Tag Archives: Music

Björk at the Craneway Pavilion Ages Ago

(oh look it’s another gem from the drafts folder)

Ages ago (May 2013?), Cassie and I and a bunch of folks went to see Björk at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, which used to be part of the Ford Assembly Plant there. It’s suitably cavernous and industrial, but they’ve done a good job of sprucing it up as a venue. Because of its location on the edge of the Bay, some people arrived by ferry, which was pretty cool.

The show was in the round, with a central stage surrounded by a standing area and then tiered seating. The audience was a very mixed crowd, including lots of hippies (and pregnant women, for some reason). At first, we sat down, but when it became clear that there were going to be hippies expressing themselves through dance in front of us, we stood up and moved into the crowd. It wasn’t a mosh pit, so it was OK. Anything rather than watch hippies dance.

The music was mostly taken from Biophilia, which seems to be the soundtrack for a weird episode of Wildlife On One. In fact, David Attenborough had been roped in to record little introductions to each song. Björk herself was looking very much the part, with a huge crazy red rats-nest hairdo.She was accompanied by a choir of ethereal looking singers, apparently also from Iceland. They alternately stood like ghosts and danced like nutters.

Also on the stage was all kinds of unusual musical kit. Chaps with laptops (actually pretty standard these days), that amazing interactive surface thing she’s used before, and a harpist. There were some big pendulums too, but I don’t think they made a noise.

And let’s not forget the Tesla coil that descended on the stage from time to time and played the bass line to some of the songs, in a harsh powerful voice. This was used most memorably in the last song, Declare Independence.

I was only a little sad they didn’t play the Fluke remix of Big Time Sensuality, which has always been a favourite of mine. That intro! But this was about the new stuff, and rightly so.

Great show. Lots to look at and listen to, and the feeling that you’d been to a special event in a unique space.

Björk was never a huge thing for me. The Sugarcubes were on the scene when I got into that kind of indie rock – it was all Birthday, Eat The Menu (still a favourite of mine) and Planet with “Shouting” Einar on Transmission at 3am on Sunday (before Dennis Pennis came along and ruined it).

Then they got all popular with Hit when I was at college. When she went solo, it wasn’t a surprise, but the music was. It was a staple at many parties, and most shelves had a copy, except mine. I didn’t feel the need, it was everywhere anyway. Since then she’s never stayed still, and I’m glad I had to chance to see such an iconic performer in such a cool show.

Orbandaid

I’ve been listening to a lot of The Orb recently, after getting into Soma FM‘s nice ambient and chilled streams. I got a good t-shirt from them recently as well. Picture not to follow – although I should post one, because then they’d show it on their site.

I could wax nostaligc about The Orb. Saw them at Manchester Poly in 1991. Loved Little Fluffy Clouds. Was disappointed by and then really got into The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (still got the vinyl, actually). Then U.F.Orb and beyond… Anyway, I checked out YouTube for some videos of Orb tracks, and I found this very cheesy remix of a more recent tune off Bicycles and Tricycles.

As I said, very cheesy, but catchy too. Great bassline (can’t go wrong with one note), nice foghorn, and who can resist a rooster? Not to mention the boingy spring noise, which puts one in mind of a new podcast available now… You could almost forgive the autotuned vocals. Almost. The video is great – Japanese comic books, and was that a cartoon of Dr Alex Paterson in there?

Anyway, I found myself whistling the little bleepy tune at 50 seconds in the other day, and Cassie demanded to know what it was. I asked why and she said it was the tune to an old Band-Aid commercial from her childhood.

I can see her point.

Barry Manilow wrote the Band-Aid tune? The tune that the universe decided to insert in a remix of an Orb track nearly thirty years later? At last my tastes come full circle, like the dread worm Ouroboros.

25 Albums – Talking Heads – Remain In Light

There were planes on the back of it

Talking Heads are/were one of my favourite bands. At one time they were my favourite, hands down. I could have gone with the first album of theirs I got into, Little Creatures, or the first one I bought, True Stories, but I’m going to go all muso-journo on you and talk about Remain In Light, their third Eno collaboration, released in 1980.

