3
Apr 22

Omargeddon #29: Xenophanes

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Despite the fact that I haven’t listened to an actual, physical CD in many years, a select few hold an almost talismanic power over me. Unfortunately, after various flat-decantings over the years, my once-alphabetised CD collection has become considerably un-Kondo-ed; after the last one, I realised to my dismay that I cannot currently locate Old Money. This is fine; I’ve bought it from Bandcamp because of the very real possibility that it might randomly vanish off Spotify, but I did a little cry anyway. I hate losing shit, and I wouldn’t have donated it to the chazza, so it must be some-fucking-where, and I really need to know where it is, dammit! 

It also happens to be part of what I consider to be the musical holy trinity of Omar Rodríguez-López albums: Old Money, Cryptomnesia, and Xenophanes. They have a particularly cherished place in my heart because they were the first ORL solo albums I ever heard and marked the beginning of my ongoing love affair with his music. It’s also worth noting that all three were gifts from top-quality human and my partner-in-silliness, Glynnis. 

I’ve been dying to gas on about Xenophanes since I started this project but found myself continually kicking it into the long grass. Like Cryptomnesia, this is another Mars Volta-down-another-pant-leg-of-the-Trousers-of-Time album (even Thomas Pridgen, who was the Mars Volta’s drummer at the time, assumed he was recording for that band). Also like Cryptomnesia, it’s very dense, with layers I’m still parsing through after more than a decade. But I hadn’t realised until fairly recently that it’s also a concept album. And what a concept!

16
Jan 22

Omargeddon #28: Minor Cuts and Scrapes in the Bushes Ahead

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There comes an inevitable moment during every long, pointless passion project when a person begins to seriously question why it seemed like such a good idea. I passed this point during the first lockdown, when, like many others, I was both fascinated and horrified by the seemingly constant stream of images showing previously busy and now totally abandoned locales and watching the daily statistics increase exponentially. I was also job-hunting during this time, which is never fun at the best of times, and all I could think of to distract and cheer myself up was the utter pointlessness of Omargeddon. I concluded that the said pointlessness of the project was actually very the reason for doing it and powered on. And then probably bought more scented candles from Etsy. 

The source of my power is like a delusional Prius that runs on a battery charged by magical thinking and is propelled with the petrol of bloody-mindedness. Magical thinking dictates that the closer I get to finishing, the more new material will surface. As The Clouds Hill Tapes came out in 2020, it gives me hope that there will be something new this year. As for bloody-mindedness, I’m convinced this mindset has fuelled most things great and small and that this is actually a virtue. 

And whilst sometimes nearing the finish line feels more like a stick than a carrot, it does help to cross Minor Cuts and Scrapes in the Bushes Ahead off the list. It’s the last of the ‘extremely difficult’ albums – that is, the ones that hurt my teeth when I think about them and almost certainly exist solely just because they can. Presumably also, drugs. Lots and lots of them, and unfortunately, none of them were shared with me. But as of right now, I’m just over halfway through the series and soon to arrive at the sunlit uplands. Right? Yes! I love my delusional Prius! There’s room for a shit-tonne of emotional baggage without sacrificing passenger space (my delusional Prius is an estate car / station wagon, because I may be crazy but I’m still deeply practical). 

To be fair, like Omar Rodríguez-López & Jeremy Michael Ward, Minor Cuts was initially a friends-only minidisc that got a formal release in 2008. And like that collaboration, this is an experimental soundscape featuring the late Jeremy Ward, and with the addition of Marcel Rodríguez-López on drums. You can guess how excited I wasn’t to give this a spin, and so I procrastinated for ages. 

2021: Grandson Of Poll!!

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Writing this proved to be an extremely slow process for all sorts of tedious reasons, but here are my notes on DAY 3 of the 2021 poll. Now long since completed but you can listen along on YouTube here – some true greats in this stretch.

 

Day 3 – 5 Discoveries

  • BLACK DRESSES – “PEACESIGN!!!!!!!!!!”
  • PAULI THE PSM – “I Got The Beat”
  • SERPENTWITHFEET – “Same Size Shoe”
  • TOKISCHA et al – “Yo No Me Voy Acostar”
  • ZAKES BANDWINI & KASANGO – “Osama”

Qualifier 13

LIZZO ft CARDI B – “Rumors”: Like Lil Nas X, Lizzo is going for a walking-event model of pop stardom, and like Lil Nas X that also means downplaying the rapping a bit in favour of big theatrical hooks. The best bit of this for me is Cardi’s brief cameo, everything else feels a bit overcooked.

CAROLINE POLACHEK – “Bunny Is A Rider”: Skeletal, cryptic electro-pop which reminds me a bit of (last year’s winner) Christine And The Queens. It’s the first Polachek thing which has connected at all with me, and it’s still so aloof I want to keep my distance a bit. But it’s good.

