shins and ankles. Signs warn against the dermatological nightmare of brown-tailed moth caterpillars, eager to leave 3mm long spikes dripping with mild poison embedded in your flesh. Dune-flies and rock pippets leap from bushes as you approach, the tiny brown birds flapping their wings two, three times before drawing them into their puffed chests and falling out of the sheer joy of descent before splaying winds and rising into the air again. Thin trails of ants traverse the dune-paths like conveyor belts, convinced no more humans will disturb their unified foraging now the sun has risen, peaked, and begun to descend again. By the edge of the sea strange, malevolent-looking flea-like flies jump and skip and hop and avoid the lapping, rolling water as people invade their territory with rippled paddling.
Kieran Hebdon’s Pause is one of my very favourite records, a beatific document of the pastoral idyll made with the very latest technology, the perfect synthesis of man, machine, and the world we live in. Take Heidegger’s notion of authenticity over any other and it is one of the most real and honest records I’ve heard. It is fireflies, breaking waves, balmed branches, loquacious nature. I love it. In many ways it’s like the environment of the dunes; seemingly arid and windswept at first but actually teeming with life and vibrant colour once you take a closer look and immerse yourself in it.
Leaving my little red automobile at the far end of the car park I put on my walkman and strolled the beach, hurriedly passing the tourists and early-evening sun seekers until I was safe on the uninhabited area of shore past the third groyne. From then on I filled my pockets with flat pebbles, five, ten, a dozen-and-a-half, each more potentially perfect than the last, until my shorts were so burdened with car keys and walkmans and pebbles that I had to pause and tie a knot in the waist cord to keep them from slipping down, all the while harps and clicks and broken beats and electronic bliss heightening my consciousness, the breaking waves of “Twenty Three” mixing with the breaking waves of the actual sea five yards to my right. And in the midst of this I hesitate a second and think two things- one; that the people on the beach are looking at me filling my pockets with flat pebbles and listening to my walkman and they are thinking I am mad (a good pair of headphones does wonders for your ability to not give a fuck), and two; that I don’t know whether the music is accentuating my appreciation of the world or if the world is accentuating my appreciation of the music… Art, life. Life, art. By the time the twitching melody of “Everything Is Alright” rolls around I neither know nor care.
Skimming stones requires a canny touch over brute force, a flick of the wrist and finger more important than a powerful swing of the arm. It’s all about surface tension, rotation, momentum and gravity. Even a round stone will skim if its momentum and the surface tension of the water outweigh the pull of gravity upon it. Large stones, the size of the palm of your hand, are best if your technique is good, their surface area helping them skip the undulating surface better than smaller, lighter pebbles. Paddling through the freshwater bay hidden behind the sandbar of the Warren, listening to Four Tet and flicking stones across the water, dead crabs and live crayfish, my old, old trainers, Superstars with orange trim that I’ve had since I was 19, so far past warranting keeping dry that I willingly wear them in the water because they deserve the sensation more than I do, not a person in sight, a long-sunken boat’s mast thrusting at a drunken perpendicular through the water, shags and herons and myriad other wading birds adding their coos and chirps as layers of melody to the music bound only for my ears, the ripple of the water as it gently tides into the beach behind me adding rhythm… At best I managed 18 bounces across the flowing pond. Champion. There really is no better thing to do.
As I walked back along the beach, my feet lapped at by the microcosmic surf, I switched the minidisc to a copy of Hex by Bark Psychosis. Over the dunes to my right the sun was beginning to set, caught behind clouds, golden drafts of light searching upwards in a comically perfect sunset like the word of God in some 50s Biblical epic. The lurid pre-twilight turned the sea vanilla and the far sky pink. I sat on a desiccated tree trunk, long washed up onto the shore as driftwood, and listened to “Absent Friend”. What else is there?
7/15/2003 09:38:00 am
Friday, July 11, 2003
I went a bit mad last night trying to fathom why and how I love music. The result is here.
7/11/2003 12:36:00 pm
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Should I kill J0hn Vand1v3r Gr1c3? Email me your answer to email@example.com.
