4
Nov 18

Omargeddon #4: Weekly Mansions

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I’ve been stuck in a funk of late. Sadly, not a George Clinton-flavoured funk, but a stank, stuck funk of my own making. My compulsive need to trace the original sources for all the revised riffs, beats, and samples that crop up in later Omar Rodriguez-Lopez projects has proved a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be fairly difficult. And yet, I deluded myself into thinking it would all fall into place. It is, but at a frustratingly glacial pace, and I’m growing resigned to the fact that my attempt to construct an orderly timeline is a fool’s errand.

This is the album that made me want to track this path in the first place. Released in late 2016 on the Ipecac Recordings label as part of Omar’s 24-album back catalog catch-up, Weekly Mansions feels both soothingly familiar and brand-new. Many of the albums in this series can (sort of) be easily identified as a complete album remixed and reimagined; this feels like a bridge linking the more guitar-driven and distortion-fuzzed earlier releases via a silky thread of instrumental segues and sound manipulation. If this were an aural equivalent to a magic eye poster, I’d gaze into it crosseyed, hoping for an optical illusion of The Mars Volta to appear.

Dubbed “an eclectic exploration of neo-electro-dance”, it’s a totally guitar-free collaboration between Omar and his brother Marcel (aka Eureka The Butcher), which positively heaves with bleepy joy. I would fervently press it into the hands of all my friends, were a physical edition available. Such is my deep and abiding love for it that I rate it as highly as I do Old Money, and I do not say that lightly.

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26
Oct 18

the other kind of industrial

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[This post originally went up at my PATREON: subscribers get to read posts and hear podcasts early — and help offset costs and time and help me do more of this kind of thing. Please share widely and encourage participation in the comments!]

Like many teenagers in the UK 40+ years ago, my non-school culture was basically two things: the music weeklies and strikes. One time my late colleague Steven Wells was reviewing a biography of Richard Branson for NME (Mick Brown’s I assume, published in 1988). “The 70s were a bad time for strikes,” said the book. No! wrote Swellsy, angrily and hilariously, the 70s were a BRILLIANT time for strikes. Management wrong, workers right, the side without resources flexing its collective muscle, the three-day week, no electricity for days on end, no one clears away the rubbish or even the dead… sorry, but for any distrustful, easily distracted young person this was all just great, as well as perfectly and morally correct.

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19
Sep 18

“ITES, REEL”

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Being a melancholy appreciation on his passing of this nation’s pioneering reggae writer: the great PENNY REEL

“Sing great song, down inna Babylon, show them your culture, down inna Babylon”
— ‘M.P.L.A.’, Tapper Zukie

It was October 1978, and the NME interview-feature was titled ‘The Keith Hudson Affair: A Dread Tale’. It was written by Penny Reel, it was about this same singer-producer, Keith Hudson — who had of course worked with Ken Boothe, John Holt, Delroy Wilson and King Tubby’s toaster-DJ U-Roy, as well as Big Youth — and it launched into itself as follows:

“ONE NIGHT I AM standing outside the Jamaican pattie shop in Portobello Road partaking of the same when a car pulls up on the street and from it emerge certain characters from Kilburn by the name of Militant Barrington, Tapper Zukie and Jah Lacey, which is by no means an unusual combination to see, as these are very intimate idren and frequently keep each other’s company, except that now there is a fourth person with them in the rear approach, one known as King Saul.

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6
Sep 18

BLAZIN’ SQUAD – “Crossroads”

Popular30 comments • 2,020 views

#934, 31st August 2002

If Blazin’ Squad had never existed, would it have been necessary to invent them? You suspect record labels would have given it a so-solid try: a hydra-headed rapping crew, but full of youthful good looks and free of nasty predelictions? Too good to resist, at least in this weird, early-00s phase where it’s equally clear that the public want to buy rap records (maybe even British ones!) and the labels don’t have much idea what will or won’t cross over.

In fact, before I did my research, I assumed Blazin’ Squad were ‘manufactured’. Now I’d prefer to call it ‘sculpted’ – from the marble of an eager bunch of North London schoolfriends somebody carved this hit cover. Why “Crossroads”, though? A proven earworm; a familiar chorus and a structure with plenty of space for voices to gather and mingle.

