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Mar 04

On the right, down below the weblog links

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On the right, down below the weblog links you may now see a box called “Listening to”. This is an agglomeration of FT writers’ listen-to data so you can keep tabs on the yawning chasm between our trendy claimed tastes and the shite we are actually playing. At the moment only me, Alan, and Dave B are playing – if you’re an FT bod and you have a listen-to bug that can be included please let us know! Even if you’re not then you should join the ILE group Alan has set up.

Pitchfork on Bonnie Prince Billy

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Pitchfork on Bonnie Prince Billy: I think the new Bonnie Prince Billy album is quite – no, very – good. It’s re-recordings of his older Palace tracks in a warm, country-rockish style, faintly reminiscent of early-70s Dylan. Having mostly forgotten the old tracks I was able to enjoy the new versions unreservedly. I can quite understand fans not liking the new record, though some of the descriptions I’ve read makes it sound like he’d got Mutt Lange in to produce and Shania on backing vocals – in fact Greatest Palace Music is no more ‘overproduced’ or glossy than that Gene Clark reissue from last year which a lot of people seemed to like. Come to think of it it’s hardly more produced than Oldham’s own previous BPB records.

This reviewer thinks the new record is very bad indeed: fair enough. But the tortuous way he wrestles with this dislike is very odd. The whole piece seems like a good example of simply worrying too much about what artists are thinking. The first paragraph is classic self-denying doublethink: reviewer buys record, loves it, discovers it’s a re-recording of old classics and suddenly realises his error.* The last paragraph offers the frankly bizarre argument that the listener’s “struggle” with the Bonnie Prince Billy record and the realisation that Will Oldham must surely hate his audience is where “this record finds its wisdom and radiance”. I don’t buy it. If it’s an awful record, it’s an awful record** – no need to don the hairshirt and claim that sitting through it is some kind of transcendence!

*I do this sort of thing myself of course, cf. the Pay TV write-up below. I wish I didn’t though. You can’t break free from the things you find out about artists and records but it’s always good to stay as faithful as you can to your gut reactions.

**Luckily it’s not an awful record and is in fact pretty easy to sit through and enjoy. What I’d be really interested in is the reaction of somebody who’d never heard any other Palace records, though.

SASHA – “Hanky Panky”

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SASHA – “Hanky Panky” (aka PopNose5): Sasha is part of a post-Sean-Paul pop-dancehall trend, literally in her case since her big break was on Paul’s “I’m So In Love With You” single. Now, I’m no expert on the economic effects of previous smash-and-grab raids by First World pop corps on Jamaican music but my hope is that this is a Good Thing for all concerned as it means i) more cash knocking about; ii) loads of great pop dancehall on the radio over here; iii) inevitable backlash producing ever newer and more surprising sounds over there. But who knows? It might mean everybody getting ripped off and loads of awful records. This track is good though – as a couple of the comments box people mentioned it’s a bit coyer than a lot of dancehall. Probably this is because Sasha is being groomed for proper pop stardom, but I think it’s kind of charming and it works with the subject matter: if spanking ever was a thrillingly decadent practise it surely isn’t any more, the catchy, cutesy and just slightly naughty “Hanky Panky” is a pop song for a post-Secretary world of furry handcuffs and Cosmo Girl S & M.

Ahem. Sasha’s solo stuff was brought to my notice by ILM stalwart Sterling Clover who started a whole thread on the topic. You can get this track on Riddim Driven – Project X and, who knows, maybe on Sasha’s own album one day soon.

Mar 04

PAY TV – “Trendy Discoteque”

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PAY TV – “Trendy Discoteque” (aka PopNose4): An object lesson in how context can change my reactions to a song. I was recommended this song on a Europop ILM thread by Edward O. I like a bit of Europop, and also it turned out that this track was one of the rejects for this year’s Swedish Eurovision entry. Cool! There is a shady subculture on P2P servers of people trading Eurovision files – I myself have all the winners from 56 onwards, acquired from an ex-editor of The Wire. But there are deeper levels – people sharing every entry and one lunatic/saint who has painstakingly aquired not only the entrants but the songs that didn’t make it through their countries’ preliminary rounds, including UK wannabes back to 1980! Some of these songs no way got a proper release so will have made the arduous journey from TV recordings to MP3s for a select few to admire and wonder what might have been.

