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Facebook Challenges Music

10 days/10 albums Facebook challenge

Over on Facebook, a lot of people have been doing a thing where every day for 10 days you post the cover of an album which ‘greatly influenced’ your taste in music. On the Facebook posts, you’re only supposed to post the cover with no explanations or reviews etc. I decided to compile my ten into this blogpost with a little explanation/review of each one.

Day 1: Radiohead – Ok Computer

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Widely cited as one of the greatest albums of the 1990’s, if not all time, OK Computer catapulted Radiohead into The Big Leagues and topped most year-end lists in 1997. Since then it has also topped countless ‘greatest albums’ lists. Before OK Computer was released, I was happily listening to Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene. These were my favourite bands. When I first heard Paranoid Android, lead single from OK Computer, I was blown away. Music could be weird. Music could be creative. Music didn’t have to be boring four-chord, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus dadrock like Oasis. Guitars, while key to the sound, didn’t have to be the only instrument. Effects were used creatively and experimentally, like the Roland Space Echo on Subterranean Homesick Alien. Live drumming was cut up and rearranged in the studio – inspired by DJ Shadow’s seminal Endtroducing – like on opening space dub rocker Airbag. This opened up worlds of possibility for me. I began seeking out weird and experimental music as a habit. A habit which I retain to this day. And I’ve not really listened to Oasis since.

Day 2: Pavement – Brighten the Corners

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Pavement’s 1997 album Brighten the Corners is not generally considered to be one of their best records. But to me it was the first time I heard what would go on to be one of my favourite bands. I heard Shady Lane a lot on Steve Lamacq’s Evening Session on Radio 1 and John Peel. What attracted me to Pavement was the laid back, stoned vibes of the songs, the gentle effortlessness of the playing (which isn’t nearly as effortless as it first sounds) and the unusual, quirky lyrics – which 14-year-old me didn’t really understand but loved anyway. It’s definitely not my favourite Pavement album, but as the first I heard, it will always hold a special place in my musical tastes.

Day 3: Autechre – Tri Repetae

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The first electronic music album in my list and the first one that truly excited me about the possibilities of electronic music and made me want to produce it myself. The cold, sparse arrangements and the intricate glitches were what initially drew me in, but the warm bass and the solid drum programming and production are what made me stay. Closing track Rsdio is one of my favourite tracks of all time. A 9-minute slow build-up of various repetitive elements which form together into a glorious glitchy groove embedded in an echoey, desolate soundscape. My first copy of Tri Repetae was actually a CD-R which a friend burned for me. After the album ended, he’d added the generative glitchy mess that is Gantz Graf. This noisy electronic classic led me towards weirder, glitchier and more abrasive electronic music.

Day 4: Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump

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I could, and indeed will, write a lot more about this album than I have space for here. It’s a legitimate masterpiece, in my opinion. Jason Lytle is a ridiculously talented songwriter and the way he blends traditional rock instruments with bleeping atmospheric synths and drum machines is just so unique. And then to use this technique to tell a story about civilisation collapsing due to the Y2K millennium bug (a hot topic at the time) with a sad and beautiful subplot about an artificially intelligent humanoid robot named Jed who writes depressing poetry then drinks himself to death. I cannot recommend this album enough.

Day 5: Belle and Sebastian – The Boy with the Arab Strap

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This is another one that caught me by surprise. I’d read reviews of their music in NME and Melody Maker but thought that they didn’t sound like something I’d enjoy. I saw this album on a listening post (remember them?) in my local Virgin Megastore (remember them?) and gave it a go. The opening of the first track It Could have been a Brilliant Career absolutely hooked me. The melancholic vocal with the lush melody and the cleverly funny lyrics was so good: “He had a stroke at the age of 24, it could have been a brilliant career”. And the songs just kept getting better. This was the birth of my love for what is often described as twee pop, or just twee.

