Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Just Exactly What You Need

I was going to write a column - well, an article, but since this is semi-regular, I like to think of it as a column, even if putting the words "semi" and "column" in the same sentence is a bit Carry On - about Christmas.

At least, I'd been threatening Somik with the prospect of doing so for a week or so.

I was going to write about christmas songs, and how Stop the Cavalry and Fairytale of New York are the only real christmas songs I can stomach. I was thinking of throwing in some of the conventional wisdom that christmas is really all about children, and it's much better when you either are one or have one, because that's what everyone I talk to seems to say.

I was going to talk about how I hate christmas.

Some of it was even tangentially going to relate to music. I promise. 

Well, maybe.

I had this whole thing about how I fucking hate christmas. Even the fact that the spell checker here is angrily underlining the word in red because I'm steadfastly refusing to capitalise it after the first time. I wish this were a political statement, but I really, just, can't, be, bothered.

I get the idea of a seasonal holiday. It's the middle of winter - bleak, you might say. It's cold and dark - the darkest time of year - and the weather is horrible. So at the end of the calendar year, why not have this big schmancy holiday? Why not have a time when everyone gets together and celebrates another year done with (almost)? Lots of food, seasonal television, and then everyone can go their separate ways happy in the knowledge that they don't have to do it for another year.

The problem is... Well, the problem can be distilled down to a single example, and then built back up.

The problem is Chris Rea's Driving Home For Christmas.

(See? I said music would eventually come back into this.)

Music gives us unrealistic expectations of how christmas should work. There are many christmas songs about love, and about family, and about celebrating, well, generalised stuff.


Except having a successful christmas song seems to be the ultimate in good news / bad news situations. Let's take the classic examples, in this instance being Wizzard (I wish it could be christmas every day) and Slade (Merry Xmas Everybody). And, in due deference to Noddy Holder, I'll refer to it as xmas from now on.

Because why not.

But in all seriousness, before clicking Wikipedia open, I tried to think of a single record I could name by either band that wasn't their xmas hits. And I couldn't; I don't know if this was just seasonal blindness, or something like that, but as far as I can tell, after 1973 both bands kind of just... Wandered on.

(Sidebar, though, in that Wizzard waited twenty-six years after their second album to apparently record a "jazz-rock, uncommercial album" in 2000, according to Wikipedia.)

Oh, I wish [...] troubled the charts ten more times across the four decades since it was released -

- And my life but I've just realised the song is forty years old -

- But still. After the successful christmas song which has an unlimited shelf life in the territory it was released in, why do you even need to go on, except to release the jazz-rock album you've been waiting two and a half decades to release? Every year, like clockwork (and if you had a good agent and rock-solid recording contracts) then the royalties will keep coming in. Xmas songs destroy bands, which is, I would say, probably the conventional wisdom, and probably has been for a while now.

This morning, though, I was out driving, errands to run, things to do, you know how it is, etcetera. On the way to a final errand, I had to pull over and stop, because in the middle of all the xmas fandango - or, more accurately, fandangos - I'd had 6 Music on the car radio, and they'd managed to completely surprise me, to the point where I pulled over and stopped to listen to the track that had been selected.

(Okay, I was actually at my destination. But I sat in the car and listened to the track until it was done. Which, given my attention span, is still an achievement.)

So sat sitting in my car, wind lashing on the windows and rain a-falling, I enjoyed... This:

Yes, the video has handy Spanish subtitles. No, I don't know why. Yes, it's six minutes long.

This completely changed my day. There's only so much xmas music you can take in every shop you visit and every place you go and even on 6 music, even if it's Summer Camp.

I Spy is what I like to think of as classic-sleaze Pulp. I don't claim to have been Pulp's biggest fan, but they occupy a privileged position in my musical memoria, in that I listened to Different Class more or less obsessively back in the mid-1990s, and devoured their back catalogue, such as was available at the time. (And no, Som, I'm not going to start going on about access and CDs etc.)

There are a couple of different Pulps - or, maybe more accurately, a few different Jarvises - out there, as far as I could understand it. There's the quasi-innocent social commentary aspect, which wanders from Babies through Common People to Bar Italia, where there is, like I say, some innocence there.

Then there's the sleaze. You could quite confidently start with Razzmatazz, and obviously include This is Hardcore. Pencil Skirt maybe qualifies, Underwear is on the line between the two states. F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E is also a maybe, and equally a bastard to type in a hurry.

I Spy is just sleaze incarnate, though. It's very simply, to paraphrase, I think I'm better than you and I've been having your girlfriend, although it's that sentiment stretched out to cover a block of resentment and anger and disappointment.

What I find most interesting, of course, is that I never actually paid much attention to I Spy on Different Class, sandwiched as it is between Common People and Disco 2000. I only really noticed it on - and before you ask, yes, really - the soundtrack to Mission: Impossible. Because the person who put that soundtrack - back when you could have the tagline 'songs from and inspired by' unironically - was perhaps taking the piss; you had Jarvis Cocker being as sleazy as you liked, followed by the Longpigs, Skunk Anansie, and, perhaps for the first and only time in music history, both The Cranberries (although if memory serves, that was actually in the film) and Nicolette, who, before you ask, was not a brand of gum created to help people stop smoking. (Brief research indicates that she actually had several albums, so there you go.) But if I ever meet the person who put the soundtrack together, I'll shake them by the hand, because it made me pay attention to a Pulp album track I'd previously used to skip over.


6 Music kind of saved my xmas with sleaze.

Make of that what you will.

