Thursday, January 31, 2008

END OF THE SEASON


Listen to END OF THE SEASON by The Kinks.

One of the reasons I was interested in doing this "appreciation" of Rasa Davies is I spent a long time wondering why I was so much more partial to the "Something Else By The Kinks" LP as opposed to "The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society" or "Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire)." It occurred to me one day that "Something Else" is the only album in which Rasa's backing vocals are essential to The Kinks' sound. By way of illustration, out of 33 tracks (give or take) that Rasa Davies sang on for the Kinks, 8 are on "Something Else," 3 on "TVGPS," and none are on "Arthur." (The rest are scattered over various singles and the previous LPs.)

Just the additional vocal range really helps these songs, but it's obviously much more than that. Her vocals really make the difference between a good song and a great one. Take End Of The Season, for example. End Of The Season is possibly the oldest Kinks song on the album. It was originally recorded in April 1966, but there is good reason to believe it was re-recorded a year later with the rest of the "Something Else" album. What evidence is there? Mainly, the vocal arrangement! In 1966 Ray's use of his wife's voice was rudimentary; by 1967 it was expert. End Of The Season is expertly arranged. Another of looking at it is that Rasa found her voice by 1967, and she knew best how to make the records her own.

End Of The Season is quintessential "Something Else"-period Kinks. Handled differently, this song would be hard to take seriously. A bit like Paul's pastiches on The White Album, End Of The Season flirts with older song forms and singing styles. It's very nearly just a genre exercise. But like so many of the songs on "Something Else," The Kinks manage to create something subtle and poignant out of these unlikely themes and forms.

How do they do it? Besides Rasa's backing vocals, the tempo is just right, the piano playing is warm and sympathetic, and Ray's vocal is heartfelt and sincere in all the right places (that is, not in every place, but every place it mattered. He knew what he was doing). Still, it's mainly Rasa here that lifts this track. If you listen to the song, 29 seconds in, halfway through the first line of the first verse, "Since you've been gone," and you're thinking this song is a joke. But then the falsetto comes in, and immediately, 30 seconds in, it's a beautiful sad song. Good trick!

Photo: Holiday near an island in Greece.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

You'll Never Walk Alone (But You'll Lose To West Ham)

Listen to YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE by Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge.

I'm starting to feel bad about this series, even though it's been a little while since our last installment. Liverpool haven't yet won a match in the league in 2008 and now look as hapless as I've ever seen them, even more than during the bad old days of Ged Houllier. Maybe if the team, the management, the fans, and the owners could just have a listen to this bombastic version of You'll Never Walk Alone by Italian doo wop masters Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge... well then maybe things might just turn out all right.

[updated for clarity.]

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LAZY OLD SUN and BIG SKY


Listen to LAZY OLD SUN by The Kinks.
Listen to BIG SKY by The Kinks.

Well, I've been putting off today's post because, frankly, I'm a little intimidated. After all, writing a piece about the "Pop Proust" (as I like to call him) is pretty daunting. But I'll put music dorkdom ahead of my own anxieties and give it a go.

Today's songs are kind of a pair, both focusing on themes of man's meaninglessness and impermanence contrasted with the impersonal, uncaring and enduring power of nature. The songs are 1967's "Lazy Old Sun" (an album cut from Something Else by the Kinks) and 1968's "Big
Sky" (another album cut, this time from The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society). Bill did a beautiful job describing the context in which these songs were written, recorded and released, so I'll proceed by talking a bit about the songs themselves and then Rasa Davies' unique contributions to them (and my own reaction to both).

"Lazy Old Sun" is one of those tunes that bowled me over the first time I heard it. It was sort of like "My dear, where have you been all my life?" Not only does it tackle thorny existential territory deftly, it does it in a pop song under three minutes. I count this a major achievement for a guy from Muswell Hill. Not only that, the psychedelia of this song makes "I Am the Walrus" look downright sophomoric. The focus on childhood and nature takes up familiar psychedelic themes, but the ominous horns, the spooky organ, Rasa's backing vocals (more about that later) and Ray's weird phrasing give it a particularly psychedelic creepiness. Now for some specifics.

