Hot Hot Heat – Talk To Me, Dance With Me

[I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but bear with me]

Let’s talk about fandom. Fandom is a beautiful thing. Groups bonding over a shared love of some silly little cultural locus, ambivalent to the opinions of others. It gives us strength, reinforces our sense of self, and justifies all those abstract opinions locked deep within us. At its best, a fandom acts as a lightning rod for creativity and expression, with fanart, fanfics, and cover songs allowing individuals to display their skills to a forgiving audience. However (because there is always a ‘however’), at it’s worse it becomes an entitled blob, making demands of the very medium that it took comfort from. There are numerous, numerous, articles about the toxicity that fandom can dissolve into if not kept in check. The whole Star Wars debacle springs to mind as one where it was falsely assumed that the creators in anyway owed the fans anything. I mean, come on, people, it’s commercial media! It exists to eke out as many pennies as it can from a fickle public; and before your all go on about “messing with George Lucas’ vision”, just remember that he’s the biggest panderer of them all. Media, whether corporate or independent, should always be viewed as follows: You like what you like and what you like will still exist even if the thing that you like is given an epitaph or addendum that you don’t like. Fandom is great and all, but it’s just a by-product of the creative process. A sign that what you’re doing has value (not that you need signs to tell you that). But it’s not why you create and it sure as heck plays no part in the creative process (unless you want to leverage shiny coins from their naive wallets). You’re not owned by anyone. FYI, there’s no clever twist in my song choice this week, I just wanted to get that off my chest. But here’s a tune I haven’t heard in forever which my much missed sibling reminded me about. It is just the absolute beans.

Now, just because I am deeply sceptical of giving fandom a role in the creative process doesn’t mean I don’t care about it. I care deeply. It’s just that empathy can be a prison, an acceptance that the thoughts that others have of us should exclusively dictate our actions. As if the effect should precede the cause. I dunno, it just feels such a restrictive and dishonest way of developing a culture, doesn’t it? Genuine empathy doesn’t come from making yourself conform to another’s subjective perspective, it’s in helping them understand the world as it actually is, as you actually are. Of course, I can only speak for myself, we can only speak for ourselves, but I have spent far too much time losing my sense of self whilst trying to game the social algorithms. It’s just all so draining, and, now that we’re on the cusp of something … different, it’d probably be good if we take stock. Realise what’s most important and what really matters.

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More than a composer; more than a musician; more than an academic and writer; more than anything in fact, I consider myself a fan. I simple, naive, wide-eyed fan of music. Not of any particular genre or artist, but of the whole goddamn abstract possibility of it all. I love how it allows me to exorcise emotions within the safety of my own mind. I love how it causes uncontrollable bursts of movement in my limbs. I love how it can evoke deep memories far stronger than a photograph ever could. In my heavily biased perspective, it sits as the greatest of the arts simply because it can be anything to anyone. It’s not that music sets you free (as when the song ends you will still be where you were when it started), but you are most certainly free within the music. In that short demarcation of time, you can be what you want, fandom be damned.

My thoughts on Hot Hot Heat are pretty irrelevant. I obviously have subjective feels about how Elevator was a bit of an anti-climax after the riot of Make Up the Breakdown, but I never demanded anything more or less of them. If I had then it’s unlikely we’d have been offered the sheer pop-genius of 21 @ 12.  Something to be thankful for.

Yeah, bit of an odd blog this week. No apologies, though, I do this for me.

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

Eefje de Visser – Nachtlicht

Alien Ant Farm (on midweek buzz induced nostalgia)

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

Kraftwerk – Computer Love

Something on the nature of death. That’s what I’ve written in my notes. Something on the nature of death. Big subject, that, plenty of avenues with which to reconstruct better philosophies by better writers and slap my name on it. That’s how you gain traction in this group-think, social-media savvy herd mentality we bog ourselves down in. Gotta add to the conversation, even if your contribution amounts to nothing more than, “I’m here too!”. Florian Schneider, co-founder of the pioneering electronic group Kraftwerk, is dead. Cards on the table, I am not a habitual listener of Kraftwerk and wouldn’t consider myself a fan. This is not because I dislike what I’ve heard (quite the contrary!) but more because I’ve never bothered putting much effort into listening to their greater output. I do, however, fully recognise the importance of their existence and the tangible legacy  left in their wake. Electronics in popular music generally, and the position of synthesisers in particular, began definitively with them. Their particularly minimalist audio aesthetic remains the cultural touchstone with which to signify modernity. A tangible legacy. Something real. Something far more important and honourable than mere influence. So, while I don’t make it a habit of dipping into ‘The Man Machine’ or ‘Tour De France’, I wanted to frame today’s chat around Computer Love.

