Tag Archives: classical

The Jazz phase

Don’t ask questions, but I’m having a jazz moment.

As has been discussed elsewhere, I have a proclivity towards getting emotional when watching films on planes. Perhaps it’s the difference in air-pressure, or the single-serving capsular nature of flying. Some years ago, on a flight out of Dubai, the triple-whammy of The Wrestler, Changeling, and Gran Torino left me overwhelmed, hollowed-out, a remnant of a shell of a human being. Continue reading The Jazz phase

Slow down, dilettante

“You’re like a party, I heard through the wall.” — St. Vincent, 2011.

There is a fraying thread that separates true assimilation of an alien culture and mere appropriation of it.

Is tourism, or even tourism of the mind, a suitable fertiliser for the act of cross-breeding with forms of art outside one’s direct experience?

What, subconsciously, got me thinking about this was Fatima Al-Qadiri’s 2014 album Asiatisch, on which she uses her mind’s eye’s vision of China, coupled with the sensory overload actual images of the country have provided, to unwittingly alight upon the sound of sinogrime. But a deeper exploration of her unsettling art will have to wait for another day. Instead, I turn to three British releases of varying vintage. Continue reading Slow down, dilettante

Muse – Uprising

After last month’s protracted treasure hunt and resulting download-only ‘treat’, “United States Of Eurasia”, today’s radio waves were dominated by exclusive first plays of Muse’s official lead single for The Resistance, entitled “Uprising”. That this new song is the album opener suggests that it is a definitive introduction to the prevailing themes on the album; judging by what Matt Bellamy has said in a video interview with Zane Lowe, we can definitely think of The Resistance as a set of songs that are carefully structured to tell a story. From Mr. Bellamy’s intimations, this unifying conceptual story is one of a conflict-defying romance taking place amidst the geo-political strife of the 21st century, replete with corrupt governments and shady transgressions of democratic ideals.

You may have read just how much of a hammering “United States Of Eurasia” received from music writers, myself included. This criticism was completely justified – it’s a messy, thoughtless, overblown piece of work that does nothing to play to the strengths of the band. “Uprising”, then, has been dealt an easy hand, for to trump the only previous sneak preview fans have had of the band’s latest creation requires no great effort.

The song begins with a neat sonic trick, with the bass emerging from the sound of a record accelerating up to speed. From there on, we are plunged head-first into a glam-rock schaffel, where an octave-skipping, gurgling bass line dovetails with a Doctor Who-aping synth melody. It’s catchy, enjoyable and instantly more edifying than “United States…”, with periodic hand claps leading into a solitary, tasteful squeal of guitar that is much more in keeping with Matt Bellamy’s style, and certainly does not digress into Brian May-style stupidity.

The vocals, when they appear, fifty seconds in, are nonetheless surprising and out of character, with Bellamy singing in a substantially lower register than he is famous for. Perhaps more alarmingly, his pronunciation and intonation is all over the shop, with many of the lines slurring into the kind of gloopy drawl I last detested on Green Day’s “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” – a song that ingrained in me a deep-seated hatred of Billie Joe Armstrong. Lyrically, we’ve got all the traditional Bellamy-isms: shady government propaganda; drugs being pumped into the water supply; the unspecified “truth” being kept from the public. It’s all there, and it’s all unintentionally rather amusing in its naïvety. For me, there’s always been a substantial gap between Matt Bellamy’s undoubted curiosity and intelligence (look at the books he reads, and the stuff he quotes in interviews) and his ability to write sophisticated lyrics that mirror these concerns, and “Uprising”, sadly, is going to do little to dispel this notion.

Musically, the song is definitely a good egg, in a perfectly harmless manner. Perhaps the Devon three-piece really do believe they are pushing the boundaries of rock music with their tasteful synth arpeggios and crisply distorted bass tones. If so, they’re sadly mistaken, because “Uprising” breaks fewer genre conventions than a non-stick frying pan. Nevertheless, the song is solidly written (complete with entertaining interplay between guitar solo and synth backing) and efficiently executed, with minimal flab, and a well-constructed structure that builds effectively, and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Just don’t expect too many surprises.

