Thursday, December 28, 2006

"I..I really, really like them!"

As promised, a quick round up of 2006 as seen through the eyes of the overworked propellerheads at IrkThePurists Towers. Drum roll, please....

Most overrated band Red Hot Chilli Peppers
How can a band that gives props to The Gang of Four and The Durutti Column in their interviews consistently turn out the most turgid, lily-livered drivel and yet still fill stadiums on a regular basis (I've a feeling the two things may be connected...)? Their latest, Snow, is unmitigated dreck, a sing-songy nursery rhyme that goes nowhere and takes an age to do it.

Most unanticipated re-union All Saints
You have to at least let us miss you before re-forming, OK?

Most overused phrase "Fit For Purpose"
Once only uttered by New Labour policy wonks, this tired cliche has now found its way into policy makers' jargon and appeared in every paper, proposal, and booklet I read in 2006. Enough already!

Best jazz-rock album Acoustic Ladyland--Skinny Grin
Acoustic Ladyland are (confusingly) the electric version of Polar Bear, a skronk-jazz outfit of some repute. Skinny Grin, their second long player, includes a mix of one track by Scott Walker and guest sax by long-missing-in-action NY scenester James Chance, and it's mighty impressive, ranging from Peter Brotzmann-like sax squalls to percussion-driven workouts. By the way, kids, if you want to see what twenty-odd years of heroin abuse will do to you, just gaze at the ravaged visage of James Chance in Don Letts' recent biopic Punk Attitude. Even scarier than Zammo singing 'Just Say No'.

Most disappointing album Primal Scream Riot City Blues
After three trail-blazing albums in a row, Bobby Gillespie and co decide to play it safe, eschewing the Can, Velvets, Kraftwerk and My Bloody Valentine influences for tired Byrds and Stones riffs. Out go the politics, and in come the crowd-pleasing cliched lyrics, as Bob seems more interested in being in Heat and Grazia than in doing it for the kids. I blame Kate Moss.

Most outspoken pop star Pink
Good for her. Mr. President isn't a must-listen by any means, but at least she's stuck her head above the parapet.

Best cartoon band since The Banana Splits Eagles Of Death Metal --I Gotta Feeling
Chanelling the sound, if not the vision, of Alice Cooper. Axl Rose called them "The Pigeons of Shit Metal", but you really can't pay attention to anything said by a man with cornrows.

Best hidden track Cunts Are Still Running The World--Jarvis Cocker
Tucked away at the end of his recent Rough Trade release, and still, surprisingly, awaiting a playback on Saturday morning kids' TV...

Best music-related book Rough Trade by Rob Young

Best autobiography Rupert Everett's Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins

Most interesting new prospects The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club
They're Welsh, which is slightly confusing (though Welsh Gentlemen's doesn't have those kinky overtones), and more than one critic has compared them to the B-52s. And that's no bad thing.

Best live act Scritti Politti
And I wish I'd put money on this. Just think of the odds I would have gotten in December 2005. Graham Coxon ran them a close second.

Most low-key comeback Section 25 at Poulton-Le-Fylde's Over The Edge club
Northern miserabilists decide on another go round; typically perverse, they do it some 4 years after interest in Factory peaks with 24 Hour Party People.

Album I most wanted to love and couldn't quite Joanna Newsom--Ys
The critics said this was an album you'd either love or hate this. I beg to differ. I certainly don't hate it; it's different, it's ambitious and hell, it brought together Van Dyke Parks, Steve Albini and Jim O'Rourke on the same record; that doesn't happen every day. Its longest track clocks in at 16 minutes. It's sumptuously packaged. It'll make your hi-fi sound like a million dollars. It's the best album by a harpist you're likely to hear this year. And yet I'd be lying if I said I'd taken it completely to my bosom. Perhaps its the convoluted subject matter, perhaps it's the depiction of Ms Newsom as an medieval wench on the sleeve, perhaps it's her voice, midway between Bjork and Janis Joplin. But somehow, I couldn't quite fall in love with this, much as I wanted to. Maybe it'll grow on me in 2007.

Bonus interview: Steve Albini talks food

Download Acoustic Ladyland Salt Water (Scott Walker mix)
(deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Joanna Newsom Cosmia
(deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Greatest Christmas Album Ever...Ever...Ever!

It's that time of year when everyone and their uncle weighs in to the "greatest Christmas songs ever" debate; in the Grauniad, John Harris had a bash, and in the blogosphere, PodBop has been posting 5 songs a day (yikes) for some time now... and so, launching itself into an already over-crowded arena, and by no popular demand whatsoever, IrkThePurists presents its own top Christmas choons.

Only a fool would try and compile one of these lists without at least one song from Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You. Darlene Love's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is first track on the vinyl copy of the album I own, so it's only fitting it should kick off proceedings here (on the CD reissue, it's been relegated to the 11th track--why??).

Clarence Carter's Backdoor Santa deserves a place for its innuendo-laden title alone--I always find it's good to put it on after the fifth glass of Warnink's advocaat--but we'll try and overlook Jet's recent cover version.

Run DMC's Christmas In Hollis is related to the above, and appeared on a one-off compilation called Christmas Rap put out by their record company, Profile. The album also featured a notable contribution from Brit-rap also-ran, Derek B, whom I once interviewed. Re: the lyrics; I know what collard greens are, but can any US readers tell me what "the hawk is out" means? I've been wondering for nearly 20 years.

Cocteau Twins' Frosty The Snowman. 'Nuff said.

St. Etienne's I Was Born On Christmas Day is evocative of coming back to see parents and finding that the town you left some years before has changed ("Did you know they pulled the Town Hall down? I don't think you'd recognise this town,"), and that you've changed too. Not bad for a throwaway bit of proto-Britpop.

Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses is from Ze's Christmas Album of 1981, the greatest Christmas album ever, hands down (it's closely followed by the Les Disques Du Crepuscule compilation Ghosts of Christmas Past). If a bunch of snarky New York hipsters can get over themselves and indulge in Yuletide cheer, then there's no excuse for the rest of us to mope about at the end of December. Cristina's Things Fall Apart or James White's Christmas With Satan (also on the album) are great songs, but it's a little too easy to include lots of bah-humbug tracks when compiling these things. Half Man Half Biscuit, as usual, said it eloquently and succinctly in It's Cliched to be Cynical At Christmas.

Mogwai's Christmas Song is one of the few of theirs that stays quiet all the way through, rather than doing the quiet/loud/quiet thing they're so good at. Christmas is always tinged with a little melancholy, and I think Mogwai capture that pretty well. The Raveonettes' confusingly similarly-titled Christmas Song is here to preserve the indie mood, but give the party a bit of a Swedish lift. I think a few fingers of Ikea own-brand Glogg would be appropriate here.

Finally, Vince Guaraldi Trio's Skating will instantly transport you back to your first viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Only the hardest of hearts will fail to sniffle slightly.

And so, gentle readers, that's yer lot. Have a cool yule. In a daring break with mp3 blog traditions, I'll post some "Best of 2006" tracks here sometime over the next week, hangovers permitting. Cheers!

