Posts from 30th January 2002

30
Jan 02

LES SAVY FAV

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LES SAVY FAV – “Adopduction”

Kidnapped!
I was kidnapped!
I dreamed I was kidnapped!

And so the song begins, riding like a car with a bad transmission, and Tim Harrington is the poor kid gagged & bound in the trunk, head smacking against the inside of the trunk lid, piecing together the story as it comes to him. After detailing the situation a bit (describing his captors), the song hits a semblance of a groove – this would be the part where the car pulls over to the side of some deserted road and his captors lead poor Tim into some shoddy cabin. And little Tim is tied to a rickety splintering chair, sweating underneath a musty light blue pillowcase, talking to himself as the guy with the moustache and the chick with the eyepatch take turns talking into a cloth-wrapped cellphone. And, then, things change – “So if slowly, I could trust them – dare I say it, even love them – who’s to blame?” Banging the point home is the world’s most demure Beach Boys harmonizing, a miniature chorus of “wooo-oooo” mocking every wistful detail – getting glasses, making ransom notes, eating dinner – digging at the scab the same way two fingers rubbing together like cricket’s legs diffuse any bathetic tale of woe, the same way that ratty rope rubs against his wrists, the same way the trunk hood kissed his forehead.

This is the dream of a kid that feels completely abandoned. That’s the saddest thing thing – it isn’t the narrator getting closer to his captors, or his family not caring enough to actually get him back for more than half the original ransom. It’s the fact that all of this is a dream, and he’ll wake up, and he’ll be back with the family that couldn’t give a rat’s ass about him, and there won’t be any saviors waiting in the wings with duct tape and handcuffs, offering salvation, offering an escape, offering some small sign that he matters. Instead, he’s left talking to himself, at night, in bed, in the dark, where the wonder of the adventure turns into something less enjoyable – “Although we got so close, you know they never even told me their real names.”

Eventually, he goes back to sleep.

“Great music, like all great art, should transcend its time.”

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“Great music, like all great art, should transcend its time.” Serious people, like philosophers and poets, say things like this because they believe great art enters human beings into communion with the categorical — Truth and Beauty and Morality and all those other good things. I suspect lame rock critics mouth mush like this out of a neurotic need to divide the damned and the saved within music with big black lines. Or maybe they just exaggerate their hatred of faddish things so as to not look stupid five years later, when everyone has long realized that the New New Thing was in fact merely the New DJ Spooky or the New Britpop. Or maybe they say it out of a complete lack of anything substantive to say about their objects of love.

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A Sacred Cow:

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A Sacred Cow: In my view, The Flask in Highgate is a rather overrated experience. Yet you will see it referred to in most pub guides as some sort of North London haven, well worth chugging up the hill from Archway tube to visit. It’s not a bad pub (and there are plenty of those in Highgate) but its elevation to premier status leaves me bemused.

Whenever I’ve visited The Flask, I’ve found it too full of locals and tourists for me to have a relaxing drink. As it is the last pub en route to Hampstead Heath, it often seems excessively busy at the weekends, so getting to the bar is difficult and bagging a seat is nigh on impossible.

But still it receives plaudits from all sides. To wit, here are just a few things said about The Flask in various guides:

They said:
Every inch a village pub, it oozes character.
P Pubs says:
Pokey, with horse brasses and caricatures.

They said:
A perfect summer pub!
P Pubs says:
Tiresome and crowded on sunny days.

They said (in French):
Pour les nostalgiques de la grande histoire r’volutionnaire, Karl Marx aimait y venir boire quelques Pintes.
P Pubs says:
Marx was patently too drunk to walk down the hill to The Archway Tavern.

Admittedly, The Flask is probably the best pub in the area. The beers are fine and clientele tolerable. But I do wonder how many pubgoers, making a special trip on the basis of a glowing review, are disappointed once they get there. I hope this redresses the balance a little.

NYLPM Corrections Dept.:

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NYLPM Corrections Dept.: Todd of O-H-J and reviewing-the-Merzbox fame has the surname of Burns, not Jones as I repeatedly stated in my write-up. We blame this on lack-of-sleep and withdrawl from quitting smoking. Or maybe that I had listened to something with the title “Nil Vagina Loops” at 7 am. Anyway, visit O-H-J today to read my review of some boneheaded Kid606 remix CD, guaranteed to fill my inbox with hatemail from IDM nerds the world over.

