Thursday, May 31, 2007

This is when The GOVS Take Charge

Ok, I must have had a lambotomy of some sort to forget this wonderful piece of music. This year we had a Fall album come out. It was a good Fall album, certainly not a great Fall album. So where was the Mark E Smith that was on Levitate and the Infortainment Scan hanging out? Well obviously he was with the Mouse On Mars guys. Now this is the Fall album we wanted to hear. This collaboration of the three guys is called Von Südenfed. This album seems to be out in the UK and not yet out here. Bascially, this album is what you would expect when Mark E Smith and some guys in an electronic outfit get together and make a record....

It is crazy, fun, catchy, and very powerful( in the sense that Smith is the fucking man and he is here to stay and no one is going to take the Hip Priest out of his Church). This album is so kick ass, that I was knocked back because I certainly did not expect it. I mean I knew it would be awesome as soon as I realized the existence of it, but the fact I downloaded the album on Itunes as soon as I heard the album was out and listened to it, is was what made it so crazy.

Then as soon as it was all dowloaded, I was in for some kick ass music. The album is like Smith over actually good Ed Banger type dance music. For you people not in the know about this Tres Cool Label Ed Banger in Paris, the music is very hard dance music, but not hard in the hardcore sense. The beats are just well....hard with electro synths. This album is as if all those Ed Banger guys actually made decent stuff. Some of the stuff can be similar to early LCD Soundsystem, but that is too easy to compare and lazy of me. Sure this stuff sounds like that 90s era dance Fall music. But what it really reminds me of at times is "Me White Noise" by Blur. It's that crazy and good and dancable.

So hats off again to Mr. Smith. Fair game to the guys from Mouse On Mars with their bombastic beats. Maybe they should now collborate as a full time thing. The collaboration of Dance musicians with rock vocalists is a great tradition that usually never fails, most of the time. Thom Yorke and Richard Ashcroft with Dj Shadow on UNKLE was enough to make the hairs on your neck fall off. Noel Gallagher with The Chemical Brothers on two songs, but I think Noel should join the Brothers as a full time job and forget Oasis. Damon Albarn with Damon Albarn, Dan the Automator, and Danger Mouse was pretty good if you think genius is good. Iggy Pop was pretty damn crazy with Death IN Vegas on "Aisha". Then, the leader of the Rock Singer with Dance guys was John Lydon first working with Afrika Bammbatta on "World Destruction" then he worked with Leftfield on "Open Up," which still is their best song. So Mark E Smith and Mouse On Mars have joined this hall of fame of Dance/Rock collaborations. Congrads, of course is it really a surprise he could do it. For God's sake Mark E Smith did "Telephone Thing."

There are the best, but what do I really listen to?

I recently made my top hip hop albums. Some I listen to more than others, and certain ones I listen to more are at a lower ranking than others. So I thought I let you know what I really listen to. This is something I think critics of kinds should talk about. First off, every week since I bought the first and third album, I listen to the first three A Tribe Called Quest albums every week. The Tribe was and is the greatest hip hop group of all album time. There is no question about that in my mind. Another album I listen to almost every week is the Pharcyde's Bizzarre Ride To The Pharcyde. This album is just so much fun. The beats are pretty damn awesome as well. It is just so lovable. Totally a great summer album as well. 3 Feet High And Rising is pretty frequent in my listens because it still is so fer fer fer fer fresh. Every time I listen to it, I feel like I am being clensed. I feel bad about leaving it out, but there is one album that was not on the list because I forgot it, and would be in the top ten for sure if I would redo the list, but I am too lazy to do that. This album is Main Source's Breaking Atoms. This is up there in the Mecca of the best produced albums ever. This, Illmatic, 3 Feet High and Rising, Midnight Marauders, Bizzarre Ride, Madvillain, Return of The Mecca, and Step Into the Arena are probably the best produced Hip Hop album ever. Breaking Atoms is just such a joy to listen to. The beats are so damn good that I have to pause the song and catch my breath out of amazement. It is a short album too, you know how much I love that in a Hip Hop album. Breaking Atoms is as essential as 3 Feet High and The Low End Theory if you want some straight up amazing Hip Hop

