Salem Al Fakir – Part Of It

It’s a millenial thing, this idea that everything should just appear to you when you want it. The commercialised (or should I say, ‘advertised’) world is beside itself with bending to our whims and needs; a constant stream of content delivered on demand. Demand. That’s a dangerous word. Bad things happen when you build the world around what you perceive ‘demand’ to be. There is arguably little proportionate demand for opera or the British new complexity movement; but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t vital, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be part of our perceptual whole. Yet in a saddening swirl of misfortune, orientating towards a specific demand has bottomed out the music industry. The demand for free music post-Napster is insatiable, equalled only by the desire to have everything instantly accessible all the time. It’s so numbing. Get me not wrong, I am a huge fan of Spotify and how it has allowed us to control over the way we discover music (of which it proportionally pays far higher than radio); but it still puts me in a quandry. I miss the romance. I miss the struggle. Having to order a CD into Longplayer in Tunbridge Wells and waiting the weeks for it to arrive. The sheer thrill of delayed returns as much a part of it as anything. Yesterday, in the midst of a white Rioja haze, I got the romance back.

Salem Al Fakir is a Swedish multi-instrumentalist and has the distinction (shared with Veronica Maggio) of being the first artist I really, truly got into once I landed in Scandinavia. He has no box and veers wildly between folk, jazz, pure-pop, electronic experimentalism and orchestral soundscapes. I felt an immediate kinship. Yet my experience was wholly through the prism of my lovely Wes’ Swedish Spotify account and a couple of iTunes purchases she made as a teenager. The moment we decided on sharing my paid account (tied to a British card) and closing her free one, I lost access to Salem. Initially I was a little despondent that his output wasn’t available internationally, I had a demand that was failing to be fulfilled. Nowadays I think it was a pretty smart move; to buy Ignore This (the parent album for ‘Part Of It’) I had to go through the arduous process of changing my country from the UK to Sweden through iTunes which involved not only inputting new payment details but also changing my address on three separate pages. The struggle made my appreciation of the final result so, so much better because I had wanted it so badly. Ignore This now has a story. That said, without a quality of music there would be no point in any of this. Something Salem knows all to clearly.

salem2broyal2bwedding2b13-06-15

Quality enough for a royal wedding, for example.

Wes never owned ‘Part Of It’. It was only once I settled and explored her Swedish Spotify that I was able to start filling in the blanks of her collection. You know those moments when music is bubbling in the background, providing a happysad soundtrack to your life as you imagine unknown voyeurs marveling at how John Hughes your life is. You know when your mind then locks into some little grain of audio sand and you have to drop everything to actually focus on what you are listening to. That. That happened in the middle of making dinner. I had to stop as my brain processed what was going on. On the surface ‘Part Of It’ is just a modal synth-led bit of expressive electro-pop. 3 minutes 46 of pleasant sounds and funky beats. Simple. But listen to those beats; listen to the 3 competing textural layers, listen to how off-kilter the bass drum spasms, listen to how the 4 beat is implied instead of voiced. The whole construction presents a slow, languid pulse beneath the frenetic clothes of drum hits. Listen to the meticulous synth arrangement; 80s string chords, subtle choir hints and bright melodic accents supporting both the drums and the euphoric chorus melody. It’s like looking into the watch mechanism and only seeing two hands spin round. This sheer amount of complexity behind the music gave it an edge that I couldn’t resist.

Then you have the lyrics.

The best art juxtaposes. It makes you think. This beautiful, beautiful music. This infectiously singable euphoria is about domestic abuse. After setting the scene of a victim weighing up escape (“I dare you to take a step outside/get on up, get on up/the train is going that way”, “I dare you to take a step outside/so afraid, so afraid/of opposite directions”), Salem drops all metaphor and pretence. “How does it feel when you beat your wife?”. The harmonic support, so pleasing and kind, does nothing to soften the blow. The ‘it’ that we don’t want to be a part of takes on a myriad of connotations. It could be the victim wanting the suffering to end. It could be Salem speaking from an experience he may have witnessed. It could even be us, the voyeur, shocked at the scene but still turning our backs, fingers in ears, singing pleasant melodies to ignore the horror.

