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.

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.

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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.

Noam Pikelny – Waveland

This week I’ve been guest blogging over at my sister concern MusicForMy, a bespoke music service that lets you easily commission original music and unique arrangements for your special event. You can give it a look see by clicking this here sentence, but it lifts the curtain on how I go about arranging music, at least to begin with. The arrangement of music is key, in all genres. An incredible melody or wrenchingly beautiful chord progression is next to worthless if set for kazoo and toy piano. Satisfying music needs to follow a certain logic across the genres, otherwise you just end up with confused mush. For me, the arrangement is as vital as the piece itself. Take my classical piece Farewell, Nathan Adler which exists in two versions; one for piano trio and one for symphony orchestra. Go click those links and give them a listen. Once you get past the electronic nature of the MIDI presentation (I can’t quite afford an orchestra yet) you can clearly see that changing the instrumentation immediately alters the atmosphere of the piece. Powerful stuff. Of course, talent tends to throw what rules we build for ourselves out the window. Sometimes the instrument you least expect can claw the most inexplicable wave of melancholic relief and joy once in the right hands. Sometimes you only need a banjo.

I’ve always liked the banjo, probably due to a very crappy demo of Camptown Races on my first keyboard along with an awful banjo setting. When I finally heard one for reals it was just so alien yet earthly, a bizarre hybrid of percussion and melody. I even bought one a few years ago but my playing has unfortunately never really taken off (probably because it stayed in Britain when I moved to Sweden). Noam Pikelny, on the other hand, is one of the most important pickers of his generation, cropping up all over the records of Chris Thile, Aoife O’Donovan, Steve Martin, Béla Fleck and a whole host of the great and the good of the Contemporary Bluegrass scene. Do you know the Contemporary Bluegrass scene? You should do, it is by far and away the most progressively interesting in all music; an ever-churning eddy filled with a refreshing honesty of both it’s history and the welcome disparate influences that feed it. It also has a great sense of humour running through the community, which is to be expected when Steve Martin is a member.

I’m drawn to Pikelny’s playing because of this. Because of his wit and his intelligence. Because of his skill in knowing exactly where to place that beautiful hybrid sound. Because the banjo can provide such a wealth of colour within the ensemble and he wants to show us. Waveland is almost Debussian in it’s Impressionistic chord progression, yet by setting it for banjo and banjo alone, Pikelny creates something exceptionally unique. He pushes our perceptions of the role of the banjo and hopefully by sharing it with you, you will discover the joys available when listening to the old clawhammer.

 

Teaterkoncerten på Gasværket – Come Together

Knowledge doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Actually, that sounds a little arrogant, understanding doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Reading up on how others perceive the things that I truly find important helps me better root my own perceptions. Equally I’m fine being challenged by the perceptions of others; an experience which either helps refine my opinions in opposition or enhances my knowledge in agreement. That’s why school is cool, yo. But now I’ve ostensibly gone back to education I’ve been reading a lot of academic texts and it’s accordingly made me get more better academic in my music listening, innit. Take John Cage, titan amongst 20th century composers and lion of musics classical and popular. You likely know him best for 4’33”, a 1952 piece composed for any ensemble where the performers are instructed not to play anything for 4 minutes 33 seconds. It’s an important piece though it’s not what most people would consider music. Cage, you see, was as interested in all sound as he was the note. Sound is always there, always humming in the background ambiently and music is just one of the many ways we have to organise it. But within that organisation there is always pause, be it a breath between a note, a shifting between phrases or the bookends between the ending of one piece and the beginning of another. Cage understood that these moments were as important as the melodies themselves. He understood that they held equal importance. It was an idea that stuck with me, that stuck with many contemporary composers. Silence is the tapestry, it is what holds the threads together. With that in mind, I want to talk about Teaterkoncert på Gasværket and their exceptional Beatles extravaganza, Come Together.

