November 27, 2014
Following her most recent adroit LP review, Ayfer Simms investigates the influences and ideas that shaped the singer/songwriter Jamie Doe‘s The Magic Lantern alter ego and his Love Of Too Much Living suite, with some revealing and astute questions.
From the lyrics and the tone of the album there’s a sense of happy childhood, is it the case? How was your childhood?
I grew up in the Canberra, the sleepy capital of Australia, playing cricket and the piano with equal passion before moving to Birmingham in England, the coal-stained heart of England’s Industrial Revolution, at thirteen and settling into a new life in a cold climate. It means I don’t really feel like I’m from anywhere particularly, maybe that’s why I have invested so much of what people think of when they say ‘home’ in my personal relationships.
I don’t really feel the association of childhood with the record. I see it more as looking at the difficulties of young adulthood, that liminal time between the conviction that everything is possible, and the realisation that all decisions have consequences, the importance of which you can’t know until you’ve irrevocably made them.
When did you start thinking about the notion of time fleeting – this usually, if at all, come from the loss of innocence; when the years become “numbered”. What and when did this happen?
The last four years have been a difficult period of navigating and taking responsibility for a series of major transitions, traumas, successes and failures in my life. I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that as we get older we seem to become more atomised, more individually focused on our own careers, relationships and lives and that the strong sense of a collective that I have been so lucky to be a part of, first in school, then at University and then in the first years of living in London, no longer seems possible. This is really sad and something that I fought hard against until I realised that you can’t hold back the tide. I’m trying hard now to enjoy my relationships for what they are, rather than what I’d like them to be.
Have you seen the film Interstellar? The theme of time and relativity and also the exploration of the cosmos is themed, is this a subject you are interested in?
No I haven’t seen Interstellar. What’s it like? But I do like the astronomer Carl Sagan and I love his idea that – ‘somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known’.
When did you start singing? When did you realize it was your vocation and did you have any other idea of what to do when you were older?
I’ve been singing with my family, in the car, after dinner and now whenever we infrequently all get together, forever. We all love singing, but I never thought about being a singer until I started writing songs at University when I was eighteen. I grew up playing the piano and was determined to be a jazz pianist for a long time until I got my first guitar when I was sixteen and went through a brief but intense period of trying to be Jimi Hendrix. Once I put the electric guitar down though and took the bandana off, I picked up a classical guitar, starting writing songs and never looked back.
How do you see yourself in your old age. Do you have an idea flashing in your head? Not how you would like to be, but a natural idea that comes to your mind?
Deep down I worry I’m going to be alone.
Do you think of yourself as selfish? You talk about how you “didn’t listen enough”. Is there a story attached to this?
I don’t really think of myself as selfish no, I really try to think a lot about other people but of course we’re all selfish in a way. Someone very close to me once said I talked too much and don’t listen enough and it’s been on my mind ever since. I try to remember this when I get excited about something these days – when I’m excited I just can’t wait to share it with someone, I just don’t always judge how much they really want to know. It’s something I’m working on!
Are you a moody or a jolly character?
That depends very much on what day you ask. If you asked me today I would say I’m feeling mildly existentially challenged. Overall though, I would say that I am reflective, I probably think too much about things and I worry about how I affect people. I’m very social and I feel best around people, which is one of the reasons I love being a songwriter and a musician, I think it brings out the best in me.
Your lyrics could just as well be poems, wonderfully written texts; do you do a lot of writing beside music? And do you have a general interest for literature?
That’s very kind. I don’t think of them as poems, although I do think very hard about the lyrics and spend a lot of time getting them right. A lot of people like to look at song lyrics as if their poems but I think there’s a very important distinction in so far as they are different forms entirely. I don’t do too much other writing although I just wrote and essay which was published in a little magazine on ‘Music, Magic & The Art of Suspending Disbelief’.
I used to read a lot but I find these days that I don’t read so much. I go through periods of reading novels and when get into those phases; I really enjoy jumping around between different types of literature. I love graphic novels as much as classic 20th century novelists like Hemingway and Steinbeck as much as contemporary writers like Murakami. I used to live with a poet, Wilf Merrtens, who turned me onto a lot of contemporary poetry and I’m lucky that through him, I’ve got to find a whole scene of young British poets whose words I find very inspiring such as Sally Jenkinson and Alabaster DePlume.
Does the world news affect you (specially the bad stories) in a sort of Woody Allen way, or in a deeper anxious way?
I don’t really know what Woody Allen thinks of the news; he has own well-documented issues to worry about. For me, I spend a lot of time listening to and reading the news, its hard not too these days. I sleep listening to the radio so sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to hear about a new calamity which I’m sure contributes to the number of dreams I have about my teeth falling out (long story).
I think I am affected by it to the extent that it makes me deeply frustrated with our capacity to hurt each other, to wilfully fail to understand other people’s point of view and in people’s conviction that their own opinion must be right. Despite all that, I know enough wonderful people to prevent me sliding into the nihilistic pessimism that the constant news cycle could so easily encourage. I really believe that we can be better because we so often are.
Say the first 5 words that come to you mind: don’t think! This will give us readers some clues about your inner self.
It’s going to be ok.
November 25, 2014
Sean Bw Parker peruses Athens, Georgia’s finest export, R.E.M., as UMC/Capitol release their I.R.S. Records haul of singles. Join Sean as he revisits the band’s inaugural 80s heyday of ‘finest work songs’.
R.E.M. ‘7in – 83 – 88’ (UMC/Capitol) 8th December 2014
In an interview I did last year with the Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh, when asked about their recent demise, she replied ‘they’re some of the few real gentlemen in rock, and I’ll miss them a lot’. For over thirty years, this has been the root appeal of R.E.M. It never took a musician to tell that these four Georgian indie-Countrysmiths truly meant it, and wouldn’t let you down, ma’am.
But meant what? Enigmatic frontman Michael Stipe’s lyrics were seemingly permanently low in the mix, and often simply murmured (an aesthetic reflected in their debut album of the same name). Murmur was roundly considered the album of 1983 in the States, and R.E.M. would for the rest of the decade lead the conscientious alternative music fan through the rest of the free-market capitalism-infested decade – reflected on the other side of the Atlantic by The Cure and The Smiths. The following decade, accidentally spearheaded by Nirvana, would see alt-rock become mainstream.
It was quite a classic, if sometimes somewhat businesslike seeming, ‘career path’. Energised, caterwauling, ambitious-without-looking-it 80s slides into moneyed, grandiose, multi-unit-shifting, arena-rocking 90s, finally into postmillennial decline and a feeling of R.E.M.-on-repeat. That said, their innate humanity, work ethic, perceived liberal socialism and organic approach saw them burrow deeply into the hearts of more than one generation of ‘serious’ music listener.
Their first run of singles, from post-new-wavey ‘Radio Free Europe’, through to the sublime ‘SO. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)’, and incendiary ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ to first crossover hit ‘The One I Love’ are all present and correct, plus a surprise, ramshackle Velvet Underground cover ‘There She Goes Again’. The politically incorrect lyric of late Lou’s ‘better hit her’, referring to his street-walking girlfriend – and rather incongruous to R.E.M.’s right-on credentials and ethos – is changed by Stipe by the end to ‘better let her’.
There is a view amongst Stipe-watchers that R.E.M. should have called it a day after the departure of bored, brain aneurysm afflicted drummer Bill Berry, and simultaneously underrated album Up. Possibly, but those late alums (Reveal, Around The Sun, Accelerate and contract-fulfilling swan song Collapse Into Now) indicate a return to the spiky aesthetic of the songs brought together here, from their nascent years – just with more expensive production. A fine collection of ‘worksongs’, indeed.
November 19, 2014
NEW MUSIC REVIEW
Our regular motley round up of ‘choice’ singles, knock-offs, albums and EPs, that tickled our fancy recently continues.
This week’s chosen few include Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Lukas Creswell-Rost, Junkboy, Nimzo-Indian, Picturebox and Mikey Georgeson.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius ‘Kollektion 2: Roedelius – Electronic Music Compiled By Lloyd Cole’ & ‘Tape Archive 1973-1978’ (Bureau B) Released 24th October and mid-November 2014.
