It’s no secret that I love Field Music, through their fits and starts and hiatuses and occasional missteps (2012’s Plumb being a bit morose, in this author’s opinion, though it won the Brewis brothers an overdue Mercury Prize nomination). The four-song stint stretching from “Effortlessly” through to “All You’d Ever Need To Say” on Field Music (Measure) is one of the great art rock suites of our age—though on vinyl it is inexplicably torn between two sides—and I told the band as much when I met them in Canonbury’s Myddleton Arms, over several G&Ts, back in March. Continue reading The Commontime gents
“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
The narrative seems straightforward enough. Band releases low-key follow-up to a strident, populist career-best. One of the band passes, tragically, nine days after the album’s launch. Three years later, the band regroups with a contemplative effort dedicated to their lost friend. Continue reading Sow seeds, reap harvest
Over breakfast, reading Giles Coren and Matthew Parris in The Times, I was forced to conclude that schooling kills creativity, and economists’ predictions are not so much dismal science as abysmal science. I suppose I am doubly screwed, then. Continue reading Unfriends like these
The pretty little Japanese garden guitar motif marking Foals’s re-entry to planet Earth is a total red herring. Because “Inhaler” crunches hard—and frontman Yannis Philippakis’s anger, brewing and fomenting during the first verse, soon surfaces as an uncontrolled wave of rage in the sweltering, breath-taking pre-chorus ramp-up. Continue reading Foals — Inhaler
Panda Bear’s “Afterburner”, from last year’s Tomboy, is both immeasurably huge, and outrageously simple. Its efflorescence hinges on predictable but shifting melodic patterns, repeated on guitar and bass, and a clockwork rhythm that is seemingly unaware of the beautiful carnage unfurling above it. Effects wash over the song like tidal waves; the guitar is drenched in painfully beautiful reverb, and all manner of synthetic space-noises eddy and buckle throughout. At the song’s apotheosis, it achieves a chaotic state of bliss, and the listener must surely surrender. One thing that doesn’t give in, however, is that ever-present beat. Occasionally filled out by wooden blocks and pattering hi-hat, it is a rock that can’t be washed away by the powerful ocean around it.
I found a likeness in a song recorded almost forty years prior to “Afterburner”. Nestling in the middle of Bobby Womack’s landmark Understanding LP is a scuzzy pocket-epic called “Simple Man” which, honestly, would not have sounded out of place on a collection of Can B-sides. Atop a krautrocky rhythm rages a dense frenzy of electric piano, guttural machine noises, Womack’s crazed vocals, and his fluid guitar-playing. The beat is unwavering, and holds down all the dizzying madness overhead. It’s a scary cocktail, but appropriately, the song struts and gallops rather than swampily creeping along like a Can cut.
These two songs, so disparate in their origins and creations, can nonetheless be reconciled. They exhibit strong motion where there could so easily be a stodgy mess. The density in both tracks’ production is overwhelming, but not disconcerting—and you can thank their motorik beats for that.
It barely matters that one of Miss Grace Jones’s two true masterpieces was recorded in New York City and the other in the Bahamas—both are imbued with the spirit of the Caribbean, and both are albums I kept returning to whilst marooned in India over the last month or so. Continue reading Compass points to the rhythm
Apparently Matthew Dear’s forthcoming album, Beams, is a brighter affair than its predecessor, the relentlessly sleazy Black City. So far we’ve heard “Headcage“, which confirms this notion, and the opener “Her Fantasy”, which gives the lie to it. The B-side to the latter is “Crimewaves” (see above), and it sees Dear nail the bipolar aesthetic firmly on the head.
The bouncy, nervous white-boy funk recalls Talking Heads at their most affected, while the vocals are multi-tracked and troubled. The way those stabs of simulated brass pierce through the orgiastic wash of background cooing makes the funhouse lead vocal that bit more warped. It’s as if the funfair ride has spiralled out of control, taking its crazed passenger on the trip of nightmares.
Near the end, there’s also a masterful about-turn which references, I’m sure, “Little People (Black City)”. What’s even more gauche is the way it gets to it: a messy soup of digital gloop, which slowly resolves into a stacked choral sucker-punch.
Some songs unknowingly link to numerous trends in music. From “Pull Up The Roots” we get James Murphy’s cowbell frenzy, the slinky bass of Quincy Jones’s productions for Michael Jackson, and the strangled, hothouse sax* that marks early TV On The Radio. There is a punkish energy to the song that also looks back to Talking Heads’ CBGB days, as well as prophetically forward to the rise of evangelical churches, with their rousing call-and-response chants. And, if you listen closely, the subtly finger-picked guitar-work around the three-minute mark became a mantra for The Durutti Column and, later, “The French Open” by Foals.
I wrote a bit about this album here; this song is an under-appreciated gem near its end, which ushers in the simple masterpiece “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”.
* The saxophone is actually a treated guitar part. I guess they learnt more than a few production tricks from Brian Eno.
Taken from Speaking In Tongues (Sire Records, 1983).
I’m not usually one for gimmicks.
In the 1960s, a predilection for quadraphonic sound emerged in the progressive rock scene. Pink Floyd’s use of the Azimuth Co-ordinator was flashy, but a lack of readily-available consumer equipment prevented the technology from making a leap into the living room. There was a brief glimmer of hope in 1997, when The Flaming Lips released Zaireeka, an album designed for home-brew quadrophenia, but the music was too challenging to have mainstream appeal. A decade-and-a-bit later, “surround sound” is a fixture of the home cinema setup: we’ve finally found a way of making music in four discrete channels work. The question is this: do we actually want to hear that music? Continue reading Talking heads surround us