When I first moved to Sweden I was invited to see this exceptional show within the first few weeks and I was struck by the sheer creativity of it all. The Beatles’ songs stretched over new frames creating forms of expression woefully absent in the originals. Yes, yes, I hear you purists with your “NO, the music this quartet left behind is perfect and should be only experienced on first edition vinyl!”, I simply choose to ignore you. Your opinion has as little power over me as mine does over you. But for those with your opinions slightly ajar, this concert, performed as it was in a tame Swedish sports hall, blew my mind. It wasn’t just a concert, it wasn’t just theatre, it wasn’t some overly conceptual blending of the two. It was pure expression, reverence and joy bundled in a show that projected outwards, making us part of the circus, making us part of the piece. We were observers, existing in the silence.

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I love concerts. I love them immensely. The power of music hitting you in the soul as you thrash your body to the rhythms and the knowing winks from the stage, controlling the show by raising and tempering our expectations at any given moment. Though that said, for me there’s always a moment where the spell breaks as the song ends and the pace lulls to a stall. It’s all part of the experience, of course, but it brings into focus the difference between a concert and a show. To me concerts are freer with timing and unless you’re at the top of your game it very, very easy to kill the pace with a misplaced “thank you!” to the audience. On the other hand a show is a more total work with stages beyond the musical that requires a stricter grasp of timing to attain a similar euphoria. This isn’t to say that one form is better than the other, merely that certain traits are more readily apparent in certain forms. Silence as a shade, as a frame is more readily apparent in a show whereas euphoric power more apparent in a concert. Teaterkoncert, the Danish concept behind Come Together, blends the two.

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But my memories, vivid as they are, hold the imperfection of nostalgia. The concert recording on the other hand, that is freely available for download and streaming. This is where we sharply turn back to the Cagian concept of silence as part of the whole. Listening to these criminally underrated arrangements you are struck by the space found within these classic songs. Norwegian Wood crooned over a Parisian lull and ending on the rather sinister sounds of humming while a female voice struggles against something hidden (don’t worry, if memory serves she was merely stuck at the top of a human tower). The natural applause segueing brilliantly into Why Don’t We Do It In The Road‘s louche groove and emphatic whispers, taking this throwaway piece of McCartney blues in a wholly unique direction. My personal highlight All My Loving is a tour de force in taking a simple (if great) little song and re-cladding it to express the emotions buried beneath. The relentless rhythm guitar and bass chugging away like a crank, hinting at harmonic structures that are never quite resolved as three differing vocal styles (croon, expressive and choral) swim around the resultant swirl. To top it off, this recording begins with audience laughter as the primary vocalist walks out with a seagull on his head, a silence in the space filled by the observer which adds to the deeply unsettling yet satisfying nature of the piece.

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This album is everything to me right now as I seriously begin my studies proper. Brilliant songs made different and separate from the originals, using space and pacing to build an experience far greater than its sum. I thoroughly recommend buying this recording and seeing Teaterkoserten på Gasværket should you ever have the opportunity. If anything the odds of me attempting to write my own Teaterkoncert have risen. That can only be a good thing, right?

tricot – A N D

In the months between pausing the Appraisal and now I’ve done much thinking. The usual self-absorbed worries about purpose in life and place in the greater whole, but also about the direction I want to take myself and the footprints I wish to leave behind. The mangled ideas slowly kneaded themselves into form as I moved forward with jobs and orchestras and parties, eventually leading me towards a PhD. Composition PhDs are normally the most self-absorbed available, I was personally offended years ago to find that not one but three different PhDs in my university library were variations on “Finding my personal style”. I mean, what does that even mean? How does that move the form forward? Me? I’m researching something a little different. I want to examine and explore the depth of connectivity between genres as a compositional impetus. To me all genres, regardless of final audible result, are inherently connected with each other and only by reappraising how we approach and define created music can we better address the purpose of the composer. Where we sit on the great cultural smudge that links Schoenberg with John Coltrane, Paul McCartney with Guido D’Arezzo and so on and so on. Those same threads of form and theory that permeate everything. Subtle shifts that nudge the flows of convergent cultural evolution, bringing with it sharks and dolphins across the globe. With only a fin above the sound waves, how can you trust yourself to swim? With that in mind, this is tricot.

