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.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Life's A Scream

Congratulations to John Cooper on the second issue of his terrific fanzine Scream City. 'Sfunny to think that in the days of digitisation, with most aspects of the media disappearing slowly into a stream of zeroes and ones, something made of paper, ink and staples could be so inspiring. But as Paul Morley, Mark P, Liz Naylor, Jon Savage, and James Brown (the other one) found in the past, the act of Xeroxing and stapling multiple sheets and punting your own money for the love of your favourite bands has a special appeal that outweighs the limited pleasure of, say, maintaining a blog. It's more real. Or so I'm told.

Anyhow, for those of you that may have arrived here as a result of my little piece on art in the music biz in said 'zine, I've included a few more explanatory pics. Space precluded the inclusion of all the images I sent along to accompany the article, so one or two of the jokes may have fallen a little flat (esp. the one about Joan Armatrading--see below).

Here's Edward Wadsworth's "Dazzle Ships in Dry Dock", along with the OMD cover.

Here's Blast by Holly Johnson, alongside a Vorticist piece by Wyndham Lewis

Dada time: here's a pic of Marcel's Chocolate Grinder:

See Ben Kelly's version here.
Also Duchamp's "Fresh Widow" with Ben's homage from Factory's headquarters.

Below is a side-by-side of M. Duchamp's "Genre Allegory: George Washington " with the G Gartside version.

Mittageisen (or Metal Postcard) single cover below, photo-montage by John Heartfield.

Constructivist time again: here's an Alexander Rodchenko boiler suit, with Devo below.

Finally, some De Stijl pics. Here's the Schroder House in Utrecht:

and here's Gerrit Rietveld's Zig-Zag chair, with Joan Armatrading.

Buy Scream City fanzine here.