When I heard Pay TV in this context I couldn’t help but smile: bubblegum electroclash on Eurovision! It would totally work! Well, it wouldn’t win neccessarily but it would add hugely to the gaiety of the occasion, like the ranting Austrian last year and the people who sang in an imaginary language a la Magma (musically the similarities were fewer). Unfortunately the Swedes thought better of it and Pay TV (great name!) crashed out in the semis. The bit of the record I liked most wasn’t the faux-jadedness – done much better by Komatrohn on “Mirrors And Chrome” and by a thousand others no doubt – but the “ooh! woo!” bits on the chorus which gave me the charming impression that these people were having Real Fun despite all attempts to the contrary.

Then, digging around for this write-up, I made a terrible discovery – Pay TV is in fact none other than house bod Hakan Lidbo and one Ulrike Lidbo. Now, granted, if I was “one of the world’s most prolific tech-house producers” I’d be tempted to throw it over and write a Europop song too, but there’s a strong suspicion that the people recoiling in the comments box from “Trendy Discoteque”‘s smirky irony are right, damn them. Of course maybe the song’s Lidbo-ness will make people like it more – who knows!

(You can buy “Trendy Discoteque” here.)

Mar 04

THE BETA BAND – Heroes To Zeros

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THE BETA BAND – Heroes To Zeros

“What on Eart will they do next?”, Tom asked, on this very site, way back in ’99. If you had told me then that the answer would be “release a straight up indie rock record” five years later, I’d have spit in your eye. Okay, so it’s not as bad as all that. This isn’t Starsailor. Or The Shins. There’s still a certain…weirdness to many of these tracks. But there’s still a feeling in listening that this the straightest thing they’ve ever done, the first thing that hearkens back to an older version of themselves, terra cognita. If I was being kind, I’d say they finally made a record which mashed up all three of their original EPs. If I was being unkind, I’d call it their Hail To The Theif. (It’s an imperfect metaphor, especially since their last album was the tightest, least pretentious thing they’ve ever done. [Certain people, including muggins here, tried to damn it with faint praise later for the same tightness. Wrong: it’s my favorite album of the 00s.])

But “weirdness” was never The Betas primary reason for existing, though glancing through their discography you’d have a hard time proving otherwise. (I certainly wouldn’t hold myself to any of these grand pronouncements in court, for instance.) After all, Kid A and Amnesiac are both “weird”, and people bought them in droves. And there’s nothing the Betas have ever done as “weird” as, say, “Kid A” or “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” that didn’t collapse into stoner wheezing and giggly pointlessness. (Though there’s an argument to be said that the same applies to Radiohead, minus the giggles.) This is their main charm, as much as it is a failing. The Betas’ failings are so inexorably linked with their charms, in fact, that picking them apart seems a fool’s errand at best. They’re too low-key to move Radiohead units. They have no statements, except for perhaps that the rapidly aging generation who grew up in the 80s and 90s is kind of fucked (which makes them no different from just about every other rock band around right now, including Radiohead) and that Wild Honey is superior to Pet Sounds (a slightly more minority opinion). When they’re a joke, they’re a private joke. And when they make your heart soar, you might as well be alone anyway. I can’t imagine going to a Beta Band concert, because I can barely imagine listening to them with more than one person in the room. Who the hell puts on a Beta Band record in a crowded record store, like those gimps in High Fidelity?

