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Mar 05

Music Sounds Better With Evil Corporations

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Music Sounds Better With Evil Corporations

Last night I walked past two major record stores in Boston. As I crossed in front of the Virgin Megastore, they were playing “Hombre” by M.I.A. When I went into Newbury Comics, they were playing Bjork’s singles in one half of the store and some anonymous-sounding, boring guitar band in the other half. At that moment, I desperately wished that Virgin sold comic books because it was blatantly obvious that Newbury Comics had jumped the shark and put itself in a little musical cul-de-sac that refused to acknowledge music after 1997 and I didn’t really want to be in that place; I wanted to run through 2005 with M.I.A. on one arm and Stush on the other.

I found it to be a relatively jarring moment because I’ve been retreating without complaint into musical nostalgia over the past couple of years; I’ve felt little-to-no desire to investigate musical scenes any deeper than what gets presented on MTV and the local ClearChannel radio stations (outside of keeping an eye out for musical endeavors pursued by people I’ve met online), plus I’ve felt almost no desire to buy/download anything that I either haven’t heard before or wasn’t done by an established favorite. Newbury Comics, which (to me) used to be the Boston bastion of forward-thinking tastemaking, seems to have retreated into this shell as well, pandering to the most conservative musical instincts in my body, but as I walked past Virgin and heard those braying, discordant “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY”s ringing out over the street, I felt, I don’t know, alive, like I was about to be transported naked onto a dancefloor with 8 million clones of my wife begging me to dance them into orgasm. Entering Newbury Comics felt like turning my back on a shiny, candy-coated version of TEH FUTUR. Almost every fiber of my being wanted to run into the street, dash over to Virgin and spend my entire paycheck on new imports, like I did in my early 20s. It was a crystallized moment of pure aural-consumer desire the likes of which I hadn’t felt since 2000. Instead, I wandered to the counter with my X-Men book and a copy of Actually and wistfully thought back on the days when I wasn’t old.

I guess it isn’t a big surprise that the big conglomerate would be better at pushing “CONSUME!” buttons than the “plucky-local-kid” conglomerate that still thinks chrome-plated Dr. Martens are the shit, but it’s been YEARS since I’ve felt that overwhelming need to buy music. Even though I’ll probably stay in my hermetic navel-gazing bubble for the time being, it’s nice to know there’s a manic monster in my heart that would like to make a gigantic grime-and-reggaeton jock strap and give me the world’s funkiest wedgie with it.

A big thank-you

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A big thank-you to everyone who came to Poptimism last week – it was a huge success, with over 100 people turning up (I had expected about 60 and sneakily hoped for 80). I do hope you enjoyed it and that if you did you’ll come again.

Mar 05

Great Moments: ‘Mmm Bop’ by Hanson 0:55-0:58

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Great Moments:
‘Mmm Bop’ by Hanson 0:55-0:58

(an occasional series reviewing all of music a few seconds at a time)

(suggested by Pete during Poptimism)

This has a fairly undistinguished start, and the strangulated and weak vocals inspire little optimism. It’s nothing special, until we embark on the chorus, which is just sounds and syllables, but it’s immediately obvious we are hearing a classic bubblegum pop moment, one of those that most of us sing along to joyously while the rest sneer with loathing. But what makes this moment extra special is the addition of an element hitherto unknown in records remotely like this: scratching. Nonsense words are as old as rock ‘n’ roll, awopbopaloobop and so on (and see scat before that), and bubblegum pop was also decades old, but the incorporation of a hip hop technique gives this a strong modernity it might well otherwise lack. On top of that, it has a potent energising effect, and is deployed when we are just climbing to a musical peak anyway, which is perfect timing. And we shouldn’t ignore the appeal of novelty in pop music, the fun of something new, the pleasure of a surprising juxtaposition. I wouldn’t suggest that this would be a mediocre record without the background scratching, but I do think it makes a significant contribution to its greatness. The album offers no scratching credit, but it was the Dust Brothers who produced this, so I presume it’s down to them.

(Outside the parameters of this series, but I can’t resist mentioning my other favourite thing about this record’s success: the stream of indie fans writing to NME et al protesting that they fancied one of the band and then found out it was a boy: the great thing was that these fans thought this said something negative about Hanson, and nothing about themselves.)

