Song of the day – 297: Lispector
Bedroom musical recordings since 1996 boasts the front page of her website. To say this gives no hint of the wonderment that waits in store, just one click of the mouse away, is an understatement. The only reason I haven’t featured Lispector on these pages before is because I’ve been struggling for months to come to terms with the sheer scale of Julie Margat’s music. If you haven’t listened in already, you’re in for a real special time. This is the greatest hidden music you’ll encounter all year.
There is such depth, such diversity of sound here. On Julie’s ‘Lispector Jukebox’ page alone there are over 500 songs to listen to, and – I’m not sure, maybe I still quite can’t believe it – download. These are four-track and eight-track home recordings, originating from somewhere within the South of France and New York, recorded with obvious delight and surprise and meticulous craft. Not a moment is wasted in the creation of magic. Please tell me that Julie is already way famous and renowned among the well-heeled articulators of taste. Please tell me that. There’s no way music so diverse, so eloquently and lovingly expressed, could have remained in secret for… what? FIFTEEN YEARS. Julie writes songs with titles like ‘Eating Dragoons’ and ”Teenage Rebels Live In Hell’ and ‘Give Me Your Beer’, and they linger in your memory for an age after the last cheeky drum machine has been switched off, long after the final sequenced guitar loop has subsided. Julie writes songs with imaginative backings and odd little tape loops and synthetic strings that make me think a little of yr Pikelet, yr Ill Ease, yr kyü – but she’s way, I dunno, herself. (Not least, she is French: you can hear the coldwave influence.) The bass thumps merrily like yr Go! Team, yr My Disco, yr Rihanna. Sometimes, I think of Beat Happening. Other time, Kid Koala. The voice is softened sometimes, brash other times but not very often: Lispector’s music always feels startlingly intimate, you’re so privileged to be listening in. It’s a little bit late 80s Olympia, for sure. Guitar fuzz and distort gently, but not always. Photographs are Polaroids. Music is blurry snapshots of magical moments in time. Music is wonderment.
Her lyrics are neat, too:
One mademoiselle and her red keytar. “You can change the way you look/But not the books you’ve read,” she sings over low notes that wheeze like old air conditioning. “Like a ping-pong player, play along with someone/Roll him into a ball, go along with the game/Kick the ball about, you know it’s a gamble/Take it anyway, it may pay off one day,” she adds, over a spiderweb rhythm track. And when was the last time you had a new favourite lyricist? (from Plan B Magazine #30)
To tell the truth, I’m a little overwhelmed: some of these songs (the Willy Wonka-esque ‘Ice Cream Man’ from the Twisted Nerve album Guide To Personal Happiness, for example) are the equal of a Daniel Johnston (say), but with a far richer, more complex (but never knowingly smart) sound. I cite Daniel simply as a guide to the scale of Julie’s recorded work, not for its musical content: for the fact it exists within a universe of its own, to indicate the strength of her songwriting, for the way the songs feel so personal. Musically, I’m not sure where the touchstones lie: this is probably because Julie has SO MUCH to offer, SO MUCH recorded, SO MUCH quality. Five hundred songs, and I haven’t yet found one I don’t think is less than magical. I listen to a song like ‘The Game’ and think, maybe there’s a little bit of Fall Of Saigon or Young Marble Giants in there, or … but to throw comparisons around is to devalue the music on both sides. This is…
This is the DIY tape culture of the early 80s brought home to roost.
Here’s a video. Great song, but this is mostly an instrumental – I like the ones where you can hear the vocals more. (The aforementioned Twisted Nerve album is a marvellous place to start.)
It couldn’t be simpler. A friend slips a note, a tape, a CD into your hand; whispers a name in the dead of night. It couldn’t be simpler. You fall head over heels.
So it goes with Lispector. A name so whispered and who thus becomes the latest addition to my list of 21st Century obsessions. For today and for maybe this week at least. Probably longer, if truth be told, but let’s not leap ahead of ourselves here, right?
I mean, how can you not adore someone who has a song called ‘juvenile delinquent’ and who writes lyrics like “Girls make songs in their bedrooms, Girls want to sing like Debbie Harry”? How can you not fall completely in love with someone who has a song called ‘Chaos In The Studio’, in which it sounds like the singer might actually be singing about cows in the studio? Imagine that. Cows in the studio. They’d inevitably make a more appealing noise than most dolts who are given the keys to the music machine these days, but hmmm, let’s not get negative here, right? Because this is a celebration. This is L.O.V.E. love.
