on life, music etc beyond mainstream


2015 7 Mai

Frank in Budapest

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Andrássy út, Budapest, May 2015. Or was it Rákóczi út? I can’t remember. One of the city’s main thoroughfares anyway. Some crazy guy from Manchester who wore an outsize papier-mâché head and sang in a funny voice. Or his celluloid simulacrum? Maybe this wasn’t Frank at all.

Maybe this wasn’t Budapest either but an accumulation of my own imaginings of what central Europe is or should be: Trabants puking black smoke into the air, light railway rolling stock from the communist era, shelf toilets, graffiti and loads of it. And Frank. Or not-Frank. In Budapest or my dream of it, now folded neatly in time newly past, still warm. Warm and bright. Frank and not-Frank. A sticker on the wall of a bookshop doorway, somewhere in time.


2015 25 Apr

Damogen Furies

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Stor Eiglass – the first five beats could be something from The Disciples of Annihilation’s unforgettable New York City Speedcore. This accounts for around 7/8ths of a second at the start of the composition. It’s a great start. Start as you mean to go on. The rest of Stor Eiglass does things – good things – that defy critical vocabulary. There are spirals, a helter-skelter (minus the negative Beatles/Manson associations) ride, descending series of notes, the descent seen from different angles and different proximities. Spatio-temporal parallax. Stop as you mean to go off.
Baltang Ort – descending line, three or four notes, melancholic timbre, occluded midway, more descending notes. When is an occlusion not an occlusion? Who knows? Fuck knows. Something deep at the heart of this song is trying to fight its way out of itself. The last maybe half a second is echo, back where it began. Marcus Aurelius in space.
Rayc Fire 2 – “Observe the course of the stars as if you were running with them.”
Kontenjaz – for me this is all about the space, the rest of Damogen Furies does this too. How to describe? It’s not concert-hall reverb but neither is it like being plugged into the machine earwise. It’s not reverb, it’s close to reverb, but it’s not reverb. It’s like the moonbeams that shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair when music temporarily displaces your inner-ear/brain gestalt. The space between the listener and the maker is there but it’s a mediumistic thing, and/or a rope bridge.
Exjag Knives – futuristic, but not in a futuristic way. If you listen closely, there’s any amount of your own associations in here. Лайка in orbit. Sunday morning on the DLR at Shadwell. The cake aisle in Morrisons. The weird space in the walkways under motorway bridges where necessary collective mental static is necessarily displaced for reasons either psychogeographical or pseudoameliorative. An accumulation of concrete with no concrete. A spiritual accretion by default. Not Ballardian really. Better for being less projectional in a way. Just, like, … is.
Kwang Bass – cold
D Frozent Acc – I was hoping for a ballad track to end the record, ya know. Something to warm the heart. D Frozent Acc is warmly inventive but about as balladic as Novaya Zemlya or Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen. And that’s all that counts.
A great listen, all told.


Manchester’s Oldham Street is conveniently situated – roughly equidistant from both of the city centre’s biggest railway stations (Piccadilly and Victoria), and just off the main drag. It’s always in (good) flux. Gentrification never takes hold here, but maybe one day it will. Maybe one day it will be like Brick Lane in London. Don’t get me wrong: I love Brick Lane and associate it with inspiration and good feelings. But Oldham Street still emits the vibes of iration, while its London cousin, for whatever reason, begins to feel like aspic is at its contours. Curation, preservation, you know?

Oldham Street does big contrast – the Great Ancoats Street end of it is gappy, worn, forlorn. The Piccadilly side is home to any number of cool places (record shops, cafes, Afflecks, Carhartt WIP, the Magma bookshop) juxtaposed against hard luck pubs, overcrowded bus stops, kebab shops and so on.

Plus, a great op shop. I look at the clothes – nothing there for me. I look at the records. There’s some great stuff there – I find a copy of this, which I want to hear but don’t buy because I don’t have a record player. There’s also a great looking DIY-ethic heavy metal LP in the racks with a ludicrous band name and title, which I don’t buy either.

And neither do I buy DEUTSCHLAND SOUVENIR. I do however pick it up and read the sleevenotes, which are truly great: a love letter to Germany written in English (and obviously not translated from German) long ago. Time back, way back, when people had machines on which to play LPs, and put on their spectacle machinery and read the sleevenotes. At which point a James Joyce would possibly have had an epiphany. Me? I just put the record back in the rack and wandered back out onto Oldham Street.

The sun was shining – its warmth had travelled 93 million miles to get here. Me: 214 miles, give or take.

