Posts from 1st May 2002

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May 02

NYLPM Sells Out!

New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 531 views

NYLPM Sells Out!: actually I’m not quite sure why I thought putting a comments system on this site was such a bad idea but I had a hunch it was. However at the end of every post you’ll now see “comments” and you can add yours. Bear in mind this is even more ephemeral than Greenspun so if you’ve got a deathless point to make you might still want to use the e-mail. Comments provided by YACCS, which is a subdivision of Rate Your Music so go and rate some if you’re bored.

But wait there’s more!

New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 940 views

But wait there’s more! FT juvenilia, that is.

A review of the first Beta Band album, not too bad on the record itself but shockingly off-base in the last paragraph!
A live review of the Go-Betweens – what a loss I was to the world of heartbroken indie writing. Difficult to read for me now, like all the 1999 pieces. You might like it more.
Black Box Recorder: a live review by David Sim, and a write-up by me of a chance encounter. I’d completely forgotten writing this and I liked re-reading it a lot.
Secret Language: not really sure what to make of this. Over-ambitious piece on branding and pop music, but some good thinking still.

No Greenspun = more site work

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No Greenspun = more site work, as I get stuck into the FT archives again. The cherries have mostly been picked from this particular tree but here are a couple of old pieces, with hopefully more to follow. The Auteurs album I loved at the time but hardly listen to now – this is one of the earliest Freaky Trigger pieces, now rescued from unwise orange background hell. ‘All Music Is Bad’ was unluckily for me the only FT article my parents have ever read – it makes them look like fools and re-reading it I feel like one too. Which isn’t to say the piece is wrong but I wouldn’t write it that way now.

Top Ranking – The Genius Of Soul Jazz

FT1 comment • 4,183 views

This article might be an unusual one for Freaky Trigger. It won’t offer much in the way of analysis; it won’t put forward any grand or foolish theories; personal reminiscence will be kept to a minimum; I have no expert knowledge to drop and I don’t want to change your mind about anything. All I want to do is celebrate a wonderful series of albums which have given me hours and hours of pleasure over the last year. Soul Jazz Records’ Dynamite! Series (100% Dynamite, 200% Dynamite, and so on) are beautiful collections and masterclasses in now to compile and present a compilation album. They’ve changed the way I hear Jamaican music and have opened my ears up to a lot more of it. Here’s how.

First of all we need to think a bit about how Jamaican music generally gets presented to novices like me. The story of the island’s music is a complicated one, and even the most reductive history has to acknowledge a thickness of interlocking styles and approaches – ska, rocksteady, rockers, roots reggae, dub, toasting, dancehall, and so on… then within each of those there’s a huge diversity of themes and lyrical emphases and playing and singing styles. All fighting and swiping from and paying respect to each other, down forty years of Jamaican history. But five years ago my secret opinion – though I’d never have said as much – was that basically ‘reggae’ all sounded the same.

Now I knew there was more to Jamaican music, and I knew the problem was with what I was listening to and how I was listening to it – but how on Earth to find a way in? Unless you had the money to splash out on the Tougher Than Tough box set there wasn’t much you could do to get a taste of how rich the music was. I tried single-artist albums but found them hard work – my ears hadn’t got past the stuff which made reggae a separate thing to, say, rock (i.e. the rhythm), and so spotting variations between songs was beyond me. Burning Spear’s much-respected Marcus Garvey loped by in a wailing haze of Babylon-Zion-Jah-slavery-rivers-captivity-dread. Nor could I feel much of anything about individual tracks: I just didn’t have the musical vocab.

Specialist compilations weren’t much better – most comps of Jamaican music stick to a single style, for coherence and because they’re aiming at a public that knows what they like. In the mid-90s, what the serious music fan liked, it seemed, was dub with a side order of roots. Simon Reyolds wrote a piece for The Wire a couple of years ago suggesting that the stoner sound-as-sound aesthetics of 90s dub fans kept the deep and religious concerns of roots music out of the critical spotlight – but to an outsider like me it all seemed pretty forbidding, dour even. Despite its rhythmical force, the music reissued on labels like Blood And Fire gave the impression at a distance of being music for contemplation, or communion. And great though the records might be for that, it wasn’t what I wanted. (One upshot of this was that I decided, arrogantly, that I didn’t much like dub.)

