I’m Curious To Know Exactly How You Are

I had to put a Hüsker Dü song in this list, as they are one of my all-time favourite bands, but it was hard to decide which one. In the end I went for a really obvious choice- the first song of theirs I got into.

Hüsker Dü started out as a straight-up hardcore band in 1980, and became more and more melodic as the years passed until they split up in 1987, I think hitting the point of perfect contrast between the two around 1983/4. Both guitarist Bob Mould and drummer Grant Hart sang and wrote songs- this being one of Grant Hart’s.

As well as the pure momentum and harsh joy of their music, I’m also very appreciative of the fact that Hüsker Dü were a band with two semi-out gay/bi men in, which was a pretty difficult situation to be in, in the ultra-macho world of American punk in the early 80s. (When Grant Hart sadly died recently I was however overjoyed to find out that Grant was short for Grantzberg. Grantzberg).

Candy Apple Grey was the first album I ever bought on vinyl around 99/2000, when I was fourteen to fifteen. I was a big Nirvana fan, and used to read old interviews and reviews and follow up on the references from them, discovering bands like the Pixies, Wipers and the Vaselines in that way. I had the internet at home, but it was essentially useless for actually listening to music as it was so slow and there was hardly any audio actually available, so often you could hear a lot about a band before ever hearing their music.

This was the case for me with Hüsker Dü. I had dusted off an old record player found in a cupboard at my dad’s house (contrary to many dads he has no interest in music), and started going to the excellent local second hand record shop near me- the much-missed Magic Discs in Gillingham, where I spotted Candy Apple Grey. I had already picked up the idea that Hüsker Dü and SST were important, so I had to get it. (This was before Our Band Could Be Your Life came out- a book very much worth reading, about some of my all-time favourite music)

I immediately loved it, and tried to get other people into it too. Unfortunately at that time the majority of my school friends were into Nu Metal, and they weren’t that fussed (the same story for the Pixies). You win some, you lose some. I just kind of ploughed my own furrow of loving Hüsker Dü alone. I couldn’t get hold of an actual Hüsker Dü t-shirt locally, so I made a really bad home-made one in Textiles class (see also bad handmade NIN patches made at the same time). About ten years ago I got a real Hüsker Dü shirt off of eBay, and it remains one of my most worn items. I’m feeling sad lately though as I seem to have misplaced it while moving house. I’m sure it will turn up somewhere. The only disadvantage of it however is that it makes strange men come up to you and fire Hüsker Dü trivia questions at you, like they suspect you of having bought a t-shirt of some 80s punk band you’ve never heard of because you are just so desperate to impress them. Hey guys, you ain’t that interesting. Even worse when I like to wear it with a flowery dress. This is against the rules of early 80s punk apparently and will incense them worse.

Here’s a photo of me on my 26th birthday in 2011 wearing it (and also drenched from a hailstorm- the joy of a January birthday). Yes, that is a banana fritter with a candle in it.

As a bonus, here’s a short Spotify playlist of some personal Hüsker Dü highlights. They’re just in chronological order as they appear on the albums. Metal Circus/Zen Arcade-era Hüsker Dü is probably my high-point.

Croatia Playlist

So here’s my playlist from Croatia- it goes with the zine I wrote about the trip. I just seemed to want to listen to nothing but David Lynch type music and the Deftones the whole time I was there. Also features an honorable mention for Iron Maiden, this time not playing simultaneously with Bieber.


That Cat’s Something I Can’t Explain

I would describe this as essentially a Bond theme about a Siamese cat. I’m a big fan of Syd Barrett, but have a deep pool of loathing for Roger Waters. I would call it an irrational hatred, but I feel like I could come up with plenty of reasons for my loathing. My mother is a big Pink Floyd fan, so I’ve had plenty of exposure over my lifetime to fuel it.

I also find a lot of the discourse about Syd’s withdrawal from fame quite irritating. Like he’s clearly a man who was plagued with a lot of mental and physical health problems, but a lot of the things you see written about him act like he was extra crazy for backing off from rock star fame and going back to his modest little house in Cambridge (I have seen it, it’s not exciting at all). Like “you lived the dream, you must have something really wrong with you to not want to do it any more”. Maybe that wasn’t his dream at all, even in the modest stages of Pink Floyd’s fame before they became a giant business colossus after he left. His songs are full of joy and spontaneity and just the pleasure of being creative, and I imagine that level of money focus would have totally crushed that.

