Pitchfork 500 Electro Part 1 – Art to Liquid

The mid-’80’s were a haven of experimentation. New technology – sampling and sequencing – had appeared, which threw open the doors of possibility to those with the imagination to use them to their full potential. Oh, and had a spare £10,000 knocking about for a Fairlight. Here’s the first three of a selection of six Electro-ish tunes. Well, sort of Electro.

Art of Noise – Beat Box (Diversion One)
Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax
Liquid Liquid – Optimo

The Art Of Noise were an electro-pop quartet from London, with Trevor Horn producing and Paul Morley talking bollocks about them. Which meant that, even at the time, they were supremely irritating. After listening to them again, they are still supremely irritating.

Without meaning to turn this into a rant about how Art of Noise were supremely irritating, they really were. I’ve got a low tolerance threshold for pretentious bollocks – or at least, pretentious bollocks that isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is – and Art Of Noise’s “Beat Box” seems to me like a bunch of art students mucking about with a Fairlight. Considering Cabaret Voltaire were sampling using tape loops in the mid-‘70’s, I don’t see how this can be seen as being a whole new way of making music, as its fans have done. Still, people sampled it, people like it. Your mileage may vary.

The Art Of Bollocks, More Like

Oh, and their “Best Of” is called “Influence: Hits, Singles, Moments, Treasures”. See? Supremely irritating.

With nearly thirty years distance, it is hard to imagine what a massive storm Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” caused in the UK. As a 12-year old, the fact that there was a record at number 1 in the chart that was blatantly sexual was shocking. Especially as I didn’t really know what the song was going on about. Oh come on, I bet you didn’t either. What was even more hilarious was that the song itself had been pootling around the chart for weeks until Mike Read started reading the lyrics whilst playing it on his radio show. Realising belatedly that the content may not be happily termed “family friendly”, he ripped the record off the turntable, called it “obscene”. As a result, the song was banned by the BBC.

And You Thought Chris Moyles Was Bad

For those younger readers, you have to remember that this was a world in which pretty much all the music you heard broadcast, whether on TV or radio, came from either the BBC or ITV. There were few, if any, independent stations and those that existed were blander than bland. There was no internet, of course. You might share music with your mates, and there were some great music magazines around, but to hear something yourself it generally came from the BBC. So for them to openly ban something – what drama! You just had to hear it!

“Relax” stayed at number one for five weeks, and did end up teaching some people a lesson. If you want to stop people hearing something, don’t tell them about it. What you don’t do is tell people you’re not playing something, because they will go “Ooh, bet it’s something naughty!” and go out and buy it in droves.

That’s not to say that “Relax” is just a naughty record. It’s far more than that. It’s a very, very good record that is also quite naughty. That squelchy sound is still remarkably icky.

Liquid Liquid’s “Optimo” was one of those songs that I used to hear in fabulous late-80’s/early-90’s Newcastle nitespot Rockshots. Perfectly pleasant dance music, and charming to think that it’s now 18 years old. Aaah, they grow up so fast! But not entirely sure what it’s doing here. One of the top 500 tracks in the past 30 years? Nah. Oh, and it’s in GTA IV too. Woo.

Next up, some more Electro-ey goodness with Shannon and Section 25. If you liked this, read the other posts in the series here.

MP3: Relax (Come Fighting) by Frankie Goes To Hollywood

MP3: Optimo by Liquid Liquid

Buy “Influence: Hits, Singles, Moments, Treasures (Best Of)”

Buy “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Buy “Liquid Liquid”

Beads On A Rosary

The other night, on the far side of a safe number of drinks, a friend asked me how long it took, if ever, to truly get over a lost love. A year? Five? Never? Funny she asked me that, as I’ve been listening to Elbow’s “The Bones Of You” a bit recently1, and the song tells the tale of a successful businessman suddenly derailed “When out of a doorway the tentacles stretch
Of a song that I know”. Before he knows it, he is catapulted backward:

And it’s you, and it’s May\And we’re sleeping through the day
And I’m five years ago\And three thousand miles away

He’s astonished by the effect, “A man of my calibre\Stood in the street like a sleepwalking teenager”; but “The sickener hits; I can work till I break\but I love the bones of you\That, I will never escape”.