This is the best music. Take it on whichever level you like but be aware that there is depth if you peer under the surface. I am personally gutted that Salem has retired from solo work, it truly is some of the best I have ever heard. If you get the chance to listen to or, better yet, buy any of his albums, I thoroughly recommend it.

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Alien Ant Farm (on midweek buzz induced nostalgia)

Guilty pleasure simply doesn’t exist. If you feel guilty in enjoying something it is merely a sign that you are straining against your nature and uncomfortably fitting into the box that life has dumped you in. Would acknowledging that make you happy? I am myself; all inclusive, a one off. We all are. I’m utterly different from my closest allies and trusted companions, something worth remembering. We are all different from each other so why pretend that we have to fit into someone else’s perceived idea of how we should act. There is no guilt, there is merely pleasure. Shame is absent. When I was younger I loved the new alternative metal; a genre which before my eyes contracted and commercialised into the bastard tongue “Nu” variety. Nu-metal, I see it making you shudder. Be patient.

Where will Perry’s arrow murmur? I honestly don’t know right now, I’ve got a midweek buzz on that’s positively balmy. This post was started with a mind to showcase Downer’s impeccably 00s ‘Last Time‘; a band that released an album on Roadrunner Records before completely disappearing. No Spotify, no iTunes, very little Youtube. The saddest of fates in this digital age. This was followed with a full on succumbing to Alien Ant Farm, a much maligned band who gave by far an away the most nuanced record of this badly remembered age. I should come back to it… I don’t know, maybe throw a leaf into the wind and see where it lands. Linkin Park. They’ll do. Actually, sod that, I DO want to talk Alien Ant Farm. A band that suffered the excesses of nu-metal worse than most: disturbingly talented yet stage hogging 6-stringed bass player, quietly jazz influenced drummer and extended 9th obsessed guitarist. Add a sublimely unhinged 80s cover and Bingo! But they musically stick in my head more than most. Don’t get me wrong, I proudly like Limp Bizkit more, but that’s likely because they were around longer. But put 3 Dollar against ANThology and I think AAF pips it. It’s the sheer tonal variety and positive sheen that wins out.

An album review to follow. In the meantime, here’s a taster to lock your teeth in.

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.

Europe is Awesome!: Spectral Display (The Netherlands)

So my plan to write a very long positive cultural case for staying in the European Union is currently swimming around a diatribe against the British Government for their shameful slashing of the arts budget and disregard for artists in general. If I’m honest, it’s not the best fun to read. So while I try and find balance and a reason to stop grinding my personal axe, I thought it best to highlight how Britain is so blatantly obviously European by showcasing some brilliant tunes from across the continent. The arts are unique in that they ignore boundaries; cross-pollinating over seas and conflicts until the whole act of creation itself follows the same geographical impulse. We British are made strong by Europe. We lead and follow cultural developments whilst maintaining a personality firmly our own. The same can be said of every country in the Union; our cultures are never lost, they are clearly enhanced and strengthened. I know this. I live this. My life in Sweden is full of “well that couldn’t sound anymore Swedish if it turned out to be about Midsommar” moments about songs which, with a language change, would rule Radio 1. This is what I think I’ll try and get across as the days to this flawed plebiscite draw near. Where better to start than the 80s and Amsterdam’s own Spectral Display.

Spotify introduced me to this absolute gem of an album though I do remember MIA covering the joyous ‘It Takes A Muscle [To Fall In Love]‘ way back in 2010. New Wave was a wonderful movement full of surprisingly forward thinking song constructions that root themselves firmly to the popular spectrum. Spectral Display is no different. A wonderfully bonkers, synth-led groove of an album, dripping with unease and chaste joy. Moments of Eurythmics, Gary Newman, OMD etc. are all present, yet there is that slight, unexpected phrasing in the vocal that lifts it away from British influence toward something a little more Dutch. ‘You Don’t Know How Much I Love You’, other than coalescing my current feelings towards both Britain and the EU, broods and emotes in effortless waves of pulsing synths. It never overstretches itself but conveys a considerable heft for such a simple piece. A beautiful album, a funky album, an album worth re-visiting. European electronica at it’s finest.

