Manafonistas

on music beyond mainstream

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2014 6 Apr

Manafonistas in London

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So, as it happens I was in London this weekend too. I did not run into anyone from Germany or anyone with Moroccan headwear, but I did take this photograph of Canary Wharf:
 
 
 

 

2014 17 Mrz

Moving soundtracks*

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Gabriel Yared,  37°2 le matin

From the over-ripe saxophone that sets the melodic scene, through the record’s various digressions and diversions, this record is a mighty achievement. Most of the film has now faded from memory, but for me its real stories and its strongest emotional currents are in Yared’s music.
 
Popol Vuh, Nosferatu

Herzog’s film, when you compare it to the Murnau original, is full of great comedy. Like when Harker arrives at the inn and announces his destination, the entire population of the inn drops its cutlery, its crockery and its jaw as if it was a scene from a cheap stage melodrama. Herzog never quite locates the heart of darkness in the way Murnau does. The film score, however, is able to locate the strange outside-of-time ambience that Harker enters into when he lands in the Carpathian mountains. There are easily discernible eastern influences here, as well as a clear love of Christian monophony. B-movie schlock sounds, this certainly isn’t.
 
The Durutti Column For a Western, All That Love & Maths Can Do, LFO Mod

According to the screenplay books, all the best films – even if they don’t follow the same rules – share a series of attributes. Each story is a journey, with inciting incident, turning points, point of no return, and ever-greater challenges as we move inexorably to the closing credits. It makes sense that this happens – there must be some form of dopamine reward otherwise people wouldn’t sit motionless in the cinema for two hours at a time. A lot of Durutti Column instrumental tracks remind me of the bit of the film where all is not lost but everything is still to be played for, or the moments of epiphany in James Joyce’s Dubliners. Whole universes come crashing in. Universes that were already there – just previously unrealised.
 
David Dundas and Rick Wentworth, Withnail and I

A year after Yared’s soundtrack mentioned above, we have this.  And in Withnail’s Theme there’s a similarity with Yared’s Humecter la monture: an unmistakeable reference to the fairground carousel. Metaphor for vicissitudes? Who knows. The soundtrack for Withnail and I, like that of  37°2 le matin, haunts long after the credits have rolled.

 
 
 

 
 
 
*The title of this post, Moving Soundtracks, comes from the 1991 Disques du Crepuscule compilation CD of film music cover versions. It’s well worth investigating and was even reissued a few years ago by Les Temps Modernes (LTM).

2014 9 Mrz

My favourite songs by Peter Murphy

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Time Has Got Nothing To Do With It
 
1988′s Love Hysteria was recently remastered and reissued by the miraculous Cherry Red label. It’s an album I have revered since its original release. This is one of my two favourite songs on it.

Lyrically, it’s deliberately not a precise composition – images are conjured up and left to the thoughts of the listener:
 
Make me a mannered, a mannered thing
Carved of wood, a life force thing
Give it an arm, that points to the earth
And a hand, that points at me
No matter where I stand
No matter where I stand
And knows all
That we can’t see
 
This image works on multiple levels. Its hand and arm are partly an analogue clock face. The arm that points to the earth is a reminder that we are earthbound, or as Charles Dickens put it, “fellow travellers to the grave”. The image is also religious in an informal sense. The carved wood is invested with a spirit and omniscience. Yet it’s just a piece of dead tree. The study of dendrochronology is a form of time travel. Warped concentric almost-circles, a biological calendar – counting the earth’s orbits of the sun. So this wooden religious object – while mundane in terms of its material, is genuinely cosmic. And like the cosmos: a mystery.

The song builds to a crescendo, with Murphy singing the words “time has got nothing to do with it” with a restrained strength that is almost operatic. Peter Murphy is the best kind of singer, one who (not unlike Paul Buchanan) knows how to project the voice without sounding like it’s a technique. As much as I’m a fan of (for instance) Matt Monro or Dean Martin, these guys just didn’t have the ability to let the design aspect of singing disappear.
 
 

My Last Two Weeks
 
We ask The Controller. He sends us flames,
Our lying bodies sleep.
His whispered word says:
Ah, this is how, this is how it looks from where we weep.
Tethered to red rose, tethered to your shoe,
To the Seven of Cups, tethered to you.
 
The Seven of Cups is of course a Tarot card from the Minor Arcana. Not for Peter Murphy the obvious Major Arcana images such as the The Magician, The Star or The Moon. The Seven of Cups is said to represent illusion. The illusion here is (possibly) the soul succour that romantic love brings, except viewed after the fact. Like Bob Dylan’s lines in Shelter From The Storm viewed from the other side: back to the hail, back out on the trail. Darkness as a virtue.

Incidentally, Brian Eno was Peter Murphy’s first choice as producer for the album Love Hysteria where both these songs appear. Speaking to Drowned in Sound, Murphy had this to say: “When I was thinking about producers for my Love Hysteria album in 1988, I dropped some demos round to [Brian Eno's] Opal “offices and really wanted him to do it.

