Nico Muhly Is A Rather Brilliant Man, And Here’s An Interview To Prove It

Nico Muhly
A straight rip from the forthcoming TD, with a tiny preface: Nico Muhly’s music is in the same school of inspiration that Steve Reich’s back catalogue graduated from, and it’s well on the way to achieving first class honours. Check out any of his thoroughly beautiful bits/bobs wherever you can find them.

It’s the journalistic requisite to list off the Talmud-length CV of Nico Muhly when introducing him to friends, readers, and innocent bystanders. Take your pick: his eclectic, venerable albums Speaks Volumes and Mothertongue, the shiver-inducing soundtrack to The Reader, arrangements for Bjork, Antony and the Johnsons and Grizzly Bear, a blog chockful of New Yorker-worthy articles, his status as the most exciting American composer in decades, the possessor of a fine clump of hair. Muhly plays his first Dublin show at the out-going Spiegeltent at this year’s Fringe, our tip as the festival’s crowning achievement.

I’m Youtube skimming like a true lazy journalist… You were just on my screen talking about the concept of portable music as a New Year’s resolution. How’s that working out?

It’s been pretty great, actually. I’m writing a lot of music for my friend Nadia Sirota, who will join me in Dublin — a bunch of shorter, easy-to-travel with pieces. Now, of course, as I say this, I’m writing an opera, which is the least portable thing ever. So it’s about balance for the New Year!

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is sitting in front of me now declaring “The musical concept of the composer is nearly dead”. This seems quite bold. Where do you stand on this?

Well, first of all, I am mystified as to how you have a copy of a magazine from Pittsburgh in Ireland.

Me too.

That sounds like one of those indefensible statements that people “involved in culture” love to utter. Surely that sentence could have been written by depressed journalists in 1890, 1920, 1950, etc?  Anytime you read a sentence about classical music with the formula “_______ is dead” it’s almost always written by some kind of revolutionary or reactionary or crazy person.  My response to this — and really to most meta-figurations about music — is to put my fingers in my ears and apply myself to the business of continuing to write good music.

In your recent blog post about minimalism you mentioned the near-rock credentials of minimalist and post-minimalist composers – How people attend Phillip Glass shows like rock concerts. As a figure with a foot firmly in the contemporary rock/indie world do you see any convergence between the indie universe and the avant-garde, minimalist, classical world? You can hear a definite similarity in aesthetic and approach between what, say, Animal Collective are doing and what Steve Reich and Terry Riley initiated. Even if it has taken 40 years to filter down.

I see a convergence, but I don’t think it’s new. I think people in their 40’s and 50’s and even 60’s were listening to, you know, Bob Dylan and Steve Reich happily together way back when. But, I think the reason for this now is that classical music exists in a the same commercial space as other, non-classical musics, experimental or not. The iTunes store is the best example of this — you can laterally transfer from, say, my music to the new Grizzly Bear album without having to physically haul your body into a closed room devoted to classical music in the store.

I was talking to a friend last night about musical comfort zones, and the importance of forcing yourself to listen outside of the familiar – you’re liable to learn a whole lot more listening to very bad ragga that you’ve never heard before than slightly different permutations of what you’re used to. Do you think you confine yourself to a comfort zone? Do you take influence from outside of what would be considered experimental or avant-garde music?

How interesting — this is a good question. Now. My comfort zone is actually very different from experimental and avant garde music. My comfort zone is 16th and 17th century English choral music, and classical American minimalism, which is to say, Philip Glass Music in 12 Parts or Reich Music for 18 Musicians. So that’s my sort of emotional ground zero.  But my listening is voracious and very wide-ranging.  Just while I’m writing this to you, I listened to some tidbits from “Nixon in China” and a bunch of Trina (she’s a ferocious hip hop artist from the south).

You’ve talked before about how your work doesn’t revolve around a core ideology – It’s strange that the criticism of current youth culture is its sort of irreligiosity and what might be dubbed as shallowness, but your music is almost cut from that same cloth and is praised for it. Do you think a sort of cultural atheism is the way forward for art and music?