As life story arcs go, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, the former child star actor in 1930’s Berlin turn masseur turn progenitor of organic electronic and experimental music, is one of the most astounding. Still a stalwart figure of innovation in his eighties, he was born at both the right and wrong time, in 1934, on the cusp of the events that would lead to an apocalyptic World War. Moving from the destructive wastes of Berlin to a small village in eastern Prussia with his family, only to be harassed by the invading Russians, before settling in the occupied regions of the Sudentenland, the ever sharp and wryly cynical Roedelius knew bullshit when it was fostered upon him, his indoctrination into the Hitler Youth during the war and then later to the East German army (caught after the war finished on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain) would not make a soldier out of him or endear him to discipline.
Instead he ventured when he managed to escape the clutches of the Stasi (who imprisoned him on one occasion as a suspected spy; his sentence a two-year stretch in the coal mines) to the west, drifting from work as a gardener to waiting tables and everything in between. Thankfully the German avant-garde scene had other ideas, Roedelius hooking up with one of Joseph Beuys’ first art student protégées, Conrad Schnitzler and forming the – so unfortunately termed – Krautrock shrine and incubator, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in the late Sixties. Conrad taught his bedfellow much and from this union of free thinkers and expletory mind-bending sonic adventurers, Roedelius began working with another visionary, his stalwart partner on so many collaborations, Deiter Moebius. All three would inaugurate one of the era’s defining ambient and venerable groups, Kluster (later changed to Cluster of course), and set out on a traversing voyage of discovery. Many incarnations, whether it was as the duo of Roedelius and Moebius working with Michael Rother of Neu! or Brian Eno as Cluster and Harmonia, or separated and solo, album after album followed suit: A rough estimate calculates around 80 albums to date, though there could be more still waiting to appear, left dormant in the vaults in collecting dust (in one of his most prolific periods 2000 – 2001, he released eight albums alone).
An iconic and reverent figure of the new rational and free Germanic spirit, more or less opposed to all ideologies and offended by the misdeeds of previous generations, Roedelius has without fanfare continued to progress his musical ideas over the last five decades. Even now the patriarchal sagacious 80-year-old veteran still creates new music: in partnership with Mateo Latosa and Cesar Gallegos for a photographic exhibition and album music installation, Latitudes, and in 2013 he worked with Lloyd ‘Commotions’ Cole on the Selected Studies Vol. 1 studio album; he has been recording with Onnen Bock under the Qluster moniker since 2011, so far releasing four albums, the last in 2013.
As a celebration the Hamburg record label Bureau B is releasing the moiety Tape Archives 1973 – 1978 and Kollection 02 collections of, both, lesser know obscurities and career highlights from Roedelius’ extensive back catalogue. The first of these peruses his audio sketchbooks, picking out the more sublime and ominous soundscapes from amongst the reams of magnetic tape recorded passages, narratives and “moments of inspiration” that either ended up being stored away or used as templates for finished works of sonic peregrination. Made during his iconic Forst period, in his private workspace, Roedelius between studio times with Cluster, he experimented to his heart’s content, pushing the limits with the tape left running. Using a Farfisa organ, Revox-A77 tape machine, an echo device and a borrowed synthesiser, he would prod and probe, sometimes leaving one-note modulations to fade out on, what sometimes seems, an infinite timeline.
Transferred and digitalized for the very first time, this Ltd. Edition 3-LP or 3 x CD boxset features over 25 studies in sound, rhythm and structure (far too much to take in one go, meant to be explored at leisure), comes complete with full linear notes by the man himself and label founder/artists Gunther Buskies and fellow German composer of avant-garde electronica, Asmus Tietchens.
Redefining classical music for the new age through the method of constant invention, Roedelius’ sketches are full of both the most wondrous of shimmering gladded ambient suites and the most monotonous sine-waves. Delightfully serendipitous style, bouncing through a majestic oriental garden of ‘Berg und Tal (Kurze etüdenhafte Skizze)’ or stretching the boundaries of otherworldly generator-humming minimalism with the lingering ‘Aber warum den nicht (zwei Tongeneratorin im Spiel miteinander)’, the ambient field reports of Roedelius enlighten the composers process and ideas.
Paying homage once again to his collaborator and teacher, Lloyd Cole, who worked with Roedelius last year on their Selected Studies Vol. 1 album, selects an ethereal litany of personal favorites from the solo back catalogue. The second in a series of “Kollektions”, the first released only a month ago and compiled by Stereolab’s Kosmiche fan Tim Gane (which also featured many choice Roedelius and Cluster tracks; a collection that picked from the famous Sky Records archives), this particular suite absorbs his most beautiful, exotic and magisterial gliding works: close your eyes and you could be transported past satellites to an undiscovered cosmos (‘Sonnengeflecht’, ‘Etoiles’) or be whisked away to discover new man-made and natural wonders (‘Staunen im Fjord’, ‘Schöner Abend’).
Renowned for creating a new language in the age of burgeoning electronic music, Roedelius also wistfully recalled the enchantments of a ghostly landscape, lost in the shrouds of time; a city or diorama captured in a capsule and investigated by the technology of the now. A reification mood created with the strange waltz like fairground and boulevard society of a Weimar Berlin envisioned ‘Café Central’, and the Baroque period, via the last scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, harpsichord dream state of ‘Glaubersalz’ – also a Tim Gane favorite, picked for the first volume of the Kollektion series.
Undaunted by the scale of this enterprise, Cole has chosen one of the best and most accessible compilations yet of Roedelius’ oeuvre; a congruous and thoughtful arc of the introspective and marvellous; the ethereal and subterranean. If you were an eager initiate or strapped for cash then this would be a sound starting point. However, those weaned on the stuff and able to tell their Qluster from their Kluster, from their Cluster, or already have the behemoth library of Roedelius material, then the Archive Tapes should sort out your hunger for now.
Your humble critic was privileged enough to interview the distinguished Roedelius in 2010 for, what was then, the Krautrock and electronica Vessel blog (now sadly defunct). We discussed his incredible journey from physiotherapist to musician, the early German electronic and arts scene and his back catalogue. You can find it HERE.
Lukas Creswell-Rost ‘Go Dream’ (Plain Sailing Records) Available Now.
Travelling a well-worn highway; tuned into a radio station straight from in-between the 1970s covers of Rolling Stone, Creem and The Village Voice; accompanied by a cast of “misanthropic” characters, the former Leeds troubadour of deconstructed pop Lukas Creswell-Rost dreams up a most sophisticated songwriting opus. His relocation, five years ago, to the creative hive of Berlin has done the artist a world of good, this solid contextual collection of earnest dramas and lamentable episodes from the rock of ages, slowly but surely, unfurling its quality.
Featured on the Monolith Cocktail in the summer, the single from his highly adroit Go Dream album, ‘Warmth Of The Sun’, mistily recalled hints of Steely Dan, Jim O’Rourke and a crooning jazz-y saxophone straight from Young Americans era Bowie. Dappled and woozy, the song lamented the tale of the, touched by sadness, harmony-rich balladeers Bad Finger, as told from the perspective of their far from sympathetic manager, Stan Polley. Leaving them in financial straits, Polley however wasn’t the only bad guy to befall the group (countless individuals and management deals would follow), yet his actions didn’t help, the misfortunate band suffering from two suicides.
These same themes of greed – squeezing until the pips finally pop out – and tribulations that surround the music business like a miasma, are expanded on the album. A left field choice perhaps, Lukas choices to pen not one but two dry-ice atmospheric odes to the million-notes-per-second, bullshit baffles brains, neo-classical heavy mental guitarist, Yngwie Malmsteen. I’m not sure if Lukas wishes to elicit sympathy or just found a rich source of ridicule and the worst access of fame in the Swedish rock star. The Prince meets Drive soundtrack 80s moody ‘Ten Dollar Cocktails’, features a tapped transcript of a wired Malmsteen kicking off on a flight after upsetting a female passenger with his lewd and obnoxious comments about homosexuals, which led to her pouring a cold glass of water over his head. The infamous “you’re released the fury” line juts one of his many ill-fought out reactions as he lunged at the protagonist (made into a popular misquote of “unleash the fury”), along with the obligatory threats to kill. Very sad, the “big in the Eighties” malcontent’s slide into obscurity after this 1988 episode is reflected in this and the equally plaintive, 80s sulky ‘Patient Pilot’.