Also, in terms of joy-crushing, I spent far too long in London around people who thought Hardcore Was the One True Music and anything too far from HxC was weak, suspect and uncool. Liking Syd Barrett was something I did that was apparently particularly uncool (also-see Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Shirley Collins). Imagine having that little joy in life.

On a more cheerful note, my MA supervisor, George Hardie, drew the cover for Dark Side of the Moon. At the time he did it for a lump sum of I think about £50 (he did a lot of other album covers too at that time). Imagine the riches if he’d got a royalty percentage. I don’t think he really cares though, he has had a successful and happy life as an artist. Of course the best gift to get him is the worst bad knockoff Dark Side of the Moon merch you can find. Someone gave him some hideous boxer shorts of his own artwork and he thought they were hilarious. He also collects rulers, especially useless ones that have something wrong with them. I got him a silicone one from a Salvador Dali exhibition that was too flexible to actually rule a line with, but the holy grail I was looking for was a really bad Dark Side of the Moon ruler. I never did find one. A+ MA supervisor, even if my scruffy lines and love of scribbling sometimes made him despair.

I also used to have a beautiful Siamese cat called Oscar. Or perhaps I should say he decided I was his person. He was actually my mum’s cat and lived with her, but was very clear on the fact that he considered himself to be my cat, and was really quite annoyed that I didn’t live in the house. He tried his best to be haughty, aloof and magnificent, but was really just a big fluff who lived for belly rubs (and had a very plush velvety belly). Sadly he died last year of a tumour, which Siamese cats are prone to.

Ponder this to get nearer to nothing

When I wrote the 50 Things About Me entry a little while ago, I started creating a playlist of 50 favourite songs. It got unwieldy and didn’t flow well though, so I gave up. Instead I’ll write a little bit every so often about songs from the list.

The Van Pelt are not famous or well-known outside a small niche. The singer/song-writer  Chris Leo’s brother Ted Leo is much more well-known, and bass player Toko Yasuda has had success over the years playing with Enon, Blonde Redhead and St Vincent, but they never hit the big time. Instead they released two quietly treasured albums in the mid-90s (Sultans of Sentiment and Stealing From Our Favourite Thieves) and then disbanded- they’ve released a collection of sessions that were intended for a third album (Imaginary Third) and done the odd reunion tour (I was lucky enough to catch one in London-it was a very special evening) but I’m guessing only a small selection of my readers will know them.

They can be loosely classed in the post-hardcore genre, but they used the sound to create something with space, sparseness and a sort of philosophical intensity as well as emotional. I guess you could compare them to Modest Mouse but less frantic, or Slint but less searing.

The song references the Zen Buddhist story of Nansen killing a cat- from sweepingzen.com 

“One day at Nansen’s temple in old China, the monks of the eastern and western halls were arguing over a cat. Maybe they were arguing about which residence the cat gets to live in. The eastern people wanted it with them, or the western people wanted it with them, or neither of them actually wanted it, since the cat demanded a lot of attention and during zazen it would curl up on their laps which disturbed their concentration. Or maybe they were just arguing about whether the cat had buddha nature or not, or debating what is a cat anyway? Zen monks can come up with an argument about anything! You’d think they would have better things to do in a Zen temple than argue over cats, but that’s what they were doing on this particular occasion. And when Nansen, their teacher, saw this he held up the cat and said, “If you can express something, it won’t be killed.” The group had no reply so Nansen cut the cat in two.

Later in the day, Nansen’s great disciple Chaochou, who liked to talk about dogs, came back to the temple. Nanchuan brought up the incident and asked for his response. Chaochou immediately took off his sandals, put them on his head and left. Nanchuan said, “If you had been here you could have saved that cat.” Chaochou brought forth a true expression and his teacher seems to have approved it”.

One interpretation of the story it that it’s supposed to illustrate the dangers of being too detached, too enlightened, unable to actually engage with the world, too attached to rhetoric and theory rather than action. Another interpretation is the opposite- that you need to detach cause and effect and action on the world, and stop trying to analyse and intellectualise to achieve true enlightenment.