Ha, interesting.  Like I said before, I don’t worry about it too much — I would say that inasmuch as my work is shallow and concerned with surfaces and sort of making connections electrically, it also bears a sacred trace that comes from choral music. So I don’t know. Hard question.

I’m thinking of visiting Iceland next year. The country seems to have had an impact on you (Syllables, Bjork)… What’s the big attraction for you?

Oh it’s the best!  I just love it.  It’s beautiful, musical, severe, cold — it just resonates with me enormously. Everyone should absolutely visit it.

What are you planning for the Dublin show? Have you been in the city before?

I’m not sure what I’m planning! I’m going to do a bunch of energetic solo pieces, that’s for sure, and most likely “Wonders” from Mothertongue…  I have never been to Ireland, and am hugely excited.

I’m still skimming… A Youtube commenter wants to know: “Is there ANYTHING you can’t do?”

I don’t know how to tie a bow tie.


The Underground Wires DNA Test: Dublin Duck Dispensary

ddddna

Playing the Jeremy Kyle to children with disputable dynastic claims, the Underground Wires DNA Test is an examination of the consanguinity of some of our favourite upcoming artists. We want to know if they gleam their lyrical leanings from a third cousin, or which grandad thought them how to play piano. Asking artists to embrace their heritage rather than hide it (after all, everybody has a dodgy uncle they’d rather their mates didn’t know about) we aim not to reduce a contemporary artist’s work to mere influence, but rejoice in their confraternity like Gary Barlow told us all to in ‘Never Forget’. The Test Results are downloadable in Mediafire mixtape form for closer inspection.

Bobby Duck Dispensary sent me his DNA Test ready-packed about six months ago, but having neglected the blog like everything else in my life (see also: hygiene, resolutions, children) it’s been stewing in my Gmail like the puy in a spicy lentil soup. Thankfully, it’s still certified fresh, and possibly more important than ever. Firstly, DDD’s last full-scale release (well… as full-scale as homemade mini-CDs in limited edition get), the joyous Yykes Basket just got a not-typically-cynical review in The Wire mag. Secondly, a drunken Dublin Duck Dispensary spokesman recently revealed the band might never play in their current guise in Dublin again. Get them while they’re still hot, salty, and hopping. Like microwave popcorn.

My own affection for DDD stretches back to days before I realized my social circle made a neat Venn Diagram with Bobby’s. In fact, we were acquainted about half a year before his identity was revealed. There were no gigs. There were no goals. There were music. And lots of it. DDD’s earlier output was marked by off-beat drums and shambling guitars, with a surf-pop sensibility trying to climb the peaks of home-recorded wavelengths. DDD’s later output (the near-sublime Luanqibazao, the heart-bound Yykes Basket) nearly got the drums in time, and developed the Dispensary aesthetic (which found itself in Fader-fashion thanks to Wavves, Crystal Stilts, and the rest of the American fuzztone egg basket) into more expansive territories. The best part? It’s nearly all free. Check the Duckspace, or Rack and Ruin for some easily-downloadable shots of sugar.


1. Brainiac – Indian Poker [Part 3]

Impoverished and grubby noise, this is like Brainiac poured petrol on and set fire to a tramp’s filthy baby toenail and then hooked it up to Roald Dahl’s sound machine (instead of a tree) The first 33 seconds are some of the most exciting seconds in music and the final 19 seconds (the drums!) are some of the most bewilderingly joyous. This song makes me feel a bit like a Satanist Viking during the last minute of his longboat voyage to Valhalla. What more could you want from a choon?

2. The Gerbils – Crayon Box

I’m letting The Gerbils represent the very very verrrrrrry obvious influence which the Elephant 6 collective have had upon my carbon emissions. OK OK… I admit it! All I want is to be a part of Elephant 6! There! Happy now?!?! PUT ME IN GEORGIA FIFTEEN YEARS AGO! Actually, no don’t.

3. Robert Barry Andrews – The Famous Five Theme Tune

“The three greatest things on earth are friendship, togetherness and ginger ale.” That’s from The Bible. This isn’t just what a TV show theme tune should be… this is what ALL songs should strive to be. This little jingle nearly makes me feel like weeping. I get the feeling it was written by a big Beatles’ fan, but it’s better than anything those fellows ever did. It makes me feel nostalgic for a time and place I never lived, and proud of something I never did. I recently realised that my song ‘Electric Picnic’ is lyrically a bit like this. Just listen to this instead.