A thoroughly contemporary take on the eras in which his subject’s frequented, Lukas weaves elements of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Godley and Crème, Wings – hell even some late Fleetwood Mac – with bubbling 80s synth bass, white funk and the odd sequence of drum pads.
Traversing between the romantically acoustic, building to a swell, repetitive warning of “you’re wasting your every minute” ‘Timewaster’ to the Mews like disjointed gait, and heavy drum barrage of ‘Summer Of George’, and the beautifully picked-guitar resigned finale, ‘Stolen Thunder’ – the finale and most brutally honest defense of the misanthropic: “I’m looking out for no one, apart from number one.” -, there’s a rich source of ideas and nuanced material to study.
No serene or lazy trip through memory lane, Go Dream is a highly crafted triumph, each song a contained but also concatenate melodrama; the hooks and melodies purposeful and giving away more on each listen. Lukas pays homage to the lost art of the LP, every action considered and purposeful, and all linked to a subtle nautical leitmotif. Without doubt impressive enough to make our end of the year list next month.
Junkboy ‘Sovereign Sky’ (Enraptured Records) Available Now
Attached to an unassuming driftwood platform, the brothers Hanscomb longingly stare past the drizzling and less than tropical horizon of their English south coast home, towards the sunnier climes of an imaginary 60s/70s dreamt California. Making the switch from Southend-On-Sea to Brighton & Hove a while back, Mik and Rich have, with there lushly, understated paeans, for a brief moment, twinned their new home with the Laurel Canyon.
As the unassuming Junkboy the brothers have, sine the late 90s, experimented with a number of styles, their latest fare, Sovereign Sky adopting a relaxed attitude to pastoral, cooing frat-folk and psychedelia. All sung and played through the imbued spirit of breezy introspective early Britpop and at times, sounding like a folksy Stone Roses or the High Llamas deconstructing Harpers Bazaar.
Giving fair voice and a wistfully charmed backing of tenderly picked acoustic guitars, stirring strings and hushed, almost whispered, vocals, to both the pains and loves of entering their thirties, the brothers mellowed tones and introspection offer a mature observation of the world around them: from the opening meandered, optimism of ‘Priory Park’ to the relaxed soulful Love-esque rhythm guitar and lapping tidal reflection of ‘Salt Water’.
You may have to suspend belief of course, but erring towards their enamoured respect and influence of Brian Wilson, the boys do their best to bring the sun-bleached boardwalks and palm tree lined avenues of Californ-i-a home. Subtler than say the Beach Boys imbued work of the obscure and cultish American composer Expo, Junkboy enact, twice or even thrice removed, allusions to the instrumental vignettes and sweetened Tropicana influences found on Pet Sounds and Smiley Smile. And just as the golden state’s favoured sons did before them, they also pay both lamentable reverence and praise to natures elements and phenomena’s.
Despite being tenderly fraught at times, almost missing the odd trembled note and not quite reaching those vocal sweet high spots, their placable demeanour and ambitions make this criticism an irrelevance. File under a softening of the edges.
Nimzo-Indian ‘Nimzo-Indian’ 15th October 2014
Opening with the desired chess move of grandmaster and conceptual art progenitor Marcel Duchamp (for those who care about these things in finer detail, it is characterized by the moves: 1. D4 Nf6 2. C4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4), the Nizmo-Indian defense proves a handy moniker for the rambunctious soundtrack experiments of Andrew Spackman. Building his own twisted and odd instruments, from wooden turntables to miniature bass guitars, the former Zoom Quartet maverick clutters through an omnivorous sonic palette of sounds and genres to create something that does its best to wiggle free of classification.
His latest avant-garde and electronic pop instrumentals collection begins with a Ritalin fidget through French-esque Tango, strangled blubbering jazz trumpet, Indian tabla percussion and a garbled version of Massive Attack (circa. Daydreaming), on the jabbering accordion led ‘Airport’. From then on it’s a schizoid soundtrack of randomly stuck together film clips, jostling between early Daft Punk, Soulwax, Aphex Twin, Beck and chill wave, and suiting many moods.
There is an array of multifaceted ideas going on, with many of the tracks changing tact at least twice – ‘Melt Bird’ goes from stuttered funk to cosmic crystallised shimmering, and the finale ‘Tower And The Cobwebb’ going from the caustic generated sound of a disturbed industrial machine to squelchy disco.
Despite the raving pysch-jazz drum workout of ‘Uninvited Guest’, and art critic-makes-an-arse-of-themselves robotically sampled tribute of a sorts to the phantom scribbler ‘David Shrigley’, this album is, surprisingly, a mostly melodic affair – even if it burbles and burps at every other turn.
Though far too distracting to meet the needs of any movie you’d want to see, the Nizmo-Indian is a pleasant and curious oddity.
Picturebox ‘Graffiti’ (Gare Du Nord Records) 1st December 2014.
Part of the psych and new wave collective that nestle the outskirts of the two capital cities which act as bookends for their Gare Du Nord label moniker train line, Picturebox hail from the musically progressive and acid-folk city of Canterbury. Though hardly an apparent scion of that hazy-eyed scene, mostly active during the late 60s and early 70s and boasting Caravan, Egg, the Soft Machine (of which a respective nod in the direction of their more off-the-scale jazz keyboard and drum freakouts is chucked into the group’s own ‘Giving It All I’ve Got’) and Kevin Ayers; the lo fi experiments sound more in touch with the post-punk pop of the iconic Stiff Records.
Literally sharing duties with the Gare Du Nord label founders own buzzy brand of Liverpool backbeat meets eccentric English popsike, Papernut Cambridge, on a recent collaborative 7” (the Swaps 7”), the group once again rework a number of their fellow peers songs for this latest EP ‘Graffiti’; a teaser in itself for an upcoming LP, The Garden Path. The first of these appropriations is the Denim semi-Glam, monotone robotic Add N To (X) accompanying ‘Giving It All I Got’; penned originally by fellow Canterbury lo fi maverick, Luke Smith.
An even stranger riff on Papernut Cambridge’s eponymous moniker track, turns the original into a music concrete style assemblage piece: chattering crowds in the monkey house mixed with an incessant shaker and warbled vocal, both creepy and mischievous.
The last of these, ‘Bit Part’, leans on the fuzz, paying tribute to the Lemonheads classic. Glowing with a jaunty hint of Belle And Sebastian, the duet features the band’s friend Emily Kennedy filling in for Juliana Hatfield.
Flitting through the quartet of perfect ditties (running time of just under 8-minutes for the lot), the only original Picturebox song, and title track, start’s proceedings with an amiable breeze through a Nick Lowe spontaneous declaration of scribbled love: made more personal in the accompanying video, shot around the Kentish locations of Thanet Way and Herne Bay.
Another fine effort from the Gare du Nord outcasts, who’s humble ranks swell with perfectly crafted pop from the sticks.
Mikey Georgeson & The Civilized Scene ‘Bringing Back Rocks From The Moon’ (Pop-Z) 19th November 2014
Feet on homely terra firma, but head in a metaphysical state of fluxes, Mikey Georgeson breaks rocks on the moon to a Blockheads meets Bowie, pub piano jangled and softened brass backed lament. Less plaintively dramatic than the Thin White Duke’s own isolated misadventures, Georgeson’s inimitable sweetly conveyed musings are far more upbeat and fun; even if the lyrics and nuanced bowed lilting, weepy, strings and twanged yearns suggest otherwise.
Unfurled from the mind of the former David Devant & His Spirit Wife and numerous reincarnated band vessels, ‘Bringing Back Rocks From The Moon’ does however, have a poignant backstory: “A couple of years ago Mikey spent a few hours on a spinal board wondering if he was paralysed after the police chased a transit van into his car. It turned out that the van was stuffed with two tons of gold royal wedding coins, many of which glinted on the wet tarmac that fateful night. Bringing Rocks Back From The Moon then is a song about a certain vision of the absurd and the quirks of fate offered up by that night’s dramatic events.”
The congruous bedfellow to ‘Bringing Back Rocks From The Moon’ is the hearty paean to friendship, ‘I’m So Glad’; recorded in the same session. With lyrics from Georgeson’s comrade Harry Pye, this relatively straightforward sweet song is a lushly produced swoon, devoid of cynicism.