2015 23 Mrz


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There are well over 200 windows in this image – high windows, low windows. Low windows whose astragals were first placed in the first decade of the 20th century. Plus the moving windows of the train. The four tall buildings’ stance is artistic, almost sculptural – four ginormous automata marching to the top of a low hill, stationary now, stopping to drink in photons for the compound eye. Solstice, perihelion, equinox, solstice, equinox, solstice, perihelion and on and on. If you can stand on this platform and still the mind and listen, really listen: the buildings and the low stone wall by the railwayside and the sky all speak in unison – right in your ear, right to your heart. What they say is unwordable and miraculous.

Image playlist:

John Cage – In A Landscape
Alan Hovhaness – Tzaikerk
John Foxx and Theo Travis – Before You Disappear
Kate Bush – Watching You Without Me
John Martyn – Singin’ In The Rain

The title of this post and the word “unwordable” were appropriated from Russell Hoban’s book “The Moment Under The Moment”. And what a book it is!

The best stuff never arrives at your eardrums via reviews, recommendations, hype. It gets there via a process of mistakeism. And so it was with Edgeland – I pressed the ‘purchase’ button on Amazon because I liked the record’s artwork. The late Anthony H. Wilson once said that you can tell when someone is of exceptional talent by their demeanour alone, even before you hear a note of their music. And the vibe Edgeland gave off, even before I played it, it just had to be a classic, somehow.

For me, the record works because of the way it balances the internal and the external. It’s not social realism, it’s not a criticism of the way things are. It’s just the fast fragments and mistakeism of the everyday. The song Shadow Boy is based upon observations the parts of town that film can’t really penetrate, unless it’s the backdrop for some kind of gritty crime caper. What we have here instead is something of far more value: a mix of psychogeography and time-travel. Watch how the song begins, in plaintive register, a broad brushstroke of pure luminous sadness, the kind we all feel, usually between about 5 to 6.30pm – the ‘long dark tea-time of the soul’. A world watched ‘through broken windows’.

The song begins its ascent. Weeds and dirt are ‘brand new’, ‘whining electric trains’ are music. Then – and this is the genius bit – the song’s identifier* then fixes the moment in time. ‘Broken eyes of factories have stared for generations at the rails / The rails have carried generations of bowed heads staring at the papers / as roofers perch on top of buildings looking down at all of us like day-glo birds …” Wow. What we have here is decades of commuters on their way to work, observed by almost-human (Lowryesque?) factory glass, with construction workers above. The construction workers here are almost painted like accidental saints/angels: work as a sacrament, not a big money-machine, the high-vis jackets not-quite haloes. This song is like a snowstorm – one of them miniature worlds you can pick up and hold in your hands – and when you shake the fucker, it’s different every time.

The psychogeographical aspect of the song comes from the way it considers ordinary phenomena like broken factory windows, new-build breezeblock Babylon housing with its ‘barbecues like footballs perched on green glass balconies’ – and then cuts right through these with movement – temporal and physical/psychological. The time-travel element comes from the momentum, as the song hits its cathartic moment, we’re all on the same fucking train, and the near future becomes the present.

I’ve never been to Essex. Visited Wanstead aged about 5, that’s the nearest I’ve been. We went to an Italian restaurant there. I remember being massively impressed that the maître d’ didn’t view kids in a restaurant as a nuisance, and offered us free grissini. That’s my first ever memory of a trip to England. Whether or not it counts as Edgeland, I don’t know. But That’s mistakeism for ya.

*identifier is a term I had to make up. Roughly synonymous with protagonist, speaker, main character. But it’s none of these. At the risk of sounding like Jacques Derrida, it’s the vessel of spiritual acumen, an epiphenomenon of carbonicity. A you, a me, an everyone. Nobody. Someone. A partly-fictive super-verisimilitudinous spirit.

I was listening to Boris Blank’s recent record Electrified, which then led me to an interview Blank did with The Quietus last October, in which he tells what his favourite albums are. There were some good surprises in there, including a single by The Normal (which he regards as an album), Miles Davis’ planet-shaking On The Corner and Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma.

The first two I am familiar with, but not Ummagumma. In the interview Blank says “the era with Syd Barrett, it’s beautiful music, but Ummagumma you can listen to today, it’s timeless. I have it on vinyl in my archives, although I have it loaded on my iPhone. It’s music that I take personally with me wherever I go.”

Intrigued, I give Ummagumma a go. But hey, I didn’t much like it – apart from Sysyphus (Part 3) and Grantchester Meadows. This listen then led me to check out Animals, which I’d never really heard before, although it does have probably the best cover of any record ever. Sad must be the fucker who ever got a train from London Victoria to someplace in Kent who didn’t look out the window and see Battersea Power Station and imagine a giant imaginary pig suspended in the air above it. So, Animals it is/was. Pigs 1, then Dogs.

