Hugs And Kisses (December edition)
This was written for Spanish website Playground a couple of days ago. I dutifully sent it off, and received a return email stating the column had been pulled, financial considerations. Damn. They could have told me that before I wrote it! Anyway. Thought it was too good to waste.
Hugs And Kisses
The Strangely Muted Outbursts of Everett True
1. The Thin Kids – We’re The Thin Kids
I formed a band last night. It wasn’t difficult. I had a few lyrics jotted down on my iPod Touch: there was a xylophone and a keyboard and a couple of guitars lying about. We weren’t too fussed about the quality of sound. My musicians – being musicians – wanted to add parts. I was more concerned with leaving stuff out. It often seems to me that, in music, what you leave out is far more important than what you put in. We did a little rudimentary harmonising, added a few gratuitous noises. We wrote and recorded five songs in a couple of hours (it was quite a slow evening). Rather than record MP3s for us to take away, Ed shoved the songs up onto MySpace, after unsuccessfully trying to talk me into performing my Sub Pop single, ‘Do Nuts’. We already had a band name – The Thin Kids, after the first song we recorded – and a slogan, “Because we’re better than you”. We even worked out the concept for our first (and only) live show.
So why’s there all this fuss over Them Crooked Vultures then? Three or four guys get together and form a new band. It happens every day of the week.
2. Tap Tap – On My Way
Bo Ningen – Koroshitai Kimochi
Far and away, my favourite comment I’ve seen left on my blog is one relating to the hype that continues to surround Animal Collective: a fellow i know once stated that the A. Collective were at the apex of what he termed “The Skipping-CD Beach Boys Meets The Lion King Soundtrack”. Recently, he informed me that era was finished now, and the “Record Your Girl-Group Songs in Pro-Tools Then Add Distortion To Make It Lo-Fi” epoch was upon us.
“The skipping-CD Beach Boys meets The Lion King soundtrack.” I totally understand what he means. Over the past few years it’s become the fashion for serious young American music lovers to borrow heavily from the past without understanding what it was about the past that made them love it so. The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson are a great example of this. There’s no denying that this pop group made some excellent voyages into sound, particularly with Pet Sounds. Yes, all that treble and distortion can be intoxicating, especially taken in separation. And yet, why are The Beach Boys so beloved the world over – not just by serious young men with their serious young beards fastidiously reading Pitchfork? It’s for their harmonies and – even more so – the melodies. And when a group like Animal Collective and all their component parts decide to mess with the Beach Boys template and borrow the sound without giving one thought to the melody, it simply doesn’t work.
Listen up. I like that Panda Bear album of a few years back. I would have liked it even more if he’d bothered filtering through a few tunes among the Beach Boys-set-on-two-seconds-repeat music. He was so close (because, as I say, all that distortion and echo is intoxicating), yet so far.
This is where Tap Tap come in. Tom Saunders’ Pete & The Pirates spin-off project was the first place I encountered London’s excellent Stolen Recordings label and it remains my main love. His second album is super-saturated, super-bright – it pulls off a genius trick of simultaneously reminding me of 1) The Raincoats, 2) New Zealand’s Chills, 3) The Beach Boys and 4) Pete & The Pirates themselves and their seven-part harmonies – but it never, ever forgets that one cardinal rule. Don’t neglect the melodies! The tunes and harmonies and rapture is busting out all over. It’s like Panda Bear, only totally not forced or thought-through (these are pluses). The joy feels natural – something all those Silver Mt Zion Orchestra beard-heads would do well to remember.
This is the sort of music that will make me late for bed for weeks on end. I do not have it within my power to quit listening to it. Yes, it’s a drug.
I throw Bo Ningen in here because they also are on Stolen Recordings – bratty and flamboyant and with a dude who squeals like a lady: they destroy equipment like it’s an entry for the Olympics: there’s no denying the appeal of such wanton, gratuitous behaviour. Their four-track ‘Koroshitai Kimochi’ EP is quite the finest example of its kind I’ve heard since Comanechi or The Jesus Lizard or Huggy Bear or Dr Mix & The Remix or (fill in your own favourite).
3. Joseph Spence – The Complete Folkways Recordings 1958
Now, you aren’t telling me that Captain Beefheart never listened to the throaty growl and bluesy, crazed guitar-pickings of this Bahamian musician (memorably described as the “Thelonious Monk of folk music”). I’ve been after some of his recordings for near on a decade, after first hearing him growl and stutter his way through a totally Outsider version of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ on a reggae Christmas compilation – like Tom Waits, only nowhere near as understandable. And Bangs alive these recordings don’t disappoint.
This album was the first occasion the outside world heard Spence – recorded when he was a 47-year-old, pipe-smoking stonemason – and it’s like Moondog and Monk and Waits and M. Ward, and a few guitar-pickers whose names I can’t recall, all rolled into one living, breathing whole. Melodic improvisation, as I have grown to understand and love it, released through America’s still-peerless Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label. I’d call it unique, except that word long lost any meaning.
4. Karen O & The Kids – Where The Wild Things Are OST
Ray Rumours – Le Pont Suspendu
I haven’t seen the film of Where The Wild Things Are yet. I’m a big fan of the Maurice Sendak book, though. The book is about a kid who has a wild imagination and likes to create mischief, no boundaries. Beautiful illustrations, memorable story told with remarkable economy of line. I certainly don’t think of it as ‘dark’, the way it’s been described by several media commentators, and frankly I’m worried at any filmic interpretation that extrapolates the story differently to the way I do but… I haven’t seen the film yet.
The soundtrack is wonderful: all gleeful imaginings and war-whoops and excitable runs through the woods. Karen O understands the main part of youth is living in your own self-centred world (she remains there, even now) and her approach to the music reflects this. It’s infectious and simple: an intoxicating whirl of stream-of-consciousness fun and worried shoes and desire, one long ‘Rumpus’.
