I hope you’ll indulge me this week while I’m on holiday, Nirvana musings don’t grow on trees but general thought sprouts wildly from every nook and cranny. I remembering thinking I’d only do this if I felt like putting up something different, well, I’m sitting in a sunbeam and feel like matching the mood. So! For this one off occasion, I’m going to explain my favourites. Apologies for being slack!
Album for Lying Down in the Dark with your Head Between the Speakers
I’ve always meant to do the family tree diagram showing my tastes evolving from the summer of 1993 where Nirvana reverted everything, for me, to Year Zero on toward the present. I’d want it to show the branches that tied Beck and Rage Against the Machine together to mean I could accept Public Enemy, Cannibal Ox and Dalek – while another branch would wed Sonic Youth and Swans to say yes to No Wave, Industrial, Electronica. Swans “Soundtracks for the Blind” is a resurgence, Michael Gira was bookending Swans career at the time and signposting the way to his future, this was after having the guts to change direction so thoroughly that he shed his entire existing audience, after a battle with alcoholism, constant money worries of dire dimensions, relationship issues, label breaks…And he came up for air at the end of it with a two and a half hour snake of an album that slowly winds between ambient noise loops, onto vast post-rock epics where guitars ring like bells and his wonderful baritone echoes, raves or purrs, through acoustic diversions stripped down to blackened bone, tapes of unnamed individuals talking about their psychological and physical ailments, one track laced with a gorgeous disco beat, his female counterpart Jarboe’s vocal showcases…Yet, despite all this, it always feels coherent, unified, as if everything belongs. It’s rare to hear an album where, though the track order barely matters, not a single piece doesn’t belong, it’s the rarest thing, a non-concept album of vast length that possesses a unity that leaves more deliberate constructions feeling so ‘try-hard.’
Songs for Gritting the Teeth, Steeling the Soul and Deciding to Conquer the World
I have an album put together by a guy called Boyd Rice, an unpleasant character who has flirted so long with Fascism it’s hard to tell where the art-joke starts anymore. On the other hand, he did put together a great record called Death’s Gladsome Song consisting of marching songs of the pre-war Romanian Iron Guard Fascist militia. Hard to detach the songs from what the people went on to do just a few years later but the songs do capture the core of a good martial tune; stirring peaks, something that could bring the boots down hard, simple sounds that could engage a thousand voices as one. That’s what brings me to Pantera ‘Walk’; the best exercise song of all time. I mean, seriously, the chorus breaks down to individual syllables ”RE! SPECT! WALK!” A street full of people with fists in the air would make that line feel like gunshots. The steady grind of the main riff likewise has cunning pauses that jerk the head forward. It’s a vengeance song and perfect for that jolt of adrenalin.
Most Unlistenable Record Ever Made
Now, clearly the true contenders here would be lift muzak, generic radio rock and the kinds of R n’ B where the performers are now so plastic and incapable of real emotion that they mistake technical multi-octave acrobatics for human expression. But if I really want to clear a room…There’s only one candidate; kids, if you want to make the house sound like the world is ending, Borbetomagus are the shriek that will emerge when God’s vengeful angels split the sky in two and pour through to uproot man from the Earth. I possess the gloriously well presented “Feel the Magic” release and all I really remember at this remove is saxophones screeching like the seas just boiled up and squeezed through the eye of a needle, what’s supposedly a guitar being choked to death in the background and having no real ability to distinguish between them. Contenders for this award included 2nd Gen Rushing at Thresholds, a track sourced from a cello recording that once caused a neighbour to enter my room and yell (with hands to ears) “it sounds like the furniture is coming through the ceiling!” John Wiese also performs a tasty line in laboratory tested noise under a variety of guises.
Album that Makes me do Hand Gestures and Mouth Lyrics at my Desk
I sit at work, I survey the domain of decent people scurrying about or buried facedown at laptops, and I need something to pep the place up. The answer is always the same; Waka Flocka Flame “Flockaveli”. I know, I’ll get crucified for this but it has everything I love in a good rock track; bombast, heavy rhythm, hooks that won’t let go…It sounds like punk always promised it would, like an riot going on. Plus, unlike a lot of mainstream hip hop, it’s relatively low on the usual infantile sexism that makes so many artists near unlistenable – I described it the other week as “more gunz, less bitchez” and that’s pretty accurate. And boy, there are a LOT of guns. The casually humorous violence has me waving gang signs at appropriate intervals I admit. Gun Sounds and Busting at ‘em are masterpieces. The only competitors in recent years have been Lil Wayne’s Six Foot, Seven Foot and A Milli, both stream of consciousness, barely room to breathe density, I admire the control, the pacing, both the twisted connections and the topic-jumps.