Download Darlene Love's
Christmas (Baby Please...)

Download Clarence Carter's Backdoor Santa

Christmas in Hollis by Run DMC

Download Frosty The Snowman by Cocteau Twins

Download I Was Born On Christmas Day by St Etienne and Tim Burgess

Download Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses

Download It's Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas by HMHB

Download Mogwai Christmas Song

Download Christmas Song by The Raveonettes

Download Vince Guaraldi Trio's Skating (n.b. all the above tracks deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Out To Lunch

I was flabbergasted to see in my local Tesco’s (I know and I’m sorry—the wholefood co-operative was closed) the attached ad for blue cheese in one of their Christmas leaflets. Headlined “The Soft Parade”, I can only imagine it was the work of a bored copywriter with a penchant for The Doors. Unless, of course, The Doors’ canon has now become so subsumed into the mainstream that even housewives doing the weekly shop in Chipping Sodbury and Diss are expected to chuckle knowingly over references to psychedelic rock albums from 1969. I don’t believe this is the case, and I think the reference will go over the heads of 90% of Tesco’s demographic, unless I’m being a total snob (and that’s always a possibility…).

Many schoolboys (and some schoolgirls) have a flirtation with The Doors, often coinciding with a viewing of Apocalypse Now. I know I did. Their first two albums really seemed to speak to me for about two weeks at the age of sixteen. The portentous lyrics that seemed to hint at secret knowledge. The shamanistic, ritualistic figure of Jim Morrison. The interminable keyboard solos of Ray Manzarek. Of course, most of us grow out of this brief infatuation; songs about frogs, Red Indians and the like seem a bit hammy once you hit, say, seventeen. And anybody reading No One Here Gets Out Alive would realise that far from being a sexual revolutionary and visionary, Morrison was a thoroughly mysoginistic and unpleasant individual.

None of which stops him being quoted in popular culture. Or supermarket flyers, as we’ve seen. In fact, that ad for cheese was my second Doors reference of the day. Earlier, I’d been listening to Bug Powder Dust by Bomb The Bass, which is chock-full of metaphor and simile, including two references to The Doors: rapper Justin Warfield compares himself to “Mr Mojo Risin’”, and the song includes the following couplet “Waiting for the sun on a Spanish
/Solar eclipse and I'm feeling like starin' man..”

More prominent than these fleeting references to Pere Lachaise’s most infamous resident, though, are the many literary allusions scattered throughout the song; references to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and Wade Davis’ The Serpent and The Rainbow appear alongside more prosaic pop culture yardsticks like Jeff Spicoli, Agent Cooper and Jimmy Page. The most prominent author, though, in this neo-psychedelic stew has to be William S. Burroughs. Indeed, the whole song is an homage to the Naked Lunch (and in particular David Cronenberg’s admirable attempt to adapt the text for the screen in 1991) with its references to mugwumps, the Interzone and so forth. The album from which it’s taken, Clear, is well worth getting hold of, incidentally; one track is written and narrated by TV panellist and occasional author Will Self, while another features legendary stoner Lesley Winer. And BTW, don’t you think Tesco could work the words Naked Lunch into one of their future campaigns?

Burroughs was probably the most influential writer for rock musicians from the mid-60s onwards (though JG Ballard arguably ran him a close second for a while circa 1978 to 1982); as well as Bowie’s penchant for cut-up lyrics, Soft Machine and Steely Dan owe their names to his novels, and his associate Brion Gysin was instrumental in bringing together Brian Jones and the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Hell, even Duran Duran got in on the act with their Wild Boys single…

He didn’t just restrict himself to the written word, however; he would occasionally step out from behind the typewriter and into the recording studio, sometimes to record spoken-word versions of his writings under the watchful eye of John Giorno, and often to collaborate with bona fide musicians, such as Michael Franti, Hal Willner, Tom Waits and Ministry. Some of his most fruitful collaborations, though, were with downtown NY supergroup Material. He contributed to their long player Seven Souls, and then followed this up with a guest spot on their track Words Of Advice from their 1994 CD Hallucination Engine. The track is notable for the interplay between Outlaw Bill’s lugubrious voice and the sax of Wayne Shorter (who, before leading Weather Report was one quarter of Miles Davis’ classic quartet, alongside Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock). It’s notable, too, for the admonition to “never interfere in a boy/girl fight”. Words of advice, indeed, and ones we’d all do well to remember with the festive season approaching.

Download Bug Powder Dust

Download Words Of Advice (both deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Horror Show

Managed to pop along to see The Horrors the other night, knowing full well that I'd be just about the oldest person there. Mind you, I think Peaches Geldof would have been sneered at for being too old. The mean age was probably about 16, I'd say; we knew this when we walked to the bar, and, upon asking for two beers, were politely informed that it was soft drinks only that night. The crowd, unusually in this day and age, had made something of an effort to dress up. There was a lot of peroxide in the air, and many punters had chosen to wear fishnet tights (and that was just the blokes--b'dum tssh, I thangew).

Actually, it was all a bit Rocky Horror Show, but the kids in the crowd absolutely lapped it up, clearly being too young to remember The Cramps, or Alice Cooper before them. The group played up the Grand Guignol for all it was worth; the keyboard player (who delights in the soubriquet Spider Webb) was wearing a cape, ferchrissakes, and twirled it round quite a lot. Faris Rotter, the singer and backcombed object of the crowd's veneration, leapt into the throng on more than one occasion, to the chagrin of the bouncers who kept trying to pull him back on stage. The girls in the audience (and possibly some of the boys) screamed, not in terror, but rather in excitement, like the crowd at the beginning of A Hard Day's Night. We (that's Malcolm and I) both remarked later that this was the first gig we'd ever been to where anyone actually screamed. There was a lot of strobe. It was over almost as soon as it had begun, within 27 minutes in fact, presumably so the kids could go and do their homework.

The sound? Well, go on then, if you insist. A liitle bit Cramps, a little bit Nuggets, a little bit Foetus. Slightly heavier and less garagey (is that even a word?) than on record. But I get the impression that the music is secondary in importance to the group's image for the kids in the audience. And just in case you think this is going to turn into a "style over substance" rant, I'm actually all in favour of their dressing up as The Addams Family. Christ knows we could do with some pop stars that know how to look and act like pop stars rather than Gap adverts. If I were a sixteen-year old kid faced with a musical diet of "ITV indie" like Keane, The Kooks, and The Killers, then I too would probably go nuts at the sight of The Horrors. They may not be offering anything new, but they're a damn sight more attractive than 98% of the charts right now.

You can see the Chris Cunningham-directed vid for Sheena Is A Parasite here:

See Foetus and Soft Cell covering Suicide's Ghost Rider!

When I said, below, that Optimo was the best club night in Glasgow, I was of course forgetting about the excellent Papacool. If you want to pretend you're in a loft in New York, then by all means go to Optimo. If however you want something more Left Bank than left-field, then Papacool, I'm assured, is the place to be. Here's a picture of Jane Birkin looking tres jolie. Cheers, Bill!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Faithless- Bombs

This is a fantastic song, all the better for its lack of bombast, and even though the video's "message" is a little bit like Soviet propaganda, it's still very moving. Apparently, it's the work of Howard Greenhalgh, who used to make lots of Cocteau Twins vids. That's all.

