I think Views will be my record of 2016. The NME’s review was written by someone who gets what the record is about, and said “hip hop’s king of whinge still reigns supreme”. Whinge is quite a funny word though – and I’d argue that whinge is the last thing Views presents us with. Yes, it addresses rains and shadows, millionaire ennui and the tribulations of living the dream – but what we have here is candour, not whinge. It’s something of a genius ability, to delineate the non-positive aspects of inner space without the work being a bellyache – but here it is. The lyrics don’t really make sense out of context (this being Toronto 2016, not being Shakespeare’s sonnets) so I won’t quote any here. The other thing about lyrics, of course, is that it’s their spacing and pitch changes that often imbues the meaning – you have to kind of like be there, y’know? Listen to how the final deployment, for instance of the sub-chorus on “Feel A Way” is rendered via a sonic degradation effect as if it’s emitting from a discarded cellphone – while fat shards of synth cut in at angles like bits off a falling building. The effect is like so-called ‘forced perspective’ in a cinema backdrop, except the perspective here is temporal. One moment we’re *in medias res* and then – boom – we’re looking at a faded Polaroid. Complete fucking genius.
“Drake’s sly sense of humour is one of the things that stops his constant moaning becoming unbearable” said Alexis Petridis in The Guardian’s review. I’d have to agree with this – at one point Drake (or the character’s voice he is mediating) complains that a girlfriend wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t wait around for him, even though he’d only been off the scene for “the last few months”. Hence the title Views, I guess. You could take things at face value, or you could take the record to be what I take it to be – a work that is about perspectives, not all of them autobiographically based. Also, the record is full of word play – so literality is probably a broken cup here.
The thing I like best about Views, though, is the production. In some ways it is, if not minimal exactly, then juducious. Take the track Too Good – there are only maybe 5 or 6 elements going on here (including what sounds like electric guitar played backwards) but it’s the voice recording that’s the main thing. You could pull it apart though and the acapella would be a listen on its own, as would equally the backing track. But even at its most upbeat, Views has darkness at the edge.
In other news, DJ Mireia Moreorless emailed yesterday. She told me to listen (really listen) to Diamonds On My Windshield. So I said, “Okay I will, yes”. (Hadn’t listened to it in years.) Next day she’s like “what did you think?”. I’m like “I don’t know. It’s like a Raymond Carver short story. You think you’ve got it, then the central point of it moves off someplace else”.
2016 11 Sep
I don’t actually know if this one qualifies as a lost classic, but it never crops up in lists of classics, so it’s going in the Lost Classics shelf.
The Buggles’ The Age of Plastic is a remarkable LP for lots of reasons. While it’s a contemporary (roughly) of Kraftwerk’s Computer World, there could hardly be more difference between them, despite superficial similarities of theme. Computer World is brain food – a manifestation of an almost limitless intelligence. I am glad to be one of the many people who have made a pilgrimage to Mintropstrasse, Duesseldorf just to stand at the doorway of where Kling Klang used to be. Computer World is biting satire, its rhythmicism a necessary corrective, its darkness illuminating. I wouldn’t count myself as a Kraftwerk fan though beyond Computerwelt and the song Neonlicht. Why? Why not. Anyway, where the fuck was I? Oh yes, The Age of Plastic.
Computer World is sequenced, metronomic, swingless, nailed down with spikes. The Age of Plastic is uncomputerised. Computer World is – in a sense – neoclassical. A term that’d usually be pejorative but in KW’s case it’s not pejorative at all. The Age of Plastic is pop all the way through, with some proper prog bubbles fizzing at the surface. What both records have though – in bulk – is tunes: melos and structure.
1. The Plastic Age. The lyrics here don’t really withstand critical analysis. This is not a Ray Bradbury short story. Essentially it’s a brief evocative description of someone overcome by technology. Touch of the Jacques Tati rather than the Fritz Lang.
2. Video Killed The Radio Star. A 4 minute 14 second long operetta. Teh end of teh pop. LOL. “Put the blame on VCR” – a slightly ludicrous piece of metacommentary, yes – but that’s what pop music is for. If we wanted something on the inextricability of sound/vision we’d have to pick up a Roland Barthes book and light up a Gauloises cigarette.
3. Kid Dynamo – this reminds me of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. For this reason: the music tells a better story than the libretto. A musical masterpiece with funny human larynx soundwaves on top. Odd but truly great.
4. I Love You (Miss Robot). This is the greatest song on the record. Somewhere in this gleaming cyborg fantasy is the trace of John Donne’s “The Sun Rising”. But the unruly sun is down, and the sky is nuclear, and the sour prentices are sardonic and made of metal.
