New York London Paris Munich

Dec 05

Eeny meenie miney mo, which way you wanna go?

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This really is the last NYLPM post.

If you’ve enjoyed NYLPM, you might also enjoy:

– the NYLPM archives, which will be staying up.
– the rest of Freaky Trigger, which will sail on unaffected, though with fewer overall hits most likely.
Popular, which restarts tomorrow with Chris Farlowe and will continue chronologically through the UK’s #1 hits.

So I will be spending 2006 on holiday in the late 60s and early 70s, but will still write a bit about music on various LiveJournal communities, and hopefully one or two things for the Stylus webzine. (If you have a music zine and you’d like me to write something, ask me.)

Meanwhile there are lots of other music blogs. When we started NYLPM in March 2000 there were about three, now there are thousands! Millions! Naturally I don’t actually read any of them but if I find a good one I might update this post with the links. Poke around on the sidebar in the meantime.

Happy 2006, 2007 and ever after. Bye!

I wanna dedicate it, everybody made it

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This is the last NYLPM post*.

After five and a half years, 3,500 posts and something like forty contributors I’m pulling the plug on this blog. Once upon a time it was the best music blog in the world, more recently it was just something nice to have around, and even if its best days are some years behind us, a hunt through most of its 70 archived months will turn up something worth reading – a review, a snippet of information, an idea or two ready to be picked up on. I may well hunt through myself sometime, and point you to the best bits.

I’m ending NYLPM because – as should be pretty obvious – I’ve no use for it anymore. Readership has been declining, and it’s been declining because the blog has been neglected, and the blog has been neglected because ultimately I’m bored with writing about music in this format. I dabbled in MP3 blogging to spice things up but my heart was never really in it. When I got back from the EMP conference earlier this year I’d had three days of really stimulating conversation about music, I’d heard some fascinating papers, and I realised I no will or desire to write it all up here. So this cancellation is overdue, but I’m still very proud of NYLPM, in its heyday and after.

This blog was never just a solo effort, and my decision to kill it off is a rather selfish one. Apologies and thankyous to Mark, Pete, Martin and Anthony, who were the most regular current contributors. And mighty thanks to Mike Daddino, Ned Raggett, Dan Perry, Maura Johnston, Fred Solinger, Tim Finney, Sarah C, Tim Hopkins, Dave Raposa, Sundar Subramanian, Jess Harvell, Stevie Nixed, Carsmile Steve, Jel, Marcello Carlin, Dr Alex T, Alan Trewartha, Robin Carmody, Greg Scarth, Tracer Hand, Steve Mannion, Stevie T, Jim Cassius, Peter Miller, Mike G, Ronan Fitzgerald, Andy Kellman, Mitch, William Bloody Swygart, and anyone else who contributed and who I shamefully forgot. And thanks to the linkers, commenters and readers too. It’s been a real pleasure and I hope you remember us fondly.

*but one.

Dec 05

A Top Ten

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Oddly enough I’m feeling happier about music, and writing about music, than I have for a couple of years. 2006 is going to be a treat: I want to get there quickly, not look back.

So I got a machine to look back for me. I was a late iPod adopter but it’s come in useful, and it has a neat little feature which counts up how often I’ve played each track on it. So this Top 10 is quite simply the ten current tracks I’ve listened to most. I left out one record – Inaya Day’s “Nasty Girl” – because it was on my wife’s playlists more than mine – but otherwise this seems an accurate half of a story.

That half of the story happened in my living room, and among my fellow message-board co-dependents. The other half happened away from headphones, further out in the world, finding or rediscovering or refreshing places for music to happen to me. Places like:

– Seattle, for the EMP conference. Jetlag and a hectic schedule meant I didn’t spend as much time with the people I met as I’d planned, but the event reminded me how exciting thinking about music can be (and also how boring it sometimes is).