It's that time of the year

Around this time last year, something amazing happened. I was in the import section in Atlanta'a old Tower Records (which I miss every day of my life) and I saw an album that I read about and had been getting a lot of underground press. This album was something of a Godsend by the way the critics described it. This album was Burial. It was one of the most pleasant surprises of my life in terms of music. It was just what I had been waiting for. Now, a year has past, and a new electronic album has come out that is getting a great deal of press and sounds like another Godsend......

This album is From Here We Go Sublime by The Field. It is minimal, cinematic, ethereal, moody, house music. Even a friend of mine who is not really into electronic music digs the album. It is kinda one of those crossover albums like Endtroducing was or Kind of Blue. It is truly as if shoegazing and house music met. The Field is a product of the famous Kompakt label in Cologne, Germany. This is the flagship of the label. You can search all of the internet and find raving reviews about this album. When listening to it, it like being in a Sofia Coppola or Jim Jarmusch film. It is really moody. It is damn perfect while driving at the twilight hour.

The music itself is something different. The actual drum beats are very simple. It is usually just a bass drum going at a 4/4 beat. Whats over the beat is what makes the record. The music fades in and out and is arranged perfectly. It never seems relentless or tiring. The songs just build and build until they topple over into a supernova of sound collages. It is really quite moving and beautiful. When people talk about electronic music being cold or unhuman, this is why albums like this come out to reconnect people. Listening to this no matter where you are whether in the car or in your apartment with headphones on, as cliche as it sounds the world does seem to slow down. In the end, I can just say on last thing, this is very, very important album.

Second Thoughts on the Arctic Monkeys, Elaborated

I could never see what the big deal about their first album was. I didn't dislike the album; I just didn't think it was as wondrous as everyone kept saying. All the virtues that critics and fans were attributing to the Arctic Monkeys--memorable melodies, rock 'n' roll fun, and witty lyrics--I just did not hear. That didn't stop me from enjoying certain gems on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, like "When the Sun Goes Down" and "A Certain Romance."

I was never a passionate fan.

I've revised my opinion a bit since I've heard the second Arctic Monkeys album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. I can't say I've altered my view of the first record too much, but I do think that this one is pretty bloody brilliant. It has all the merits people heard in the first album and much more. It's loud, bouncy, fun, melodic, atmospheric, dark, romantic, and beautiful.

The album opens with "Brianstorm," probably the loudest, fastest Arctics jaunt. From the start the album is loud and fast, and an atmosphere of ennui and world-sickness pervades the entire time. The music has bravado and punch; all the lyrics are essentially pained or dark: at the ripe old age of 21, Turner seems repulsed and disillusioned with the world. Most of these songs paint a rather sordid picture of the rock world: fakers, poseurs, whores, and deluded egomaniacs are everywhere. Apparently.

There's really no point in listing my favorite songs, but I will say that "Teddy Picker" is the smartest and funniest--and most genuinely pissed off and disgusted-- put-down of rock scenesters and hipsters I've ever heard. "Fluorescent Adolescent" is lovely, "Only Ones Who Know" is actually achingly pretty, and "Old Yellow Bricks" might be their finest moment yet. Okay, there I went and named song titles anyway. The whole album is well worth your time, though; they've certainly come a long way (in my opinion) from the first album.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"The Chinese don't know what they're doing."

Say what you will about Coldplay, but Chris Martin can certainly hold his own with Ricky Gervais.

