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Indie Rock Rock And Roll

Pavement’s Fillmore Jive, deathbed confessions of Rock n Roll

Pavement circa-’93/’94, Gail Butensky, Matador Records

Rock n Roll, characterised as youth culture/Pop culture, is pretty much dead right now. It’s still twitching corpse convulses & releases gas from time to time but, as a serious proposition, Rock n Roll has been dead for a long time. In 1994, on their excellent sophomore album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Indie Rock royalty Pavement wrote & recorded the excellent Fillmore Jive, a wonky, fuzzy tribute to the (even then) dying genre. Eschewing the usual verse-chorus-verse structures of Rock n Roll, Fillmore Jive weaves together various… I’m going to call them stanzas unique, separate sections of music. These stanzas are connected by Malkmus’ wilfully off-kilter guitar playing. The backing track is exciting, spontaneous & jam-like. If you’re going to tell a story never told, you’ll be needing a new way to tell it. There are sections of Fillmore Jive which would form epic choruses, in their own right, in the hands of lesser bands. Malkmus’ ear for dissonant melodicism can write enough of these beautifully lazy melodies that Pavement don’t need to write a whole song around each one.

Fillmore Jive tells the story of the dying days of Rock n Roll from a particularly unique viewpoint: Rock n Roll itself. When Stephen Malkmus sings “I need to sleep, why won’t you let me?” he’s singing in character as Rock n Roll itself. In the first verse, Rock n Roll is feeling sad, despondent, laying in the sofa (couch). Rock n Roll’s voice is quiet & contemplative. Whispering in someone’s ear.  Rock n Roll needs some company: “Hey lady, what do you need?/Do you think you’d like to come and bleed with me?” Bleeding out on hotrock burn pocked carpet of a mid-‘90’s stoner bedroom. To sweeten the deal, Rock n Roll proffers a chalice, “It’s a special one, it’s made of gold.” I used to be something, used to be special. I’ve still got it. Still got what made me special in the first place. Rock n Roll is stronger than ever.

I’m interpreting it as the company, the “lady,” that Rock n Roll is asking for is in fact 90’s youth culture. This will become clearer later in the song, but for now I think that Rock n Roll is begging for attention in a landscape of other things that teenagers could be paying attention to. Rock n Roll in 1994 is beset on all sides by things which are vying for the attention of young people. Hip-Hop, Techno, House, Jungle, Trip-Hop, Ambient etc. There are countless new, innovative genres of music to excite young people before we even get to the popular, chart, radio stuff. Videogaming is in ascendant, approaching the end of the fourth generation of consoles, some would argue is the height of videogaming. SNES & Megadrive (Genesis in the US), Game Gear & Game Boy. Early days of PC gaming.

“Passed out on your couch/You left me there (thanks),” I interpret as thanking young people for still giving Rock n Roll a chance, still finding it relevant. But there’s also a sense of fatigue. Rock n Roll is exhausted, tired. Every combination has been done to death. No originality is left. Self-loathing sets in. Rock n Roll needed to be left alone & is grateful that it was. Malkmus’ soft whisper sounds full of defeat, of weariness: “I need to sleep to sleep it off.” It’s a heartbreaking moment & when the big “I need to sleep” over the heavy riffing kicks in, there is a palpable sense of relief & release.

After the explosive release of that section, we enter a downcast, melancholic section which, to me, seems to eulogise the subgenres & subcultures which Rock n Roll birthed, as they’re dying out: “The jam kids on the Vespas/And glum looks on their faces/The street is full of punks/They got spikes/See those rockers with their long curly locks.” The music here is minimal & loose, Malkmus’ vocal almost speaking. “Goodnight to the Rock n Roll era,” he finishes before another dive into distorted, wonky jamming. Lead guitars as dissonant as they are melodic. This is another section which feels like a release. Euphoric. The drunken dancing of a wake, perhaps.

The following section seems to address the outside influences which contribute towards the suffering of Rock n Roll. “Jazz buffs’ skinny arms,” “the dance faction, a little too loose for me.” Rock n Roll (or maybe this is Malkmus’ voice speaking now) finds these things boring (“every night it’s straight and narrow”) or dangerous, scary (“laws are broken, amusing era”). The final stanza almost dismissed these distractions due to their association with drugs: “Pull out their plugs and they snort up their drugs.”

The song breaks off with an unfinished line, “their throats are filled with…” This could be the declaration that Rock n Roll is not quite ready to die, or that it may be resurrected. 26 years later & I don’t think we’re there yet.

Another interesting thing about Fillmore Jive, a piece of trivia is that the Fillmore was a big Rock n Roll venue in San Francisco, associated with psychedelic music. The Fillmore closed in 1989 following the Loma Prieta earthquake & the death by helicopter crash of manager Bill Graham. Pavement played in San Francisco ten days before it was due to open, in April of ’94, at The Great American Music Hall. However, the first band to play in the newly opened Fillmore, on the 27th April 1994, were the Smashing Pumpkins, who Pavement had snarkily insulted on the Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain single Range Life.

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Music

John Peel Sessions

A blogger on Blogspot by the name of Dave Strickson (Formally Known As The Bollocks) has just posted this huge list of John Peel Sessions with links to YouTube clips for them all. Compiling this must have taken a long time and a lot of work and for that I am thankful. I have noted a few sessions are missing, namely Autechre & Boards of Canada, though they were released commercially by the artists themselves.

So whether you’re looking for that 1919 session from 1983 or You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath from the 1982, this blog has you covered.

I’ve yet to go through the majority of this (I don’t even know where to start) but here’s a couple of my previous favourites, in the interest of sharing some music with this post.

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Indie Rock Music

Pavement, live at the Khyber Pass, 30th July 1992

As a massive Pavement fan, I was extremely pleased when YouTube user Pete Sounds uploaded this amateur camcorder footage of an early ‘90’s Pavement gig as a gift for indie rock fans in quarantine.

It’s a delightfully noisy set full of classic tunes from their first album, Slanted and Enchanted and earlier. It also contains a couple of tunes from the Watery Domestic EP – Frontwards & Shoot The Singer (One Sick Verse) – as well as older tunes like Home & Debris Slide.

Its good to see original drummer, Gary Young, and his crazed energetic stage presence. Especially on the incendiary version of personal highlight, In The Mouth A Desert where he stands on his drum stool for the intro, before dropping down onto it in time to play the opening drum fill with anxious precision.

Here’s the excellent track list

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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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