I knew reggae was a pop music too, though, so I took a look at some of the chart-oriented compilations – The Best Reggae Album In The World…Ever, you know the kind of thing. A lot of the songs on those were excellent, but such things tend to have a strong bias towards the contemporary, and so the tracklisting would be heavy on the Marley, UB40, and Shaggy – none of them favourites of mine. I’m not a purist by any means – I love it when pop or dance acts grab their inspiration from Jamaican music, but there’s a big difference between Madness jollying up ska rhythms or No Doubt doing a dancehall track, and the kind of supper-club standards Ali Campbell trotted out. (It’s the difference between exploiting the ‘exotic’ because it is exotic, and trying to make the ‘exotic’ less so.)

I knew individual tunes and loved them. “Uptown Top Ranking”, for instance, a tempting glimpse into a world where superficially familiar things – teenage girl singers, verses and choruses, the idea of ‘cool’ – suddenly seemed new. Some of it was the slang – there’s nothing quite as exciting as hearing English and not knowing what it means, and understanding it anyway. Some of it was the offhandedness – the feeling that the musicians and the girls were just knocking this stuff out, that in the next two hours they might have easily laid down ten more classics which we never ever got to hear. The idea that there was a world next to the one I knew, where this easy genius promised to be commonplace – but how to get there?

Along, at last, come Soul Jazz. The Dynamite series rests on two obvious great ideas and a few more subtle ones. The first great idea is to make compilations which emphasise reggae as pop music, dance music, social music, hit music, but which are based on – duh – the Jamaican charts not the British ones. This was sort-of the approach taken by Trojan in the late 60s and by Greensleeves now, except their samplers were and are snapshots of the island’s pop music at a given time (as RIGHT NOW as possible, basically). And the second great idea of Soul Jazz’s series was to not confine themselves by time or genre – anything from the earliest Jamaican R’n’B to the freshest Dancehall could in theory be covered, and made to work together by a skilful compiler.

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12ftlizards

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12ftlizards is a Yahoo! Group for the discussion of the future of ILM/ILE boards in the event of them vanishing. It’s also there for any other admin-style questions that might come up. Membership is open so feel free to join.

Pub carpets

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 760 views

Pub carpets – don’t worry this isn’t turning into a pub version of Changing Rooms – merely observations one what makes a decent carpet in a pub. As noted below in discussion of The Ring, there is something comforting about a threadbare carpet in a pub. If you can see the underlay it means that the pub has not been refurbed for quite some time, and plenty of punters have used it. Which is – after all – the key point of the organic pub atmosphere, the pub has seen plenty of people.

Not all pubs have carpets of course. Indeed the idea of a carpet in a pub is akin to the idea of a carpet in a bathroom. Yes, it offers slightly more comfort and warmth but it is going to get grotty pretty quich is why there are pretty much two schools of thought in pub carpeting. Dark, neutral office type carpeting – often carpet tiles – which are very resilient and don’t noticeably get damaged easily. However this is not the norm. Instead the norm is a carpet which you would never in a million years countenance in your home. Red and green are the predominant colours, picking up a lot of dirt and with no discernable pattern except a decent ability to make you avert your eyes from the floor.

I saw easily the best pub carpet I had seen in some time yesterday on my travels . A swift pint in The Gun in Shoreditch – a less trendy alternative to the nearby Golden Hart. Beer was nice, the Heath Robinson-esque prints were diverting but the showpiece of this pub is its incredible carpet. Red and green like all good pub carpets, it was patterned with circular segments containt a picture of a cannon, or a gun. Now that is branding.

Greenspun.com

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Greenspun.com has now been down for 36 hours, meaning no ILM and ILE. My assumption is that eventually one of these outages will be permanent (maybe even this one!) or that the ‘restructuring’ of greenspun.com will finally happen and it’ll move to some kind of registration and pay model. I’m suggesting that some kind of mailing list be set up to work out what to do about this and other meta-issues – drop me a line if you want to be involved.

MECHA-STREISAND VS. NEIL DIAMOSAUR: FITE!

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MECHA-STREISAND VS. NEIL DIAMOSAUR: FITE!

Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits:

Gary Guthrie was a particularly astute disk jockey. While spinning records for his AKY-FM show in Louisville, Kentucy, he realized that not only had Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond each included a version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” on their latest albums, they were both signing in the same key. To give his listeners an “exclusive,” he spliced the two songs together to create a duet. When he played the tape on the air, the switchboard lit up with callers clamoring to hear it again, followed by record store owners besieged with customers wanting to buy their own copies.”