Some Kind of Bliss

I apologize for the continuing hysteria, readers, but I'm quite enamoured with Kylie's Impossible Princess album. Here's the finest song from the album, "Some Kind of Bliss." Her backing band is the Manics.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Clive and Kylie

On accents and other things.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Miss Minogue at her cleverest and most manic

It should come as no surprise, reader, that Monsieur Catalogues and I are enthusiastic heterosexual fans of Kylie Minogue. I mean, Nick Cave is. I like pretty much everything Kylie has ever done, from her dance-pop classics to the haunting collaborations with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Her finest record, to my mind, is her 1997 indie-pop experiment Impossible Princess. She wrote most of the album unaided, and the songwriting help she did receive came from singing Manic James Dean Bradfield; the two of them even duet on "Some Kind of Bliss."

The album spawned the hit single "Did It Again," which is one of my favorite Kylie tunes and certainly my favorite of her videos. I mean, just look at her in all her various incarnations. Watching the video I actually think she might be the ideal woman...or women, as the case may be:

"The world is my gym"

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My Top Hip Hop Albums

1. A Tribe Called Quest- Low End Theory
There just aren't albums like this anymore, in Hip Hop and Music. When listening to Phife and Q-Tip go at it, it truly sounds like professionals. Honestly, the play between them and just them alone will never be topped. I don't care who you are. When I get jaded with music, especially Hip Hop, I just put this on and I feel oh so much better about things. In the opening lines of the album Q-Tip talks about the similarities between Hip Hop and Bebop. That is what best describes this album. The album from begining to end is literally perfect. It is pushing limits, staying true to form, abstract, provocative, and extremely intelligent.
2 Nas- Illmatic
Can I think of a MC hungrier than Nas than on his debut. Jesus, the boy was throwing rhymes that were just too damn good and smooth it still hurts. You almost get the feeling he would walk into the booth and just knock one out. Also, this album is a rediculous blend of allstar producers ranging from Pete Rock to DJ Premier. It was as if all these people got together and said let's make just about the most perfect hip hop album ever. 10 songs, 9 technically, 1 collaboration, 5 producers, and the greatest MC is all it took to make Illmatic.
3. De La Soul- 3 Feet High And Rising
Poetry, true poetry, is what De La Soul's debut is. How can you listen to this album and not feel moved or uplifted? Illmatic was an allstar album in production, but it was a mix of producers. This album makes the greatest produced album ever easily. One, because the sampling is totally insane and so kick ass that I when every time I listen to I still just throw my hands in the air and laugh in the awe of it all. Second, one man, Prince Paul did the whole damn thing. I mean, he could have retired right after this. It is so so damn perfect. That's just the production. Plug One (Posndnuos) and Plug Two (Dove) are damn romantics on this album. The imagery that these guys come up with is utter poetry. Listen to the tale of romance on "Eye Know" or the surreal tale on "Tread Water." These three albums in the top three could all be number 1. This one though, has something that none of the albums on the list have, the greatest skit ever. And I hate hip hop skits. Listen to "Transmitting Live From Mars" and not be overly entertained by how cool it is.
4. Eric B and Rakim- Paid In Full
The blueprint. This album alone is what was solely respondsible for getting me into Hip Hop. To this day "Paid In Full" is the perfect hip hop song. Hip Hop was doing alright when Paid In Full came around, but it was really exhausted. I mean, I am as giddy as a school girl when I just think of the power and force in Rakim's voice aka the best rapping voice ever. He is to me the most mysterious man to ever be in Hip Hop. Say what you will about 2 Pac or Biggie, but Rakim is this shadowy figure that is like some Old Testament profit laying down the greatest rhymes even if they are about how great he is. It is still the freshest album to listen to, and Rakim came in turned Hip Hop completely around.
5. Wu-Tang Clan- Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers of Death)