Day 6: At The Drive-In – Relationship of Command

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A definite change of pace here. After the melodic pop sensibilities of Grandaddy and Belle and Sebastian, I had to pick something a bit noisier. Aggro. Relationship of Command is a Post-Hardcore touchstone. The only album more important in the genre is probably Fugazi’s politically and ethically charged Repeater and that is high praise indeed. Relationship of Command is a savage burst of metallic punk noise and swooning melancholic melodies. It even features a cheeky cameo from the godfather of punk himself, Iggy Pop, on Rolodex Propaganda. Lead single One Armed Scissor blew everyone away and for me at least, killed off Nu Metal. Dead.

Day 7: Boards of Canada – Music has the Right to Children

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Music has the Right to Children is a particularly special album. It’s universally recognised as a classic album in pretty much every single music-based Facebook group I’m a member of. It’s loved by hipsters, indie kids, hip hop fans, shoegazers, IDM fans and many more. Your grandparents have probably heard Board of Canada. As well as it’s lush arrangements and top-drawer production, it also introduced me to another concept which I have developed a slight obsession with, Hauntology. I will write a primer to hauntology at some point in the near future, so if you’re not familiar with what it is, don’t worry. Boards of Canada introduced, alongside Mogwai, introduced me to the idea of soundscapes. A common feature in many of my favourite bands.

Day 8: Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty

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My introduction to the Beastie Boys was probably hearing Sabotage and/or Fight for your Right to Party on commercial radio or MTV. I liked them but I didn’t know any of their other music. This was also in the mid ‘90’s before you could investigate a band on Spotify or YouTube if you liked them and my primary source of income was a paper round. When you get paid £12 a week, you need to be damn sure you like the album you’re buying before you buy it. By the time the video for Hello Nasty’s lead single Intergalactic was released, I was already reading NME & Melody Maker regularly as well as watching MTV2 (MTV’s “alternative” offshoot channel) and listening to Radio One’s Evening Session (Steve Lamacq), John Peel’s show and Mary Anne Hobbes’ Breezeblock show. All of these outlets played Intergalactic constantly and I was even able to afford to buy the occasional single. I remember purchasing it on cassette and the B-Side was the wonderful Hail Sagan. As an album I believe it’s the Beastie Boys best kept secret. It’s probably my favourite of their albums (except for maybe Ill Communication) and contains some of their strongest singles. Intergalactic (obviously), Remote Control, Body Movin’, and the sublime Three MC’s And One DJ. A true late ‘90’s heavyweight.

Day 9: Beck – Odelay

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If you boiled the entire ‘90’s in a still then the end result, the distillate, would be Odelay. Beck’s magnum opus is a sprawling sound collage of pop, folk, country, hip-hop, alternative rock, grunge, breakbeat and almost any other genre which you care to think of. Produced by the Dust Brothers, its heavy use of sampling is revolutionary. Especially in the context of an “indie/alternative artist” like Beck. As well as its status as a solid album, Odelay spawned some of the most memorable singles of the ‘90’s; the laidback, line dancing hip-hop funk of Where It’s At; the crunchy post-grunge of Devils Haircut; the mutant lounge pop of The New Pollution and the melancholic psychedelia of Jackass. For a young person today, approaching indie and alternative music for the first time, Odelay is a fantastic primer and could theoretically send you out in any number of directions for further musical explorations.

Day 10: Sonic Youth – Screaming Fields of Sonic Love

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When I first discovered that the central library in my city had a CD and Tape section I felt like a child at Christmas. I took out so many CD’s and copied them to cassette that it would be very hard to argue I didn’t massively abuse the system. The album I remember lending from the library and copying to tape the most is this fantastic Sonic Youth “best of” compilation, Screaming Fields of Sonic Love. This is a collection of tracks from Sonic Youth’s ‘80’s output – up to their masterpiece, Daydream Nation – but it’s sequenced in reverse chronological order. This has the amusing effect of the songs becoming more lo-fi as the album progresses. The album begins with perhaps their most melodic song, Teen Age Riot, and towards the end you find their noisier, no-wave inspired material like Inhuman, Making The Nature Scene and Brother James. I don’t know why it works so well, but it does. And I’ve been hooked on Sonic Youth ever since. This is probably the biggest influence on me in this list except for OK Computer. Sonic Youth gently nudged my attention away from British artists like Radiohead and towards American artists like Nirvana, Pavement, Pixies and Silver Jews. Even the British bands I got into after this were heavily indebted to Sonic Youth for their sound, bands like Idlewild and Urusei Yatsura.