5. Clean Clean. Very, very clever stuff. Starts off with funeral church organ not unlike John Cage’s “Souvenir” (which it predates, time travel stylee) and the rest is a war narrative presumably from the POV of the dead, with media echoes in his head. “Lost a million in our very first attack. Clean clean. Don’t you worry ’cause you know we’ll get them back”. A powerful, trenchant and understated comment on the deluded arithmetic of conflict.
6. Elstree. More media metacommentary. A snowstorm within a snowstorm. Love the juxtaposition here, against the previous song. “They made a field into a war zone/ I beat the enemy on my own/ All the bullets just went over my head/ There’s no reality and no one dead/ in Elstree…”
7. Astroboy (And the Proles on Parade). Is this prescience or is it just history? The lyrics tell of overprivilege and ennui. But there is heart here, as well as brioche.
8. Johny on the Monorail. Like track 3, the backing track transcends the lyrical content. Strip the track of its vox and watch a YouTube (or VCR) clip of the Chicago Loop with it instead.
2016 12 Aug
2. Drake – Views (Young Money Entertainment)
2. Hieroglyphic Being & The Configurative Or Modular Me Trio – Cosmic Bebop (Mathematics)
2. YG – Still Brazy (Def Jam)
3. Idris Ackamoor, The Pyramids – We Be All Africans (Strut)
3. Bert Jansch – Jack Orion (Transatlantic)
3. Mireia Moreorless – Alwaysreturning (Les Disques du Crépuscule)
3. Africans With Mainframes – K.M.T. (Soul Jazz)
9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
15. Brian Andres, Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel – This Could Be That (Bacalao Records)
2016 8 Aug
Some cities lend themselves better to psychogeography than others. Maritime cities – seagull cities – do well in this respect. There are so many seagulls in Liverpool they have a representative on the City Council: Mr Squawk. He speaks in mystic aphorisms. He eats french fries off the sidewalk with dignity and nonchalance. His favourite book is “Preep, the Little Pigeon of Trafalgar Square” by Milton Shulman. His favourite song is “Thorn of Crowns” by Echo & The Bunnymen.
And you walk around this city-state pyschogeobubble and there is so much cosmos in there you have to ask yourself if you are in a dream. Wait for me on a blue horizon. Wait for me on a new horizon. Few are the places, said Mr Squawk, that make you question the aperçus of Raoul Vaneigem. I asked Mr Squawk what the fuck he meant by this. He said, ” … well Vaneigem said that to be rich nowadays merely means to possess a large number of poor objects but to be here, in Liverpool, is to be rich. Objects or no objects, ground or fucking sky. My only regret is that Manchester had The Durutti Column and we didn’t … “
But I digress. Or do I? Psychogeography doesn’t come with a map or an itinerary, just stars to hold and songs to sing. Yeah. An infinity of cups unbroken.
Generally speaking, strange chalices of vision, cups all up in a cloud, possibly reflecting transience or the overimagination or confusion of whoever makes them appear. Accordingly, they have been associated with wishful thinking.
There is some dispute as to what the 7 symbols in the cups mean, but Tarotologists have some suggestions as to the meanings. Know though that the exact elements within the vision may be less important than the very act of conjuring them.
Seven of Cups arguably represents temptation, choice, self-delusion.
The cups offer the following possible representations:
A human head – companionship, love
A shrouded, glowing entity – the burning need for the conjurer’s self-illumination
A snake – passion and desire, resultant powerful transformative knowledge
A castle or tower – power, stability, place of birth
A treasure hoard – wealth, not necessarily material or monetary
A laurel wreath – victory, honour, status. The skull inscription on the cup itself may be a reminder against triumphalism
A dragon – so many levels to this one. Partly it’s a signal that you need to visit Wales. No psychogeographer can visit Wales and leave unaffected by its magic. Dragons are also memetical – a myth that – until the dinosaurs’ existence was proven by archaeologists in the 19th Century – was just a myth.
Paraphrased / reworked from Wikipedia
2016 9 Jul
Did you ever dream actual music? Muted harmonic simplicities gently rocking back and forth. It could be the sound of the space between buildings in an industrial estate in the blue-grey half light of morning, where only seagulls walk. There are only empty Coca-Cola and Fanta cans, and crisp packets blowing in the wind. It’s nothing. Much.
