Posts from March 2003
All signs are pointing towards Exposé lately. This past month definitely; this past week most strikingly. Last weekend I finally upgraded Exposed to CD ($1.99 at the Princeton Record Exchange!). And just yesterday, the best eBay score of my life arrived in the post — my 12-CD Disco Box. The tenth CD’s loaded with all the superb outer-borough synthy latinoid freestyle jams I used to hear on New York’s Hot 97 around ’86 or so. Tracks 14 and 15 are ‘Exposed to Love’ segued into the single remix of ‘Point of No Return.’
Top Five Things Driving Me To Listen to ‘Point of No Return’ Nonstop:
1) The main synth line’s so buoyant and enthusiastic — it’s just a simple downward digression from a minor arpeggio, but every time the keyboardist comes back up to the top note he jumps up and high fives it. Song starts out w/ one bar’s worth of just the chorus riff and an expectant metronomic beat, then the rest comes crashing down, with that riff leading the pack into the first verse as more synth parts are introduced one by one — when the singer’s ready to come in the mood’s all set and the main line drops out, to be reintroduced at the chorus.
2) I’m really beginning to appreciate songs with a ‘circular’ feel — songs with two or three basic elements that pingpong throughout so (while you’re listening) it feels like the tune is its own airtight clockwork timespace continuum. There’s a short bridge section here that would be a monkeywrench if I weren’t so inclined to keep hitting the “back” button every time the song ends — but yeah, like Cat Power’s ‘He War,’ ‘Point of No Return’ has a wonderful sense of claustro-circularity.
3) The moment of perfect discord immediately before the verse resolves to the chorus — as the last, upward-thrusting note of ‘I wanna take you in my arms’ clashes with the other group members’ incidental, distant, almost bored ‘uh-uh-ohhh.’
4) The singing’s nasal, thin, amateurish, and while the projected image is one of posh glamour and iconic, nominal, barely addressed ‘sexiness,’ there’s more fly-gyal ‘Jenny From the Block’ realness here than anything J.Lo’s released since her first single. ‘Point of No Return’ is the sound of the starstruck, driven homegirl shuffling from audition to audition, getting crabs on the casting couch, barely making rent in her pre-gentrified Hell’s Kitchen walkup. (The AMG tells me Exposé were from Miami, but in my fantasies they all grew up in Queens and went to the Fame school.)
5) Ronettes, Eurodisco, new wave, salsa, heavy metal (there’s a guitar solo, and tell me that flangey metallic k.o. before the big finish doesn’t remind you of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’) (rock-dance converges with dance-rock and everyone goes home happy).
Tom’s Top Twelve
Since we seem to be ‘back’, as it were.
KARDINAL OFFISHAL – “Belly Dancer”
SCOOTER – “Weekend!”
AVRIL LAVIGNE – “I’m With You”
HALL AND OATES – “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”
ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS – “Accidents Will Happen”
DIZZEE RASCAL – “I Luv U (Wiley Mix)”
3LW – “No More”
JUNIOR SENIOR – “Shake Me Baby”
XTATIK – “Break”
BARBERA MORGENSTERN – “Kleiner Ausschnitt”
LISA MAFFIA – “All Over”
MAX ROMEO – “Pussy Watchman”
Short, witty, and sharply cut, this is my idea of a good ‘political’ song, which I’m told we need more of right now. Like an editorial cartoon, it makes its point, jogs the memory, and raises a grim smile, and it’s over in two pert minutes of jangles, organ riffs and crisp singing. You could say — maybe you could even sing — ‘the collusion between our establishments and dictators is all the more invidious for having a social element’ — but the Monochrome Set do it more elegantly and catchily. ‘Vroom vroom goes the armoured Cadillac through Montevideo / Rat-a-tat go the submachineguns to restore the status quo / Snip snip go the tailor’s scissors on a suit at Saville Row.’ Elegance may be somewhat of a luxury, though — the song was not a hit.
Andrea Doria-Bucci Bag
House music’s Bilderberg Group met in Miami last week and you can bet that Kissinger (Morillo) and Clinton (Fatboy) will have decided that this track is going to be one of the biggest of the year. It’s certainly one of the biggest electro-house tracks to date, and simultaneously one of the least camp. Bucci Bag is an obvious obvious record. The problem is that it’s only easy to dismiss it as that once or twice. The beat is similar to Silver Screen Shower Scene, though most of the rhythmic hoopla of the latter gives way for a gigantic 4/4 beat with every machine in the studio growling behind it. That wouldn’t be enough though, the real clincher for Bucci Bag is the sample. It rambles on for a while about fake designer clothes (or something, who cares really) and then as the beat drops out the vocal suddenly announces “and I am rrrrrready to rock!”, cue drink spilling and pogoing for the rest of the year.