This album is one of the longest surving Hip Hop albums in my cd collection along with Paul's Boutique (Oldest, got that in the 3rd grade or so) . I got this album in the 5th grade and ordered it from Amazon because I was not allowed to have Parental Advisory albums. I listened to it secretly ,and it just made it even better. The mythology the clan created has always been so intriguing to me. I would just love to listen to all the MCs different styles and techniques. Of course on this album the MCs who ruled the album were Raekwon, ODB, Method Man, Inspectah Deck and GZA. I just remember seeing the video for "Method Man" and just being entranced by everything. The lyrics in that song are ingrained my head more than any hip hop song. RZA created a new style of hip hop production that had not been seen before with his gritty drums and soul samples. This is an album that is so dear to my heart.
6. Mos Def- Black On Both Sides
Black Star had already come in a much needed time for new ideas in Hip Hop. After it Mos Def went off to make an album on his own that I think out does his previous effort with Talib Kweli. Mos Def came in like a Hip Hop savior with knowledge and wisdom. Not since Q-Tip had there been such an intelligent MC as Mos Def. He brought intelligent rhymes about society and the current state in music.
7. The Streets- Original Pirate Material
Mike Skinner was not kidding saying "This is orginal pirate material." I have written about his album before, I cannot describe how it seemed to of come out of nowhere and knock us all on our asses. From the begining on "Turn The Page' Skinner comes in one my all time favorite beats ever and to top it off with one of the straight up coolest lyrics I have ever heard. It was so new and different. It was a white English guy making hip hop! It was amazing. It is one of the finest albums to come out in my lifetime while being concious of music around me. The album is cool, funny, clever, sad, and utterly moving. Skinner took us all by surpise, and this album is still in a league of its own.
8. GZA- Liquid Swords
First off, this is a Wu-Tang Album. They are all there. All of them. Second, even if it a Wu album, GZA is still the best one in the bunch. His flow is effortless and smooth. What a cool album as well. It just does not get much better than "Shadowboxin" when Method Man joins the GZA on such a stellar song. GZA alone, at times, is second to none in lyrics. He is a deadly as a Samurai with his words. He penetrates your concious twists his verbal daggers. This and Enter the Wu-Tang go back an forth for me as what is the best WU effort.
9. Madvillain- Madvilliany
What a sick album. Madlib and MF Doom must have been out of their minds. The production is as crazy as the story and lyrics. The songs are short. It took me a while to get into it because it is so different from any hip hop album ever made. It follows none of the rules of conventional hip hop. It is one of the most original albums ever, easily. It was a collaboration that was highly anticipated, and they overimpressed us all.
10. Beastie Boys- Paul's Boutique
Oh boy, this album and I go way back. Talk about an album full of insane sampling. When it came out people couldn't keep up with what it was trying to do. People couldn't comprehend what was going on the album. Personally I don't know why people didn't like it at first. This album kicks Licensed To Ill in the nads. I mean the shit they pulled on this album is almost too much to comprehend. The guys rapped over the drum break from the closing "Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts" with other Beatles sampling from the suit on Abbey Road. "Superfly" got added to their balls crazy song "Eggman." I think the Beasties and Dust Brothers were literally insane when they made this album. It certainly could not of been made today. The balls to do this album are bigger than earth. The play between Adrock, Mike D, and MCA is just so amazing when you really think about it. It's like they all woke up one day and took genius pills.
11. The Pharcyde- Bizarre Ride To The Pharcyde
12. A Tribe Called Quest- Midnight Marauders
13. Outkast- Aquemini
14. Ultramagnetic MCs- Critical Breakdown
15. Quannum- Solesides Greatest Bumps
16. Edan- Beauty and The Beat
17. Gang Starr- Step Into the Arena
18. Dr. Octagon-Octagonecologist
19. Black Star- Black Star
20. EPMD- Strictly Business
21. Dizzee Rascal- Boy In Da Corner
22. Raekwon- Only Built For Cuban Linx
23. Eric B and Rakim- Follow The Leader
24. Boogie Down Productions- By All Means Unnecessary
25. A Tribe Called Quest- People's Instintive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I promise Manics-hysteria will be significantly reduced after I see them in the flesh tomorrow evening.

"Into this wild abyss..."

Although the film of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass is still in the early stages of filming, some stills, clips, and undeveloped computer storyboarding has leaked onto the Internet. Some chap has assembled them into this clip:

The polar bears do look good. I wonder how the anti-clerical theme will play with American audiences...