If you are unfamiliar with the original, you likely know the riff thanks to its sample (*cough* appropriation *cough*) by Coldplay in their 2007 song, Talk. It is a glorious thing, that melody, naïve and light enough to convey emotion whilst maintaining an unnerving electronic patina. No surprise that Coldplay, a band in the grips of balancing their formative emotional indie rock with the desire to develop a more electronic sound, honoured it in this way. It’s a win-win, a no-brainer. Coldplay could present the music of Kraftwerk to a whole new generation whilst audibly stating their affection for the German band, in doing so gaining kudos from a wholly new set of music fan. Now, there is nothing wrong with this show of affection, per se, but it still leaves me feeling a little icky. It’s likely because I’ve become increasingly aware of the power dynamics, the cultural power dynamics we individuals leverage when presenting ourselves to others. Coldplay’s use of the sample, though good-natured, permanently connects Talk to Computer Love, claiming right to a portion of Kraftwerk’s legacy in the process. Computer Love no longer exists in beatific solitude, it has grown an addendum, an epilogue. Coldplay, sampling Computer Love in this way, repurpose its cultural weight as their own. I don’t deny them the right to do so, showing a little love is hardly a malicious act. But like I said, I think there are better ways of doing so. In a similar vein, the flood of Florian think pieces and social media posts lamenting his passing (this one included) are not all malicious attempts at repurposing his passing in order to gain cultural power and cred. But some are. And it ails me.

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Grief is a void, a pit. The horrible sensation of your very essence falling out through your feet into the aether whilst your corpse, numbed, zombified, remains cursed to continued existence. Grief causes us to flail, to connect, to remember who we were through shared experience. It’s why we have wakes and vigils, communities banding together in their solace, processing the personal devastation whilst surrounded by the love of others. You need not be noticed, you need not contribute, but you forever know that you were there and that your feelings mattered. It was always enough to just keep it personal. The digital world is different, not only have our flailings become public and overt, they have also become expected. An absence of a gesture of grief now diminishes your cultural power as much as a surfeit increases it. Savvy folk know this well, they will seize on this death to create content, be it a simple post, top 10 video, or journalistic diary blog (hypocrisy implied). Each, while likely good-natured, builds annexes on the legacy of another. The visible cry of “I cared” with it’s logical implication that “you didn’t”.

We must mourn. It is cynical of me to state otherwise. Likewise, we must broadcast our affection those artists who mean something to us. None of this is wrong. I simply come from an awareness and ownership of how certain actions and statements appropriate the power of another, permitted or otherwise. I own my reality. I own my ambivalence to the music of Kraftwerk whilst maintaining deep respect for the work Florian Schneider has done for music. I own the mildly cynical timing of this blog and the knowingly contrary ‘hot take’ it proposes. These are facts I will not run away from, and in doing so I hope that in some meaningful way I’ve neutered any power I may have appropriated from the subject. It may seem like a fuss about nothing. It may seem like I’m just another overly sensitive snowflake crying into my avocado toast. But I see it as being finally able to root myself and who I am in the increasingly interconnected cultural hellscape that social media is becoming. Parse out the manipulative scum and emotional profiteers and the internet becomes bearable, just. Death comes to us all. It should never be leveraged.

But this is all irrelevant anyways. The greatest ode to Schneider was written long, long, long before he left us.

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

David Bowie and Me – part 1. A Short History

David Bowie and Me – part 2. Where Are We Now?

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

No Doubt – Open The Gate

I live quite small, most of the possessions I’ve accrued over the years are in storage of some kind or other, waiting for me to give them away. I’m more a producer than consumer, you see, I don’t define myself through stuff I have but by stuff I provide. I guess that, having moved around a lot over the past few years, I realised that you can survive quite happily without stuff, a notion compounded by recent the shuttering of shops and business. Stuff is temporary, but you know what isn’t? FRIENDSHIP! Yeah, bet you didn’t see that coming! Such are the foibles of my internal, Wheel of Fortune-esque, topic-selection. I gave it a spin during one of my “when will they realise the world is a-changing!” socially-futuristic rants, only for it to come down hard all on those little improbabilities and unspoken gestures that bind us together with those we care for. Real connections. Not these digital “I-found-someone-as-hashtag-angry-as-me” fail-ships or the socially advantageous “I-should-be-seen-to-like-you” false-ships. Proper friendship, well I believe in that quite strongly. Then again, you gotta have peeps who can receive if you dedicate yourself to giving, that’s just science. Whoops! I seem to have forgotten that this is a music blog (though who are we kidding, this is as much a heavily redacted, pompously-philosophising journal as it is bleeding-edge journalism)… Let me just spin that wheel again, see what tune gets dragged from my subconscious to frame my disassociated argument. Wait for it… Wait for it… OPEN THE GATE BY NO DOUBT! Quids in!

Ok, so maybe that was a little bit of artistic license. Truth is I’m talking about friendship because I want to write about No Doubt, and the greatest gift any friend can share with me is music. Yes, yes, that’s a needlessly romantic sentiment if ever there was one, but hear me out. Nobody owns culture, this is just a fact. When eedjits try and say, for example, “this here is British culture!”, what they’re really saying is that they want to possess the power of a randomly collected (and subjectively defined) cultural grouping without contributing their share. As if being born on the same island as The Beatles is all that’s required to give some noob in Dartford extra global cred. It’s bollox. Your possessed culture can only ever be in the immediate, in the local. It’s what you have contributed and the shared, visible framework with which you have done so. Take, for obvious example, me. I was born in London but grew up on its fringes in Kent. I am proudly a Londoner, but up until the age of 19 my culture was uniquely that of West Kent. Hanging out at the Forum, house parties on various farms, weekend jaunts up to the big smoke et cetera, et cetera. Yes, British was on my passport, but I had no cultural claim to Oasis or Pulp. I could however claim shared-possession of the Tunbridge Wells scene and, in my small way, join the heritage of Joeyfat, Slaves, and quarter of Everything Everything. I contributed, see. I earned it. But of course, if we all stuck to our little localities nothing would ever change and we’d all be playing Merseybeat until the sun dies. This is why sharing the little lights that define our own personal cultures, those little peeks outside the window at the world beyond, should be lauded as the most generous gift one can give. It broadens the mind and contextualises the now whilst simultaneously bonding the songs and artifacts shared, fondly, forever, with the giver. See where I’m going with this?