4. The Polyphonic Spree – Some of the Parts

I like that this song is completely non-sequitur and features handclaps. Cos I like doing that shit too! This is a weird song by the weirdest band on earth. It’s a great song by the greatest band on earth. It’s a song song by the songiest band on earth. It’s a song by a band on earth. You get the idea.

5. Rollerskate Skinny – Speed To My Side

This is the best Irish song ever written, so it’s an obvious – if entirely unwieldy – influence. The way it wallows and swells and sinks and swims is awestriking shit. It’s experimentation without sacrifice, with bursts of noise positioned so that its melodic joy peaks perfectly. Rollerskate Skinny were an early, Irish Animal Collective. Fair play, ladz.

6. Jan and Dean – Surf City

I know nothing of surfing except that it’s a H20-based activity which has been ruined by Quiksilver, Billabong and bleach-headed bozos. That makes me an ignorant snob. I’m probably even wrong. Ah, but how Jan and Dean still take me back to the good ol’ days of the curl! A time when we didn’t have to lock our doors at night. A time when we didn’t even have doors TO lock. I first heard (and became addicted to) ‘Surf City’ last November. At the next DDD band practice, I had a fit of the giggles during each song we played, as I bizarrely realised that everything I’d ever written had been subconsciously based on this one golden oldie which I’d never even heard.

7. Jacques Brel – Le Moribond

I like the pep and romance and atmosphere of French pop. This song is heartbreaking. There’s so much soul and urgency in the delivery… it’s pretty theatrical. Even if you don’t know a word of French, you’re probably still feeling all the right emotions when you listen to it. Listen to this, then listen to Westlife’s version… it’s a helpful reminder of the fine line between high art and putrid shit.

8. The Sherman Bros – Doll on a Music Box

So sweet, to rot yr teeth. So weird, to curl yr beard. Counterpoint. Brownie points. Every song in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is absolutely amazing and all dem melodies done gone and been stuck in my head for over 15 years now… Except for the fast forward fast shitty (shitty bang bang) one which Truly sings on her own in the garden after the first date.

9. Daniel Johnston – Walking The Cow

When Daniel Dale was making his first/best albums, he didn’t have a way of duplicating his tapes, so he had to record each copy separately. That’s dedication, maaaaaan. That’s sincerity, maaaaaan! That’s a sweet sign of someone just doing this stuff pour la buzz. I always wonder what Mr. Johnston thought/thinks about his music; as good songs badly recorded, or as genius “lo-fi” pioneering nuggets? I wonder if he knows how good he is? His lyrics are particularly inspiring. He doesn’t throw a veil over his feelings to prevent peeps going “this dude’s a wacko!”. I think D.J. probably made me ok with the idea of my music exposing me as a fucking fruit to my friends. I used to have a Laurie too, but then it turned out good.

10. 1910 Fruitgum Company – A, B, C, I Love You

If one of today’s pop groups were to release a single with lyrics as nonsensical and cliché as “A: I love you/B: you’re beautiful to see, I couldn’t live without your love”, I might spit blood. I probably wouldn’t, but the song wouldn’t be anywhere near as beautifully unpretentious or grinning as this. And you can bet your last stick of bubblegum the band wouldn’t be called something like ‘The 1910 Fruitgum Company’ either. Wonderful playground melodies, glissando fairground synthlines and a near-creepiness to the dead-set stalkeresque breakdown: “A, B, C, I love you. A, B, C, I LOVE YOU!”. You can’t say no, babycakes.

11. The Revs- Good Times

The Revs were the first rock band I ever saw. They were the reason I bought a guitar. I saw them live like 40 times.

12. Tripping Daisy – Field Day Jitters

This is my favourite song of ALL ETERNITY. It’s also the first song on my favourite album of ALL ETERNITY. It makes my insides tumble and ignite. The drums blow my mind. There are so many movements to it. It’s always building, but it’s also constantly climaxing. It’s the perfect composition. I wanna dance to this on my deathbed.

