29 June 2006

billy bragg - "levi stubbs' tears" (from the must i paint you a picture?: the essential billy bragg lp, available for purchase here.)

folks, i concede that there are countless motherfuckers walking around free who need nothing so much as to have the living shit kicked out of them, so as to make way for that final, dying shit. it might be selfish of me, but tonight i can only think about one of them. there are words for what he did, but i don't have them, and you wouldn't want to hear them. oh, i could say it was lowdown, vicious and flat-out mean but that doesn't fully signify.

at a loss for words, then, this evening i post "levi stubbs' tears" by billy bragg, which is just about the saddest song i've ever heard.

as much as i hate to admit it, i know that there are some things your favorite song can't help you w/. holland-dozier-holland can make a heart sing, but they can't put a heart back together again, not after the world does its worst. listening to "levi stubbs' tears" did however help me remember one important thing that i shouldn't have forgotten in the first place : you don't blame the victim. you never ever fucking blame the victim. (do i sound like i have regrets?) told in third person, "tears" foregrounds the victim, making the fact that these things happened to her inescapable. her boyfriend "put a hole in her body where no hole should be," but "it hurt her more to see him walking out the door," and he's just as guilty of that second pain as is he of the first. by begging him to come back, she may seem to all the world to be asking for what he's doing to her--but one confuses this w/ her deserving what's happened to her at the risk of losing a friend.

so there are things your favorite song can't help you w/. the trick is to not let things get to that point. and that's the risk to you, that you won't be allowed to help when you're needed--that's the risk you run when you risk losing a friend.

28 June 2006

the long blondes - "weekend without makeup" (from the weekend without makeup single, import available for purchase here.)

i've been holding back on this track b/c i wanted the single to be released officially before i posted it. after all, this is their first single w/ their new label, rough trade, and everyone should buy it if they can b/c the b-sides are even better.

furthermore, i'm glad i held back. "like some kind of fifties housewife!" kate! i used those exact words to a friend of mine this week! the long blondes seem to be singing her life; there are worse bands who could be singing your life. arab strap, for one.

here, the blondes sound a bit like pulp, ca. his 'n' hers, only the guitar riffs are much more sour. maybe that's b/c, on that album, jarvis was singing about girls whereas kate is that girl. she deserves more than she's getting, and she doesn't even ask for much, just what's she due. what seems to have happened, though, is that her man has fallen out of love w/ her, leaving kate in love alone--only he's still hanging around, stopping in every once in a while, to fuck w/ her head & heart & nothing else. he goes about his business as if nothing's changed, like he's still her man. as the chorus goes, though, you can love or be in love, but they're two v. different things. when the other person doesn't love you back, one moves necessarily from loving to merely being in love, which is a damn lonesome place to be. he's not keeping up his end of the bargain, and if she stops loving him, the whole ridiculous edifice will come falling down, leaving the young lady out on the debris, in total ruin.

but is it such a bad thing? really? true, one has to relocate and runs the risk of being without shelter for some time. bear in mind, though, that "there are wants and there are needs," and neither are being met anymore. far better to leave the site behind, condemned & abandoned, and instead seek out land far outside of the flood plain, where one frequently drowns in her own tears. there may be no hope for kate : she's got this boy under her skin. happily, though, and contrary to psychological evidence, even a dog will be kicked around only so many times before it looks for new ownership, and a girl humiliated only too often before she orders an eviction notice. this girl i know--oh, i hope it's but a matter of time before she's loosed herself from this entanglement, when this lout is out from under her skin and out of her hair entirely.

25 June 2006

1965 : at the start of "leader of the pack," one of the shangri-las asks, "is she really going out with him?" after all, he drives a motorcyle; he's probably also told at least one teacher to cram it w/ walnuts. oh, nostalgia!

1976 : the damned begin "new rose" w/ "is she really going out with him?" homage? irony? regardless, the most offensive thing about the damned is their fashion sense.

1979 : joe jackson - "is she really going out with him?" (from the look sharp! lp, available for purchase here.)

there's no better time for self-appraisal than when an old flame starts dating a burnt match. this is the first time i can ever recall that there's nothing i'd want to change about myself, nothing i'd wish to exchange w/ the new guy. this should be the cause of no little pride--only, he's got the girl.