On a roll this past year, his Divine Comedy style of self-depreciation pastoral pop and vaudeville has gone down well at the Monolith Cocktail. Both ‘My Heroine’ and the recent featured twee nugget ‘Till It’s Over’, along with the highly acclaimed Blood And Brambles LP, have cheered us up no end.
November 17, 2014
As Def Jam Records announce “deluxe editions” of the “brothers gonna work it out” iconic It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet opuses, both Sean Bw Parker and Dominic Valvona celebrate, one of not only Hip Hop but rock’n’roll’s most explosive forces.
Public Enemy ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (Deluxe Edition)’ (Def Jam Records) 24th November 2014
‘Fear Of A Black Planet (Deluxe Edition)’ (Def Jam Records) 8th December 2014
There’s been a lot written – by music writer Simon Reynolds, ex-Disco Inferno’s Ian Crause – about how Public Enemy in their late-Eighties pomp were, aside from being an electrifying hip hop crew, ‘a great rock n’ roll band’. This angle stems from the undeniable fact that PE manage, without guitar or live drums, the visceral charge of primordial Little Richard, The Stooges, MC5 or Lightning Bolt.
Back in those financially rampant, ‘end-of-society’, sell sell sell, loadsamoney, Reagan/Thatcher-lovin’ days, PE’s achievement in appealing to the white middle class of America and the UK was breathtaking. Chuck D (Carlton Douglas Ridenhour to his mother) was an evangelical preacher of equal rights, divorced from religion, making Eminem seem lightweight in his high-octane syllable spitting of outrage and frustration. He made leftist human rights polemic fused with race politics irresistibly sexy.
MTV were both horrified and enthralled by these four black guys from New York, and their Security Of The First World cohorts. On a Def Jam sponsored run of four or so albums in that era, they redefined what black music could achieve, overlaying the radical delivery of the block anger-poetry of ‘Mistachuck’ on to the still incredible sound/noise/beat collages cooked up by DJ Terminator X, and lesser known production team The Bomb Squad.
The Bomb Squad’s use of beats which are full of menace and character, beats of depth and intent, was married to their almost Krishna-like understanding of the mesmeric dynamics of repetition. The entire first half of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is crammed full of synapse-boggling ADHD noise, which when bedded beneath Ridenhour’s thrusting rage, utterly conquers its listener/participant with furious intent: Shock and awe, indeed, and a lot more fun than that other pinky-shocker The Sex Pistols, a decade before.
Rap-funk masterpiece ‘Bring The Noise’ (later rehashed with speed metallers Anthrax) gives way to media-bashing laughter-groove ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’ – solely responsible I believe for those Beavis & Butthead booty-dance gags. Track after track pummels relentlessly, the weight of conviction appealing to those less interested in the rights/media messages being imparted – and that’s the key to the success. You not listenin’? Ok, then dance.
Album highlight is the hypnotically dense ‘Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos’ – rather tediously covered by Bristolian rapper Tricky a few years later, with lugubriously disappointing results. Built around an insistent, ominous looped Issac Hayes piano riff, Chuck delivers an urban tale of wrongful arrest, and the indignant ire resulting. How a track can run with exactly the same motifs for six minutes and keep you wanting more is compellingly inspiring.
Following minimalist debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show – featuring stark statement-of-intent ‘Public Enemy Number One’ – and It Takes A Nation Of Millions… Public Enemy consolidated all this momentum with the massively unit-shifting Fear Of A Black Planet. Featuring all the trademark sounds of looped metal-riffs the album as a whole was even denser than its predecessor, though with doubts creeping in as to how long they could keep all this going. Light-relief clown-character Flavor Flav was, perhaps ill-advisedly, given more sway, and elements of paranoia creep in, with self-referent critical samples throughout. Despite the provocative title, this was a record more about PE themselves than the black struggle. Flav would later get in on the fried chicken restaurant business.
While containing a raft of hits – though Chuck would rather call them misses – including ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ and Spike Lee-endorsed ‘Fight The Power’, cracks in PE’s integrity-assault were beginning to show. Chuck’s ever-tenuous relationship with the Pun was starting to deteriorate (remember later album title ‘Muse-Sick-N-Hour-Mess-Age’?), and lines such as ‘Crucifixion ain’t no fiction’ didn’t help. Silent member Professor Griff’s accused of-but-denied anti-semitic comments were pounced upon as a way to bring down the PE machine. Also the band’s constant support of the ‘Nation of Islam’ and their leader Louis Farrakhan left many question marks over this most secular of groups.
Public Enemy would soon part ways with Def Jam, and nurture their considerable audience through the internet. Their – almost unique in the hip hop community, excepting The Roots – abilities on the live stage helping them on their independent path. However it seems that the days of Public Enemy casting the same, insistent, incendiary spell over a fascinated, disillusioned populace are behind them. It doesn’t matter; these collages of insane noise, rhythm, moral intent and vibrancy will live on and on.
Sean Bw Parker
The Full Track List
‘It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ tracklisting:
DISC 1 (The Album)
- Countdown To Armageddon
- Bring The Noise
- Don’t Believe The Hype
- Cold Lampin’ With Flavor
- Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic
- Mind Terrorist
- Louder Than A Bomb
- Caught, Can We Get A Witness?
- Show ‘Em Whatcha Got
- She Watch Channel Zero?!
- Night Of The Living Baseheads
- Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos
- Security Of The First World
- Rebel Without A Pause
- Prophets Of Rage
- Party For Your Right To Fight
DISC 2 (Bonus Tracks)
- Bring The Noise (No Noise Version)
- Bring The Noise (No Noise Instrumental)
- Bring The Noise (No Noise A Cappella)
- Rebel Without A Pause (Instrumental)
- Night Of The Living Baseheads (Anti-High Blood Pressure Encounter Mix)
- Night Of The Living Baseheads (Terminator X Meets DST And Chuck Chill Out Instrumental Mix)
- Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic (No Need To Panic Radio Version)
- The Edge Of Panic
- The Rhythm, The Rebel (A Capella)
- Prophets Of Rage (Power Version)
- Caught, Can We Get A Witness? (Pre Black Steel Ballistic Felony Dub)
- B-Side Wins Again (Original Version)
- Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos (Instrumental)
- Fight The Power (Soundtrack Version)
DISC 3 (Fight The Power Live DVD)
- Countdown to Armageddon
- PublicEnemy Number One
- Miuzi Weighs A Ton
- Night Of The Living Baseheads (Live)
- Fight The Power
- Bring The Noise
- Don’t Believe The Hype
- Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos
- Rebel Without A Pause
- Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic
- Night Of The Living Baseheads (Video)
- Prophets Of Rage
‘Fear of a Black Planet’ tracklisting
DISC 1 (The Album)
- Contract On The World Love Jam (Instrumental)
- Brothers Gonna Work It Out
- 911 Is A Joke
- Incident At 66.6 FM [Instrumental]
- Welcome To The Terrordome
- Meet the G That Killed Me
- Anti-Nigger Machine
- Burn Hollywood Burn (featuring Ice Cube)
- Power To The People
- Who Stole The Soul?
- Fear Of A Black Planet
- Revolutionary Generation
- Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya, Man!
- Reggie Jax
- Leave This Off Your Fu*kin Charts (Instrumental)
- B Side Wins Again
- War At 33 1/3
- Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned (Instrumental)
- Fight The Power
DISC 2 (Bonus Tracks)
- Brothers Gonna Work It Out (Remix)
- Brothers Gonna Work It Out (Dub)
- Flavor Flav
- Welcome To The Terrordome (Terrormental)
- Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man (Full Rub Mix)
- Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man (U.K. 12″ Powermix)
- Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man (Dub Mixx)
- Burn Hollywood Burn (Extended Censored Fried To The Radio Version)
- Anti-Nigger Machine (Uncensored Extended)
- 911 Is A Joke (Instrumental)
- Power To The People (Instrumental)
- Revolutionary Generation (Instrumental)
- War At 33 1/3 (Instrumental)
- Fight The Power (Soundtrack Version)
- Fight The Power (Powersax)
- Fight The Power (Flavor Flav MeetsSpike Lee)
- The EnemyAssault Vehicle Mixx (Medley)
Fear Of A Black Planet by Dominic Valvona
Def Jam Records 1990
Recorded at Greene Street, NYC; The Music Palace, West Hampstead NYC; Spectrum City, Strong Island NYC; June – Oct 1989.