Grab the DNA Test in MP3 form: http://www.sendspace.com/file/yfsier.

Have a read of  www.myspace.com/dublindd while you’re listening

Polychromatic Death Plus: Health – Get Color reviewed

healthshirt

LA noisefuckers Health’s sophomore release mirrors The Horrors’ recent collection, Primary Colours, in more than name. As with those Shoreditch gothabees, Health’s debut underwhelmed as a regurgitation of influences (Liars, Liars, Liars (This Heat, This Heat, This Heat)) trashed out with blind exuberance, and they became a band better known for their live renderings of their half-finished pencil sketches (and their omniscient fashion-friendly merchandise).

Get Colour, as the title suggests, tie-dies this once plain white tee into a polychromatic attack on the synapses. High-range sonics and the drumming work of a tweaked-out orangutan clash over a battleground of simple vocal melodies and textures to create a work of violent glory. The experiential highs of the decimated Death+ and opener In Heat typify the band’s recording studio progress, while Die Slow represents the quartet’s first successful stab at the art of the single. Despite moving towards conventional song structure the band have retained their noise credentials, pushing the limits of wiry, Wire-y post-punk out far enough to encompass the ear-splitting electronics of Wolf Eyes and death thrashes of Lightning Bolt.

Health’s feat is more impressive than Faris Rotter and his band of coffinhouse hipgoths in that their self-improvement comes not with an entire identity overhaul, but the retention of their original tics. Get Colour might well be the most blinding rainbow you stare into all year. Four t-shirts out of five.

Dark Adaptation: Fever Ray Interview

The facts: Fever Ray is the solo vehicle for the musical experiments of one half of Swedish switchblade-electronica proponents The Knife, Karin Dreijer-Andersson. The Knife create dance music with an emphasis on emotive storytelling. Fever Ray creates head music where psychomotor reactions are a curious by-product of her motorik beats. Dark adaptation is the process where your eyes adapt to pitch-blackness in shady light, pupils dilating and retinal sensitivity heightening, searching out any ray of light illuminating the blackness. Fever Ray is dark adaptation for the ears.

Now we’ve cleared the facts up. Let’s get on to the fiction.


There’s a duality in a lot of your music, the conflict between the ‘female’
and ‘male’ voices, the contrast between the pop music and the more ambient
music, the sense of physical mystery you create with the masks and the
confessional, open nature of the lyrics- Do you set out to obscure the true
nature of your music and your identity as Fever Ray, and as The Knife, or is
it a case that you don’t have a strictly defined concept of what Fever
Ray/The Knife is?

K: The Knife and Fever Ray are just free to do whatever they want. They are
projects and worlds where there are no rules or frames for working. I do not
like the idea of concept, as soon you getting close to a too defined idea,
then you have to work towards it in some way.

Ralph Emerson wrote that “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”
Since your writing is usually fiction do you find that it sometimes
illuminates truths in your life you hadn’t been conscious of?

K: I think working through Fever Ray makes many things get clearer. It feels more
real than if I would have tried to say something without a mask of some
kind, for example. ‘Natural’ is also a construction, but it’s not said out
loud enough.

Can you compare the Fever Ray album with any other works of fiction, or even
see traces of other’s creations in it in terms of theme or style?

K: It is close to a scene in Julio Medem’s film The Red Squirrel where the
band Las Mosqas stand on a cliff playing their music dressed in fur.

I know you admire Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Dead Man’ a lot- What elements of it did
you associate with your music?

K: First I like the tempo. The long scenes, the loads of time that passes
and with little things going on. There is room for delicate details. And I
like the photo too, a little bit rough and very beautiful.

Fever Ray is a new character/set of characters from the cast you’ve played
as the Knife. Do you define the characters you play before you inhabit them,
or do they develop as you go on?

K: I see them more as mental characters or emotional characters. A steady
ongoing development, they change shape a lot.

Is Fever Ray predominantly for your own catharsis and as an outlet for your
own creative urges, or is it made for mass consumption? Do you ever create a
song with an audience’s reaction in mind- How much of it is pop music, and
how much of it is art?