– My office. I’m lucky enough to work with people who I actually like, and who like music enough to argue with me about it. Working there has made me explain things I’d dismissed as obvious and like things I’d simply dismissed. I’m also lucky enough to work at a place that has the radio on all day. Maybe it’s obvious – to everyone but me-as-was – but listening to the radio makes you a better pop critic.

– Poptimism. I’ve been DJing at club nights for a few years but Poptimism was the one that ‘clicked’, won its own crowd, and turned briefly into something special. To have it suddenly taken away was more than just irritating, but even if we don’t find a new venue in ’06 (and we will), it was a joy to do it, to give physical meaning and expression to our ideas about music, and to get ghastly drunk on cheap wine. Thanks to Steve, Pete and Alan, and thanks to everyone who came and joined in too.

10. Uniting Nations – You And Me: In Feburary I played for 300 or so people at my work company party. It was corny white-collar fuxx like me dancing badly to predictable records, but that didn’t make the delight we all took in filter-disco floorfillers any less glorious. “You And Me” hadn’t been released then but it makes me think of that night when the double-hit drums come in for the chorus.

9. tATu – All About Us: So the lesbian stuff turned out to be a (very profitable) metaphor for indivisibility, the suffocating dangerous closeness of a hyperbolic teenage friendship. The kind of desperate friendship which even as a teen you probably didn’t have but one could recognise anyhow. One of those records that makes me imagine that I might be in a film and that it might end, thrillingly, badly.

8. Field Music – You Can Decide: A song I was surprised to find on the list, I assume I listened to it a lot for Stylus’ Singles Jukebox UK, trying to find an angle. I probably failed and gave it a 6. Stylus gets a good deal of online flak for many reasons – some good – but I’m grateful to it for letting me write uncomplicated silly singles reviews when I needed to. Field Music as I remember make a gentle, slightly fastidious noise which is difficult to dislike or love.

7. Roll Deep – The Avenue: The vibe here is a pop musical, Summer Holiday or something, big characters bursting into rhyme just because they can. At first it sounded ridiculous and clumsy but it seems to have lasted just through exhuberance. “Feel a sharp pain in my left tit” – that’s the best bit.

6. Madonna – Hung Up (Stewart Price Extended Remix Dub): this is the best version, you get more of the ABBA (make that sample pay its way!) and less of the Madonna, which is how I like it. And Price makes the ABBA record tease in a way which is enjoyably un-ABBA-ish. I’ve only heard the Madonna album once but it reminds me of the ‘song-poem’ phenomena somehow.

5. Robyn – Konichiwa Bitches: I was sure Fannypack’s “718” would end up here, since I’ve been glibly saying it’s my favourite song of the year, but apparently far from it. “Konichiwa Bitches” nods to Fannypack in its closing lines and sounds like a charming home-brewed tribute to pop-hop. It got so many listens because of its payoff, when Robyn finally brings in the synths. It also became a huge cult favourite at work, which made me very pleased.

4. Missy Elliot – Lose Control (Jacques Lu Cont Mix): This is my wife’s favourite record of the year, and I played it even more in our car. She likes the opening couplets – “Cute face / chubby waist / thick legs / in shape” – I like the way Jacques Lu Cont has been so ruthless at stripping out Missy’s old-skoolisms for something more Euro-relevant, a sleek synthpop attack with a rough bootleg edge.

3. Rachel Stevens – Nothing Good About This Goodbye: I’ve listened to this track most because it’s Rachel’s best performance. So many people have mentioned her lack of personality that it’s become a cliche but it works in her favour here – she needs to sound bruised, subdued, slightly crushed, and she does.

2. Girls Aloud – “Biology”: If the year were a few months longer we’d see “Models”, “Wild Horses” et al. on the list too. “Biology” is a hard track to do justice to – its infectious confidence lets it get away with its structural chutzpah, and the tricks and easter eggs never get in the way of the song’s momentum. I especially like how the brazen blues intro is the part that repeats later, dropped in as if to say, “Well, now do you see what it was doing there?”. This is a walking through London song, I try and make sure it’s the last thing playing when I reach the pub.