Ray starts out the song with "Lazy old sun...What have you done to summertime?" Here we see his recurring (and very English) preoccupation with sunnier (happier) weather and times. I like the accusatory way he rants at the inanimate sun for his troubles, as if his complaints have a chance of changing the orbit of the planet (self) or something. Also, describing the sun as lazy--it's a nice descriptive touch, underscored by his own laconic cadence and the slowly swooping trombone-like guitar sound that follows the line. Next are the awfully cheery lines "When I'm dead and gone...Your light will shine eternally...Sunny rain, shine my way...Kiss me with one ray of light from your lazy old sun". The first couplet is self-explanatory and appropriately chilling. The second has the lovely image of "Sunny rain", which tries to leaven the darkness with a little light, but can't quite do it. Then comes the bridge "You make the rainbows and you make the night disappear...You melt the frost so I won't criticize my sun." I always heard this last word as "son", which I kind of prefer--e.g., that Ray is so cranky that he uses the weather as a reason to praise or condemn his children.

The final verse is a "little" masterpiece: "When I was young... My world was three foot, seven inch tall...When you were young... There was no world at all." Again referencing the peculiar sense of scale for a child, these lines express the combined quality of time stretching out forever and the child being dwarfed by everything around him.

Rasa's contribution to this tune is essential. Either by happy accident or by design she warbles a flat aria over the top of the song. Along with the reverb, her singing adds a ghoulish quality that really fits the subject matter.

"Big Sky", while preferred by the critics (or so Bill tells me), is a more humorous (and slight) treatment of the same topic. However, that's not meant as a criticism. Lyrically, I read this one as more of a simple projection:

Big Sky looked down on all the people looking up at the Big Sky.
Everybody pushing one another around
Big Sky feels sad when he sees the children scream and cry
But the Big Sky's too big to let it get him down.

Ray really seems to have a lot in common with this "Big Sky" character. It's he who is looking down on all the little people "who think they got problems," and he lets us know it with the mocking tone he uses when he says "they hold their head in their hands and cry." Yep, old Big Sky's too big to sympathize with people "like you and me." Musically, it has that wonderful quality that all the songs on VGPS have--They rock hard...acoustically. Rasa lends some very pretty "woo's" over much of the song, giving a delicate counterpoint to the driving drums and guitars. Her contribution (as it often does) adds a spoonful of sugar to help Ray's medicine go down.

I'd like to close with an example of the way these songs influenced me personally. My brother-in-law Kyle and I started writing songs together back in 2003. One of the first songs we cobbled together took on the title "Prodigal Sun". I'd be lying if I said I wasn't conscious--at the time of its writing--of its lyrical similarity to these two songs. Not only that, the vamps in the chorus are pretty indebted to our heroes' favorite rhythmic trick. One thing I wasn't conscious of at the time was the way Rasa's backing vocals informed the vocal arrangements of this song...and many, many more of ours. So, here's to Rasa and The Kinks!

Photo: Sons of Suns.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

LAVENDER HILL


Listen to LAVENDER HILL by The Kinks.

Most of the time when people talk about "lost classics," they really shouldn't be. They're usually not that lost and especially not that classic. Lavender Hill is a lost classic.

It's worth spelling out how it is that a song as good as Lavender Hill exists, that most of you have never heard. Most Kinks fans have never heard it. Yet here it is.

How did it sneak up on us? Let's review. It's 1967. Ray Davies had stopped touring the band. They were barred from the U.S. anyway, and for whatever reason, Ray wanted to stay home with his family. Ray was entering an extremely prolific songwriting period, but not as many obvious (rowdy & raucous) singles.

At the same time, The Kinks brand was in flux. Dave wanted to record a solo album. Ray was interested in writing a rock opera, but was skeptical (with good reason) that Pye would allow him the funds to go forward. He was also entertaining a solo album, and began stockpiling songs for that. In addition, the Kinks catalog was managed haphazardly. This was back in the days when music releases weren't necessarily uniform between markets. It was difficult for The Kinks to create coherent musical statements because songs would be released piecemeal as A-Sides, B-Sides, on EPs or different LPs.

Because of all of this flux and uncertainly, "The Village Green Preservation Society" LP, for example, was released in three different iterations before a final running order was settled on. And a lot of great songs were orphaned.

Consider Lavender Hill. It was recorded in August 1967, the same time as Autumn Almanac. It was considered as a single to follow up Waterloo Sunset and Mr Pleasant, but it was beaten out by Autumn Almanac, and forgotten. It must have been considered for "TVGPS," but ultimately left off. Eventually it was released in 1973 in the U.S. on "The Great Lost Kinks Album" without Ray's consent, and when Ray heard about the release, he sued Reprise records and had the LP withdrawn, and to this day Lavender Hill is not available on any official release.

