The Pitchfork 500 – New Prince Heads

The next bunch of Pitchfork songs aren’t quite grouped in the same way as previous sections, in an easily discussed theme. Instead, the thing that unites these songs is that pretty much everyone knows them, and by and large, they are pretty damn good. And yes, I know I promised this back in August 2009. I’ve been busy, alright?

New Order – Blue Monday
Prince and the Revolution – When Doves Cry
Talking Heads – This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)

New Order’s “Blue Monday” is one of those songs that is groundbreaking in so many ways, it’s almost impossible to know where to start. Unique melding of early ’80s New York Disco with Mancunian post-punk? A dance tune that isn’t about anything remotely funky or sexy? A record that was so expensive to manufacture that despite being the best selling 12″ ever, it managed to lose the massively entertaining but entirely hapless Factory Records money?

Having spent much of the Eighties listening to New Order, I know this song inside-out. So writing about it 25 years (25 years! Sob!) later is a bit odd. And personally I’d have put “Thieves Like Us” on here instead. It’s a much better song. (Funnily enough Peter Hook agrees, saying “I honestly thought Thieves Like Us, the single after Blue Monday, was far superior.”) If anything, New Order wrote at least three better songs (“Thieves Like Us”, “True Faith” and “Bizarre Love Triangle”, and I’m taking requests for “Temptation” too), but this is arguably the first song to ever mesh dance and rock. Few people have done it since (if you say Primal Scream, or Stone Roses, you can leave now, as you are beyond redemption).

Because, at its heart, “Blue Monday” is barmy. At the time, everyone knew New Order were unusual, and probably unique – the combination of their record label’s laissez-faire attitude to release cycles, their own obstreperousness, and their open-minded attitude to music (and drug-taking) made them quite like anyone before or since. “Blue Monday” mixed the dance beats they had heard during their New York trips with their own dour Mancunian heritage, producing something quite astonishingly different. And you’ve got to love their live version recorded in a sweltering Maida Vale studio:

After moaning about Pitchfork’s choice of Prince song earlier, they’re far more on the money with “When Doves Cry”. It’s an odd little song, veering from a declaration of lust into how people take on characteristics of their parents. Again, Prince is happy to show us just what a marvellous musician he is. Lucky get. Have a look at this rehersal footage (apologies if it’s been taken down):

Just look at the ease with which he sings and dances around; just listen at the elegant simplicity of the song, a dance record with no bassline. What a mover. What a singer. Git.

Talking Heads managed to combine out and out kookiness with a sharp sense of melody, and this track – cunningly subtitled “Naive Melody” – had this in spades:

But again, I can’t say it’s my favourite song of theirs1. I just can’t get that excited about it. One of their more funky little numbers, it gracefully showcases their ability to mix their fluid post-punk with soulful backing vocals and Nile Rogers-esque guitar lines; but despite all that, it all feels a little cold to me. Saying that, you can hear their influence reverberating through the music of today.

In fact, all three songs (and the artists that made them) had a huge impact on modern music that is still being heard now; everytime you turn on the radio or listen to your iPod or Spotify or whatever, you’ll likely stumble across something that owes a massive debt to these bands. What’s curious is that the three musical geniuses on show here – Bernard Sumner, Prince, and David Byrne – are so different. Sumner can almost be called an accidental genius; despite his obvious gifts, he always gives the impression that he’s stumbled across this great song by accident (he once said something along these lines in an interview, that songs were gifts falling from the sky at night. But he had clearly been drinking). Prince, on the other hand, shouts “GENIUS” at you whilst dressed in purple pants, playing five instruments simultaneously whilst simulating sex with three semi-naked models. Byrne is somewhere between the two; he wears his cleverness and talent on his sleeve but tries to stay cool about it.

No matter though. All three changed pop music and helped diversify it with soul, disco, house, funk, and all sorts of “World” music (I hate that phrase). Without these three musicians, popworld would be a much duller place.

1 That’d be “Once In A Lifetime”, of course, with “Road To Nowhere” as backup. Oh come on, you know I’m right.

You can read the rest of my Pitchfork 500 articles here.

MP3: Blue Monday by New Order

MP3: When Doves Cry by Prince
This ain’t here no longer. As per the note below, there has been a DMCA takedown request. Unbeknownst to me, this track got referenced by someone saying their blog hosted Soundcloud, but then referred it to me. Thanks, folks. In any case, fair cop, removed now, and I’m pretty sure the little fella is up in heaven playing all the instruments God can find him, making some fucking incredible music, whilst Lemmy and Bowie and Reed and Brown look on going “Fuck’s sake. Imagine what it’s going to be like when Dylan pops his clogs”. And he’s looking down slyly going “Man, I love lawyers”.