To reiterate: Culture knows no boundaries. Hopefully this will become abundantly clear as the days draw on but at the very least it should show we are no different than our family over the Channel and beyond. We belong together because we are the same people, merely seen from different perspectives. I don’t have the words to explain my anger at accusations otherwise.

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

Yes, I know. I’ve been slack. I continue to be slack. The pressures of PhD proposals, wedding compositions and collaborations has put the Appraisal on the backburner a little. Sorry about that. As a stop-gap here’s a cracker of a tune. Just don’t watch the live version, it doesn’t translate well.

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.

Listings: 7 Awesome Eurovision Songs Needed In Your Life

Let’s not mess about, the Eurovision is great. Actually, truly, un-ironically great. All those trendy nostalgia fiends laughing in their hipster bars at the bizarre nature of it all miss the point entirely. It is not to be laughed at, it is to be enjoyed and raised. So in no particular order, here are 7 awesome songs to fill your ears with ahead of Saturday’s final. Hoorah

1. Ruslana – Wild Dances

The second greatest Eurovision song ever and unique to this day; Ukraine’s 2004 winner is a phenomenal riot of primal rhythms, folk melodies and a simply genius pop chorus. It’s stop-start aggression stomps over you with glee and abandon. Listening to it now, I’m so happy I could cry.

2. Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes

Yes, I know it only won last year and that I’ve already written about it at length. I also know that I am achingly biased as I have more than a passing interest in Sweden. That said, this is still a brilliantly crafted song that holds off the drop until my soul breaks from anticipation. It’s so good that everyone this year is ripping it off. Call it Lordi syndrome. I love it.

3. Laka – Pukosaj

Now for the greatest Eurovision performance there ever has and ever will be: Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 2008 entry, brimming with ideas and energy. That a sizeable chunk of the allowed 3 minutes is dedicated to a slow build-up shows the confidence Laka has in his craft. What a build-up. When it breaks it is as if the clouds are falling after months of drought. I stand under it, mouth agape as it washes the arid past away. The ashes blowing in the wind. The bud opening in the morning light. I could go on. I probably shouldn’t.

4. Sebastien Tellier – Divine

2008 was a vintage year and France’s Sebastien Tellier (a genuinely phenomenal composer in his own right) got into the spirit with aplomb. This performance has everything; a cheery melody, doo-wop backing, golf cart entrance, helium, and singers in beards. Despite this madness, the most interesting and controversial decision was to sing in English, a first for the French entry which strangely makes it more charming than it need be.

5. Pollopönk – No Prejudice

Man, this should have won. This should have won SO bad. Though if you arere going to be beat then you might as well be beat by Conchita Wurst (which in of itself was a phenomenal song). This song makes me so happy; an Icelandic ball of summer and colour and life all wrapped up with the most positive message ever put before Europe.

6. Michalis Rakintzis – S.A.G.A.P.O

Forgive me my personal nostalgia. 2002, I am only 17 and it’s my first Eurovision party. This song starts to play in all of it’s Grecian surrealism and melodic strangeness. I am forever hooked. That is all.

7. LT United – We Are The Winners Of Eurovision

There’s always one that tries to demand the win with tongue marginally in cheek, but this was different. It’s just so simple and charming with a gloriously subtle presentation by 6 suave, middle aged Lithuanians. It shouldn’t work at all. It should just throw all glam rock pretensions onto the pyre; but by the time the electric violin solo comes (from out of nowhere I might add) there is nothing to do. You are broke. I search frantically in my pockets for any spare points I can give them without success. Vote, vote, vote for the winners!

Enjoy your Eurovision one and all! But before you go be sure to like and subscribe and blah, blah, blah. You know how social media works. Here are the click links for Twitter, Facebook and Soundcloud. I trust you and your judgement; we wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

Byeeee!

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.

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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.