Track List -
1. Contract On The World Love Jam (1:44)
2. Brothers Gonna Work It Out (5:05)
3. 911 Is A Joke (3:17)
4. Incident At 66.6 FM (1:37)
5. Welcome To The Terrordome (5:24)
6. Meet The G That Killed Me (0:44)
7. Pollywannacracka (3:52)
8. Anti-Nigger Machine (3:17)
9. Burn Hollywood Burn (2:46)
10. Power To The People (4:29)
1. Who Stole The Soul (3:52)
2. Fear Of A Black Planet (3:40)
3. Revolutionary Generation (5:43)
4. Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man (2:45)
5. Reggie Jax (1:35)
6. Leave This Off Your Fu*kin Charts (2:32)
7. B Side Wins Again (3:39)
8. War At 33 1/3 (2:13)
9. Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned (0:48)
10. Fight The Power (4:42)
Chuck D: Arranger, director, producer, rapper and sequencing.
Flavor Flav: Arranger and rapper.
Professor Griff: Rapper.
Terminator X: Scratching.
Kamarra Alford: Assistant engineer.
Mike Bona: Engineer and mixing.
Chris Champion: Assistant engineer.
Jody Clay: Assistant engineer.
Tom Conway: Assistant engineer.
Paul Evlin: Engineer and mixing.
Dave Harrington: Assistant engineer.
Rod Huri: Engineer and mixing.
Steve Loeb: Engineer.
Dave Patillo: Assistant engineer.
Alan ‘JJ Scott’ Plotkin: Engineer, mixing and vocals.
Eric ‘Vietnam’ Sadler: Arranger and director, programming, producer and sequencing.
Nick Sansano: Engineer and mixing.
Paul Shabazz: Arranger, director, producer and sequencing.
Keith Shocklee: Arranger, director, producer and sequencing.
James Staub: Assistant engineer.
Howie Weinberg: Mastering.
Dan Wood: Engineer and mixing.
Kirk Yano: Engineer.
Agent Attitude: Performer.
Big Daddy Kane: Rapping duties on A9.
Brother James I: Performer.
Brother Mike: Performer.
Ice Cube: Rapping duties on A9.
James Bomb: Performer.
Branford Marsalis: Saxophone.
Wizard K-Jee: Scratching.
Jules Allen: Photography.
Robin Holland: Photography.
B.E Johnson: Cover art.
Asham Walcott: Photography.
The Drawing Board: Art direction.
SET YOUR CONTROLS TO THE HEART OF THE SUN
Here’s the paradox (so to speak): though Fear Of A Black Planet is indeed one of Hip Hop’s greatest achievements; it’s also full of contradictory broadsides and diatribes that should more then worry your average white liberal – or any white person for that matter. The implications of Public Enemy’s lyrical tirades are to a point, unsettling: which is intentional. Salvos are blasted at homosexuals, Hollywood (who frankly deserve it) and at the preconceived white conspired oppression.
There’s also the implications of the LP’s loose and main theme: the pseudo-theories of the notable African-American psychiatrist, Frances Cress Welsing – her tracts, ‘Theory Of Colour Confrontation’, and to an extent, ‘The Isis Papers’, are used as the foundations. Cress’ corollary conclusions on race conclude that the white minority practice both a conscious and unconscious system of control, in an ongoing battle of survival, to ensure their (and mine) genetics continue. She seeks to arm those under the yoke with all the knowledge and intrigues of this system, so it can be dismantled. In addition to this, Cress controversially postulates on the melanin complex which claims that white people are genetic defects, descendants of mutated albinos who left Africa for their own good, and took on an highly aggressive nature to survive. Add to this the, appropriate, calls of indignation over disparaging comments made by Professor Griff on Jews (never the best move) – in particular the supposed statement that they were, “the majority cause of all the wickedness” in the world – in an interview for the Washington Post in 1989. Much of the press, rightly so, called Griff to account – though he maintained these remarks were never made. Chuck D briefly fired him from the group, before bringing him back into the fold.
Their persona was already under suspicion; now it would receive a right royal backlash of accusations of racism and further thrust them towards disapproving scrutiny: the intensity of which added more kindling to the fires already roaring from the release of their 1988, agenda-defining, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. As a massive gesture of defiance, and bird-finger salute, ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’ would go on the attack.
So the crux of the matter is: after all the rhetoric, why should a 15-year old white boy from the sticks find this record so appealing? A question that could be addressed to umpteen records, similar in black nationalistic tub-thumping. Maybe the connotations went over my head, or maybe it wasn’t the lyrics but the “wall of noise” production and multi-layered sampling and beats that attracted me. Looking back, it was a bit of both. My obsession with black history and Hip Hop, borne out of curiosity, and to a point, rebellion. And though it never directly spoke to me, it definitely made an impact and helped shape my thinking.
Conceived as a complex epic, which would mirror the highs and lows; builds and comedowns; the light and shade dynamics of a live performance, ‘FOABP’ would propel the group to global success; selling to a high percentage of white teens like myself. Intentionally a call to the black brethren to shape up and start taking action to better their plight; this universal heterogeneous album reached audiences far removed from the black community. Though its rousing, if not sometimes contentious, dispatch rattled many, its importance has been built-up to staggering levels of reverence. That whiter-then-white music bible, Rolling Stone (who ignored rap music for the best part of the 80s) placed this album at 300 in its all time 500 list, whilst even the upper echelons of the Library of Congress added to the National Recording Registry in 2005 – part, in some ways, of the establishment recognizing its importance.
ECLIPSE IN FULL EFFECT
As, like in many musical genres, the importance of the 7in single had gradually waned as the album format began to take over. This, to some degree, kick-started the golden era of the late 80s; encouraging artists to experiment and concatenate their material, and take on concepts. It also spurred on the importance of artwork, which was usually an unimaginative affair; the group or artist, captured in various poses, set against the mean streets or up against a graffiti heavy wall. Public Enemy themselves once posed in a darkly lit bunker, now they had loftier aspirations, seeking out the unlikely NASA illustrator, B.E Johnson, to bedeck their epic with a monolithic-sized statement. Johnson didn’t disappoint, his P.E insignia scorched planet, eclipses the Earth, whilst below in faux-Star Wars/faux-Planet Of The Apes redolent stretched type-faced letters, the albums title appears to drift off towards the colliding, or passing, planets. Underneath the byline reads: “The Counterattack on world supremacy”, written out as a command in a quasi-ticker tape machine manner.
Inside the impressive sleeve, the Bomb Squad production team went to work on creating a barricade of samples (figures vary between 150 to 160) and programmed beats. These were the days before copyright infringement was taken seriously; otherwise P.E would have parted with over half of the albums generated revenue just to pay usage rights. Recordings took place over a five month period, and involved a largely extended cast of studio bods, assistants and arrangers. The sheer scale of sequencing and programming – carried out on a Macintosh computer – coupled with a myriad of layering and textures, had the effect of creating, as the erudite music critic, Simon Reynolds, put it, a “claustrophobic” sound experience.
Aside from the prominent use of the drum machine (E-MU SP-1200) and sampler (AKAI S900), sessions were prompted by live jamming and improvisation – later tided up in post-production. The aforementioned Bomb Squad crew of Eric ‘Vietnam’ Sadler, Hank & Keith Shocklee, and Carl Ryder went supernova; thrust out into uncharted territories. It’s to their credit that this record avoided turning into a mess, and misfiring, as they skillfully managed to find enough space and separation in the mix to make sure everything fits. Guesting on the pyromaniac protest strong, ‘Burn Hollywood Burn’, Ice Cube would be impressed enough to entrust this production team with his own inaugural debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted – he left N.W.A after a spat over royalties and direction. The raw rap heavyweight, Big Daddy Kane would also guest on this same track, adding an all too brief wise and assiduous diegesis on the plight of the black man’s role in the American movie industry.
