Posts from 13th December 2002

13
Dec 02

End Of Year Preview!

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At the center of FT’s 2002 round-ups is a rundown of the 101 tracks I heard this year that I want you to hear too — frivolously arranged in a Chart Countdown! Only problem was — I couldn’t settle on 101. Here are the tracks which made the final list and which I wanted to write about anyway (and in January or February expect more I-suck-how-could-I-miss-THIS revisionism). A taster for next week’s articles, and some extra stuff for your hard drive. (If you can’t find any of them let me know and I’ll try to make them available to people whose modem speeds are faster and bills lower than mine.)

118. AKUFEN — ‘Deck The House’: The dueling-banjos thing wore out on me after a while but on first listen I really couldn’t tell what was going on, and that’s a rare enough sensation to earn a mention. Scuffed-shoe beats and the worlds fuckedest-up radio dial.

117. MR.HECTIC — ‘Discovery’: Lodged in our house CD player for weeks causing howls of rage and eventually a grudging respect. Very odd attempt to create a UK hip-hop ‘Stan’, mixing thug vulnerabilia with none-more-twee sampling. A couple of drunken times it seemed something miraculous had been created.

116. MUM — ‘Green Grass Of Tunnel’: Thumb-sucking vocals and music-box electronica combine to lovely, spongey effect. It all gets a little too wide-eyed, or else it’d place much higher.

115. MIDWEST PRODUCT — ‘Still Love In The Midwest’: First of a grillion tracks from the fabulous gabba.net. The spirit of Kon Kan stalks the earth again, as Peter Hook is cloned and does ‘his’ bass thing over dessicated breaks and collage vox. Highly diverting.

114. COOL BREEZE — ‘Watch The Hook’: Look, there it is! ‘Brother man!’ – stuck in my head for months. The turbospeed Dirty South MC-ing made less of an impression but urgency and guts carry you through.

113. DOVES — ‘There Goes The Fear’: Guilty pleasure or what! This clicked a day before I finalized the list — ‘Blimey, it does sound exactly like the House Of Love!’. Except when it sounds like the Lovin’ Spoonful. Or Ride. The beat isn’t exactly groovy, but it’s certainly soothing.

112. TWEET — ‘Drunk’: Blowsy, reeling, uncomfortably literal ballad of boozy pain — R&B vocal trickery inverted to mean loss of control and self, not their assertion. As necessary as a hangover and as hard to revisit.

111. ALPINESTARS — ‘Burning Up’
110. SWAYZAK — ‘I Dance Alone’:
Alpinestars were the sorest of thumbs on Futurism, trading self-celebration (however put-on) for self-consciousness. If you dance alone, after all, you tend to go home alone, and this might be what you put on. In the club, though, it’s armour on: Swayzak’s plate-mail electrosoundz repel friendly contact, compulsive-destructive hedonism is all that matters. ‘I want to smash / Spend all my cash.’

109. THE CORAL — ‘Dreaming Of You’: I decided the secret of why this ‘works’ and other Britrock doesn’t is in the fat-free singing — Mr Coral hardly ever draws out vowel sounds in the way that’s been de rigeur for UK singers since Liam. The result is an OK song bursting to get out of a thirty-seconds-too-small package, and much the better for it.

108. BRAINTAX — ‘Godnose’: Beatwise follows up on Manuva’s scuzz-dub blueprint and marries it to garbled street aggression, though the chorus — ‘We don’t give a fuck’ — makes their point entirely clear. Nasty.

107. BEYONCE KNOWLES — ‘Work It Out’: This would have been so wonderful as a Kelis single but Beyonce blunts the track’s manic edge where Kelis might have whetted it. The result was a relative flop that took ages to grow on me — but eventually the Neptunes’ funk motion-captures won me over.

106. JAY-Z — ‘A Dream’: The only track to have really got me so far on Blueprint 2 is the supremely portentious opener, and even this I’m a bit embarrassed to like. In a track built on might-have-beens, censoring ‘blow up like the World Trade’ from BIG’s ‘Juicy’ verse is a mis-fire, but even so nobody pomps it up like Hova.