Glial cells in the brain shrink during sleep increasing interstitial space in brain tissue, allowing an increase of fluid to wash toxins away: reality’s maker remade in the dream-space, just as real and true as the empty crisp bags and rusty cans, foxes, phantoms, yesterday’s dead half-lit in the pale half-light of blue-grey morning. The music is in there, actuated by what? What immortal ear or eye could rock this harmonic symmetry?
And, and, and … and if we think more closely about our ordinary/mundane concept of reality, maybe we don’t consider real the whatever-the-fuck that actually happens. Instead, we consider real a type/manner of happening that is familiar to us to be it, to be reality. Not tonight, said the cymbal, my head hurts.
Based on 10 listens to Arvo Pärt’s “Summa” (Estonian National Symphony Orchestra)
CHEETAHT2 [Ld spectrum] nice closing moments, clean/uneasy CHEETAHT7b hip hop handclaps weird phantom wash CHEETA1b ms800 genuinely amazing wtf moment, it’s like “
The hideous operating and programming system (2 digit LED) may drive you crazy but there’s nothing else quite like it for low-fi digital weirdness on the ultra cheap. Sum up:One for the adventurous/experimental/patient/mad” retro in a way but something forward in the production that lifts it out of the retro toybox. “CHEETA2 ms800” “CIRKLON3 [Колхозная mix]” 8:13 6. “CIRKLON 1” 7:17 7. “2X202-ST5” This stuff is so fucking great, it makes my heart burst
Stolen lines: Russell Hoban, William Blake, Philip Larkin, BBC News, Roddy Doyle, New York Times
And the seven of cups is reversed. In an orchard drenched in blue light.
2016 4 Jul
Ian’s account (July 2016)
If you think back way back into the haar of time to a time before driverless automobiles, self-baking cakes, octa-core processors, and so on, right back to 1986/1987 the only sound around was The Sound, whose world-beating LP “Thunder Up” was everywhere from the television music shows to the radio to the turntables of teenagers across England, through Europe and all the way to America, as well as plenty of places in between. Adrian Borland (God rest his soul) was a poet, a visionary, and The Sound deserved every piece of praise they got. Of which there was tons – with entire 6 page pull-out sections in the NME, Sounds, Record Mirror (although for some reason Melody Maker didn’t join in the fun – presumably as a cynical market differentiation ploy). If you put The Sound on the cover of your weekly music paper or Sunday supplement, your periodical’s circulation would surge. Show me someone who can’t sing the chorus from Thunder Up’s opening song Acceleration Group and I’ll show you someone who lived on Mars in eightysix/seven.
But you know all that. In fact the last time you were in WH Smiths at the railway station there was probably a hacked-together The Sound tribute mag on the shelf for £7.99. What you may not know is that in eightyix/seven there was other music out there. And if you digged deep enough, you might even have chanced upon The Joshua Tree by U2. I wasn’t aware of its existence until much later – only finding it by chance on a streaming playlist. U2 were apparently a peripheral band on the Blackwell roster. Kind of (maybe) a bit like Simple Minds or The Waterboys, but then again not. They had this mad guitar player who’s sound is a mystery – it’s not really lead guitar, it’s not really rhythm section, it’s out there, at the edge.
The Joshua Tree is a very well assembled work, some of its sonic textures are Turner Prize-winning art. There’s an odd metallicism in it, and a searing Camusian heat. Hot knives, sun’s out guns out. I don’t know if Meursault’s infinitely reverberating sentence ” Et c’était comme quatre coups brefs que je frappais sur la porte du malheur” is a reference point for this record, but it feels like it is – blood and burning sand. I dont pretend to ‘get’ all of this record – it’s too avant-garde, but it does have good tunes, and I like the way the first three songs are anthemic and address eternal human points. It’s mad that they did this – put the best three songs at the start and let the rest of the record go off on some very uncommercial tangents. Maybe this is why nobody bought the record at the time and only a hardcore of about 1- 3,000 people actually own it on CD. I doubt anyone truly grudges The Sound for their success, but it is fascinating to me that U2 are – for the most part – a footnote to the 1980s.
The best records always leave a question mark. And the question The Joshua Tree leaves is … how do people go into a room and write this stuff? Impossible to imagine the guitar guy going into the studio going “check out this new riff I’ve made up” because the guitar seems to emerge out of the songs rather than be any basis for them.
DJ Mireia Moreorless’s account (December 2190)
… found a new 20th century work … not crasy [sic] abt the 1st 3 songs (the singer, is he a phantom on these? haha) … heart the beat on >>Red Hill Mining town<< just yes. did anybody here [sic] this record? burning sand or tears in rain? … death hangs over thee / whilst yet thou livest / whilst thou mayest / be good