And every little lady dreams / Lavender memories
So that's how it got lost. Is it a classic? For sure. During this period Ray had begun using the mellotron (in lieu of full orchestral backing, which he wanted but which Pye would not shell out for), and had discovered that his wife's wispy, slightly off falsetto blended beautifully with the ghostly, slightly off tones of the mellotron. On Lavender Hill, either out of inspiration or (again) necessity, Rasa's vocals consist of some swooping oooh ah ah ah's crudely edited in sequence, so that they pile right on top of each other, but perfectly complement the eerieness of the mellotron.

Taken in isolation, Ray's delivery would seem a little distant, depressed, and artless. The lyrics on paper can seem a little ordinary and straightforward.
I want to walk eternally / Into the land of make believe
And watch the clouds roll over me / And let the sun shine down on me
The only place that I wanna be / Lavender Hill for me
That verse is pretty ordinary, in my opinion. Yet, Rasa's vocals especially (but also that mellotron and Ray's own depressed, artless delivery) give the song a regretful quality that's not evident in the words by themselves.

Photo: La Sebastiana.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

COME ON NOW


Listen to COME ON NOW by The Kinks.

Until today we have never posted any Kinks songs. The problem is that even though The Kinks are the least famous of the "Big 4" British bands of the Sixties, they're still pretty damn well known, and the purpose of this blog, generally speaking, is to shine a spotlightflashlight on more obscure corners of the music world.

But Corbett and I were talking and came up with an angle with which to approach The Kinks' music. The next two weeks (excepting Fridays) we will be presenting The Kinks: A Musical Appreciation of Rasa Davies.

Who in the world is Rasa Davies? Rasa was Ray's first wife, a woman that sang on many of The Kinks's singles up through 1968. A quick biography (with much thanks to, among others, Doug Himan's "All Day And All Of The Night"). Ray and Dave Davies were from North London (Arsenal fans, by the way). They first hit big in mid 1964 with You Really Got Me. The band was touring that single in July 1964, where they had a gig in Sheffield. In attendance that night was Rasa Didzpetris, a student from Lithuania via Bradford. Rasa met Ray and they exchanged addresses.

A week or two later, the pair met up in London, and pretty soon they were inseparable. Rasa became pregnant with their first daughter. They were married on December 12, 1964. On December 22-23, The Kinks were in the studio and recorded today's song, Come On Now, as well as Everybody's Gonna Be Happy. Rasa was there too. Come On Now is the first Kinks song that Rasa definitely sang on (it's unclear to me whether she sang on the studio versions of Tired Of Waiting For You or Set Me Free, which had been recorded back in August & September).

Before we get to the music, though, let's complete the biographical sketch. Ray had to leave his new wife and daughter for a tour of the U.S. in 1965. Ray's unhappiness about this (the Lithuanian-born Rasa had visa problems) has been at least partially blamed for Ray's bad behavior on the tour; after one encounter with a commie-baiting stage manager (keep in mind that back then marrying someone from behind the Iron Curtain was quite a political statement with some people, whether it was meant to be or not), The Kinks were actually banned from the U.S. for four years, which would dramatically inhibit The Kinks' popularity (and still a big reason why the band are relatively less well known than their contemporaries).

Much has been made of Ray's subsequent domesticity once they all got back to Swinging London. Ray lived the quiet life in Muswell Hill while Dave (and the rest of the pop world) lived it up in Soho. Kinks songs became quieter and more anachronistic. Also, for a couple of years, Rasa sang on nearly every important Kinks song. At the time, The Kinks' visibility and popularity plummeted, never really to recover. But in the intervening years, this period has come to be considered Ray's and The Kinks's finest: from the "Face To Face" LP to "The Village Green Preservation Society" LP, with all the singles in between.

After that, Rasa disappeared from Kinks records. Sadly, also, the Davies marriage fell apart. Rasa left Ray in 1973, which precipitated a personal crisis for Ray, a suicide attempt, and a brief retirement from music. Fortunately, as best as I can tell Ray and Rasa both got on with things in the long run. Ray just had a bunch of singles on the latest Wes Anderson movie, and Rasa makes appearances with Kast Off Kinks, a kind of tribute band of former Kinks members and associates.