MP3: This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) by Talking Heads

Buy “The Best of New Order” (CD/MP3)

Buy Prince’s “Ultimate” (CD)

Buy “Once in a Lifetime: the Best of Talking Heads” (CD)

Some content on this page was disabled on May 8, 2016 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from PRS for Music. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

https://en.support.wordpress.com/copyright-and-the-dmca/

Take Me Home

Oh, I’m rubbish at this staying up-to-date and posting stuff when it comes out and all that malarky. I’m finding, a year into doing this blog, that I’m much better at posting stuff ages after everyone else has done. So here, to round off the month, is a song that I first heard over six months ago (pre-release!) and didn’t post then. Now my son keeps playing it, the wife keeps going on about how much she loves it, so I present to you: Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros “Home”.

Might As Well Jump

A fine, fine song it is too. How can you not love its mariachi-inflected horns, its cheery singalong chorus, and Rawhide-style whipcracks? In fact, the song is cheerily earworming its way round my skull this very second. Thanks, avuncular but faintly ominous beardy chap.

I also present, in all its glory, a remixed version by the AA1.

They are on tour, too, you know.

Right, off now. Really must try and post the Pitchfork 500 post tomorrow. Is that a pig flying by?

MP3: Home by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros

MP3: Home (RAC Mix) by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros

1 Legal disclaimer: this joke is not funny, even if you understand it. Sorry, it’s late.

Buy “Up From Below” (CD/MP3)

Setting The Scene

More tracks from Broken Social Scene’s new CD keep popping out from the ether. This time, it’s the dual header Forced To Love/All To All. Whilst Forced To Love is a little BSS-by-numbers, All To All is one of those tracks they knock out to keep everyone on their toes. Remember how, when you first listened to “You Forgot It In People”, you were amazed by the constant shifts in style and tone, yet each song was distinctively theirs? “All To All” is like that. Like “Anthems”‘s older sister on amphetamines and meow meow, the song is simultaneously chilled-out yet thumping motorik trance. Ecstatically bursting into a Cocteau Twins-meets-Orbital chorus, you’re left open-mouthed at how this lot can constantly leave you wrong-footed.

Wide Angle Lens Essential

Bloody marvellous, it is. Buy the single here. And “Forgiveness Rock Record” is out May 4th. Can’t wait.

MP3: All to All by Broken Social Scene

Buy “You Forgot It In People” (CD/MP3)

The National Save The Day

Oh, what a rubbish day I’ve had. Waking up with a stinking cold, running round like an eedjit at work thanks to AD synchronisation issues (don’t ask), Jubilee Line troubles on the way home, couldn’t make it to the Tindersticks gig tonight; a cavalcade of utter rubbishness from start to finish. Didn’t even get the sausage sandwich that I’d been hankering after for breakfast. Bah!

But on the bright side, new The National Song! A new goddamn National Song! The first song released officially from new album High Violet (out on May 11th), it takes off from where Boxer left off. So, that drumming, those baritone vocals, that sense of endless wearying ennui mixed with hope and love that makes them such an addictive mix.

Ok, Make A Video Out Of This One Then, I Dare You

So here it is for you, guys and gals. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. All is right with the world.

MP3: Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National

(Track removed as apparently the Web Sheriff has been doing the rounds again. Bad Web Sheriff! Bad!)

Thou Shalt Buy This Record

Slab! Back!

It’s not often that I’m left speechless by something in Word magazine, aside from the occasional hopeless Andrew Collins article (eg “Why I Think Homeopathy Is Real (Because That Richard Dawkins Shouted At Me)”. The other night, tucked up in bed, I turned over the page to be confronted by this ad:

(ignore the white writing over the top)

Now I don’t really know who Sweet Billy Pilgrim is, but I sure as hell recognised those lyrics. I was, to use a phrase, gobsmacked. Why? Well, I know one other person who has ever heard of Slab!, and that’s my brother, so he doesn’t really count. Yep, they did some Peel sessions back in the day, but history appears to have totally forgotten them. There isn’t even a Wikipedia article about them. Being confronted by evidence that at least one other person in this cruel, dark world cares about them – and cares about them so much to use their lyrics in an advert – got my jaw dropping rapidly toward the duvet.

So, what do these Slab! people sound like then, I hear you ask? That’s a tough one. John Coltrane being run over by a steamroller? James Brown in a steelworks? Squarepusher in his bass-playing persona being pushed down the stairs by a very, very angry rhino? Swans playing in the middle of a Reggae soundclash? I really have no idea. I listened to this lot religiously for a good couple of years back in the mid-late ’80’s, all that extra musical knowledge I’ve gained in the last 20 years hasn’t helped one little bit.

And thanks to the wonder of the Internet, you too can revel in the joys of discovering one of the most unusual bands around. Steve Dray and Paul Jarvis, the main Slabsters, have set up a website and have offered some of their tracks to fans. What an eye-opener they are too. I was always more of a fan of their earlier material, and twenty-odd years later, they are as fresh, funky, and downright ominous as they were when I listened to them on my old Dual turntable back in my parent’s house.