All record cover images in this blogpost courtesy of Discogs

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Indie Rock Music

Rosie Tucker – Arrow (Jeffrey Lewis Cover)

Singer/songwriter Rosie Tucker’s new single is a cover version of the Jeffrey Lewis track Arrow, from his 2003 album It’s The Ones Who’ve Cracked That The Light Shines Through.

“We were having a really hard time arranging it because it’s an unusually structured song,” Tucker told American Songwriter . “It’s just kind of a deluge of words and then it ends.” The first half of the cover follows the original fairly faithfully, with Tucker’s trancelike vocals floating over a sea of effect pedal guitar noise and subdued cymbals. This psychedelic guitar soundscape is courtesy of Tucker’s guitarist, Jess Kallen’s pedalboard. It’s the second half of the song, however when the bass and drumming begin, that Arrow really starts to differ from Lewis version. It morphs from an anti-folk anthem into a more straight forward indie rocker, albeit while retaining the psychedelic feel. Tucker practically screams the lyrics in places, giving it a raw edge which I imagine makes live performances of this particularly exciting. This is in stark contrast to Lewis’ original, which consists exclusively of fingerpicked acoustic guitar, voice and tape hiss. It has a much more subdued feel.

As well as the single, available from all good streaming services and digital music distributors, Tucker has put together a lyric video for Arrow. The video consists of footage of their native Los Angeles which they has taken whilst walking around during the quarantine. I particularly like the glitch-art aesthetic.

For those unfamiliar with Lewis, here is the original:

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Indie Rock Music

Kurt Cobain, starstruck with heroes

Starstruck Kurt Cobain standing with Eugene Kelly (Vaselines) and Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub). Both bands are well known to have been among Kurt’s favourites. Nirvana even covered Vaselines tunes Mollys Lips, Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam and Son of a Gun. Photo by Stephen Sweet.

As a bonus, because I feel bad sharing a single picture and little other content here’s some music by the men in the photograph.

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Indie Rock Music Punk

Happy Birthday Kim Gordon

Happy birthday to the indie rock megastar that is Kim Althea Gordon. Best known as the bass player in legendary indie rock innovators Sonic Youth, she also has a long career as a visual artist.

After Sonic Youth, Gordon formed the band Body/Head in 2012, a noise guitar project which released an album and toured the US. In 2015 she published her memoir, Girl in a Band, which received critical acclaim and sold well.

She returned in 2019 with her first proper solo album, No Home Record. An experimental collection of exploratory electronic music with influences as diverse as hip hop, no wave and noise rock. This album too received critical acclaim.

Today we wish Kim a happy birthday.

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Indie Rock Music

Shameless Self Promotion: Nauseous Skies & Downstreamers

Time for a little Shameless self promotion. Jason Jarratt, singer, guitarist and primary songwriter in my band Nauseous Skies has unearthed a 2018 home recording we made of our song Without You. Without You has never been recorded in a studio so Jason decided to upload it to Soundcloud as a gift for those in isolation. It is a darkly psychedelic dream pop song with a strong ‘80’s influence. We were thinking of bands like The Cure and Psychedelic Furs when we were writing and rehearsing it.

As well as Without You, Jason and I also began a more electronic based side project called Downstreamers. This consisted of guitar, voice and electronics. We finished one track, Shine On in 2019 but didn’t get around to releasing it. We uploaded it to Soundcloud yesterday. This isn’t dissimilar to our main band but has more emphasis on synth sounds and uses exclusively programmed drums.