105. THE HERBALISER feat WILDFLOWER — ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’: I love Wildflower. Her flow comes off a bit forced now and then but she brings a wonderful, warm presence to any track she guests on — the kindly infants’ teacher to Ms Dynamite’s scary headmistress! The Herbaliser takes most of the honours here though with some tantalizing ska touches you wish had been made more of.

104. RDB — ‘Jat Marda’: Pitman’s ‘Pitman Says’ eclipsed by this Pharaoh-Monch-gone-Bhangra epic, good news for me since I found Monch way too blustery but love the Gothtastic backing, preserved here. Apparently a big underground hit, and deservedly so.

103. LL COOL J — ‘Luv U Better’: LL still the master of hip-hop smoochery, mixing head-nodding with head-hanging and turning out a near-masterpiece of melodramatic contrition. (Think Harold Melvin And The Bluenotes’ ‘I Miss You’ — yes, that good! Well, almost.) The Neptunes’ production is one of their best this year, all heartbeats and snowstorms. Would be higher if my fiancée liked it — as it is I listen in the shadow of her silent and diminishing disapproval.

102. BIG TYMERS — ‘Still Fly’: I really really need to hear this on a good car system not on my crappy laptop speakers. The best sing-a-long hip-hop chorus this year, maybe — tough but dreamy. Oh, summer.

STICKS

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“Backwoods”

I went out to the hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread- Yeats, ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’

This shouldn’t take long.

Records of the Year, that would be one frame. I’ve had this track for nigh on twelve months now, since the last days of 2001, and still I walk back into its beguilements over and over. I’d like to try to write down why. But strictly, this is a belated response to a request, a generous commission I knew I could only fulfil by straying from the beaten track. Possibly some precious few folk would genuinely like to know more about Eva Marie Saint and the price of medicine. I sure would. What follows won’t help on those scores.

I’ve written enough about him before – a few thousand narrative words, years ago in spring, trying to connect my sense of his world to my sense of mine; then so many public gauntlets laid down on his behalf, when he’d never make such claims for himself save, surely, in his own head. (Hard to believe he never spends laborious minutes measuring himself against his own canon, Dylan, Simon, Cohen, Reed – but perhaps I underestimate the humility of middle age. Still, this is a man – and the mind reels with affectionate disbelief as I type – who once told Simon Reynolds – Simon Reynolds! – that his major contribution to the history of songwriting was the adjectival use of the proper name. ‘Beat-up’? ‘Grace Kelly’. Admiration is compelled for a man who says such a thing to such an interlocutor.)

Parentheses aside, the point is that I may have little left to say about him – which thought if true might make me pause at how the fires of language can consume what we love. Yet here at least is something unsaid: one aural image, one brief stretch of sound that lingers on thinking of him. It has escaped summation: it’s part of no capacious biography, nor of the slack second-hand notions that most memories hold of the man. It’s on the edge: outside ‘songwriting’, beyond words; past the limits, so closely drawn, of most people’s interest in him; heteronomous to the received idea. But it’s him all right, and it moves me and calls me back as much as any ‘new’ music in these last years.

I guess he’s always liked keyboards, as some of the flourishes of the 1980s could show; still this one is an unexpected, eerie way to start a ‘primarily acoustic’ track. It’s insolvent as epic beginnings should be, melting into the track proper. And it’s a way of waiting: of pacing up and down for a few seconds, making us anticipate the delayed clarity that the guitars bring. Loosely picked and strummed, that casual fashion that holds a song, keeps it going, but still offers detail. We are in the world of roots: of that sprawling sense that takes in memories of country (twang, attitude) and folk (technique, earnestness), however little you really know those modes.

Technique: because you hear him play this, you know it’s him, building up those layers of guitar, plotting their trellis of interaction, and thus showing, deliberately or not, what he can do. He’s not bad these days, you have to say. There’s a pop idea: shy demonstrations of talent, rather than proud prances of worthlessness. Attitude: because seconds in, with no words to guide us, we must be responding somehow, reading this track, looking for bearings: and I think I hear an attitude, of quiet defiance – no, that’s too aggressive: of lonesomeness, cowboy dreams, riverside hikes; survival, above all, but survival alone (one man, presumably, is playing all those guitars). I’m still here, the music says: but it’s tough these days. (That sounds a mere pose, but at some level, beyond the record, I guess it’s real.) What this record has to burn, or to drown, is melancholy. High as the interesting skies and their carpets of skimming cloud patterns; low as the ground, the forest floor, the pine needles, the lake’s dark depths.