Joker of the pack, Flavor Flav would fly solo on the opprobrious, sardonic wit pairing of ‘911 Is A Joke’ and ‘Can’t Do Nuttin’ For You Man’. Additional voices, yelps (when not provided by James Brown samples), sax and general clatter were dispensed by an expanding appendix of characters and players, who included the Wizard K-Jee (beefed up the scratching and dj duties alongside Terminator X), and a number of anonymous “performers”, such as Brothers James and Mike (see all credits above).
A DARKER SIDE TO THE MOON
Public Enemy’s magnum opus an rallying the troops styled trailblazer, begins with a prologue instrumental, and profound edict sampled introduction. ‘Contract On The World Love Jam’ is a ‘for whom the bells toll’, misty haunting vignette, crammed with wizened speeches: “The race that controls the past, controls the living present, controls the future”. In there you’ll find The Meters, Malcolm Mclaren, Billy Stewart and Bob James, all elbowing for room. These, usually beat-based and rap-free, interludes are scattered throughout; used as either breathers or as segue ways, connecting the main tracks. ‘Incident At 66.6 FM’ – geddit?! – features a torrid of abusive callers from a ‘hell is a white liberal radio hosts phone-in show’, directed at P.E. Alan Colmes is chief smug instigator, as our Chuck be-musingly chuckles at vilified comments like, “go back to Africa”.
‘Leave This Off Your Fu*kin Charts’ features a freak-beating , strident, jeep-beat, Main Source-esque backing with various itchy cutting and a bounty of Hall & Oates, Richard Pryor and old skool Hip Hop dignitaries (Grandmaster Flash and Big Daddy Kane) samples. Almost as a bookend to the opening titles the penultimate, ‘Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned’, is a more atmospheric, smokey apocalyptic tome; conjured up by the Bomb Squad, from the embers left after World War P.E.
The first immortalized rapped rhetoric lashing of the LP is unhurriedly turned loose on the kick-back-at-critics and call-to-action, ‘Brothers Gonna Work It Out’. Like an updated squalling re-think on ‘Science Fiction’ by Ornette Coleman, a wailing Prince borrowed lead guitar, flails about over a heaving squabbling mix of P.E’s own greatest hits and snatches of George Clinton‘s ‘Atomic Dog’, and Sly‘s ‘Sing A Simple Song’. Staying on the theme of comebacks or resurrections (though P.E weren’t really in need of one), ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ is another insolent firebrand exercise in giving the media another black eye; answering their critics with a riotous aplomb. A maelstrom of rage, this siren heralded barrage of a tune explodes in a series of cyclonic whiplashes, and recycles the very best parts of the Soup Dragons‘ ‘Mother Universe’, Kool & The Gangs‘ ‘Jungle Boogie’, and The Temptations‘ ‘Psychedelic Shack’, to name just a few. Chuck’s personal favorite, the Terrordome spits and recalls in a fury the deaths of Malcolm X and Huey Newton; Vietnam; the murder of Yusef Hawkins and the 1989 Virgina Beach riots; all coalesced together and delivered in an impassioned abrasive rave. That forceful Bomb Squad production continues on ‘Who Stole The Soul'; a fiery resentful bombast diatribe aimed at those who, “picked Wilson’s pocket”. Awash with its very own R&B shaking backing; collated from The Winstons (‘Amen Brother’), Sly – again – (‘Stand!’), James Brown (‘Make It Funky’ and ‘It’s A New Day So Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn’), and bizarrely, The Beatles (both ‘Getting Better’ and ‘A Day In The Life’); this wall of sound bites deep like a Black Panther run Stax and Watts riot in one.
My own personal choice, ‘War At 33 1/3′, is a similar blistering assault on the senses, as Chuck raps at the fastest setting yet; almost tripping up over his own rapid syllable hurdling lyrics; bouncing along to the backroom teams seering, throbbing attack drums and seething howls.
The anthemic 1989 hit, ‘Fight The Power’ is left till the very end, its rebel rousing vociferating agenda set to leave an indelible mark. Used as both the soundtrack for that summer, and replayed throughout Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ movie, ‘Fight The Power’ features Chuck’s sparring rebuffs and bounding over an hardcore nu-jack swing – ‘Teddy’s Jam’ by Guy – and frazzled funk-kicking, sample-rich backing (there’s at least 14 tracks used, from Uriah Heep to Bobby Byrd). Remembered not just for its distinctive jeep-beat, guitar chopping, “funky drummer”, and scratched organ roll, but it also features those immortal lines: “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me you see, straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain, Mother fuck him and John Wayne”.
That instilled “fear of a black planet” mission statement (summed up on the LPs sleeve – “Black power 1990 is a collective means of self defense against the worldwide conspiracy to destroy the Black Race. It’s a movement that only puts fear in those that have a vested interest in the conspiracy, or that think that it’s something other than what it actually is…”), is explored on both the title track, and to some extent on ‘Pollywannacracka’. ‘FOABP’ is a slinky, R&B affair, which has a Hammond organ pumping out a sleazy club lounge, Stax revue like riff, whilst Chuck questions racial purity and the”look whose come to dinner” stereotyping of white/black dating – also the main thread running through the Issac Hayes smoothly ministered, ‘Pollywannacraka’. A strange fatuous, smurf-esque voice reminds us, “… white comes from black”, in a slightly niggling way, to reinforce the ilogical prejudices of us Europeans.
Self-styled “joker” of the group, Flavor Flav, ‘bojangles’ his way across his cuts. Apart from the premonitory dial-code, ‘911 Is A Joke’ has Flav unfurl his curt-tongued witty observations on the emergency services slow response to help out a brother or sister in need, especially if they call from certain unsavory corners of the city. He delivers a efficacious denunciation: “Now I dialed 911 a long time ago, don’t you see how late they’re reactin’. They only come and they come wanna they wanna, so get the morgue truck embalm the goner”. His second solo joint, ‘Can’t Do Nuttin’ For You Man’ unravels some sorry tale of deceit and scamming: ‘Make ya love the wrong instead of right, not a thief cat burglar through the night, cop told your girl her name was Shirl, about a rooftop crime to steal her pearls”. These soul-rattling jamborees prove to be among Flav’s finest contributions to the P.E catalog.
A Hip Hop LP wouldn’t be right without the customary guest slots. ‘Burn Hollywood Burn’ features two of raps most happening artists of the time. Originator supreme and rough’n’ready maverick, Big Daddy Kane, alongside the West Coast miscreant, Ice Cube, both add spite and spit to this incendiary bemoaned put-down of the movie business. Questioning the lack of leading black actors/actress parts and films, they spoil for a fight against “Sunset Boulevard”, dismissing enforced stereotypes and sighing with disbelief at ‘Driving Miss Daisy’. The Big Daddy gets the best of it, showing off a pretty assiduous and poetically tempered flow: “As I walk the streets of Hollywood Boulevard, Thinkin’ how hard it was to those that starred, in the movies portrayin’ the roles of butlers and maids slaves and hoes. Many intelligent Black men seemed to look uncivilized when on the screen, like a guess I figure you to play some jigaboo, on the plantation, what else can a nigger do?”. Cube name checks his buddies before delivering a brief re posit: “Roamin’ thru Hollywood late at night, red and blue lights what a common sight, pulled to the curb gettin’ played like a sucker, Don’t fight the power … the mother fucker!”. Both are way too brief, yet they stamp authority.
‘Fear Of A Black Planet’ stands as a totem to ambition in the Hip Hop genre. 21-years on, and it still sounds like a cannonade of protest. In this modern retro-obsessed appropriation era, we don’t always revisit the best parts of the past, like 1989/1990; an epoch that produced a whole impressive catalog of records. Whether you agree or not with the rhetoric, our times could do with a modern P.E, or at least a ballsy, uncompromising album, like their 1990 classic.
November 14, 2014
Once again, at her most lyrical, Ayfer Simms elevates her subject to the highest of literary plains. This week it’s the turn of The Magic Lantern.
The Magic Lantern ‘Love Of Too Much Living’ (Smugglers Records)
The magic lantern and the impossible speed of existence.
“Turned the machines off and let the breath expend…” Jamie Doe whispers to our ear awakening a feeling, gently put, of a sudden realization; the inconsolable haste of things on a cosmic level, of life as a whole. Our past rushes by us to become a shadowy burden over our heads. It is not nature’s fault, the angle with which it falls in our perception is only incidental, and yet our fate and our dreads lie on it.