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30
Aug 18

how not to write about jazz, probably

FT + Hidden Landscapes2 comments • 443 views

[This post originally went up at my PATREON: subscribers get to read posts and hear podcasts early — and help offset costs and time and help me do more of this kind of thing. Please share widely and encourage participation in the comments!]

A week or three back, my old ilxor pal Kerr put up a list of jazz genres on FB and asked his followers who could define them. And bcz we’re dicks, we gave him a dusty answer (mine, in full, was “I can!”). We played mean games; we suggested he google. And so he did — fair play — and of course the joke was on us, bcz the results (wikipedia!) were terrible, full of error and sententious assumption. Some true claims — especially in the endless lists — mixed in with much confused nonsense and (wikipedia!) inapposite citation.

My dusty answer wasn’t just about being a dick: Kerr’s question had landed right on top of something that’s bothered me for decades. Which is why people often write so badly about jazz — including people who know a lot about it (a lot more than me anyway). They can get the facts right — the chords, the analysis — but then miss the point. They write well about the players’ lives and character, and about the feel. But when they write about what the musicians actually think they’re doing, and think about what they’re doing, it all goes cock-eyed and dull — as if being fully conversant with musical technique and terminology acts as some kind of huge mental block.

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26
Aug 18

Omargeddon #3: Octopus Kool Aid

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It would be inaccurate to say Octopus Kool Aid passed me by, but by the time I learned of its existence, I was too depressed about The Mars Volta’s breakup and too ready to blame this album for causing it. It’s only been recently that I’ve taken the time to appreciate its impact on Omar’s music.

Octopus Kool Aid features lyrics and vocals by Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes, and working with her on this album reawakened Omar’s appreciation for true collaboration. Somewhere along the line, they formed Bosnian Rainbows. Omar decided to put The Mars Volta on hiatus to focus on recording and touring with his shiny new side project. This royally cheesed off Cedric Bixler-Zavala; the two of them snipped bitchily at one another via social media, which was both unfortunate and deeply awkward. TMV’s hiatus became an official break-up in early 2013, and there didn’t appear to be any going back. Cedric’s subtweet “What am I suppose [sic] to do be some progressive house wife that’s cool with watching their partner go fuck other bands? We owe it 2 fans to tour” makes me cringe-laugh, but it’s clear that he felt betrayed personally and on behalf of Volta fans.

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19
Aug 18

Incoming Content!

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Hello everyone!

This is just to say that the Pop World Cup and Popular will be back in September*. Thanks for waiting and huge apologies for disappearing – family health and work issues have taken their toll (again).

*very possibly before! But I’m not going to promise anything earlier.

25
Jul 18

Omargeddon #2: Tychozorente

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Last week at work, while creating the dashboard reports for this month’s round of governance boards, I was struck by the idea of creating an Omar Rodriguez-Lopez music matrix. The upper left quadrant would be jazz/experimental, the upper right rock, the lower left electronic/dance, and the lower right pop. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all ORL genres (salsa is missing, to name but one), but using a simplistic visual to map out albums will help me catalogue them, as well as guide me in selecting what to review next.

If Old Money sits in the uppermost right quadrant, its opposite on the lower left would be Tychozorente. They’re both early doors albums, and near polar opposites. It’s his first solo record with nary a guitar present and is also notable because elements of it appear frequently in his later material. The overall vibe is reminiscent of At The Drive-In dub side project De Facto, with a twist of pop via vocalist/lyricist Ximena Sariñana Rivera. Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty mixed bag. The tracks that work are like sweet psychedelic swirls of cotton candy, but they’re surrounded by clunky spoken word pieces that disturb the flow of the album experience.

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17
Jul 18

Omargeddon #1: Old Money

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Old Money is like a crazy quilt with no immediately discernible pattern upon first inspection. There’s so much happening, it’s impossible to take it on all at once. The riff-squares are stitched together with your typical rhythm section, plus woodwinds, plenty of added effects, and some more unusual rock instruments, such as clavinet, wurlitzer, and theremin. As in much of Omar’s early solo work, however, the guitar is the star. It’s the seminal ORL sound – ORL Original Recipe, if you will.