A Man Called Adam

I've just finished Adam Ant's autobiography, and it was a profound disappointment. Kudos to him for having written it on his tod, (I can't imagine a ghost-writer being involved given how plodding and prosaic a book it is), but given the source material I have to say I expected some more fireworks. I mean, if you'd had the word "fuck" carved into your back by Jordan (no, not that one) at an early age, and then gone on to squire Jamie Lee-Curtis and Heather Graham, you'd probably have some juicy material to draw on, right? Well, you ain't gonna find it in Stand And Deliver, sad to say.

It's hard to put one's finger on exactly what's wrong with the book, but the subs didn't do the writer any favours. The little-lamented group FourBeTwo, for example, become Four By Two a couple of pages later. Adam also avers that Ant Rap reached no. 3 in the charts; on the next page he claims it reached as high as no. 4, and two pages later the damn song's back at no.3... Editor! And even my granny knows that the Sex Pistols signed to EMI first and A&M second, and not the other way round as Adam claims. But beyond pettyfogging, nit-picking inaccuracies, the main problem is that the prose is just so flat, the account of his life so mundane and so uninsightful. It's all "then I did this, next I did that, next I rerecorded my vocals for Goody Two Shoes, then I broke up with my girlfriend..". Where are the bon mots, the witty apercus? Granted, he was no great shakes as a lyricist, descending into doggerel all too often, but he clearly had an imagination, as evidenced by the snippets of his contemporaneous diaries. Unfortunately there's little imagination on display in the book. It's all a bit "This Is Your Life". My missus cleverly pointed out that this flatness is probably due to the medication he now has to take to keep his well-documented bi-polar disorder under control. It's all a bit of a shame.

Luckily, the simultaneous release of yet another Greatest Hits package manages to redress the balance somewhat. I'd heard few of the 22 tunes on Stand And Deliver: The Very Best of... since Adam's heyday, and some (like Room At The Top, his 1987 collaboration with early Prince partner Andre Cymone) not at all. Some random observations: Apollo 9, a solo single from '85 or so, turns out to be quite audacious (I don't remember enjoying it at the time); it sounds like a 21st century sea shanty. The early stuff (Cartrouble, Deutscher Girls and associated B-sides) sounds very now all of a sudden, and not a million miles from The Libertines. Both singles from the Phil Collins-produced Strip album (i.e. Puss In Boots and Strip) are dreadful, tipping over into full pantomime where he'd earlier merely hinted at it amidst the Burundi beats. The Andre Cymone-produced stuff from his solo Manners and Physique album is actually quite palatable, even if it sounds like they'd nicked the Fine Young Cannibals' drum machine; it's quite similar to what The Chiefs Of Relief were doing at the time... hmm, and didn't the Chiefs of Relief feature a couple of ex-BowWowWow hands? One other thing: my kids are going nuts for Stand and Deliver itself (the song, that is), insisting that I play it 6 times today in the car.

However, it's Ant Rap that really astonishes. Not the main part of the song, (though, as rapping goes, I've heard worse) but the last 20 seconds or so, the coda if you will. Whistles, congas, drums... holy hell, I didn't realise it at the time, but this was damn near industrial funk! Download this, chop out the last twenty seconds and loop it, and you could take it to Optimo next week and tell them it was a lost out-take from a Liquid Liquid EP. They'd definitely believe you. In case you don't, I've included the Liquid Liquid track from which Glasgow's finest club night took its name so you can compare and contrast. ACR, ESG, Liquid Liquid, Adam and the Ants!?! Whoulda thunk it?

Download Ant Rap by Adam & the Ants

Download Optimo by Liquid Liquid (both deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Keep Adam medicated

Friday, November 24, 2006


If you've ever said to yourself "Damn, what I really want to hear right now is some avant-garde music constructed from the sounds of old arcade machines," (and, let's face it, who hasn't said that at some time in their life?) , then today's your lucky day.

Most people know the Belgian composer Wim Mertens, if at all, for his soundtrack to the Peter Greenaway film Belly Of An Architect, starring Brian Dennehey and Chloe Webb (whatever happened to her, incidentally?). Besides his occasional forays into film soundtracks, though, he's also responsible for some 50 albums, both as a solo composer and as a member of the ensemble Soft Verdict, as well as being the author of one of the first academic publications about systems music. Entitled American Minimal Music, the book, published in 1980, was an in-depth look at modern classical music in the US from John Cage to Steve Reich via LaMonte Young and Terry Riley. The foreword was written by a then-largely-unknown Michael Nyman. A friend who met Nyman some12 years later was astonished, then, to hear Nyman refer to Mertens as a "poor man's Philip Glass". I think the fact that Mertens got the nod to score Belly... rather than Nyman, Greenaway's usual musical choice, may have contributed to the slur. Despite this, I think Mertens holds his own, especially on albums such as Educes Me.

For Amusement Only, Mertens' first solo album, was made almost entirely from the sounds of pinballs and other arcade games; the sound sources are rather given away by the titles of each piece (e.g. Gorf, Fireball, Mystik). An acquired taste, perhaps, but the album found a niche audience among those who (a.) appreciated New York minimalism and (b.) misspent their youth in seaside amusement arcades. People like me in other words. Sadly, no other composers took up the gauntlet of creating music for, say, Frogger or Defender in subsequent years, though other musicians in other genres did use similar inspirations to Mertens in their work. These included Tilt's Arcade Funk and The Aphex Twin's early PacMan homage. In fact, PacMan has been the greatest inspiration for musicians over the years; the best example of which is arguably I'm The PacMan by the imaginatively monickered The PacMan. It appeared on the first Street Sounds Electro compilation, which has just been reissued on bootleg vinyl, so you've no excuse for not owning it.

Mertens' efforts, however, predate PacMan by a year or so, and two of the tracks from For Amusement Only are presented here for your edification. Enjoy, and wallow in nostalgia for the time when you nicked ten pence pieces from your mum's purse.

Download 8Ball

Download Invader ( both deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Flash. Ahh, ahhh.

Something in the Observer caught my eye recently. Software that analyses music and can determine its hit potential is reportedly being used by labels to determine where they should put their promotional budgets, and may even lead to the demise of the poor A&R man (a nation weeps). Many of the objections to this sort of reductive analysis are neatly summarised by the article…but the main one, from a music fan’s point of view, seems to have been overlooked. Namely the difference between a hit and a good song that is culturally important. They’re not usually the same thing. For example, compare The Blobby Song by Mr. Blobby and The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels of Steel by the aforementioned Grandmaster Flash and his Furious Five. One of these songs was a huge hit, reaching the No. 1 position in the UK on two separate occasions. The other didn’t get within sniffing distance of the top 40, but changed the whole course of musical history. I’m guessing that you don’t need The Guinness Book of Hit Singles to tell which is which. I’d be interested, then, to see where Flash figures on the musical analysis spectrum; presumably, he’d be off the chart, uncategorisable, indefinable. Definitely not hit material.