So the answer from Elbow to my friend’s question? Five years to start with, and it’s all downhill from there. Sorry, that’s not a huge help. Me, I said “When the serious, proper, true love comes along, the one that you may well settle down with and spend your life in domestic harmony, that’s when the old ones start to fade”. Well, I probably said something like “Bleaurgh, you’ll forget, don’tyouworry, where’s my Corona?”, but the sentiment was there, trust me.

And in case you don’t know the song, listen to this utterly magnificent live version. What a voice. Guy Garvey writes lyrics that can tear your heart out and sing it like an angel trying to repair the damage. Truly, if you don’t like this song, you don’t like music.

Bloody hell, I really need to listen to the new album.

MP3: The Bones Of You by Elbow

1 Mainly because I’ve been listening to “Starlings” lots so I can work on my own version. One day, if I’m really brave, I’ll record it and post it on here.

Buy “The Seldom Seen Kid” (CD/MP3)

On Leaks

Records leak all the time. As a band, you record your new album, get it mixed, get the cover work done, get the damn thing pressed (people still buy CD’s, you know, no matter what the New Meedja Mandarins try and tell you), and send out lots of hard-working pixies out into the world to make sure reviews get done, people’s attention piqued, all to sell as many copies of your new meisterwerk as humanly possible.

Problem is, these days, is that you only need one person involved in this chain to rip the CD (or just get the mp3’s, of course), punt them onto a file-sharing site and Bob’s Your Uncle, the record’s leaked. Lots of slavering fans take whatever morals they may have about filesharing, throw them in the bin, then go and download it, just so they can hear self-same meisterwerk in all its 192kbps glory. If the band is lucky, the fans will buy a physical copy when it’s finally released, go to the gigs, buy the t-shirts, and everything else. If not, well, the band’s out of pocket and that work has been for nothing.

The only easy way out of this is the New Radiohead Model, which is just to go “Hey, we’ve got a new record out on Saturday!”. And then release it early, just for a giggle. Problem is that this can make purveyors of print meedja a little bit annoyed as they don’t get a chance to properly listen to the record before publishing review. The Word magazine’s recent review of “The King Of Limbs” pretty much read “We had no time to listen to this. It’s a bit crap though, innit?”. Which is correct, of course, though an extra week or so with this not-so-welcoming record might help write with more authority. And write “We had a week to listen to this. It’s a bit crap, innit?”.

So, try and play the usual game and get your record leaked, which likely removes a big chunk of revenue, or play the new game and annoy the press, who might end up not bothering to review your record, removing a big chunk of revenue1.

All of which brings me to Fleet Foxes’s new album, out on May 2nd. Now, this leaked a good few weeks back (possibly longer). I’ve a great deal of time for Fleet Foxes. They produced a fine debut LP, which was surprisingly successful (something like a million sales, including more in the UK than US, which is some feat), followed it up with some great live shows, and have come across as a lovely bunch of gents. They’ve even done the thing that makes an old git like me very happy – free downloads of tracks. Good tracks, too. So I feel rather awful that it’s leaked, because a good number of people who’d have rushed out of their local friendly record-store on the first day clutching the cling-wrapped copy to their heaving chest have probably gone and downloaded it, and will, come May 2nd, totally forget to buy it.