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I’m very close to my sibs. We’ve shared immense amounts of music over the years, you see, so our bonds were pretty unbreakable even before you factor in familial loyalty. Unfortunately this meant that any outsider had to have some pretty damn good musical offerings to lay on our alter should they wish to join ”the family” (and I mean that very much in a mafioso stylee, Granny is pretty much the don of the village). To my mind, the only successful candidate to go from no family connection to honorary sibling, the .5 to our Power of Three, introduced me to No Doubt. Oh Gwen, I’d never heard anything like it. The confidence, the yelps, the mad, mad vocal hooks. At the time, I don’t think I had the capacity to fully process the sheer complexity of awesome within, but there was something about Open The Gate that permanently baked into my memories of that holiday. Christ, it’s such a good song! The asymmetric chorus, the understated complexity in the arrangement, the euphoric singalong hook! A 15 year old me listening to the fluidity and bounce of the bass and dreaming of a future slapping and popping in front of millions. I mean, at this point I hadn’t even heard of The Who, or Joy Division, or anything where the bass played a more melodic role. It opened my ears, man! The also-sib was alright, her offer was worthy. It became a forever friendship, weathering time like a mackintosh.

                          Gwen is the best

Most, if not all, of my more recent, adult friendships have been forged similarly. Over listless nights drinking White Russians whilst waxing lyrical about The Suburbs. Over profound debates over the relative merits of each Scandinavian nation’s pop. Over coffee fuelled discussions about ballet, and metal, and True Blue. If you want to properly get in my inner circle, it helps if you share. Build our history and nourish that which bind us rather than sit back and accept that we’re friends just because culture dictates it. Culture dictates a lot of things, but considering nobody owns it it’s constrictions can be ignored. You do you, we’ll love you anyways.

Big up the Hamburg massif!

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

Haiku Review: The Chap – Even Your Friend

Real Talk: On Musical Collaboration (It’s a RUM DO)

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

Cero – Fdf

Urgh, nostalgia. Dipping just one little toe into it’s becalming fuzz pummels away any and all contemporary ideas and perceptions you may have about the now. The past triumphant as our better days are behind us. Nostalgia is a poison, pure and simple. I mean, where’s the incentive in listening to something progressive, challenging and fresh if you can simply run into the arms of the past whilst ignoring that changing world outside the window. But much like the nostalgic, I’m repeating myself. Every week I repeat myself. Nostalgia has it’s flipping hooks in my words and my brain is become mush. The strands of hypocrisy weaving in and out of focus with my mood. “Yes Harry, of course you hate nostalgia. Now write 1000 words on Blowin’ Me Up (With Her Love)”.  I dunno, maybe it was that idiotic vote, but something has properly hardened in me when it comes to the nostalgic. Hardened against those that deny the existence of a quality within contemporary culture. Those same cowards running away from reality, trying to drag the rest of us with them. I want nothing less than their complete and utter destruction. Then again, I am repeating myself. It’s not a good look for a self-identifying neo-futurist. I know the better days are ahead of us. So, to that end let’s spin the wheel on some new tunes and pick one at random. Something that could only exist now, in this time and this place. Let’s talk about, I dunno, Fdf by cero. Because it is amazing.

Admittedly, repeating yourself within the confines of a personal blog isn’t in itself an inherently awful concept, it just depends on what you choose to repeat. Like, I should be repeating elements of my PhD research (*ahem* To Share A Common Cause; Exploring the theory and practical application of cross-genre aesthetics) so that its threads are the ones bubbling to the surface. I should be repeating those elements of struggle felt by all creative workers and how, maybe, the current systems of consuming culture are wholly inadequate. If anything, I should definitely be repeating and reinforcing my love for any scenes or cultural groupings that show a higher than average quality in their output. I mean, that’s what critics do, innit? Like how Japan is crushing it. Utterly crushing it. If ever there were a single geographical area that deeply resonates with me,at this time, in this place, it is Japan. Exhibit a: tricot. Hands down my favourite band of the past few years, they make anglophone math-rock (*shudder*) seem pedestrian and lame. I shall be naming my future cat Motoko in honour. Exhibit b: the Splatoon 2 soundtrack. I’ll write about this in more depth in the future but for now I’ll merely point you in the direction of Tentacular Circus. You will thank me. Exhibit c: cero. Now, I concede that my love for tricot (and in particular my obsession with their new album) may have altered the Spotify algorithm quite significantly. But even among the eclectic glut of obscure tunes it tends to present me with, Fdf is different. Sure, you can detect a mild tinge of nostalgia in the arrangement, but it’s referent where most would be reverent. Kinda like how Vulfpeck could have been if they weren’t so slavishly in awe of the giants of the past. In short, this song is goooooood.