In a way, though, Heroes To Zeroes is just another step in the Beta’s continual “fuck you” poke-in-the-eye aesthetic journey from “Champion Versions” on. Having determined they could wallop the then-new wave of post-triphop indie plodders (if you don’t remember them, don’t worry, you’re not the only one), they released an EP so Kraut-addled it was the record Faust should have recorded in the 90s. Having proven they could go “out”, they released an EP so low-key it sounded like a slow, rainy afternoon looped for eternity. Having gone low-key, they released their debut album, a record I love more each time I dig it out, which is not often, because it’s still the stupidest, most simultaneously self-infatuated and self-hating record a band of any stature has made in the 21st century, a record I could never love with a thousand years to listen. Having gone round the bend and stared their demons (and bankers) in the eye, they released the tightest record possible, itself a poke at both the expectations that had accrued around the Band and the context of the time, namely rock being full of neo-garage throwbacks and post-Radiohead bathos and doe-eyed emo and bands for whom the future of “rhythm-in-rock” was to transform it full into hip-hop, down to the sensetive thug date rape lyrics.

And now Heroes. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want 10 more versions of Hot Shots, with it’s luscious R&B-dancehall-hip-hop-indie composite. But anyone expecting that (truly expecting, rather than just wishing) hasn’t been paying attention. It seems slight on first listen, and maybe a little dark. But then all of their records seem a bit slight on first listen. (Hot Shots great ruse was fusing that pop-rhtyhm-tightness with a patina of stoner delirium, like a golden fog, until the songs just sort of washed over you like a kitchen-sink Shek’spere Neu! remix.) And they’re all a bit dark, in their way. But there’s also something undeniably “rock”-y about it. “Assessment”, of course, which is like an indie rock version of filter-disco, looping the guitar from U2’s “I Will Follow” to mantric (if sludgy) effect. But also “Out-Side”, where the video-game-blip-and-distortion middle eight is followed by a (mercifully brief) guitar solo (!) in a recognized post-The Bends stylee. But the more I listen to it, the more I can hear how they disrupt their “songs”: John Denver guitars that sound like loops, stuttering at the end of the bar just to drive the effect home; an incongruous “funk” bassline under a trifle of a pitter-pat indie jaunt; hallucinatory 303 blips; live drums that go all technoid just to wheel back as quickly; an instrumental interlude that sounds like the music they play at rides in Disneyland. It is a pretty weird record, I guess. Face it, Jess, you got suckered too. You just wanted more sleepy eyed 2-step. You got blinded by your preconceptions. Haven’t you been listening to anything they tried to teach you?

Already, this seems like the ultimate sort of “grower”. I can see it sneaking up on me, steadily, until it makes my top 10 by the end of the year. But don’t expect a glowing reversal in six months, a flailing “I was wrong!”. They’ve all been growers. (The odd bit here or there that knocks you sideways the first time you hear it notwithstanding: “She’s The One”, or “Round The Bend” or “Sequinizer” or “Won”). But “growing” can equal “growing away from” too. Right now I’m just gently baffled by it, and that seems the right place to be with the Beta Band, as per.

Worst Prize EVER!

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Worst Prize EVER! Woolworths in Tooting (my most-visited record shop, thumbs up for teleworking) had a refit the other week and relaunched with a special Mother’s Day competition. On entering the shop you were greeted by the huge cardboard face of Dr Fox. If you won their prize draw then your mother would receive, on her special day, “a personal phone call from Neil Fox” (Neil! oh the intimacy!). What kind of monster would do such a thing to their own mother?

(I forgot to blog this last week, oh well.)

KALMAN BALOGH – “Calusul Dance”

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(aka PopNose3): Also in the Fopp £3 only pile was the album I got this from – Songlines Presents World Music: The #1 Tracks From The #1 World Music Albums Of The Year”. It has a very nasty cover on which totally ordinary card has been colourized to give it that speckly pattern you get on recycled paper. I approached it with some nervousness, but as Isabel said “There’s bound to be something you like”. True, true – and this was what sprang out at me on first play so I decided to PopNose it. As for the rest? Some pretty great stuff (a lovely bit of rai from Khaled) and a few shockers, mostly involving the use of ‘loops’ or particularly wholemeal drum’n’bass. I’m no advocate for ‘world music’ staying tied to traditional forms but there’s something very self-conscious and dutiful about the kind of hybrids big WM labels seem to offer, especially when you consider there’s probably a ream of cheap localised dance music being sold on tapes in any market in any world city which never gets compiled or exported.