Anything and everything else aside, though, all the best for the festive holiday season from us here at Disparancies. I'm now off to check the fact that apparently in my music collection on this computer I have 86 Pulp tracks, which was news to me, and now, I guess, is news to you as well.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

And Oh My Gosh Derrida Was Right

I am with Somik regarding International Cassette Store Day. Maybe not quite about the vinyl side of things, because it is - for me, at least - a sharp drop down a slippery slope between enjoying the physicality of an object and fetishisation. But, as he says, there were no Cassette Stores.

Let's talk about physicality and access. To do this, let's use an example. An example by Stan Ridgway.


When I first heard this song - and I'm not defending it, but at the time I thought it was awesome - it was on a local radio station in the mid-1990s.

Because this was pre... Well, pre-everything we take for granted right now, it took some actual research to find out who it was. That is, if you class 'actual research' as calling the radio station on a landline telephone and asking the person there what the song was.

And that was that. Because to actually find and get a copy of the song - most likely on cassette tape - was technically unthinkable to my teenage self. Because it was - understandably, perhaps - relatively unlikely to be available at my local record emporium, and any shop it was likely to be available in was likely to be in London, which at the time may as well have been another planet.

Also, as bad as my taste in music was, I was able to recognise that actually travelling to buy a Stan Ridgway record was over and above any sane way of living.

Now it took all of five clicks to fetch you a link to Ol' Stan on Wikipedia and a couple more to get the embed HTML for the video above.

This is an example of the transitional period that I firmly believe we're in now, from what I'm going to call Repository Culture and onward to Lurching Culture.

Repository Culture, I would say, is something that sprung into existence with mass file-sharing networks - Napster, Limewire, and the like - but really started when the ability to convert/copy music from CDs to digital versions came about, so... maybe... Around 1999? That's the first time I remember anyone every actually borrowing a CD from me to make an MP3 copy.

(Also, technically, we're talking about a process where a digital copy of a song was recorded, mastered, converted to an analogue format such as a CD, then re-converted to a digital format, because that was The Way Things Were Done back then.)

Digitisation was the first step on the path to where we are now, because it allowed people to create their own repositories without having a room full of physical storage media. It also meant that, yes, people could share their CDs around, freeing content in a way not yet available to other media - yes, you could technically photocopy books or run off VHS copies of films, but you couldn't, at the time, really do much with them in computer terms.

So the first step, I would argue, was the creation of personal repositories. Then file-sharing changed all that again, because you could throw your repository open to the world, and anyone anywhere anywhen anyhow could download whatever they were looking for with only the slight risk that it wasn't what they were after or, as occasionally happened - I'm reliably informed - was actually 'questionable content' uploaded for the laughs.

This was only effective for as long as mass file-sharing - of the questionably legal or outright illegal kind - wasn't policed, which was technically only a short space of time in which people made hay and then, like a veil being drawn in or a curtain being dropped, it was Illegal and wrong. I know this because of all the FACT adverts hammering it into me. Seriously. YOU WOULDN'T STEAL A CAR

Repository culture, when properly administrated - if it was ever properly administrated - was A Good Thing, by my marking, because it meant being able to consolidate all your music in one place. Then came the advent of mass, proper downloading, which meant you could add to your repository without having the physical media in the first place. I may be making too big a thing of this, but being able to carry my whole iTunes library round on a single iPod was, at the time, kind of crazy. (Especially because it was about fifteen years of music purchases, only about 10% of which I was actually not embarrassed by. Seriously; Giantkillaz. That's all I'm going to say.)

Now, in the current stage, Repository culture has created a system whereby musicians who were mostly long gone and forgotten - for better or worse - can access a worldwide market previously never available. This is leading us, I believe, merrily towards the Night Of The Living Dead Bands, because no band dies anymore.

You may think they're dead. You may think they'll never come back. But if one member of a band is still extant somewhere, somehow, eventually they'll work out there's a market for their work with their dedicated fans and now, because it's cheaper and easier than ever before to make marketable media, the basic thinkign is, well, why not?

One example, presented without comment on merit - because I actually sort of like them - would be Mazzy Star.

Mazzy Star, whose current album is available in all good record stores - irony - have just released Seasons of Your Day, a new album which has had fair reviews (with the Times, if memory serves, making it their album of the week).

Mazzy Star's previous album, Among My Swan, was released seventeen years ago.

I'm certain there are dedicated Mazzy Star fans out there who fervently prayed (even if they never truly believed in it) for the prospect of a re-union of the Star, as no-one else calls them.

But... Seventeen years?

One more year and children conceived in the late-nineties afterglow of their last album would legally be allowed to vote, get married, and do jury service.

There's simply no incentive for a band to bow out anymore, because there's always that last reunion tour or new album or tearful reconciliation, only now it comes with a Digital Deluxe edition.

A better writer than me could more eloquently make the argument that lurching culture means newer artists are getting elbowed out of the way by the previous generation, the generation before that, and the generation before that, all desperately addicted to getting the hit in people's ears that will give them a bit more a retromantic allure.  A smarter person than me could say how this might lead to fascinating collaborations between new and old and the potential for unification between the musical ages, providing examples such as the comeback of Chic in the wake of Daft Punk's recent successes (although given that Daft Punk have been going for approximately twenty-six years, make your own judgements).

The worse and dumber parts want to summarize this as Get off the stage, Dad, you're in the way of the new bands.

The thing is, though, that the transition from Repository Culture to Lurching Culture is not, in my humblest opinion, a problem exactly. It's definitely something worth keeping an eye on. The problem is going to be, I think, one of supply and demand; if you're out there at the edges looking for something new, you hipster, how are you going to distinguish between the new new, the new old, the old old dressed up to look new, and the old old making a resurgence?