K: I never think of an audience, I make the music by myself and my bunch of
pitched friends in the voice machine. It’s only us present at the recordings
and I think of no one else. I think pop music definitely can be art, I am
not so interested in separating it, both can be both, I guess.

The Knife’s success was unprecedented, in a sense. While there’s a core
pop sensibility to a lot of Knife songs, it’s wrapped up in a darkness and a
musical obliqueness that most would consider too weird for a mainstream
audience to latch on to, to enjoy. Do you think Fever Ray is even more
challenging for new listeners? And do you think music is essentially a waste
of time if it doesn’t challenge an existing template?

K: I think music and art should be challenging, yes. Brain exercise. But you
can create challenge in many ways, it can be a tone out of tune and it can
be voices cut in different ways, it’s very hard to say how to create it, but
you know it when you feel it, I hope. I try to always [challenge myself while making music]. Making working routine for example. I worked from almost 7 to 4 every day for 8 months. That’s a good start. I think making music in itself means challenge, cause I don’t think it’s easy at
all.

Is the darkness of your videos and of your music there to make the little
candlelights and the moments of brightness more valuable and more precious,
because they’re rarer? Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist?

K: Yes, that’s a fine way to say it. I am a hopeless optimist, I expect
everything to work, always. I have a very unrealistic confidence many times.

The ocean is a motif through the album- what attracts you most to the sea?

K: I am brought up by the west coast of Sweden and the sea means summer,
holiday and something free. It is also very nice to sleep in boats. Now I
live on the east coast which is not really the sea, a real sea must have
salt water and jellyfish.

Will there always be mystery surrounding your work, or are you gradually
shedding more light on your personality, removing the mask a little bit?

K: Music is mystery in itself, and beauty and possibilities and freedom. You
destroy that when mixing it up with the private, a face or fashion.

Most articles pin the Knife and Fever Ray down as this morose, macabre act
with a zealous approach to your work, but really there’s an awful lot of
humour in some of your stuff. I don’t think anybody who’s listened to
‘Hangin’ Out’ could accuse you of having no sense of humour. But Fever Ray
seems far less cheerful, bleaker than the music you’ve made before, even in
the range of sounds on it- Was it less of a fun and playful album to make?

K: I guess I had no one to laugh together with in the studio. And there was
no need, my hands were full of other matters this time.

Given your love for Miami Vice did you think about getting Jan Hammer in on
the album for a collaboration?

K: I like to keep the writing process for myself. And production-wise, I am
very happy with the more minimal guys I have produced together with. But
remix-wise, why not?

As published in Totally Dublin, March 2009

The Underground Wires DNA Test: Villagers

villagersdna

Playing the Jeremy Kyle to children with disputable dynastic claims, the Underground Wires DNA Test is an examination of the consanguinity of some of our favourite upcoming artists. We want to know if they gleam their lyrical leanings from a third cousin, or which grandad thought them how to play piano. Asking artists to embrace their heritage rather than hide it (after all, everybody has a dodgy uncle they’d rather their mates didn’t know about) we aim not to reduce a contemporary artist’s work to mere influence, but rejoice in their confraternity like Gary Barlow told us all to in ‘Never Forget’. The Test Results are downloadable in Mediafire mixtape form for closer inspection.

Our inaugural DNA Test comes courtesy of the much-heralded Villagers. Conor J. O’ Brien kindly let the UW nurse swab some cells from his cheek and commented with passion on the findings. Quite honestly, I’ll feel a bit of a heavy-breathing fanboy hype-machine if I write any more gushing words on the guy, so read those I’ve already written for a background into the band, its motivations, and a charming childhood memory of his, um, rampant egoism.


RESULTS

1. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie – ‘Cursed Sleep’

The first thing I liked about this song was the raw electric guitar which contrasts with the lush string arrangement.. then the lyrics got me.. “I cried and felt my legs fail”… Something sinister has invaded the sweet scene of the first verse. It’s a beautiful song, but it’s evil. I like how he doesn’t put ‘love’ on a pedestal. It needs to be dressed down!