Monday, May 21, 2007

"In business in London every man has his price."

Episode 2, Season 4 of the finest program on television. Perhaps of all time?

Tigers in Red Weather

The new album by the Manic Street Preachers, Send Away the Tigers, is a luxurously catchy, loud, anthemic, passionate, and energetic. After the wintry elegiac pop of their absurdly underrated Lifeblood album, this album will inevitably be described as a "return" to the loud, brash punk of their first two albums (before they created something like the rock equivalent to Paul Celan's poems and Goya's Disasters of War paintings on The Holy Bible and long before the triumphant years of Everything Must Go and This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours).

Send Away the Tigers, aside from being a great album title (all of the Manics' titles are great; think about it) and sporting their best ever album cover, is a riotous joy. Purchasing this album is worth walking through Cardiff streets in the early morning, when winds are blowing off the Irish Sea, while wearing a devil or fairy outfit. The cover actually embodies the tone of this album quite well: Send Away the Tigers is startling in its youthful vigour and zest; there must be a diabolical energy infusing these songs with such fire and life. There have to be, at the very least, Welsh sprites at work.

Songs like "Underdogs," "Indian Summer," "I'm Just a Patsy," and the magnificent title track do recall the Manics' early days, but these songs are much more developed and muscular than anything on the first two albums. There's not a note wasted in these songs; each riff is thrilling, and James Dean Bradfield's voice has never been better. And "The Second Great Depresson," "Autumn Song" and the soul-cleansing single "Your Love Alone is Not Enough" manage to be blazing AND gorgeous. Actually the whole album is like that. Buy it. It's a rock n' roll feast, with much more swagger and soul and memorable melody and loud pogo-ing joy than anything on the new Butch Walker album. Wake up, Atlanta.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Classic Track of the Week

Second Thoughts

For whatever reason, I've never been a huge fan of the Arctic Monkeys. I've never disliked them; but I differ from the rest of the world in not thinking they're phenomenally brilliant...but I have to admit this song is something else. It's a track from their new album Favorite Worst Nightmare called "Fluorescent Adolescent" and it's bloody marvellous. Brilliant, actually. Enjoy.

Wong Kar-Wai does America, via Cannes

There's an article in today's New York Times about the Cannes Film Festival, currently underway on the Cote d'Azur. Apparently Wong Kar-Wai's new film My Blueberry Nights was the first film shown. I hadn't heard about it, but now I'm madly excited to see it. I love Wong's films--particularly Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love--and I'm curious to see what his first English-language film will be like. How will he evoke America, I wonder? So far one thing is clear though: Rachel Weisz in Wong Kar-Wai's unique color and light is a lovely vision indeed.

Elegy for the Reverend

This is just too good:

"Do you know my poetry?"

I hope you all enjoyed Monsier Catalogues's marvellously cruel review of 28 Weeks Later; I confess I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like another example of Hollywood slapping any shitty thing onto celluloid in the hope of making some money and generating a sucessful "franchise." I can't wait for the prequel to Romeo and Juliet.

Partially as a counterpoint to the astounding badness and greedy cynicism of 28 Weeks Later, and partly out of sheer joy at its visionary power, I want to direct all readers of the French Catalogues to Jim Jarmusch's 1995 film Dead Man. Monsieur Catalogues and I tried to watch it a few years ago, late at night and after watching Donnie Darko (surely the most overrated film of the last decade). That's not the proper setting for watching Dead Man; the film needs a clear head and deep attention. Not attention in the sense of looking for important details and trying to spot references to the writings of William Blake (which I love; he's the poet I loved earliest and best). Just watch the film and let it speak to you: let the shots of the bare pines and rain on a lake, or a haggard and sinister Robert Mitchum gazing up at a stuffed grizzly bear, or Johnny Depp's face changing from that of a fearful and hapless accountant to that of a painted poet-warrior speak to you just as much as Nobody's quotations from Blake.