With this album we are in A room with a view, the famous E.M Forster’s novel, not with the main character but with the brother: Freddy Honeychurch, the earnest happy chipper chap who sings funny tunes and rolls himself around in the magnificent gardens of the English countryside; yet, Jamie’s atmosphere and lyrics, voice and questionings are those of an older Freddy. Of a mature self who ponders about his past with great fondness and equal sadness as hit by some ghastly truth: The happy child’s past is dissipating in the great condemned vastness of the universe. Yes we are something in the great scheme of things, but where are our lovely happy loving memories?
Jamie’s voice expends like that of Jeff Buckley and Neil Hannon around the solitude of a few guitar chords, married lovingly in a laurel of deliberated quiet melodies.
The love of earth itself is grandiose, but the eyes of the young man brings a slight angst to the heart, for all this will vanish forever before long, fleeting from our grasps in the duration of one single sigh.
This impossibly hard to define reality, passes through our lips like a faded breath: Time, the way it presents itself to us is nonsensical and we are in a constant state of mourning:
“And the moment’s so fleeting, I
t really makes no sense at all”
“You can’t try to slow it,
It’s over, it’s over, “
Jamie Doe is obsessed with the notion of time, fleeting, leaving us longing for dear moments. Reality crashes with the beauty of his early years. The lyrics touching true deep feelings combined with the vibrations of a soothing vocal cords are addictive, like a shot of medicine that slows things down, like the answer to the spreading chaos.
The tone is deliberately slow: we are holding on to the present with all our strength, in the quiet place where he offers peace and love to whoever wants to show faith in the human kind’s destiny. Jamie lets out a big murmur, a mixture of emotions, that of happiness and love, and the fear of inevitably losing it all. We all fight our own demons, but this demon is one that concerns us all.
“We circle ’round each other,
Like atoms spin through space.
We’re solitary creatures,
Who crave a warm embrace.”
There is comfort in this voice and the album. What prevails despites the angst is the soothing voice, lyrics that poetically strikes a chord, for anyone who grew with love, like a lullaby before we disappear forever.
November 10, 2014
Sean Bw Parker takes a sleazy neon-lit, electric kool-aid, fashioned hit from Ariel Pink‘s latest omnivorous album, Pom Pom.
Ariel Pink ‘Pom Pom’ (4AD) 17th November 2014
The ageing, Miley Cyrus and Ke$ha collaborator Wayne Coyne – oh yes, also ringleader with The Flaming Lips, with his ever-unfurling salt and pepper hair and Brand-as-success ever-increasing hubris – has a lot to answer for. If not the recent, maddeningly obsequious cover album With A Little Help From My Fwends (puke), or a predecessor of it, a re-run of The Dark Side of the Moon, it’s for the retro-psychedelic Cali movement. Tame Impala, Pond and Ty Segall are all the flower love children of Coyne and producer Dave Fridmann, whether by recording, association, or free sex…and the pay-off now is that the progeny are outshining their creators by an impressive ratio.
Ariel Pink is another of these lucky/unlucky recipients of the sherbet halo. Pink (or Rosenburg, if you prefer) has been churning out albums either ruthlessly bedroom-solo or with his live band Haunted Graffiti for over a decade now. His art lies in the borderline-Asperger’s-music fan-as-recording-artist box, his internalising of the entire oeuvre of Pink Floyd, Human League and his favourite band The Cure solidifying its writer-as-stubborn-mthrfckr rationale into an unstoppable drive to keep writing and recording, seemingly oblivious to or dismissive of reception.
It’s in the nature of his influences where we find the core of Pink. The aforementioned, nervy post-punk or post-hippie Brits held an angry, narcissistic angst at the core of everything they did, weaving their more accessible sounds around such inexpressible re/opp/ression. Ariel Pink can’t help but carry these sounds and feelings as an obsession – all the way to Los Angeles, where after a stint at performing arts school, assembled his Cobain-esque looks and slacker, nonchalant charm into twinkling, ADD, post-MGMT shapes.
Anyone reading this will be familiar with the knowledge that the albums we (deep music lovers) treasure gain that status after many listens, with the initial listen eliciting such responses as ‘what the fuck was that?’ There is something within that hour though that makes you want to put it on again, to try and work out what the maker was on about. Do this about four times to the most carefully/inspirationally made albums, and you’re likely hooked, that hour’s opus to be locked forever under the skin, reminding you in your darkest moments of the joy of discovering excellent new sounds and feelings.
Pom Pom possesses this quality, maddeningly sequenced as it is from a bit ropey/surrealist at the start – ‘Plastic Raincoats at the Pig Parade’ coming over all Terry Gilliam and Gerald Scarfe sitting through a late Syd Barrett number – but with steadily increasing confidence and panache, particularly when potential biggie ‘One Summer Night’ rolls out its brilliantly catchy synth lines. Either by genius or reticence, Pink has placed the three high points last in an album of 17 tracks. ‘Picture Me Gone’, ‘Exiled on Frog Street’ (yes the Dada-esque surrealism makes a return) and ‘Dayzed Inn Daydreams’ representing a phenomenal triptych of song writing, playing out a rollercoaster with a maturity that he seems to be simultaneously capable of and yearning for.
It would be a pity if the mainstream ever embraced Ariel Pink, Nirvana-style. This is not a fear of success or a desire to keep a cool secret; it’s an acknowledgment of the fact that Pink’s charm and talent lies in his vulnerability, amateurism, and joyful naivety. In these multi-streamed, multi-sourced, endlessly referenced times, individual, idiosyncratic washes of concentrated Technicolor, spewing forth from the craniums of madmen, whilst being everywhere, are paradoxically in short supply: A rare bird to treasure.
November 7, 2014
Ayfer Simms discovers the cinematic noir of the Movie Star Junkies, and finds it evoking plenty of lyrically disturbing criminal fantasies and scenery. Careful now: she know’s where the bodies have been buried.
Movie Star Junkies ‘Evil Moods’ (Voodoo Rhythm) 1st December 2014
‘The Movie Star Junkies or Rolo Tomassi resurrected.’
Transported to the desert of Los Angeles, or at least anywhere with a big enough desert to abandon crime victims, an explosive groovy rock gang rehearses the good, the bad and the ugly: The sheriffs are jumping about with stolen guns, the bandits are teasing each other with fake gold and the rest of the horde is watching the spectacle while ingurgitating the ‘all so precious’ prohibited liquor. The guitars, both spine-tingling and spirited with its reverb and oriental rock effects of the 60s as well as the piercing and racy vocals of the band lead the show into the world of crime: The album portrays the victims, the wise guys, the crooks, the fugitives all thrown in the same bag: They dance with violence and their rhythms are detonating in a joyous furry.
The Movie Star Junkies are the Tarantino of the music scene: The band’s name fabulously matches their favourite theme too: the hardboiled crime fictions. Tracks like ‘Jim Thompson’ refers to the tormented alcoholic writer of noir crime novels and ‘Red Harvest’ is the title of one of them, described by the French author Andre Gide as being a novel of ‘remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror’.
“The Mobsters” are back from the dead: On their way from hell they brought all the skeletons hidden in their closets and they have the rhythm in their bones; Rolo Tomassi emerges with a vengeful grand smile while a newly acquired body fleshed out with all the murdered crowd: The clever liquor peddler, the corrupt politician’s sweetheart, the wasted patrol man: All thrown in the same bag and shaken until they all come out attuned to the same sound.
The tunes are energetic; they have that voodoo spaghetti western like rhythm to them, a pinch of the old pulp movies and a psychedelic disco sound reminiscent of the music played during the action scenes of Starsky and Hutch.
With tracks like ‘In The Evening Sun’ the slow and hypnotic melody throws us in the mind of someone who did take that bullet: about to sink into death he watches the evening sun go down for a very last time; chilling but perhaps the most startling track of the album: He is Joe Gilis lying on the pool talking beyond his grave, he is Fredo Corleone about to swim with the fish.
Enticing, banging, full of suspense, the tunes describe a world gone completely mad; certainly an album that will send you, if not at the bottom of the desert sand, at least in front of your screens to discover some good old noir classics. It is only a matter of time before a director hires the Movie Stars Junkies for a cinematic collaboration.