Mar 05

…and you will know us by the trail of dead: and the rest will follow

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…and you will know us by the trail of dead: and the rest will follow

They are a real lower case sort of band, a sorta Archers of Loaf/Polvo/Iron Maiden mish-mash. I like this song for three main reasons:

1. It’s an anthem with a marching beat – always a good thing.
2. It has silly melodramatic lyrics about how crappy the world is.
3. It has dolphin noises (dolphins are cleverer than us)

If this was in a Freaky Trigger Pop Music Focus Group (I miss them), I’d give it a 9.


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In “Negotiate With Love”, Rachel Stevens sings:

“The other day you said hello/We had a coffee/Now the next thing I know you’re playing me/Crap”.

Now. Is she saying, “the next thing you’re playing me – crap” – ie her rockist High cvnting Fidelty-esque cockfarmer of a boyfriend has taken her back to his flat for a cup of Kenco only to play her his special remix of the bloody Khazi Cheese and ooh, I don’t know, Interpol or something…


“the next thing you’re playing me – crap” – ie Rachel Stevens is being “played” by a no-good cheating DAWG who only wants her for a bonk and is no doubt two timing her with every other woman on the street – hence the disappointed sentiment of realisation… “aw, crap”.

I personally like to think it’s the former. This is backed up by her later, “could you turn down the track a little bit please” which frankly out Sarahs both Nixey and Cracknell. Rachel – change your name to Sarah, it’s obligatory to be called Sarah if you’re going to be a sultry spoken-word pop queen. (Hey, does that mean I stand a chance at all? Is anyone looking for a female vocalist? I’m your girl). Also – who would play Rachel Stevens?! No-one, that’s who. Don’t be a fool!

Negotiate With Love = song of the year.

Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages No.5 – Wayne Hussey’s willy, London

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Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages
No.5 – Wayne Hussey’s willy, London

I used to be a bit of a goth. No, that’s not true, I used to be a lot of a goth; a suede-booted, black-haired, cross-in-ear, bangle-wristed embarrassment to my parents.

My gig-going days began when the Sisters of Mercy split, a spawn of goth bands scurried from their ashes. Ghost Dance one night, The Mission the next, reborn Sisters at the weekend. There were various establishments where people like me could congregate away from those who wanted to punch us. The Pink Toothbrush in Rayleigh and Prince of Orange in Chelmsford were both places with Snakebite-varnished floors and Nephilim friendly DJ’s, where gothic sub-culture almost looked like a movement. However, these places were merely staging posts on the path to goth enlightenment.

The holy grail of goth pilgrimage was the Intrepid Fox in Soho. In the late eighties acceptance in the Fox (by barstaff, by crimped nutters) meant you had passed your goth finals. The Guinness came decorated with a five-pointed star and the pool reserving system was based more on bullying than leaving a coin on the table. I revisited about a year ago for the first time in a decade. The Fox looked lighter, cleaner and a bloke in a suit sat at the bar. A gang of bikers should have been beating him with a stool, but no. It had changed irrevocably, although the smell of ancient sick still haunted the place.

My finest goth moment came at the Fox. All About Eve were touring their hippygotharse nonsense about harbours and meadows at the Astoria. Post-gig, Wayne Hussey of the Mission sat in the pub with his hairy bandmates. In an interview in that week’s Goth Times he’d complained about the inadequate size of his manhood. In the scrum for his autograph I asked him if it was true. He sighed and scrawled small willy Wayne on my arm in black biro.

So this meeting between the goth singer and the goth fan ends in anticlimax with the former writing ‘willy’ on the latter’s arm. Using the law of diminishing returns (scientifically proven by Cult albums) I think this ends the pop pilgrimage.

I washed my arm a week later when my manager in the Bank of England Financial Markets division asked what the writing under my sleeve was all about.

Mar 05

Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages No.4 – Rachel and James, Manchester

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Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages
No.4 – Rachel and James, Manchester

A different sort of pilgrimage this time. Rachel was a college hanger-on. One of those lost souls who drifts about campus, knows everyone, but doesn’t technically belong there. A rumour surrounded her and excited a lad of my disposition and record collection; Tim Booth of James wrote Come Home about her.

Anyway, she fell into my orbit. This was Manchester. Hang on, it was 1992, this was Madchester and my taste in fashion was curated by Afflecks Palace on Oldham Street. Cool as Fuck t-shirt? Tick. Flares? Sorry, but yes. Tendency to use the word ‘sound’ to convey appreciation? Aye.