It's a strange, spacious, graceful film. I shan't give any more away. Just watch it. And don't miss Iggy Pop in a dress.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Don't Be Another Sequel

This will be a different kind of post than I usually do. I have just recently 28 Weeks Later. It was enjoyable in the sense that watching zombies and frantic people running are fun. In the end though, it was a big piece of Hollywood shit. I put "Hollywood" in the sentence for a reason. Mind you, I loved the first film, 28 Days Later. It was scary as hell, fun, and it ended well with hope. This one is scary, but it seems to follow more of a Dawn of the Dead ideology that we are fucked and humanity is over.

One major problem with the film was the setting. The director seriously needed a map of London. The film takes place in Canary Warf. The main characters escape the compound in that part of London and head West on the North Bank. Later it shows them crossing the pedestrian bridge in front of St. Paul's from the South Bank to the North. Mind you, that makes no sense. In this sequence of scenes they are to go to Regents Park in a few minutes. I don't know about you, but this is impossible to do on foot. That is over an hour's worth of walking. I was laughing at the absurdity. Next after Regents they have to make it to Wembley. This just takes a few underground stops, and they walk out onto the field. Utter bullocks.

What really makes me mad about this film is that Hollywood will do anthing to make a buck. They will make a franchise out of anything. If they wanted to, they would make a prequel to Romeo and Juliet. It would be about how the fathers of both houses were friends back in the day in Verona until Montague stole Capulet's lady. Then you know they rest of the story. Hell, they would make a sequel to A Tale of Two Cities where Sydney Carton doesn't die, but instead takes out an Uzi and kills Madame Defarge and her cronies and becomes ruler of free France and ends up with Lucie. I could see it being done by Bruckheimer.

So basically in the end, Hollywood will do anything to make a lousy film to ruin a good film's credit or ideas. They will put a franchise to anything with zombies. Also, 28 Weeks Later sucks. Oh here's the ending, the little kid carries the virus, and at the end zombies are seen in shuttering camera work running towards the Eiffel Tower. OOoooo Ahhhhh, fuck off. They should have just left it at 28 Days Later, when there was still hope........for the plot and the film as a whole.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hell Yes

And as a fitting post-interview musical cocktail:

Friday, May 4, 2007

Here Comes the Bird Flu

Boy, oh boy, do I think this woman is something. MIA is coming out with her next album this year. The picture above is from her recent trip to Jamaica in which she was filming her next video. Mr. Peacock and I have been coming up with comparisons or analogies of artists today. For instance, the Joe Strummer of the modern era is Damon Albarn. He dabbles in music that white people are afraid to touch unless they are being tongue and cheek. James Murphy is a mix of Ralf Hutter and Mark E. Smith or something of that matter. Finally, honestly, I think MIA is a one woman Clash. She is politcal, fun, sexy, creative, and steps ahead of the game. I guess that makes Diplo Don Letts. The new album is apparently called KALA. It is going to be so damn good that people will literally melt, just like Raiders. So, basically this post is just hyping her up. She deserves it. With all that said, hopefully this song will get you going.

Bobby Scores!

Runaways, Argonauts, and Thugs

A while back Monsieur Catalogues told you all that we would devote one post a week to a classic album from way back when. Monsieur Catalogues wrote a very fine piece on Original Pirate Material by the Streets and I think I was planning to devote the following week's Classic Album post to Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest. That didn't come to fruition, or more accurately, it hasn't yet. I still plan to write about Midnight Marauders, but as both Monsieur Catalogues and myself have badly fallend down on our job lately, I feel compelled to revive the Classic Album of the Week post with thoughts on a record that I've been listening to obsessively lately: in my living room, and on my iPod walking through Regent's Park and down London's shopping streets.