7/10/2003 03:22:00 pm
Top Ten Albums of 1995…
Strange things happen to a boy when he hits 16. Drugs, drink, the depths of adolescence, an incontrovertible desire to do something, to mean something, to find a place and an importance, to fit in and also to govern. Masturbation, imitation, conviction, ignorance, unrequited passion focused in the wrong places. You might cry late at night for no other reason than the fact that you don’t know who you are… You might find yourself destroying things merely because you can… The records that hit you at this time can shape you for years to come… I turned 16 in 1995 and these are my favourite records from that year. Most grabbed me at the time, but some I have only discovered since, making me wonder who I might be now had I known them 8 years ago.
Teenage Fanclub Grand Prix
Sweet songs and chiming guitars and unarguable truth that scruffy men from Scotland understand love and hope and simple beauty better than just about anybody else. One of my most played records as a 16-year-old, and one of my most fondly revisited now, this improves with age and familiarity.
“You can’t like that, it’s fucking dance music”, so said my friends. Fuck them. Fuck you. This is revolution, beautiful and deep and forceful. Maybe I can’t dance but that doesn’t mean I don’t love groove and texture and electronic fire. This is the legacy of The Sex Pistols.
PJ Harvey To Bring You My Love
But she’s a woman… and women… don’t make music… as well as… Bollocks, rubbish. If “Send His Love To Me” isn’t the most desperate proclamation a 16-year-old boy can hear from the mouth of a strong, hurting, dark-eyed woman, the most erotic and needed thing in his world, I don’t know what is.
Mouse On Mars Iaora Tahiti
A recent discovery but oh how I wish I’d had it back then, to shove in the face of the detractors and say “listen to this, this is class, tell me anyone could do it, tell me it’s not fun and energy and technique and brilliance, and shove your guitars up your arse and fuck off while you’re doing it…”
Pulp Different Class
The bus on the back cover was from my home town and the band came from the same place as my family. They made it alright to be smart and have a sense of humour and be cool by not being cool. Oasis and Blur might’ve been fighting for number one, but Pulp were coming in last brilliantly.
Scott Walker Tilt
I remember hushed mentions of its darkness from the time but only found it for myself a few weeks ago. I’m glad I didn’t find it then, there’s no way I would have coped with this grotesque desolation and anguish, and from such an unexpected direction to, a Walker Brother, in the midst of a 60s revival, making this…
The Boo Radleys Wake Up!
And we did wake up, every morning of that summer, and it was there and it was perfect, melted in the heat and reformed in weird, twisted, liquid shapes, trumpets and noise and hooks and the most honest closer you’d known, smuggling beautiful strangeness in under the garb of pop.
Genius/GZA Liquid Swords
Really I didn’t get this until last year, but at 16 I was obsessed with 36 Chambers, and hell, if this isn’t somehow, in some way, fucking better than that. I mean, all these black dudes in ninja hoods from Staten Island and I’m a kid in a bad pair of jeans from the English seaside, blow my mind already.
Oh like I could’ve understood this back then, like I could understand it now. Tricky himself doesn’t understand it. It’s dark sex and paranoia, what does a provincial teenager know of this, of this urban hypnosis and carnal repression? But I knew it was powerful, and oh how…
The Verve A Northern Soul
Made me buy a red denim jacket. Made me stand in front of a mirror. Made me want to set things alight. Made me dance naked on the bed. Made me fall to my knees and cry. Impacted on my mind and heart and psyche like almost nothing else before or since, scoured my soul forever.
7/10/2003 02:16:00 pm
Take a chance girl, open yourself up to possibilities. Don't walk so fast, risk being late for a change. Don't wear the seatbelt on the minibus. How much are you gonna regret all this trepidation when you realise it later?
7/10/2003 09:42:00 am
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
To The Thief
Hail To The Thief throws Radiohead’s last two albums into violent perspective; they weren’t, as some have suggested, pissing around for the sake of it. They weren’t leaving behind their previous career; they weren’t heading down deliberately difficult and different new directions. Six years past OK Computer and people still can’t get over it. Kid A headed further down the same road, people. So much further that you could no longer see where they started.