***

So how about that music? Why are we appreciating Rasa Davies? Well, have a listen to Waterloo Sunset.



Most people think of Waterloo Sunset as the absolute high point of The Kinks, and one of the finest examples of British pop full stop. What qualities does Waterloo Sunset have? Its urban romanticism, its sense of isolation or detachment, its beauty, its obliqueness, its subtlety. A lot of ink has been spilled on describing this song, much better than I could ever do. But now listen to the song again, this time just focusing on those falsetto backing vocals. That's Rasa. I submit that every quality of Waterloo Sunset is available in microcosm in her backing vocals. They have a wistful, aching quality that works perfectly with the song. (Of course that's also a tribute to Ray's arrangement and recording, but the whole idea of "An Appreciation Of Rasa Davies" is also an oblique compliment to the band as a whole anyway).

Finally, that brings us to today's song, Come On Now. As mentioned before, this is just about the earliest Kinks song on which Rasa appears. We've posted this track, not because it's bad--its pretty catchy, and Dave's vocal (Dave wrote the song, by the way) is nice and lusty. But as enthusiastic as it is, Rasa's backing is pretty generic. They hadn't yet written music to take full advantage of her particular qualities.

Corbett and I will be presenting some songs that DO take full advantage of Rasa's vocals, and many of these songs are (not coincidentally) some of our very favorite Kinks songs.

Photo: The balloon ride.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Good news, bad news

We won 3-0, but no on-field pugilistic entertainment this time around. Oh well. Speaking of mixed results, Liverpool spent most of the first half behind to some non-league part-timers. Liverpool haven't lost many games, but they must be having the most dispiriting "successful" season in a long time.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Martin blogging; new template testing



So this is what the new template is looking like. Hope you like it. There's more room, bigger photos, less fatiguing colors (I hope). A few bugs to work out. The main one being I can't get the header image to hyperlink back to the homepage. We'll fix that. I wouldn't mind getting rotating header images too, but it's not crucial, and it requires a knowledge of Javascript that I don't have. Hasta!

...I have to figure out how to hide this "Read More" thing when we're not using it, too

...Fixed? Yes!

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STARLIGHT


Listen to STARLIGHT by The Supermen Lovers.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jason couldn't be with us today, but I've brought you the next best thing (?), which is me playing a song I know Jason likes.

But I like this one too!

In fact I like it a lot. Jason, as he mentioned and as some readers know, came to our wedding this summer with a stack of tunes to play at our reception. (And by sheer force of personality he played the entire stack... )

Anyway, beforehand he sent me his selections, and Starlight is the one I immediately gravitated to. It's happy house music, and that's all I know about it. I like it and Jason does too. Have a good weekend, and if all goes well we'll be back here Monday with a new look!

Photo: Islesford Sunset.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

EVERYBODY'S HAPPY NOWADAYS


Listen to EVERYBODY'S HAPPY NOWADAYS by The Buzzcocks.

The Buzzcocks were never just "punk." They were "punk-pop" or "poppy punk" or "radio friendly punk." Well, not that last one, because of their tendency to name songs things like Orgasm Addict. Not exactly radio friendly. But musically, The Buzzcocks are as accessible as you would ever want.

Everybody's Happy Nowadays even embodies qualities that you don't normally hear in punk music. Wistfulness, nostalgia, even regret. It reminds me of a late 70s All Summer Long, in fact. Fun, but misty eyed. An excellent song.

Thus ends our little tour of punk music! Tomorrow I will be posting a Jason-like song in his stead (he's currently off in Oz, so we'll see), then next week we'll be back with some exciting content and (hopefully) a remodel of the blogspace. Can't wait!

Photo: Soho Graffiti (4).

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

TYPICAL GIRLS


Listen to TYPICAL GIRLS by The Slits.

Absolutely classic punk rawk from The Slits. What, you were expecting something more?

Photo: Soho Graffiti (3).

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Law of averages

When we do it, we do it in style, don't we? Spurs no doubt deserved to go through, but that's what's so great about our approach to the League Cup. When we play our kids, wins are so humiliating, and losses are easy to shrug off.

Of course, we ended up playing a lot more first teamers than any of us would like, but at least none of them got hurt. Can't wait to read Spurs fans talking about how they've turned the corner against us...

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LONDON GIRLS


Listen to LONDON GIRLS by The Vibrators.