“It would be easy to dismiss Rhino’s double-disc…

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“It would be easy to dismiss Rhino’s double-disc “Machine Soul: An Odyssey Into Electronic Dance Music” as tacky and inauthentic, full of songs no self-respecting club kid would ever allow to course through her Walkman. And there’s some seriously corny stuff here, like Prodigy’s bombastic “Charly” or L.A. Style’s “James Brown Is Dead.” Other songs are fine in themselves, but have been played so many millions of times that hearing them yet again is more painful than nostalgic: Gary Numan’s “Cars,” M/A/R/R/S’s “Pump up the Volume,” The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds.” Even when “Machine Soul” gets it right, it does so only in the most clichéd way, including the epochal “Strings of Life” by Rythim Is Rythim (aka Derrick May) and “Planet Rock,” by Afrika Bambaataa, songs that monks in Bhutan could probably identify as seminal dance-music moments”

Not to take away from Tom pointing out an equally baffling and wrongheaded article by Michelle Goldberg, but this piece, which is linked to at the end of the Chemicals review, is perhaps even worse: a mix of P.J. O’Rourke-style youth culture bashing (the 90s were the 60s!; it’s always been about commerce you sheep!), and massive misinterpretations of the culture itself. (Denigrating dj’s for merely “picking and choosing” records?…what the hell did you think they did? Claiming that Goldie’s “recent” swerve away from the dancefloor is the result of his “subcultural capital waning.” Perhaps true in 1997, but in 2000 this was uttering the most banal, the “sound of the underground” having already shifted once to speed garage and then to two-step.) This is of course ignoring the rockist aesthetic choices (of which the above is a taste); how anyone could prefer the (beautiful yes, but) fussy, prissy “Strings of Life” to “James Brown is Dead”…well, you know the rest.

Yet another installment in the ongoing question: why do good people continue to read Salon?

The problem with the unknown

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The problem with the unknown is very much its unknowableness. Which is a pity because if there was one thing that hit me as I walked through the doors of the Marylebone Tup was its sameyness. It was a pub trying to be an All Bar One, it was a pub which was embaressed of its pub trappings. It was – frankly – not very nice.

It was pretty packed when I turned up with a mainly casual crowd and we had snared a large table which was a good thing. The first thing I was told though by Cabbage was that the bitter was awful. Now I had not been planning to have a pint of Pedigree, but frankly his report did not surprise me. As I waited a very long time for my pint of Kronenbourg I was able to note that the Tup had all seven flavours of Bacardi Breezer – surely a particularly bad sign (I have never seen this in any other pub). A boisterous office party were drowning out what there was of the music and whilst the company was good the stripped pine and bright red walls felt oppressive.

Football came on, and was turned up much louder than the music had been. It all became a bit shouty. I switched to the Eminem’s but one came back with tequilla in it. Bar staff looked good, were generally bemused and pints were costing ‘2.60. To be in an area with plenty of nice pubs suggested that this had tried to distance itself from that and dumb down. Oddly the pub got pretty full for the football, all media workers getting out at half past eight braying. The standard of punter coversation is summed up by the fact that they were pretty much still on the Harry Potter vs Lord Of The Rings topic.

The only good point about the pub I felt, the only character it had, was in its pub dog. Or in this case a pub wolf, more than large enough for me to ride as a steed. But none of this was good enough to dispell the general feeling that yet again I had stumbled into a poorly thought out attempt at a boozer. If you asked me again to sup at the Tup – I’d rather not.

NYLPM 1998

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NYLPM 1998: We weren’t going then but if we had been we may have posted this following story. Blur provide signature tune for mission to Mars. Why, we ask, is Ananova picking up on a four year old story? Well the clue is in the piece which suggests that getting a band like Blur involved may help with the raising the profile of the mission and help to raise funds. I assume that four years on that this has not been the case and infact the association with the mighty Blur just means that their space nut Alex James pops round the observatory more.

They should actually bundle up a copy of David Bowie’s greatest hits for the trip. Then when it lands they can ask “Is the Life On Mars On Mars”?

After the gold dust

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After the gold dust: this is a very odd, and perhaps very bad, article. A review of the new Chemical Brothers album, it comes to pretty much the same conclusions I would (same old same old) but it comes to them via one of the oddest bits of contextualisation I think I’ve ever read. ‘Techno’, apparently, was music for the dot-com boom and makes no sense – indeed, is rather embarrassing – in its wake. There is no suggestion that the late 90s had any other cultural backdrop, and no suggestion that the Chemical Brothers’ music might be informed more by developments in British music (Britain being where the band are from, not a fact you’d pick up from the article) than by the San Franciscan bubble economy.