I was 18 when OK Computer was released and I wasn’t fussed; Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was for me a much braver and more exciting album, a record that grabbed at my guts and opened my mind. OK Computer was something I had a vague and grudging respect for, but little time. Much the same with The Bends; I didn’t need it when A Northern Soul spoke to me much louder and clearer. Yes, this is good, but I…
We are not going back to The Bends, people. We have decompressed forever now. If time travel were possible someone would have come back and told us by now. Forward. Forward. Do not stop. A static pond is a stagnant pond. Why be a tourist in Cuba when you can be a revolutionary in your hometown? The state of play now is that we don’t want to play. How can we play? How can we play?
Kid A looks and sounds and smells, hidden booklets and all, like a masterpiece to me now. Didn’t at the time. Burnt and oblique and dissolved from all sense of form as you would know it, this is out of modernism and through the dilettante and way, way out the other side. To get this to number one? What feat. What price that! Number one with nary a single in sight and this is not with a prism and a false beginning. Flowers and hurricanes; I’m not here. This isn’t happening. Amnesiac is a faltering breath. This is what we are doing now. Look, it is good. It’s not a token. It’s not a token. It’s us. Too soon off the back. But look! We can do this. We are doing this.
If you are ten degrees and walk a mile from your origin then you may appear broad but it is an illusion. If you are no degrees, zero, then you have no origin and you are as broad as you are non-existent. With OK Computer Radiohead opened up to 180 degrees and walked a mile and appeared to be everything. Where do you go from there? Back upon yourself? No. You dissolve yourself, you become no degrees, and you become no degrees by going full circle, reaching 360 and closing.
Thom Yorke is a selfish and spoilt little witch. I will not sing for you, I with my voice that every other sensitive young man is now stole. They have stole my voice. I am now the cackle and the moan. I will not sing for you when I am stole by you. I am cackle; I am moan. “Myxamatosis” comments on our state of cultural sickness; fucking and dying like rabbits, “no one likes a smart arse / but we all like stars”. Thom asks you, “put me down”, and could almost be Costello for a moment, the bile risen so high it escapes from his mouth.
Outside of its home “There There” appears shapeless and lacklustre. Taken in its place it is a locked motion and broken acceleration. It’s not a single! They know that. You think they don’t? Listen to it; “just ‘cos you feel it / doesn’t mean it’s there.” There is on this album some reassurance for you; some guitar donated by Johnny Greenwood, still one amongst himself after all these years. These moments are not as often as you would like. You can go elsewhere for them now anyway, and you have. Go. Drink the milk. “2+2=5” is the most direct thing Radiohead have given us in 5 years and still it is spitting “don’t question my authority or put me in a box” because it hates you. Is this a political album? Is that Bush’s voice? An opening song about failed counting, a title Michael Moore considered too direct? This record bleeds oblique political sickness. This is not fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me. This is I fear for my children.
“Sit Down. Stand Up” tempts you into thinking that maybe you can feel safe for 2 minutes and then it hints, for those with open ears, at where it wishes to be. From thence it stabs inexorably at its destiny, until finally it is subsumed within an electronic gallop. “Sail To The Moon” demonstrates how to use a piano. Is it a ballad? It’s not even a song. “Bones” and “High And Dry” and the rest would take a feeling and hammer it into shape, lead you by the hand through the construct. Now we are in the territory of freedom, of half-melodies and uncaught thoughts. There is no guide now.
“We Suck Young Blood” wanders like a drunkard for a time it cannot understand, fumbles an autistic climax, and slowly finds the door. “Backdrifts” consumes itself in wave upon wave of treated technological sound; even that sounds orthodox compared to “The Gloaming”’s eerie electronic spider web, condemning US foreign policy through gossamer gauze. “Scatterbrain,” as loose and open as it is, in this context becomes warm and comforting, a thing of real strange beauty.