When Road To Nowhere came out in 1985, I was at school, and it was a big radio hit. Friend Paul and I got into Talking Heads that way. Actually, he got all the records, and I would tape them, until I stifled the inner Scrooge long enough to go to Andy’s Records on Harpur Street and buy Fear Of Music, along with Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces and The Tom Tom Club’s Close To The Bone, on vinyl.

Around this time, the BBC broadcast a very long documentary about music videos. I didn’t record it at the time, but when it was broadcast again on BBC2 while the 1987 General Election results came in, I taped it and watched it repeatedly. Every few minutes, a graphical banner appeared in red or blue (or even yellow) saying “Bloody Tories Retain North Beds – More Skeet For You, Suckers!”. The program was a history of music videos, from early jazz/animation experimentation, to Top Of The Pops fillers, to MTV. Various bands were highlighted for having innovative videos, and Talking Heads was included, along with Madness. I remember a good segment about Cucumber Studios, who did a lot of cool stuff in the 80’s – very 80’s, IIRC.

What caught my eye was the crazy video for Once In A Lifetime, featuring David Byrne jerking and twitching while he emulated the preachers and witchdoctors sampled in the video. This gave rise to many amusing reenactments in the quad at Pilgrim Upper between classes. It also led to listening to the whole album, and realizing what a marvelous piece of work it is.

(Sidebar fact! My original taped copy had the two sides taped in the wrong order, so for a long time I thought Once In A Lifetime was the opening track.)

Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)

…I’m a government man.

Straight into the weird. Jakka jakka guitars, off-time drum boinks, and an electronic burbling freakout halfway through. A plea for understanding from a civil servant? He’ll be telling us his building has every convenience next. Actually, it’s apparently based on testimony from someone embroiled in the Watergate scandal.

Crosseyed and Painless

Facts all come with points of view, facts don’t do what I want them to.

Even Toni Basil’s anachronistic street dancing video couldn’t spoil this one. 4/4 cowbell beat, back and forth answering synth and guitar gestures, and Byrne’s obsession with words and facts as objects, plus a nicely amusing nasal spoken middle bit. Not my favourite track, but you can dance to it. You can dance to it.

(I did like the car in the video.)

The Great Curve

A world of light, she’s gonna open our eyes up.

Awesome, in the truest sense of the word. Apparently recorded in the NASA Vehicle Assembly building, judging by the reverb. Synth/horn stabs, guitar salvos echoing off like tracer into the night, and the multi-layered vocal washes, first one, then the other, then both giving the impression of an ecstatic African choir (which it probably was). Wonderful. It would have worked excellently as the last track on the album, just saying…

Once in a Lifetime

There is water at the bottom of the ocean

What can I say? This must have been incredibly different to anything when it came out. Looped synth wailing, shuffling cyclic drums, someone going “mur mur” in time with the bass after every phrase.

The lyrics about water were reflected in the burbling background. Other than that, was it just an extension of the preacher stuff on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts? Dunno. Wonderful expression of looking around and trying to see where you’ve been and where you might go from here. It ties in with Born Under Punches in that respect.

The live Stop Making Sense version emphasised the final triumpant chords, but I prefer the studio version.

Houses in Motion

Wearing shoes with no socks in cold weather.

I love the two-note guitar running through this – it provides a simple backbone for the squelchy noises, reverbed quacks and throbs of bass. Lyrically, it’s another discussion of architecture, the human body, self-awareness and transformation – seems to be the theme of the album.

Is that Eno on some kind of flute in the middle?

Seen and Not Seen

Some people may have gotten halfway there, and then changed their minds.

More about the transformation again. You can really tell where Byrne is at, sometimes. Listening to this album along with My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and Music For The Knee Plays, and reading the Stop Making Sense liner notes, there’s this thread of matter-of-fact statements about the world, people and the future.

More cyclic percussion, synth noodling, harmonic murmuring, echoing pulses of guitar, and and ecstatic sense of losing control of your own image.

Listening Wind

Mojique plants devices in the free trade zone.

Something about Red Indians?

OK, sorry. This is definitely a more political statement, about reservations and “my people’s land” and all that. I’m too ignorant to go into it too much. Again with the cyclic rhythms, washes of atmospherics, small guitar remarks and pulses.