Japan famously is a hugely lucrative market for music. All music. Currents of pop flow alongside rock which disrupts the stream of classical in much the same way it does in Britain. With similar forces at work it is no surprise that the tenets of math-rock concurrently evolved. I don’t really like math-rock, it’s a stupid term that too often masks lack of song-craft with bells and whistles (a bit like British New Complexity), but none of my criticisms apply to tricot. This is fluid music. This is precisely refined music. Musicianship that eschews synth-padding and ‘crazy’ guitar effects for four instruments locked in intricate step. Cartwheeling above it all is the consistently incredible vocal delivery by Ikumi “Ikkyu” Nakajima, an instrument with an almost virtuosic variety of delivery. The hushed whispers of E shifting to staccato spoken word before collapsing into full throated catharsis. Hashire with it’s hypnotic fluidity punctuated by a exuberant singalong. Shoku-taku beginning like the Swedish pop ballads I’ve become so accustomed before splintering into, to my anglophone ears at least, the sweetest of exultations.

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As I said, all music genres inhabit one space, all forms, techniques, instrumentations and theories mere Lego blocks waiting to be put together in new forms. Whereas I see myself as a composer who smashes these blocks together and calling it art to mask the horror, tricot are the type of band who, using only standard blocks, effortlessly makes worlds filled with pirates, castles and space ships. Niwa is a glorious case in point, a song that somehow blends the vocal delivery in Bowie’s It’s No Game with the energy of the Splatoon soundtrack, peppered with what I can only describe as ‘samba breaks’ . It’s these little moments of pure pop that make listening to an album like A N D (2015) so satisfying, you know you’re only ever a minute at most away from a phat bass hook or a melody that makes you swivel. Not once does the music become overly concerned with itself, it projects outwards with incredible honesty. Claiming us in it’s wake. Music for the whole, not music for the division. Grey music. Smudge music. Jumble Music.

Two weeks ago I moved to Paris. 12 days ago tricot played Paris. 10 days ago I found them. I’ve been kicking myself ever since, I’d have been at the front dancing like a shocked monkey and communing with the infinite. Music like this is why I study, why I write and why I care about the greater purpose. That purpose may be just to boogie, but sometimes it’s nice to quantifiably know for sure. Because I see you, shifting fin above the sound waves. I see you, and will jump in regardless.

Click to visit tricot’s website

Click to like them on the Facebook here.

Click to follow them on Twitter here.

Eefje de Visser – Nachtlicht

This is the album that got me writing again after almost a year in the dark, the album that got me questioning again. What do we look for in an artist? In a collection of music? In a song? It varies for everybody; we are all different with different perceptions of the now and different threads of history tying us down by our opinions and tastes. I personally believe that the wider we listen the greater the opportunity to split from these threads and experience something honest and pure. You see, music in it’s infinite permutations has an infinite capacity to nurture deep reactions within us at times when we least expect it to. Take me as an example, behind a desk, dealing with the ceaseless slab of customer service queries that my job required. I browse Youtube for some music to speed the day, click a video I like and get the system shuffling. 20 minutes later it happens. The sound, quite beyond any expectation shifts from ambience into focus, my work suffers. The superlatives resting on the edge of my fingers, base words that each in turn fail to express the moment. But one by one the windows opened. Each repetition a light that compelled me to comment. That compelled me to react. They say art is merely a reflection of what we perceive, a mirror to our experiences. I’m a musician, sometimes reacting to music with music isn’t satisfactory, sometimes you need your words. This was the video. These are my words.

