Life Just Bounces don't you get worried at all. (A weblog of music and otrogenerica)

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A break for art

On a whim, i said to Lachlann:
do a picture of Rupert Murdoch with his teeth bared, head retreating into the thorax of a beetle, with dozens of long spindly tentacles protruding, and a speech bubble shouting "crowdsource THIS!"
i then promptly forgot that i had ever said this.

Obviously, he went and drew it.

i swear this guy is the future of political/editorial cartooning. Alan Rusbridger in this Radio 4 documentary seems to suggest that there is a modern-day lack of such cartoonists, which is pretty odd, but definitely leaves the door wide open for more stuff like this. Myself, i can't wait!

Monday, 24 May 2010

One thing i've never quite understood about the Anfield rap

Does the Australian guy at 1:38 really say "cuz I'm sat on the bench, trying to jizz in my booze"?
If not, what does he actually say?
If so, how does he then rhyme that with "I'm very big down under but my wife disagrees"?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Glenn Branca & creativity/hope from the lower half of the internet

Composer and guitar-orchestrator Glenn Branca comes off inexplicably curmudgeonly and doomsaying in this blog for the NYT late last year, seemingly both claiming that creativity in music is dead (without really qualifying this rather sweeping statement) and also buying into the strange idea that music is some sort of linear progression of qualitative improvement, like the ever-decreasing time it takes to do a 100-metre sprint or something, which also seems pretty daft to me. Surely it's better understood like the outward expansion of an ink blot on tissue paper, branching outwards simultaneously in all directions?

For more than half a century we’ve seen incredible advances in sound technology but very little if any advance in the quality of music. In this case the paradigm shift may not be a shift but a dead stop. Is it that people just don’t want to hear anything new? Or is it that composers and musicians have simply swallowed the pomo line that nothing else new can be done, which ironically is really just the “old, old story.”

Certainly music itself is not dead. We’ll continue to hear something approximating it blaring in shopping malls, fast food stops, clothing stores and wherever else it will mesmerize the consumer into excitedly pulling out their credit card or debit card or whatever might be coming.
The best answer to Branca's thesis comes from the comments section of the same article, from one Matt Penniman.

In the last half a century we've seen Philip Glass achieve rather remarkable levels of productivity and popularity, Arvo Part create a new sound for choral music, Yo-Yo Ma bring awareness of Asian classical music to America with the Silk Road Project (and generate some appealing confluences of classical and folk with Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor), and much more. Meanwhile, the larger popular music culture has developed whole new genres, like electronica and hip-hop, not to mention more esoteric experiments like procedural music.

Crucially, these achievements are most visible in hindsight; if you want to say "sure, but what's happened in the last five years?" I would have to answer "plenty, but we won't know what was important for a while yet."
Or, like the first Premier of the People's Republic Zhou Enlai is reputed to have said, when asked about the impact of the French Revolution: "It is too early to tell".

Song of the day: #7 Sage Francis – "Little Houdini"

Sage Francis has a new album, Li(f)e. The first single, "The Best of Times", has excitingly and improbably been playlisted by Radio 1 and made single of the week by Kiwi overenthusiast Zane Lowe, as well as gaining approving airplay from the hopefully-to-be-reprieved 6 Music and the like.

It's a magnificent, swooning song, with the hallmark tuned percussion and strings of composer Yann Tiersen (Amélie, Good Bye Lenin!) underscoring Francis' crushingly sincere tales of mortifying youthful awkwardness and ineptitude. At 2:41 it gives way to Tiersen's more forthright rock style and then keeps building up to almost impossibly climactic heights as SF seemingly lays bare all the embarrassments of his youth, at the same time reassuring the listener to essentially get through it, that it's much worse when you're there. i could have done with a lot more songs like that in my early teens.

And i'm not even meant to be writing about that track.

The focus today is actually album opener "Little Houdini", the story of Christopher Gay, career criminal and escape artist. Gay decided that prison would not stop him from visiting his dying parents for the last time, repeatedly breaking out and making his way home in a selection of stolen vehicles, including a Wal-Mart truck and Crystal Gayle's tourbus. (His third escape seems to have been just for the hell of it).

Francis relates that he first heard of Gay's escapology career in 2006, and decided to follow the story in the hope of writing something about him at some future point.

There wasn’t much press about this story at all. Nothing national at least, which I still find strange. I put together what details I could and used a few lines from the actual news stories. The original article said, “This is what country songs are made of.” I thought to myself, “Sure…but this is also what a rap song can be made of.”