1. The Killers – “Mr Brightside (Thin White Duke Remix)”: I was surprised to see this top my list but it makes sense – I listened to it incessantly when I heard it, and rarely switch it off now, it’s made the switch from inspiring to comfortable without ever slipping through ‘annoying’. When I started my new job the original “Mr Brightside” was barely off the radio and I grew to hate it, for reasons I can’t remember. All I hear now when I think of the original is what this remix found in it, qualities I’d hardly noticed myself. The remix slows it down, lets it flower into an epic of self-regarding heroic woe, vanity in vain, which might only be a stately bore but the beats give it just enough momentum and direction. It ends up in some unsought sweet spot between “Jungleland” and a ZTT 12″.

So that’s what I listened to this year.

Dec 05

Is there even a word for it

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There are lots of warning signs in pop: many of them can be easily paraphrased as “You Are Now Leaving Pop”. Getting in orchestras, concept albums, sacking the entire band*. But certainly when you find out that your favourite band has made “too much good music to fit on to one album”, you know the words double album are not far away. And there are very few great double albums. At least very few which could not be boiled down to a much better single album.

Now Chris Rea has not been pop for a very long time. But who knew that when leaving pop your compass can go so awry to end up in a truly audacious position. You see Chris’s latest project is so much more than just a double album. It puts The Clash’s Sandinista in the shade, if the individual elements are built into a wall. Chris’s new project : Blue Guitar : is an elevenuble** album. 11CD’s of music. And a DVD in case.

I would say hats off to Mr Rea for such an astonishing production. But I have to get it for my Dad for Christmas.

*Of course like any rule, there are occasions when these have been the best thing ever.

**Not a real word clearly.

Dec 05

The Afterlife Of Pop

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Frank Kogan’s Real Punks Don’t Wear Black is a devastatingly good book. The first evening I read it I found that it shook me up a lot – I recognised the ideals and ideas Frank was chasing, even if I couldn’t have articulated them, and I was ashamed of my own inability to follow then. Not that Frank is appealing for ‘followers’. Not that I want to ‘follow’ him. But the first chapters made me feel tentative and timid. After that initial cold splash, the rest of the book has been exhilarating: I’ve been reading it in a more positive mood, feeling stimulated and inspired. I’m not sure I’m ready to respond yet to the ideas in the book – either intellectually or by example (though the rest of this post has turned into a partial response).

Partway through the book, in the chapter discussing “Superwords”, I get quoted, a quote from this odd piece, which I’ve not dared read since I wrote it. My reluctance was based around my never finishing it – I never wrote the subsequent parts, and after a couple of weeks I’d forgotten what was meant to be in them. I was also afraid I’d read it again and think it was wrong – which I now do, but it’s not wrong in any terrible or humiliating way so I don’t know why I was so fussed.

The ‘death of pop’ piece sits as one of my most grievous examples of that Kogan bugbear, not following through ideas. I’m never sure how seriously I take this – I think a lot of ideas are un-follow-through-able, or rather than if you try to follow them through you get ground down and tired, so it’s better to just spray them out and see if anyone else can do anything with them. This was always a guiding notion behind ILM, which I actually started half-based on a description I’d read of a Frank Kogan zine (its other parent was the “Question of the Month” box on 80s Marvel editorial pages). But maybe when I say “better” I simply mean “more fun” or “lazier”.

This actually ties in a bit with what I was talking about in the Death of Pop piece. The bit I like most in the piece now is the section near the end about stage magic and pop existing in the same precarious showbiz state. In stage magic, pretending that it’s all for real (i.e. that you actually possess supernatural powers) is seen as vulgar or a cheat; showing the wires is also frowned upon. A magic performance, in other words, is an idea that refuses – or cannot survive – a follow-through. Somewhere in the tangle of the article I’m suggesting a similar thing about manufactured pop.

