Wednesday, 22 February 2012

New Jamz On Wednesday

Some good tunes floating around early 2012. For example, i'm totes having this

 Heard this next one on (the ever reliable) Marc Riley's show on Monday night. Lovin those synths.

 I know almost nothing about Evy Jane, apart from this has the same sense of dislocation and beauty that was evident on Portishead's debut


 Finally, if Panda Bear had come back with something as focused, yet alluring as this with his 2nd record, i would've been much happier.

Feels like the kind of song (like Django Django's latest) that works better coming randomly on the radio than by volition, but it's enjoyable all the same...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cantonese Boy

Up until the age of 11, I’d happily inherited pop music from my older sister. Together we’d learn the words (via Disco 45) to all the top 40. Word perfect on Ay Ay Ay Moosey (Modern Romance)? Of course. Every vocal inflection on Eight Day (by proto Gaga Hazel O’Connor)? Oh yes. Perfect imitation of the sax solo on Baker Street - you betcha. This pop training had stood me in good stead in the playground, every Sunday night taping the charts onto my Binatone tape recorder (we didn't have direct recording then, so quite likely, half way through my recording of Night Boat To Cairo you'd hear my mum shouting up to me that my 'tea was ready') meant I was never too far away from recognising a peer's cultural reference. If I was asked who my favourite band was, I might say The Police, I might say The Specials, or even Dexy's, but they changed constantly, well, pretty much every Sunday at 5pm. Then everything changed.

I was round at a friend’s house and we'd sneaked into the front room where his 16 year old brother, was sat with his 'cool' friends, playing a record that sounded like it came from another world. I've heard people talking about their POP 'road to Damascus' moment' - seeing David Bowie leaning on Mick Ronson, or The Rolling Stones on Ready Steady Go, The Pistols swearing at Grundy, well this was mine. To some, the vocalist would sound like he was moaning that the music wasn't really music at all, more a disconcerting collection of chimes, noises and rhythm but to me, it was like a portal opened in the room. I was dumbstruck and yet very, very excited, and I wasn't sure why. The song was 'Ghosts' by Japan and my adolescence had just begun.

  It was almost a year before I bought a record by Japan (my how different things were then, these days I would've digested the whole back catalogue within a week), partly because I was 12 years old and had no ready cash, but also partly because I was sort of scared of them. Ha! Yes. These strange men, in their strange clothes, so unlike the other pop stars on my sister’s walls. Anyway, Christmas 1984 came and one of my presents was Exorcising Ghosts - a (beautifully packaged) compilation album and that evening I took it upstairs and began by playing 'Ghosts', before starting at side 1. During the first play it was a bit like my head was slowly re-arranging itself. This music wasn't going to yield to me; I'd have to come to it. By the third play, I was levitating. Seriously. Mick Karn's sinewy bass, Steve Jansen's non showy tribal percussion, Barbieri's Prophet 5 soundscapes and THAT voice were awakening something inside. Suddenly, 'playtime' at school was slightly more awkward. I'd dyed my hair, I wore a paisley scarf. I wanted to talk about Picasso, Jean Cocteau & Erik Satie (even though I knew sod all about them). I was a loner.

The next 6 years the obsession became silly. Trawling record fairs for vinyl bootlegs(I own over 10 unofficial live Japan bootlegs that cost me over £30 each and I’ve no idea where they are now), writing letters to the Bamboo fanzine on a weekly basis ("NO Mick Karn's best ever bass line was on the b-side to his first solo single Sensitive!!", Rest of the World "Yawn") and carrying the Quiet Life album under my arm as I walked around Blackpool town centre, hoping, praying I might bump into a kindred spirit. However like all teenage obsessions, slowly but surely Sylvian and his merry men began to lose importance to me, to the point where nowadays, if I hear that Sylv is playing live, I shudder at the thought of having to sit through two hours of plinky-plonky noises. But sometimes, when the kids are in bed and the wife's out, I slip Gentleman Take Polaroids on and if I concentrate hard enough I can remember the boy in front of his bedroom mirror trying to lower his voice an octave and sing along to Nightporter.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Smartest Monkeys

As a newcomer to XTC - where do you start? Well for me it was a handy best of entitled 'Waxworks: Singles 77-82', which I picked up for $4 in San Francisco back in '95. Well, i say a newcomer, not entirely, as a kid, i'd enjoyed their brief run of hits back in the late 70's / early 80's. 'Making Plans For Nigel', 'Senses Working Overtime' & 'Love On A Farmboys Wages' all struck a chord, but there never seemed a reason to delve further until that CD winked its eye at me.

The first thing to strike me was Andy Partridge's hiccuping, overtly mannered vocals. Marmite to the listener for sure, but as somebody who grew up loving David Sylvian and then Bryan Ferry, not a problem. 

After i left San Fran our next stop was New Orleans where i managed to pick up the rather wonderful, Todd Rundgren produced 'Skylarking' album ($3!), and an obsession started to form.

Skylarking was the peak of XTC's relevance in rock, especially in the states where 'Dear God', initially a flipside to 'Grass' was a big 'smash'. Almost unbearably fussy at times, the album is regarded by critics as XTC's peak, but it wasn't - 'English Settlement' was. Example 1

English Settlement was, like The Kinks 'Something Else' two decades earlier, a succinct yet rather baffling retreatment from the arena of USA baiting POWER POP, back into a parochial, lyrically observant and ornate take on English psychedelia (despite the restless nods to world music). And like The Kinks, what was America's loss, was music's gain. They could still cut it live too Example 2

Back in 1999 XTC enjoyed a brief renaissance, critically at least due to 2 albums (Apple Venus volumes 1 & 2), by this stage, they'd been at it for 20 years, but were still streets ahead of most of their contemporaries. Volume 1 was released the same year as Jim O'Rourke's seminal Eureka, both albums had staggering opening tracks:

I could write for ages about loads of other songs and albums they made, or could've easily written a post about their fantastic mid-80's alter-ego The Dukes Of Statosphear (where along with producer john Leckie they attempted to mimic every ace song on the Nuggets LP), could've bored you all for ages demonstrating all the bands who owe XTC a living (stand up Blur, Vampire Weekend & Field Music for starters) but maybe best you go and listen to them at your leisure instead.