Now then. XTC's English Settlement is a masterpiece of rich and hypnotic sounds, ridiculously addictive melodies, and some of the finest rock/pop vocals you'll ever hear. XTC had been giving their songs beautiful textures since Drums and Wires (listen to Dave Gregory's guitar on "Ten Feet Tall" and tell me you don't shiver with pleasure); since that album they'd also had the Insanely Catchy Melody thing down pat. Black Sea refined their sound and developed a fuller, more realized post-punk sound on classics like "Respectable Street," "Generals and Majors," and "Towers of London."

English Settlement is an identifiable member of the post-punk sequence going back to Drums and Wires, and it looks forward to the pastoral and orchestral sound that XTC perfected on Skylarking and Apples and Oranges (a sound that continues to delight and dazzle on recent releases like Apple Music and Wasp Star). Its midway position between the two different phases of XTC's career make English Settlement particularly rich and striking, but even discounting the rest of XTC's brilliant career it's a standalone classic, perhaps their most representative and bravura album.

The record opens with "Runaways," a mesmerizing mantra-like chant. Andy Partridge's and Colin Moulding's voices rise out of the mist of shimmering guitars, tribal drums, and ethereal keyboards to sing a tale of exile and loss, and the effect is nothing less than hypnotizing. The moment at 3:28 when the drums stop and the guitars feed into the bridge is spine-tingling, but even more so is the piano riff that descends at 3:40. Just beautiful.

The singles "Ball and Chain" and "Senses Working Overtime" follow from there, and both of them are classics. The Moulding-voiced "Ball and Chain" is a beguiling pop stomp, but somehow melancholy, and "Senses Working Overtime" ...well, what can be said about Partridge's frenzied vocals and the flawless melodies on that one? XTC have a peculiar gift for bridges: "Respectable Street," "Towers of London," "Runaways," "Senses Working Overtime"...that one in particular lifts you off the ground.

The standout track might very well be track four, "Jason and the Argonauts." It is certainly a cousin to "Runaways": ethereal and hypnotic guitars again, only this time Partridge and Moulding are more focused and aggressive in their melody and singing, which makes for a thumping great song. It's difficult to describe just what XTC were capable of at this point in their career...just buy the bloody album.

On an album of great songs the other standouts are the furious "No Thugs in Our House" (about a middle-class household where the clueless parents are oblivious to the fact that their son has joined the National Front) with its spiralling guitar riff, tight rhythmic thwack, and again, Andy Partridge's wonderfully hysterical vocals.

It has to be admitted that the album nods a bit in its second hald (or Side Two or whatever you want to call it), but much of it is very fine indeed, and closing song "Snowman" challenges any of XTC's other songs--on English Settlement and elsewhere--to being one of their career highlights. It's a reggae-influenced number, with a halting rhythm and clicking guitars. Partidge's vocie is, again, note-perfect in both exquisite beauty and neurotic kvetching.

Like I said, English Settlement might be XTC's most fully-realized, most representative album. Moulding and Partridge are one of the finest songwriting teams EVER, for my money, and they have a disconcerting ability to produce masterpiece after masterpiece. And they're still doing it! If you're not familiar with their dazzling work, I think this album is probably the best entry-point into the wonder and delight of XTC.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Charlie Brooker on Editing

Here's a clip for all the students of film editing out there, whether you belong to the school of Eisenstein or the school of Bazin. It's an attack on a truly unfortunate kind of modern TV editing by the incomparable comic genius Charlie Brooker:

Thoughts on X and the old folk ballads (are they connected?)

The English essayist William Hazlitt, writing about a play called Hamlet, wrote that Ophelia is a character nearly unique in literature. The only other women characters that are remotely like her, Hazlitt says, are figures from "some of the old romantic ballads."

The old romantic ballads are the old Scots, Irish, and English ballads of love and murder, of course, the old songs that gave rise to American country music in its early phase of longing and melancholia, not the more up-to-date confectionary nonsense. The songs from which Nick Cave takes his primary inspiration on albums like Let Love In and Murder Ballads. The kind of music that you can detect in the Outback gothic of the Howling Bells. I say "gothic" in the sense of Southern Gothic; I'm not implying anything that has to do with black lipstick.