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So much of music appreciation (I’d hazard around 90%) is contextual; so humour me while I contextualise. I’m outside walking the streets of a pre-lockdown Brussels. It’s not quite warm enough to go out in shorts but there is definitely the first hint of warmer weather on the horizon. My trusty music player (yeah, I use a dedicated music player, sue me) had run out of battery so I was forced (forced I tells you) to listen to Spotify on my phone. As I rarely listen to Spotify like this, I never bothered paying for the ability to skip tracks, meaning I am forever at the mercy of the shuffle. But as what I’d heard of my discover playlist up to this point had been promising, I hit play and started wandering. 10 minutes in, as I move out of the shade into a sun-dappled glow, I hear Fdf for the first time. I subconsciously lock step to the groove as the saxophone snatches mirror the first birds fluttering about in the spring air. And then I’m gone. The song takes me over. That solid beat supporting an ever shifting yet ever so satisfying melody while that ludicrously sensual filtered bass plarps about with an anarchic abandon. 2 minutes in and I was already making arrogant anglophone attempts at the phonetics, singing ‘nothing! nothing!’ under my breath between the head bops. I’m prone to romanticism, me. Whether that exact experience happened or not is irrelevant. The song starts and BANG: I am grooving in the sunlight surrounded by birds and you can do nothing about it.

Are cero obliquely futurist in their intent? Does it matter? No. It’s just a song written in the now that has already built the scaffolding required of any future nostalgia I may place on it. It means something to me. It will always mean something to me. Man, I love music.

Stay safe, stay calm, and wash your hands!

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

tricot – A N D

Shigeru Araki, Yusuke Kato, Saiko Miki, Yasumasa Kitagawa – Mystical Ninja Starring Goeman OST

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

East 17 – Let It Rain

So, a fairly regular theme of this blog, if such a thing can be drawn from its sporadic viewership, is the toxicity of nostalgia. Consider me an ad-hoc futurist, I look forwards and try not to dwell too much on the past. After all, time gone doesn’t really exist beyond memory, and any such codified moment (books, film, music etc.) can only ever be perceived through the subjective prism of the now. We accrue knowledge, you see. Little insignificant drops of understanding build up over time in ways we couldn’t deny even if we tried. For me, this means that while I can still love certain musics as I loved them in the past, I can only ever listen to them from the perspective of the now. Kinda like how I can’t listen to anything by LostProphets without feeling repulsed. Like, nothing is really stopping me listening to their music if I really wanted to, but I would really have to own my actions in doing so. I’d have to maintain the awareness that I am listening to them regardless of my heightened knowledge, and likewise own all the moral dilemmas thrown up in the process [though I stress that by this point, LostProphets are pretty much dead to me]. Nostalgia is this but without the moralising. It’s wallowing in the media of the yesterday purely to regress to that time without the difficult knowledge and without the adult responsibilities. I hate it. I’m one for owning your choices and taking history, life, and existence at face value. None of this re-writing bollox so adored by the body politic. But then again, we live in odd times, very, very odd times, and as everything seems so uncertain it may seem quite nice to just dip a toe in those forbidden pools. Only a little bit. Just to cool off a little. To that end, let’s talk about Let It Rain by East 17.

Bloody hell, I was 10 when this came out! That is an…unsettling fact. Not that I’m old or anything, more that this time period in particular is apparently my nostalgic comfort zone. Never saw that coming. Anyways, I digress. East 17 were, in terms of early 90s British boybands, always better than Take That. To me at least. Though you also have to remember that as a child I was terribly nice but fairly forgettable which, inevitably, led to being bullied by what felt like the entire school. Of course I would end up gravitating towards the cultural bad boys. It was likely a subconscious attempt to leech some of their achingly cool street cred in order to better support my social standing. Then again, maybe it was because the music of East 17 was closer to the dance and jungle my cousin listened too. A realm of music that he relentlessly plied us with whenever we saw him. I don’t know, even my memory doesn’t stretch back that far. But man, I do know that I was desperate to be cool. So, so desperate. Poor little me had another 15 years of that ahead of him before realising ‘cool’ never existed in the first place.

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As the years continue to pass my respect for East 17 has only increased, due in no small part to the scarcity of their cultural footprint. I mean, Take That and Robbie have, between them, flattened the British cultural psyche. Everyone knows them, everyone sings their songs, and there was a solid three year period when you couldn’t watch the telly without hearing at least three of their songs under some advert or other. But East 17, they just kinda imploded, reformed, imploded, reformed, ran themselves over, reformed, and imploded. They still struggle along with one original member (Terry Coldwell for all you trivia fans), but such disruption isn’t exactly helpful if you’d want to maintain a career. So they faded from the public, but not in my memory, and as the bubble had burst long before I began buying music in earnest, memories were the best I could hope for.

Fast forward a decade to my first room north of the Thames in the beautiful but remote Welsh city of Bangor. My parents had left me for university and I was scared and alone. None of the mountain of CDs I had brought were making me feel in any way better, and all I wanted to do was crawl up and regress back to when life was easier. To reset and run away. Let It Rain just appeared to me from out of the depths and gave me the most intangible craving to hear it. One quick YouTube search later and I was recharged, ready to tackle the future as it lay before me. That moment solidified this song as my go-to in times of deep anxiety. I wish I could say it was the only nostalgic hit I partake in, but that would be a lie. The late 90s, early 00s have been on a constant loop in my house this past month. I admit freely that this has been done for purely nostalgic reasons, fingers-in-my-ears, running from reality reasons. But I own my decision to do so. I do it not for the irony, or the lols, or even that dreaded cool. I do it because I admit that I am weak. But if ever there was a time to let in a little weakness in order to care for your mental well-being, it is now.