In ideological terms, The Vibrators can't catch a break. They weren't REAL punks, you see. They didn't have an agenda. Careerists. Hacks. Dressed-up pub rockers. They weren't into subverting the establishment or setting the scene.

Thankfully, here at the blog we listen to our music, not argue with it. And their first album is pretty fine (and to be fair, most music fans agree).

When I went looking for fun punk music to share with all of you, I frankly didn't expect to dip into the Vibrators catalog. But London Girls came up one day when I was thinking of something else, and that riff never quit. It stuck with me for a few days until I was forced to admit defeat, and upload the song.

Photo: Soho Graffiti (2).

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Monday, January 21, 2008

DO THE DU


Listen to DO THE DU by A Certain Ratio.

A late blog this morning, but with the expected low traffic with today's holiday, I'm sure you both will forgive us.

I know none of you will skip this post, because that would be silly. Do The Du is only the most danciest, floor filler-est, funnest dance punk single imaginable. And that's no exaggeration. Well, slight exaggeration, because I'm sure someone out there could imagine a song that would automatically force everyone in the world to stand up and pogo for two minutes straight and sweat five buckets of sweat.

But that song would just sound like Do The Du. With video game sounds. We should make this song. Then we could make it our national anthem like Valentine Strasser. The Republic of Liberal Fascism. That would be good.

Photo: Soho graffiti (1).

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Give him the ball and he will score

Arsenal beat Fulham yesterday, which was nice, but the best part of the match was the debut of a new Adebayor song, which the away end sang for at least five minutes straight through the television, loud enough that the commentators were obliged to comment on it. It was amazing. Not often that Arsenal deserves compliments for our singing, so cheers to the away support.

It goes "Adebayor, Adebayooooooooor, Give him the ball and he will score." And it's all over youtube already.



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Friday, January 18, 2008

Trump Soho videos

We took a few videos of the Trump Soho accident the other day. They're really nothing, but seems like people like that sort of thing! Have a good weekend.



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JOHN WAYNE GACY, JR.


Listen to JOHN WAYNE GACY, JR. by Sufjan Stevens.

Jason dropping in.

I'll never forget the first time I heard this. It was an innocent tip from a Music Magazine to check out his album "Illinois". I was unaware of Sufjan at that point. And so, on the bus home from work one evening, I began to listen to the album.

I wasn't really paying attention - and the first 3 tracks had passed - but on the 4th song the line "he dressed up like a clown for them" lifted my ears. A few lines lines later I heard "he'd kill ten thousand people".....at that point I pulled the 'pod out of my pocket and looked at the name of the track: "John Wayne Gacy, Jr."......and I pushed it back to the start of the song.

Then I REALLY listened.

I don't remember the last time a song made me shiver.


His thumb rapidly paces the bass note, like a pulse, as his fingers create a minor melody. This musical structure, combined with lyrics of folded t-shirts, swing-sets, and adoring neighbours lulls you into a false sense of whimsy. But then we are asked to "look underneath the house there" where we can find things "rotting fast in the sleep of the dead".

And that day on the bus, when Sufjan then sang:

"Twenty-seven people, even more
They were boys with their cars, summer jobs"

And raised his voice in falsetto to cry "Oh my God".............only to ask "Are you one of them?"

It got me.

This song about one of America's most infamous serial-killers then turned me again with the unexpected, inconclusive, disturbing denouement....bringing the focus back to the songwriter:

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid

(Breath)

Whilst Sufjan's devout Christianity gives some people a meaning in that last line, as it does those who have a small understanding of Gacy's own complex and devastating story, it is unashamedly open to interpretation.


It is a song that continues to haunt me.

Photo: Brittany American Cemetery, 2004. Taken by Jason Bryant.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

YOUR GENERATION

Listen to YOUR GENERATION by Generation X.

Your Generation is another "important" punk rock song that also happens to be fun to listen to.

Two good facts about Your Generation, one not very well known, one even less well known. One, Your Generation is sung by the lead singer of Generation X. Obviously. That lead singer's name was Billy Idol. Most people that grew up on MTV don't realize that Billy Idol was once a legit punk rocker.

The even less well known fact is that our buddy Bayou Chris once said that Your Generation was "the most important song of all time." Fact.

Photo: Empire State Building series, #4 (New Yrs Eve '07).

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SAND IN MY JOINTS

Listen to SAND IN MY JOINTS by Wire.

Wire made their reputation for smart, angular post-punk rock. (Well, with my generation, they made their reputation as the band that Elastica ripped off.)