Fittingly, "Little Houdini" (after the nickname Gay received from the media) ends up somewhere between the two genres, Francis' lyrics continuing the long storytelling traditions and outlaw focus of both ("I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"; "the cop got scared, the kid, he starts to figure,/ "I'll do years if I pull this trigger...""). The music, a collaboration with former Grandaddy man Jason Lytle, backs up the point, with lazily strummed guitar, droning violin/organ and a plaintive, distant sung vocal evoking the open road of the third verse, before it breaks into a propulsive 6/8 gallop of a rap.

The song celebrates Gay's spirit rather than excusing his crimes ("he knows what he done was wrong / but he knows his father don't got long"), but Francis mainly reserves his scorn for the armchair moralists who would condemn him: "y'all can turn up your noise / and suck on your teeth and wag your finger like 'tsk, tsk!' / but he had to take the risk".

And why not? Our mythology needs romantic anti-heroes, and personally i'd rather watch, e.g., Escape Artist: The Christopher Gay Story than Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe rehashing Robin Hood for the 35th time but with a boring new PoMo conceit.1

1 Having said which, i'd quite like to see Robin and the 7 Hoods, "a musical film set in 1930s gangster Chicago, with Frank Sinatra as "Robbo"."

Just doing my bit for the Streisand effect

In refusing to run this ad today, the Financial Times has inadvertently given it the extra oomph it needed to reach thousands whose general disinterest in financial wonkery would previously have precluded them from seeing it. All hail the Streisand effect! (pt. 483)

Alternatively, maybe there's a rogue environmentalist element somewhere within the FT that realised exactly what kind of exposure the ad would get if they turned it down, and strategically nixed it to gain that increase. Unlikely, but an amusing idea to me. Bottoms up!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Song of the day: #6 Delusionists – "Digital Connects"

Here's the Song of the Day for today, and most probably for the rest of the week too! Delusionists dropped a new album this Monday, Prolusion Plus, which as you can maybe gather is a boosted version of their previous smart 7-tracker The Prolusion.

Now with additional tracks, the odd alternate version and a couple of remixes, the EP has swelled to twelve tracks of UK dopeness. A proper review may well follow, but in the meantime check the awesome "Digital Connects", one of the aforementioned new tracks. Over a banger of a beat by Jon Phonics, Ben Black wordplays for dear life on the topic of the hottest spots to hang out online (hence the title, ya dig?) When i first heard it, i immediately thought "Tommy ain't my motherfuckin' boy...", not because i was having a multiple-personality crisis of confidence, but because the concept reminded me of the way GZA flipped the names of record labels on, erm, "Labels".

Two other awesome things about this track: firstly, the outro features a scratched sample of a yet-unreleased 30KB track which Mr. Black drops his fire on; and for seconds, this very blog is one of the ones namechecked in the song, rather awesomely ("be careful, cuz Life Just Bounces away..."). Apart from being a dope honour for yr humble writer, it also means i am finally succeeding (albeit indirectly) in my ambition of getting rappers to reference The Mighty Fall!

You can buy Prolusion Plus from Bandcamp for a paltry four quid, or a super-decent six for a real-life hactual CD. (The latter also had a cool-looking sticker, which has now been given pride of place on my newly-refurbished laptop.)

<a href="">Digital Connects (prod. Jon Phonics) by Delusionists</a>

On meeting yr heroes

Warning: contains fanboyism

It's been a pretty extraordinary week. To start with, i was offered out of the blue the chance to attend a festival in Bergen, Norway, the straightforwardly-titled Bergenfest. The reason for this is that my pals in the group SCAMS were playing, but their manager, who had been meant to attend, was detained in Hong Kong and subsequently San Francisco by the volcanic ash cloud of terror that so enlivened April.

The whole thing was a fantastic and often very drunken experience: lovely people were met, absolutely rakes of fish were consumed, great music was seen (i sadly missed Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio, again, but seeing a duo of air-travel-fixated, synth-toting Latvian pandas pretty much made up for it) and lots and lots of krone were spent on some really pretty dodgy beer and slightly better wine. Doubtless more of this later, especially as regards Instrumenti (the Latvian panda-band).

Anyway, on the last day, we were to be picked up and taken to the airport at 12 o'clock. i woke up at 11:20 with no packing done, in an incredibly untidy room, and with a hangover that could probably be deemed "award-winning". At five minutes to twelve i suddenly felt like i'd been stabbed repeatedly in the gut. Doubled over, i stumbled indelicately round the room wondering whether the jig was in fact up for me. Fortunately, a few minutes later, the outrageous stomach pain passed as quickly as it had dawned. By the time we reached the airport 45 minutes later, though, that was about the only improvement.