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash… represents a sort of year zero for those of us a little too young to have fully appreciated the icy blast of punk. At my primary school, we were vaguely aware that the Sex Pistols were not appreciated by our parents or the BBC, and so were, ipso facto, A GOOD THING; however, we only latched on to them around the time of Pretty Vacant, by which time Glen Matlock was gone and they were already becoming pantomime dames. Flash, on the other hand, came like a bolt from the blue four years later, and I can still picture the moment; lying on my bed, homework in hand, radio tuned to Kid Jensen’s show (he was on before Peel from 8pm to 10pm, in the days when Radio 1 was AM only), and BLAM. The world changed irreversibly. Even though pioneers like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa had laid the groundwork (and I highly recommend David Toop’s The Rap Attack and/or Bill Brewster’s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life for the full gen), it was Flash who pointed the way forward. Not quite the first hip-hop record, but definitely the first that sounded like a Bronx block party and the one that presaged sampling, cutting, bricolage, remixing and Jive Bunny. This is the record that changed my life. One of my Desert Island Discs, if Kirsty Young ever gets round to interviewing museum educators.

The purist in me would definitely acknowledge Flash’s primacy as a hip-hop progenitor. But hold up. Wait a minute. Just in case you thought you were going to get a free download of Adventures, remember this is Irk The Purists. It’s one of life’s great ironies that the record that really brought hip-hop to the masses was not Wheels of Steel, which, as stated above, had barely any impact in the UK, except for those lucky few who caught it on Peel’s and Jensen’s shows. No, the record before which LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Eminem and 50 Cent should be genuflecting every day, was made by five of the least funky, most white people on the planet. Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Gals (in case you hadn’t guessed) was even more strange than Wheels of Steel, and is usually overlooked when hip-hop histories are written, but DJ Greg Wilson restores it to its rightful place in a masterful article here.

Dissonant, complex, na├»ve, it’s difficult today to communicate just how radical and provocative the sound of this record was at the time. Much of its impact, I believe, was the result of two mismatched cultures clashing against each other, namely the New York jive of the World’s Famous Supreme Team (aka C Divine the Mastermind and Just Allah the Superstar) rubbing shoulders with the classically-trained, home counties boffins under the aegis of producer Trevor Horn. When Talking Heads recorded The Overload for their album Remain In Light, they reportedly tried to make a track that sounded like Joy Division, but, crucially, they’d never actually heard any Joy Division at the time. Instead, the sound they created was what they imagined Joy Division sounded like based on reports they’d read about the band. Buffalo Gals has a similar relationship to hip-hop. It’s as if someone had described a hip-hop record to the musicians involved (namely Anne Dudley, JJ Jeczalik and Gary Langan, later to metamorphose into the Art of Noise), and asked them to construct something similar. With possible additional references to square-dancing. The result owes as much to Stockhausen as it does to Spoonie Gee. That the participants had only a tenuous grasp of the mechanics of hip hop is illustrated by the record’s sleeve; on it someone (McLaren?) writes:

“The performance by the Supreme Team may require some explaining but suffice to
say they are DJs from New York City who have developed a technique using record
players like instruments, replacing the power chord of the guitar by the needle
of a gramophone, moving it manually backwards and forwards across the surface of
a record. We call it scratching.”

The writer imagined the scratching sound was made by moving the needle across the record, a move that guarantees a short life for your vinyl. As even my granny now knows, the needle stays perfectly still, and it’s the groove of the record that is manipulated back and forth.

As Greg Wilson, points out, though, it was the video as much as the sound that really brought hip-hop to a critical mass. I wasn’t in a club when I first saw it, sadly; I was in my pyjamas watching Top Of The Pops, but the impact was much the same. I was blown away. Grandmaster Flash had pulled the door ajar and allowed us a peek at a new world in 1981. But a year later Buffalo Gals kicked the door down and life was never going to be the same again. At the time, Trevor Horn claimed that making Buffalo Gals was the most fun he’d had in the record industry. After many soul-destroying years of twiddling the knobs on dreck by Seal, Rod Stewart and LeAnn Rimes, I imagine he looks back on the record with even greater fondness.

Watch Buffalo Gals

Anne Dudley (co-writer of Buffalo Gals!)

Talcy Malcy (does he still get called that, I wonder?)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Clearly, Borat's been taking dressing tips from Mrs. Ice T...

Queen bitch

BTW, is it just me, or is The Good, The Bad and The Queen absolutely the most contrived, awful name for a band ever? A shame, as they sound pretty good...

Column inches

More than one person has been asking after my well-being, seeing as it's a month since my last post. I'm touched. But it's all good; I've just been living real life rather than this simulacrum.

I've been goaded into action by the delightful Jude, whose blog I came across recently. Her homage to ACR has sent me scrabbling to the CD rack to a copy of The Durutti Column's The Guitar And Other Machines from 1987. Besides boasting one of the greatest sleeves ever (and all done in camera, in the days before Quark Xpress), the CD version that Factory released as facd 204 featured three extra tracks. As well as showcasing the talents of Durutti mainstay Vini Reilly, two of these bonus tracks, Dream Topping and You Won't Feel Out of Place, featured fellow Mancunains Jeremy Kerr and Simon Topping, A Certain Ratio alumni both. Simon had left ACR some four years previously, while Jeremy is still a member of the band today.

When London Records came to rerelease The Guitar And Other Machines on CD in the 1990s, they managed to retain Dream Topping, but, for reasons best known to themselves, contrived to lose You Won't Feel Out of Place; thus the track has been MIA for the past 14 years or so, ever since the spectacular demise of Tony Wilson's experiment in popular culture. However,you can now enjoy this one that (nearly) got away, thanks to the tireless efforts of the code-monkeys at Irk The Purists, and the ongoing generosity of Pat N., whose actually lent me the CD over a year ago and still hasn't asked for it back. Cheers, Pat.

The tune? Oh, since you ask....Though it's technically a Durutti Column song with a bit of help from ACR, it actually sounds like it's the other way round: ACR with a bit of help from Vini. Cut-ups, congas, DX7; Vini's occasional trademark guitar frills make him seem like a guest on his own track, along for the ride. Still, it's a bit of a rarity, so enjoy.

Download You Won't Feel Out of Place by The Durutti Column feat. J Kerr and S Topping
(deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Buy Durutti Column CDs

Monday, October 09, 2006

Blue period

A recent article in the Grauniad collated readers' top literary songs. But writing one song that mentions, say, Thomas Hardy or Brendan Behan isn't really a stretch IMHO. Sustaining a literary theme over a whole album, though, is a talent that eludes most artistes.

Luckily Hector Zazou succeeded where Rick Wakeman and countless others have flunked. His Sahara Blue, released in 1992, is an eclectic take on the poetry of Rimbaud featuring an extremely diverse array of collaborators, including celebrity gourmand Gerard Depardieu, and Richard Bohringer, arguably best known for his role in Diva.