Karen O is a magnificent choice to write the music: more than most pop stars, she’s childish and a dork and super-cool, her magpie inner soul attracting her fatally to shiny things. On the soundtrack, there are moments for reflection and tiredness, and maybe supper if it hasn’t grown too cold – and no recriminations, because children never (according to themselves) deserve recriminations. There’s nothing forced about Karen O’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed enjoyment: she is simply being herself.
Likewise, Ray Rumours – Ros Murray from the UK’s much-missed Electrelane. Only, her music belongs in an entirely different arena, with subtle self-regard replacing the extravagant gestures and wildness. Gentle brass and almost whispered vocals help spread a mood that belongs to the reflective side of childhood, where it always rains and friends engage you in deep conversation about the whims of adults, but that’s not a bad thing really. No, that’s not a bad thing at all. It means you can draw pictures in scrapbooks and collect together your mementos of Paris, practise your Spanish and maybe write a few more songs about friends in Olympia, WA and Brighton, UK.
Sometimes, it’s good to stay in.
5. Goran Bregović – Welcome To Bregović
Rodrigo y Gabriela – 11:11
Various – Back To Peru Vol II
Various – Sensacional Soul Vol. 2
English-speaking countries are often brutally xenophobic when it comes to their appreciation of other cultures. If it isn’t immediately understandable it isn’t worth bothering with. I’m sure I don’t need to be informing Playground readers the range, scope and sheer pizzazz of Balkan composer and rock guitarist Goran Bregović: I just want to note that when he starts strumming the guitar with his weddings and funeral orchestra, and the fire-light begins to flicker, and the violin takes up, wilder and wilder… that’s when I reach for my revolver. I can make no guesses as to the man’s ‘authenticity’, but wonder (audibly, aloud, here) if authenticity is all it’s cracked up to be. I know that his songs plaster a smile on my face. And that’s enough, surely?
The same goes for Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, who rose to prominence playing their fiery flamenco-style music in the bars and late-night clubs of Dublin. Their guitar instrumentals are irrevocably good-natured and flamboyant, and doubtless it doesn’t hurt that they like to throw in a few covers of Led Zeppelin and Metallica to whoop the drunks up. Are they authentic? Who cares? Their music is fun. Fun is often all that you need. You can find depth in anything, if you’re so minded.
When it comes to appraising the guitar music of the 60s, focus remains invariably on American and British guitar groups. That’s fine – and I love it when someone uncovers another Girls In The Garage beat group or a Pebbles-style gem. (Anyone who sounds like Question Mark & The Mysterions or The Trashmen is more than fine by me.) But all this is so limiting, and culturally bereft! I want my Cuban doo-wop, my mid-20th Century Greek rembetika. Leave it to the mainland European labels to uncover the obscurer nuggets. Leave it to (ace German reissue label) Trikont, or to Spain’s equally fine, garage-loving Vampisoul.
Vampisoul’s new Back To Peru collection (lavishly illustrated) includes songs that are the equal of any 60s American backstreet band – Los Jaguars’ surreal 13th Floor Elevators tribute ‘Tormenta En El Mar De La Tranquilidad’, El Álamo and their outrageously funky ‘Pusher Man’, Los Shains’ beat anthem ‘Guau Guau A Go-Go’: Latin America given a psychedelic and sometimes rudimentary makeover. Speaking as someone who’s never bothered much with lyrics anyway, this is pure gold. And the latest in their Sensacional Soul series is just as fine: all killer, little filler as they used to boast on those Seventies TV adverts. I’d have killed for a few tracks like Los Gatos Negros’ hyper-charged ‘Hey Hey Bunny’ and Chus Martinez’s crowd-pleasing, Booker T-style instrumental ‘Soul 2’ to go along with the chalk-dust and casual suits in my Northern Soul dancing days.
6. Songs – Songs
The Bats – The Guilty Office
The Clean – Mister Pop
Bangs alive, but 2009 has been a great year for music.
Here’s a small quiz for you. I’ve written about all three albums already, specifically on my blog and on The Vine. Can you work out which inspired what?
1. It’s beautiful, recalls walking the rain-swept streets of Dunedin and Christchurch in search of the spirit of Shayne Carter, is full of pastoral sentiments and elegant harmonies, the way The Go-Betweens always were (sti
ll are, because the music hasn’t ceased to exist). Doubtless this music is appreciated by the new generation of bloggers, the same way Mekons once were among the US hipsters: not existing anywhere near enough the mainstream to assure even the slightest of critical shrugs and fully realised in a way few post-Television, post-Richman bands are realised.
2. Twisted, smart pop sensibilities with a solid, beating heart? Check. Slight Krautrock influence in the churning, repetitive beat? Check. A post-Velvet Underground suburban sprawl of simple, effective chord sequences and dazzling washes of keyboard? Check. The occasional psychedelic haze? Check. Noisy, melodic pop that’s influenced everyone from The Feelies to Galaxie 500, Camper Van Beethoven to The Clientele? Check.
3. Suffice to say that it’s gorgeous, echo-drenched, guitar-saturated pop that reminds me of… Bangs, I don’t know… Electrelane, Television, John Cale, Galaxie 500, Straitjacket Fits, Sonic Youth, Beaches, Spacemen 3… but still most resolutely retains its own identity and sound. Make no mistake here, this Sydney four-piece have remembered Billy Childish’s 3 Rules Of Pop (the performance, the sound and the song). Not for them experimentation without direction, or direction without experimentation, or one long beautiful drawn-out guitar drone that doesn’t have a middle, an end, a beginning, more middle, more middle and more middle.