Archive for June, 2013

http://pitchfork.com/news/51356-watchlisten-pixies-bagboy-first-new-song-in-nine-years/

Merely a late on Sunday aside but Cobain favourite The Pixies (sans Kim Deal who has, once again, left to focus on the revival of The Breeders and the twentieth anniversary tour of their best known album) have just released their first new composition in many a year…

…Any thoughts from this side? I’m always unsure what I’m looking for in the sound of a reformed or long-translucent band; is it good if they sound precisely like they always did or is that a sign of stagnation and an absence of inspiration? Then again, if they sound significantly different, does that rob them of the qualities that made them pleasurable in the first place? Oh well…

In this instance, the song combines recognisable touches in the tone of the guitar, the chopped out chords leading into the buzzing held notes – alongside the refreshed drum sound. The backing chant initially grated during the very new wave intro section before fitting neatly into later sections. There’s something of the hectoring street preacher in Black Francis’ vocals before it returns to more familiar yelps in the long breakdown mid-song. It’s a neat combination of 25 year old motifs with fresher interests…Go see.

If I had a criticism I’d say a lot of sections go on longer than kept my interest; curtail the intro, chop the whole song down a minute, slice the outro off sooner…

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A year ago I purchased The Beatles box-set, the complete discography…Admittedly I don’t entirely remember ordering it, I may have had one or two drinks more than was mature and sensible, however, I don’t regret it at all. I’ll admit completely that I find the very early albums unlistenable, there’s something so alien to me about the dominant musical style of the early Sixties (“the Sixties” as clichéd era didn’t commence until into the middle of the decade as a chronological measure) that I find it hard if not impossible to entertain what sounds so cloying to ears that have been solidly wrecked by fifty years of musical evolution since 1963.

A friend of mine, who I really need to get on and lend this to, defines the problem as how to forget all the echoes and extrapolations and duplications that have occurred as a direct result of The Beatles and their ilk — it’s near impossible to hear such a theoretical concept as ‘the original’ as an aural quality with ears used to heightened volume, ever greater emphasis on bass, etc. The original often sounds weak, tame, unimportant compared to the sounds one is more naturally used to. When I listen to the early albums of The Beatles I’m struck by the relatively tinny sound, the skeletal quality, the harmony vocals, chord sequences and musical approaches drawn from formal dances…

Similarly, it’s hard to appreciate the truth of Nirvana’s status in 1992. An intellectual understanding that many other until then unknown bands achieved multi-platinum sales that year, that a large number of alternative bands emerged as rising stars in 1990-1991 and others would follow, that ultimately musical genius is relative, that for older fans Nirvana’s onstage antics and sound were reminiscent of the bands they had considered, in their youth, geniuses — none of it overwhelms that sense that the band was special, exceptional and different. It’s similarly easy to understand that Kurt Cobain’s death — exceptionally taking place at the height of his fame (or at least within very easy touching distance); not a common occurrence — prevented the band having to endure a more prosaic break-up, made them immune to the passing of generations and therefore the switching of taste that tends to come with it.

What’s harder to do is to truly set aside twenty years of hagiography, of positions in the regular top tens and top whatevers of music criticism and/or discussion, anniversary releases, the increasing reduction of interest down to a hardcore of fellow fanatics who are bound to confirm and re-confirm importance, significance and relevance.

That’s where this cartoon pleases me, it’s taken from an old VIZ annual and, beyond poking fun at the transience of teenage/student/young tastes (it started with a reference to The Happy Mondays), it opens two avenues for me. Firstly there’s the matter of the geographic significance of Nirvana. While the band did have a strong following in the U.K. and while Top of the Pops, The Word, various BBC sessions and Reading ’92 have welded Britain into the Nirvana story the local aspect of British taste is visible — while confirming that Nirvana were hot in Britain the comparisons made are to relatively local favourites, The Happy Mondays — a relatively brief flash in the pan who seem bigger and more significant in hindsight than the extent of their reign demands — and Curve — a band I can’t even remember now but who apparently stuck around until the middle of the last decade — are the acts chosen to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Nirvana. It simultaneously deems Nirvana to be no more than the equal of two bands that were barely known elsewhere and also robs Nirvana of the very American universe of comparisons in which they’re traditionally set; Guns n’ Roses, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and so forth.

Secondly, it shrinks Nirvana down significantly from this near untouchable position of power to a condition where they stand alongside a band that charted one album in five in the U.S. (in position 89) and a band that, again, barely charted outside of the U.K. and saw its albums march backwards from 22 in the chart, to 23, 103 and nowhere across its releases. This isn’t to denigrate either band; it’s to point out that Nirvana’s position in 1992 was as a stunning success but with no indication whether there was a longer-term significance. They weren’t exceptional.