November 5, 2014
Daniel Lanois ‘Flesh And Machine’ ( ANTI-) 27th October 2014.
A musical polymath in every sense of the world, the Canadian producer-guitarist-vocalist-songwriter, collaborator of discerning taste (we’ll forgive him for U2), Daniel Lanois’ eclectic roll call stretches from Martha And The Muffins to Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan. Renowned for his production skills (three Grammy awards and counting), Lanois sits comfortably straddling the abstract and mainstream; moving subtly between country, rock, blues, trance and pop.
He also knows his way around the palatial expanses and strata of ambient music. A past sparring partner, often referred to as a protégé, of the ambient progenitor Brian Eno, Lanois, in various roles, famously collaborated on his albums for the E.G. Records label in the Eighties: including Ambient 4: On Land, Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks, More Music For Films and Thursday Afternoon.
Continuing to irk out a new musical dialogue ever since, Lanois has locked himself away recently to explore and create the “never before experienced” sound; undistracted and closed off from the contemporary explorations and developments of his peers, he strives to produce a futuristic, visionary mood. Certainly a contender, he nevertheless falls short in his experiments; crafting sublime magical passages and effects certainly, but fallen short of engineering something truly revolutionary in sound.
If anything this most recent solo album, Flesh And Machine, is a timeline link back to those iconic Eno suites: building on the sweeping, venerable and flights of fantasy into the stratosphere foundations, but offering something technologically fresh and inviting from the “now”. As the title suggest, this diaphanously panoramic suite blends the organic and mechanised together, processing the source sound palette of voice, piano, steel and electric guitars into an impressive, and at times stirring, experience (nominated for the “Headphone album of the year award”).
From the very first gentle strokes of the piano and, Anthony Hegarty like, heavenly dulcet vocal tones on the introductory ‘Rocco’, the album levitates over dreamy vistas or searches the elements for direction. Each narrative and journey, signposted for an emotional response to a landscape or mood; from the submerged watery reverb and dolphin-esque guitar cradled cries of ‘Aquatic’ to the kookier, Tropicana-twanged, paean ‘My First Love’ and one-long majestic, awe-inspired finale ‘Forrest City’ (Lanois inviting us take in the expansive scenery of nature).
It’s not all Eno-esque escapism and venerated habitat, Lanois kicking up a wild, flailing guitar and tumultuous, cymbal heavy, drum backed cacophony of Ash Ra Tempel meets Fuck Buttons, on the unruly extemporized performed, ‘The End’. Highly charged with the most moving sensibilities, this caustic fired riot of progressive yearning and searching melodrama is the heaviest instrumental on the album, though he also channels the ancestral lament of the native Indian with a somewhat ominous rotating echo and dampened, moody tribal patted beat on ‘Sioux Lookout’, and uses a Aphex Twin like raspy affected, muffled acid beat, and drum’n’bass flitting drums on the angelic ‘Opera’ to give it some edge.
An extension of the album, in two parts, Lanois in conjunction with The Modern School Of Film’s Robert Milazzo, has asked a number of international filmmakers to create a series of videos: a visual companion and widening of the exploratory spirit for his otherworldly and Earthly soundtracks. Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), Mary Harron (American Psycho), Kevin Drew (of Canadian super group, Broken Social Scene), Jim McKay (Breaking Bad) and Ondi Timoner (Dig!) have all been invited to create these mini-works of wonder and bafflement. The second part of this multi-media project will involve submissions from “undiscovered” filmmakers/artists; the top three of which will feature alongside the established directors visions, and be used in both promoting the album, at special screenings and in a curated exhibition. You can track the progress here.
Ambitious but subtle in execution, the cerebral and suffused rich atmospheres on Flesh And Machine, will take time to unfurl all their charms and multi-layered finesse. All encompassing peregrination, which partially satisfies those left wanton for something that at least tries to investigate new musical horizons.
November 3, 2014
He’s at it again, hyperbolic praise alert. Following his adulated declaration of love (and of course professional jealousy!) for Ty Segall‘s recent return, Sean Bw Parker now goes overboard on San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls. We can safely assume that both will be in his and our top picks of the year next month.
Cool Ghouls ‘A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye’ (Empty Cellar Records) 11th November 2014
Regular readers may remember my gushing unapologetic hyperbole over the new Ty Segall album earlier in the year – well it’s about to happen again. I realise I often bang on about naff band monikers, and yes San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls get it too…just about shoehorned into the so-bad-it’s-good, don’t-take-it-too-seriously box. Put the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Arctic Monkeys and Cool Ghouls on a festival bill together, and a visiting Venusian may decide not to bother invading after all – a silly species.
Such aesthetic frivolity aside, A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye (what a beautiful image that is) is a very fine record indeed. Retro with a purpose and a passion, the Ghouls exploit their city’s hippy history with unabashed glee; The Eagles, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Byrds and Grateful Dead party on in brown corduroy along with Kings of Leon, Stephen Malkmus’ The Jicks and Mick Jagger sulking in the kitchen.
Early Dandy Warhols would be the closest touch point though. Courtney Taylor’s joyful apathy in vocal delivery and unaffected, open strummed electric guitar is spread slapdash all over the recording, with the early Stones insouciance revelling through the grooves. Opener ‘And It Grows’ slaps you back into a hammock with a long cold beer and a smoke of your choice, and the album never slips from there. The three-part harmonies are sexy-impeccable, every ode to relaxing and having a good time delivered with a secret intelligence belying the give-a-shit demeanour.
The pure twang and thrum, the echoey, recorded-in-the-corner-of-a-barn vocals, and the overriding feeling that the summer will never end reverberates around ASFBTTR – and frankly they need never make another record. Some need no ‘development’ or ‘progress’ – just tour the hell out of it then split up. Not before making a follow up with Ty Segall though…hey, whaddya say?
October 31, 2014
As is the tradition, the Monolith Cocktail once again provides a suitable soundtrack for the bewitching hour – the half-arsed “trick or treat” of yore, extended on the most tenuous of commercial grounds to become everything but a public holiday in recent times. Expect the usual variants and degrees of morose, fun and the unsettling (phantasmagoria Earthly dangers to fantastical deep space), with tracks by Bruce Haack, The Warlocks, Cinema Red And Blue, Luboš Fišer, Angelo Michajlov, Bowie, Bernard Szajner, Cut Hands, Scott Walker & Sunn O))).
We also have the “horror” of a shameless Halloween tie-in single from the miscreant partnership of Thomas Truax and Brian Viglione. Antifolk doyen of experimental instrumentation and model animation Truax joins Viglione of steampunk rocking theatre duo, The Dresden Dolls, for a lamentable eulogy to the progenitor of Vampirism; the king dick himself, Count Dracula.
Forked tongue firmly in cheek, ‘Feelin’ Bad For Dracula’ yearns (and howls) for a return to the finesse and Gothic beginnings of Bram Stoker’s original fanged reprobate; cheesed off at the modern teen phenomena of Twilight: “…those Twilight kids ain’t got your style.” A hammy video cut with clips from Nosferatu and a host of cultish and kitsch Dracula themed movies accompanies the duo’s sorrowful collaboration. A song essentially of two halves, the first being a swooning angulated thrasher, the second a “locked in syncopation” of Viglione’s infamous drums and Truax’s specially made noisenik ‘Hornicator’.
The single arrives as a teaser for the partnerships album, due to be released in early 2015.
“…eternal life ain’t what it used to be!”
Though hardly a ghoulish addition to this fiendish selection, we also feature an exclusive new single from Oxford psychedelic indie troupe, Flights Of Helios. The group is aiming high with lofty aspirations whilst integrating subtle blends of drone and shoe gaze into a pastel shaded form of halcyon indie pop, taking their band name from the titan sun god of Greek myth, who rode his chariot of light giving force across the horizon.
Released this week, the latest single ‘Succubus’ heads out on a twinkly, glowing soft peddled fuzz-y rich march towards psychedelic elevation; led by an illuminating vocal that rises towards a raspy falsetto and final crescendo. This is all played out to an accompanying video of a superimposed road trip, a twirling lost in the mists of time dancer, and the band themselves, performing in-between the layers of imagery.