The eternal trouble with this kind of track is that, while it’s easy to know the idea is about as original as showering in water, it’s still impossible not to be taken in by it. I have no doubt that this equation is the reason house music will never “die”, and the reason talk of a crisis was always slightly loopy. As long as there are camp voices to sample, throwaway cliches to use as the sucker punch for giant childrens tv fx loops, and Miami Music Conferences to tell us what to like, then everything is cool.
Increasingly irrelevant popstar blasts equally dull popstar for using cancer charity gig as a platform for anti-war views, whilst using said criticism as a self-aggrandizing piece of publicity.
Increasingly irrelevant popstar blasts equally dull popstar for using cancer charity gig as a platform for anti-war views, whilst using said criticism as a self-aggrandizing piece of publicity. What is most amusing by this Laim gallagher create-a-quote is how it completely misunderstands part of Coldplay’s appeal. Of course he acts like a bloody student, he was a bloody student and his fans are to one extent or another equally hand wringing (ex-)students trying to balance their consciences in this increasingly complex world. For Chris Martin not to mention his anti-war sympathies, or his free trade bleatings is for him to act out of character. The kids at this gig have come to see Coldplay, not Chris Martin and his mates farting around and it would be an insult top the kids with cancer if they didn’t do the Coldplay schtick. Just as if Oasis yurned up and put in a professional performance with no tantrum, fights or the possibility that someone might not turn up – it wouldn’t be Oasis.
Mind you, that’s a happy thought.
ANTI-POP = PRO-WAR
I find it most amusing that Ms Dynamite has been twitching around, galvanizing the yoof of today to be against war. Why is she called Ms Dynamite then, if she is anti weapons of mass destruction? No, nothing has been more heartening in these dark days than to see a steam roller driving slowly, steadily but surely over a small mountain of Dixie Chicks CD’s. Knowing that in their out of place comments at a UK gig has destroyed all those tiny weapons of aural destruction otherwise slated to take all the edge out of countyr and soundtrack a middle aged man knocking one out to their cover photo.
No, as sad as I am to say it – the war is good for my campaign against all music. It means all sorts of ambiguous records are banned from the radio (Bandages! by Hot Hot Heat – well it is warm in Iraq). Any Gangsta Rap that refers to weapons is suddenly off of our radio – ie all of it. Not only this but high profile musicians seem to think that they have a responsibility to help educate us about the complexities of the New World Order. Which is great because for all the time they are muppeting about on stage explaining why – you know – war is bad, they aren’t making music. And even when they do they have alienated some of their audience for their crass over simplifications. Ah how I long for the days of John Lennon’s bed-in, it was impossible for him to make a record like Destroying All My Fucking Karma when he was under a duvet.
War – what is it good for? Stoping music being made and censorship!!!! Yay!!!!
The notion of The Voice in pop is a long standing Freaky Trigger/NYLPM obsession – just check the archives if you don’t believe me. Little thought seems to be paid to the matching of voice and music once the initial work of forming a band (or grooming an artist) is done. Form follows function, or vice versa. They guys in Creed and Staind sing the way they do because Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder (or the guy from Foreigner) did; you wanna play grunge ballads, go with what works. “Expanding” the role of the voice seems then to either be a dog’s dinner or a very, very slow process of refinement.
So at the one extreme you have someone like the Red Krayola, who believe that any vocal (or more accurately any text) can be matched to any music, Ma(y)oist polemic over cod disco-funk or soulful crooning over nasty garage rock or whatever. Occasionally it works, but more often – like a lot of art rock – it’s like a failed lab report, two solutions suspended between each other. At the other, new styles of singing are really points in a continuum: a direct line can be drawn between Otis Redding and K-Ci & Jo-Jo, although you’d be hard pressed to see it in isolation. (Then there’s the outright experiment – Thom Yorke chopping his voice to fuck-all on “Kid A” – and the inspired one-off – Robert Wyatt’s out-of-time bleached mahogany.)
