Saturday, February 9, 2013

Olde Cthonic Music

So, I've got 3 new CDs looking at me. The new Richard Thompson  "Electric" double CD,  and the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds CD "Push the Sky Away".  At first blush, they may not seem to fit, but I think they do in this fashion- both men fashion deep dark tales rooted in music so organic that calling it "roots" doesn't connote the proper depth. Thompson constructs Celtic Rock hybrids that put lessors like the Pogues ( who are no slouches, but still less deep than Thompson. His stuff sounds like it was composed by a druid with a friend in Robert Johnson) squarely into the "pop" category. On this one, recorded live  at Buddy Miller's house,  the blues are writ large. It's raw and charging in a way Thompson did back in the late 1970's- this doesn't sound like Dire Straits on whisky like his 1980's output did, nor his burbling  early 1990's output. The man is a fretboard demon on a level with Hendrix, Tom Morello and precious few others, so absolutely nothing is sloppy, but don't confuse his virtuosity for polish- He's just one of a dying breed- the kind of musician who nails it live, and any extra tracks are just ornaments, not patches. The subject matter is dark, as always- tales of unrequited lust and revenge ( Stony Ground, Sally B,  Another Small thing in  her favour, Straight and Narrow)  and general malaise and bitterness ( Stuck on the Treadmill My Enemy, Where's Home? Good Things Happen to Bad People) with moments of pure beauty ( the Snow Goose- with Allison Krause). So, if you want to hear the dark roots of what shiny happy people like The Arcade Fire, or Mumford and Sons are referencing, you really must go to Thompson. Country, Rock, Folk, it all comes from the Gaelic ore that Richard Thompson mines with more fervor than any other.
Nick Cave is less obvious, this time around. Now, apart from a rather grim lyrical outlook, I can understand how, on paper, Nick Cave seems very different from Richard Thompson. However, as Nick  ages, his voice is starting to take on some of the same weathered, and yet still mannered qualities as Richard's voice. Yes, he's a deeper baritone, but the same sandy, antique distressing is evident. Like a desert borne Victorian quality- Allan  Quartermain as a vocal quality. Because of this, and because there is something primal to it, "Push the Sky Away" seems like a great fit .With the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave is wont to explore an eerie Gypsy/vagabond Carnival ambiance, like his closest American analog, Tom Waits. This time out, though, the music is more skeletal, and raw.  Often, it evokes a more Francophone Doors type of feel- with prominent keyboards, and single note guitars.  As such, he's moved into stranger territory, something almost Gaelic, albeit of a different stripe- Think Jacques Brel's persona inhabiting Jim Morrison's crude Mojo Risin' . It makes perfect sense that his tour dates start with Los Angeles and Paris. However, you'll note that this is much more modern than some of his more "tin pan alley" forays. So, why am I still seeing it as primal? Because his themes and wording are still an unholy admixture of the profane and the profound. It's a voice straight from the limbic, reptilian brain. I'm not going to go over song titles other than to say the two "Jubilee Street" songs are the core and emblematic songs on the short LP. Instead, go to the Guardian and stream it.
I'd have a lot more to say, but honestly, these are just serving as a tonic to MBV for me. I'm sorry if that seems dismissive, but these two fantastic records had the misfortune to arrive on my doorstep shortly after the album of the year, for me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Coliseum Video

See it here. Are they talking about these guys? Anyway. The album seems like it's gonna be awesome...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