Back before Britain wrenched itself in two and placed a leopard print stiletto firmly on the aspirations of a generation, I planned a blog series showing how culturally connected Europe is. I couldn’t maintain it but did fire off one post before succumbing to the inanity of politics (which, conversely, also severely wounded my appetite to write). At the time I was so happy that I’d found a Dutch group with which to begin with. I knew nothing of Dutch popular music and it was (forgive my choice of words) ‘novel’ to finally discover one that I thought was cool. I was an idiot. I should have invested more time in researching the now instead of the past because as with all Europe, the Dutch scene is vital and thrusting. Eefje de Visser is part of it and as you can probably guess, I am a fan. What sets Eefje apart from the myriad of artists and songs I’ve loved between cooling my blog and now is her exceptional grasp of melody and form. It gripped me from the beginning. Nachtlicht (2015) is bathed in electronic textures, propulsive drums and modal tonality that dips into passive dischord at moments of such deep intensity that you’re always kept fully aware as you slip into it’s fragile beauty. Throughout, her seemingly subtle melodies belie a complexity not often heard away from traditional folk music. The playful nature of the melodic rhythms in a song like Scheef lash out at you like a lover, admonishing you for some sweet misdeed. An increase and decrease in percussive information tumbling like boulder on uneven ground. Skill further highlighted on Wakker which places the melody at the centre of the piece, dictating the languid guitar accompaniment and ever propelling the piece onwards. A powerful, refined work.

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I’ve mentioned before how as a youth I gave little care to lyrics. It explains why I lived Limp Bizkit for so long. They were always secondary to the music and I never really understood bands who built their brand around the words that they spoke. While I grew out of that slightly arrogant phase, I still embraced the freedom presented by my move to Sweden; here was a land with a huge Swedish language scene that I could enjoy as music for the sake of it by dint of not understanding what anyone was saying. Now Swedish is my second language I lack that (terribly pointless) ‘luxury’. But with Eefje, at least for now, I can separate her words from her music, enjoying each in it’s own way. Devoid of understanding her words hold the melodic lilt of true poetry. Translated they provide snapshots of imagery detached from my experience. Combined, she gives me the most satisfying three dimensional listening experience. The warmth of harmony, the deceptive complexity, the veiled meanings. It was what I needed. It grabbed my threads of history and pulled them asunder. The blank screen wrenched from my view and the grandeur of the present presented in front of me. If this were a bigger blog, if I were a better known composer I’d attempt to sculpt this respect into music. I’d attempt a collaboration, I’d ask for files to remix, I’d express myself through my preferred method. But I’m not. I only have my words. Words that don’t do it justice. This is an exceptional work from an incredible artist.

Click to visit Eefje de Visser’s website

Click to like her on the Facebook here.

Click to follow her on Twitter here.

Click to listen on Soundcloud here.

Rusangano Family – Let the Dead Bury the Dead

Regular readers will no doubt have noticed the stark gap in post frequency these past months. Put simply, the vote to leave the EU coupled with a need to finish arranging a job lot of music for my sister’s wedding increased my stress levels exponentially and, frankly, I thought about throwing the whole Appraisal away. Follow any minor level artist or writer and you will no doubt come across a post or two about the struggle in creating, the struggle in being heard and appreciated. It is draining and demeaning and I’d had enough. The dust won’t settle on all this for a long time yet, but to give up now would only damage myself. This year won’t beat me so easily. Through it all my Spotify Discover Playlist has been a consistent rock; within this rock the occasional gem; of those gems there have been one or two flawless stones of quality able to drag me out of my funk, able to raise a comment. Of those: Rusangano Family – Let the Dead Bury the Dead.

When I was younger I used to have an incredibly snobbish attitude to lyrics; they were always secondary after melodies and chords. It’s probably why I let Limp Bizkit fuel my adolescence for so long. Through this I accidentally developed a numbness towards rappers as their art was built into the rhymes and rhythms in a way that I couldn’t comprehend. Unfortunately, unless it had a stellar backing track I just wouldn’t bother. What wasted years those were. I have so much to learn and so much to hear. But Let the Dead Bury the Dead is an album I am utterly grateful to Spotify for adding to my education. The flat-out poetry held within these incredible pockets of groove puts the aggression and null-sum words of my previous experience to shame. These are MCs with a life experience and pools of imagery to draw upon that dwarfs anything I could ever know. ‘Heathrow‘ deals forcefully, elegantly but incisively with racial profiling and the “predicament of the new slaves”; a kicker at the end asking us to “let it sink”. Here too can we see a masterful use of the album format as the intense climax we just experienced flows into the soothing and aptly named instrumental ‘We All Need A Break Sometimes‘; time slows down and I can contemplate the grenade just lobbed.