The solipsistic electronic impulses are tempered by the organic cooperative, the blips and whirrs given grooves and lines to work within, sound as effective as structure, neither given preference, melody and harmony and rhythm and noise all taken. Far from perfect; this is a human work after all. And it is work, make no mistake. Anyone who mistakes the artist for the angel does not understand the nature of work. The angel does not exist and cannot be called to task; it is the thought of the angel that frees us, not the angel itself.
Radiohead’s best album? Their most purposeful for some time. What did you expect? Expect nothing. You can’t trust Radiohead.
7/08/2003 03:00:00 pm
Friday, July 04, 2003
Bark Psychosis make me want to die. In a good way.
7/04/2003 11:57:00 pm
Thursday, July 03, 2003
That makes approx. 7,000 words this week. Aren't you lucky?
7/03/2003 02:25:00 pm
Mark Hollis said he wanted Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock to achieve both “complete intensity and complete calm” and they did somehow and what’s more they did it almost perfectly, a sense of fate (and man I don’t believe in fate; I read Nausea at 19 and my world melted, not this “solid into air” stuff, no way, solid into liquid, seeping into the ground, gone gone gone) and undeniability and rightness (yes, this is the point at which you all say “oh for fuck’s sake not another excuse for this English twat to wiffle wiffle piff piff on about fucking Talk Talk again, get over it already”). The thing is that so many people have taken from Talk Talk, heard them and changed their sound, begun something because of hearing them, whichever, and yet they all seem to take the “complete calm” strand of the thread, without realising that the “complete intensity” strand is just as important, that they each need the context of the other, that they work together, symbiosis. Even Hollis himself took the “complete calm” path on his solo record, sonically at least. The intensity of the man’s mind, his soul (there it is again and I still don’t believe we have them) is there; can you listen to “Westward Bound”, a song that’s probably about moving back to London so his kids can go to the cinema more easily, and not feel an overwhelming sadness and grief and openness? Because that’s the intensity of his soul and it is disquieting (and yet so quiet) and I cannot listen to it more than once every two months or so and then I have to have found that space, that need for it, because it is not comfortable music. Perhaps ‘O’Rang took the sonic intensity, Herd Of Instinct has many great and beautiful and wonderful moments when skronk and scree overtake the taughtness and tightness of rhythm, the comfortable flowing bedrock, and challenge you to take it and you can but still they are nothing like the moments in Spirit, the broiling, restless, drowning sea of percussion that tears apart “Desire” and fills up your lungs with painful salt, nothing like that in ‘O’Rang.
This music, this Spacebox, it is so quiet and low and full of holes (the space between the notes, yes we know how important they are now) that you wonder how it exists, whether Benoit Burello ever shouts, whether he has fire in his eyes and in his mind, so quiet you wonder how it got made.
Like Hood and Bark Psychosis this is the Talk Talk I can listen to whenever I feel the need for the sound and the feeling without the full-on catharsis and redemption and awakening (because I can’t do that every day, no, no matter how much I would like). No electronics here and of course that disappoints me but not too much because I can have electronics elsewhere (little moments of computer jazz, oh!). No, Benoit strips down and back, drums and double bass (returning to prevalence, how warm and fuzzy and reverberant is that sound, those big long strings and the strong fingers that foosh them), acoustic guitar, electric guitar, sparse and frayed piano, maybe a clarinet or saxophone, I thought I heard some strings but they remain unlisted so maybe I merely imagined them and I can imagine that Benoit would be pleased that I had done so because this is music for imaginings and dreams as much as anything else. See that candle? I was disconcerted (not always scared) by dreams when I was a child so it is now a boon to be able to find them in waking safety. Those pointillist melodies and drifting endings where the song circles itself like a cat bedding down, Benoit’s voice so often double-tracked and effortless (if not something I am completely comfortable with) fading away and allowing the mood to carry the song (such as you can call them songs). I know it’s a substitute, facsimile, I know I am only listening to this because I cannot bear to listen to that other thing as often as I would like to. But it still has value.