Except stage magic is – or used to be, I don’t know enough about how it works these days – a stable form where this refusal is built-in and understood by performers and to an extent by audience. Pop is unstable, judging by the continual movement of its performers towards perceived autonomy and credibility (which very rarely translates to achieved cred). The ‘death of pop’ I was getting worked up about four years ago is always with us, a constant career trajectory. So the question is: why? And also – to paraphrase a question Frank Kogan asks a great deal – what do the performers gain by that? What does the industry gain? What do we listeners gain?

Dec 05

Christmas Bonus

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Christmas Ain’t Christmas, New Year Ain’t New Year, Without The One You Love – heartbreak Christmas soul, upped here because of snarl-ups on the Poptimists Advent Calendar.

Dec 05

Chemistry: First Impressions

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I have purposely avoided a) downloads b) reviews of this record, so my apologies to anyone whose observations I have unconsciously bitten. Here we go, with my as-it-happens write-up of the new Girls Aloud album.

Intro: Gone in a flash, sets the tone for a fast, trashy record.

Models: Something faintly Sleeper-ish, Transvision Vamp-ish about it, despite the electro overtones, very choppy, speedy, tacky, aggressively fun. You’ll have to be in the right mood for it.

Biology: Becoming my favourite single of the year, current favourite chunk: the “closer closer” bit.

Wild Horses: C&W overtones, Xeno-nonsense lyrics, now this is sounding like the grown-up Daphne And Celeste album. Some kind of science experiment to see how overstuffed a song can be with hips and still hang together? Anyway I’m lovin this one.

See The Day: OH NO!!!!!!! Worse by some distance than “I’ll Stand By You”, a weak song hugely overdone and aurely the only thing on here you can imagine S.Cowell really approving of.

Watch Me Go: SKA INFLUENCE! Saucy lyrics midly undermined by toffee-chewing lead vocal. And then YES!! A GA rap, about stripper vicars, so if this IS a Britpop album this must be Mansun.

Waiting: More Britpop ‘guitar’ ‘strut’, OK make that Stray Cat Strut, a slightly more downbeat and less exciting sequel to “Love Machine”, still pretty good but no highlight. Goes on longer than its hook deserves.

Whole Lotta History: The frustrating thing about GA’s Xmo cover ballads isn’t “oh god it’s a ballad”, only fools “don’t like ballads” after all. It’s that their writers are really good at doing pop ballads – delicate, touching songs with great choruses that will end up glued to my headphones when I’m feeling maudlin coming home after a night on Binge Drink Britain’s tiles.

Long Hot Summer: Well-placed on the album, though still GA’s weakest ‘good’ single, some really nice little blips and bleeps behind the pre-chorus though and the coda is satisfying. It is probably the most dancefloor-ready thing here so far: this is not a bangin’ album.

Swinging London Town: Very odd and I’m not sure if it totally works, again on the “if it’s a Britpop album” tip with a Pulp comparison, the weird spoken-word parts of Wicker Man or Sheffield Sex City springing to mind, undermining – but maybe creatively – the boshin electro bits.

It’s Magic: Not a Pilot cover sadly. I’m enjoying this but not loving it, a little too diffuse to make an impact though some good “synthwork” I guess. Maybe I’m just getting a little knackered by the effort of listening to a whole album, it’s been months!

No Regrets: Back in balladland, this isn’t anywhere near as poor as “See The Day” but is actually a bit under-produced, can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a stark drum-pad confessional or something more Manilow and falls between two stools.

Racey Lacey: A song that will hugely annoy many people, sounding as it does like Geri Halliwell doing Great Escape era Blur.

Overall: Mildly disappointing, even though there’s nothing dreadful apart from “See The Day” it feels like a weaker record than Neighbours, busier but less surprising and charming. “Biology” and “Wild Horses” total winners though.