The nigh on perfect interplay between the mynameisjOhn’s exceptional beats and MuRli and God Knows’ wordplay is a running theme throughout this album. ‘Blabber Mouth‘ detailing the familiar familial disappointment in choosing an artistic path when they could have been “the Irish Obama”; documented over a classic, brassy soul groove. The stark text on lost cultural connections in ‘Losing My French‘ brought into sharp relief when laid on it’s languid piano ostinato; “when a home becomes just a property”, a heartbreaking concept. Of all these, ‘Isn’t Dinner Nice‘ stands tall amongst giants. The text, greatly enhanced by Denise Chaila’s delivery, should be compulsive listening, detailing as it does the experience of being a woman and the contempt shown by men and boys. I can’t even put it into words the shame, sadness and anger this subject raises in me; the phrase “boys will be boys” delivered with such nuanced defeat that I break. All this contrasted with a beautiful romantic groove; an echo chamber of strings magnifying the poem’s power. “Sure, he’s only a man”.

This album is fertile. Living. It is the product of cultures not colliding but intertwining. Experience and talent combined by location and fed by circumstance. There were never any rules at the beginning, something Rusangano Family instinctively know and something they use to highlight social issues we’d otherwise ignore. It’s almost subtle the way subjects are presented, ideas danced around before you realise that they’ve actually been fencing you in; forcing you to confront the disquieting truths. Simply incredible.

Click to visit Rusangano Family’s website

Click to like them on the Facebook here.

Click to follow them on Twitter here.

Click to listen on Soundcloud here.

Slow Music Review: Hot Chip – One Life Stand

There is a theme running throughout my writing; a cold spine of anger and mistrust against the weaponised use of music appreciation. Quite a bloated sentence to begin with. In layman’s; I have a terrible dislike for those who use new bands and songs to diminish your own personal tastes. To make you feel bad for not ‘getting’ music. The classic “You listen to pop? Well I listen to Ukrainian anti-punk that I discovered by rummaging through the vinyl bargain bins on Record Store Day!”. The implication is always clear, they put more ‘effort’ into finding the music and therefore it has a higher perceived worth than my radio friendly hit. It is a personal axe I grind. But the way I see it is that the beauty of music, especially in this new streaming age, lies in it’s ability to reach out across the ages. To move you from the past. Indeed, the whole point of starting this blog was to specifically praise music that wasn’t current and had lost all the hype of the new release. We can see clearer in hindsight and it often makes the discovery of older gems that little bit sweeter. Who cares if I’ve only discovered the joy and talent of Hot Chip now? The fact that I discovered it at all, on my own terms, means more than any limited release ever could.

Like most, it was ‘Over and Over‘ that first introduced me to Hot Chip and though catchy, I didn’t really buy it wholesale. ‘Boy From School‘ was another matter entirely, a beautiful, elegantly crafted interlude that showed that they had a rare talent for subtlety. One Life Stand takes everything I liked about ‘Boy From School’ and extends it over the course of it’s 49 minutes. There is variety and imagination and pitch-perfect patch choices. Most importantly, there is that beautiful discourse between the competing vocal deliveries of Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard. It’s very much an ace to have not one but two distinctive vocalists, it prevents you from ever getting too settled as you never know which timbre will come at you next. In much the same way, One Life Stand is skilfully varied and arranged, as disco-funk and electro-soul make way for haunting doo-wop and traditional indietronica. It’s a hateful term, ‘indietronica’; I think I’ve only ever used it as a stone to bash in trend setters and the pompous. But this album makes me understand that it can actually be a craft worthy of laudation.