Chris Leo was brought up Catholic, and rejected it, but he doesn’t seem to have taken to Zen Buddhism or detaching from the world at an intellectual distance either. Ponder this to get nearer to Nothing. Nothing stinks. I guess I can relate. It’s easy to be an observer until you wonder if you exist, but it probably doesn’t do you any good.

Here are the lyrics:
There it is, plain and simple.
It destroyed itself without any of my slander.
This is the lunacy by which we kneel.
This is the doublespeak by which we kill.
This is the inertia that keeps tradition feared.
This is the absurdity by which we walk barefoot with shoes on our heads.
Ponder this to get nearer to Nothing.
On top of the world, think about it, there’s Nothing.
An unseasoned meal, monotone spirits, routine homily.
Nothing has never been clearer.
So kill a cat to keep logic at bay, then eat my body’s finest and fell me how it tastes.
Is it Nothing too?
Does it stink like Nothing?
Does it poison like Nothing?
(copyright Chris Leo)

(((O Boards of Sunnada O)))

So I have still had very little spare time since I finished teaching in Cambridge last month. I visited my mum in France for a week, and picked up three weeks more teaching in three different small towns in Germany. (Hello from Schleswig-Holstein today). So the backlog of entries and photos about my travels keeps growing, but I don’t have the time right now to actually address it.

Anyway, in July Sunn O))) toured the UK, and I couldn’t go because I was committed to working long hours on this residential course I was teaching, and I felt pretty sad about it. So I used It Took The Night to Believe as the prompt for that week’s creative writing activity for my students. The previous week I’d used the video for Reach for the Dead by Boards of Canada (both pieces of music gave good results in the student’s writing) . While setting up the activity I accidentally set off both songs at once, and discovered they actually sound amazing together. So enjoy. For best results, start the Boards of Canada song first.

Japan playlist

Here’s a Spotify playlist I made while I was in Japan, of Japanese artists and music that matched my mood at the time. (All the Japanese bands are marked with a J).

  1. Drop- Cornelius (J)
    First up Cornelius, from Tokyo. Keigo Oyamada was really big in the late 90s/early 2000s, but seemed to drop under the radar a bit in recent years. Wikipedia has now told me that he has a new album out this year, so I need to give that a listen.
  2. 1979- Smashing Pumpkins
    I have no shame. I was a big Smashing Pumpkins fan as a teenager, Zero shirt and inadvised bleached fringe and all. I stuck some 90s mix on the hotel tv’s youtube app, and this came up, and I remembered just how fun the video is. (James Iha also has roots in Japan).
  3. (circle)- Boredoms (J)
    ALL THE DRUMMERS YOU COULD WANT.
  4. Soon- My Bloody Valentine
    I don’t think you could do a Japan playlist without any My Bloody Valentine. I never made it to the Tokyo Hyatt bar from the film (it’s an expensive place). However I did get to stay at the Kyoto Hyatt after winning a voucher, and the included breakfast was the best and most comprehensive I’ve ever seen. Please note that I certainly did not smuggle any bags of extra cakes or fruit back to the room for lunch. Didn’t happen.
  5. Farewell- Boris (J)
    A playlist of Japanese music wouldn’t be complete without Boris. Here they are at their most relaxing.
  6. Knife Party- Deftones
    I’ve been on a Deftones kick lately after having not listened to them for years. White Pony still holds up great 17 years later. One of the few Nu Metal bands with any brains.
  7. Oto- Sakamoto & Fennesz (J)
    A collaboration between Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christian Fennesz, mixing Sakamoto’s piano music, and Fennesz’s ambient sounds. One of the strangest little details about regularly going to work in rural Austria, is that I often go to Fennesz’s home region, Burgenland. It’s the smallest region of Austria (and used to be in Hungary) and they don’t have many famous people aside from Liszt. So they’re unusually proud of Fennesz and you find his records for sale in unexpected places like the Austrian equivalent of WH Smith’s.
  8. Apple- Cibo Mato (J)
    Still going strong with or without the membership of Sean Lennon.
  9. Panda- Dungen
    Not from Japan at all, from Sweden and in Swedish, but their early 70s kind of sound seemed to fit my mood well crossing Japan by train. Also named after a panda of course.
  10. Sometimes- My Bloody Valentine
  11. Last Target On The Last Day- Melt Banana (J)
    Every time I have ever seen Melt Banana live I have come home completely covered in other people’s sweat, but with no regrets.
  12. Astronaut- Beach House
    Every time I have seen Beach House live has been a sleepy mid-afternoon time on the second or third day of a festival either in warm weather or indoors relaxing on the floor. I think that sums them up in the same way “other people’s sweat” does for Melt Banana. I listened to this album a lot running along the shore of the Seto Inland Sea by rickety banana yellow local trains much like that in Spirited Away.
  13. Aware- Sakamoto & Fennesz
  14. Ghost Ship In A Storm- Jim O’Rourke
    Jim O’Rourke despite being associated with Chicago, now lives in Tokyo. For some reason I always associate his songs with Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. I guess it’s a similar view of life in their writing.