“Music From The Iron Lung” – a collection of their first two EP’s – is a good entry point into their twisted world. “Mars On Ice” has what sounds like an 808 going a bit mental, overlain by glacial guitar and then a marvellous horn break, straight from a Blaxploitation movie. “Oedipus T Rex” has more horns, a hugely funky bassline and the sound of dive-bombers. “Parallax Avenue” features Islamic chanting, a dirty bassline, noisy guitar stabs, and deeply disturbing drawled vocals. And the rest ain’t bad either.

Then came “Descension”, the first of their two (released) albums. Darker and more expansive than their early songs, and featuring the aforementioned “Dolores”, it’s a queasy ride through burning streets in a Hummer whilst explosions go off around you, with the sky darkened by smoke and missile trails. It is, frankly, the sound of the end of the world.

Keep Your Arm Out Of There

As tends to happen with great unsung bands, it all started going a bit wrong, with their follow-up LP “Sanity Allergy” not going down as well as their debut, and their third LP not even getting a release. So Steve and Paul went their separate ways, but staying firm friends, and have now started to look back at their younger days and the astonishing music they made, and are now sharing this with us by putting songs up on their blog and website. They’re in the process of trying to release the first two LP’s, along with the unreleased third LP. Steve’s started to post excerpts of tracks from this third LP, and they are sounding pretty damn fine.

As the band say, they ride like a Harley-fuckin’-Davison, and roll like a hundred ton truck. I urge you now to visit their site and have a listen for yourself; and try the songs below. You won’t regret this one.

If this has made you curious, go to Steve Dray’s site here and check out this article here to get some more tunes, and this one here to get even more.

MP3: Oedipus T Rex by Slab!

MP3: Dolores by Slab!

MP3: Hushed Prayers (Extract) by Slab!

Buy “Descension” (CD)

RIP Alex Chilton

In the world of great unsung heroes, Alex Chilton was up there with the finest. He took The Beatles-style sound, chipped away at it and shaped it into his own, pure music, which generations of musicians and music fans have taken to their heart. Sadly, he never got the mainstream recognition he more than deserved. If you want any proof, just listen to “September Gurls”; it’s power-pop genius before the phrase was even invented.

Like many people, I found his music through the recommendation of another band – Teenage Fanclub, in my case – but it could so easily be Brendan Benson, or Death Cab For Cutie, or The Replacements, or The Undertones, or anyone who loved rock music with heart and soul and more tunes than you could wave a Strat at.

Alex, may you rest in peace.

MP3: September Gurls by Big Star

Buy “Keep An Eye on the Sky” (Box Set CD/Cheaper MP3)

I Am A Tall Tree

Apropos of nothing in particular, I have Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of “The World’s Greatest” by R White Kelly floating round my addled mind.

Restrain Yourselves, Ladies

And if it’s up to me, it’ll be floating round yours too soon.

In other news, this review is so very, very wrong.

MP3: The World’s Greatest by Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Buy “Ask Forgiveness” (CD)

Half Asleep

I am, too. Bloody knackered, I am. Fifteen straight hours in the office yesterday, my son’s birthday party this morning, late lunch avec la famille, and now doing the whole bedtime thing. Well, I’m not, I’m writing this.

So, it’s been a tough fortnight. Going to the office for 14 days straight will tire even the most energetic of us. Still, it’s given me a chance to listen to some of my enormous backlog of songs. The other day, I came across the School Of Seven Bells Deluxe reissue of “Alpinisms”. I missed out on this lot the first time around, despite being a big fan of Secret Machines. Benjamin Curtis got tired of being around his brother and decided instead to set up shop with two gorgeous identical twins. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?1

You'll Need Some Fill-in Flash For That

Their music is far more dreamy than the Secret Machines, with some lovely electronic loops overlain with the twin’s harmonies. My fave? Appropriately enough, “Half Asleep”, which I present here in its alternative version. Love the My Bloody Valentine meets Peter Hook in the Hacienda feel to this. Enjoy!

1 Mind you, he must miss Josh Garza, he of the drum thumping, who’s one of the best drummers around (along with The National’s Bryan Devendorf). Maybe he was getting a headache.

MP3: Half Asleep (Alternative Mix) by School Of Seven Bells

Buy “Alpinisms: Special Edition” (CD)

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The Local Natives Are Restless

Writing about new Californian band Local Natives seems to be centred around how similar they sound to other great indie-rock bands of the last few years. Being somewhat guilty of this style of blogging myself, I can’t really complain. All I can do is point you in the direction of this live version of “Wide Eyes”, so you can make your own minds up:

Now that is one great mustache.