Muse – United States Of Eurasia

I’ve defended Muse in front of a fair bit of criticism over the years. While sniffy critics have derided them for their populist, stuck-in-the-past approach, I insisted that their craft was accomplished, ambitious and never lost touch with enjoyability. And now they have unleashed “United States Of Eurasia” on us…

So! The first six rounds of Muse’s latest treasure hunt have been completed, and with this success for the notoriously fervent and geeky Muse fan-base comes the prize: the complete upload of “United States Of Eurasia”, the fourth track on their forthcoming fifth album, entitled The Resistance. A lot has been written on fan-sites with each successive upload, but I’ve mostly reserved judgement on it, preferring instead to wait for the whole song to emerge – after all, it’s a bit ridiculous to assess a song based on a 30-second clip.

Sadly, for all its massive-grin-inducing pomp and bombast, I’m finding it difficult to endorse “United States Of Eurasia”. The song is an almost four-minute long romp through the more unpalatable reaches of Queen’s œuvre, with the cavalcade of multi-tracked vocals, wailing guitars and thumping drums only slightly tempered by some tasteful East-European orchestral arrangements. It’s very low on subtlety, it’s very very BIG, and I’m still not sure whether I like it, or am simply smiling along with the undoubted audacity Muse are showing by creating such a throwback of a song.

The song begins with a light romantic piano accompaniment to Matt Bellamy’s vocals – at this point taking on an oddly gentle timbre – which is surprisingly reminiscent of the kind of supermarket dross conjured up by Coldplay. After a minute, soft, regular, percussion breaks into the mix, recalling memories of woeful 80s stadium ballads. Then, suddenly, at 1:17, a Brian May-style lead guitar line storms in and everything goes very Queen. Lest we get too comfortable, an actually pretty interesting orchestral arrangement is then unleashed, and before long the whole thing is rollicking along at a pace somewhere between “Knights Of Cydonia” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Predictably, it’s insanely catchy and hook-laden, and by the time the song explodes in a confetti-shower of multi-tracked vocal harmonies, screaming out “Eura-sia! Sia! Sia Sia!”, it’s bound to be pretty ingrained in your mind. Who knows? In a questionable indictment of the state of British music, it will probably be hailed as a novelty hit and roam around the higher reaches of the charts for weeks. I’d prefer to salute it as a relentless pastiche of an oft-trodden path, but whether or not I can actually approve it, I remain unsure.

Leaving Muse to their own devices, sans external producer, trapped in the basement studio of a villa on Lake Como, was never going to result in an album low on bombast – and only time will tell if the rest of The Resistance is similarly schizophrenic and cheesy. Reminiscing back to the days of Absolution, Muse were many things: pretentious, portentous, musically ambitious. But in “United States Of Eurasia” I see very little melodic accomplishment and a tendency for the band’s strengths to be overwrought into mere comedy, for all the ominous subtext of the song’s theme. That well-worn grin on my face is starting to hurt.

Private revision rave

I seem to be starting every post nowadays with “Just a quick update to say…” so here comes another one.

My hands are somewhat tied, musically, at present, owing to an overload/guilt trip about actually getting down to some revision. Predictably, I’ve spent the entire year slavishly scribbling down notes without really understanding what was going on. Consequently, I should now have my face firmly held to the grindstone.

While I revise, I do however like to listen to music. Usually I favour stuff with a strong rhythmic element – LCD Soundsystem, Hercules & Love Affair, Prinzhorn Dance School, Portishead, Massive Attack – but I also find myself working more productively with instrumental post rock, which has the effect of letting me “leave the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime.” Albums like Explosions In The Sky’s Those Who Tell The Truth Will Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Will Live Forever and Tortoise’s landmark TNT are ideal for this purpose, as are most of M83’s albums.

When I’m not revising, I’ve also been exploring the depths of Spotify, and have had the following albums of frequent rotation:

The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

Konono No. 1 – Congotronics

Amadou & Mariam – Welcome To Mali

Antibalas – Talkatif

John Rutter – Gloria

Various – Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump

Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light

Beck – Sea Change

Doves – Kingdom Of Rust

Robert Wyatt – Comicopera

Hockey Night – Keep Guessin’

All of which I can heartily endorse. Certainly if you’re in the UK, you’ve no excuse not to get swallowed up by Spotify, because anyone can sign up.

Enjoy!