7/03/2003 02:07:00 pm
Start Breaking My Heart
The Leaf Label
Tiny crocodiles playing robot jazz inside your heating duct.
[this is a good thing]
7/03/2003 12:33:00 pm
"All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within them, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours."
James Baldwin, Sonny's Blues
7/03/2003 10:07:00 am
The Great British Music Debate
Two negatives make a positive, but two positives don’t make a negative.
And so, after three hours of Steve Lamacq and Kate Thornton and Simon Mayo and Stuart fucking Maconie and Jeremy Vine wringing their hands and complaining that
fuck shit horror middle-aged crisis they don’t like what’s in the charts and nobody makes singles like what Marc fucking Bolan did (“in the old days it were all fields round ‘ere,” sez Maconie, “and me gran knew what was at number one!”) and *gasp* anyone can get a number one single with the right marketing team, we get Janice Long introducing five (count ‘em, five!) bright young things, hopes, saviours, futures of the British Music Industry © and yes yes yes the first one sounds like Ocean Colour Scene mixed with Travis, the second sounds like Texas, the third sounds like David Gray and by the fourth I have jumped into my car and driven into the wild blue yonder, safe in the knowledge that I’ve spent £120 in the last six days on music. David Gray! He’s called Rob. Some twat who heard a Bill Withers record once and thinks that if you can match the sound of his voice (like going down B&Q with a piece of blouse ripped from the last girl you dosed with GHB and then date-raped and saying “can you get me some gloss in this shade of slag pink?”) then you’ve somehow managed to capture the very essence of his soul. Cos that works. Oh for fuck’s sake.
“I’m sure you’re going to agree that we’ve heard five acts… [yes, true]… who, er, give us all hope for the future…” says Janice Long after the fifth pile of steaming derivative crap finishes. Oh for fuck’s sake.
“The future of great British music!” says Richard Alanson. And then he plays “Changing Man” by Paul Weller. Oh for fuck’s sake.
Record sales fell 4% in 2002 in the UK. And yet we still spend more per head on music than any other country in the world. But great new bands like Coldplay and David Gray and Dido and Badly Drawn Boy and Daniel Bedingfield are emerging… Oh for fuck’s sake.
I know I know I know I should just stop listening but you know, I spent £120 on music in the last six days, I love music, it’s the only thing that serves to give me doubt in my refutation of the human soul. What the fuck am I doing? What is this insipid MOR toss they’re playing at me now? Alisha’s Attic?! Oh for fuck’s sake.
You want to know why you don’t like what’s in the singles chart, Jeremy Vine? Because you’re 40 years old and you never fucking cared anyway. Yeah, I think you’re a decent journalist, yeah I’m glad that you like the British Sea Power record, but you can fuck off if you think I’m taking any more advice from you, not giving you any more credence. Your audience can’t even send a fucking text message properly then. The Thrills? Morcheeba? John Mellancamp? Stereophonics? These are the best you can offer? These are the alternative to the “plastic moulded popstars” you so loathe? Let me tell you something; they are no better. You fucking fools. You safe, middle-aged, conservative, traditional stuck-in-the-mud fools. If anything they are worse. How do you-
“Cloudbursting”! Oh thank fuck! Oh bliss… Oh heaven… This nonsensical sense, this sensuality, this strange and enfolded allure… “I just know that something good is gonna happen / I don’t know when / but just saying it could even make it happen…”
“Record companies don’t support the real talent; i.e.; acoustic musicians like myself…” DIE! Die die die die die! I kill you with swords! mark s I’m so sorry I thought The Clash could make people dance and give them an idea of how to make real, small, microcosmic revolutions in their everyday lives that would open skies for them and it would be beautiful but now I see that yes maybe you’re right and we need The Sex Pistols to smash things up and destroy peoples minds and thought systems in order to free their souls from the cages of their earthly, capitalism-riddled bodies, the shock, the horror, the escape, the final destruction of identity and the release that comes with that (but it is not mine and cannot be mine, 24, lives by the sea, solipsist, knows he needs to escape the self and is seeking his own way, can’t know the shock and horror because it’s yours and not mine, it can’t pass on a generation, it’s not a gene or even a meme…)… and now they’re playing The Stereophonics who are playing at being a lounge band, wanking wah wah on every surface, playing “The Littlest Hobo” and oh for fuck’s sake is this the future? Because it sounds like death to me oh god oh god oh god oh god…
7/03/2003 09:21:00 am
The Great British Music Debate
“Pretty well heard all of it although I’ve been keeping an aye on the tennis as well…” and doesn’t that just sum up the whole fucking problem, eh? Keeping an eye on the tennis. We won that once too. Play The Smiths. That’s it. Oh, Blake was right, Jerusalem, oh yes, England’s green and pleasant land and he was seeing angels just like I am seeing angels and all you could ever do was put them in a fucking cage, you fucking hypocrites, murderers, fascists, this is not your culture anymore, it is OURS.