2006 : and i'm asking, "is she really going out with him?" joe jackson & i, we're standing at the same window, scratching our heads. "they say that looks don't count for much / if so, there goes your proof." (i didn't say it! joe did!) it's almost more difficult when you can't see what they see in him, when you find it hard to believe that the same girl loved you both; a boy starts to wonder what's wrong with him. i say, it's especially hard when you've heard enough to wonder if she really sees anything in him, other than the ineffability and nonplussing of limbic attachment, his having matched the prototype formed as she witnessed the relationship between her own parents, as she established her own emotional pattern through her relations w/ her father. "people will choose misery with a partner their limbic brain recognizes," the authors of a general theory of love write, "over the stagnant pleasure of a 'nice' relationship with someone their attachment mechanisms cannot detect." and besides, "loneliness outweighs most pain."

oh, but psychological pull aside, it'd be so much easier if she were happy. it really would be. if only my own eyes could deceive me, as hers deceive her, and i could believe otherwise! if positions were reversed, she'd tell me what i'm telling her; as i've said, though, as another has said, you can't take your own advice. there's a reason there are so many self-help books out there : b/c they don't do much for you. but that doesn't stop one from turning to them, hoping that the next time will be better. the only real way out, though, isn't his departure, b/c that doesn't solve the root problem. the only real way out is revision, the fighting of "an uphill battle against the patterns already ingrained."

but it ain't easy.

& loneliness outweighs most pain.
saint etienne - "hobart paving" (from the smash the system : the singles and more lp, import available for purchase here.)

"and baby," sarah cracknell sings sadly, "don't forget to catch me." it's a game of trust, a game lost every evening; but who has the heart to keep score? to be sure, he doesn't, and she can't bring herself to believe that he's intentionally letting her fall ("why is he doing this?"); each time she hits the pavement, she dusts herself off and gives him the benefit of the doubt. we're running w/ the dogs again, here : others stand by--well, really, only one other person stands by ready to break the fall, but she'd rather be dropped by the one who owns her than another, kinder sort.

she keeps falling b/c she lacks self-respect; she's often unaware of this b/c she's a master of self-deception. joan didion writes, "self-deception remains the most difficult deception. the tricks that work on others count for nothing that very well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself." joan, joan, maybe you couldn't foresee it, but in the twenty-first century there are myriad ways to shoot out the lights in that "very well-lit back alley." really, lying in darkness brough on by oblivion, why, it's the only way one can sleep nights.

but one cannot remain deluded all the time. like the girl in the second verse, one returns at half-past two, on the brink of a dark night of the soul where, as fitzgerald wrote, it's always three a.m. sobered & stripped of illusion, one looks in the mirror and even though the reflection is dim at that dark hour, along w/ the streaked mascara and the hairs out of place, one notices something else awry : the absence of self-respect.
to live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commission and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice or carelessness. however long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.
for the girl in the mirror, it's going to be an interminable night.

but does it have to be that way? having been left in the dirt once again, sarah asks, from her accustomed earthbound position, "hobart paving, don't you think that it's time? the ticket's in my hand, the train pulls down the line." that'd be too easy, though : the train stops, one shows her ticket and boards. this train, it will only stop if knows you want it to, otherwise, every night, it's the same old scene : she asks him nicely, he drops her again, the tears fall from her eyes, the train passes in the night.

as a friend, one asks himself how many times he can bear to see such a scene repeated. it's not as if she doesn't know the outcome before it happens. a friend wouldn't stand by and let this happen--but, w/o any others around, she needs the hand of a friend to get her up off the ground. (and if one were to leave, the unheard scream would still resound in one's head.) no, one stands by, waiting for the day she begins to fall backward ... only this time, as he turns his back, miraculously, she begins to take flight, winging heavenward, pinions composed of words affixed w/ self- : dignity, worth, respect.

23 June 2006

orange juice - "rip it up" (from the esteemed orange juice lp, out of print.)

"and there was times i'd take my pen and feel obliged to start again."

oh, if only life was as easy to to scrap as a piece of paper and as easy to revise as a text. but songs like "rip it up" make the process a lot easier. sure, music soundtracks the lows--as it so often does 'round here--but it can, if not make you happy & hopeful, then at least make the atmosphere conducive to such feelings.

if the 303, the homage to "boredom," "i hope to God you're not as dumb as you make out," or the sax solo don't make you smile, then there's the video. synching issues aside, i'm always amazed that that voice comes out of edwyn. enjoy your weekend. get happy.

22 June 2006

fred astaire - "a fine romance" (from the let's face the music and dance lp, available for purchase here.)

folks, i've borne witness to some sad things in my day. one of the saddest, and the unlikeliest, was a girl standing on the roof of a car, singing & dancing, w/o any music, to "if i can't have you." i tell you, it broke my heart in about six places, i'm still tallying the damage.

the dancing was slow & deliberate; the singing was unsure & overdone, so much overdone that you just wanted her to stop, not b/c it was unpleasant but b/c of what it disguised--pain & helplessness, mostly. she would pause, figure out her next step, ask aloud what the next line was; she was singing & dancing to keep from crying. it was a heartbreaking attempt to recreate ironic distance through performance; it was a dress rehearsal for the heartache to come.