Prophecy Girl

5 sm

I took some photos of my friend Tukru, Finn of Finns, Suomi of the Suomalainen, performing some songs. Band members failed to materialise in rehearsal, so it was solo time to try the songs out in front of an audience. The lighting was a bit tricky, as there was nothing but one red spotlight, so I went for black and white. Tukru claims the genre is “Awkward Crybabycore”. Check out the twitter account for the band for more upcoming news.

1 sm

4 sm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgotten late 90s Indie Pop

leopard

A little while ago, there was a thing on Twitter where people used the #indieamnesty tag to tell funny or embarrassing stories about their involvement with the whole Landfill Indie and Nu Rave thing in the mid 2000s (there’s also a surprisingly intelligent and self-perceptive interview with Johnny Borrell (!!) here). As the Guardian article I’ve linked to said, “Indie amnesty brings together thousands of relatively banal anecdotes about unglamorous people doing slightly idiotic things into something quite majestic” and most of the people were writing about being foolish and easily impressed in their teenage years.

It was funny, but the whole thing made me feel weirdly old, because that wasn’t my era for being an impressionable teen. It’s strange when you realise that people you mentally categorised as peers actually grew up in a different era to you, or that people you think of as dramatically younger are also adults. My oldest nephew was born in 1996, and is now a university student with a driving licence, which is just wrong really. It shouldn’t be allowed. Time shouldn’t have moved that fast. Adults are not born in the 90s. The correct time to be born is clearly the early 80s, or the late 70s at a push. I will persist in this delusion for as long as allowed.

I think the prime age for wholeheartedly signing yourself over to whatever musical movement that easily presents itself is 13-14. You start to be aware of different genres of music, want to associate yourself with a tribe of people, have some pocket money to spend, and might even be allowed to go gigs if you have lax parents. The people writing those anecdotes had been that age in the 2000s. I was a teenager in the mid to late 90s. When the Rakes did 22 Grand Job, I actually did have a 22k dull office job (although not in the City, in an office park just outside Reading for full glamour!). Sadly my income hasn’t gone anywhere since then.

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Should a word have two meanings?

 

  1. Academy Fight SongMission of Burma
  2. You’re My Only HomeMagnetic Fields

  3. Love is Not LoveCate le Bon
    My three top new albums this year have all been by female solo artists, two of whom are Welsh, Cate le Bon’s Crab Day, Gwenno’s Y Dydd Olaf (the Last Day) and Artangels by Grimes. Crab Day is well worth checking out, combining influences from spooky 70s folk, Fleetwood Mac and Devo.
  4. Come on Let’s GoBroadcast
  5. Man on the MoonR.E.M.
  6. Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth? Minutemen
    The Minutemen have always come across as genuinely good people who genuinely loved playing together and actually lived according to their ethics and treated other people well. The We Jam Econo documentary is now free on Youtube.

  7. The Red Telephone Love
  8. Interstate 5Wedding Present

  9. Dawns Y Blaned DirionGwenno (Dance of the Kindly Planet)
  10. Golau ArallGwenno (Other Light)
    A Welsh-language electronica album based on a dystopian Welsh book.The lyrics and translations are available on the website.
  11. New SeedsBoards of Canada
  12. Come to DustBoards of Canada
    The finest soundtrack to post nuclear apocalypse there is.
  13. MetroBerlin
    I was reading an article on Stereogum from the Weird 90s series (well worth reading), where the writer was recalling a strange period of the late 90s where swing-revival stuff like the Cherry Popping Daddies was preferable to this song.
  14. Invisible SunPolice
    I don’t like the Police at all. So when I was listening to a radio show playing a retrospective of George Martin’s work and this came on, I was pleasantly surprised. A good story I read once about the Police was that at some point in the 80s at a Rolling Stones concert someone announced to Keith Richards that the police were here to see him. So he frantically got rid of all his drugs, and then in walked Sting.
  15. Who Be Lovin Me Santigold feat ILoveMakonnen
    The song could really do with more of Santigold herself, but I think the fact that ILoveMakonnen really can’t sing definitely adds something to the woozy sound.