Hope you enjoy these tunes. They make me wonder how many other bands are sitting on unreleased material which would be well received right now while we’re social distancing/isolating.

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Indie Rock Music

No Age – War Dance/Feeler/Turned to String

No Age make me feel like I’ve travelled to a parallel universe. Like the guy who travelled to a universe where the Beatles never broke up and stole a tape of a Beatles album that was released after they broke up in our universe (details) The universe No Age inhabit is one in which, instead of Thurston Moore being obsessed with the Ramones, the Ramones are obsessed with Thurston Moore. Actually, the Beatles comparison isn’t entirely unwarranted either.

No Age, who describe their sound as Dream Punk, play lovely simple punk pop music very much in the vein of the Ramones or the Beatles. Straightforward power chords chugging over precise and powerful drumming. Simple, effective melodies. The secret ingredient is the wall of sound the guitars create with the help of a plethora of effects, which give their music a Shoegaze or Dreampop like quality, and a collection of noisy and exciting synth modules. 

War Dance is a wall of lo-fi noise built around a simple guitar riff and a bleeping synth loop. The vocals have a shouted, Mark E Smith-like quality, at least partially due to the cheapness (or simulated cheapness) of the vocal mic. It reminds me of the legendary Iggy Pop vocal for The Passenger, famously recorded through a guitar amp.

Feeler is the catchiest pop song of the three. Heavily degraded distorted sounds, which could be either synth or heavily processed guitar give way to a hummable, melodic line which is embedded deep in the noise. The vocals, while simile, are more melodic and less shouty than War Dance. The chorus is incredibly catchy, revolving around a simple power chord pattern and lyrics about “my astral plane”. 

The power pop feel continues on Turned to String. This probably sounds more like Ramones than the other two songs and the production is cleaner and less noisy. It still sounds very lo-fi but relies less on the swirling walls of guitar noise for its power. Chugging powerchords, simple melodies and straightforward drums. It’s a particularly pleasing arrangement and it suits the song well.

These three songs leave me excitedly looking forward to the new album Goons Be Gone when it releases in June.

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Categories
Music Poetry

David Marchese on David Berman’s suicide

As you can probably tell by now, I really like David Berman. This is a quote I found in the New York Times Magazines ‘The Lives They Lived’ article by David Marchese. I’m found it particularly moving and terrifying. The ‘100 nights’ quite Marchese uses is, in fact, from the interview win Berman I discussed in this blog post.

In an interview not long before he died, Berman said, “There probably were 100 nights over the last 10 years where I was sure I wouldn’t make it till morning.” One hundred nights he made it. One he did not. My scrambled brain is stuck on what those numbers might mean. Destiny or contingence? Tragedy or resilience? An obstacle to Berman’s gift or a source of its sublimity? I don’t know, but I keep going back to one of the last times I heard from my friend. “David Berman’s songs,” he said, “make me feel gratitude and hope. Even when forces seem to be conspiring against such things.”

David Marchese, New York Times Magazine December 23rd 2019

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Electronic Music Music Visual

13x – Antiscene EPK

If you like your beats dirty glitchy and industrial, then you could do far worse than to check out 13x’s Electronic Press Kit for the Antiscene EP. It’s chock full of brutal electronic music and distorted and glitched visuals. Strange disembodied voices float by in a sea of reverb as the punishing aural assault bludgeons you into submission.

If you enjoy this then subscribe to her YouTube channel and head on over to bandcamp and download it. Support small, independent artists. especially in the current economic uncertainty.

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Science Fiction TV

Tales from the Loop – Amazon Prime

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Tales from the Loop is a new science fiction series on Amazon Prime. It is based on the retro-futurist artwork of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag and has a nostalgic, almost elegiac atmosphere to it. The camera work is beautiful. The technology of the town looks amazing and the soundtrack is lush and evocative. As well as being hauntingly nostalgic, it is also emotionally engaging and devastating. Many of the characters appear to be depressed and there is a lot of death and sadness throughout the series.