The Overload

We travel on the quiet road

Stark yet warm. Empty yet stifling. Throbbing. Bits of it sound like Sonic Attack by Hawkwind, which is reasonable considering the power of the nonstop bass. Could be played at double the speed and still make sense.

This is my favourite Talking Heads album, despite dalliances with all the others. I can still listen to this end-to-end, starting on either side. Plus the cover is great – someone just got the new software paintbox and scribbled on the photos. Nice.

And you may say to yourself, “My God, what have I done?”

 

40th Party Playlist

Here’s the playlist I go on about here, with links to Last.fm if you feel the need.

Paul Simon : Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
Sparks : This Town Aint Big Enough For The Both Of Us
10cc : Rubber Bullets
Kraftwerk : Autobahn (remix)
Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music : Let’s Stick Together
The Stranglers : Peaches
OMD : Messages
Adam and the Ants? : Stand & Deliver
Echo & The Bunnymen : The Back of Love
New Order : Temptation
Heaven 17 : Temptation
Frankie Goes To Hollywood : Two Tribes
David Bowie : Loving The Alien
Depeche Mode : Shake The Disease
Pet Shop Boys : Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)
M : Pop Muzik
Curiosity Killed The Cat : Misfit
S’Express : Theme From S’Express
Prefab Sprout : The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Voice Of The Beehive : Don’t Call Me Baby
Eurythmics : You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart
Capella : Helyom Halib
Pop Will Eat Itself : Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina (Edited Highlights)
MC Tunes versus 808 State : The Only Rhyme That Bites
The KLF : Last Train to Trancentral (Live From the Lost Continent)
Pulp : Babies
Beastie Boys : Intergalactic
Madonna : Ray Of Light
Alessi Brothers : Oh Lori
Elvis Costello : Pump It Up
Squeeze : Up the Junction
Blondie : Sunday Girl
ABBA : Does Your Mother Know
ABBA : Waterloo
Amii Stewart : Knock On Wood
The Specials : Rat Race
The Specials : Ghost Town
Tenpole Tudor : Swords of a Thousand Men
The Human League : The Sound Of The Crowd
Tom Tom Club : Wordy Rappinghood
ABC : The Look of Love
Hot Chocolate : Girl Crazy
Ultravox : Dancing With Tears in My Eyes
Duran Duran : The Reflex
Howard Jones : Pearl In The Shell
Grandmaster & Melle Mel : White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)
Duran Duran : A View To A Kill
Tears for Fears : Head Over Heels
The Cult : She Sells Sanctuary
Brotherhood Of Man : Save Your Kisses For Me
Bryan Ferry : The In Crowd
China Crisis : King In A Catholic Style (Wake Up)
Freeez : I O U
Fun Boy Three : Our Lips Are Sealed
Wings : Live And Let Die
Plastic Bertrand : Ca Plane Pour Moi
Ramones : Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
The Sex Pistols : God Save The Queen
Peter Gabriel : Sledgehammer
Tears for Fears : Everybody wants to Rule the World
Gary Glitter : Rock And Roll (Part 1)
Doctor & The Medics : Spirit In The Sky
Van McCoy : The Shuffle
Pet Shop Boys : It’s A Sin
New Order : Blue Monday
R.E.M. : Orange Crush
Depeche Mode : Policy of Truth
Manic Street Preachers : From Despair To Where
The Prodigy : No Good (Start The Dance)
Radiohead : Paranoid Android
Supergrass : Pumping On Your Stereo
Eddy Grant : Electric Avenue
Gorillaz : Clint Eastwood
Eminem : Without Me
The Darkness : Growing On Me
Beastie Boys : Ch-Check it Out
The Streets : Fit But You Know It
Gorillaz : Feel Good Inc.
The Early Years : So Far Gone
McAlmont & Butler : Yes
Black Grape : Reverend Black Grape
Double Trouble & the Rebel MC : Just Keep Rockin
Electric Six : Gay Bar
Tone Loc : Funky Cold Medina
Kirsty MacColl : Walking Down Madison
Kula Shaker : Tattva
Neneh Cherry : Manchild
Space : Female Of The Species
Talk Talk : Its My Life
The Verve : Bitter Sweet Symphony

40 Years Of Top 40 Hits

I wanted to create a fun playlist to play at my 40th birthday do last weekend, so I came up with this idea. I looked around online and found this website which has a database of the UK charts back to the 1950’s. Then I searched for the top 40 from June in each year, starting with 1972, the year of my birth (here’s the first one). Then I picked out my favorite song from each of those lists, which would be good in a party playlist (IMHO), and which (crucially) I had in my library.