Blah blah Arcade Fire blah blah Fleet Foxes blah blah Grizzly Bear blah blah Wolf Parade blah blah Vampire Weekend blah blah Band of Horses blah blah, oh, you get the idea

Not that sounding like other bands is a bad thing, of course. Band Of Horses haven’t really got an original bone in their body, but bits of “Cease To Begin” are some of the finest of the last decade. Their debut album, “Gorilla Manor”, sounds like a decent one too, on first listen. Check it out on their website, then buy it here. Oh, go on, treat yourself.

MP3: Wide Eyes by Local Natives

Live Review – The Xx

The Xx caused something of a stir last year. Coming from nowhere (ok, Putney), they quickly became media darlings and their debut album nestled near the top of almost everyone’s best-of lists. But all’s not been rosy with the band; following the departure of keyboardist Baria Qureshi from exhaustion, they then went to cancel shows in Europe due to illness. But they’ve sold out two consecutive nights at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and the place was buzzing in anticipation. Would they live up to the hype?

Speaking of hype, let’s talk first about These New Puritans. My mother always told me that if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

After their set, the roadies came on and did their stuff. And then pulled a huge white sheet down over the front of the stage. As the lights dimmed, the reason became clear. Unseen, the band launched into “Intro”, and suddenly lights at the back of the stage lit the band’s shadows onto the sheet, in time with the music. One second, the drummer, the next, Romy Madley Croft on guitar, then Oliver Sim. The shadows overlapped one another, grew and shrunk, to hugely hypnotic effect. At the climax of the song, the sheet fell to the ground. I’ve not heard such a rapturous response to a band’s entrance for years.

This care and attention is at the heart of The Xx. Putting up a white sheet and playing behind it is easy. Anyone could do it, but no-one else does. And like the sheet trick, their music seems simple – just drums, bass, guitar, a little keyboard, two singers. It’s just R’n’B mixed with New Order and The Cure with some drowsy singing on top, isn’t it? But it’s not. The simple lines intertwine to become so much more than the sum of their parts that it’s nearly beyond belief.

Chatting to a mate on the way home from work before the gig, he wondered aloud what The Xx would be like live. “Quiet, I expect”, he said. That’s what I thought. But Jamie Smith seems quite willing and able to use his Sarf Lahndahn upbringing to infuse his backing drums and keyboards with a heavy dubstep sound This is a sound impossible to miss in London, even in nicer parts of the city like Putney1. You can’t even listen to Radio 42 without some pirate station bursting over the top whilst you’re trying to concentrate on In Our Time. And they were surprisingly loud; ok, not quite Mastodon or The Twilight Sad loud, but enough to make my trousers shake. Trouser-shaking is good.

Their set did, somewhat predictably, consisted of everything from “Xx” plus “Teardrops”, but we weren’t complaining. “Crystalised”, coming early on, displayed everything that’s good about The Xx; their twin voices meshing together, the bassline and the guitar dancing around one another, and with the drum machine being played live, a sense that these weren’t just pre-programmed beats and an exercise in going through the motions.

Moody Oranges

“Heart Skipped A Beat” was memorably brilliant and sent me back to my iPhone to listen afresh in the morning (always a sign of a good live band, that). “Teardrops” was introduced with “We played this last night for the first time in ages, so sorry if it goes wrong”. It didn’t, with the two-step reinvention showing lesser bands how to do this cover version lark properly (looking in your direction, Florence and the Overhyped Machine). “Basic Space”, my personal favourite, almost got me tearducts going. Almost, but not quite – what kind of a wuss do you take me for?

It was an evening of stepping into someone else’s world. A nighttime, teenage world, of doubts and heartbreak and lust and that wooziness of not knowing or understanding what was happening in your outer and inner life. You can just tell how this music was created by close friends, growing up together, creating a feeling of seeing into their little gang, eavesdropping on those nights in one or another’s bedroom, painstakingly crafting these little nuggets of beauty with the magpie instinct natural to a generation growing up with all the music in the world just a click away.

They really know what they are doing, this lot. In some ways, they remind me of The White Stripes, with their singleminded purity of sound and image. I wonder where they will go next; maybe they’ll be like Tindersticks and make a second album that’s just like the first one, only more so. If they can harness their enviable talents and push on to make another great record, we could be talking about them in hushed tones in years to come. Their sound has already developed from last year, with a much heavier backline, and stronger singing voices, so I look forward to whatever they come out with next.

Catch them on tour in the UK and at SXSW in the US later this month. Do it now, before they either become huge, or disappear.

1 Yes, I know they went to the Elliott School, bang in the middle of a large council estate, but it’s hardly Brixton or Tower Hamlets, is it?

2 The BBC radio station, rather than the band, obviously.

MP3: Crystalised by The Xx (Keljet Remix)

MP3: Teardrops by The Xx

Buy “XX” (CD/MP3)