"a fine romance" makes for an appropriate song to go w/ the theme. it's a performance from a performance; it masks romantic disappointment w/ clever rhymes & mild irritation. the opening line ("a fine romance with no kisses"), says so much about many things: malls, lunches, lakes, swimming, picnics, kindness, affection--all the things lovers do, only w/o the piece of paper, the formal acknowledgement, that one is in a relationship. ("substitute," "consolation prize"--other songs suggest themselves.)

that agreement is held by another, one who is in breach of contract, derelict in his duties, failing to perform. and performance is what matters in "a fine romance"; one needs to sell it : stare directly into the camera w/ a hangdog look, emphasize the punchlines. play pretend, in other words, refuse to see the breach, pretend to oneself that words mean what they do even though actions suggest otherwise, hoping that that will suffice. it's a bleak state of affairs.

bleaker still : i remember reading in a general theory of love that a dog prefers its owner, even if he's a bastard, to other people who might treat them better, take them out for walks, give them more treats--it's the same for humans. i saw someone come to a realization about their condition, make bold claims, renounce more harmful ones; and i hung my head when that resolve crumbled. it was pavlovian : a cell phone vibrated, sounding like the crack of a whip; a cruel master made nice after he had been earlier rebuffed; emotions pitched like a ship in rough seas. maybe he realized that beating the dog w/ a stick wasn't getting results anymore; time to put a treat at the end of it and dangle it before her.

it's enough to make one long for some innocent manipulation from days gone by, when people never got worse than being colder than yesterday's mashed potatoes. it's painful to see someone you esteem so highly selling her self so cheap, her self-worth determined by an unforgiving, miserly eye. what can one do? absolutely nothing. like so many things, this goes back to elvis : she has to do it for herself ... or wait until he's done her in entirely.

oh, there is one thing. you can refuse to enable. for the most part, one has no choice, that little lamb is marching right off to the slaughter, w/ a song on her lips, any pride or self-respect or dignity she once possessed to be sacrificed to satisfy the insecurity of a little nothing.

but you can at least decline to be the chauffeur.

21 June 2006

elvis presley - "it hurts me" (from the artist of the century boxed set, available for purchase here.)

pascal said : "the heart has its reasons, which reason does not know." everyone i know, it seems, your humble included, seems to be dealing w/ affairs of the heart. i feel like i keep repeating--to myself and to others--that it's one thing to understand a situation intellectually; it's quite another to understand it w/ your heart, that is, emotionally.

& really, there's nothing you can do. or there are limits : one can, for instance, talk to someone else, receiving confirmation that s/he is neither insane nor wrong : there is something assuring about hearing thoughts one has kicked around in private pour forth from the lips of someone dear to him or her.

so that's what elvis is doing here, i think. when elvis week went down on american idol, i decided that "it hurts me" would be the song i'd have performed. sure, it's obscure--a b-side to "kissin' cousins!" the indignity--but, b/c of its classic structure, it's almost instantly memorable; additionally, it builds to a powerful conclusion, which allows for heavy-duty emotiong. i'd probably do something like "don't be cruel" as my first number, thereby freeing myself up for a risk.


i'd like to think that i could sing a song and make a girl fall for me, or that i could change her way of thinking; that written words, which would only work on an intellectual level, would somehow resound off the heartstrings if sung. alas, i think even elvis realizes the impossibility of this; and then what chance for me? (truth be told, elvis the individual, as opposed to the singer, probably could make the guy disappear, no questions asked. i don't have those kind of resources.) no, the best elvis can do is reassure the girl and make her promises : baby, i'll be there when it's all over, even if you can't possibly conceive of a future after him.

but the decision has to be hers. he can't make it for her : she has to do it alone. she should know, however,--one hopes she does--that the decision-making process will be the only thing in which she will be alone.