30 years ago it was not totally different, people won’t forget it anymore than people forgot whoever the fuck it is that you can’t remember from 1973 you fucking fuck, singer songwriters? Die die die die die. You are not the person who is meant to remember what is number one now. “Dance culture… very boring for some of us over a certain age…” You cunt. You are your father. You are the one thing you always said you would never ever ever be. Which means you failed. Which means get the fuck out. This is MINE. This is OURS.
I downloaded two Four Tet tracks a year and half ago and now I own all three of his albums and a Fridge album and two Manitoba albums and numerous singles and theboylucas and Prefuse 73 and Savath & Savalas and and and and and all because of those two tracks. People download because they want to hear things. You don’t understand how much I hate you. All I was doing was dancing on my own and I was happy and you can’t stand that. Is this how you want me to live my life? Like you? You never smile. For fuck’s sake don’t crush me like you got crushed yourself. It’s not the only way. I want beauty and fire and grief and hate and love and I do not want this cold cold resignation and bitterness. I hear this; Travis, Texas. The Great British Music Debate. I hear this; Travis, Texas. And I hear death. And cold cold resignation. I’m sorry your friends are dead but we are not yet dead. We’ve seen enough to know that this and now are what we have and what we are. We can mourn or we can turn away and live.
“There is so much to say about this music. I don’t mean so much to explain because that’s stupid, the music speaks for itself. What I mean is that so much flashes through my mind when I hear the tapes of this album that if I could I would write a novel about it full of life and scenes and people and blood and sweat and love.
And sometimes I think maybe what we need is to tell people that this is here because somehow in this plasticized world they have the automatic reflex that if something is labelled one way then that is all there is in it and we are always finding out to our surprise that there is more to Ginsberg or more to ‘Trane or more to Stravinsky than whatever it was we thought was there in the first place…
So Lenny Bruce said there is only what is and that’s a pretty good basis for a start. This music is. This music is new. This music is new music and it hits me like an electric shock…”
From Ralph J Gleason’s original liner notes to Bitches Brew. Yes, the liner notes that brought a tear to my eye last night.
Tell me where to go. Show us the roads. Marcello, Todd, mark, Gavin, Joe, Cozen, Karim, Simon, Ian, kate, Stevie, Sam… please… please… please… For fuck’s sake don’t let us die. Point us in the direction. We’re all fractured. We’re all scared. But we don’t want to be.
“And all the world is football shaped… /… one two three four five / senses working overtime…” XTC do it better. You’re all so tired. Give in and go home. It’s nearly midnight. It’s all happening. You can’t see it.
And here they come. Coldplay. “Let’s go back to the start…” Fools. Onwards. To go backwards… is to die. I’m not ready.
7/03/2003 09:21:00 am
A sunny morning.