As well as roping in French acting talent , Zazou (crazy name, crazy guy!) also persuaded Barbara Gogan of The Passions, John Cale, David Sylvian (appearing pseudonymously as "Mr. X" on the European release, presumably due to contractual problems) , Anneli Drecker, Sussan Deyhim, Khaled and others to contribute vocal interpretations of Rimbaud's ramblings. A similarly starry corps of artists provide the backing music, which ranges from plangent guitar noodlings to Middle Eastern pop, via downtempo proto-trip-hop. Most of the 12 tracks, though, could be played at your next dinner party without making anyone spit out their soup; they're engaging and quirky without being overt.

The first track on the album, I'll Strangle You, is the exception. An all-out stomper, it's Rimbaud goes disco (discaud?). Even in their most absinthe-addled moments, Verlaine and Mallarme must surely never have imagined that at the turn of the 20th century their nihilistic buddy would be sharing a track with ex-members of the Sugarhill Gang (i.e. Keith LeBlanc), Bomb The Bass (Tim Simenon) and Bill Laswell (yes, him again). A Season In Hell for poetry purists, perhaps, but a post-modern heaven for the rest of us, it features M. Depardieu and Anneli Drecker sharing vocal duties.

Hunger is a moody Gallic take on Rimbaud's Delires with vocals courtesy of John Cale, while the album's closer, Lettre au Directeur... features Sussan Deyhim ululating "like Yoko Ono with PMT" (as a friend so charmingly put it once upon a time), bookended by Bohringer (in French) and Sylvian (in English). You may need to dust down your French GCSE before downloading these. Hey, who said this blog wasn't educational?

Download I'll Strangle You

Download Hunger

Download Lettre Au Directeur des Messageries Maritimes (all deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Buy Sahara Blue

Marley's Ghost

Leading on (fairly) smoothly from Vivien Goldman below, we now turn to Mr. Robert Nesta Marley. I don't own very much by The Wailers, for the same reason that I own hardly any Beatles records. You don't really need to own them. Their music is everywhere anyway; it's totally permeated Western culture. Just go to any cafe in Amsterdam, and see what I mean. Despite this, I've fallen fairly heavily for Dreams of Freedom: Ambient Translations of Bob Marley in Dub.

A reworking of all the songs that have lost much of their meaning through incessant repetition (e.g. No Woman No Cry, One Love, Is This Love), this particular delight was brought into the world courtesy of Chris Blackwell and Bill Laswell. It works precisely because Marley's voice has been pushed way back in the mix, or in most cases totally eliminated from the songs. Not that there's anything wrong with his voice, of course. It's just that it's so familiar, it has to be removed to make the songs once more unfamiliar. Instead the songs are rendered as ambient instrumentals punctuated by the I-Threes' heavenly vocals, here brought to the forefront of the soundstage (blimey, I nearly went a bit "What Hi-Fi" for a second there). The contributions of Bunny Wailer, Aston Barrett*, Carlton Barrett et al are boosted and augmented by the Material usual suspects, in this case Karl Berger on string arrangements, Aiyb Dieng on percussion and Tetsu Inoue doing whatever he does with his electronics gubbins.

Laswell really is the patron saint of Irk The Purists, managing to enthrall and exasperate in equal measure. There were groans when this album was announced, and this piece from '97 summarises some of the objections. Undaunted, he went on to remix Miles Davis and Carlos Santana to similar opprobrium, especially in the case of Miles. Jazzers, it seems, are the biggest purists of all. Those of you, though, who disdain those record-rack dividers (rock/rap/r&B/heavy metal etc.) as much as I do can enjoy a couple of snippets of the album below.

BTW, the tracks have a very abrupt start and end, as the album is one seamless mix with no pauses between tracks. Just so you know.

Download Waiting in Vain (ambient dub)

Download Exodus (ambient dub) (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Buy Dreams of Freedom

*Incidentally, has anyone else noticed that Aston "Family Man" Barrett has been written out of the Wailers story at the official Marley site? Try going to here, and then take a look at this to see what I mean. I know he tried to sue the estate and all but, c'mon, what's with this Stalinist airbrushing of history? The guy's got enough problems remembering the birthdays of his 52 kids! At least give him his props, even if he's not getting any more moolah.

...and no blue M&Ms

How great is this?

See Iggy and The Stooges tour rider here (18 pages)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

More YouTube goodies

Currently enjoying:

Beck Cell Phone's Dead (How can a scientologist make such a fantastic sound?)

The Rapture Get Myself Into It (Finally making the music they've been promising, now that they've dropped the DFA)

Mu Paris Hilton (You wouldn't want to be locked in a room with her, but Lily Allen wishes she was this credible).

Friday, October 06, 2006


Ha! Someone's just pointed out that I've used the title "Life's a Scream" for two separate posts, one in July and one in September. Clearly, my frame of reference is embarrassingly small, and confined only to ancient ACR singles. Sorry if you feel short-changed by my lack of puns.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Ultra Vivien Scene

While we're on about posh post-punk birds slumming it(see below), Vivien Goldman deserves an honourable mention. Her recent book on the making of Bob Marley's Exodus has assured her position as the toast of New York, but those of you with long memories (or a subscription to Rock's Back Pages in my case) will be aware of her many years at the coalface on the NME, interviewing the cream of the post-punk demi-monde.

Her mention in Irk The Purists, however, is entirely due to her sole attempt at a musical career, the single Launderette/Private Armies. Like Maximum Joy, below, this was recorded in that fertile period when punk had exhausted its possibilities and was starting to look elsewhere for inspiration; though unlike Maximum Joy, who incorporated elements of the nascent rap scene, Ms. Goldman and her cohorts looked slightly less further afield. To West London to be precise: Ladbroke Grove. The A side, Launderette, was recorded under the auspices of PiL, using down-time from their recording of Flowers of Romance at The Manor in Oxford; John Lydon receives an executive producer's credit, though his participation was apparently zero. Instead the donkey work fell to PiL guitarist Keith Levene, who marshalled the combined forces of George Oban of Aswad (bass), Vicky Aspinall of The Raincoats (violin) and Robert Wyatt (!) on percussion. Private Armies, meanwhile, was produced by Adrian "On-U" Sherwood and features Oban, Levene and Aspinall along with Steve Beresford (a dub mix of Private Armies appears on the New Age Steppers 1st LP). Released on a small indie label (Window) here in the UK, it caught the attention of Ed Bahlman in NYC, who released it on his 99 Records imprint Stateside; see Maximum Joy, below, again.