It’s a celebration of a great story that like all the best Pop stories couldn’t be made up. It’s a story of a silver four-track recorder delivered to a country house in the depths of France; a story of an artist making it up as she goes along; making a sense of technology and her life through songs that sparkle like mountain dew, or perhaps like Stephin Merritt messing around with Young Marble Giants (yes, it’s really that good). It’s a story of plucking a name from a magazine article about a glorious Ukrainian born Brazilian author simply because you liked the sound of the word, and then finding the books are sublime, so of course it all fits. It’s a story of home-modified keyboards with thumbtacks stuck into circuit boards and it’s a story of the artist having the good sense to record the very process of the process in a song called ‘I love my recorder’ that sounds like it believes in the heart and soul of electronics as a power for personal escape, deliverance, or maybe just plain old joy.
Like the joy of a song called ‘Winona Forever (Tattoo Song)’, and a line that goes “My head explodes once a week, that s pretty intense don’t you think?” Which reminds me of something I said last week to my Year 11 class; “If you’re not falling in love at least once a week when you’re 16 then you’re not really trying”. And in fact I figure you could apply that to any age. And maybe too it should be once a day.
Today I am in love with Lispector. It couldn’t be simpler.
Today I am in love with the most wonderfully odd cover of ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ you’re ever likely to hear. Even in your dreams. Today I am in love with the moment Julie (let’s not worry about second names because second names are an irrelevance, as Lawrence will attest) sings, in ‘Coffee Machine’, that “You could be my new and my secret Beat Happening”. I’m so in love I want to leap off the ceiling and yelp ‘right on’. Only using less syllables. And making less sense.
Today I am in love with the image of the Lispector army already growing and prowling the streets of downtown New York with their apple cheeks and leggings rouched to within an inch of their lives, wearing Tatty Devine headphones and clutching their hand-screened shopping bags with the simple legend ‘J’Aime Lispector’.
Today I am in love with this delicious album called human problems and how to solve them (Ponytail records, out of the USA, or Antimatiere out of France) and in particular with the outstanding raw power of the honest precision of a line that repeats ‘it’s a very personal thing’ so it sounds like the Ultimate Truth cascading from the heavens. Which of course, when it comes to Pop, it most assuredly is.
It couldn’t be simpler.
Here’s an article kicking_k wrote for Plan B Magazine #35, July 2008.
‘Lispector is Julie and her recorder,” reads the sleeve notes of new Twisted Nerve release Guide To Personal Happiness. “From 1996 to 2000, Julie made numerous home-recorded cassette tapes, armed with a cardboard drum kit and a few yamaha keyboards… in 2004, [she added a] sequencer and started recording with eight tracks. Double the fun,” says the press release representing the Montplaisir resident. And her MySpace motto? “How can she be in a band if it’s only her?”
A stupid question can still be a valid question, so I repeat it back to her: “I don’t think I would have ever started recording if it wasn’t in my bedroom. It’s the best way – for me – to capture a moment or a mood.” She stays low, never fills all the spaces, never remotes enough to warp a note. Careful arrangements, simple, circling melodies, swimming into focus like a Polaroid: “I remember walking on rainy beaches/listening to Peaches…”
So… is this named after author Clarice Lispector?
“Yes. I remember reading an article about her and I loved the name right away. There was also a picture of her and I loved it; she looked so serious.”
Why do you write in English? Isn’t that frowned upon in France?
“I’ve always been listening to English music, and it just came naturally when I started singing. I liked the fact that I could sing in my bedroom without being understood by my famly and neighbours. Also, you can be surprised by words and expressions when you write in a foreign language.”
How do you decide what kind of instrument you’re going to use in a song?
“Different machines – and different sounds – have different personalities. Every guitar is different, too. I don’t really get attached to instruments, and actually I don’t have any that I really love, apart from the first yamaha keyboard I ever bought. But I do love that they all inspire you differenly, depending on your mood. They really make the music, not me.”
It’s not all fuzzy felt. ‘The Game’ is particularly sinister.“‘Play along with someone/Roll him into a ball, go along with the game/Kick the ball about…” slink the words over tranquilised synth pulses and higher, stressy organ lines which chicane tidily behind. “The game refers to how you need to take risks for the people you love, and how people play with each other sometimes, with their feelings and such. I guess I looked in the dictionary and found all those funny images about games and play, and really felt like they meant something deeper.” One could almost dance to it, but one would most certainly be dancing alone.
There’s more. On the guitar clank and tingle of ‘Winona Forever’, she matter-of-factly takes Johnny Depp not as a muse, but mouthpiece: “I’m gonna tattoo your name on my skin/Because I love you and I always will.” And however that third-person relationship worked out, there’s a sincerity to the sentiment all the stronger for having grown through self-protective irony; love is not negated even when departed. “You can change the way you lookk/But not the books you’ve read,” she intones, careful, certain. Past happiness is impregnable.
Her own verdict is economical and modest: “It’s a song about the time that passes and the fact that people change, all of that.” I think she’s quietly extraordinary, for all of this.