Monthly Archives: July 2012

The back half of Hot Chip‘s recent fifth album, In Our Heads, bears an acknowledged debt to a very particular sound of the 1980s. Says the band’s Joe Goddard,

“I’m obsessed with maxi-12″ extended mixes from the 80s. Records from that time have such a beautiful big sound—they often are quite epic. There’s a lot of different sounds, and they’re seven or eight minutes long. I really like those records.”

You can hear that influence writ small on “Ends Of The Earth”, an uplifting, pacey track, which burbles out of a glowing arpeggiated river. Trickling along beneath the analog goodness is Al Doyle’s ever-present electric guitar, which sounds like it’s teleported in from a Chic record. There’s a glossy sheen to the song’s arrangement that’s very much from the era Goddard recalls with fondness.

But it’s actually the lyrics that really get me on “Ends Of The Earth”, and, in particular, the opening couplet:

“You promised me the ends of the earth—
But I don’t want that.
I just want you to feel the belief of a man.”

Singing atop a pristine synthesised choir, the preternaturally sighing Alexis Taylor rejects the over-reaching advances of a prospective lover. He just wants to be there for her—not to be the recipient of untold riches or crushing gestures. Immediately afterwards, there’s another witty and ambiguous put-down to Taylor’s prospective belle: “They say that love is drunk…But drunk don’t get you far”. I say ambiguous because it’s unclear whether he’s looking for something more meaningful than drunken, empty promises, or because the girl who he’s pursuing is nobler than a dancefloor hook-up. Or maybe it’s just something else drawn from his arsenal of throwaway ripostes.

As the song extends into an infinity of chugging euphoria, Taylor is distinctly more circumspect and cryptic. “I try to keep myself topped up with all that’s good and bad—don’t want to fall behind the pack”, he admits, perhaps suggesting he’s undeserving of the girl’s titular pledge. He’s not perfect, but he reckons he’ll do good enough as a crutch for her.

“Ends Of The Earth” is taken from In Our Heads by Hot Chip, released on 11th June, on Domino Records.

Dan Abnormal: State of England

The vision of London dreamt up by Blur has always resembled to me that of Martin Amis’s invention. To both these artists, London is not just the locus of worthwhile stories, but also the point of departure for stranger places. Blur’s final pair of songs reassure me that this was no illusion. Continue reading Dan Abnormal: State of England

Bloc Party’s nine lives

Sometime around 2006, I thought Bloc Party represented our best hope for a British art rock band who could continue to challenge and delight listeners in equal measures. Of course Silent Alarm nodded knowingly to Gang of Four and Wire—but I counted on them having more original tricks up their sleeve. The edgy post-punk displayed on their debut album wasn’t pioneering, but it hinted at greater works ahead, shot through as it was with the textures of post-rock (the intricacies of “So Here We Are”, the moody brewing storm of “Compliments”). The inspired remix album that followed did little to dispel the notion that Bloc Party were forward-thinking and restless.

How wrong I was proved to be. Continue reading Bloc Party’s nine lives

Demon days of dead planets and doom

Damon Albarn founded Gorillaz with his then-friend Jamie Hewlett in order to escape the fame being the frontman of Blur had conferred upon him. This cartoonish, animated side-project ended up being far bigger than Blur, breaking America and topping charts like no album of British social vignettes ever could. Loosely hip-hop but also shot through with a mass-market pop appeal, the music of Gorillaz developed from the scratchy, scrawny sketches of the eponymous debut, to the sophisticated, grown-up pop of Plastic Beach—but only via the squelchy soul of Demon Days. Continue reading Demon days of dead planets and doom

How does it fit?

Regular readers will know how much I admire the music of Spoon. Any year without new music from Britt Daniel’s outfit is a marginally less enjoyable one; this one, I hope less so, thanks to his side-project with Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, which is known as Divine Fits. They release an album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, at the end of August, and you can try a track out for size (geddit?) above. “Would That Not Be Nice” nods lovingly at the vocal manipulations of Transference, and the stripped-down garage rock guitars of Kill The Moonlight. There’s also a healthy shot of the Costello-does-soul vibe from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, via the long-limbed bassline. But you shouldn’t think of it as a career-spanning Spoon redux, compressed into four minutes. Continue reading How does it fit?

Tortoise, and the national anthem of post-rock

Like the chopped-up, mutilated Stars and Stripes on the cover, the opening track of Tortoise‘s magnum opus Standards plays out like another screwed-around American institution. If “Seneca” makes you think back to Hendrix shredding “The Star Spangled Banner” out of his Stratocaster, you’re not alone. This is truly post-rock’s national anthem, and it rocks harder than the fifty years of popular music Standards mashes up, put together.

…And then it slithers. If the guttural first two minutes weren’t enough to shock you out of the hermetic world of TNT, what follows is a bracing and thrilling journey through breakbeat, jazz, blues, the space rock of Joe Meek, even the harpsichord-rooted world of baroque. Continue reading Tortoise, and the national anthem of post-rock

Talking Heads — This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)

If Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is a sound contender for the title of “Great American Novel”, then we probably ought to have a debate about the fight to be the “Great American Song”. My submission? Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)“, a song which James Verini says “explains Talking Heads”, but which I would suggest goes far further.

Verini’s essay is essential reading. He calls the song “uncharacteristic”, with a spare arrangement; he says it is a “an ode to the palliative effects of companionship”. Yes, this makes it an unexpectedly direct and involved song for David Byrne to sing, but, as Freedom demonstrates, such a personal subject can also stand for something larger. Brotherhood and strong friendships are bedrocks of America, informing its buddy movies and history alike, and also filling in for what the country’s rugged individualism cannot. But companionship is not a straightforward road. There is a healthy component of anxiety to it, which is fleshed out in “This Must Be The Place…” by dint of the disappointment and resignation in Byrne’s voice, and the occasional glimpses of uneasy imagery (“Eyes that light up / Eyes look through you”, “You’ve got a face with a view”).

America is also about a disparate collection of souls finding a home—or is it just a house? So does Talking Heads’ song speak to us of this unknowing, which probably also explains its repurposing in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. This song is about reaching a promised land, or person, and then just feeling a niggling emptiness, or an overreaching.