7/03/2003 09:21:00 am
Wednesday, July 02, 2003
I hate music writing. Journalism. Writers. I hate it. I hate having to read it, I hate having to do it. It's an evil. A necessary evil perhaps, but an evil nonetheless. What is it? Why? I am compelled to do it because of... sins in a past life? Psychological weakness? I'm sure I'd be much happier if I didn't have to do this. You get no thanks, no nothing. Is it satisfying? No... What's it for? All these people who want to be Baudrillard or Borges or Burchill (god forbid)... Why? Why on earth would you want that? And why on earth would you see writing about music as the way to do it? All I want you to do is tell me what's going to soar my (non-existant) soul... Tell me how, tell me why... This is not the terrain of the romantic spirit... This is not the terrain of people who move through life as if through silken air... This is not the place for love and life and endless skies...
I hate it. And yet last night I was actually, briefly and strangely, reduced to tears by a piece of writing about music. What piece? What example of a medium, a form, that I hate, could reduce me to tears?
Ralph J. Gleason's liner notes to Bitches Brew.
Ridiculous, I know. I'll see if I can find them online somewhere, and copy&paste them into here so you can read them too.
7/02/2003 10:08:00 am
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
Album of the Year
Wrecking Ball Gillian Welch
“Just a little dead head” – Gerry? Or an unborn / bound / expired / imprisoned mind? Till now. Oh Gillian. This is release; by anyone else’s standard’s it is tame and lightweight. By yours it is anarchy and chaos. The acolytes of dead rulebooks squawk and balk and say this is blasphemy at those drums, organs, electric guitar.
Gillian I love you.
Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard (A True Story) !!!
Radio 4 had the aesthetic down pretty much but
oh no they didn’t do this. The bass is on the floor, crawling and grabbing, the guitar is less a postpunk scratch and fire than a synaesthetic implement. Nine minutes! “People always ask me / what’s so fucking great about dancing? / how the fuck should I know?” Less “Fools Gold” than fools told.
Maps Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The album moves from sexual/sensual tension and liberation and release into territory more driven by strung-out emotional tension in the second half. “Maps” is the highpoint. Karen O simply runs out of words and reverts to a low primal moan; even when she can find them they are hideously, beautifully inarticulate words – “wait; they don’t love you like I love you…” They work.
Snake Audio Bullys
They are not bullies; they are soft lads, mummy’s boys. He makes Skinner sound like Glenn Campbell and as such I can’t get through the album. The Specials? Maybe. This stares you down, thinks your jacket is shit, spills beer on your trainers. Fuck you.
This stuff is manna to me. And what’s more it’s French. Pointilist guitars, electric and acoustic, drift above sparse piano, the voice fades (as it should; I am not familiar enough to love it’s double-tracked whaft yet), stand-up bass, scarce drums. Mark Hollis wanted Laughing Stock and Spirit Of Eden to achieve “absolute intensity and absolute calm”. So often followers choose absolute calm.
Uprock And Invigorate Prefuse 73
Ok Simon, so I was hasty and obnoxious. I’m 24 and you’re 40. I don’t have time to delineate everything. This is still good. Headphone hiphop. More stand-up bass, is that? Empty, for sure, but who’s bothered about content anymore?
Kid You’ll Move Mountains Manitoba
So the album is almost overkill, overexposed, a burnt negative, the colours too bright and lurid to take in every day – it’s still magnificent. Start Breaking My Heart gets better every day too. This goes nowhere; I don’t care for plot. Details, details everywhere, a stream of conscious given beats and flutes and glitch and momentum.
Where I End And You Begin Radiohead
Thom back at Glastonbury after how long? Last time I was unfussed. Spiritualized and Orbital were melding my mind. Thom is dancing this year, twitching and pirouetting like a crippled ballet-child, dancing like I dance when I’m taking the piss. Hail To The Thief may just be their best record. “I will eat you alive…” You wont, but thanks for trying.
7/01/2003 04:43:00 pm
And Sam makes five.
7/01/2003 04:42:00 pm
Album of the Year
Or rather a compilation of my favourite songs from the first six months of 2003…
Graham’s gone, nobody cares, Damon goes to Mali and translates the TechnoKrautGrooveMisery of 13 into something more melodic, maybe, a rescue vehicle? Canyon horns and amphibious bass. Get that falsetto – “I ain’t got nothing to be scared of”, false, fabricated, unreal. He’s not scared.