Wow. What a thought. These oblique and often atonal and often melodious songs, produced with the Brian Eno’s hand on the ideas tiller? A mouthwatering thought. Sadly it never happened. Or maybe happily: Love Hysteria’s production has aged like fine wine, and its dendrochronology will accumulate many more warped circles yet.

“I called back a few days later and was told that [Brian Eno had] listened to [the Love Hysteria demo tapes] and found them ‘Nice’, which I thought was great and very exciting, but also that he was still no longer interested in making music. Eight months later, Bono must have flown over his house and dropped a few sacks of dollars on his doorstep for him to produce The Joshua Tree and the rest, as they say, is history.”
 
 
 

 
 
 
Mirror to my woman’s mind
 
With one look I was yours
The things you gave, the things I took
See that star in the sky?
It’s a mirror to my woman’s mind
Let me burn in her fire
In that mirror to my woman’s mind.
 
The lyric starts with the quotidian – an initial meeting in a hotel reception. But like the best inductive thinking, the specific becomes universal, and the cosmos within projects and simultaneously perceives the endless light of the cosmos without. Both are one. Or are they? The song ends plaintively on the repeated phrase “say you will be mine”.
 
 
In The Flat Field
 
This is a Bauhaus song rather than a Peter Murphy song, for the sake of exactness. I love how American the vocal is, and how colourless the music is, with its monochromatic urgency. It’s this adept juxtaposition that marked the band out from less able contemporaries and launched Bauhaus into the popular music firmament. Like Joy Division, Bauhaus were making music because they had to: not because they wanted a career. This stuff is cri de coeur. They made music because they had no other escape.
 
Moulding shapes no shame to waste
And drag me there with deafening haste
 
Genius.
 
 
Further information here, here and here:
 
petermurphy.info (Official artist side)

Nardwuar versus Peter Murphy (YouTube clip)

Drowned in Sound meets Peter Murphy

2014 1 Mrz

Excavating the future

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The American novelist Russell Hoban died aged 86 in late 2011. I was sad about this because when someone passes it’s a sad thing – for those they leave behind, and for the absence where there had for so long been presence.

My sadness was also down to selfish reasons: Hoban was, by a good measure, my favourite novelist. And of all his novels, my favourite is (perhaps predictably) Riddley Walker.
 
 
 

 
 
 
Riddley Walker takes place around 10,000 years after (presumably) a nuclear war that took place sometime around 1997. Some low-tech stuff (hoists, wheels, huts) have emerged since, but the pre- 1997 world exists only as a kind of legend, only fractionally understood. The book’s narrator is a 12 year old kid named Riddley Walker. One of the central themes of the story is technology. The language isn’t standard English, since it’s set in the far future. Here’s Riddley Walker recounting (via Lorna Elswint) a story about the far past of the mid- 1990s:

Counting counting they wer all the time. They had iron then and big fire they had towns of parpety. They had machines et numbers up. They fed them numbers and they fractiont out the Power of things. They had the Nos. of the rain bow and the Power of the air all workit out with counting which is how they got boats in the air and picters on the wind. Counting clevverness is what it wer.

When they had all them things and marvelsome they cudnt sleap really they dint have no res.

They had machines that ate numbers up. They had the numbers of the rainbow. They had boats in the air, and pictures on the wind. Boats in the air doesn’t even mean spaceships, does it? It means aeroplanes. And pictures on the wind is a beautiful phrase – a smoke signal, except better: broadcast television. But they lost the ‘clevverness’ and via the Manhattan Project, the splitting of the atom, blew themselves up.

Empires rise, empires fall. Whether this is entropy or not is not for me to guess. Cytology tells us that each time a cell divides, its protective cap – the telomere – is lessened with each new division. Humans, then, are programmed to die – and this isn’t entropic. It’s just the way of us.
 
 
 

 
 
 
The Boards of Canada album Tomorrow’s Harvest asks a similar set of questions – what is civilisation? And where will it go? Before and after science. Tomorrow never knows. Most future-fiction is, of course, a projection of the present, hence the flared trousers (very non Punk Rock, ha!) in series such as Space 1999. Russell Hoban and Boards of Canada reach far further out – into an uncomfortable place that isn’t dystopic: it’s beyond even the wildest shores.
 
 
 

 
 
 
Solution 214-239, The Book of Japans by the Scottish writer (& musician, artist) Momus does the one thing that no future telling book ever did before. Instead of presenting a vision of the future, it presents a multiple telling of it by multiple insane narrators. In the aggregate lies not the truth, only our chance to find our own truth. Stuff like Dos Passos’ USA trilogy and Whole Earth Catalog were wise enough to acknowledge the cacophony of their times. But Momus is the only writer whose far future is as schizophrenic (in the popular sense) as today.
 

2014 22 Feb

My top 15 John Cale songs

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John Cale‘s recorded output is an infinitely inspiring listen. I don’t pretend to ‘get’ everything he’s done – but that’s testament to the artist’s ambition as well as his eclectic approach to things.