19 June 2006

prince - "strange relationship" (from the sign 'o' the times lp, available for purchase here.)

prince, my good friend, i know you have a dirty mind & a funky imagination, but you really have no idea just how strange. (to think, i'm lecturing him on loves bizarre; what a day it was!)

many people think this is the runt off of sign 'o' the times--i'd say it's "it," but i can understand why people think the way they do. if it were sandwiched between two mediocre tracks on, say, the rainbow children, i don't know if i'd have noticed it. (if nothing else, consider this a reminder that you should own sign 'o' the times, which to me remains the best album of the last 25 years, by a wide berth.)

and i hate to say why i noticed it, but in order for this go anywhere i have to : the lyrics. it speaks to me. there.

i've always been drawn into strange relationships and i can only come to the conclusion that this is so b/c i myself am strange & unusual. fair enough. "strange relationship," though, is not mixtape material; it makes some valid points, but they're lost in callousness & irrationality, and seem to be spoken from a position of considerable distress. the conclusion, however, is sound : the relationship, strange & unorthodox though it may be, is worth holding on to. (the sound meanwhile is concussive, thudding drums, but w/ the light touch that characterized so much of his material from the era.)

the lyric sheet says that prince sings, "honey if you LEFT me, i might do something rash." maybe i just don't want to think about being left, but i've always heard it as "if you LET me" (compare the lyrics as sung to the lyrics on the sheet and you'd see enough discrepancies to support this view). there is, in our exchange, the danger of either side doing something rash, particularly your humble. (oh, i know all about callousness & irrationality. other things, too.) i just need to remind myself--well, of many things, but notably that, if i can't keep myself in check, our ongoing dialogue is traded in for just another exit line. and, baby (!), i'm tired of that scene.

18 June 2006

jim croce - "time in a bottle" (from the classic hits lp, available for purchase here.)

my father used to tell me, when i'd refuse a request, that after he passed, i'd have to tell everyone, "i never sang for my father!"

"time in a bottle" was far & away the song my father most requested me to sing when i was a kid. i don't know why, but i just read on wikipedia that the song was written for croce's newborn son, so.

i don't know whether my father knew that; maybe the lyrics strike a chord for all fathers--i wouldn't know. it doesn't strike anything w/ me, except the old mystic chords of memory : i can't hear "time in a bottle" as music. i hear myself still singing it as a child; i remember it being used in a fragrance commercial when i was younger. that it was written down, likely as croce watched over his son, played on a guitar & turned into a record utterly eludes me still. the words & tune came to me straight from my own father's mouth; i merely memorized & recited, trying to do whatever small thing my own small self could do for my giant of a father.

i remember, again as v. young boy, lying in bed in my father's arms as i tried to get to sleep. for such an immense figure, he could be incredibly gentle. he'd whisper to me, asking me what i saw happening to me in the future. i wonder what he would have said had i told him exactly how it would all unfold; i wonder what he thinks of it all now.

oh, i know. he's still proud of me. i don't know the source of his pride--maybe that too is something only a father can understand.

happy father's day, dad.

17 June 2006

abc - "all of my heart" (from the lexicon of love lp, available for purchase here.)

the lexicon of love is the greatest album ever about the subject. it deals w/ the semiotics & semantics of love, it deals w/ its commodification & its performative aspect : barthes would love it, but The Kids loved it too, and that has much to do w/ the touch of trevor horn. it's precisely what green gartside was trying to do at the time, but he'd understand r&b far better than disco, and it'd be three years before cupid & psyche '85.

"all of my heart" might make barthes blush, but it makes all the rest of us swoon. perhaps he'd also disapprove of my offering up biographical information--as if i were trying to resurrect the author!--but barthes's dead, baby : martin fry was dumped before the making of the album--it's a bit like his de l'amour. the mask drops--one of them, at least, the comedy mask. he's left alone onstage, tragedy his only company. tragedy & an immense orchestra. it's almost too much, but it needs broad shoulders for what it accomplishes : for five minutes, martin fry takes upon himself all of the suffering in the world.

&, naturally, martin hopes & prays--a lot. "it was all wrong but the hoping, and we must always hope." virgil said that. he got dante through hell. but it was only beatrice who could take him to paradise.

so it is a lover who speaks & who says :

once upon a time when we were friends
i gave you my heart. the story ends
no happy ever after, now were friends

wish upon a star if that might help
the stars collide if you decide
wish upon a star if that might help

what's it like to have loved and to lose her touch?
what's it like to have loved and to lose that much?

well i hope and i pray
that maybe someday
you'll walk in the room with my heart
add and subtract
but as a matter of fact
now that you're gone i still want you back
remembering that part
all of my heart

spilling up pink silk and coffee lace
you hook me up, i rendevouz at your place
your lipstick and your lip gloss seals my fate

sentimental powers might help you now
but skip the hearts and flowers, skip the ivory towers
you'll be disappointed and i'll lose a friend

no i won't be told there's a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow
or that pleasure and pain, sunshine and rain
imght make this love grow

but i hope and i pray
that maybe someday
you'll walk in the room with my heart
add and subtract
but as a matter of fact
now that you're gone i still want you back
the kindest cut's the cruellest part
all of my heart

yes i hope and i pray
that maybe someday
you'll walk in the room with my heart
and i shrug and i say
that maybe today
you'll come home soon
surrendering that part - all of my heart.