A final example; when I was looking for writing music recently, I decided to browse the cheap racks on the Amazon MP3 store. Because I'd seen the film recently, I decided to invest in the soundtrack to To Live and Die in L.A., via Amazon, which is by Wang Chung. The film is from 1985; the band started releasing albums in 1978. Having invested in it, it turned out to be what you might politely call a mixed blessing, but it was easy to access, download and copy to the portable music device of your choice.

But I was curious, then. Obviously, you want to know too, or you wouldn't have read this far:

The first thing you find out about when you search for details of Wang Chung?

The reunion album.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wind Up

Last weekend saw the inaugural Cassette Store Day. A shameless reappropriation of Record Store Day, it is, in the founders' words, a celebration of "the most romantic of music formats".

Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade but, really?

How can anyone still love cassettes?

I’m slowly beginning to understand the reverence in which vinyl is held. The record as an item itself is beautiful and iconic, plus you’ve got the accompanying large artwork and the physical delights of the ritual involved in actually playing the thing – delicately mantling the record, moving the arm over, dropping the needle, etc. The only thing I’m not sold on is the quality of the sound and the eye-watering cost.

But cassettes? It’s only right and proper that they’ve been phased out. They were tacky, disposable and sounded awful (unless you like your music to be entwined with the squeaking of turning wheels). Yes, they gave us the ability to record off radio and to create our own compilations, but as soon as rewritable CDs and then MP3s came along, the game was over.

Perhaps I’m slightly too young to be properly nostalgic about cassettes. They were at their height when I first got into music (I bought my first album, ‘Bad’, on cassette) but by the time I had money of my own to spend on music, it was CDs all the way.

I do have fond memories of passing home-made compilations around between friends, but I always preferred the quasi-professionalism of burning your own CD (including controlling the precise amount of time between each track and printing off a sleeve). And having had a Walkman from a young age, I always took portability for granted, unlike the generation before me who would have revelled in finally being able to listen to music on the go.

I wish the cassette geeks well, but it's not a club I'll be joining any time soon.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Money Up Front

My musical investments

What’s the most you’ve paid for an album? Earlier this year, I committed to spending £65 on an unfinished album by an unsigned act via PledgeMusic.

The album was Songs For Crow and the act was Red Kite, a new band led by Daniel Fisher. Dan was a key member of The Cooper Temple Clause, who as you may (nay, should) know are my favourite band of all time, so I was thoroughly excited when I found out he had decided to return to music. He released a clutch of demos a couple of years ago, and it was clear even then that something special was brewing. His new material is perhaps more conventional that the Coopers’ everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach, but it’s no less compelling or invigorating. The blistering Montreal with its rapid-fire lyrics is their most immediate track, but there’s also more expansive moments such as the stunning No Painter of Note which starts as an acoustic lament and blossoms into a Danny Elfman-style orchestral movement.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a review of the Red Kite album, but more a rumination on the nature of funding music, so let’s get back on topic. My £65 didn’t just get me a (signed) copy of the album, it also got me:

  • A bunch of extra songs that didn’t make it onto the album
  • A handwritten and personalised lyric sheet of the Red Kite song of my choice (I went for Montreal);
  • My name on the liner notes (the second time this has happened, but only the first time it’s been warranted – I’m credited on Elbow’s Cast of Thousands  despite not actually being in the audience for their show at Glastonbury that they sampled)
  • An iPhone acoustic performance of the Red Kite song of my choice (I went for The Good Ship Adventure, one of the extra songs that didn’t make the album, because I – perhaps incorrectly- believe it’s about Dan’s time in the Coopers);
  • A USB stick loaded with videos, photos, and the audio stems of Montreal for me to (never) remix

All in all, a reasonably fair return for my investment. There were lots of other investment options too (you can see them all here), including hiring members of the band to give you personal guitar and drum lessons, becoming an “executive producer” so you could witness the album being mastered, and even having the band write and perform a song for you.

Another Coopers alumnus Tom Bellamy is also using PledgeMusic to raise money for his band Losers’ second album And So We Shall Never Part. I’ve invested far less in this album – a mere £22 which will get me a copy of the album plus a copy of the remix album (something I’ll probably only listen to once, but hey). Losers are offering some particularly bizarre investment opportunities (again, you can see them all here) such as a cooking lesson and wine night at Eddy Temple-Morris’ house, a dinner and DJ set at your house, and the chance to have them remix one of your songs. Much as I’d like to send Tom one of my poorly recorded ‘songs’ from 2008 performed on an out-of-tune acoustic guitar and tell him to make it sound like Panzer Attack, I haven’t got a spare £600 to flutter away on such frivolities.

Part of me thinks this is an amazing way of letting fans access a band and be part of the experience of an album launch, whilst raising capital and generally avoiding the machinations of the record industry. But I’m also slightly concerned that it’s akin to whoring yourself out, complete with set rates for various 'favours'. It also erodes the mystique of the artist, but I guess social media is a far more abrasive agent in that respect.

There is no doubt however that this is the way forward, or at least, one of the ways forward. Gone are the days when record companies would pay artists eye-watering advance fees to get coked up and record an album in a glitzy LA studio. My favourite anecdote/myth from this era is the one about how the major labels were fighting over themselves to sign a then up-and-coming Mansun. One company tried to get to the front of the queue by sending a prostitute and a crate of booze to singer Paul Draper’s house. He sent the lady back, but not before plucking a bottle of champagne from the crate.