There’s a great moment in Groucho Marx’s autobiography, (published in 1959 when he was approaching 70). And it goes like this – he was on the street and a fan of his work waylaid him, briefly, with the words “Just don’t die”. I recount this here not because 70 is old these days, but because it would be great if John Cale was still recording 30 years from now, at the age of 101.

Yeah. So here are my top 15 John Cale songs. The choices will undoubtedly be idiosyncratic, but hey: it’s not a critical list. It’s not for instruction. It’s just a list of the Cale songs I like most.

15. Antarctica Starts Here. A good place to start: a song sung in a stage whisper, the only song I can think of that is sung in this way. 

14. Memories of Paris: President Y Is Still Stable.

13. Days of Steam. Theme tune for a television programme that never got made. Could also have been the alternative theme for Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show.

12. Mr. Wilson. How often do songs make you laugh? As a Brian Wilson tribute, this is just as oblique and funny as Kraftwerk’s Autobahn.

11. Andalucia. Possibly accidental reference to the closing chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is equally soporific in a good way. Incidentally, maybe, Joyce’s daughter was called Lucia.

10. Perfect.

9. Gideon’s Bible.

8. Engine. Class from start to finish. Starts off like a schmaltz ballad, then there’s a two-second Bob Dylan impersonation at around 39 seconds into the song, then we get soul singing: “burning, burning/ burning, burning/ burn burn burn burn”.

7. Living With You. Luminous production. “I got glass for the windows/ we’ll have windows to look thru/ cos this is living, this is living with you”.  Romantic love as self-constructed newbuild.

6. The Sleeper. The bass guitar is like a landed fish, slowly flipping on a riverbank. The lyrics are pure breakup: “it isn’t me that’s what’s wrong with you”. Listen closely and you can hear the bashing of a triangle on this – orchestral metacommentary? So many levels of genius here.

5. Forever Changed.

4. Amsterdam. The simple strumming could be something from The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Lyrically, though, it’s a world away – the obverse of adolescent angst.

3. Face to the Sky. Autumnal, unnerving: “… and the sky was bursting again”

2. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Dylan Thomas’s poem deals with senescence, blindness and death. This composition juxtaposes these with a school choir, his own middle-aged baritone, and stomping time signature over which the string section scurries like clouds over a UK sky on a blowy late summer day. Truly astounding.

1.Ship of Fools. “Garnant stood its ground and asked for more”.
 
 
 

 

2014 16 Feb

My top 11 Blue Nile songs

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11 – Because of Toledo

10. The Wires Are Down

9. Broadway In The Snow

8. A Walk Across The Rooftops – clear Mbaqanga influence on the sound of this one. Genius.

7. Happiness

6. Stay Close – “One day you’ll know the end of all days/ and you’ll waken up with the radio on”.  A song about living, a song about death. An alternative ending for Camus’ Meursault and Marie maybe. No Montague/Capulet feud – just fellow travellers to the grave. Heavy, but brilliant. Starcrossed but earthbound.

5. Over The Hillside

4. St. Catherine’s Day

3. War Is Love

2. Tinseltown In The Rain

1. Headlights On The Parade

 

2014 11 Feb

Sun Kil Moon – Benji

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Mark Kozelek is an artist whose work constantly surprises. You never quite know what he’s going to release next. His first band Red House Painters appeared quietly in the late summer of 1992 with their first album Down Colorful Hill on 4AD records. Legend has it that the entire album was comprised of demo recordings. 4AD owner Ivo Watts-Russell was so taken with the quality of the demos that (so the story goes) he wouldn’t sign the band unless the tapes were released as an album. It was a very good move – Down Colorful Hill remains one of the most magical releases ever put out by 4AD.

Kozelek’s main musical project for around the past decade has been Sun Kil Moon, who (despite a name sounding like some kind of murder in the sky) are named for the South Korean boxer Sung-Kil Moon. Released today, Benji is their sixth studio album, and it’s a fine addition to an already outstanding body of work.

The songs here are candid, in places almost excruciatingly so. Lyrically, this is a great record. But more importantly, it’s also got some great tunes. Highly recommended. For more information on this release, check out Kozelek’s record label’s website at www.caldoverderecords.com
 
 
 

 
 
 
And here’s the A4 paper that was on the door of St Ann’s church in Manchester, England the last time I saw Kozelek (sans band) play, which was in August 2011.
 
 
 

 
 

2014 9 Feb

The Painted Word

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11. Cries And Whispers

10. Earthbound (Starblind)

9. Silver Moon

8. Playground Martyrs

7. Wonderful World

6. Nightporter

5. Nostalgia

4. September

3. Small Metal Gods

2. Dobro #1

1. Before The Bullfight
 

2014 2 Feb

Bill Callahan in Glasgow

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Bill Callahan’s live event in Glasgow earlier tonight was a full house, and (even by the standards of the Celtic Connections winter music festival) enthusiastically received.
 
 

 


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