“Solar on the Rise- summer, summer, summer” (Winter 2015 playlist)

thun_14-tm
I haven’t felt very festive lately. More winter solstice, fallow time of the year kind of feeling.



Krokodill- Jóhann Jóhannson

First of all, a piece of music by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannson. The one time I went to Reykjavik was in mid winter, when the sun limped above the horizon almost at midday, and then hung there feebly until about 3pm when it set again. I didn’t really see any of the fabled treeless landscape, because it was covered with snow and darkness, and satisfied myself with a Björk exhibition in the basement of one of the supermarkets in the town centre. Although it was incredible to go swimming in the hot water of the Blue Lagoon while it was snowing, I’d like to go to Reykjavik again when there’s actually some daylight. Maybe this summer.

Abschied- Nico (Farewell)
Nico had a really traumatic background, and always seems like a deeply unpleasant person as a result (as do most of the Factory-affiliated people). The more you find about so many musicians from the 60s and 70s, the more awful they all seem to be. I suppose they were allowed to get away with it at the time. I don’t understand why people call the Marble Index or Desertshore “unlistenable”. Sure, you wouldn’t play them at a wedding or something, but they nail a particular, unique, atmosphere and mood. Lyrics here.

Master Song- Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen always makes me think of Budapest, for the simple reason that when I was working there I was listening to him a lot. I often listened to this song sitting on the tram line that travels up and down the banks of the Danube, often with the carriage to myself at off-peak times. Budapest is a surprisingly empty city. It was built on a grand scale, for more people than currently live there, and a lot of the inhabitants leave at the weekends to stay at their cabin in the countryside. I miss Hungary, but I could never live there while it’s in the grip of the current far-right government.

So Real- Jeff Buckley
I suspect there are a fair few people I know who think that liking Jeff Buckley is deeply uncool, and probably shouldn’t be admitted to in public. Too sincere, or not macho enough or something, but not cheesy enough that you can like his music ironically. What does their opinion matter. Being too cool for school is an insecure business.

In Nightmare Room- Merchandise
Despite how they sound, Merchandise are a current band from Florida, not an 80s band from the UK. When this album came out, they gave away the MP3 version for free. At the time I was housesitting for my friend Kate, and I had no money and nowhere much to go. I cooked a lot of vegetable curries, read all her books I hadn’t already read, and listened to this album on repeat pretty much constantly. (When I saw them live though, I was disappointed that they didn’t have the drum machine on this song)

Закрой за мной дверь, я ухожу- Кино (Close the door behind me, I’m leaving- Kino)
An actual 80s band, this time from behind the Iron Curtain. Viktor Tsoi‘s story is pretty fascinating, slogging away at being an underground musician in the USSR for years, getting expelled from art school and having some of his songs officially banned on grounds of political dissidence for his troubles, becoming a big star (albeit one with no money) under Glasnost, and then dying in a car accident the year after the Berlin Wall came down, keeping a permanent grip on Russian culture (and also getting denounced last year by a paranoid right-wing Russian politician as a tool of the CIA). Translation of the lyrics here.

A Line in Wet Grass- Flesh World
Flesh World do what they say on the tin. Twin Peaks, Kenneth Anger and David Hockney inspired post-punk. I saw them twice within the space of a few days this year, and it was well worth it.

I see,so I see so- Broadcast & the Focus Group
It made total sense for Broadcast and the Focus Group to do an album together. Broadcast and all the Ghost Box records bands have such a similar eerie 70s public information film aesthetic. My friend Vicky was assigned to create artwork based on this album as part of her illustration degree- you can see her work here.

REALiTi- Grimes
I prefer this demo version to the version that’s on the album. I managed to get a ticket to the Grimes show in the Spring. Exciting!