Dogs starts off brilliantly – a soft guitar strum and hazy, opiated electronics. The singing is immense – there are a couple of cosmic vocal glissandi on this that wouldn’t be matched in popular music again until Bernard Sumner sang the word “anyone” about four and a half minutes into Try All You Want (1991) and Kanye West sang the word “neon” in Lift Off two decades later. The first Dogs cosmic glissando happens in the word “need” at the end of the first line: “You gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need”. Amazing, like many orchardsful of apples falling in space. The second one occurs in the word style at the first line of the second verse: “And after a while, you can work on points for style”.

At 17 minutes, Dogs is too long – the section between about 3 and 7 minutes in is too pomp/prog. The cosmic space-out section between about 8 and 12 minutes works much better. Whole careers were based on former, why not the latter?

Lyrically there’s a lot of bite in the way “Dogs” attacks its target…

You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
You know it’s going to get harder
And harder, and harder as you get older.
And in the end you’ll pack up and fly down south,
Hide your head in the sand, just another sad old man,
All alone and dying of cancer.

… but is the target real or made of straw? Is Dogs muzzled by its own creeping existence-anxiety and fear of death? Either way, it’s an English classic.


Does music make you LOL?

Some songs are intented to produce mirth, like Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week” which is funny almost in spite of itself. The humour is wry, the subject matter is actually pretty fucking serious. Then there’s out-and-out funny, like Georges Brassens perennially hilarious “Le Gorille”.

Both of these, though, come from a time when music hall and its French and American equivalents were still in memory, perhaps even still in fading existence. This means that the songs’ writing and presentation is fairly obvious in its intent – it was part of a tradition, even if it was diverging from the main body of that tradition.

As time moves on though, things get more and more meta*, with more and more layers of irony, some intended, some maybe not. I find it difficult not to like early albums by extreme metal bands like Celtic Frost and Venom. Both were masters of stagecraft, and both had singers who sang in English “West Country” accents, like roaring pirates – despite neither band being from the West Country- Celtic Frost were from Zürich, Venom were from Newcastle.

The 1984 film This is Spinal Tap was probably intended as satire, as a skewering of rock pretension. A metal piss-take. For me, though, Spinal Tap is a success because it failed to do that. How could you satirise imagination and a sense of playfulness as expansive as Venom and Celtic Frost had? Their art was in itself largely satirical. Spinal Tap was more like cinema cottoning on to the fact that metal – while dark and dealing in heaviness, also had a genuine sense of humour. You could hardly miss it really.

One of the most meta works I can think of is Frank Zappa’s “Broadway The Hardway”, and in particular the song “Any Kind of Pain”. It’s amazing to think that this wonderful episode of R&B – with its great singing, virtuosic playing, sense of melody close to Todd Rundgrens finest work – is a 100% piss take. Seems a waste of melodic chops somehow. The song’s themes are venality/vapidity on the innocent side of things, and control/cynicism on the other. It’s like Zappa just throws this binary into the air, watches it fly for a bit, then lets it explode into meaning: “she only gets half the blame/ unless we extend her”. At the end of the song, comedy has curdled – and the vapid character is now shrouded in pathos. Like much of Zappa, there is a micro-operatic story going on. Complete fucking genius.

Sometimes the comedy in music comes from juxtaposition. (Note: I hate having to use the word juxaposition, but sometimes you have to.) “Giftwrap Yourself, Slowly!” is a great and funny title by Porn Sword Tobacco from the album New Exclusive Olympic Heights. The title, as an imperative, seems to be about valuing oneself, about realising one’s value in the eyes of a sympathetic (significant) other. But it’s also strongly reminiscent of (even if not referencing) “The Gift” by The Velvet Underground:

He would ship himself parcel post special
delivery. The next day Waldo went to the supermarket
to purchase the necessary equipment. He bought
masking tape, a staple gun and a medium sized
cardboard box, just right for a person of his build.
He judged that with a minimum of jostling he could
ride quite comfortably. A few airholes, some water, a
selection of midnight snacks, and it would probably be
as good as going tourist.

… and we all know how that one ends. In “Giftwrap Yourself, Slowly” the LOL is in the juxtaposition of the neatly crafted phrase of the title – it reads like a billboard in space – with the sombre music of the track itself, like tears in slow motion rain at the start of a Byung-chun Min film.

Porn Sword Tobacco have a lot of funny song names. Other favourites include “Carl Zeiss Driving to Work” which brings to mind Billy Connolly’s joke about prescription windscreens, and “Futuristic Rasta Money” whose three words collide so brilliantly, saying a hell of a lot and nothing at all: another billboard in space. Also “Copyright, The Universe” and the succinct, trenchant two-word novel of a title “Freedom Commercial”. Oh, and finally “I Love Riding My Bicycle” whose prosaic-ness is the funny: it has to be the third part of an unrelated triptych that started with Kraftwerk’s “Tour de France” and Boards of Canada’s “Happy Cycling”.

*Meta – creative work referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre. I use it adjectivally. I don’t know if the dictionary does, and don’t much care. Ha!

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