On the other hand, it emphasises Nirvana’s international ubiquity by wedging Nirvana in as the international representative in between two local successes with a distinctly British accent. The sound of Nirvana has been picked over and either criticised or praised for drawing on mainstream hard rock, on Beatlesesque qualities, on punk, on underground flavours of the late Eighties and early Nineties as well. The company in which this cartoon places Nirvana suggests that the simplicity of Nirvana’s sound, built on a very strong awareness and knowledge of Anglo-American music trends of the era, allowed Nirvana to slip into the playlists of multiple audiences.

It also wedges Nirvana into the various worldwide alternative currents — for example, British guitar music went through a spell in which it was firmly wedded to the dance music scene that had spiralled out of rave in the late Eighties — and voids the mainstream/alternative argument to some extent. Nirvana slipped right in alongside U.K. ‘baggy’ culture and so forth. It was only in America, where the charts had never been dominated by an alternative to hard rock before (remember even The Sex Pistols didn’t hit platinum in America until 1992), that there was difficulty in judging the sound of Nirvana and emphasis was placed on what they shared with the mainstream tradition rather than what they shared with the underground.

…So, in conclusion, can you tell I sometimes think too much if I extrapolate all of that from a 1992 Student Grant cartoon in Britain’s premier adult-orientated comic? Do go read VIZ, it’s good for the soul.

The other week we looked at the songs Nirvana can be shown, on the existing evidence, to have played the most (https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/06/05/which-songs-did-nirvana-play-the-most-the-top-x/), which songs they played most consistently over time (https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/06/06/the-most-popular-nirvana-songs-another-measure/) and which album was most dominant (https://nirvana-legacy.com/2013/06/11/album-dominance-which-album-did-nirvana-play-the-most/). Today I want to head in the other direction, to the bottom of the table.

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As ever, the status of Big Long Now is a tragic situation — it’s an original and unusual song in the Nirvana catalogue and pure bad luck that we can only suspect it was played more. In fact Blandest falls into the same category; the likelihood is that both songs were played in the early spell of 1989 when the biggest gap in known set-lists for Nirvana exists. This would immediately reverse the situation and make two songs from the tail-end of Nirvana’s career (You Know You’re Right and Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip) the lowest entries — the 1993-1994 tour was a spell when Nirvana’s formerly free-wheeling, varied and regularly advancing set-lists gave way to relatively static and unchanging repetition and this would fit.

What’s also noticeable is how the results reinforce how clear-sighted Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were about the status and condition of their songs. It’s absolutely visible that songs that were essentially discarded or served, at best, as b-side or bonus fodder, dominate the list. 17 of the bottom 20 songs are in that category which, given the relatively brief nature of Nirvana’s catalogue is significant; six of the songs made it out on Incesticide, three were b-sides or bonus songs, eight were never released in Cobain’s life time/Nirvana’s life-span.

The remaining three songs — Swap Meet, Sifting and Tourette’s — again reinforce that sense of clear decision in Nirvana’s music. Tourette’s, though fun, was always a filler on In Utero, a track with debatable lyrics and the listing “cufk, tish, sips” in the inlay — its real function lay in being another snipe at criticisms that Cobain mumbled lyrics or was some kind of idiot savant blurting involuntary sounds rather than a man who carefully considered, wrote and re-wrote his lyrics before committing them to a final recording. Swap Meet ties into the early songs on Incesticide in that they show Cobain’s early Nirvana songs to be relatively wordy (and non-repetitive) and, as a consequence, relatively hard to perform live hence the low number of performances. Sifting, meanwhile, was a late addition to Bleach and potentially the candidate for being the song written from scratch in the descriptions of frenzied writing around the time of Bleach; again, it was there to fill space and, remembering Sub Pop structured Bleach to begin with what they thought was Nirvana’s best songs through to their least favourite, of relatively low status — something reflected in it being equally ignored on stage.

Nirvana’s ‘growth spurt’ between 1987-1989 is equally clear. Kurt Cobain’s writing underwent significant changes in the early years as he tried on and discarded various identities. This, consequently, came with much trying on and throwing away of songs too. Fourteen of the songs on the least performed list are definitely pre-1990 compositions while one, Tourette’s, has been said by Krist Novoselic to have been first attempted at that time. It does indicate the linear nature of Cobain’s work, that he tended to move on from sounds and styles with few songs shifting out of or beyond their original time periods to appear on later recordings. That’s also a consequence of Nirvana’s fast recording style; they were highly efficient in studio (partially as a result of relative poverty until 1991) and songs were recorded and used very rapidly.