2. David Axelrod – ‘Song of Innocence’

On the rare occasion that I’m wallowing in domestic bliss, David Axelrod is there with me, helping me make my tea. Although all of his songs do it, this one in particular seems to change the colours of the walls. Sometimes it even makes them bend. I’m really glad there’s no singing on it.


3. Elliott Smith – ‘Between the Bars’

A very beautiful song. The chords and the melody are amazing, and it’s so intimate that it feels like he’s singing it directly to you, into your ear. The imagery is very potent – it’s as if the singer wants to control somebody, but at the same time he’s projecting his own self-image onto this person. So, in effect, he’s using the song to embody an imagined saviour of some sort. Or sumting LOL


4. Philip Glass – ‘Metamorphosis’ (1-5)

This is the first five tracks of a 7-track album called ‘Glass: Solo Piano’. To listen to all tracks in sequence is quite an experience, especially if it’s late at night. It does things to the inside of my body. I think, on occasion, it may even squeeze its way through the heavily fortified walls of my soul!


5. Scott Walker – ‘On Your Own Again’

I think ‘evocative’ is the word for this one. It’s only one minute and forty-eight seconds, but by the end of it I feel like I’ve been through a lengthy divorce settlement on the roof of a tall building, wondering why the sun never seems to set. No, I can’t find a way to describe how much I love this song. Sorry.


6. Tom Waits – ‘Martha’

I finally got into Tom Waits this year. I never really liked him before, but something clicked and he’s all I listen to at the moment. He seems to be able to write something completely theatrical, and place it beside something much more directly emotional, then play with these bounderies until they no longer exist. The way children do.


7. Irving King & Harry M. Woods – ‘Try a Little Tenderness’

Whilst this song was a goodie to begin with, it was Otis Redding who really woke it up. Type ‘Otis Redding Try a Little Tenderness’ into YouTube, and watch the first video that comes up. My god.


8. The Walkmen – ‘Donde Esta La Playa’

I think The Walkmen are weird. Myself and Tommy (who engineered the Villagers EP) used this song as a reference for guitar and drum sounds while we were recording (which is why I’ve added it to this list). I think this whole album (‘You & Me’) sounds amazing, but it’s nowhere near ‘Bows & Arrows’. I wish they spent more time on the songwriting these days..


9. Bright Eyes – ‘Bowl of Oranges’

I found it hard to choose a song from this album (‘Lifted’). I suppose this is a sort of standout track, but the whole album is amazing. A wise friend of mine once told me how he came across the inlay booklet and read the lyrics of the album from start to finish, like a book, only to be astounded that it was accompanied by music and singing.


10. Low – ‘Cue the Strings’

This song sounds like the end of the world – it seems to be both mournful and celebratory at the same time, and the vocals sound so close-up whilst maintaining an incredibly epic quality. I like it a lot.


11. Roy Orbison – ‘Crying’

A completely faultless recording. I really can’t find the words to describe how incredible this song is.


12. Faith No More – ‘The Real Thing’

I spent my early adolescence listening to Faith No More constantly. I’d literally have headphones on while I was having my breakfast. They are an amazing band – this song exemplifies how they can maintain a high level of melodicism and sharp lyrics whilst completely rocking out. In this respect, if Villagers even comes close to Faith No More, then I will die a happy man. A smiling skeleton I will be.


13. Of Montreal – ‘Gronlandic Edit’

The first time I heard this song, I wanted to scream out the window of the car but my natural inhibitions wouldn’t let me. Actually, recently heard about a girl who had an accident, and subsequently lost the use of the part of her brain that controlled her inhibitions. Isn’t that incredible?

The test results in downloadable and listenable form.

www.myspace.com/wearevillagers

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone- Advance Base Battery Life review

casiotonealbumcover2


Casiotone For The Painfully Alone
Advance Base Battery Life
Tomlab


I once found an artist’s sketch notebook outside a Bank Of Ireland on Wexford Street. Perusing it was an incomparably bewitching experience, offering a tantalizing insight into the mechanics of a stranger’s mind that I’d probably never see fully rendered. Where Owen Ashworth’s Casiotone For The Painfully Alone project often recalls reading a dear friend’s diary or an exercise copy of short story ideas, this stopgap rarities release almost exactly replicates that same appetency the artist’s notebook stoked up.