Obviously, to begin with there were only a few songs to pick out. Later on, of course, as I got into the 1980’s, there were more than one song in June that I wanted to include. So I let the rules lapse a bit and included them. Sod it.

Then, as I got further into the late 90’s, tracks I liked (or indeed recognized) started to dry up. This was due to a couple of pretty obvious factors. I wasn’t listening to chart music that much, due to it not being aimed at me. I won’t stoop so low as to claim that “music wasn’t good anymore” – if I start claiming that, I will truly be an old man. I hope never to believe that nonsense. Charts are only one measure – songs that the kids are buying.

In fact, when I was downloading songs off YouTube, the top voted comment was very often something along the lines of:

I gotta say, I really respect the generation of 80’s/90’s electronic music lovers. I really have no hope in today’s music. I mean seriously… the shit that people call ‘pop’ music in 2012… makes me feel ashamed

or

im 15 and listen to this haha! better than the boring shit nowadays 😀

or

what happened to good music like this wth is this new lmfao stuff all there songs are about sex, drugs, and parties, these songs have good meaning and REAL Talent thumbs up if you agree

Oh, do fuck off.

Ah well yes, opinion and taste and everything. This playlist was for a party with a specific theme. Milestone year and all that. Also, it was meant as a historical and transatlantic cultural curiousity – most of the guests wouldn’t be familiar with the UK charts in the 1980’s.

In some cases, I didn’t actually have a copy of the song I wanted to include. This was remedied in various ways, including the wonderful SnipMP3.com, which is a tool for downloading an MP3 of the audio track of a YouTube video. There are many tracks available there – people post videos of the vinyl going round, or of some dodgy animated disco dancer, in the case of club tracks and white labels.

Anyway, it was a lot pf fun putting the list together. I wanted to export it into Spotify somehow, so I found Playlistify, which claims to take an uploaded iTunes playlist XML file and convert it into a Spotify playlist. I tried it, and it managed to find 60 out of the 90 songs. So here’s a link to the created playlist. Doesn’t seem to work well – I’ll fix it later. Oh well.

Pulp at The Warfield, April 17 2012

Pulp
This is the reason I finally managed to post this the other day.

So Pulp have renuited for a tour, and were doing some shows at Coachella. Before that, they were doing a couple in San Francisco and thereabouts, which sold out in about 10 minutes. Cassie saw this, and posted on Facebook about wishing she could get a ticket. Magically, a family friend popped up and said he could get us tickets! We’d have to pay, and they’d be in the pit rather than in the gods, as it were, but it would be awesome to see them again.

I’ve seen Pulp a couple of times. The first time was during the tour they did for His ‘n’ Hers, at the Brixton Academy in about 1994. They were supported by Stereolab, and it was great to see them as well, even though there was a douche in front of us yelling at the “fat bird” to get off stage – during Super Electric, of all things! Ignorant deaf pig.

The next time was less fun. I was unemployed, or temping or something. Pulp was huge, Different Class was out. The gig was at Wembley Arena in 1995. Horrible venue, way too big. Support was from Denim (ah, good old/poor old Denim) and feckin’ Edwyn Collins who had a song out then. I did not have a good time.

This time was way better. Cassie and I met up with friends at the Gold Dust Lounge in San Francisco’s “charming” Union Square/Tenderloin area. The Warfield is square in the Tenderloin, so waiting in the will-call line was interesting.

We didn’t catch the support act, soz.

The gig itself was a showcase, given the lack of new material. This meant they could pick out classics and crowd-pleasers, as well as album tracks, and other more personal favourites. They started off by going straight into Do You Remember the First Time?, which is a shame because it’s my favourite and I was looking forward to being excited about it. Great start though. I never liked Something Changed. At the time it came out, I was not in a happy place. Single and disappointed, and this song seemed to taunt me. But then seeing it performed, with my arms around my wife, changed my mind a little. Yep.