I’ve stated before, as recently as yesterday, that Incesticide’s Side B is essentially an unreleased 1987 Nirvana EP. The list of least played songs reinforces the fact that, prior to moving onto Sub Pop and beginning to write to fit the grunge audiences, Nirvana had a full album ready to go in January 1988; Erectum, If You Must, Pen Cap Chew, Annorexorcist, Aero Zeppelin, Hairspray Queen, Mexican Seafood, Beeswax and so forth. Nirvana barely performed in 1987 and didn’t have a taxing performance schedule in 1988 (or a stable drummer until after the middle of the year) and this list makes clear that an entire identity was discarded.

As you’ll have noted at some point, particularly if you’ve been checking the blog for a while, the initial reason I kicked it off was I wanted to make use of some leftovers from a book I wrote on the subject of the Nirvana album Incesticide. Dark Slivers: Seeing Nirvana in the Shards of Incesticide took me most of last year, most evenings, notes written around daytime activities, scraps of paper from the gym, thoughts in the swimming pool, even a holiday at my parents spent doing extra hours long into the night. In summary though, why did I bother? Why is a half-forgotten compilation from twenty years ago worth another look?

Well, the book is my argument for it, but here’s the overall summary in ten quick n’ easy points:

(1) While rarities collections are increasingly common, in 1992 it was unusual for a band to showcase its abandoned material except posthumously and note the sheer focus on quality; no live cuts, no sketches or half-hearted demos of songs that weren’t finished pieces of work, the time taken to swap out versions that were disliked

(2) Except for the most fanatical Nirvana fans, the vast majority of the songs were unreleased or appeared in a different version from that already visible. It was an extremely generous release both to fans, given the depth of material present, and to friends given the exposure given to The Vaselines

(3) The release was Nirvana’s first major post-fame statement and was Cobain’s first real reaction to his discomfort; he gave it an un-family friendly title and stuck a well-publicised message inside attacking his enemies (the earlier draft having been refused for simply being a screed of personal abuse against certain individuals)

(4) It’s the best opportunity to glimpse Nirvana pre-Bleach/pre-Sub Pop/pre-Grunge. Side B is an EP length 1987 Nirvana showcasing what they sounded like prior to any substantial live experience, without any guidance from a label, simply playing the kind of music they enjoyed at that point; they wanted to channel Melvins, Scratch Acid and Butthole Surfers

(5) The release was the first time Cobain had received so much personal control over an album and he personalised it massively; he supplied the cover art (rather than making suggestions that an art director carried out), he made his first big written address to his fans and selected or discarded possible songs for it depending on his feelings about the songs, their state of completion or whether they were potentially for the next Nirvana release; songs only went onto Incesticide if they were ‘dead’

(6) I would argue, there are games and intentional moves going on with the structure of the entire album; a number of jokes implanted — for example, note how Nevermind Side A finishes with Polly, Incesticide Side A finishes with Polly and In Utero Side A finishes with Dumb which Cobain stated on MTV Unplugged was cribbed from Polly. This also emphasises the unity of Nirvana’s catalogue

(7) A further vendetta played out on Incesticide, outside of the liner notes, was the desire in 1992 to take control of Nirvana’s finances. The Incesticide release featured Downer that Sub Pop had tried to use in 1992 as an incentive for sales of Bleach and Dive, which Sub Pop had used for the same purpose in late 1991. By including those two songs so soon after Sub Pop’s use the opportunity for Sub Pop to profit from Nirvana’s success was reduced

(8) The release was a very specific part of Nirvana’s flight back to the underground post-Nevermind. It sits solidly within a lineage of uglier, less pop releases thus pointing the way to the future of Nirvana and forming part of the reaction against Nevermind’s polished perfection; it was a declaration of the past and of future intent

(9) It’s a vital testament to the way Nirvana abandoned two alternative paths; firstly the new wave orientation of 1987 and then the power-pop/K Records vibe of 1989-1990. Incesticide makes clear that Bleach’s grunge direction wasn’t inevitable, nor was Nevermind’s mainstream/Pixies-influenced rock take either. Incesticide shows what masters Nirvana were of styles prevalent in the alternative rock and indie underground and how they could make all those sounds their own while always moving on — it’s a great statement of Nirvana’s restlessness and how many styles they attempted