Soon enough, a real duet was recorded between the two. A number one record, Grammy nominations and MOR ubiquity followed. But that’s right: this famous Barbara Streisand/Neil Diamond duet had its genesis in a bootleg. Or what could be called one, anyway. Sure, it’s inarguably a case of record A + record B, not new vocals + old record (Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable”) or a revamped existing record (your average remix). But whereas many bootlegs, in their promiscuous style-ransacking, seem to imagine alternate pop histories and imaginary genre reconciliations (…so that’s what a REAL punk/rap synthesis might sound like, ah…), it’s not as if a duet between these two singers was ever out of the question. So while “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” is a good song — classy MOR melodrama, yum — there’s no thrill of cultural friction here, no vs. It hearkens back not to the soundclash but to the older pop idea of the fantasy jam session.

Anyway…what this example might prove is that there is some kind of precedence for industry-acceptance of the bootleg. But does that mean anything today? Probably not. Without the kind of mass acceptance of DJ culture on radio that the UK enjoys, and with the overwhelming homogenization of media outlets, it’s hard to imagine a bright young DJ earnestly introducing his (or somebody else’s) tape-splice project in Clear Channel’s America. Or the RIAA-addled post-Napster America, for that matter.

Cowboy Dreams

FTPost a comment • 3,705 views

The Meaning of Country Music

If the top twenty on Country Music Video is any indication, concern about a pop invasion is a fuss about very little. These songs, and the images that accompany them, are comforting in their nostalgia for a world of conservative family values: even though the music video is the most postmodern of forms most of these videos maintain traditions settled seventy years ago.The reflexivity and non-linear nature of the music video works surprisingly well for most country songs, whose narratives are told in straightjacketed form.

There have been crossovers between hip-hop and rock. But country music is only heard on country music stations and networks. There is very little overt bleeding from rock to country, or from pop to country. When Shania Twain hit Number One on the pop charts she was given to the easy listening stations; when Leanne Rimes recorded pop songs her records failed to sell. Country on country stations is also different from the hybrid of country and traditional forms found in the recent Bluegrass revival – Ralph Stanley will never show up on CMT for example. So what can we learn about country by paying attention to its commercial heart?

I decided to find out by using the Top Twelve Peoples Choice from Friday, April 26th. The fact that these twelve were voted by the public (some via a website) was mentioned before and after every commercial break, but this was the only intervention from a third party. There was no one to be a intercessor between the viewer and the text. These videos were what the people of Canada viewed as important in their love of country music.

12. “Shut Up and Kiss me or Just Shut Up” – Michelle Wright
The title may be traditional, straight out of the Tammy Wynette school, but aside from that this is not very country. The video is an urban apartment, there are too many guitars, she is dressed in leather trousers. Everything makes it sound like the female reclamation of cock rock popular in 1995. But Michelle Wright has had a career in this genre for decades.

11. “The One” – Gary Allen
A ballad centering on a wish-fulfilment fantasy of monogamy. When Country started there were hurting songs and loving songs. This pattern has seen variations – the cheating song or the wedding song or the work-means-more-to-you-than-me song – but at the core of things there are still only hurting songs and loving songs. Since this is Allen’s search for love the camera’s gaze focuses on him. The shots we have of the woman who he is courting are elusive at best.

10. “Should Be Sleeping” – Emerson Drive
A hurting song about sleepless nights, the video splits between shots of
domesticity and live performance in a way that avoids clear narrative. There seems to be, in the addition of the performance footage, a second message about the difficulties of fame. However you cannot really say that out loud in a forum like this – people might think that you’re not grateful.

9. “I Still Miss My Friend” – Darryl Worley
A hurting song, not quite a cheating song but definitely one that talks
about leaving. It’s also one that mentions God as a source of inspiration:something that is rarely mentioned so plainly elsewhere but is a commonplace in country songs.

8. “My Heart Is Lost To You” – Brooks and Dunn
With its Telejano flavour and Spanish chorus this song shows the first departure from country tradition on this list. The interesting thing is how little of the huge amount of cowboy music in Mexico has bled into American consciousness. The video itself has three unrelated scenes: a couple dressed in black and white, black flags flying in the desert and a white corvette and a black truck racing through the salt flats. Stylish and apparently meaningless, this is also the closest to the videos on non-country channels.

7. “You Are” – Carol Lynn Johnson
The pretty girl sings while brief jump cuts show a naked back, a quarter face, a sleeve being turned up,a pec and a six pack and the crescent of belly just north of the belt line. As has been seen in “The One” and will be seen again, there is a concentration on the male body. This concentration fails to make him a person, which is odd in a song that is supposed to be about the importance of remembering there is one man for every woman.

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