People that are at all familiar with Wire know their debut album, Pink Flag, which is strikingly concise and aggressive (and whence Three Girl Rhumba, the Elastica song, comes). Over time the band got longer and more esoteric. By the time their third album came out, 154, Wire was truly sui generis. But here at the blog, we like the fun stuff. Sand In My Joints, from Wire's second album, is about as fun as Wire gets.

In other words, it may not a party, but it's rifftastic, and it's short, so what's not to like?

Photo: Empire State Building series, #3.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

AMBITION

Listen to AMBITION by Subway Sect.

If there's one thing that's been consistent in all my years of listening to music, from old skool rap, to Britpop, to Ghanaian funk rock, it's my belief in this fundamental truth of the universe: Video Game Sounds Make It Better. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ambition by The Subway Sect.

You can go other places to find the story of Vic Godard and Bernie Rhodes and why this group released so little music, but the point of this post is to reaffirm the truth: Video Game Sounds Make It Better.

What Ambition sounds like is slightly incompetent Jonathan Richman playing a Television song, with completely (completely!) incongruous Atari noises bopping along in the back. And that's what it is! It's been reported that Rhodes or somebody overdubbed an actual arcade game without the group's permission, before it was released as a surprise hit in 1978. Whoever did it, they knew this basic truth: Video Game Sounds Make It Better.

Photo: Empire State Building series, #2.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Another Trump Soho accident

Another news bulletin from Trump Soho. This time, the accident was fatal, apparently. I heard several different versions of what happened out on the street, so I won't repeat any of them, but it's apparent the top Northeast corner of the building has failed.

Click to enlarge, more below the fold.




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LOVE COMES IN SPURTS

Listen to LOVE COMES IN SPURTS by Richard Hell & The Voidoids.

Love Comes In Spurts is a seminal punk rock song. It's two minutes of unbridled energy, but it's also a song that has long endured with music lovers.

You see what I've done there? On first listen, Love Comes In Spurts is what you might call a single entendre song, but I think it's better to call it something like a reverse double entendre. It's not really about sex (though it is), but more about the pain and difficulty of intense adolescent relationships. As Mark Deming writes,

Hell's real subject wasn't Eros so much as the maddening search for validation through a relationship. ... [I]t's made obvious that this song isn't about sex, it's about love that arrives in measures too few and far between to ease the pain of a harsh and abrasive world.
This reading is defensible with the benefit of hindsight, as Richard Hell proved to be one of the more literate and intellectual members of the New York punk scene. Likewise, it's apparent now that the late, accomplished Robert Quine's jagged and angular guitar attack is an aesthetic choice, not garage band incompetence. A lot going on in this dumb little ditty!

Photo: Empire State Building Series, #1.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Listen to the music

Just a quick reminder that we'll be at Magnetic Field (Brooklyn Heights, 97 Atlantic Ave., between Henry & Hicks) tomorrow night to see The Rivals. All of you have a good weekend!

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A COMET APPEARS

Listen to A COMET APPEARS by The Shins.

Jason dropping in.

For those of you who were at Bill and Amy's wedding, I was one of the two twisted turntablists (the less-handsome one). Living in England but a native Australian, I'm going to bring some international pedigree to this blinding blog of Bill's.

Bill was asking me over a bottle of wine (well, I was drinking a bottle of wine in London - I don't know what Bill was doing in New York) if there was some kind of theme I'd like to employ in my song selection. My answer, as I slammed down the bottle from my lips, was an emphatic "hell no!" I just want to write about songs that have something of the magic about them. You may know the band, you may even know the tracks, but I just want to share with you songs that can make you feel that music transcends(,) man.

And if I was to contradict myself by grabbing a theme by those last few words, it would be a great description of this first track - "A Comet Appears" by The Shins.

Much more below the fold.


There is a television programme, just finished here in the UK on the Sky Arts channel, called "From the Basement". Its been a long, long time since I've watched musical performance as a weekly television show. This one is different. Its stunningly shot and the performances are very stripped down - there is no host, no audience, not even song titles - just the music. Each episode features 3-4 artists: one "big", one "support" and ones you've probably never heard of. For example:

Damien Rice - Eels - Autolux - Architecture in Helskinki (check out the full lineups here).