Landscape? That’s an illusion, but it shows what nine letters can do. ‘Prufrock’ drew that scatter of words into a field of force, an apparent character; the title here summons the five chords, the three or four guitars and background noises, into a shape. Or several, associated ideas, scapes that feel analogous in the corner of the mind’s eye, and needn’t be looked at too closely. The trees, stretching ahead like the giant redwoods on Endor. The towns of slow lives, cars on icy roads, Carver fishermen. The failure that makes a man retreat to these margins: upstate, out of the city; off the highway; for the people don’t buy my records like they did, and that was a long time ago. Now I’m up here, waiting, knitting this thing together, thinking of building a cabin yonder, waiting for the thaw.

He plays it twice: or maybe the two takes are stitched from one, the guitars lacing in different orders each time. There’s an arpeggio of exquisite simplicity or complexity, which patterns the same notes and different notes together in a cycle that goes round and round; but it’s not just circular like some four-chord doowop hit, for each time through the phrase, a different chord is leading the way, and you have to play the same sequence of open notes over and over before the underlying structure has cycled back to where you started. He must have been proud of that; I couldn’t have come up with it.

Then there’s the third (third?) guitar: louder, sharper than the others, doubling the phrasing of the second, but sweeping through it with the assurance of a riff proper, sliding down one string and up another rather than hanging everything in a tangle of simultaneously sounding strings. It comes to override the rest, to take its place in the centre and sound a sadness on a scale the others can’t reach, allowed to resonate further than anything else here. Phrases like this – four notes will do – feel eloquent: you want to find a way to say they’re talking. But that doesn’t really describe it: voiceless, beyond words. That’s more to the point. Maybe eloquence is just another echo, from the one word we’re given.

He started amid the glow of that strange light in a clearing, like Yeats’ purple noon in ‘Innisfree’ (that poem, come to think of it, might be as good an analogy as any for this track); both times, naturally, he fades out, the guitars catching on each other like cotton or cagouls on brambles. Fades out, depending which path you pick, to the rest of what he has to say, to clear a ground for words; or to real silence at last. Best leave it here, where the map runs out and we can’t hear the song for the fade of those open chords, wise and weary yet wide awake. Best to know when more words are the last thing we need.

written by The Pinefox, December 2002

PAUL McCARTNEY : MURDERER?

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PAUL McCARTNEY : MURDERER?

Paul has got off relatively scott free round here (not relatively Scott Three which would be torturous as would any Scott Walker album). Mainly due to his only mucker John lennon being so awful and po-faced and handily dead so it’s impossible to libel him. Nevertheless this did get me thinking, Paul McCartney knows an awful lot of dead people. Yes he is getting on a bit, but he is not quite sixty four and really these life excpectancies would seem to be very tragic. Let’s look at the list of the obvious ones:

Stuart Sutcliffe
Brian Epstein
John Lennon
George Harrison
Linda McCartney

Now maybe the fella has just been unlucky. All these close associates popping their clogs. But then listen to the relish in which he sings his own confessionary song “LIVE AND LET DIE” and tell me that Ringo Starr has got nothing to worry about.

The Roots’ Sacrifice

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The Roots’ Sacrifice
Previously this Philadelphia Hip Hop crew claimed ‘Things fall apart,’ but with the right attitude the comeback can be miraculous. And it is. Phrenology – the most multi-layered title since “Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age” – is pure organic phunk. Be sure to check out that funkier than James White track ‘!!!!!!!,’ the Roots will RAWK YALL with the loose drums, Nelly Furtado and shoutouts. The dance beat is just there to make the message easier to take, the sound is as political as the words. The drums go back to the plantation, the shoutouts thank everyone from Digital Underground to the DOC. The Roots are aware of their… uh roots and want to make sure you, the listener, learn about it as well. The standout track is – for me at least – Sacrifice. Like all good art, it’s provocative and filled with soundbytes. Do not analyze the lyrics – this isn’t poetry, instead take it in as you dance. The Roots may not always hit the right target – I don’t believe that sacrifice guarantees you a reward – they have managed to worm their way into my top ten of 2002.