(10) It shows how literary Kurt Cobain was; his earliest songs are in fact among his most lyrically complicated and extensive. At one stage it used to be felt that Spank Thru couldn’t possibly have been on Fecal Matter because there’s no way Cobain could be that sophisticated that early; Incesticide shows him to have been a wordy, varied lyricist — one who learnt later to reduce and simplify and to write in pop modes. In terms of non-repeating lines, these were his longest songs

Did I say ten reasons? I could go on. For example, I’d argue that Incesticide is Nirvana’s tribute to Eighties underground music and as such is the best selling examples of a decade of music — the first top-selling true punk album in America. I’d say that With the Lights Out showed that Incesticide really was the cream of Nirvana’s outtakes — that Cobain et al. had cherry-picked the finest in 1992. I’d also point out that given how many songs Cobain wrote in total this is a substantial collection in simple numerical terms. It’s also a demonstration of the more experimental vibes of Nirvana at the same time as showing the contrast between the kinds of material Cobain brought to Nirvana versus the deeper experiments he played with in the late Eighties such as backwards recording, sound collage, voice effects and so forth.

In other words, I wrote about Incesticide because it’s a compilation with a hell of a lot going on. You should check it again and, if I may be so bold, I think my book might help – as it says at the top, order from me directly via NirvanaDarkSlivers@gmail.com or nicksoulsby@hotmail.com

An intriguing recommendation this week…I’d never heard of Raglans until Tuesday when in discussion with a gentleman from the much underappreciated Irish band Power of Dreams he revealed that http://www.nirvanaguide.com is inaccurate and the PoD didn’t play with Nirvana on August 21, 1991 (quotation from the band’s guitarist Keith Walker “We were on the bill for reading 92 (Nirvana’s infamous headline slot) but never got to play our scheduled mean fiddler tent set as proceedings were postponed due to heavy winds for about 3 hours that day/evening.”) Pete pointed out he was now involved with Raglans and just suggested I should give them a look…

…Well, I did. Much love to the farm vibed video intro, this brought back memories of living in Lincolnshire, and then the quality gym sequence…What to say? A hoot. And it just goes on Monty Python lumberjack vibe, a sinister fishing expedition…It’s a montage of good ideas with the band stoically maintaining their gangsta mean mugs throughout. Music wise, bright, active, I like the skittering guitar reminds me of both U2 and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the bass pauses and drops at well-judged moments (I like records where I can hear and appreciate the bass-playing, it’s often such an underrated element of a sound.) Combine that with the likeable vocals, the chant-able chorus and well-used cooing… I like!

Anyways, hope you like it too. There’s a free download of the song at http://www.diggingholes.net too which is helpful. Nice.

Anyways, apologies, no Saturday post, I’m going to be on a boat. If you’d like to see where then do check my friends’ very worthy blog at http://nbfelucca.wordpress.com/ A sweet couple each with a writing style that makes me chuckle and feel inspired all at once. And they’re right, Felucca does sound like an Italian football player or a foot infection. They were also right that taking advantage of a moment of freedom and taking off to float merrily around Britain for as long as they wish was a good idea, too many people saying “i’ll do it when I retire” in this world.

Simone Weill stated “one has only the choice between God and idolatry.” Strangely I actually agree with the statement; the absence of religious belief doesn’t lead to a void of central meaning, it replaces it with a different basis for belief within which people choose to venerate and devote their lives to things other than a religious entity. Naturally I feel equally happy to sneer at that quest for meaning within career, home, love, parenthood as I do at religion. The core point though is that it isn’t a choice between God and nothing.

The question has been asked many times whether Kurt Cobain’s teenage dalliances with religion, which went as far as Kurt accepting baptism, extended into a mature faith in God. I’m less concerned with that given, if he did possess such faith, then a significant sum of his actions as an adult won’t exactly get him much sympathy at the Last Judgment. What intrigues me more is that his life does possess a genuine quest to restore a central meaning to his activity — Weill would rephrase that as an idolatry.

The most obvious answer that could be given is that Cobain idolised music, but I would state it was a deeper urge. The component he emphasised was, firstly, his words rather than his instrumental expression — he strongly dismissed his skills as a guitarist, little of his music exists without the intention being to cloak it with lyrics. Likewise, even if his self-criticism was overstated he was no guitar worshipper, no untrammelled explorer of the instrument’s possibilities, nor a player overawed by its history — he was dismissive not just of his skills with it but also of the instrument and its tiredness. His words clearly took significant work with his crucial spells of song-writing all coinciding with significant time alone to draft on paper — more so, he was a committed journal-writer throughout his adulthood with his writing activity extending far beyond music. Added to this is his extensive artistic efforts, a further expressive medium he stretched in various directions out as far as video efforts same as he took his musical efforts beyond the guitar onto drums and across various tape experiments.