Me? I wouldn’t do such a thing. I’m holding off from listening to it, of course. Which is why I can’t tell you that it’s a far more even record than their debut, and though it lacks in peaks like “White Winter Hymnal”, as a whole, the record works much better. I can’t tell you that Helplessness Blues is to Fleet Foxes as Wowee Zowee was to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. I can’t tell you how songs like “Lorelei” glisten and shine like a pebble at the bottom of a mountain stream, lit by sun breaking through clouds. I can’t tell you what a relief it is that this is, by and large, a welcoming and pleasurable listen, unlike Midlake’s last (which again, had a lot to live up to). And I certainly can’t tell you that, with a few more listens, it might even settle in alongside PJ Harvey and Cotton Jones as one of the better albums of the year so far.

I wouldn’t be able to tell you that at all. Best wait for May 2nd.

1 A quick caveat here. This only really applies to a band that’s reasonably well-known. You know, third-on-the-bill-at-Glastonbury well know. No-one gives a toss about lesser known bands, except the bands, friends and family, and devoted fans. In the case of bands like Cotton Jones or Kingsbury Manx, this is a tragedy. So it goes.

MP3: I’m Losing Myself by Robin Pecknold (Feat. Ed Droste)

MP3: Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

Please Pre-Order Helplessness Blues (So You Don’t Forget)

Spinning Out Gracefully

So those beardy fellas My Morning Jacket have a new album on the way, and they, in the time-honoured manner of the music biz these days, released an MP3. Aren’t they nice? The track is named “Circuital” (me neither), and starts off all haunted, muted arpeggios, Jim James’s high, keening voiced echoing around in its usual manner, before the song suddenly bursts into life, falling back to the echoes and hush a good four or five minutes later.

Giving Me The Evil Eye

Considering I’ve only given it a couple of listens, this song gives me some comfort that the upcoming Circuital is going to be a far more pleasurable listen than Evil Urges. Here’s hoping. The Sweatbees EP, all those years ago, has been a firm fixture on any MP3 player I’ve ever had. A band that can make something so fine can be forgiven almost anything, and I’m holding out hope that Circuital will repay that hope. I could do with some good Kentucky yearning in my life.

MP3: Circuital by My Morning Jacket

Amazon’s My Morning Jacket Store

Record Store Day!

Today’s the fourth annual Record Store Day, the day in which you should get your fat ass away from your computer and visit your local Record Store. You know, the place that’s always full of slightly strange people and even stranger records. Of course, I’m one of those slightly strange people and I like strange records, and to me, there’s no finer way of whiling away an idle hour or so browsing through racks of CDs. Or vinyl, if you haven’t put your turntable up in the attic (unlike me, bah).

My personal current favourite is probably Rough Trade East, who are celebrating the day with a bunch of in-store gigs. Details here. Indeed, Rough Trade East is probably the least-indie store ever, having the floor area of about 18 normal-sized record stores. And it’s got sofas and a cafe and, being in the old Truman Brewery, is surrounded by bars and stuff, in a big courtyard, where you can sit and watch the achingly trendy folk of East London in their natural environment, alongside the occasional banker who’s wandered across Commercial Street to see how the other 99% live.

And the staff are nice too. Almost as nice as the lovely lady at Eagle Valley Music and Comics in Vail (of all places), which I wandered into many years ago and wandered out again about an hour later having spent about $100. Great place, and I love that it’s still trading and also participating in Record Store Day. That’s what a great record store does for you – you remember it fondly, even though it was six years and ten thousand miles away.

Anyway, there’s lots going on, special releases just for the day, all that kind of stuff. My personal favourite would be the cassette by Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad, featuring a bunch of demos by each band. Both were recorded on dodgy microphones in dodgy bedrooms, and both sets of demos show how each band are just horribly talented and great and more worthy of your attention that 99% of the muppets out there.

So run, run down to your Record Store and bag a copy. And get one for me, will you? I’m stuck at home. Gah.

MP3: The Modern Leper (Demo) by Frightened Rabbit

Note: Frightened Rabbit track courtesy of the fantastic Pop Cop.