The old romantic ballads that Hazlitt mentions are musical tales of madness, crime, sex, and death (as anyone who listens to Nick Cave, the true descendant of these ballads, will know), and in the New World these tales were simply transplanted to settings like the Appalachian foothills or the endless deserts of the West. The Scots-Irish immigrants who populated the South brought their murder ballads with them; many of them migrated west and spread the ballads as far as California; and the ballads seeped into Californian consciousness in strange and unexpected ways.

All the American forms of music--blues, jazz, country, rock, hip hop--grew out of two earlier forms: folk ballads and church hymns. The tradition of folk balladry is strongly apparent in the distinctly American music of X.

X, as most of you know, were an Los Angeles punk band. Their sound certainly bears the hallmarks of loud and brash late 70s/early 80s three-chord punk rock, but beneath the loud rockabilly there's something of the old romantic ballads in X. Or so I hear, anyway.

Their classic first album, Los Angeles, is rich in atmosphere and melodies. The first thing you notice, I suppose, is how catchy the songs are. But the chief delights of X are in the frenetic vocal interplay between bassist John Doe and lead singer Exene Cervenka and the moody lyrics of murder, madness, sex, and death in L.A.

You all know "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene." A great song, no doubt, but my favorites are the magnificent title track (one of the band's finest moments), the caustic ode to Beverly Hills "Sex and Dying in High Society," and rapturous concluding waltz "The World's a Mess, It's in My Kiss." If you don't already own Los Angeles, do yourself a favor and buy it now. You hardly have a right to call yourself a fan of American music, or music at all, if you're not familiar with it. It's worth it for the moment Exene cries "Get OUUUUUUUUUUUT!!!!!" just before the chorus on the song "Los Angeles."

Even better, I think, is X's second album Wild Gift. The album continues what Los Angeles started, but this time around the songs are even darker and sharper. Barnstorming opener "The Once Over Twice," the spiralling and frenzied punk classic "We're Desperate," the lovely and somber "Adult Books," and the black-as-night "White Girl" are my favorite songs, but the entire album is a marvelous suite of modern-day L.A. street ballads. Listen to this and tell me I'm mistaken:

Circling back to the theme of murder ballads and such: A common thread in folk ballads--from the border ballads of Britain and Ireland to the balladic quality that Hazlitt saw in Ophelia, to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and on to Nick Cave and X (contemporaries at one time, strangely enough)--is tragic and doomed female figures. X's lyrics are full of these sorts of women, enigmatic and alluring but somehow condemned to either madness or the most hideous misfortunes. Exene herself is a healthy and sane woman singing about mad or broken women on songs like "Los Angeles" and "White Girl," which just adds another layer of mystery and intrigue. Anyway, I'll conclude this rambling post with a command to purchase both of X's first two albums. DO IT NOW.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Weren't the 90's great?*

I remember the mid and late 90s as a crass and materialistic time, supremely self-confident but totally lacking in imagination-- sort of like now, minus the mass terrorism. But then I remember a tune like this and I'm transported to a realm of wonder and mystery. A LOT of marvelous and seminal music was created in the 90s, and there were moments--especially in British music--when even minor artists like this created works of genius. Case in point:

*The title of this post is a Luke Haines quotation: a sardonic line in "The Rubettes" by the Auteurs.

Everybody wants to be a DJ, everybody wants to be an MC

Hip hop is in a bad way at the moment. Monsieur Catalogues and myself have been discussing the imaginative poverty--in music and lyrics--of most hip hop these days. I myself can't figure out why a genre that used to be such a fount of creativity has dried up to such a bland, by-the-books racket in recent years. I mean, can you honestly say that there are any hip hop tunes today that approach the richness and freshness of this?

So, why is hip hop so strangled by formula and cliche these days? Replies are welcome...

Welsh Onslaught

Following up on the last post, here's a clip of the lads playing their new tune with a certain chanteuse on a certain talk show.

A Candidate for Song of the Summer?

Enjoy their glorious return.