Strange times indeed.

Stay safe, stay calm, and wash your hands!

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

Vulfpeck – Christmas in LA

Alien Ant Farm (on midweek buzz induced nostalgia)

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

Nine Inch Nails – La Mer

And so we drag on. The days become weeks and the weeks no doubt will become months as the world collectively deals with this escalating crisis. Think about that for a second. The whole world is dealing with this together. All of us. It’s utterly mind-boggling. A shared experience of grief and fortitude that, despite the grimness, is kinda heartening. I can’t help but think of the years to come once the storm clears (because it will clear) when I shall meet citizens of China, or Afghanistan, or Nigeria, and we shall talk about how we managed in our isolation. How we entertained ourselves and kept spirits together as the numbers went up, desperately hoping one day to wake up to the news of a flattening curve. Once it passes (and it will pass) there will be no denying the actuality that we have far more in common than drives us apart. The future me will tell those I meet how the artistic community, despite having their economic legs pulled from under them, quickly recalibrated to the times, flooding an anxious public with art and culture in order to soothe our mental anguish. Of all the live shows and streamed performances, one gesture particularly stood out to me. The sly release of not one but two new albums by Nine Inch Nails, Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts.

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They’re really rather good

Yeah, this blog isn’t about those albums. At least not directly. But before I get on to the true matter at hand I will say that I enjoy them, muchly. Ghosts, for those that don’t know, was originally a 4 EP set of experimental ambience that just appeared one day in 2008. That Trent (Reznor, the living embodiment of NIN) was a) working on addenda and b) specifically finishing them early so he could release them to us nervous fans seemed such a generous gesture that it compelled me to write about him this week. But I won’t be writing about Ghosts, you would better serve the band by looking them up and listening yourself. No, this week I want to talk about another incredible NIN instrumental that flies in the face of the industrial metal tag. This week I want to talk about La Mer.

I have been anxious before. Not pandemically anxious, mind. More that whole early-20s “what the exact h*ll am I meant to be doing with my life?” existential dread which sporadically returns with each major career step. When it first manifested, back in the dying light of my secondary school days, I had yet to fully build my audible support network and was left floundering under the academic pressure. Gotta get them degrees so you can go to a good university, get a good degree before finding a good career with which to support your future family. Of course, this meant there was always the possibility of bad, an awareness that the choices made at the age of 16 could lay ruin to any future plans I might have had. This coincided with a time of musical naïveté where I was more concerned using music to exorcise anger than muse on the consequences of my actions. Noise and shoutiness were ascendant and there was little time for anything more…reflective. That changed on ‘discovering’ NIN’s The Fragile and with it, La Mer. I still am yet to find a piece of music anywhere that comes close to its blend of poly-rhythmic layering, relentless evolution, and creative joy all wrapped up in one intensely churning slab. A rippling piano appearing from the mist in cyclical patterns, building steadily (but determinedly) to a sculpted climax of noise, before crashing back into a calm emptiness. There is much for a mind, especially a young, impressionable one, to process. It’s beguiling complexity lulls you in before it’s too late, trapping you on this journey whether you like it or not. And that’s the point, La Mer, constantly moving and changing and evolving, is the quintessential musical journey. Because of this I found it easy to impose my anxieties on it, to visualise the pressure increasing with the music until both it and I were locked in an intensity I felt unable to contain. But then the music relented, the storm passed, and I found that my worries lifted with it. At least partially, even I’m not stupid enough to claim that listening to one song can make it all better. It normally takes at least 5 listens for that to happen.

Now that we’re back in anxious times again, I find myself thinking a lot about how music allows this emotional transmission. I mean, it’s weird if you think about it, that simply hearing some stupid little tune can make you feel better, despite the circumstances. It’s a subjective thing, of course, and if you were listening to Britney instead of NIN back in the day you would likely find her music as soothing as I do Trent’s. But you could never deny that sound alone can, in context, make things that little bit better. That little bit more manageable. I find I’m listening to far more music than usual, I find that I’m writing far more music than usual (though that’s a story for another time) and in doing so I’m working through my anxieties one drop at a time. That’s all we can do. One drop at a time.

Stay safe, stay calm, and wash your hands!

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

I am listening to: Mini Mansions – Death is a Girl

Listings: 7 completely arbitrary live performances you need in your life right now

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

Ramsey Lewis – Cry Baby Cry

How’ve your first few weeks of social distancing been? Awful? Peaceful? Lazy? Productive? There’s no shame here, just the hope that you are safe and well in your respective homes. That’s all anyone can hope for, really. Me? I’m doing alright and am more than up for the sacrifices to be made for the greater good. Then again I’m one of the lucky ones, I have music. I have always had music. Despite all the terrors and struggles I’ve met over the course of my short life, I have always been able to find a song or piece with the power to soothe and stabilize. Intense turbulence over the Himalayas? For that you’ll be wanting Bowie’s Strangers When We Meet. Anarchic bus driver going hell for leather up the side of the Albanian alps? Here’s Regatta de Blanc by the Police. Fear is never all consuming, for if it were then how could we hope? No, fear is just a phase, one that can be mollified with the right input. This raises an important question, how are we to know which song works with each unique terror? Simply put, you don’t. Music is subjective, remember, different stokes will always affect different folks. But listening widely certainly helps because every now and then something completely out of left field will rise to the occasion and reach out a lifeline. For me, at this time, in this place, it is this:

Now I love me some jazz every now and then, but I wouldn’t exactly call it my go to in times of crisis. Chalk it up to a few too many experiences of pretension and self-importance at the hands of those ostensibly cradling the form. There’s only so much free improvisation and abstract sound you can listen to before any style verges wildly into the same modernist dilemma of classicism. This desire to be more, to become as culturally important as classical forms turned me off so much ‘thinking man’s jazz. I just don’t believe jazz (or any style for that matter) should make cultural power plays. It should exist in its own groovy confidence, aware that there are things that can be achieved under its guidance that would make the pop and classical worlds swoon. A confidence that Ramsey Lewis’ arrangement of Cry Baby Cry (already one of the finest Beatles songs) oozes to the point of absurdity. It’s so good I can actually pinpoint the exact moment that it became my tune for the times, but before I say it you have to remember two things; a) music and it’s experience is a uniquely personal, subjective thing, and b) I am the type of person who gets really excited by the smallest things. Still with me? It’s at the 51 second mark. Can you hear it? Listen again. For me, at this time, in this place, the sudden sound of timpani taking over the bass, if only for 2 notes, followed by an accented guitar hit near paralysed me with joy. Proper grin your face off joy.

ramsey-lewis

This whisky-smooth jazz groove had got its claws in and after that there was not much I could do but let it flush the anxiety away. It’s almost impossible for me to feel anything other than contentment listening to the textural variation and warmth of Lewis’ arrangement. I could now take this time to pick apart the sheer patchwork genius of the arrangement; how a multiplicity of instrumental sounds are held in check by their sporadic entries; how Lewis’ electric piano impossibly manages to convey a sense of climax without increasing textural volume; how such a diverse group manages to lock into the same silky groove. But to do so would rob the piece of magic. Such magic and warmth and safety that to take only a little would likely destabilise the whole. So, I listen in my ignorance and appreciation and I am contented.

This is why music is so important. This is why musicians are so important. Unlike most art, music gives you space to draw your own conclusions and perceive your own meanings, regardless of artistic intention. The very abstraction at its core allows it to contort into whatever form it needs to be, should it need to be it. The tough becomes not so tough with the right soundtrack. You may hear Ramsey Lewis and think, “it’s alright, but nothing special”, but to me it is everything. At this time. In this place. Now go, listen widely, and find your own musical balm for these strangest of days.

Stay safe, stay calm, and wash your hands!

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor (4. Adagietto)

Bang on a Can All-Stars [Florent Ghys – An Open Cage]

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

Shigeru Araki, Yusuke Kato, Saiko Miki, Yasumasa Kitagawa – Mystical Ninja Starring Goeman OST

This is a particular unsettled time, that much is beyond reproach.  That we will eventually emerge from it bleary-eyed to a changed world is a certainty. But despite all the uncertainty, despite all the panic-buying, home-working, and isolation, time moves on. Life moves on. As an almost incomprehensible number of us transition into the endless, boring Sunday of social distancing, I’ll do my best to continue to expand your horizons with my potted rambles about the music that, for whatever reason, I am currently digging. Gotta maintain some semblance of normalcy. Gotta keep that cultural interchange up and running, if only to give me something to do! “So Harry, what incredibly moving piece of music have you chosen to soothe us at this time of great sorrow?” Strange times call for strange approaches, today we’re not talking about one tune, we are talking about many. A whole soundtrack of them, to be precise. So sit back, make some tea as I humbly present the OST to Mystical Ninja Starring Goeman, the greatest soundtrack from the greatest game ever made.

Some context, this game was released way back when, a time of dial-up internet that was cheapest after 6 and parentally limited to 1 hour a day. A year prior I had received an N64 as a birthday present, it was my first console and, while I didn’t have many games, my love of it was total. With great pride I had signed up to N64 Magazine and quickly developed a habit of poring over every new release and development rumour with a near religious fervour. Thing was, I knew I’d never be able to afford half the games written about, but that didn’t stop me building worlds of possibilities around the pictures and promises each new release brang. The hype train was a very personal thing back then. I can’t quite remember when I first came across Mystical Ninja in these pages, but I do know that by the time of its release I had built it into this experience where everything was possible! A kinda hybrid between Zelda-esque RPG and Sims-style life sim with endless land to explore and adventures to be had. I was young, I didn’t really understand technical limitations. When my beloved N64 Magazine gave it a glowing review the die was cast. I knew that, somehow, I would make it mine.

I am machinery, I am a metal being! (Hey)

“Dude, this is supposed to be a music blog, get on with it!” Well, my dude, I know. But music (like all aesthetic distinctions) is subjective. I can’t tell you what is good or not but I can explain to you why I think it so. Beyond that it’s up to you. Context is important, otherwise I might as well just write “listen to this” every week and be done with it. So, having begged my parents for a copy (along with acquiring a memory card so I could save the damn thing) my impossible expectations were finally able to collide with reality. It wasn’t what I expected. Not at all. As will become a recurring theme with this game, the claws of appreciation came out of left field. Far left. Momentum left. Like, this game is weird, properly weird,  even by the anime obsessed gaming (nay, cultural) standards we have today. How are a few selective plot points from the Wikipedia, just so you can ground yourself:

“While shopping in Oedo Town, Goemon and Ebisumaru feel the ground quake as a peach-shaped flying object sails overhead. The vessel fires a laser at Oedo Castle, turning it into a European-style castle with spires and flags … Inside is Baron, a member of the fashion-loving Gang of Four who reveals he was sent to turn the castle into a stage … Yae joins Goemon, and they learn that children with dancing talent have been kidnapped around the region … With the dwarf power the group infiltrate the Ghost Toys Castle, a dark house of traps, toys, and a giant pool table … The hidden man aboard the peach ship at Oedo comes out calling himself Spring Breeze Dancin’ … Goemon confronts Poron, the final weirdo, who jokes that he lost the last miracle item in Zazen Town … Lily enters by hologram to ridicule the party, but is rudely interrupted by Dancin’, who continues to call Goemon “Fernandez”.

There’s more, much more, but at the very least we can agree that it’s not the most traditional plot. Now you have to ask yourself, were this to be made by a Western studio, how would you construct the sound design? How would you present the music? Commercial surrealism out has a tendancy to be an all or nothing affair, if you’ve got weird and wonky ideas chances are you’ll present them with weird and wonky music. It’s a perfectly valid thing to do and likewise has created some exceptional experiences (Banjo Kazooie, much), but where the soundtrack to Mystical Ninja rises above the dross is that it’s music is played almost uniformly straight. A glorious confection of sound clearly written for the sheer love of the thing and not just to underscore plot points. This is music designed to be front and centre, to be listened to and not heard. A music that somehow sees the personality and charm beaming from the art style and goes one better. For someone who had built their expectations on images, it was quite the pleasant surprise.

This soundtrack predates 90% of my musical experiences, it predates my love of surrealism and certainly predates my penchant for writing quirky pop ditties (something I could probably read into…) My Recommendations? All of the castle themes are incendiary (Transformed Oedo Castle, Festival Temple Castle, Ghost Toys Castle, Gourmet Submarine Castle), as are the koto-bop of Kai Highway, the longing tranquillity of Festival village, and, of course, the sheer insanity of the fully voiced I Am Impact [Impact, for those that don’t know, is a giant roller-skating robot who is summoned by conch shell so, yeah, let’s give him a theme song.] But in light of the stress and anxiety many of you are likely feeling, I shall leave you with the most beautiful of them all, Zazen Town (as covered by FamilyJules).

Stay safe, stay calm, and wash your hands!

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

tricot – A N D

Teaterkoncerten på Gasværket – Come Together

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

Reuben – Freddy Kreuger

Did you catch last week’s entry? The one about Mahler’s fifth? Did it leave you with a distinct feeling of “why bother?”. Why spend all that time crafting an experience in sound if only to be left disheartened by the response of the community? Why invest so much time and money in training these skills only for them to be diminished when finally applied in an ‘appropriate’ context? Being creative seems, on the surface at least, like a wholly inefficient use of time, with near zero return (economic or otherwise) for all those countless nights slaving over chord voicings. So why bother? That d*mn question is always there, hovering on the periphery when yet another longed-for outcome collapses, bringing into sharp focus your status as a nobody. A drain on the community, issuing missives of negative culture that suck the oxygen from any room unfortunate enough to hear them. “Just give up” says the voice, “it’d be better in the long run”. But no sooner do these words form in the mind than you remember that, actually, that’s the dumbest thing anyone has ever said. Ever. You’re not a nobody, a fact you feel so strongly that even your cells shudder with a righteous fury. You are skilled and you are unique. All this will pass, your win is coming. So, just dust yourself off, take a breath, and start writing again. It’s not the prettiest process to live through (taking you to dark places if you’re not careful) but if anything, this cycle of expectation and rejection can make for compelling subject matter.

I really should have listened to Reuben when I was younger. I mean, demographically speaking (angsty-middle-class-home-counties-bass-player) this should have been the easiest of sells. Yet despite a deep love of the Reuben-adjacent band Hundred Reasons, it took the advent of Spotify for me to finally “discover” the self-reflective genius of this utterly brilliant band. “What do you mean, self-reflective?” I hear you say. Well, there are two strands to my belief that Reuben were hands down the best band of their generation. The first holds that the music is devastatingly good, varied, and mature. Hard when it needs to be hard, soft when it needs to be soft, but always creatively restless. The second holds that the lyrics are like nothing else in music, a real time deconstruction of the musical experience from the perspective of a practitioner. There are no metaphors, just the crushing bluntness of Jamie Lenman’s career expectations and rejections wrapped up in sing-along choruses and screams of rage. Self-reflective, innit.