And on a Completely different Note

I saw Warm Bodies yesterday. I don't care to talk too much about the movie. I mean, must hollywood turn absolutely everything into a rom-com?  a "Cute" Zombie flick? Ok, why not, and not my problem. However there was something noteworthy in the film- Rob Corddry.  I haven't gone too far deeply into his catalogue, but, of what I've found, whether on the Daily Show, or Hot Tub Time Machine, or Harold and Kumar Escape Guantanamo Bay, he doesn't exactly play nice guys, and seems to specialize in playing the least sympathetic characters possible. He plays the guy you don't feel bad about wishing physical pain upon. As in, the plot contrivances in the broad farce require that someone get canned in the genitals, and he's the guy you want to see wracked.  But, in this movie, he actually generates real lump-in-the-throat sympathy and empathy. You genuinely feel bad for the guy, and want to see something good happen to him.  As such, it's a minor revelation. I'm not saying it's a great movie, or a deep revelation, but considering what the man is known for, it's a real leap, and it says something. Maybe we're finally getting over the Bush years in America? Yes, I know that's a stretch, but it seems to me that this is another crack in the armour- we're softening , from the culture of meanness. Maybe. We're still probably the most violent and predatory society ever to exist, but if we can rehab our punching bag into a teddy bear, maybe we're moving a bit? I hope so. Maybe we can warm up, just a bit?


I'm now on my fifth listen to this. I'm not as overwhelmed, but I still don't feel entirely coherent. I'm going to attempt to discuss my impressions of the music, but, truthfully, it seems a bit pointless. If you wanted to hear this as much as me, and had access to the Internet, you have it, and are listening to it, now, rather than reading this. If you didn't have the same level of excitement as me, then, I'm not sure you're going to understand what the fuss is about. At the same time, how do you describe your dreams without sounding like a small, slightly crazed child?
So, here goes-
Track 1 and 2 , "she found now" and "only tomorrow" are on the gentle end of the My Bloody Valentine spectrum. Shuffling beats with spaghetti western guitars distorted into the sound of sonar and depth charges in a Swiss lake- and yet, you'd be hard pressed to say how anything has been processed. Kevin Shields sounds like he's only using a fender, through a pretty severe fuzz box and massive volume. The rest is just in his hands.
Track 3, "who sees you" shimmers and sways almost exactly the way My Bloody Valentine are supposed to.  In fact, it may supplant "Soon" as my go-to track for explaining MBV for the uninitiated. It sounds oceanic and undulating. The vocals are about as strong as they get but still sound like whispering reeds along the shore. What is the song about? What do you want it to be about? It's just what it is.
Then, on track 4, "is this and yes", time stops, and the keyboards come in. It's like you get to step into a single bar in another song and wander about, three dimensionally. It's like being suspended in a jelly made of sound.
Then, on track 5,  "if i am" it feels like we hear the song that we were wandering in just previous. The song is lush, romantic and sentimental, like the aural equivalent of a lovely girl reminiscing in some French film made in the late 60's.
Track 6 "new you" is a dance track, but still gentle, feminine and coy. It's like the inside of some club girl's sleepy daydream- all pink, frilly, and sweet, with the beat almost an intrusion, only there because of its ubiquity.
So, the buzzing mosquito bagpipe guitars that announce track 7 "in another way" sound extra aggressive. The snare roll is machine-like, and the song is masculine and propulsive, with at twist at two minutes eighteen seconds in that sounds like the war pipes for a locomotive-riding tribe of grasshoppers from Mercury. This is Hawkwind's Silver Machine come into galactic life and it is sentient, and has its own designs.
The resolution is in the glitches and recursive loop of track 8, "nothing is". It's like a skipping record on some long-lost industrial white label EP. Kind of like a less groovy Loop, and just like Loop, it's actually very subtle- the variations are hidden inside the pounding of the beat, and then, it just vapourises.
Which leaves us with track 9, "Wonder 2", the fabled "Drum N Bass" MBV track. It sounds like skydiving in an altered state. The beat rushes by, and yet seems to be perfectly still. At about three minutes thirty seconds in, the track blooms into Brian Eno's Another Green World  and pulses and breathes on its own, while the beat keeps rushing by. Then it just ends. No resolution, no fade, no crescendo- it just ends.
So, does any of that make sense? I didn't think so, but, I'm sure I'll be talking more about this. I just hope you can see that even more so than usual- trying to write about this music is really like dancing about architecture.