And this turned out to be Vivien's sole foray into the recording studio. A shame, as I think her voice is pretty unique, and the songs themselves are especially strong, showcasing Vivien's twin obesessions of punk and reggae. Of course, others were mixing punk and reggae at around the same time, notably Don Letts with the aforementioned Levene and Jah Wobble, in Steel Leg vs. Electric Dread. The latter, though, never sounds quite as good as it should considering the talent involved. Launderette delivers on all fronts though. Vivien is perfectly placed, given her connections with Jamaica and West London, and the song sounds exactly as good as it should, Oban's dubby bass anchoring the whole thing while Vicky Aspinall's violin and Robert Wyatt's percussion seem like they were beamed it from another planet. Best of all, though are Vivien's vocals, a mixture of resignation, affection and admonishment ("You always were untidy..." she reflects wistfully, almost fondly), and Levene's production which leaves exactly enough space to appreciate the song's different elements. The B-side is every bit as good as you'd expect from early period Adrian Sherwood, especially the parts where he double-tracks her voice. The best bit, though, is when she says "If the heavy metal boys or the boys in blue..."; at a time when so many singers were hiding their upbringing (trying to pretend they were"street"...cough..Strummer..cough) and would have introduced a glottal stop into "metal", Ms. Goldman shows off her posh Golders Green background. Truly, "keeping it real" in the very best sense.

Download Launderette

Download Private Armies (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Clever Trevor

I'm in shock. No, not Zandra Rhodes' appearance on The Archers. The sad news that reached me today: Output Recordings is throwing in the towel. Why do my favourite record labels keep crapping out on me? Just as Mike D did with Grand Royal at the end of the 20th century, its owner (Trevor "Action" Jackson) has pulled the plug on Output after many years of setting the musical agenda, and when it was seemingly on the brink of attaining mainstream success. What will happen to artists like Colder, Five Mic Cluster and Mu remains to be seen.

Though it was loved by Hoxton fashionistas, and seemingly soundtracked every style bar in EC2 and N1, Output's appeal was international in scope, taking in artists such as the aforementioned Colder (from France), Dead Combo (Finland), and Von Spar (Germany). It was equally adept at digging out forgotten artists (Yello, Pankow) and re-releasing their more obscure recordings as it was at foregrounding new talent like Circlesquare and Tall Blonde.

The reasons for its demise aren't totally clear, though Trevor hints at squabbles with artists, money problems and disillusionment with the industry in a statement released to Pitchfork. One silver lining to this particular cloud is that Jackson will release the final tracks recorded for Output as free MP3s at the label's webpage for one month from Oct 1st.

Like Factory (whom Trevor acknowledged many times), Crepuscule, and Blue Note, the packaging of Output's, ahem, output usually matched the quality of the music it contained. In fact, graphic design was Jackson's bread and butter; he reportedly never made a penny from Output, relying instead on money made from design work for BMW, Mambo and sundry record labels, as well as from his DJing and production work (check out Trevor's personal page below, and click on the "portfolio" link).

So what of the music, then? While mainly trading in whip-smart electro and dirty funk, Jackson had an eclectic enough ear not to simply sign up dance music's usual supects. The Playgroup album that Output released is a good example of this. Though few eyebrows will be raised at the inclusion of Peaches as one of the album's special guests, purists might well baulk at the appearance of Roddy Frame, Edwyn Collins, Happy Mondays' Rowetta, Blurt's Ted Milton, Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna, Shinehead, Davy DMX, Dennis Bovell and KC Flightt, all of whom contributed to the disc, though sadly not all on the same track. The album's samples, too, came from unusual sources, including Paul Haig, possibly a first for Paul.

A couple of tasters of the label's musical policy appear below. Gramme's post-punk funk appeared in 1999, pre-dating Simon Reynolds et al by a good four years, Ruede Hagelstein's Sweaty Balls deserves a mention for the title alone, Rekindle's Ice Skating Girl seemingly samples New Order's Temptation, and Playgroup's Too Much is sonic alchemy using two parts Songs To Remember to one part Duck Rock.

Download Gramme Like You

Download Ruede Hagelstein Sweaty Balls

Download Rekindle Ice Skating Girl (Linus Loves mix)

Download Playgroup Too Much

Download Playgroup Number One (Black Strobe mix) (sorry--all deleted Feb 2007!)

Buy Output's remaining stock at half price here

Hugs From The Honeys Output tribute

TAPE's blog on Output

Trevor Jackson personal page

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Knack...And How To Get It

Apparently The Knack are suing Run DMC over their using the breakbeat* of My Sharona for their tune entitled It's Tricky. It's Tricky was on the Run DMC album Raising Hell. Raising Hell was released in 1986. What exactly have The Knack been doing for 20 years? Have they only just noticed? Am I missing something here? Isn't there a statute of limitations on these things? And will Bob James be suing for their use of his Take Me To The Mardi Gras on the same album?

* n.b. not a sample, as most commentators have it. Jam Master Jay didn't need to use a sampler.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Life's a Scream

The lovely Kelis, bless her, has recently been claiming that she was the "first girl to scream on a track." We'll let her off, partly because of her rainbow wig, and partly because, being so young, she clearly thinks musical history began in 1997. But someone really should point her in the direction of The Slits. Or Crass's Eve Libertine, whose righteous anger made Kelis sound like someone upset over stubbing their toe. Or, for that matter, Janine Rainforth of Maximum Joy.

Formed from the ashes of The Pop Group, Maximum Joy caught that moment (circa 1980) when white post-punk was starting to look across the Atlantic for inspiration, and to incorporate funk, reggae and jazz into its sonic vocabulary. Indeed, they were so successful in this regard that they attracted the attention of Ed Bahlman's 99 Records, home of Liquid Liquid, ESG and the Bush Tetras. Always slightly overlooked whenever the story of Bristol is being told, they were as much a link between the Pop Group and Massive Attack as Pigbag and Rip Rig and Panic, but are only now being given their rightful place in history, thanks to a recent round-up of their output on Crippled Dick Hot Wax (those wacky Germans!). Stretch, their first single, available below, formed a sort of template for their output over the next three years, though they'd later incorporate more dub elements and a jazzier sound. Ignore the truly mediocre attempts at rapping on the track (again, we can let them off; it was 1981). Instead enjoy the sound of Thatcher's Britain meeting the streets of NYC, and of a posh bird going mental at the discotheque. Eat your heart out, Kelis.

Download Stretch (Disco Rap Mix) (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Visit The Dug Out

Buy Maximum Joy

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Apparently, the servers are now back up, and all tunes are back online...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Apparently, my file servers are down for maintenance and all MP3s are unavailable to download for a short while. Normal service will be resumed asap! In the meantime, I'm loving YouTube's new video-viewing interface; a big improvement on the previous version. Here are some current favourites.

Howling Bells-Setting Sun

Rakim at the Lyricists Lounge NYC

TV on the Radio--Wolf Like Me

Going Back to Cali - as close as rap videos get to art (as the opening shot acknowledges).

Bill Laswell, Zakir Hussain, DJ Disk and others

Laswell, Buckethead and Brain (from the same PBS show as above I believe)

And is it my imagination, or has YouTube's search engine suddenly been given an overhaul? I was searching for Pharoahe Monch and mis-spelling it, but it still found plenty of hits. I don't think it would have done in the past...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Desert Eagle Discs

It's in the nature of Irk The Purists (see here) that the high-brow should share equal billing with the low-brow, that the supposedly credible artists should rub shoulders with artists that musical snobs might consider beyond the pale. So avant-garde jazz by Matthew Shipp, say, should immediately be followed by something like Agadoo by Black Lace.