MANESKIN – “Zitti E Buoni”: On the night I was keen for these glam/funk rockers not to win Eurovision, but with hindsight it was probably the most interesting outcome…? That doesn’t make it an interesting song, tho, and without the context/contest there’s not a lot to this. Also the knowledge that there are bands like this pushing their RHCP styled rock in every corner of Europe makes me fear this is Not To Be Encouraged.

ELLE KING & MIRANDA LAMBERT – “Drunk”: I like the rhythm on this, the chorus is big and obnoxious enough to work, and I like that there’s no real ‘moral’ expected here. But I’ve also got to be honest and say, noisy drunks are the worst part of drinking, so kick them out.

8
Jan 22

2021: Son Of Poll!

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Thanks to getting Covid (again!) I’ve made only slow progress on the poll track write-ups – in fact I only finished this selection after all the matches ended (oops). YouTube playlist here:

Here they are though! 

Day 2 – 5 Discoveries:

  • Anderson Neiff etc – “O Neiff Me Ligou”
  • Burial – “Dark Gethsemane”
  • Mon Laferte & Gloria Trevi – “La Mujer”
  • Shannon Lay – “Rare To Wake”
  • Young Dolph ft Key Glock – “Aspen”

Qualifier 7

BTS – “Butter”: One thing about being out of touch is understanding broadly why a sound is popular but not getting what the most popular examples are doing right. Why BTS precisely? Why Dry Cleaning? It’s not that there even is an answer, just that you’ve lost the skill to convincingly post-rationalise one.

GIRL IN RED – “Serotonin”: A song about the mechanics of depression which works better for avoiding metaphor and just being as blunt as possible, quite frankly.

HALSEY – “You Asked For This”: Good songwriting & catchy but I found all the shoegazey surges a bit mannered, maybe it feels like it misses the point of texture to suborn it to song like this? Not sure.

SUECO – Paralyzed: Nu metal pop which sounds unpleasantly like the times Busted tried to be serious. 

4
Jan 22

2021: The Poll!

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Here are my listening notes/capsule reviews on the first day of this year’s round-up poll. If you want to take part the polls are here and there’s a link to the Spotify playlist too.

5 Discoveries from Day 1:

  • Arooj Aftab – “Mohabbat”
  • NCT Dream – “Hello Future”
  • Noporn – “Geleia De Marango”
  • RXKNephew – “American Tterroristt”
  • Sorry – “Cigarette Packet”

Qualifier 1

Lil Nas X – “Montero”: Who is saying we should separate the music from the video/persona/marketing? Lil Nas X surely isn’t. If you insist on doing so, it’s flimsy but still audibly a hit.

Ashnikko ft Princess Nokia – “Slumber Party”: Sounds like it’s been mastered for super cheap speakers, or maybe it’s just that I’m listening to it on super cheap speakers. One way of working out what Lil Nas X does well is looking at someone who is doing kind of similar things visually and conceptually but ends up not as entertaining, and here she is.

City Girls – “Twerkulator”: Entertaining Planet Rock tribute about bums. A bit Benny Hill but probably the track I’d most rapidly play again in this group. I’m a creature of habit.

St Vincent – “Pay Your Way In Pain”: This is alright but dissolves in a snowstorm of Scary Monsters style pseudo-alienating production choices.

6
Dec 21

The FT Annual Between New Year And Christmas Pub Crawl – the Oxford Circus Wobbly Staircase

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POSTPONED UNTIL THE 19th FEBRUARY.

All details below correct for the new date

After a year off for some reason or other (the online pub crawl was lovely but not this), here is  the 22st Annual Between Christmas and New Year Pub Crawl (ABCANYPC).

And this event is tentative, subject to changing rules and just my feel on how safe any of this might be (I myself may miss it being subject to quarantine rules returning from Spain). Its a friendly gathering, its not about drinking, pop in and pop out as you wish and don’t get in anyone’s face.

Map Of FT Crawl

Now on the 19th February

Anyway looking at the map, and seeing what we have and haven’t done, there is a furtive line around Oxford Circus and Soho which hasn’t been plucked – and so I give you

The Oxford Circus Wobbly Staircase

3pm The Phoenix

4pm The Finery

4.45pm The Argyle Arms

5.30pm The Clachan

6.15pm The White Horse

7pm The Shaston Arms

8pm The Old Coffee House

All are interesting architecturally, very easy to get to and out of. So watch this space, but hopefully I’ll see you there… Unless – you know – quarantining.

15
Nov 21

Omargeddon #27: Birth of a Ghost

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On 5 May 2017, I took another step into my fifth decade. The celebrations began with a massive brunch, the centrepiece of which was a ridiculous freakshake, because 2017. Then I met some of my chums in the pub and then had another restaurant meal for dinner. It was great, and I enjoyed myself hugely, but at the time it didn’t feel like a spectacular birthday. 