It was at this point, sitting grimly at gate 23a of Bergen airport, something akin to delirium tremens gripping my whole body, gamely suppressing occasional waves of nausea and trying to hide my horrible condition from a sweet girl we'd met on the plane trip over – essentially, in no fit state to say anything to anyone – that Andy points over to a nearby group and says "hey – isn't that the Manics?"


OK, here's the thing. Before the Manic Street Preachers, i wasn't really into music much. i much preferred roughly re-enacting the events on TV's Gladiators on a local industrial estate, reading, devising "inventions" of various degrees of daftness that i'd write down in what turned out to be the first of a lifetime of notebooks, and attempting to program text adventures for the Sinclair Spectrum +2A. My interest in music was mainly limited to a couple of TV themes, the odd track by ABBA or Meatloaf, and the soundtracks to Speccy games like Manic Miner and others i've long forgotten. i'd listen to local radio, but more for the clownish japes of the DJs then the handful of 70s/80s gassers on rotation in between them. Around about '95, i'd started to take a mild interest in the Britpop thing, but wasn't sufficiently committed to take sides in Blur vs. Oasis, for example.1 But in early '96, when i was twelve, i heard the Manics on the radio. It was like a bomb going off under everything.

i bought the single i'd heard ("A Design for Life") from Woolworths, followed by The Holy Bible album (the parent album not having been released yet), then Generation Terrorists, then the just-released Everything Must Go (which came out on my 13th birthday). Then Gold Against the Soul to complete the set, and then a compulsive quest to amass everything else they'd ever done, and follow up on all the cultural references contained therein (i don't think i've come anywhere near getting all of them to this day). i could probably draw a musical mind-map starting with MSP at the centre and tracing the influences outwards to a huge amount of the other stuff i listen to (and maybe i will, one day).  

Generation Terrorists channelled Public Enemy and The Clash, so i checked out Public Enemy and The Clash, promptly getting into old-school punk and hip-hop. Old punk led to both new punk and to reggae. Reggae led to dub. New punk led to hardcore. Hip-hop led to more and more hip-hop. And so on. The myriad cultural references led me to countless books and films. The general newfound musical obsession led me to the music press. It continued to spread, completely out of control.

So i had to talk to them, nuclear hangover or no; i would have regretted it endlessly (and been chided to the end of time by my MSP-fan mates) had i not. i plucked up the courage to walk up to Nicky Wire, proffered a hand to shake, and promptly forgot just about every word in the English language. Approximate transcript from memory follows:

TR: Hi... er...
NW: Hi. [shaking hands]
TR: i won't bother you for too long, because i'm sure you just want to get back home, but... [completely lost for words by now] um. i just wanted to tell you that your band, literally... in a very literal way, you guys changed my life.
NW [grinning, possibly scoping out the Million Dead t-shirt i had on]: For the better?
TR: Ha ha... yes, definitely. i mean you pretty much got me into music. so, like, thanks for everything.
NW: [something like] Ah, it's a pleasure. Thanks!
TR: [shuffling off, schoolboy-like] Cheers.

Sean Moore, i encountered in the weird mobile corridor-on-wheels thing that connects the terminal building with the plane. He looked possibly slightly worried that i was walking back towards him. i doubt i was in any state to be mistaken for a security official, so i'm guessing i probably just looked like Some Nutter.

TR: Sean!
SM: Yeh?
TR: Hi, erm, like i was just saying to Nick just now, don't want to bother you for very long, but i wanted to say thanks, you guys pretty much got me into music...
SM: [something like] Ah, great!
TR: Yeh, like you had the Public Enemy/Clash thing on the first album...
SM: That's right, yeh.
TR: ...and i'm in a rap group at the moment, from the PE thing.
SM: Ah, right! Well, keep going.

And that was about the size of it: two brief yet unforgettable conversations. i carried on towards our flight, slightly stunned, probably grinning like a village idiot, and oddly enough, welling up a little. i probably sounded quite gushing and far from eloquent, but i figured that if there's anyone that can understand painful sincerity, it's those guys. And for the amount of people that must have told them similar stories over the years, it was awfully sweet of Nick to smile slightly bashfully when he asked if my change had been for the better.

i forgot the cardinal rule of pics-or-it-didn't-happen, but it somehow didn't matter. We all boarded the flight, me tripping over myself with surprise and admiration and probably also residual booze. There was no first class on the flight, the band just sitting among us like anyone else. Another classy move for a group of men who've sold tens of thousands of records.

Keep going.

"They" say you should never meet your heroes. Evidently, "they" just picked the wrong heroes.

1 i was way more partisan when it came to Blur vs. Mogwai a few years later.
2 Hi Lindsey, Kat, Rachel, Dan, Charlotte, Marilyn, etc.!