The first show featured The Shins - a band who Natalie Portman catapulted to fame on the film "Garden State" when she tells Zach Braff's character that just listening to their song "New Slang" will "change your life, I swear":



....and it worked for me - I loved the song and checked out the band just as I did when John Cusack said "I will now sell 5 copies of 'The Three EPs' of the Beta Band" in the movie "Hi Fidelity":



One of the songs The Shins performed was "A Comet Appears" - the last song on their latest album. I knew the song (its very similar in itself to "New Slang") - but I loved the performance so much that I started playing it on heavy rotation on the 'pod.

The chirping songbirds at the opening, the wistful melodic guitars and evocative imagery of the lyrics belie a very dark song about one man's views of life's futilities as he grows older.

There's a heavy feeling of numbness and solitude; of an insignificance that only catches you when you listen repeatedly to the lyrics against the lightness of the music.

Let's carve my aging face off
Fetch us a knife
Start with my eyes
Down so the lines
Form a grimacing smile

The character compares himself with Nietzsche's concept of the ├╝bermensch only to conclude the he is "barely a vapour".

Songwriter and singer James Russell Mercer has quite a way with words. Its a song that could well have begun its life as a poem, with imagery like "thumbs and posture" (evolution), "wily comet" (earth), "burnt sage and a forest of bygones" (evoking a dual meaning of a melancholic meditation and sage also as wisdom).

For all of its reflection about the growing emptiness in the heart of one man, trying to avoid his awakening feeling of a life lost of purpose, it is a beautiful song.

Photo: Paris, 2004. Taken by Jason Bryant.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

LOLA

Listen to LOLA by The Raincoats.

This one is a curious pick, because I think it's a curio, not a classic. The drums on here are so amateurish they almost make me want to join a band!

But The Raincoats are another seminal feminist punk band, famously name-checked by Kurt Cobain back in the day, and loads of people love this version in particular. Also, I've been listening to The Kinks non-stop this week, so this cover is a way to give a little love back to them while staying on the theme. Plus, you have to say the female viewpoint to this song does give it something a little different.

Anyway, have a listen so you'll know what The Raincoats are all about.

Before we go, we'd like to share some excellent news with you. Starting tomorrow, and continuing every (or at least the occasional) Friday, our good friend Jason will be spinning his tunes here on the blog. He's got carte blanche to post whatever he wants, so you'll get something very different than what we're doing the rest of the week. Check back here tomorrow to see what he's got.

No matter what, we'll be back here Monday with some more fun punk music!

Photo: Palace kitchen chimneys.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Rivals in Brooklyn

I just got a heads up that The Rivals are playing a show in Brooklyn this Saturday:

Hi everyone,

I wanted to invite you to my band's (The Rivals) gig this Saturday evening (1/12) at the Magnetic Field in Brooklyn Heights (97 Atlantic Ave., between Henry & Hicks). We'll kick off around 8:30. It's a really fun place and easily accessible from the 2/3, 4/5, M/R or F/A/C lines.

We're now featuring our new multi-instumentalist Keith Sigel in the group, and he's excited to show off his banjo skills to all of you.

So, if you need a little reminder of warmer climes and desert skies, come on out to hear the Folk-Rock explosion that is The Rivals! We'd love to see you (and anyone else who digs Phil & Don-style harmonies) there!

Please see http://www.magneticbrooklyn.com/index.php and http://www.therivals.org for more details.
We'll be there!

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SPLIT

Listen to SPLIT by Kleenex/LiLiPUT.

I was just saying yesterday that sometimes these posts write themselves. Here we go again! Today we have John Harris of the Guardian to thank, because he has said everything I want to say about this fantastically ecstatic joint:

With lyrics like 'Hotch-potch, hugger-mugger, bow-wow, hari-kiri, hoo-poo', how could anyone forget late 70s punk outfit Liliput? ...

Kleenex, once fleetingly cracked up to be the "Swiss Slits" and forced to change their name to Liliput (which should actually be written LiLiPUT, apparently) by the international tissue manufacturers. They lasted from 1978 until 1983, and have since been pretty much lost to history. ...

The third is a product of their Liliput/LiLiPUT incarnation, and probably the best: a brilliantly cacophonous song called Split, whose lyrics go, "Hotch-potch, Hugger-mugger, bow-wow, hari-kiri, hoo-poo". [It] sound[s] a bit like the terminally underrated Elastica (or, rather, Elastica sounded like them)
Girl power, eh? Hope you like it!

Photo: Downtown afternoon.

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