Tag Archives: r&b

Colour: the sixth sense

Two recent electronic albums adopt differing attitudes to the past. One is met with a touch of indifference; the other, a mixture of adulation and castigation. Continue reading Colour: the sixth sense

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Spoon don’t need your soul

…because they’ve got plenty of their own.

Four years ago, people found Transference off-putting: long, melancholy songs riding on seemingly-endless grooves before cutting out mid-phrase; sparse demos peppering a nocturnal landscape of blank-eyed art rock. They were mistaken, of course, but let bygones be bygones. Continue reading Spoon don’t need your soul

Special Disco Versions

There is a lost art form and it is the special disco version. Beloved of James Murphy, and neophytes like my friends and I, these are endlessly strung-out 12″ edits suitable for dancing to in people’s living rooms. Embarrassment doesn’t enter into the equation.

Continue reading Special Disco Versions

Seabirds and seabeds

When Hot Chip performed in Manchester on their joint-header tour with LCD Soundsystem, the two bands joined forces at the end of the show for a cover of the Alessi Brothers’ breezy, soft-rock gem, “Seabird”. A couple of years later, a British trio called Vondelpark, with a vocalist whose brotherly mumble resembles that of Joe Goddard, have released their debut album, Seabed, which evokes a rather similar mood. Continue reading Seabirds and seabeds

Hot Chip — In Our Heads

I thought One Life Stand would surely stand the test of time as the acme of Hot Chip‘s love affair with love. Just look at that title! With its lush, soulful electro-pop about monogamy and brotherhood, it seemed to set a benchmark that I didn’t think the band would try and beat. And yet. Continue reading Hot Chip — In Our Heads

The third soul

Reading Nick Kent’s memoirs of his misspent 1970s as an ascendant music journalist (and hell-descending drug addict), I was struck by his simultaneous joy and horror at having helped give birth to punk. ‘Kenty’ is at great pains to point out that America didn’t ‘get’ punk, possibly because its only exponent of the genre was the too-weird Ramones.

Instead, America in the 1970s was gripped by a fever for funk and soul, kick-started by Sam Cooke in the 1960s and really set in motion by the 1969 release of Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul (about which I waxed converted here). Kent is an inconsistent music aficionado: he extols the sophistication of Steely Dan but loathes the Eagles; he revels in the psychedelic wanderings of Hawkwind but finds the seminal post-punk act Public Image Ltd. rather dreary. The biggest revelation of the decade, for Kent, is the Sex Pistols’ breakthrough; on the other side of the pond, however, he raves about Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Kent, in spite of his odd preferences, is right to allude to soul’s importance. All through the 1990s, as punk’s descendants crept back into the alternative shadows, R&B morphed into something chartable and marketable without losing sight of its illustrious forebear. Hayes and Gaye played their part in setting up R&B’s dominance, and their magnum opuses should always be lauded.

But alongside Hayes and Gaye, there was a third man. Continue reading The third soul

Funk, soul, brother Isaac

You can sometimes trace a direct lineage from seminal albums through to their modern descendants. Sometimes, though, it’s just a genetic fragment, a heartbeat or a swagger that travels through the generations. When we talk about Can’s lasting influence, we can feel the ur-krautrock’s presence everywhere. When we talk about Isaac Hayes’s Hot Buttered Soul, we have to feel the fabric of modern music between our fingers, and bring it up to our noses to inhale the waft of Hayesian heritage.

The four songs that make up the album are diverting and ingenious. They walk around you, several times, making a mockery of conventional song structure. They are arranged like masterpieces—think of the cinematic interplay between strangled electric guitar and soaring strings on “Walk On By”. They know when to ride sparse, motorik beats, and when to let the piano parts expand to fill the universe of emotions—as on “Hyperbolicsyllablecsesquedalymistic” (see above). Everything is produced in a way that suggests the studio is a living thing—especially on the wandering “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, with its ambient, barely-there organ drone and Hayes’s “velvet sledgehammer” monologue, which eventually lead into something grander and more significant.

On the face of it, Hot Buttered Soul shouldn’t be so un-derivative. Two of the songs are “covers” (albeit in the loosest possible sense), and the album was pieced together from several recording sessions—a far cry from the deranged-genius-cabin-fever-vibe we associate with most truly original works. But, somehow, it feels vital and inspirational in the correct sense of these words: it gave life to soul as a progressive, expansive genre (consider Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly, released three years later in 1972); and it provided a rich seam of sounds and textures that artists would tap into in the decades to follow.

Capped with Hayes’s inimitable, husky set of pipes, the album manages to strut and preen, but also to serenade and emote. It’s no wonder the music it sired was, taken as a whole, so schizophrenic.

Hot Chip — “Crap Kraft Dinner”

“All the people I love are drunk.”

Hot Chip know their way around the tragicomic, which is why “Crap Kraft Dinner” is a different kind of loser’s anthem.

The song doesn’t operate in terms of verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and if it did, it wouldn’t work. The first bit is all purported scene-setting, making the listener believe it’s the guy who’s been dumped. Over melancholy FM bells and the occasional, soothing throb of bass, Alexis Taylor sounds like a down-and-out, glued to the bar stool.

“All you can hear is my refusal,
‘Cos I haven’t got the time for a jerk-off loser.”

But then, as the song enters its second act, the tempo steps up a gear. A lonely, forlorn strum of guitar is another faux amis before the song’s true intentions are laid bare. The 808 starts hitting on the off-beat, second vocalist Joe Goddard copies Taylor’s lyrics but an octave lower, and we realise that it’s the girl, previously the recipient of the titular “crap Kraft dinner”, who’s been dumped. Before you know it, with an ironic smirk, a saxophone straight out of “Careless Whisper” enters the scene, presaging the song’s final section, wherein competing synth lines rotate and murmur over a tricksier beat. Now he’s not so much singing about leaving his girl, as rubbing salt in her wounds, pretending he’s upset and heartbroken in spite of it being his decision. There’s “no more space or time / For a last supper”—though, given his previously explicated culinary skills, maybe that’s no bad thing.

The double irony is, of course, that Hot Chip know they’re geeks, and know that they’re never really the ones doing the dumping, or the salt-rubbing, or the pimping of one’s ride. After all, in another Coming On Strong cut, “Playboy”, Goddard describes “Drivin’ in my Peugeot / 20-inch rims with the chrome now / Blazin’ out Yo La Tengo”, like a particularly sad-sack gangsta from Putney.