So I’m at the Boardwalk one night at (forgive me sweet lord) a Northside gig, when Rachel flashes her lashes in my direction. The band are chugging along in their bowl cuts, playing Conference level indie-dance and saying “fookin’ yeah!” between songs. I tuck curtain hair strands behind my ears. Rachel has a beautiful lilting Irish accent, a voice that sings through sentences. I’m enraptured and better still, I’m in.

So we head back to my digs in the hard-to-find-beauty of Bolton, where the mills that Blake found satanic are just crumbling away, a town living on past glories of looms and spinning mules and where it never stops raining. The house is asleep although upstairs I can hear one housemate, Good Looking Grant, playing Sonic on the Megadrive. She puts a shushy finger to my lips and we retire to the lounge. We drink homemade beer from stained coffee mugs. I try, with subtlety, to confirm the rumour about the James song. This approach is skipped around, so I just blurt it out, “are you the Come Home girl?” She smiles a maybe, says she knows the band well and tells a complicated story about Tim Booth, Attila the Stockbroker and her teenage runaway self. It sounds feasible and before I get the chance to interrogate she kisses me and storytelling for the night is at a close.

She left town a week later and I never did discover the truth. If this sounds too romantic, let me tell you she also got it on with Good Looking Grant before she went.

YES OK I ADMIT IT I like The Bravery

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Or “The Bravery single”. This was the dread revelation that came upon me after buying Now 60, as headphone listening transformed “half-memorable blur on the office radio” into “sharp well-produced pop single”. Web opinion seems to link this lot to the Killers, in a “second-rate” kind of connection. I think this one song is much better than the Killers for the following reasons.

– actually sounds like Duran Duran (i.e. has a kind of pop-funk bassline you could imagine DD using)
– good motorik indiedisco beat
– better use of keyboards to colour same
– does not include the words “I got sold but I’m not a soldier” (yes, I know, this is the 20th time I’ve complained about that on NYLPM but honestly…)
– actual chorus line is plain-speaking aphoristic angst rather than the overly wordy choruses of something like “Somebody Told Me” or “Mr Brightside”
– best Strokes single since “Hard To Explain”
– the whiff of the generic hardly harms them: this song is the sound of new-new-wave (or whatever) worked into a viable and expertly applied pop formula.

Crap singing but you can’t have everything. I will probably hate anything else they put out.

I haf written my first FT essay as such in a while

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I haf written my first FT essay as such in a while — I suspect some will look at it askance. Attempts to talk about things in a broader scale as well as a specific one, so hopefully who the essay is about won’t annoy, well, most everyone. ;-) Might possibly revise and rewrite it, so all suggestions welcome.

Mar 05

Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages No.3 – Athens, Georgia

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REM of course. And the B52’s. And Pylon I suppose, but REM mostly. I’ve wanted to visit for years. I remember old interviews with the band where they raved about the city. I grew up on REM and I stick by them even now, in their run-out-of-tunes twilight.

Athens is technically a city, but with the feel of a town. The vast campus of the University of Georgia sits downtown and the place fans out around it. I could tell it was a university town because I was the only one about at eleven in the morning and, sadly, the only one getting ready for bed come eleven at night.

In Starbucks the barista asked my name. I was caught off-guard and (in typical English reserved formality), I said, ‘Mr Gregory’. This produced behind the counter mirth, “Can I get, ahem, Mr Gregory a tall latte to go, please?” He bowed stiffly as he handed over my coffee and I left in red-faced embarrassment.

Athens has attractive suburbs. Away from the buzz of the university, hilly residential districts hide wonderful homes. I discovered pristine antebellum houses framed by manicured lawns and arcaded porches. There was a tree that owned itself and a great vegetarian grocery, and behind the cash register, the prettiest girl.

I did the REM sites. Weaver D’s Café with its Automatic for the People sign (now placed well out of nicking it reach), Peter Buck’s old house, the 40 Watt club. Outside the club a guy stopped me and introduced himself, “I’m DJ Zee” He was handing out flyers for the weekend with his buddy. He asked if I had heard of him and I said I hadn’t. He looked upset, so I told him I was from England. He relayed this data to his mate who looked thoughtful for a moment, then asked me if I knew someone in Swindon called Kenny.