Slow Panda

Panda Bear are one of those bands that, on paper, ought to make me go all shivery and funny and weak at the knees. But, like the related Animal Collective, I’ve always found them (him?) a bit too dry and calculated for my liking. This, for me, is a danger of using electric doohickeys and sequencers and ProTools and Garageband and all that; these days, it’s all just too easy. Sure, I love old techno (like Kevin Sanderson, Derrick May et al), and Cabaret Voltaire soundtracked my formative teenage years, but it was tough in those days. You had to work damn hard to make something good. Now, it’s just piss about on a Mac for a few hours and bish, bash, bosh, all sorted. You’re the new Dubstep/Grimewave/Voodoo House king. For a couple of days, at least.

So, with trepidation, I’ve been slowly trying Panda Bear’s stuff again. A couple of weeks ago it was the Last Night At The Jetty EP, and feeling positive about it, I gave new CD Tomboy a couple of tries the other day.

And, without meaning to go all Dr Seuss on you, I liked it, Sam I am. Yes, more listening is required, and a part of me still thinks he’s just hitting a button on Garageband marked “Multi-track my vocals and put echo on everything”, but tracks like “Slow Motion” are slowly fixing themselves to neurons as I write this, ready to leap out at inopportune moments. Maybe I’ll write more as I get to know it better. If you’re lucky, I won’t. The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that I’ve posted about “Slow Motion” before, but it’s never bad being reminded of a good song, eh?

Slow Motion by Panda Bear

Buy “Tomboy” Here (CD/MP3)
(and you should, it’s quite good)

Bus Of Blonde Girls

Music can pop into your head thanks to all sorts of funny reasons. The other day, taking a bus from Sloane Square – posho blonde girl capital of London – toward Putney, when the Tube was bejiggered, I wandered onto the top deck to find that it was half-full of slightly baffled looking blonde girls. They definitely had the look of people who’d seen these big red things going up and down the road, but had previously eschewed actually travelling on one, instead going for the relative safety of the Tube.

And the song “Yard Of Blonde Girls” from Jeff Buckley’s posthumous LP, Sketches For My Sweetheart, The Drunk. Now, I am a huge Jeff Buckley fan, but even I recognise that most of Sketches… really isn’t that good. Whatever magic he’d captured on Grace and Sin-e, and innumerable live recordings, was sorely lacking in Sketches. And then he died before being able to write something better. So it goes.

I don’t have much more to say about Jeff, or this song (a cover), other than it’s not bad. And certainly welcome on the number 22 after a long day’s work. Sometimes it pays not to look into things too much.

MP3: Yard Of Blonde Girls by Jeff Buckley

Note to self: Don’t post titles that sound like something smutty. I can only imagine the stuff I’m going to get Tweeted now.

Buy “Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk”

A Simple Earworm Of Fate

No doubt awoken by Saturday’s mention of Blood On The Tracks, a little earworm shuffled into my perception at some point this afternoon, during a particularly mind-numbing part of the project course I’m on at the moment. Said earworm being “A Simple Twist Of Fate”, one of Dylan’s finer songs, and one of those songs that helped me turn from a full-on Dylan Denier to being a little bit of a fan. Not a full-bore, open-throated-roar Dylanite, but at least someone who has lived through the Punk Wars and can now appreciate that he was really Quite Good.

And a bit of a punk himself, if truth be told, what with all the going electric and pissing off his fanbase with metronomic regularity. Good chap. Anyway, let’s keep this short. Cracking song.

MP3: Simple Twist Of Fate by Bob Dylan

Buy “Blood On The Tracks” Here

A Woman, A War

A new PJ Harvey needs a certain amount of preparation to listen to. For starters, you’ve got to be in the right mood. After all, it’s not like all her records have been what you would happily call “easy listening”. Plus there’s the subject matter; often about the terrors of the human heart and the dreadful lengths men and women will go to for love, and occasionally about muuuurder and the like. So her new album, Let England Shake, was approached by me with a sense of trepidation. Would we get the nice(ish) Polly of “Stories….”, or the wailing banshee Polly of “Is This Desire?”.

