Posts from 20th August 2000

20
Aug 00

VAN DYKE PARKS – Song Cycle

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VAN DYKE PARKS – Song Cycle

I’d heard so much about this album that I was actually nervous about hearing it, some years after it acquired a personal status as a kind of masterpiece of the mind. And the thing that immediately strikes me about it is how unfinished and incomplete it sounds compared to Discover America. They were clearly created at different stages in VDP’s artistic evolution – in ’68 he was expressing exactly how he felt, and putting it into shape was no priority. In ’72, everything was thrown into shape, every moment was indescribably affecting, there were no lengthy indulgences in between.

It certainly has weak links in its sprawl – both instalments of “Laurel Canyon Boulevard” are unnecessary fillers, and his version of Donovan’s “Colours” (titled, of course, “Donovan’s Colours”, an early example of the man’s charmingly outmoded reverence-without-forlock-tugging for those he appopriates, as though Donovan owned the song and had to receive a formal tribute) doesn’t come off as well as he must have hoped. But I think Tom was underrating it when he said in chat that it has “none of the warmth” of its successor … for sheer charm, the first and last 25 seconds of “The All Golden” outstrip virtually anything else he’s ever recorded, but the difference is that, on “Discover America”, *the whole song* would have that quality, and the magic of the harp sequences, fading out into that fuzzy recording of “Nearer My God To Thee”, would be sustained throughout the song, rather than lost in a rather unsubtle pastiche-production.

What is it about Gayle Levant’s harp sections on this record? They elevate the first minute of “Public Domain” to greatness, evoking by their very presence the kind of relationship a strong society has with its past, affectionate without drowning in reverence. Indeed it’s always elements and sections of songs that move me here, not the entire songs themselves (the orchestral flourishes that drive “The Attic” are better than the song itself, clearly). Even the album’s centrepiece / statement-of-intent – “For The People” – is constructed from its components rather than as a complete song; the “strike up the band” gospel chorus anticipating “Ode To Tobago”, its slow sub-1940s orchestral builds leading up to “G-Man Hoover”. Nevertheless, the trick he turned in every moment of “Discover America”, the evocation of joyous sentimentality without a hint of cloying or reductionist nostalgia, is already coming through here.

Not a masterpiece. A succession of sketches for songs, slightly incoherent ideas thrown together, one man’s fixations and obsessions with the interrelations of history thrown together, without which “Discover America” could never have been made. It was necessary, I think, for VDP to let his imperfections show before imperceptibly ironing them out.

Stop Making Sense

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Stop Making Sense: a short review of the Talking Heads’ film-soundtrack ‘classic’. Not sure if it works, but see what you think. Oh! And I’ve redesigned Freaky Trigger a bit, too.

Ironminds: The Price is Wrong

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Ironminds: The Price is Wrong: Good grief! Mike was right and this is a really good article in Ironminds. I’ve very little to add, really – it’s a thoughtful piece on collector overpricing, and the implications of eBay and Napster for the ‘worth’ of music: “we inhabit an eerie moment, when consumers are presented with the rather enviable choice of paying almost as much, or as little, for their music as they please.”

THE GO-BETWEENS – “Going Blind”

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THE GO-BETWEENS – “Going Blind”

The Go-Betweens set the gold standard for sensitivity coupled with intelligence coupled with fearsomely good tunes, and in doing so I’m sure ruined many a young life: out in the real world there’s only room for one Robert Forster. I once called them “the Smiths for grown-ups”, but I only started liking them when I was pissed, and I went through my worst break-up singing ‘The Wrong Road’ out-of-tune, so what was with that “grown-ups” shit I’ve no idea. And now they’re back.

“When She Sang About Angels” was the first song I heard from The Friends Of Rachel Worth, their guest-studded new album. It sounded pitiful, knackered singer-songwriter dandruff with a horrible title and worse lyrics. But I could cope with a singer-songwriter record: I’d just not play it, like I don’t much play about half their group albums and nearly all their solo stuff. Judging by “Going Blind”, though, that’s not quite what this new record’s about. Nowadays they sound like…well, they sound like a college indie band who want to be the Go-Betweens.

The fit gets better with each play, six or seven in and I can hardly see the join between ’89 and this. But there’s still something third-review-in-Pitchfork about the track. Maybe everyone sounds like this now, or maybe it’s just that I’ve taken too many punches from this sort of music to want to roll with any more. Surely there’s nothing in the lyrics to pull me in. And then Friday night I got drunk and put “Going Blind” on and it sounded terrific, so just maybe it is by the Go-Betweens after all.

It’s been a while since I linked to

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It’s been a while since I linked to Dancing About Architecture, which is odd since they’ve been on somewhat of a roll recently, and this week sees editor Rob Brookman write a handy one-page primer on African pop music. Other people might know whether or not he’s got it right, but all this stuff sounds good to me.

On their reviews page, meanwhile, a convincingly positive review (the first I’ve read) of the Sonic Youth record and an unconvincingly positive one of the atrocious Grandaddy one. And Tim Frommer also lays into garageband.com in fine style.