Disco 2000. This came out a few years before 2000, and is about remebering how at school in the late 70’s and early 80’s you would promise your friends you’d keep in touch. It’s now 12 years after the year mentioned in the song, and it’s still a corker, although a bit overplayed. I feel old.

Between the songs, Jarvis did his usual banter. I’ve seen him solo live as well, and he likes to keep the fun going. He reminded the crowd of the last time Pulp played in San Francisco, and there were a fair few people in the crowd that were there.

The American version of Sorted for E’s & Wizz is Fixed up for X and Meth. Only joking, although the rave scene was very different in the US. No home counties and orbital motorways here. You were probably in the middle of a desert – oh, what do I know.

Jarvis went to town on Acrylic Afternoons, really going for the kitchen sink drama posturing, and pretending to drink tea, before leaping off a monitor and squealing for the choruses. Babies was always a crowd-pleaser. The opening notes instantly recognisable. Lots of grooving going on.

I hadn’t heard Sunrise before, because it was off the last album We Love Life, from 2001. I might track that down, if that song is anything to go by. Reminiscent of David’s Last Summer, with a nice little riff, eyes-closed chorus, and then a glorious drawn-out instrumental.

After the mandatory performance of Common People, they did a couple more before leaving the stage. They came out pretty quickly for an encore, which was the fitting Glory Days. This one sounds a lot (to me) like one of Jarvis’ solo numbers, Slush. A gentler groove, before the triumphant Mis-Shapes. This was preceded by a little speech about how more and more people are “coming out of the sidelines”, with veiled references to gay marriage, political activism and other recent movements. Good lad.

A great show. I’m so pleased I got to see them again, and in a quality venue like the Warfield – which is quite similar to Brixton Academy, thinking about it.Pulp Live

The full setlist for the show can be seen here, on Setlist.fm. (Cool website, I didn’t know it existed. A wiki for gig setlists.) Another review here from the Chronicle. Choice quote:

“They’re smarter than Oasis, less pretentious than Blur and wittier than Suede”

Alright.

We Know It’s Fake, But…

SmooveAll this kerfuffle about hated publisher Elsevier unleashing the trademark hounds on the amusing FakeElsevier Twitter account, thereby triggering the Streisand Effect, reminded me of an old story from my hometown of Bedford, UK.

In the late 1980’s, the local newspaper had a notice in it, advertising that a Fake Alexander O’Neal was going to be performing at a nightclub in the town. The club was probably Sweetings on Goldington Road, now called Saints and Sinners, or perhaps Riviera Lights, now called New York New York. Oh boy.

The ad clearly showed the word “FAKE”. Unfortunately, the real R’n’B star Alexander O’Neal had recently had a hit with a song called Fake. As a result, the club was swamped with crispy-haired Sharons and Tracys, all expecting to see the real thing. They were not pleased. I prefer not to imagine the screeching and clawing that ensued.

It didn’t occur to them that Mr O’Neal, an international pop star from Mississippi, at that time enjoying the peak of his career, might not actually be playing a one-off date in a small market town in Anglia.

All Songs Considered Mostly Harmless

I have been informed by my favorite American that I live with and married that my statements in the post “All Songs Considered Harmful” are anti-American, anti-freedom, and that I don’t even know.

I would therefore like to apologize to any and all people that make have taken offense at the opinions expressed in the aforementioned post. I admit that I like my music plinky-plonky like a nursery rhyme and that any element of talent, expression or “soul” expressed in music confuses, confounds and terrifies me.

All Songs Considered Harmful

I listen to NPR, the godless liberal immigrant that I am. Many of the programs are available as podcasts, and this is how I hear most of it – I don’t listen at work, and I like to time-shift my media, like many citizens of the future. Cassie suggested I might like the program All Songs Considered, especially when they do an “electronic round-up” every once in a while.

I’m afraid I can’t listen to it, it annoys me too much. The whole thing seems to be Rockist, or Post-Rockist – by which I mean not your classic rockist, but also not rockism as applied to post-rock. I slightly less virulent rockism, perhaps.