And you should, because Old Money’s rock-out guitar A swirls tauntingly around guitar B’s wah-wah, creating an ecstatic hurricane of beautiful noise to become swept into. Although it’s not his first solo release, it was the first I ever heard and feels like the most appropropriate place to start, and listening to it feels like coming home for me. It was nearly a follow up to The Mars Volta’s Amputechture and in many ways feels like homework for The Bedlam In Goliath. I’m reminded of those heady days of new fandom, that first flush of obsessive love. Though it would be inaccurate to say that it’s the gold standard by which all other releases are measured, it does serve as a kind of guitar-oriented litmus test, and I sometimes categorise other albums based on how Old Money-esque they sound.

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13
Jul 18

Pop World Cup 2018 – Group C Match 1

FT + New York London Paris Munich/8 comments • 477 views

What if a World Cup lasted ALL YEAR? That’s the experiment we appear to be running with this year’s PWC, and a grand experiment it is too. Here we are with the fourth match, group C, which even features a team that is STILL IN the football tournament. France are one of the great exponents of the modern pop game, but Denmark have form too, and Peru and Australia are tantalising prospects. Listen to all four tracks below the cut, and vote for your favourite two.

Pop World Cup 2018 Group C Match 1: Pick TWO tracks

  • AUSTRALIA: Ngaiire 74%
  • DENMARK: Soleima 47%
  • PERU: Animal Chuki 37%
  • FRANCE: Keep Dancing Inc. 32%

Total Voters: 38

Poll closes: 19 Jul 2018 @ 12:04

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FRANCE (Manager: Sam Walton): Keep Dancing Inc. – “Life Goes On”

“Paris’ Keep Dancing Inc lead their country out for their first match with the kind of classically French, vintage but super-technical short-passing build-up play that will mesmerise fans, opposition and neutrals. Drawing from the proud traditions of French pop’s recent past, Life Goes On blends just the right levels of sleepiness, wobble and melancholy, with two deep-lying forwards in the form of shimmering guitar chords and rich arpeggiated synths supporting a central striker vocal full of youth, confidence and (of course) insouciance. It may appear to be an unassuming start, but like the great France performances of previous international tournaments, Life Goes On just keeps building, self-assured in its own class and irresistibility. Peruvian, Aussie and Danish defences should be very wary indeed, Clive.”

PERU: (Manager: Garry McK): Animal Chuki – “La Venenosa”)

“Peru’s squad contains mastery of the full range of international tactics, but we’ve decided to open our tournament in a very modern Peruvian style. Animal Chuki were forged in Lima’s digital cumbia/tropical bass scene with strength at the back, relentlessness in middle and a skittish front line. We’re hope to harry our opposition all the way.”

AUSTRALIA: (Manager: James Errington): Ngaiire – “Diggin'”

“Far away from the oversaturated scenes of American and Eurasian pop football, Australia have spent the last four years quietly honing a team of gifted, polished players. Wisely, they’ve adopted the tactics of the All-Blacks and started looking to the wider area for talent. Ngaiire was born in Papua New Guinea, but moved to Australia as a child. Her music has been labelled “future soul” – but the futuristic elements are kept low key, tightly wound percussion and nervous synth stabs, while the soul is bared, often painfully so. Diggin’ is “a song about being found before you find yourself in a permanent state of no return.” and in a just world it would have been her worldwide breakthrough. Maybe it can be now.”

DENMARK: (Manager: Jack B): Soleima ft Hoodboi – “Breathe”

“‘Breathe’ is a slick, slyly addictive pop song, and Soleima’s understated, slightly wry delivery is perfect for it. ‘I wanna daydream with you, just so we can breathe’ goes the chorus, which as far as I can tell means what the Danish apparently call ikke noget, but is just lazy enough (in a good way) to fit the atmosphere of the song very nicely. It’s cold enough to sound cool, but warm enough to sound summery, and (more importantly) to sound good on a taxi radio at night, the best possible place to listen to this type of song. Even if this isn’t your cup of £6 Carlsberg now, I suspect that this is exactly the kind of sound that in a few years will make you feel oddly nostalgic for the mid to late 2010s, even if you’re not quite sure why. This is my Denmark team’s Claude Makelele figure, doing more than you think.”

RESULTS: Over in Group F, South Korea make a confident start to the tournament – not their most dominant performance but it’s still 3 points in the bag. Behind them in the Group of Death, Sweden slip up and lose second place to a stylish Mexico side. Germany’s tactics have been found out and they may be heading for the same ignominous exit their footballing counterparts suffered unless they can rally in the second game.