Tales from the Loop (2020)

The setting is a midwestern American town in a vaguely defined version of the 1980’s. It’s clearly an alternative America to the one in our timeline as the town is built upon a huge scientific research institute known as the loop. The setting is lush and forested. Huge science fiction towers loom in the background of many shots. Unknown and unexplained machines rise from the lake (which is frozen in the initial episode, pictured above). Robots lurk in the woods and fight each other. Discarded pieces of machinery lay around the forest like something from Grandaddy’s seminal 2000 concept album, The Sophtware Slump. There is a sense of stillness and stasis over the town. Strange things happen but everyone is just trying to get from one day to the next as best they can.

Daniel Zolghadri in Tales from the Loop (2020)

A major criticism of the show, which I don’t personally agree with, is that it is too slow. Perhaps for many modern audiences who are looking for a quick fix of action, a gratuitous space battle, a high-speed chase or graphic violence, Tales from the Loop would be too slow. Its story unfolds slowly across the series. It’s presented as something a little like an anthology show but there is a timeline, recurring characters and story arcs that span form one episode to the next. Storylines include all of the old classics like: 

  • Young girl time travels to the future and is helped back to present by her future self
  • Black holes devouring family homes
  • Body swapping, friends betraying each other over body swapping 
  • Betrayed friend body swapping into robot body 
  • Gifted but depressed young girl repairs time stopping technology 
  • Bored security guard accidentally travels to parallel dimension 
  • Children experiencing the death of a loved one for the first time 
  • Depressed and financially unstable father of comatose son (body swap betrayal kid) Buys giant robot to protect home from intruder 
  • Young boy gets marooned on offshore island with a robot
  • Robot is kind of his brother
  • Young boy gets lost in the woods with his brother who has body swapped into a large robot
  • Giant robot brother battles scorpion shaped giant robot
  • Giant robot brother defeats opponent but is badly damaged and dies
  • When young boy returns from the woods thirty years has passed but he hasn’t aged a day
Tales from the Loop (2020)

You know? All the old clichés. It’s a solid watch for any science fiction fan who is more interested in the cerebral died than the action side. Just sit back and enjoy the beautiful visuals, soundtrack and acting. Just prepare for the rollercoaster ride of emotions you are letting yourself in for.

Alessandra de Sa Pereira and Dan Bakkedahl in Tales from the Loop (2020)

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Categories
Literature Music Poetry

David Berman Interview and Pics

On August 7th of 2019, Indie rock poet laureate and enigmatic Silver Jews frontman David Berman took his own life. For years previous he’d struggled with what he referred to as “treatment” resistant depression. A particularly sad aspect of his suicide is that a month earlier, on July 12th, Berman had made a triumphant return to the indie limelight with a new album from a new project under the name of Purple Mountains. This followed a ten-year hiatus following the dissolution of Silver Jews in 2009 after the release of their final album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea in 2008.

Purple Mountains is a particularly bleak record. His depression, the death of his mother and recent separation from wife, Cassis Berman, all explored in forensic and often uncomfortable detail. Despite this, he seemed to have benefited from cathartic release of all of these pent-up emotions and was even looking forward to the upcoming tour in the August of 2019.

His suicide was felt keenly by the indie rock world. J Mascis, of Dinosaur Jr, succinctly tweeted “Fucking Shit, come on man this is BullShit” alongside a photo of Berman. Others, like Kurt Vile, Cat Power wrote long, thought provoking pieces about how much of an inspiration he was. Former Silver Jews members, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich also tweeted in remembrance of their friend.

In June, he gave an interview to the Kreative Kontrol podcast, linked here. Berman gives a candid interview in which he discusses his father (ultra-conservative, union-busting lobbyist, Richard Berman), his depression, bereavement of his mother, separation and much more. Despite the subject matter, he sounds upbeat and optimistic about the future, especially in regard to his upcoming tour. If you have time, and you’re a fan, I strongly suggest listening to the interview as it is incredibly insightful and comforting to hear him sound almost comfortable with himself.

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