The first time I heard one of these electronic round-ups, one of the guys was enthusing over the latest release, to the bemusement of the other two. He would put on a track by some established artist, with a running time of 8 minutes or whatever, and would have to take it off after 2 minutes, saying, “It gets going later on”. It was kind of awkward, like the other two were indulging him in this silliness. It sounded like they wanted to get back to the “normal” stuff.

It makes me think of the way skeptical discussions of religion in the US seem mostly to be driven by a reaction to religion, using it as a starting point. Many atheists have their story of how they were raised in a religious household, then broke free, or woke up, or drifted away. They always have that at the core of how they think of their life with respect to – or no respect to – religion. In the same way, the reactions to the electronic music on ASC seem to come from the idea that guitar’n’drums is the basis for it all, and everything else is, “OK, let’s try and figure out what they’re doing differently here” rather than an honest discussion of the music and what reaction they feel from it. The very fact they do an “electronic round-up” is a giveaway, now I think about it. It has a sense of obligation rather than acceptance to it.

I guess music crit in the US is still under the influence of different charts for R&B and rock. Under it all, I can’t help but feel there’s a yearning to say, “Alright, we’ve covered the weird stuff the kids are listening to. Now it’s back to some blues-rock from Illinois.”

The format itself annoys me sometimes – people talking to each other (I know, right? People. They’re the worst.). It depends so much on whether you like the voices and conversation or not. It adds an extra layer of presentation style to the content. For example, compare it to a web page of text. You need a certain amount of formatting to make it readable, and perhaps some more to make it attractive and enjoyable to read, but too much presentation over content and people are switched off. I think the same thing applies to radio and podcasts. You might enjoy the content – the words being spoken and the information being provided – but the presentation puts you off. I used to listen to the How Stuff Works podcast, but unsubscribed because the format was a main presenter talking to someone about the technology they had chosen to explain that week. It turned into a chatty conversation between personalities rather than a clear explanation of the tech – the people were the content instead of the information.

So Matt, what have you got here?

I’ve got a metal detector.

Wow, so how does that work? Looks complex.

Well, Greg, this bit is the coil…

The Coil? Sounds challenging. Why don’t you go ahead and explain what the coil is?

…and so on. It was like pulling teeth. I would have preferred someone reading out a clear step-by-step explanation of the tech without this “humanizing” back and forth – because I may not be a fan of the humans in question.

This sounds like a right old moanfest. I will add my usual caveat – these are opinions, YMMV etc. I do enjoy a lot of podcasts, I’m just feeling pernickety about these ones. I should point out as well that the written music reviews on the All Songs Considered are fine – they get to the point, and do a good job of  describing the music and its effects.

I’ll do a plug here to my friends at Both Bars On. James and Bon review music, but with a openness of mind and a breadth of taste that I can only aspire to.

I would repeat here that despite my opinion of podcasts which are just people talking, I reckon I would be awesome as one half of a podcast team. So, if anyone wants to do that, and they have the time, talent, equipment and will to get it going so I can step in and share the glory, get in touch!

A Long Time Ago In A Field In Hampshire, Alright

Balkan Vinyl, the limited-edition retro-dance label responsible for Acid Relief, has released a new limited edition 7″ hardcore single – Rave Wars II – The Hardcore Strikes Back. This nifty slice of nasty comes with some cool artwork, and a free vintage Star Wars action figure. Or at least, it did. In the time it took me to write about it, it sold out. You can still buy the digital download though.

Here’s the player with the tracks to stream:

Acid Relief was great – a benefit album for African Famine relief. I bought it and love it. Great for harsh Excel-wrangling. Here, have a listen:

It’s worth pointing out some transatlantic terminology differences. Hardcore in the sense of this single means a break-driven style of electronic dance music popularized in the early 1990’s in the UK. Hardcore in the US means a aggressive, politicized form of punk rock, popularized in the 1980’s.

I nearly wrote another post with a longer list of these differences, but I could only think of one more – New Wave. I think of New Wave as the smarter, sharper form of post-punk, but here in the US I’m told that a-Ha, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Human League were New Wave, so there’s clearly a disconnect there somewhere. Simon Reynolds, we need you!