Increasingly, artists are (voluntarily or otherwise) circumnavigating the traditional means of music finance and distribution. Amanda Palmer and Patrick Wolf have crowdfunded successful albums whilst Marillion have got their fans to stump up for a whole string of albums and tours. And then of course there’s John Otway. Because I’m too lazy to do my own research, I’m going to use James’ notes on him word for word:

"In an odd way, John Otway was a crowd-sourcing pioneer. He convinced 1,000 fans to pay - if memory serves - £5 each to sing on the B-Side to Bunsen Burner, his cover of House Of The Rising Sun. He explains this, seemingly, at the start of the video, because each fan that paid then went on to buy a copy of each version of the single (three in all) which then put it to - again, if memory serves - number 7 in the charts. 

So the fans pay for the recording of the single then pay for the single three times over. 

He kept trying to do this shit, as well, and almost got 150 fans to pay for the world tour which - I think - they would have travelled with him on. Basically, a chartered plane and such. 

Also, there's now Otway: The Movie. Funded by fans. I kid you not." 

I’m sure other models of financing new music will emerge in the years to come, and it may well be that there is no longer one definitive model to which the industry is bound. And that can only be a good thing, even if it means artists now have to start getting a little closer to their fans then they may like. They may have to endure giving a guitar lesson to a lunatic devotee, but at least they’re not selling their body parts. Not yet, anyway.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Finding the right way around this map might be pretty hard because he's LIPS on crack

Before we begin, I'd like to make you aware that I'm too, too into soundtracks. 

Trust me, when you find yourself parking at the supermarket to the sound of Barbossa is Hungry at least once a week for a month, it's probably time to see someone about it. Then again, judge for yourself: 

If you get out of the car at exactly 0.07, it almost justifies this. 

Film soundtracks have always been a big draw for me. The reasoning is simple; they're evocative by design, because they simply have to be: they're made for an extremely specific task, i.e. to complement the visuals and draw the viewer in. Without music (as I've found in my own limited experience of filmmaking), movies simply don't work. This won't be the last time I discuss this particular example, but watch the video below: 

Seriously, I need to see someone about how often this comes up. 

Now go back and watch it - or at least just the final duel - with the sound turned off. It is, to my mind, hilariously awkward. This is the ultimate tribute to Ennio Morricone, outside of The Spaghetti Western Orchestra: 

Very long, but worth watching. Like Anaconda. Or an Anaconda.

Right here and right now, though, this is not about film soundtracks. Recently, in point of fact, I've found myself buying just about as many video game soundtracks as other albums. 

(Okay, so, recently, 'other albums' includes two film soundtracks. Bear with me on this. Addictions are difficult things.)

I am, for my sins, a committed gamer. I use Steam to do this, and it is a very fine service; so fine, in fact, that I haven't bought an actual, factual, physical copy of a game for at least half a decade, or thereabouts. (Also, if any console gamers want to take a moment to kick in with the usual 'lol PC gamer' commentary, etcetera, now's your chance. Done? Okay. Good.)

One option that's been popping up recently, which is of interest to me in my limited capacity as a music journalist, is that for an additional sum - often not too much, although the last time I checked the first example I'm about to raise costs as much for the soundtrack as for the game, but for a good reason - you can add the game's soundtrack to your purchase. 

That first example is most pertinent to you if you're a fan of a bit of the old ultraviolence; if you are, you might consider purchasing Hotline Miami. (Or, for instance, if you're nostalgic for the first GTA and top-down fast-paced action.)

The soundtrack to Hotline Miami is, however, amazing. So much so that I ended up taking a bundle of the tracks, spacing them out, and created a CD for the car with about ten of them on it. I can give you what I think are three of the best:

Your mileage may vary. I find them really addictive listening, and here's the main thing; I find them addictive listening outside of the game 'experience' itself. For me, they're the sound of a parallel 1980s universe discothéque, a world of music from a specific era but a different world. 

This is interesting, because game soundtracks, like film soundtracks, can be quite difficult to listen to outside of actually playing the game itself, simply because they are contextually located experiences -


Okay, so the pretentiousness alarm deserved to go off, then. But to put it in a better way; when you're watching a film or playing a game, you're taking on a whole package of experiences at once - the whole audio-visual option, because the soundtrack has to mesh with the visuals and, when it does, this is what creates something memorable. Listening to the same music outside of the whole experience relocates the music to another part of your life, and it may do so... less successfully.

Because I wanted to get into the right frame of mind for this article, I finally buckled under and bought the Monaco soundtrack. Monaco is kind of an exemplar of the way I play games now; very quick, very intense, then leave it for rediscovery at a later date. 

(I had similar experiences with FTL and Papers, Please among other examples; a few days to a week of sheer intense overplay, then a bit of burnout, then back to casual play. This is by contrast with, for example, the old-school strategy games and, premier example, Final Fantasy X, which I spent something like forty-plus hours playing and which I credit with maintaining my sanity as an undergraduate.) 

Monaco is charming. The visuals don't work as stills, though; it's one of the few games that I'd say you genuinely have to experience to see how it all works. This isn't the gaming blog, though - that's been neglected for even longer - so we'll knock game discussion the head, for now. The music, though, is such a big part of the experience; in part because every level has a theme, but also because of the way it works in context. Monaco is a game about thievery, albeit a fairly genteel - until the explosives come out - thievery - and so it needs two soundtracks which can arguably be separated into: 

(I) Nobody's noticed us
(II) RUN. 