When the album’s subject matter became clear, you might be forgiven for being even more concerned that we’d hear Wailing Banshee Polly in full effect. Lots has been written about the subject matter of much of the album – that of England’s role in the deep trauma of the First World War – yet Let England Shake is Polly’s most listenable record, almost pastoral in its willingness to engage with the listener. You can see Polly sitting in the conservatory of her Dorset home, reading a copy of “The Last Fighting Tommy” with a guitar on her lap, ruminating on what such a horrendous war did to a generation and the generations that followed, looking out at the green fields and woods of the beautiful English countryside.

This is a thoughtful album, written by an artist who knows exactly what she wants to say, knows how to say it, and knows clearly and exactly how to make sure the music matches the message. By and large, the songs are simple – simple percussion, strummed guitar-like lines on an Autoharp, very little that couldn’t be played by an averagely talented band. No sudden bursts of electronica, no strange key or tempo changes, all elegantly produced. Nothing gets in the way of her clear and single-minded vision; few distracting screams or wails of the kind she used to unleash whenever she felt things were getting just too comfortable. This is an older, wiser Polly Jean, and one you’re glad to have around, like an old friend who has got over her crazy days to become a trusted confidante.

And this thoughtful, confident album is a nailed-on, absolute certainty for being one of the best of 2011. A record few artists could produce; stripping down the instrumentation to make the songs approachable, writing lyrics so evocative of hatred and war yet never, ever feeling forced. A wonderful record, the kind that elevates PJ Harvey to a whole new level, that of a full-on, bona fide Artist, with a capital A and everything it brings.

If you’re not convinced, go to the YouTube channel here to listen to all the tracks, in a series of beautiful films by Seamus Murphy. Great for fans and newbies alike.

(Author’s note: apologies for the brevity of this. Frankly I want to write more, but there isn’t the time).

MP3: Written On The Forehead by PJ Harvey

Buy “Let England Shake” (CD/MP3)

Re-Release, Repackage (And Do It Well)

Two box sets have recently come into my possession, from opposite ends of the rock spectrum, and opposite ends of the How To Do A Box Set Properly bookshelf. The first is the mega 3-CD box set of The Fall’s This Nation’s Saving Grace, and the other is the even more mega 7-CD set of Brooce Springsteen’s first six albums. Six!

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a long essay with me wittering on about how The Fall somehow produced their finest record – and it is, don’t even think about arguing – 9 albums into their long career. Which other band, or artist, has done that? Only Bob Dylan, I suppose, with Blood On The Tracks (#15), and you’ll get quite a bit of argument from Dylan fans about that. Or how Brooce Springsteen took Dylan’s ability to document the American psyche, mixed it with raw working-class attitude and work ethic, and made the best mainstream rock albums you’ll ever hope to hear drifting from an AM radio1 whilst driving through North Dakota.

Nope, this is just a quick note to say Thank You Very Much to whoever thought of these two. TNSG is the full added tracks (that you actually want to hear!2), big booklet affair, the sort of thing that you normally only get done for albums Q readers like. Great to see a classic proper Indie-rock record get this quality treatment.

Conversely, the “Bruce Springsteen Collection 1973-1984” is stripped down to the bare bones; some lyrics, basic packaging, no extra tracks, just the records themselves in all their glory. No extraneous packaging, nothing. All for £12. For an artist who prides himself on his artistic and commercial honesty, this is a wonderfully appropriate move.

If only the rest of the record industry could wake up and do this kind of thing rather than trying to fleece us at every possible opportunity. Well done, folks.

Now I’ve just got to find the time to listen to the buggers.

1 Do such things still exist?

2 Though we all have the Peel Sessions. Thanks.

MP3: Cruiser’s Creek by The Fall

MP3: Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

Buy “The Collection 1973 -1984” (CD)

Buy “This Nation’s Saving Grace (Omnibus Edition)” (CD)