The problem with our musical culture is that there are far too many bands and far too many releases for anything to really stand out. A secondary problem then arises once you miss an artist’s arrival, you can’t be bothered to give them a second chance. The moment passes and the industry resents a new champion for us to invest in. So the treadmill grinds on. It happened to me with Hot Chip; the mote I knew didn’t fully grab me so I passed on listening to what came next. Though as I said, just because you didn’t listen to it at the time doesn’t mean you can’t get all fan-boy now. I am made quite the fan-boy. This album is on repeat and just, just beat Thomas Dolby for this weeks topic which is no mean feat. If you don’t know it I suggest giving it a listen and giving it a buy. Until next time.

Oh, before you go could you be a dear and follow me on Twitter and like the Facebook. I’ll love you forever.

Slow Music Review: Turboweekend – Fault Lines

Spring is here and with it the boundless possibilities of life and happiness. If you’ve been following the past few weeks as my passion and drive for this project collapsed under the weight of battleship skies and April blizzards; you know it’s about bloody time. The trees are turning green and I’m dreaming vividly again. The warmth of the air and sheer joy in my heart has subconsciously made me switch over to a more summery playlist than the one that saw me through the bitter winter. As I mentioned during my piece on Brian Eno and John Cale’s ‘Spinning Away’; though music shouldn’t really be classed as “Summer” or “Winter”, sometimes you can’t really help it if it ticks all the boxes and enters your life at the right time. No more death. No more eulogies. The sun is shining and I want to listen to shiny sun songs. I want to listen to my shiny sun songs; the ones I forged in my happiest moments. Cycling through my music I come to Turboweekend. Further skipping takes me to Fault Lines. I can’t help but smile.

My love and respect for Turboweekend is slightly more entwined than most. I was one of the few English speakers in attendance when they played London many moons ago, ‘Your Body Free From Mine’ was a staple of my early rryrry sets and I recently finished a rather snazzy remix of ‘Drums in the Dark’. It’s unreciprocated, of course (bar a stolen hug from Silas) though I’m sure they’d work wonders with rryrry given half the chance. If I’m honest, I’m not sure why I’ve taken such an interest. I can’t explain it and I think that’s half the romance. They dropped in my life as a recommendation at a time when I was pretty broken and quickly formed a balm with such gems as ‘Into You’ and ‘Erase Myself‘. There’s a remarkable freedom and joy in their arrangements that set them apart from other keyboard-led bands. It’s just so vital and real. Behind all the production flourishes and electronic chirping of the foreground, there’s a power trio (and now quad) holding it all together. You can hear the movement of Morten’s fingers and shuffle of Martin’s sticks keeping them honest. It’s a music that couldn’t be wholly synthesized alone in a bedroom. This is before even mentioning the soaring quality of Silas’ voice, by far and away the greatest in Scandinavia (if not the world). I’m serious. Bigger blogs than this have re-printed my opinion on the matter so it must have some clout. You just need to hear the break in ‘Multiple Voices’ or the climax of this live version of ‘Into You’ to see what I mean.

Fault Lines released back in 2012 during a particularly hot London summer. At the time I was working at Hamleys Toy Store and having a fairly wretched time as the air-conditioning had broken and all the chocolates were melting throughout the building. The Olympics were on the horizon and the store was a humid mess of mania and discomfort. The sole respite was leaving on my lunch hour, sitting out in Golden Square and listening. By this point my world away from Hamleys was a brilliant place to be as joy had come into my life and filled my soul; the music I discovered during that long summer imprinted itself heavily upon me. Fault Lines did it more than most. It is a nigh on perfect album that is at once both incredibly familiar and utterly unique. ‘Fire of the Stampede‘ hits you with an insidious funk beat that accompanies chords that constantly skirt the boundaries of non-functionality, it’s disconcerting but wholly danceable. ‘Reflections on Chrome’ has the soul of the new-wave running through it and is a prime example of how the live nature of the bass and drums fill the accompaniment with soul. Don’t even get me started on ‘Douglas’ because I’ll go full on fanboy; a gorgeously languid, soulful strut of a piece. I could go on and on about how each song balances delicately between maintaining an individual personality whilst remaining a solid part of the album’s whole but that would read rather dull. Just go and listen for yourself, you won’t be sorry.