Ashworth is both a painter of poignant portraits and a cripplingly accurate character actor. Rather than shoot clear-focussed photographs of hearts breaking in two or a teardrop running down the face of a man alone in the cinema he employs the soft-edged daub of nostalgia to make his emotional narratives all the more potent- fuzzy like the sine waves from his mewing vintage keyboard speakers. Acutely aware of his own miserablist tendencies he hones his schmaltz rather than waltzing around it. Thus when he whispers “I’ve been searching this town and all I have found/Are nights of bad sex with stupid boyfriends I shouldn’t have kept” on ‘Old Panda Days’ it’s a gilt-edged Morriseyist treat rather than a guilty-pleasure Bright Eyes trick.

Picking up Advance Base Battery Life, however, is a most unrecommendable idea. Like the chanced-upon sketchbook it offers only frustrating insights into possible masterworks, stick-figure men where Michaelangelo’s David might one day stand erect. ‘Holly Hobby’, the collection’s most heart-rending rendition is available in even more grievous glory on the excellent Etiquette album, and the sumptuous covers of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ and ‘Streets of Philadelphia’, along with Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ and Missy Elliot’s ‘Hot Boyz’, are available as freebies elsewhere. If you need to ready your tear ducts for the tear-fest this year’s forthcoming Vs. Children album will undoubtedly be revisit Etiquette or Twinkle Echo in the meantime, and stock up on the Kleenex Man-Sizes.



Casiotone For The Painfully Al Owen- Holly Hobby
Casiotone For The Paulfully Simon-  Graceland

The State of Pop in 2009

look-at-me-plz

The Observer Music Monthly, that barometer of all things almost-mainstream, last week charted the emergence of the New Girl Order (or whatever genre name gains currency for the wave of one-woman-bands carving up 2009’s press like a map in Risk). Peter Robinson quite rightly blames the new trend that allows Lady GaGa to go to number one and have alternative press rejoice on the recent ‘landfill indie’ phenomenon, a thought on which I’d mused for a while. The Guardian, and several other middlebrow press outlets have praised this new trend as a rejection of the former oversaturated one is always praised. When nu-metal graced the NME’s front covers week-in, week-out the Strokes emergence was welcomed like Jesus in Gethsemane, when garage rock became ubiquitous the post-punk revival plugged out its distorted amplifiers. Each new fashion is replacing the former more rapidly each time, as a result of the continual ballooning of file-sharing and hype-spreading- Don’t be surprised if the New Girl Order backlash rings its funeral bells by June and ushers in the next and the second Florence and the Machine album receives the same muffled reception Limp Bizkit, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand (and inevitable Klaxons upon their return) sophomore efforts were treated- These are bands that headline festivals on the grounds of nostalgia. That the bands that provided my gateway to what was once safe to call indie music are already in the same canon of dated ‘legends’ as, say, the Cure makes me feel 39 rather than 19. Just yesterday I discovered the Russian Constructivist cover of the Franz Ferdinand debut album, the first album I truly fell in love with, down the back of my bed and felt a chasm of Grand Canyon proportions between when I first slid that CD case on to a Tesco conveyor belt and when I slid it out from that dusty gap behind my mattress.

But I’m too young to complain about the rapid passage of time with any real conviction. What is a greater concern to me, and the reason I began typing this tract when I have a ream of less tiring things I’m supposed to be writing about, is why this New Girl Order is being championed in the same way New Pop was back when Frankie Goes To Hollywood bukkaked the singles charts. While I’m partial to the songs of some of its earlier models- Lily Allen, Ladyhawke and the Ting Tings are surely precipitators of the movement, and Crystal Castles Alice shooting to number one on the NME Cool List seems a more astute choice in the light of the current climate- I can’t say the same for Lady GaGa, Florence and the Machine, or La Roux. The latter, La Roux, is possibly the most baffling recipient of hyperbole. Where it a year ago she’d surely languish on the B-Side of a Kitsuné release (and this only if she received the remix treatment from one of the label’s more painfully hip proponents), and her i-D-friendly image is all too vacuous even for the post-MGMT landscape, surely? Florence, admittedly has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 6 months, a testament to steering a steady course when the waves of hype are lapping at your prow. The positivity of Dog Days is infectious, and hit the Obama optimism current at just the right moment. I fear though, it’s leaning a little too closely to that 1980’s cheesy-smiley mood that propelled most synth-pop bands to the upper reaches of the charts with, of course, a late-noughties aesthetic applied (the reverbed vocals, piano and handclappable percussion can be found from Animal Collective to Kate Nash, as synth waves could be found from Pere Ubu to Heaven 17).