In-game, the soundtrack switches between the two as soon as one of the up to four players is noticed or in trouble, so it's a clever way of both manipulating the adrenaline and informing other people on your team that someone's in trouble, somewhere, and that you might have to help. I'll be honest, Rififi this is not: 

There a moments of cleverness, and tunnel-digging / hacking / seducing, and there are moments of sheer blind panic where every guard on the level is chasing you and firing automatic weapons, and the soundtrack shifts seamlessly between the two. 

So does the soundtrack work outside of the game in the same way as, say, a film soundtrack can? Not exactly. This is not a bad thing, but the Monaco soundtrack fits very precisely into the experience of playing the game, and outside it is a fine soundtrack but not one that you'd put on at, say, a jazz party or a 1980s parallel universe dischothéque. It is, however, jaunty. It's a lot of fun to listen to while, say, writing. But because every game of Monaco is different depending on who you end up playing with, there's no real specific memory triggers in the same way that a film soundtrack has, or even the same way that Hotline Miami has (as each song on the HM soundtrack is tied to a specific level. I still bought the Monaco soundtrack, though. This is primarily because, well, jaunty, and there's also a really charming paragraph that's not noticeable at first on the website but that convinced me utterly that I was right in doing so: 

Special thanks to Holly Sedillos for letting me sample her amazingly ... uh, "colorful" upright piano before she had it serviced to make it actually sound good!

And it's true; the piano on the soundtrack is unique. The first obvious reference word would be 'jaunty', but it's a jazzy soundtrack (with digressions into more classical styles and slower numbers as required by the plot of the game). You can get it for the princely sum of $7 - which I'm reliably informed is precisely £4.70 - and even if you never play the game or even find out anything about the game or have an allergy to Unitary Constitutional Principalities or games about gentle thievery, at this price, it's more than worth it. 

There aren't many official videos about of the soundtrack, but I can give you this as a taster: 

Because of this, the scales have kind of fallen from my eyes about game soundtracks. This is because they're now fairly easy to get hold of; my next purchase, for instance, ended up being the Timesplitters 2 soundtrack&nbsp for five cheeky dollars. This is even more evocative, because TS2 was, in my humblest, kind of amazing. 

So in this way, the Timesplitters soundtrack is more of a novelty because of the nostalgia associated with it, whereas Monaco is different because it's a more recent proposition. (Plus, in order to play TS2 I'd have to shell out for a used console somewhere and a copy of the game, whereas the with the soundtrack I can remember each level wholesale.)

This is something I'd like to come back to, but for now; is there anyone out there who listens to video game soundtracks in their daily life, or do I need to seek some sort of therapy? 


Friday, 2 August 2013

Sundown Six: August 2nd, 2013

"Was it Gangsta's Paradise -

or I Got 5 On It?"

"In the car, playing. No matter how much we talked about it, we could never get the story straight. I hope it's The Luniz, you never hear 5 On It any more and Coolio still pops up occasionally. I bet the last thing you need is a reminder.


"Sorry. I'm really sorry. I've been stupid. I mean, really stupid. But they played my song anyway. So I have to dance because... Because... It's for... Dancing. 


"He says... 'Choose a track. Doesn't matter what it is - just that it matters to you. Stick it on, and turn it up. Close your eyes. And listen hard. Focus. Just feel the song. Let it sweep over you. Breather it in. Let it possess you. And when you can feel it filling every single cell of your body..."


"They're going to be bi... Actually, scratch that. They're never going to be big big. But they're going to be big to some people."


"Dorian writes the greatest Long Blondes lyrics. Taken blankly and performed, they'd be submissive little things. But Kate won't. She sings like the slave girl on her knees whose eyes are raised in a way which makes men reach for the whip."

Friday, 26 July 2013

"Was the music too loud?"

I've had a week for doing things I haven't done in a while.

The first is going to the cinema. This is because over the last year, I've turned into a grumpy old man who can't stand the idea of the sacrosanct cinema being despoiled by texters, smartphone users, talkers, crunchers, whatever.

(The solution is, apparently, to go in the middle of the day, when no-one in gainful employment is around.)

However, the second thing is what's of more interest both to me and to this blog, because, well, music.

Back in the day, I used to be kind of obsessed with soundtracks. For a while there, films and music occupied equal but conflicting parts of my love, and the soundtrack was the relatively peaceful demilitarized zone between the two of them.

Over time, film became more important than music. (I can actually trace this to a relatively exact date, but that's for another time.) Even as film became the focus of my attention and passion, though, the soundtrack was still very, very important.

Soundtracks do something very interesting; they take music, which, for most people, relies on being heard at their convenience, and relocate it by tying it to something specific, which can be pinned down. In the current era, the pre-eminent name in this would, of course, be Quentin Tarantino; his habit of taking lesser-known songs and using them in interesting contexts is the ne plus ultra of relocation in musical terms.

This is also a discussion for another time, although given my takeup rate in revisiting ideas from previous articles on this blog, let's be honest, you might be waiting a while yet.

Anyway. Last Friday I made a point of going to see The World's End.

This is obviously at best cross-pollination and at worst a little gauche, but you can read my review here should you like, and a spoilery analysis of the ending here.

I'm still conflicted as to what I feel about the film, because if you're a townie slowly approaching middle-age, it's shockingly accurate in some ways. I want to use the phrase 'laser-guided', that's how accurate it feels. (Then again, I'm only twenty minutes from my home town. So...)

In the past, the thing I liked to do was - if the soundtrack was quote-unquote arbitrary judgement 'good' - to go to the local HMV and see if they had it on CD. This feels hilariously anachronistic now, given that we haven't had an HMV here for about a year.

(Then again, technology is perhaps not all it should be, as Spotify is determined not to let me embed the link to the soundtrack here. Som's even had a look for it, and between us, we cannot present it here. You might be able to find it, though.) 