One of the best features about our much-maligned modern Pick’N’Mix culture is that – with the cycles of recycling shrinking every day – the inspired mutations are sticking out and the lame ones receding into the depths of faddish memory even more quickly than usual. So, as Tom pointed out, DFA finally found a working platform for those parched indie yelps, twenty years after the fact. Bootlegs — essentially being the ephemeral crap of bored middle-class computer geeks — shrink those cycles even further, if not obliterate them altogether. Bootlegs do away with the ‘form follows function’ rules at the outset — usually to their detriment — but they also do away with the continuum, so long dead styles — vocal or instrumental — are suddenly reanimated, given new purpose.
‘Lose Yourself’, in it’s original form, blew it when it determined that Eminem’s rabble rousing AOR rap had to be matched with music as turgid as AOR usually was. This boot reanimates the words — which really are invigorating despite overexposure – by linking three alt-rock instrumentals: Smashing Pumpkins ‘Cherub Rock’, The Cure’s ‘Primary’, and Sonic Youth’s ‘Titanium Expose’. (Which, despite seeming incongruous and ‘wacky’, actually form a rather complex new song: grungey opener, punk-funk bridge, careening avalanche rock ending.) Totally ‘tossed off’, despite the obvious work involved, it magically provides a context — one he or his handler’s never would have seen or had the guts to try – for Em’s most ‘rock’ performance yet, while almost making you forget the whiny gurgling, goth poesy, and beatnik affectations of the originals (as good as they can be.)
I seem to have spent three years of this weblog trying to think of different ways to describe ever drier beats and ever sharper synth lines: R’n’B — even British R’n’B, who’d have thought it! – just keeps getting uglier and uglier and more and more synthetik and I still love it. ‘All Over’ doesn’t get going until Lisa goes patois – her voice gets richer, gains authority, and when the chorus comes back I’m suddenly feeling it more. ‘LIIII-suh! Maffia!’ yell the throaty backups as the beat shudders and jabs in place. ‘Remember I told ya, I’m a sold-ya!’ (Oh right? So why aren’t you in Umm Qasr? The first casualty of war is metaphor.)
But it’s a good track, the best and hardest So Solo Crew yet. And it’s a wonderful pop world where we can take this kind of jitter and scrape so absolutely for granted as chart music. Long live nastiness.
The admirable: Madonna’s thinking big, and she’s working through a sound not playing magpie. It’s a pretty individual sound, too: Madonna’s time-smoothed voice, funkless rhythm’n’blips from Mirwais, and soothing shots of more trad instrumentation if the audience gets fractious (acoustic pluck here, strings on the Bond theme). I like that she’s exploring this particular patch, and so far it’s paid off – most of her recent singles have sounded queasy on first listen and got steadily better.
So the risk-taking’s changed up, from music to concept — ‘American Life’ is a big title, like ‘Music’. This is an Event Record, it says, and I like that too. But Event Records have a tendency to be damp squibs (think about what you wanted Eminem’s ‘White America’ to be, and what it was) and for all its production muscle ‘American Life’ footles around, limps through its chorus and leaves its payoff to the last minute when Madonna does a rap.
She can’t rap, of course, but American life and ‘American Life’ is all about a sense of entitlement, the right to do anything even if you can’t. The rap is a litany of luxuries, funny and forceful, rhyming pilates and hotties and latte and shot because nobody’s there to stop it, and when the list speeds up and ‘You know I’m satisfied’ becomes a howl of ‘Do you think I’m satisfied?’ it sounds like a monster who could swallow the world. My desire is so voracious I’m gonna eat your nation-state.
Not great but worth hearing, in other words.
Can you pick your favourite from the Time Out Pub Of The Year competition? Oddly much of the publog regulars are in a position to take part this year having been to almost all of the pubs (and come on, how can a pub in Greenwich win). We are currently torn between the Seven Stars off of Fleet Street and the Swimmer (more on which coming soon). As a trad run-down but servicable boozer the Seven Stars wins hands down. Centre of town, good beers. Unfortuantely full of lawyers which lessens its charms a touch, and too poky to get a truly comfortable pint in exceppt mid afternoon. The Swimmer on the other hand is a revelation for the area it is in – the Holloway Road has suffered from no decent pub syndrome for quite some time now. There is something a tad too clean about the place at the moment, but very friendly, knowledgeable bar staff plus a fantastic selection of beers nudges it above the average.
One question though, both of these pubs seem to do pretty serviceable food – almost up to gastropub level. Yet the food’n’drink awards also have Best Gastropub as a seperate catagory. I’m sure there is a proper definition between the two – but surely the point of the gastropub is to blur the line twixt pub and restaurant. Which both The Swimmer and the Seven Stars do.