Well, I haven't got any Black Lace to share with you (though Having a Gang Bang from the soundtrack of Rita, Sue and Bob Too is probably one of my Desert Island Discs), but I will confess to a fondness for a song by an artist equally reviled by the cognoscenti. It's immediately below. It's Boys of Summer by Don Henley. And no, I'm not trying to be ironic, or post-modern. I'm not a huge fan of the Eagles; I just genuinely love this song, and always get a little thrill if I'm driving along and, say, Ken Bruce introduces it (I get a similar thrill from The Heat Is On by Henley's erstwhile bandmate Glenn Frey, but that's another story). It's astonishing that anyone can wring longing, melancholy and regret from synthesisers and drum machines as Henley does in the verses, but somehow he manages it. The chorus is slightly too Eagles-ish to really love, but it provides a necessary, summery counterpoint to the truly autumnal feel of the rest of the song. In fact, this is the perfect song for this time of year, especially in Britain, as the final dregs of summer give way to the first chill evenings of autumn. So download the choon, put on your IPod, find a deserted beach and mourn your lost youth.

Download Boys of Summer (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Make the Eagles even richer

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Zero as a limit

When they come to write the story of independent and boutique labels (and recent tomes on Warp, Factory and Rough Trade suggest that this day is drawing ever closer), a whole chapter should be devoted to the short-lived but peerless Infinite Zero, if there's any justice.

Run and curated by Rick Rubin and Henry Rollins for a couple of years in the mid-90s, the label was devoted to re-releasing the obscure and offbeat, and those records that had scandalously been allowed to go out of print. While it wasn't an independent label-- it was distributed through Rubin's American Recordings, and hence through Warners-- it had an A&R policy so eclectic that it made most indies seem impossibly conservative. Because they only had to answer to themselves, the releases reflected the founders' tastes, and you can sometimes detect the guiding hand of Rollins or Rubin in the labels' choices. The two Trouble Funk albums released on Infinite Zero, for example, were surely at the behest of Rubin, whose love of go-go shone through his production of Def Jam's The Junkyard Band back in 1986. The numerous Alan Vega releases, on the other hand, must be Rollins' contribution; his affiliation with Vega, and love of Suicide, can be seen in the support his 2.13.61 publishing house continues to give to this day, publishing tomes of Vega's lyrics and issuing CDs of the man's later material.

Other releases reflected the labels "because we can" philosophy. Examples include Iceberg Slim's Reflections and Louise Huebner's Seduction Through Witchcraft, a track from which appears below. The latter featured a self-professed witch's incanations over primitive Walter Carlos-era electronics; the former was the spoken-word/jazz offering from literature's most famous pimp. Astonishingly, some albums that had gone out of print and been revived by Infinite Zero have again become deleted since the label's demise. For example, Rubin and Rollins re-released Gang of Four's third LP, Songs of the Free, when the Futureheads were still in short trousers. Why now, in the post-Rip It Up era, has this been allowed to disappear from the record racks? It'd sell, surely?

Flipper, Devo, James Chance and Tom Verlaine all benefited from re-releases on the label, and while there was a definite post-punk edge to many of its artists, Infinite Zero would always throw you a curveball by showcasing, say, Missisippi Fred McDowell's blues, or Alan Watts' Hindu drones. As Rollins opined at the time: "Michael Bolton is allowed to have his records in print, so should Alan Vega, James White, Gang of Four and the rest." The label disappeared within two or three years of its start up, as Rollins and Rubin concentrated on their own labels, 2.13.61 and American respectively, and after it had presumably outlived its usefulness as a tax loss.

As a label taster, I present here three track showcasing its wildly diverse A&R policy: Matthew Shipp's Circular Temple no. 2, a piece of modern piano jazz only available in an edition of 1,000 prior to Infinite Zero's intervention, a snatch of Trouble Funk live, a go-go extravaganza from Washington DC's finest, and the aforementioned Ms Huebner's Demon Spell for Energy. Enjoy! And keep searching those cut out bins for Infinite Zero-branded stock.

Download Circular Temple no. 2 (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Trouble Funk live (excerpt) (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Demon Spell for Energy (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Careering Opportunities

Pil do "Careering" live. How cool is Keith Levene? As Annie Nightingale says, this is the most powerful performance ever on the Old Grey Whistle Test.

It sounds even better than it does on Metal Box. See it NOW.
The poster of this vid, digitronTV, has some other terrific vids on his youtube space; if you have a few hours spare, you could do worse than check 'em out. Some highlights are below:

The Clash On Broadway

A clip from The Fabulous Stains (Steve Jones/ Paul Cook/Ray Winstone/ Paul Simenon)

A fantastic clip from a documentary on dub (which one? any clues?)

A Certain Ratio in rehearsal

Sid James

Doug E Fresh

James Brown at the Rumble In The Jungle

Friday, August 11, 2006

Miami: Nice

Apologies for the absence. We've been out having fun, and one of the funnest things you can do when your kids are away with grandma is go to the flicks, right? Our quarterly treat came last week in the form of a visit to the excellent Cameo Cinema to see Michael Mann's latest. To say I was psyched would be an understatement, though after three months away from the big screen even Adam Sandler would have seemed like Godard. Happily, all the Michael Mann elements were present and correct.
  • Total lack of humour--check (how awful would this have been with constant references to espadrilles and rolled-up sleeves, and an "ironic" cameo by Don Johnson and Philip Micahel Thomas?).
  • Inaudible dialogue--check.
  • Barely comprehensible plot--check.
  • Incredible, Citizen Kane-esque depth of field--check.
  • Attention to compositional detail--check.
  • Stunning set-pieces (the aircraft disappearing from the radar, the shoot-out in the trailer)--check.
  • Casual ultra-violence--check.
  • First-rate soundtrack--check
In fact, the soundtrack of any Mann film (or TV series for that matter) is one of the main reasons for seeing it. From Shriekback in Manhunter to Mogwai, Moby and Goldfrapp in Miami Vice, the director has always opted for interesting music (regularly working with Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, for example). Hell, he's even managed to make Phil Collins sound cool in the past.

Heat, his greatest achievement IMHO, also has the most diverse soundtrack. Few directors could pull off a heist movie with a largely ambient score, but Mann delivers. The CD is well worth seeking out, and it features Einsturzende Neubauten, Moby, Passengers, the Kronos Quartet, and the aforementioned Lisa Gerrard (William Orbit appears on the film soundtrack but didn't make the cut for the CD). However, two of the highlightsof this disc are presented below, a fantastic Michael Brook guitar piece, Ultramarine, and Brian Eno's Force Marker, used to score the bank robbery in Heat, an incredible sequence, and for my money right up there with parts of Battleship Potemkin. "Check it out, yo" as Barry Norman never said.

Download Ultarmarine by Michael Brook (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Force Marker by Brian Eno (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sasha Frere-Jones has been running a short series of record store reminiscences on his blog, some rejecting the High Fidelity staff-archetype, others claiming that it's still alive and well in Kim's, Other Music and sundry other emporia. Other posts bemoan the disappearance of the CD store in a digital age; still others claim that it had had its day what with the snooty clerks and all (I'm paraphrasing, of course).