Instead of going to a local music emporium - ha - to buy the soundtrack, then, I resorted to purchasing it online. I'm outmoded like that. Buying music. I know, right? 

Now, I'm torn about the soundtrack, to be honest. 

If you grew up in an amazingly specific context, i.e. hit your late teenage years on or around 1990 / 1991, then it's probably just an instant nostalgia bomb. 

I can't help but feel that I was born just five years too late to really get it. It's unique, in that movie soundtracks tend to veer away from songs that are massively popular, because they carry with them connotations that might change the way moviegoers watch a film. One of the weirder examples, for instance, would be how X-Men First Class used Run by Gnarls Barkley to underscore a montage - using a 2008 song to play over a montage set in the 1960s, because it worked. Sure, there might have been contemporary music that could have fulfilled the same function, but if it works, why not use it? 

Now, of the 21 music tracks on The World's End soundtrack, I already knew eight. Several others I knew but hadn't listened to in full, if you know what I mean - they were probably around when I was listening to the radio at the time. So right there and then there's a grab-bag of context I was taking to the film. This is interesting because it feels like it locates me halfway between an audience that would just 'get' it - i.e. people born on or around 1972, as the main characters were turning eighteen in 1990... 

... My maths doesn't really hold up here, as I'm not sure if they were turning 16 or 18 when they first attempted the pub crawl in 1990. This is a lapse in fact-finding - or, well, memory - that I'll trust you'll forgive. 

The key word here, though, really, is invocation. The songs are designed to invoke very specific metaphors. This is the academic in me showing, and I'll put it away shortly, but there's several songs in the soundtrack that are very, very specific to what the film itself is trying to invoke outside of the narrative (and, arguably, pre-alien presence reveal). These songs are, in my humblest opinion: 

So Young (Suede) 
Come Home (James)
Do You Remember The First Time (Pulp)

Other songs from the soundtrack are used to invoke a very specific time and place (which, to be honest, I'm intrigued to know how they'll be interpreted by, say, and American audience). But these three are frighteningly specific to the narrative of the film, hooks and grapnels fired from a pirate ship in 1990 trying to drag the present back twenty-three years kicking and screaming. 

I keep coming back to So Young, too, for no reason I can think of, as I'd not heard it before. 

This is what I'm having trouble putting together; there's some intangible quality to both film and soundtrack that, because I was around and, approximately, in the same (townie) situation as the 1990s version of the film's characters (although, like I say, a few years later, but then again in small towns that's not too much of a difference, really) that's really bugging me. It's like both film and soundtrack manage to perfectly articulate something about growing up in a shitty small town, except that I'm just outside of the target zone, so I'm getting hit with the ripples of the intended target; I know about it, I can sympathise, but I wasn't quite there. 

It's a nagging feeling that I can't put into words properly, although given how long this post is, hey, I tried. I think I just need to talk to someone about half a decade older than me. 

As a final aside, it's worth noting that I find Alabama Song hilariously creepy. At least, from about 1:45 onwards. Seriously

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Technology is a wonderful thing

Just when you think you've got a handle on something, something else pops up. 

I'd like to take a moment to applaud Amazon's new Autorip feature. It sounds like a genuinely nice thing to do, somehow; bought a CD? Then you've licensed the music to be accessed from your cloud. No, don't worry about ripping it manually, you can download it now. Yes, yes, wave of the future, all that. 

(As a sidebar, I like to think that music enthusiasts in places without internet connections - and I'm assured these do exist, somewhere - are steadily building up licenses to a cloud player they'll never use because they only get to order from Amazon when they trek towards the wi-fi. Okay, this sidebar kind of broke down halfway through... But I still like to think that When The Internet Comes to Backchoke, Missouri, that people will suddenly find themselves in the possession of clouds of material for CDs long-lost.) 

So today I received an email telling me that Autorip has actually broken the space-time barrier and allows me to access previous purchases via the Cloud. 

This is... Epic. There's not really another word for it. I don't think it's covering every CD, because not every CD is digitised and available and ready for 24-7 - again, internet-dependent - consumption. We reserve the right to refuse service to you by Kinky Friedman, for instance, hasn't popped up. 

It's not the things that haven't popped up that are the problems, though. 

It's the things that were bought as gifts for other people that, sadly, I didn't mark as such. Because I don't think there was a way to mark them as such. 

The Great Machine at Amazon simply looked at my purchase history and said YES, HE SHALL HAVE AS MANY CLOUD CD MP3 ALBUMS AS I MAY GIVE HIM, waved a giant digital magic wand, and lo...

... I now have access to I Dreamed A Dream, by Susan Boyle. 

Katharine Jenkins, by... Well... Katharine Jenkins

Those are the two that stick out. Well, that and On Every Street by Dire Straits, but as that contains the amazing My Parties, that's a difficult one. 

To get something clear; there's nothing wrong with Susan Boyle or Katharine Jenkins. Nothing at all, if you happen to be into that sort of thing, and if you are, enjoy! Go for it. Go nuts. I just don't happen to have a hankering for either. Plus, because of the world we live in, I'm worried about the potential for peer-shaming if I accidentally click on a button somewhere and everyone on Facebook assumes I'm listening to Cry Me A River out of love. 

There's a flip-side to this, as well - there are five or so albums that are real blasts from the past, that this cloud business might prompt a new-found love for after all this time. I mentioned Run in the last post about Glastonbury; now I have access to the special edition of Final Straw whenever I have internet access and a working cloud player. Ditto Franz Ferdinand by... Franz Ferdinand. I haven't heard Take Me Out in years

Plus Jem's 'difficult second album' and KT Tunstall and Crystal Castles... And Dave Greenslade's From the Discworld, which is, apparently, just how I roll. 