faultlines

My winter jackets are in the closet and I’m taking the bold risk of leaving the house in nothing but a shirt and trousers so I think we can safely say summer is coming. It looks like it’s going to be a good one and I’ll likely find another album to track it’s ebb and flow which I’ll fill you with at a later date. But for now I am happy to listen to Turboweekend and let all those good, warm memories wash over me. That summer I fell in love with the band. That summer I fell in love with the album. That summer I fell in love for real.

Further reading:

Last summer’s choice album: John Wizards – John Wizards

Two summers obsession: Kashmir – Pedestals

An early post on the wonder of Danish music: We need to talk about Denmark.

Slow Music Review: Right Said Fred – Up

Writing this blog is never the easiest of things. I often battle procrastination and a severe lack of drive to present these words to you. Always trying to expand your horizons and maybe introduce you to something you missed first time round. The temptation to over-stretch and fall into the regular music journalist cliches of ‘hot new thing’ regularly puts me off my stride. That and this pressing need to show you ‘cool’ artists. But ‘Cool’, much like political integrity, doesn’t exist. It’s merely a communal myth we built around ourselves to replace our antique gods. Surely we should just be allowed to be free to like what we like without judgement if we’re not hurting anyone? Especially culturally. Especially with tastes. I want you to remember this, because you’ve read today’s subject and you’ve made an opinion. Leave it at the door, Boris, it’s time to question all you know. This is Up.

My sister is getting married this summer. It’s going to be a major event. So much so that me, her and Flo (the sibs) are going to have our own private hen party; allowing ourselves to wallow in awesome nostalgia without putting our long suffering other halves through the horror. To do an event such as this justice you need a decent soundtrack. Something fun, personal and great. In times like these (my 30th was a similar affair) we fall back on Right Said Fred. You know them. Of course you do. We can all recall that hot summer of ’92 when ‘I’m Too Sexy‘ crushed the globe in it’s radiant palm. I was an impressionable 7 year old desperate for friends in a class that had recently decided to hate me. But my considerably wiser 9 year old sister had bought Up on cassette having heard the mega hit and it promptly filled all of our time. It became all of time. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that fundamental seeds in my musical obsession were laid down at this time. It was just always on, filling my impressional mind with arrangements, chords and riffs I’d never experienced, and with words that were both highly addictive yet strangely adult. I still remember singing ‘Love For All Seasons’ in my chorister treble with the sibs and taking tremendous delight in yelling ‘Let’s take the phone off the hook/Pull it out the wall’. Still to this day I can place the months by singing it’s climax. Formative years you see.

This is why I never understood the guilty pleasure people feel for this album. It’s almost as if you can only be seen as cool if you come at something from an ironic perspective. I find it all bollocks, there is no guilt in my love. Right Said Fred aren’t some dumb Pop band and Up is testament to the fact. These are incredibly well written songs. Empirically well written songs. The fade from ‘Do Ya Feel‘ into ‘Is It True‘ has subtlety and poise ignored by the ‘Sexy’ lot. The balance of electronic sounds and acoustic riffs is elegant and restrained. Not once is this presented as some cash-cow to capitalise on the earlier mega success (as would often be the case nowadays) for every song has it’s own identity and purpose. This is a work of talent. Hardly surprising considering Richard Fairbrass’s previous work as a bass player for Boy George and David Bowie. There are more ideas here than any 3 previous identikit indie band’s albums. I learned much of my craft from it. For reals. So don’t be afraid. Indulge yourself. This is proper music.

Just hit play. Do it.