If Florence offers some hope though, Lady GaGa is in the most worrying position as first lady of this movement, having reaped the most rewards from it already. Again, the Guardian is my source, with Laura Barton’s interview this week putting one foot in GaGa’s disturbingly shallow waters. She’s of that Madonna school of “Shock! A girl flaunting her sex drive” pop. The music prides itself on its similarity to acts like Britney, the videos offering either eye candy or a diluted sexual provocation (she’s wearing PVC- risqué). The shameful result of her posturing, however, is praise at how “brave” she is for “subverting” the world of alternative pop by assimilating herself with mainstream touchstones- This, like the post-punk revival, is a petty regurgitation of the past, and deserves as much praise as a Darkness reunion tour.

Once again alternative pop has come up short in looking for a way to rebel against its mainstream counterpart, while still gatecrashing the charts. Rebellion is almost getting your tits out, rebellion is I Kissed A Girl And I Liked It (a song that, at least, pinpointed the vacuousness of lipstick lesbians whether it was its intent or not), rebellion is assimilation.

In the search for alternatives to this endless cycle to repetition I have been struck by the strangest of inspirations- The Priests. Now, we all know the major label padres made it to the apex of the Christmas charts by the money of grannies, grandads, and Pope Benedict’s private coffers, but are they not the polar opposite of all the attitudes that gain currency in mainstream pop? I believe the true alternative lies in the do-gooders. As with the Skins phenomenon, the shock factor of the apparent rebellion and hedonism, blinkered feminism and borderline nihilism is what gains the vast majority of edgy pop its, well, edge. But in truth, how many people’s attitudes are being truly reflected by it? Charlie Brooker (if I mention one more Guardian columnist you can call me Alan Rusbridger and post Daily Mail headlines in my comments box) ran a test on Screenwipe not so long ago where he sat a group of teens in front of an episode of Skins, and while some were entertained by it, none said it reflected their lives at all. Because, in reality, the majority of The Yoof Of Today don’t thrive on the hedonism of a night out- Not even New Rave could reinstate the level of drug culture of the early 90s. We live in a culture that is more and more concerned with its physical well-being, whether on the level of sexual diseases from promiscuity, the negative connotations of being a smoker, healthy-eating and the hip factor tied in with it. We know some girls go to nightclubs and act like strippers, we know some boys will stick their dick in anything with an appropriately sized hole but the majority of their peers do not see it as positive behaviour.

And so I suggest the next alternative pop trend, if you’re reading NME, if you’re reading Guardian, if you’re reading hype-bloggers, should be a semi-revival of straight-edge. Probably the most positive of morally-minded movements were C86 and Twee Pop, but their sickening sweetness and removal from reality combined them to the scrapheap of alternative culture. In fact, let’s push reality even further into the distance with a lengthy pole and a pair of rubber gloves. If we want pure provaction in our pop music we need the Anti-Frankie. We need a band that, instead of decrying the wonders of golden showers will forward the cause of pre-marital chastity. Instead of PVC-clad GaGas we’ll have ankle-length dressed ladies and gentlemen in tailcoats. Where ‘indie’ nights are now an open market for free handjobs we’ll have ballrooms and courtship.

Perhaps after the overexposure of Anti-Frankie we can then move towards a mainstream more reflective of the youth it markets itself to.

Or perhaps I really am a bitter 39 year old and need to stop listening to Just Dance.

Minor Threat- Straight Edge



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