I have to be honest; I'm not planning on purchasing CDs unless no other option is available. And for Autorip to be viable, there has to be an MP3 version in the first place. So unless there's some weird economics behind the situation where buying a CD plus postage works out as less than buying the MP3 album - which is a possibility - I'm not sure I'll get epic usage out of Autorip. 

But it seems like a genuinely nice thing to do, somehow. It probably costs Amazon not very much to administrate - I can see the automatic coding behind it, really, trawling purchase histories and comparing them against available albums and sending little internet electronic gremlins to tie a knot between them - but still, it's something that, maybe, should have happened a while ago. 

It's still nice to have access to ... And All The Pieces Matter, though, long after the CD passed away and the digitisation corrupted. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

That Crazy Festival Atmosphere

At some point in the future, I would like to go to the Glastonbury Festival again. 

This is surprising, in a way, because out of the two previous experiences I've had of the festival, both were just... Awful, in their own little ways. 

It's easy to focus on the negative. If you were to do so about this blog, you could focus on the fact that this article should have been written at least a week ago. Or on the fact that there wasn't a Sundown Six last week, again. Choosy readers choose more regular blogs, I'm sure. 

But with Glastonbury, it's the two ends of the spectrum colliding that makes things so difficult. 

At one end, it's a sun-drenched (hopefully!) weekend in the countryside with thousands of like-minded people, lots of different fields and stages and lots of experiences to be had, plus all the big name bands, the different kinds of food and drink and, if you're into it, the illegal substances. 

In theory, it's what might be called by an academic an experience of 'sanctioned transgression' - i.e. you can do what you want, within limits. Want to sit in your tent all day taking mushrooms and drinking supermarket own-brand beer? Go for it. Drink too much and fall asleep in the main field, then wake up with half your body lobster-red and a hangover? Treat yourself! 

To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, the only rule is, basically, don't burn the locals - have a great time, as long as it doesn't impact on anyone else's great time. 

And isn't that a lovely idea? 

The first time I went to the festival was with a Parental Unit, back in... Wait, I'll actually have to go and check the T-shirt. Okay, it was apparently in 1999. The line-up - t-shirt, again - reads like a mildly schizophrenic who's who of the Britpop-is-crumbling era, as in half the bands on there are those that I now listen to for historical value rather than, say, actually enjoying them. Whistler, for instance - Acoustic Stage, fourth from bottom - had two albums and a three year career. 

The impossibly-named Donal Lunny's Coolfin were something that I didn't even notice at the time. There's this witchy mix of bands who survived and bands who didn't - but hey, nobody really misses Kula Shaker, at least not with a decent rifle - but it all kind of plays into the joke that anything sounds like a band Steve Lamacq would announce tonight at the Dublin castle, £7 before 9 pm, £8 after. 

I'm struggling to remember actually seeing any bands at the festival. I know it was fourteen years ago, and I have some photos somewhere, but as for actual proper memories of the festival, I remember buying the t-shirt and getting some graphic novels on the cheap from one of the book stalls. Those, I still have.

Other than that, sunny, annoyed at having to be around parental unit when, at the time, I just wanted to drink alcohol and look at girls I'd never have the courage to speak to, and maybe see Faithless in the Dance Tent. And Fatboy Slim, maybe. (I'd actually end up seeing the Fatboy Slim vs. Armand Van Helden DJ 'battle' later the same year at Brixton Academy, and I wish I still had the Date With Destiny t-shirt from that. Not that it would fit, in any way shape or form). 

In all seriousness, though, I'm struggling to think what bands I actually saw at 1999. Fun Lovin' Criminals, surely. Skunk Anansie, maybe. The Corrs, let's hope not. There was probably John Otway. The less said about that, the better; it probably involved a ladder. Years of therapy haven't quite sorted that out. 

Before this degenerates into why can't I remember seeing BAND NAME HERE, though, what I can remember about the '99 Festival devolves to: 

- Sunburn
- Long walks
- Overpriced food
- ... Bands
- Tents. 

This says less for the quality of the festival than for the quality of my memory, I'm sure. 

The second time I went to the festival was in 2004. I am reliably informed of this by googling Oasis at Glastonbury and picking the result that sounds right. 

This is a shame, because Oasis at Glastonbury in 2004 were problematic. I can only speak for how I found it - and that's a different story that we'll get to, shortly - but there was an over-abundance of swagger and an under-abundance of actually seeming like they wanted to be there. It seemed a little sad, in a way, because Oasis - at their prime, rib-smacking bombastic ego greatness - were difficult to compare to anything else around at the time. Hell, I'd even take The Importance Of Being Idle as an interesting late-game exhibition, especially given that Britpop had exploded - and then imploded, arguably causing more damage - a good review even now. 

(Regarding Britpop; I tend to agree with Kieron Gillen in dating the true 'end' of it as the release of Kula Shaker's  Mystical Machine Gun. Then again, I didn't know Kula Shaker released an album in 2010. Is it any wonder pop culture's obsessed with Zombie films at the moment, given that bands just stopped dying at the turn of the century?)

As for (Sir) Paul McCartney, well... It felt bizarre, seeing him on stage. It felt calculated that he knocked out all the less-interesting standards for a while until the BBC announced they had started filming, at which point the fireworks came out and the singalongaheyjude made its' usual appearance. It felt cynical, even though it really probably wasn't. 