Anyway, one such reminiscence comes from Rob of Reckless Records in Chicago (but which branch? He doesn't say). I didn't have much interaction with the staff at Reckless, but I did visit and buy on many occasions back in the day. There's a better-than-evens chance, then, that Rob actually sold me many of the CDs in my collection. Dude, I salute you and your ex-employers alphabetised racks.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Julian copes

I was expecting great things from my first viewing of TV Party, having recently read about this short-lived phenomenon; it was the NYC cable access show from circa 1980/81 that featured le tout New York at one time or another, and which was fronted by downtown scenester Glenn O'Brien. Imagine Richard and Judy programmed by Vincent Gallo with Ed Wood doing the camerawork, and you still wouldn't be close. My first exposure to it, though, courtesy of YouTube, had me slightly underwhelmed. Though it's clearly an important social document, the clip above had me wondering: just how bad a presenter would you have to be to have Jean-Michel Basquiat on and not be able to string together one decent question, or elicit one interesting answer? Pretty bad, as it turns out. O'Brien radiates such ennui that I almost dozed off. I must be a glutton for punishment, though; I'm just about to order the TV Party documentary DVD.

Basquiat's legacy is possibly better served by O'Brien's movie Downtown 81, recently restored. Another director who had a crack at telling J-MB's life story was artist Julian Schnabel. The multi-faceted (if not multi-talented) Schnabel, deposed king of the New York art scene and scourge of Robert Hughes, is not known for his subtlety or humility. His paintings, enormous canvases covered in crockery, dwarf most others in a gallery. Not content with one career, he's also tried his hand at directing and music (the clothing line and perfume range are presumably only months away). Like I said, a man with a large ego.

So his one and only stab at chart stardom, an album entitled Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud, must be a sprawling, bombastic mess, right? Well, no, actually. Surprisingly, and despite the presence of stellar talent like Anton Fier, Bill Laswell, Henry Threadgill, Bernie Worrell and Bernard Fowler, the album is mostly introspective, reflective and plaintive. Whoulda thunk it? Schnabel can’t sing (he makes Mark Stewart sound like George Michael), but that only adds to the poignant quality of the songs, as he reflects on lost love, memories, divorce and, er, bullfighters. All this, and Gary Oldman on backing vocals too. A little sample appears below in the form of the title track. I love how it builds over its 6 minutes, the dynamics, and the string arrangements, courtesy of the aforementioned Mr. Threadgill.

Listen to Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud
(deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Buy Every Silver Lining...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Take a powder

I promise that this isn't going to turn into a Scritti Politti blog, I really do. But just one more post. Then, after that, no more, I promise. Well, at least until August, when they're due to play in Edinburgh.

But they really are dans le vent at the moment. Live dates, rave reviews, Jonathan Ross appearances...however, the reason for this post is the very enjoyable hour I've just spent at Simon Reynold's blog, and at K-Punk and at Owen Hatherley's, where they discuss the meanings and possibilities of White Bread, Black Beer. All note that Green has toned down the self-reflexivity, the meta-this and -that, and the tricky wordplay of previous outings, trading it in for stabs at narrative, veiled confession, and non-ironic, undistanced honesty and emotion, unencumbered by quotation marks. However, Mr. Reynolds also picks up on some of the references in the lyrics (to various illicit substances) and constructs a possible scenario to explain Green's need to retreat to Wales every five years or so. It's not darts and beer he's escaping for. It's rehab. True? Well, you can never be sure of anything when you're talking about a group that uses artifice and construction as much as Scritti has. And Green looks extremely good for a guy who makes veiled references to expensive habits. But, as Simon notes, the clues are certainly there.

And actually, they're not exclusive to the current album. Nor are the stabs at narrative. He actually attempted something similar in the very last song of the previous CD...

While 1999's Anomie and Bonhomie featured a stellar list of collaborators (like Cupid and Psyche and Provision before it) and also foregrounded the self-conscious, deconstructed lyrics in a similar way to all his/their previous long players, one song stood out for being so different, both from the other songs on the album, and from anything Green had attempted before. Tucked away at the end of the CD, Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder is a string-soaked, cinematic epic that obliquely tells a story of...what, exactly? Well, there's a police chase, a wrecked hotel room, some mysterious keys (kilos?), an interrogation...and again those clues, especially in the alliterative chorus ("On Highbury Fields, the West Side Highway"), and the references to powder. Fingerprinting powder possibly. Or could it be... Of course, this scenario that Green hints at may not be autobiographical, any more than Michael Mann is a contract killer, or Quentin Tarantino a martial arts expert. But, a skilled lawyer would file it under "Evidence for the Prosecution".

Even though White Bread, Black Beer was recorded for a fraction of the cost of the string section on Brushed, in many ways it seems to pick up on some of the lyric, narrative and confessional elements of this incredible, oblique song. Decide for yourself below.

Download Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Monday, July 10, 2006

More band names

Can I just say that Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly is a terrific band name, but one which misleads me as to the nature of their (his) music? Rather than guitary singer-songwriter stuff, you'd expect some clattering, full-on Sesame Street noise, a bit like The Go Team, no? Feel free to disagree.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Hit the North (West)

Paul Morley's new Manchester and Liverpool compilation North By Northwest dropped through my letterbox the other day, and in between the familiar (Joy Divison, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Fall, Pale Fountains) and the frankly unfamiliar (Bette Bright and the Illuminations, Spherical Objects, a solo track by a pre-Bunnymen Will Sergeant), there's a lot of stuff I probably should have heard but that has always somehow eluded me. Like Ludus. Like Care. And like Lori and the Chameleons.

Label-mates of Teardrop Explodes and Big In Japan, they were signed to Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe's Zoo Records, at least for their first single Touch. Which is unsurprising, seeing as Bill and Dave were two-thirds of Lori and the Chameleons. The other third was Lori Larty, currently residing in the "Where Are They Now?" files. Dave Balfe later went on to infamy as head of Food Records, before going off to live in a Country House, while Bill D. went on to keep Abba's lawyers busy as one half of the KLF, but not before foisting Ian McCullough and Julian Cope on a grateful nation. Talking of the Drood, his Head Heritage site has a review of Touch that I can't possibly improve upon, so I'll merely link to it here.

What I couldn't help noticing while listening to Touch, though, is the similarity to another Liverpool band of recent vintage. The half-spoken female vocals, the plinky-plonky keyboards, the references to cliched teenage rebel tropes (motorcycles, blue jeans etc.)....yes, Lori and her Chameleons were clearly the prototype for Scouse futurists Ladytron. Though they wear their influences on their black PVC sleeves (Roxy Music, Sparks etc.), I've never heard them cop to a fondness for Lori and the Chameleons. Maybe they never heard them. Maybe it's something in the Merseyside water. But the similarities are there; compare and contrast below.

Download Ladytron-Blue Jeans (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Lori and the Chameleons-Touch (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Buy Ladytron.

Buy North by Northwest.