EZ Pass Har Mar Superstar
You are from Police Academy and I claim my £5. But that piano roll is perfect, those drums, the movement, the way they first slink up beside you for half a bar… “cash / dash / easy pass / gonna ride that tunnel till the babies hatch / keep it lock down / throw away the key / my second home is known as New York City…” You dirty bitch.
You Were Wrong Loose Fur
Jeff Tweedy sings from a liquor-induced coma. This is the ‘pop’ one from the eponymous album by this trio of alt.country and avant journeymen. “You were wrong / to believe / in me” and I break into tiny pieces. I could drown in his voice – he already has.
Move Your Feet Junior Senior
From the sublime to the ridiculous. How gay? Very gay. No verse – hook, bridge, chorus, hook, bridge, chorus. Relentless. Overexposure can leave you disoriented and nauseous. The horns are so obviously fucking fake (AR Kane’s shite moments?) and the chorus so obviously fucking rips off MJ (well, he can’t very well use it at the moment can he?) but we don’t care. “Move your feet until united.” Yes.
The Only Road Richard Hawley
And back to the sublime. Who’d have thought he’d have this baritone? Longpigs string-stroker turned guitar-for-hire. Mature, resigned, beautiful, it should be crapulent. “I water flowers in the rain / I dance beneath your silver frame / … I’m crippled by the sound of love…”
Little Eyes Yo La Tengo
First I’ve heard from them, Summer Sun. The younger lads at Stylus, weaned on their noisier, more alt.pop moments of triumph and recalcitrant squall, were unimpressed, bored even, by it. I like it; nothing spectacular, but grown, unfurled, comfortable. This is subtle, whirrs and glistens and delicate voice.
As Serious As Your Life Four Tet
Rock’n’roll recontextualisation, doing a sinewave tango, a quantum foxtrot, taking a riff and tearing it into constituent parts, move them, shake them, curl them about a lamppost, reduce it to bits and bytes and processors. In how many ways do I love you, Kieran Hebdon?
The Lonely British Sea Power
I don’t reckon to like indie. Balls. Balls. Fact is British Sea Power are very good. This stays the right side of noise and melody, nothingness lyrics that force you to ask questions – what does this mean? – that you then have to find answers for. They tear apart what a song is for, why we love it. Any song. This song.
Soul Cry Susumu Yokota
Moved away from The Leaf Label (how much do I have to be thankful to Graham Sutton for? – lots) and from his beautiful ambient music, painted with a different palette of sound and texture to almost anyone else, to Play and Over Head and (almost) his dance roots, far from a masterpiece but still more accomplished then you can imagine.
7/01/2003 03:47:00 pm
Despite my complete and utter state of rage with Blogger for not being able to handle large posts, my life is not all that bad. Yesterday lunchtime I was thwarted and angered by Exeter's record shops because they are all hopeless, badly-stocked dystopias of crapulence (no Cold House by Hood, no David Sylvian at all), and so proceeded to order David Sylvian's new LP, Super Are by The Boredoms and the aforementioned Hood LP from Amazon at approximately 2.30pm. This morning they arrived at Emma's house. Good lord Amazon! That was quick.
I assume they have an ulterior motive for dispatching to me quickly though - as I order so much stuff off them they are keen to speed up their service so I in turn speed up my orders and the merry-go-round of my CD spending at Amazon increases in velocity and veracity until I just transfer my fucking paycheck straight to them at the start of every month in return for a constant stream of randomly selected crap.
7/01/2003 02:35:00 pm
BIG POST ERROR, POST ID 105705572342899850
This post was meant to be a 1,300 word track-by-track piece about a compilation of songs from this year I'd put together recently. It was oblique, amusing, passionate, irreverent, occasionally beautiful, and I was very happy with it. Unfortunately Blogger ate it. This piece was unsaved, as I'd typed it straight into the 'Edit post' function box due to not having Word or Notepad on the PC I was using this morning. So now it isn't here and you can't read it. Fucks to Blogger.
7/01/2003 11:35:00 am