Dec 05

The FT Top 100 Songs Of All Time No. 71

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Jay-Z – “The Takeover”

Joe M says:

The Jay-Z attack on Nas in ‘Takeover’ is a masterpiece because he acknowledges that Illmatic was a great album, and even that another unspecified Nas album was insert equivocal hand-wavering gesture here okay. Then he adds “That’s a one hot album every ten year average”. This is pretty much the accepted wisdom on Nas: that he made one of the best debuts in hip hop history and never achieved that level of quality again. Saying this, rather than saying “You are shit in every way” as some rappers are prone to do on diss records, made at least a large part of Jay’s attack on Nas very hard to refute.

Andrew F says:

(The Takeover is) a near-perfect diss record, through disrespect into dismissal. Where most rappers come up with a good insult or two and off to the studio, this is pleasingly thorough, covering the target’s past, sexuality, street cred, business sense and basic rapping ability (“Yeah I sampled your voice, you were using it wrong”). It’s magnimanious in victory – Jay-Z has no problem saying that Nas has released two great albums, as long as he has made more and greater. And still, better to be the target of all this than the multitude brushed aside in the last line.


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It’s been dark at 4 in the afternoon here, and I have been doing mostly admin work at home lately. I just came back from the hospital, I’ve been feeling sad,cold, ambiguous, lonely…Intensely lonely.

I don’t think its possible to write about how bad near arctic winters are. Edmonton is one of the most northerly cities in the world, and even with the lack of snow, and the relative mild weather, it’s isolating.

50 years ago, people close to hear would travel for card games and never come back (there is a Sinclair Ross story about this). infastructure came with industry and the military, but it still feels wild. It’s dangerous in a way that is more elemental then anything else–and its danger is in the stillness, the darkness.

There is no drama to the death from exposure.

Thinking about all of this, a month before Christmas, I put on Mathias Goene’s volume of Schubert’s Winterreise. Going through what seems proper for the cold—a sort of Winter Death Mix, you could have Dylan’s Visions of Johanna or Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire or The Huron Carol or certain versions of certain hymns (the strange melancholy of Silent Night, the literalness of In The Bleak Midwinter) But nothing matches the melancholy of being alone in the cold like Schubert.

Goene is new, German, and his role has some controversy, because he’s much more somber then his predecessors, and much darker. He adds timber and complexity to an artist who is mostly known for basically sweet candy. I know this is supposed to be a pop music blog, and this is not pop (and I am not going to insult you by saying Lieder was the pop of the 19th century.) but its important, vital even, to have gravity when gravity is called for.

This is as dark as the grave, and cold as the ground (in the words of Blind Willie McTell)

(The text of the Lieder written by William Mueller is here , with translations)

Hyperion is selling Winterreise as part of their Schubert collection, for about 13 pounds.

Dec 05

THE FT Top 100 Tracks of All Time No.72

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Is it lame to like a song because it has Wee in the title. Of course not. Luckily, that is not the real reason why Wee Rule, well, rules. Though my description of why Wee Rules rules is partially about the idea of “ruling” in a UK slang kind of way. UK rap was still in its very nascent form, and this – along with Smiley Culture – defined (for better and worse) what we were going to get from the UK rap scene for ten years. Often it was quick snatched verses over a pop track. Or a slow, sonambulent Jazzy B stab at something credible. What We Rule does, in a minor sense, is bring it back to the playground.

You would not hear Run DMC saying that they rule. Or that they were skill. The Wee Papa Girl Rappers were clearly British, albeit leaning on dancehall roots. They were not an Althea And Donna for the late eighties though, this was clearly rap. And it managed to slip French swearing on to Top Of The Pops (and even point out it was doing it). It was a pop tune though, and probably led to more school projects where you write a rap about crossing the road. The Wee Papa Girl Rappers (one letter away from being the Twee PGR) told us they were rap, and were just a cheeky pair of South London girls (who have passed their French exams).

All this and the “Bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp” in the chorus: one of those killer stings that roots a tune in your brain for the rest of your life. The Lawrence girls may not have done much more, but were clearly paving the way for Mel & Kim and TLC (though both groups would probably have been able to traverse an unpaved road).

Alright, it does have Weein the title too. That is a bit funny.