Reuben

Frank Turner once declared Freddy Kreuger the best song ever written about being in a band. I’d go one further and say that it’s the best song written about being a musician, at least an aspirant one. When I was 15, I swear it looked so easy, you go out and you get paid. Yup, been there. My first gig was 2 days before my 16th birthday and I just knew that one of the adults in the crowd would see our potential and book us a gig in London, with the adulation of millions promptly ensuing. Chalk it up to youthful naïvité, but when, many years later, my songs started getting radio play on BBC 6 Music and I still wasn’t getting paid, that’s when I knew the system is broken. I should have heeded the lyrics of Reuben, especially those within Freddy Kreuger, lucidly detailing this broken system fuelled by idealism and hope. Dig a little deeper and you realise Reuben did everything right. They built a loyal following, played all the right clubs, even produced some utterly exceptional self-made music videos. But it wasn’t enough. It’s never enough. The strain between recording, touring, and working “real” jobs became too much, come 2008 and they were on indefinite hiatus. The broken system breaking them.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to mock the aspirant musician raging against the system ultimately responsible for their income. But attempts to do so forget that these systems, omnipresent as they appear, built themselves fairly recently around a pre-existing culture, with the single purpose to exploit the creative purpose for economic gain. Humans have always felt the need to express themselves through sound, its literally what language is, but the commodification of it is relatively new. This is where the rage comes, as something so natural and unstoppable, that need to create, gets sieved through a self-appointed system that promises the world if only you conform. Not in any stylistic sense (after all, Limp Bizkit earned a living), but in the industrial sense. If, having acquiesced to everything the industry requires, you still find your work unsustainable, then anger and frustration are understandable. Inevitable, even. Because expression was here first, it should be treated with the respect and reverence it deserves.

Why bother? Because.

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

I am listening to: Mini Mansions – Death is a Girl

Haiku Review: Baxter Dury – Pleasure

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor (4. Adagietto)

I don’t talk about classical music much. It’s not because of any inverse snobbery or anything, classical (or should I say, ensemble) music maintains a deeply important place in my creative heart. For every hardcore remix I construct and polish there’s a saxophone quartet notated and scored. Occasionally these stylistic worlds smash together to produce something utterly bonkers, but then again why shouldn’t they? Music is music is music. It’s a place where everything is possible. Still, it hasn’t been lost on me that a music which holds equal as importance to me as folk and popular remains underrepresented here, in my words. It’s a shame, really, because I have much to say. Too much, in fact. But here is where I must tread lightly, as the classical world is a lot less … malleable in its ideas than the polyglot popular world I have been appraising up to this point. There is this perception of the ‘higher art’ that tends to run like a thread through some (though by all means not all) of its institutions which I feel detracts from the majesty of what it could be to people. So while this may be an underwhelmingly short and nuanced attempt to not bite the hand that feeds (whilst chastising it in equal measure), it should at least pad out my philosophy a little.

The fourth movement Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony is one of the finest pieces of the classical canon. It rightfully attracts all the usual superlative romances brought through the richness of its voluminous harmonies. A tide of emotion that slowly erodes all emotional bastions before crushing hearts under the immensity of it’s love. I adore it, though for the sake of this week I could easily have selected Sibelius’ Symphony No.5 (3. Allegro), Copland’s Appalachian Spring, or Pärt’s Summa for Strings. The piece is not important, mostly because my subjective opinion on the fact is just that, subjective. It is not my role to tell you which pieces to like and it is certainly not my place to shape your aesthetic opinion as doing so would put me in a position of power I am ill equipped to hold. Not because I lack skills, I have binders of skills, but because nobody has the right to put themselves in that position. There is no single correct way to listen to this music, yet far too many classicists act as if there is. As if classical music is somehow superior to other styles and within it certain pieces worthy of a higher regard. It’s all rubbish. Like, if you first heard Mahler’s 5th during Death In Venice but knew neither the name nor provenance of the piece then your aesthetic judgement would still be as equally valid as mine. You don’t need to possess the full knowledge of a piece in order to justify your aesthetic tastes. It’s something I feel incredibly strongly about, powerfully so. Classically composed pieces are no different from pop, it’s just that the modes of transmission are different.

Picture 1

Now it may come across as if despondency has fitted me with an axe to grind, but if so I promise it’s only a small one, the kind that that a dormouse could take camping. Likewise, as this is the rant of a wounded animal, full of irrationality, inconsistencies, and untruths, it should be read as nothing more than a cry of pain. *deep breath* Classicists can make you feel awful. They can make you feel small, and worthless even when you are ostensibly one of them. They can look down with suspicion, stuck in a 1980s intellectual holding pattern, terrified that missing the next great art movement will make them *shudder* irrelevant. The fact that irrelevance breeds when ideas stagnate in this way is lost on a great many creative classicists. To some of them, the ideas and sounds of popular and folk musics are twee anomalies that, while quaint in their unrefined nature, are pretty irrelevant within ‘proper’ art. Proper art, that loathed bubble of back-slapping self-satisfaction, content with it’s trivial debates about the location of the avant-garde, as if it matters. It doesn’t, by the way. The musical avant-garde quickly moved into the electronic sphere where it quickly subsumed itself into pop culture. But serious composers will still sit there, eking out techniques devised in the 20s and judging you for writing something different. Something, for want of a better word, pleasant. Like this.

I hate bringing my voice so vividly into this blog. I hate making it personal beyond opinion as it is unprofessional and weak. But I recently had an experience with this form that I love that left me slightly disillusioned. A disappointment in some of its people that will take a few days or weeks to get over. Classical music has some of the most deeply affecting sound ever committed to record, but with that comes this weird culture of superiority that I hate. It has nothing to do with ‘high’ culture or ‘low’ culture and nothing to do with elites or ‘the establishment’. It just boils down to people and empathy. There should be no need to judge and there should equally be no need to be scared of judgement. This form, filled as it is with beauty and love, is for everyone. I guess I’m just impatient for others to realise it.

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

What’s in a Song?: Bellowhead – Jiggery Pokerwork / Haul Away / Seven Stars

Teaterkoncerten på Gasværket – Come Together

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.