The biggest thing for me that year, though, was picking the wrong person to go with. Firstly, it was someone I had a crush on and who had, on and off, been teasing me about this in various ways for a little while. Secondly, I was a replacement for the person she was originally going with - who, I believe, was her partner at the time and then, thanks to the ID restrictions put sensibly in place to avoid ticket touting, I then had to pretend to be in order to get in (this involved presenting a bank statement with his name on, so... No biggie? Kind of? Anyway...) 

Once we were in the festival and set up the tent, we spent some time together, crashed out for the night, and then I didn't see her again for two days

Let's keep this short, because this article is going along and along; in brief, at the time, she was dance, I was indie. She was drugs, I was whiskey. She was, decidedly, not pro-John Otway. She also had a severe aversion to carrying a single tiny key to a single tiny padlock I wanted to put on the tent zip; it was a little bizarre. There was something in the literature that year that said, well, if someone's going to steal your stuff, a padlock's only going to make them think there's something worth stealing - this padlock was tiny. It was the opposite of buying a Ferrari to compensate for other shortcomings; it was the kind of padlock that you could probably pick with a paperclip. It was my one concession to security, it was invisible to the average person walking around it and, shit, if you wanted to, you could just cut into the tent and not worry about it. 

But she wasn't having it. So there you go. 

So I wandered around the festival for those two days, sampling various acts, eating crappy food, trying to avoid the toilets, and getting frustrated at the live acts. I remember Franz Ferdinand and a coming-off-the-high of Run Snow Patrol. I remember doughnuts, because, hey, they're a very binding food when using the facilities isn't a wonderful idea. 

On the Sunday night, we actually managed to occupy nearby spaces long enough to take down the tent and go to the car. She wanted to leave early, because, I'll be honest, she appeared to be coming down extremely hard from either stimulants or, I suspect, ecstasy. If I had been thinking at this point, I might have considered that getting into a car with a tired, emotional drug-bunny coming down as the driver (and I couldn't drive at this point) was a bad idea, but my feet were sore, blistered and bleeding and hey, there was another of her friends hitching back with us, so what could possibly go wrong? 

It was when our driver went to flick a cigarette out the window in the fast lane of the motorway at 104 mph - and I remember that speed very clearly - and the steering wheel veered with her, taking us for a heart-stopping ice-in-your-bowels few seconds onto the gravel track in the centre perilously close to the metal barrier, that I considered that there was the chance I'd made a mistake. 

As I'm writing this now, you can assume I survived - and hey, Turing Test me if you like to make sure - but not for want of trying. After all this, the person I was with dropped me at the arse-end of the Northern Line and asked me to pay for the privilege of travelling with her, slight near-death-experience and all. 

And I paid, because it seemed like the easiest way to get her out of my life at the point. 

I limped onto the train, and called a pair of extremely nice friends in Bow, who put me up for the night. Their charity and kindness was something I still think about warmly, even now. 

The next day, I took the train home - feet wrapped up in bandages and several pairs of socks - and a day later, I was back at my desk job. 

I did keep the wristband on for a few days, though. 

So as you can see, my experiences with the Glastonbury festival has been a mish-mash mix of a melange of experiences. Not all of them were good

And now I'd like to go back. At least once more. Because maybe, just maybe, fourteen years on from the first time I went, per-maybe-haps I might be ready for it. 

Maybe - but let's not go crazy - I might actually have a good time

That's if tickets for next year's festival don't sell out in fourteen point seven seconds, of course. 

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Sundown Six: 29th June 2013

Come Back Around - or, some new songs from artists that have been around for a bit (and a comeback of sorts for me too).

Arctic Monkeys are sultry

Nine Inch Nails get (David) Lynched

Bloc Party go nutty

Franz Ferdinand return triumphantly

M.I.A. gets noizy

Beck is synthy

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Sundown Six: June 27th 2013

In honor of the fact that sometime last week we picked up eighteen pageviews from Latvia;

In honour of the fact that I don't want to insult any lovely Latvians by posting something awful, let's move on (although if anyone has any recommendations viz The Music Of Latvia, let us know!)

And in case you were wondering, no, this is not an exact science. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Sundown Six: Catchup Edition


Born under a bad sign with a blue moon in your eyes

The problem, of course, is time. 

Time, and promises.

I have albums I want to review backing up - most notably Richard Hawley, The Staves, and Daft Punk - but not only can I not find the iPod they're on, even if I did, finding actual factual time to sit down, listen to them, and write up coherent - alright, semi-coherent - thoughts on them for the viewer's entertainment would prove problematic. 

Equally, I know that the Sundown Six was missing last week. Sorry 'bout that. I'll probably do a double this week to make up for it. 

Time, and promises, and access. 

Access is kind of the key, here; there's a lovely trail on 6 Music for - I think - Gilles Petersen, where he says that a large portion - maybe even all - of his waking hours are taken up by listening to music. 

Which is nice. No, really, it's nice. But in this sense I am currently not fulfilling my contractual obligations as a music blogger, because the only time I listen to music properly at the moment is in the car, and the only time I drive anywhere is when I absolutely have to, which means my exposure is more limited than I'd like. 

Of course, we've talked about this before, because in my father's house there are many sources; if it were not so, I would have told you. But I go not to prepare a place for you, because, frankly, you're probably more well-informed than I am. 

Le sigh. 

Seeking out the new and exciting feels more difficult, now, because it's like throwing a dart into a dartboard the size of the internet and hoping for the treble twenty. 

Doesn't mean you shouldn't throw the dart, though. 

Anyway. Sundown Sixes! Let's get caught up.