I’ve now massively revised my opinion, especially compared to this year, when the thrilling festivities consisted of a flat viewing that was eventually cancelled, eating a snack in the West Norwood Crematorium gardens before torrential rain started, and playing Animal Crossing for the rest of my life. Still, that day was itself a considerable improvement on 2020’s birthday, which was dedicated to a job interview followed by a counselling session. I did get the job, but you don’t hear me not complaining. 

To return to the memory of funner birthdays: 2017’s birthday was a corker to be sure, aptly soundtracked by the first At the Drive-in album in 17 years. I missed out on the 2012 reunion tour, but to be honest, I don’t especially regret that, since it was reportedly fraught with tension and ended with another acrimonious split. So the do-over of the do-over tour was itself astonishing, but the accompanying release of Inter Alia felt like some kind of a miracle.

Unsurprisingly, Birth of a Ghost, released the same day, was eclipsed by this news. I felt extremely privileged to get two ORL presents for my birthday and gave this one a metaphorical spin first, since the title reminded me of my favourite Wilco album A Ghost is Born. On the surface, this classical album is a fairly left-field offering, but upon reflection there are lots of orchestral influences across the ORL oeuvre, most notably in the Morricone-influenced movements of Frances the Mute and, tangentially, some of his electronic music. 

26
Sep 21

Omargeddon #24-26: Omar Rodríguez-López Group (live albums)

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During the acute phase of the pandemic last year, I noticed quite a few demo albums were dropping into my Spotify feed. As much as I enjoy partaking in a kind of VH1 Behind the Music-style history lesson, I’m sure it was a direct result of musicians desperately scrambling to raise enough coin to maintain an existence in the absence of touring. This year, my feed has increasingly nudged me towards a plethora of live albums; it seems like every week there’s a new Pixies show available. Now that going to gigs is viable again, I find that I’m still a little leery of the thought – all that singing and close proximity, plus being forced to actually shower, leave the house, and speak to other humans. It’s all much of a muchness.

My last taste of live music was early last February, when I got to see Algiers at the Village Underground. And it was hard to actually shower, leave the house and speak to other humans back then too, because it was cold and dark, the venue was more than ten minutes away, and I was deep into month four of redundancy-induced unemployment. In a sense, I’d been prepped for the alienation and income-reduction caused by Covid for nearly half a year by the time all the restrictions came into force. That didn’t make it any less difficult or unpleasant, but at least I had had a bit of practice. 

Since I probably won’t be booking gig tickets anytime soon, recorded live music will have to do. Nothing will truly mimic the ritual of ticket booking anxiety / excitement and all the anticipatory build-up of waiting to see your favourite band with friends, but something has to stand in. Live albums suffice to provide a brief respite, like when for a few golden moments during a Zoom pub-at-home no one is talking over each other and things seem almost normal. Nothing can stand in for seeing the Mars Volta live, but although I’ve had that privilege three times, I’ve not yet seen the Omar Rodríguez-López Group. Luckily, there are three live albums that open a window to that experience.

7
Sep 21

GARY JULES ft MICHAEL ANDREWS – “Mad World”

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#968, 27th December 2003

Mental illness and pop music are hardly strangers, but few bands made it as central to their work as Tears For Fears, named after a concept minted by experimental psychiatrist Arthur Janov, whose ideas ripple and echo throughout the group’s first two records. Tears For Fears were an unusually earnest band, and suffered for it critically, but their self-seriousness has worn well.

From another group the lyric of “Mad World” might land as just another glib dig at the squares; Curt Smith, though, sounds honestly perturbed. Madness, for TFF, is the primal topic – their songs are often an account of working through their own neuroses and buried pain. But that childhood pain isn’t unique to sensitive young synthpoppers – it infects the whole of society, contorting it into patterns of repression, routine and self-denial. Mad world isn’t just a description; it’s a diagnosis.

24
Aug 21

Omargeddon #23: The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange

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I’ve been especially drawn to instrumentals of late; I’m certain that this is because I haven’t worked in an open-plan office for well over a year and can easily listen to music uninterrupted for nearly the whole of my working day. Lyrics mean way too much to me to ditch them entirely from the hours of 9-5, but I have found that it’s often easier to concentrate with instrumental music in the background, because I’m not being distracted by poetics. 

The key to an optimal WFH soundtrack is a very specific kind of aural wallpaper. Too minimal gets lost among the near constant lawn-mowing, leaf-blowing and hedge-trimming present on my street. Anything intensely vociferous negatively affects my attention span. What I require is the perfect William Morris print that balances variety with repetitious symmetry.

My search for the ideal ORL instrumental album led me to The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange. It’s the only one credited to the Omar Rodríguez-López Quintet –  basically a severely cut-back Mars Volta lineup sans Cedric Bixler-Zavala and with the addition of Money Mark on keyboards. It’s the third instalment of the Amsterdam series of albums written and recorded in 2005 when ORL lived in that city, an interesting collection that includes his first-ever solo record, Omar Rodriguez, and Despair, among others.