My argument would be that the expression of self was Cobain’s primary purpose and the form of idolatry was therefore the internal drives and wishes that demanded self-expression uber-alles. I see no evidence of a genuine religious belief in the actions of Cobain but, to be fair, I’m based in the basically non-religious U.K. where church attendance, formal church allegiance and formal belief have all given way to a more generic pick-n’-choose spirituality and a vague belief in ‘something out there’ unaccompanied by impositions on the physical individual in the here-and-now. There’s no specific evidence of Cobain’s genuine beliefs one way or the other beyond the adolescent ‘trying on’ of identities that might have helped him fit in with where he was at that time.

As a sidebar I saw this beautiful post in which the writer states “his suicide note states at the beginning ‘dear Buddha’”. Wonderful. And whether that’s accurate or not I do believe the world can always do with more laughing with, not at:

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Does_Kurt_Cobain_believe_in_God

So, what’s your chosen idolatry? Mine appears to be information, constant consumption of information at the expense of financial wisdom, time to contemplate, social stuff, etc.

http://www.timescolonist.com/entertainment/after-hearing-from-kurt-cobain-nirvana-fans-aberdeen-keeping-come-as-you-are-welcome-sign-1.320640

I’d like to assure you that the ‘stunning news’ line was definitely a touch sarcastic. One thing I did take from the Halperin/Wallace Cobain conspiracy books was a reconfirmed sense that often the news is a manipulated object in which hard-working (indeed over-worked) people — with harsh deadlines and a need to pump a certain amount of news product per-day, per-week, per-month — take the easy route and occasionally take some non-news to bulk things out and fill space giving them time to focus on items that deserve and require more time and energy.

…I know this to be true because I think it’s fair to say I’ve occasionally done it myself here on http://www.nirvana-legacy.com — there have been weeks where the data work or background thinking for a piece has required substantial hours to grind out (and remember I have a proper job too so I leave the house at 7.20am, I return home at 6.30pm, I sometimes work much later, I generally maintain some kinda social life, I do exercise sometimes too all of which compresses and compacts the time available to prepare the blog posts for here; Allahu akbar, praise be to God for giving me a high typing speed.) When those times come around I’ll admit to dashing off quick thoughts, ramming an undigested idea out into the world always with the intention to return to it later. I even try to keep a lightweight piece or two tucked in my belt for emergencies.

In the case of this article regarding Aberdeen, State of Washington we’re greeted with the revelatory news that the town is going to keep the Cobain lyric adorning the town sign. On the positive side, 300 people can make a difference to a local situation — in a world where the might of little people acting locally is often underrated it’s nice to see more evidence of that truth. As an example local to me:

http://www.castlesupporters.org.uk/

This pub is just down my road. Not the finest looking building but there’s been a pub there since before the founding of the United States of America and it’s a real boon to the area. So far at least the motivation and mobilisation of local residents has kept its new owners from bulldozing it despite several attempts (ongoing) and the kicking out of the people running the pub. My fingers are crossed that the resistance keeps going.

I digress, in the case of the Aberdeen sign, I admit I read this article with a touch of cynicism; Aberdeen is famous for Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and…Yup, that’s the only reason most people will have ever heard of Aberdeen as anything more than a brief mention in a bio somewhere. I’m not convinced that the town would ever seriously consider removing the minor league tribute to their most famous resident. But, on the other hand, I am fairly sure that reporting they were considering doing it may have drawn some attention to the town.

I admit I was surprised they only received 300 messages but I’m wondering whether the supposed ‘threat’ was so local that only a tiny number of people were even aware such an idea was being discussed and the whole affair was drawn to a close before it could go further.

I have to thank Tom Grant too at this point for making the tape available of Courtney Love admitting to having planted stories in the media; the tapes he’s put up are worth a listen just to lend some colour to things. And hey, in things that meant something to me this week? I dropped a mention of the last few articles detailing my objections to the murder theories onto the Justice for Kurt page on Facebook, being respectful, and the individual running the site took the time to like the link and acknowledge me — now that really does mean something to me. We may be divided on one issue but we each enjoy and even adore the music of Nirvana and that’s enough. So, if I might be allowed a dedication, I’d like to dedicate today to decent Nirvana fans because, as the gentleman at Justice for Kurt says: “Hey I appreciate you taking interest in the subject and…even if we have different opinions, it’s nice to hear that people still care for Cobain.”