This Balogh track comes from his Gypsy Jazz album which I will try and track down. He’s playing the cimbalom, the traditional instrument of the Hungarian gypsies. He is also playing it very fast indeed which accounts for a lot of my childish glee when I hear the track. The fact that what he is playing very fast seems to be delightful silent-film chase scene music only goes to seal the deal.

Mar 04

A few songs into my shift

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A few songs into my shift at the Birkbeck end-of-term party a guy came up to the decks. “Do you have a card?” “What?” “I’m getting married this year, I wondered if you had a card, you know, with your mobile on it.” I was flabbergasted! I reckon this is one of the most flattering things that can happen to a pop DJ: asking your mates to DJ your wedding is one thing but a complete stranger – !

Of course a lot of people do just that: the wedding DJ sector seems fairly immune to the music industry’s current travails, and has laughed off the ‘death of dance music’ – as long as human beings have legs they will want to dance to the “Grease Megamix”. I had been thinking earlier in the evening of how one becomes a wedding DJ – it’s something that genuinely appeals to me. It’s a high-responsibility thing to do, keeping a hugely diverse crowd happy and dancing – “diverse” not just in age but in attitude; for some attendees the wedding is one of the most important days of their lives, for others it’s just a booze-up or a bit of a chore. How do you juggle people’s tastes and expectations?

Of course you could just trot out the absolute standards but the difference between an OK pop night and a great pop night is the DJ playing the tunes that you had no idea you wanted to hear but that make you scream with pleasure when they do drop. That’s where the fun is. For the last 45 minutes at Birkbeck we DJed as a team, me on the decks with Steve, Tim, Steve’s Pete and Alix conferring to find the absolute hugest tunes. I also demonstrated the harshest skill in the rent-a-DJ’s armoury – the willingness to play absolute shite because you know it will get a crowd going (“There She Goes” by The La’s – the price of my soul in this case being one pint of session lager).

It was a very good night, all in all – but then any night which starts off with “I Love Horses” and ends up with “Tickle Tune” can be bad.

SOUL DIMENSION – “Trash-An-Ready”

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SOUL DIMENSION – “Trash-An-Ready” (aka PopNose2): I have been able to find out almost nothing about this track! Search parties came back empty-handed save for an offhand reference by the all-knowing Woebot to early hip-hop/dancehall hybrids. What else do I know? It’s from 1987 – I think – and it’s on B-Boy Records, which also put out the early BDP and KRS-One singles. This last is the one fact I’m sure of because the CD it’s from is called The Best Of B-Boy Records, a 2CD set on Landspeed, also it turns out recommended by Woebot and I have to give a hearty nod to that – it’s excellent, vibrant mid-80s hip-hop which puts its most famous tracks (“Strong Island”; “South Bronx”) at the end and you don’t even find yourself looking forward to them. “Trash-An-Ready” is completely atypical of the comp, which is mostly enormous dry drums and splashes of electro. The other amazing thing about the set is that you can buy it for THREE POUNDS in the Fopp Records beg pile: if you live near a Fopp go there NOW and clean them out of it. You can still get it on Amazon too but it’ll cost four times as much.

Anyway, this track. Mike Daddino and I had a chat about it – he thought it was a British MC, I wasn’t sure. I think now it might be, though I’m not sure what such a beast would be doing on an East Coast hip-hop label; maybe Brit-rap hadn’t got its bad rep at this point. Whatever the case the MCing isn’t the most fluent, and the stitching together of the rap bits and the ragga bits is very basic: in fact the ragga bits themselves are pretty obvious, riding a bassline so well known (“Sleng Teng”) that even I recognised it. But it works! It has a rough eagerness about it that I find very charming, and in context it’s both primitive and prescient.

Mar 04

Troubled Diva is playing a game

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Troubled Diva is playing a game comparing ‘this week in pop’ across the decades, with a sort-of megamix for each day. Great idea, well executed. Currently the 1960s are winning: a shame I think as my own pop researches suggest that 1964 wasn’t all that. Mike Troubled (makes him sound like some third-wave punker) wrote to me about this a few days ago and of course I didn’t link to it immediately so you’ve already missed out on some of the fun – sorry readers!