In fact, the article’s obsession with the dot-com glory years speaks mostly about Salon’s own neuroses, and its acknowledgement that that glittery period was its own peak. But in a way all this is admirable – Michelle Goldberg’s article, giant-size blinkers and all, could be a fine piece of personal music writing. Presenting her office-party reminiscences as a historical take on electronic music or the Chemicals’ own career is, however, mental.

(Also be warned – the article includes the September-11-as-cultural-dividing-line idea which is rapidly becoming popcrit’s No.1 cliche despite so far having very little evidential basis.)

Blur provide signature tune for mission to Mars

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Blur provide signature tune for mission to Mars: “A track by Blur is to be played on Mars.” That’s pretty much it for human culture, then. Thanks to John for pointing out this unparallelled disaster.

The Strokes – How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Strokes

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The Strokes – Is This It?

In 2001 you had to have an opinion on The Strokes, which is a good thing from the off because a little bit of opinion makes being a pop fan more enjoyable. Your opinion could be deranged enthusiasm or distanced disgust or you could even pronounce yourself bored of the whole thing just as long as you made your position known. Of course every year something like this happens – in 2000 it was Eminem you had to have ideas about, and before that Britney Spears. Both those acts sold a huge amount of records though, and the first curious thing about The Strokes is that they didn’t.

So really you weren’t having to hold an opinion on The Strokes’ success, because it hadn’t happened yet. You were having to hold opinions on what the idea of The Strokes’ success might mean, or what it might mean that so many people – critics like you – wanted them to be successful. To some of the people who were deranged with enthusiasm the idea of The Strokes’ success was the old idea of “raw rock” and a return to rock’n’roll values. To some of the people who were disgusted the idea was the old idea of rock commerce pillaging the underground twenty years too late. To the people who were bored the idea was mostly the really old idea of rock critics liking familiar picks instead of stranger kicks. None of these ideas had much to do with the noises The Strokes band made, which almost everyone agreed were OK or better.

And the second curious thing about The Strokes is that they obviously knew this. For instance they called their album Is This It?. The reviewers who mentioned that at all took it as a punky rock’n’roll sneer at, I don’t know, everything rock and rollers are meant to sneer at – authority probably. (The Strokes are OK with authority though – they used to sing about New York City cops not being smart but then decided to say “girls” not “cops” and it meant the same nothing.) Though when you hear Julian Casablancas sing “Is this it?” he sounds pained and vulnerable and a bit of a whiner, but certainly not sneering.

So why not take the album title at face value, then? As a worried shrug, a bit of defensive deprecation – is this it? – a pre-emptive embarassment at doing ‘this’ in the first place? ‘This’ being rock and roll, presumably. On the British release of the album there’s a leather glove on a woman’s naked bum. It’s a horrible cover, absurd and naff and nothing to do with what the album sounds like. But it’s a lot to do with how people think the album might sound like, and it’s a bit to do with how The Strokes are meant to be and behave (groupie-hungry rock boys in black). And by putting the picture and the title together what are The Strokes saying? That rock and roll, this particular version of rock and roll, amounts to nothing more than a hand groping an arse? And that shouldn’t we be disappointed with that?

Disappointment and self-doubt and worry are all over this album, mostly thanks to Casablancas’ permanent vocal dissatisfaction. It’s not a raging hungry Jaggerish dissatisfaction at all, though, like a rock and roller might have had, it’s more the mournful sound of a man with an unscratchable itch. He kind of wanders round the songs, lost at his own party. On “Last Nite” he feels so down and he don’t know why and nobody understands him, not even his own band who kick up somewhat of a storm while their poor abject singer keeps complaining. On “Hard To Explain” he writes his group a gorgeous new wave disco tune and sulks and shrugs his way out of it. (We’ll go back to disco in a moment.) And he doesn’t sound entitled, like a rock and roller might – he sounds like someone’s going to turn up any second and take his fun away. The first words he sings on the album are “Can’t you see I’m trying?”. On “Take It Or Leave It” he howls about how some guy’s “gonna let you down” like he knows just how easy and imminent letting people down can be. On “Someday” he frets about how his “ex says I’m lacking in depth” and the first few times I heard it I thought he was saying his insights were lacking in depth and it didn’t at all seem an odd thing for this rock star to be fretting over.

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