Massacring the Audience at My Own Funeral
I think of funerals the same way I do birthdays; it’s an occasion when one can force ones’ friends (and I’ll have precious few left by the time of my funeral if this is my attitude!) to do whatever one wishes for a day and, for the sake of politeness, it’s really hard for them to refuse. I’m looking forward to old age for a variety of reasons (pretending to slip away in the armchair then springing up just as people lean in to check my breathing; developing selective hearing that only hands out admission passes to mention of food, drink and trips to the horse-racing) but I think having the full twenty minute version of Sonic Youth’s The Diamond Sea played at the funeral is going to be a joy. There’s a longer 25 minute version (plus an 11 minute live version and a 7 minute edit) but the 20 feels most exact. There’s always been talk of music attempting to approximate natural sounds yet The Diamond Sea’s outro is the only one that truly makes me think of the rise and fall of waves post-storm. At root the song is an impressionistically expressed love song, a simple boy-girl lament. The words play out over a combination of verse-chorus-verse chiming pop music and improvisation, I can listen to it over and again and end up following completely different elements within the song – the separation between the two guitars, the bass, the drums, is so pristine that the whole can be teased back to its its parts and each one followed individually. The long instrumental outro rises up to a crescendo, dies with the kind of dignity I hope I can still muster, then rises, piece-by-piece, back from the grave, each instrument slowly reentering at creaking, soiled pace. It’s the sound of a band who collaborate so seamlessly, who are so honed as a unit, that they need only the slimmest chalk outline to be able to summon up the body as a coherent whole. Sonic Youth; the greatest band of the last thirty years.
The Records I wish Everyone Knew but No One Does
I’ll pitch two candidates in this category. In about 1999 myself and a dear comrade watched a French singer called Francois Breut in the backroom of a pub in Cambridge. The support act were a very British Americana band and when we saw their name pop up a few months later we went again…And soon again…And again…Six times in all. I bumped into the lead singer at Kings Cross Station once and garbled something like “real sorry to disturb you…But you’re what’shisname Adams from The Broken Family Band aren’t you? Just wanted to say you guys are great, we’ve been X times, we keep taking different friends to see you…” he replied “gosh, it’s a cult!” we shook hands and off we went. Or maybe he just said thank you, oops, I think he said that “it’s a cult” line six months later in the bar at a gig in North London where I was trying to get served and he pointed and said “I know you…” and I explained the group attendance thing. Anyways, go find Cold Water Songs, Jesus Songs and, my favourite, the King Will Build a Disco EP. It’s the croaky voice, the recognisable discomfort with love and romance and the opposite gender, the striving to be better than one is… I know as well that personal connection can make anything more than it might seem to an outsider; this is maybe one case.
The other entry would be Urusei Yatsura, how the heck did these guys not conquer the world? They came out around about the same time that Arab Strap (stunning!), Mogwai (magnificent in their prime) and Belle & Sebastian (…) were also emerging up in Scotland yet never seemed to break through. That’s despite writing wonderfully noisy rock songs wedded to pop choruses and great tunes all in a foil wrap of static and feedback, banged guitar bodies and screwdriver-wrecked strings. And it all sounded so joyous, everything they did sounded like they were having such fun. All of it from the significant number of single b-sides out there (Yon Kyoto Iri EP – I’ve spelt that wrong), right through the albums was played with frantic happiness. It felt good but no one else seems to feel that. When I’ve played it at other peoples’ houses sometimes it sounds like there’s too much treble, or I notice excessive hiss, or the unfriendly edges… But, on my own, it reverts to being what I’m sure it is; blissful alternative pop music. You should own Slain By. And Pulpo. And that EP I mentioned. And We Are. Just don’t buy Everyone Loves – I don’t know what happened there.
Those who Made Good Music but Never Pulled off a Good Album
This happens all the time – Eminem had cracking song after cracking song, conquered the world…But his albums were made at the peak of efforts by the music industry to make CDs seem appealing so 20 track long albums, always too long, were the norm and diluted the punch. Adding to that, even though Eminem’s skits were of higher quality than most, breaking off for some lame joke always spoilt the momentum. That was on top of the perennial album issue of filler tracks that might as well go anywhere. People really should learn to take the Nirvana route and go for twelve songs deep of solid gold and after that they should have to justify each and every song’s unique right to be there, Oasis got this more or less right in their heyday. Anyways, my candidate here is Throbbing Gristle. Let’s get this straight, I love the music. I looked after the family’s first dog once while my parents were away. I sat in the conservatory and played the entire Throbbing Gristle “24” live box-set which contained 24 hours of music – occasionally the dog would hear something on the recording that I hadn’t noticed, he’d appear at the door, cock his head to one side and stare into the room like he could see ghosts. The individuals involved went on to make albums I adore; Coil’s Musick to Play in the Dark (both volumes) or Psychic TV’s Force Thee Hand of Chance. But in that initial entity, they never quite managed it. Their most coherent release was 20 Jazz Funk Greats, but it cohered around some clear single quality tracks while much of it felt dashed off. Other releases were like compilations of whatever unholy spine-pricking nastiness or willowy keyboard prettiness they happened to be staring at for that moment. As a body of work, it’s immense, but as single disc entities…None have that golden glimmer. But seriously, spend some time with twelve inches of Throbbing Gristle.
I’ll leave it there. When it comes to Nirvana, the last thing to really spark me was a good quality live rendition of Run Rabbit Run on the bootleg The Chosen Rejects – love it. More please. What am I listening to in general? Waka Flocka Flame free mixtapes, the soundtrack to Blood on Satan’s Claw plus other weird library music and 70s exotica from Trunk Records, Black Boned Angel “Verdun”, Sleep Research Facility “Stealth”, a load of stuff by experimental guitarist Fear Falls Burning…