16 June 2006

pulp - "like a friend" (from the great expectations ost, available for purchase here.)

don't bother saying you're sorry,
why don’t you come in?
smoke all my cigarettes again.

everytime i get no further.
how long has it been?
come on in now,
wipe your feet on my dreams.

you take up my time,
like some cheap magazine
when i could have been
learning something,
well, you know what i mean.

i've done this before,
and i will do it again.
c'mon and kill me, baby,
while you smile like a friend.

oh and i'll come running
just to do it again.

you are that last drink i never should have drunk.
you are the body hidden in the trunk.
you are the habit i can't seem to kick.
you are my secrets on the front page every week.
you are the car i never should have bought.
you are the train i never should have caught.
you are the cut that makes me hide my face.
you are the party that makes me feel my age.
you're like a car crash i can see but i just can't avoid.
you're like a plane i've been told i never should board.
you're like a film that's so bad but i've just got to stay 'til the end.

let me tell you that it's lucky for you that we're friends.

14 June 2006

aberfeldy - "hypnotised" (from the hypnotized single, released june 26, available for preorder here.)

i really enjoyed young forever for the first few weeks i owned it. it aged quickly.

i don't know what the shelf life of "hypnotised" will be, but it made me smile and for that it deserves some sort of award. i'm going to say it's a bit like the corrs covering the cars, and i know that's far too precious, but it's better by far than mentioning belle & sebastian. give it a good listen--the breathless backing vox, the spit & polish, the keyb sounds--and tell me it isn't so. (male vocals? it's the guitar fella.)

folks, i'm running out of steam. the bookstore i work at is closing in less than a month; the future is really unsure. service might be interrupted in the near future, is what i'm trying to say. i'm physically & mentally exhausted and i need a plan.

but before i run out of steam, i might run out of track. frequent readers might have noticed a lack of direction in recent posts, when in the recent past so much has been organized around a theme & a person. there's good reason for that, emphasis on the good. the one bright ray through my blinds this week has been the return of my dear friend, x. i hope, though, that i don't presume too much to call her my dear friend; we are working on that. i mention this b/c so many of you had been so supportive & helpful when i was down. i hope you'll hang around as i try to give direction to both this site and to my life.

12 June 2006

final fantasy - "i'm afraid of japan" (from the he poos clouds lp, released tomorrow, available for pre-order here.)

let me type that once more : he poos clouds. what the fuck, owen?

right, so no japanophobia or no fear of david sylvian, for that matter. "i'm afraid of japan" is like an overture i'd hear at the film forum before a scandinavian art film. it only fucks up that arthouse vibe when it reaches resolution, b/c, you know; it's a welcome sort of fuck up, too, b/c scandinavian art films don't always make the best pop songs. oh, but rejoice, ye avant-garde, for it ends w/ a drone that would make scott walker '69 happy--or even gladder to be unhappy.

11 June 2006

lambchop - "i would have waited here all day" (from the damaged lp, released august 22, visit their official site here.)

i really had no intentions of posting today. but then i heard kurt wagner close out this song, and there's no one better, i've decided, at delivering this kind of lyric (see also : "my blue wave"). "my favorite hour of any day," he sings, "is the one before you get home," and i think about that one for a moment--and, yeah, when meeting x, i cherished that time, the anticipation, knowing that once i said, "hello," it wouldn't be long before i said "goodbye."

and, anyway, the horns on the track shrug, after the old muscle shoals style, as kurt's beloved turns the corner; in a choked voice equal parts relief & deep sadness, he lets it out : "it's been a lousy day." i can see him crumple in her arms, as i hang down my own head, embraced by nothing but my own two hands. kurt, you're right, it's been a goddamn lousy day.

08 June 2006

the zombies - "care of cell 44" (from the odessey & oracle lp, available for purchase here.)

no, i don't think the question of what crime the girl in the song committed is a fruitful path of inquiry. the conceit is merely a concession to the times, though admittedly it makes for a neat title.

really, the song could be about any reunion between two lovers. it's all about remembered details--the laughter that plays around her eyes, the room that was once hers--and small triumphs, like having saved up for the train fare money. colin sounds so pleased, like he's sitting on his hands, rocking back & forth w/ excitement. when the loved one returns, the time spent apart, once insuperable, seems instantaneously compressed.

the music, too, is a concession to the times, but what times they were. tack pianos are the warp, mellotron the weft, the finished product sunbaked english whimsy, like the turtles making sgt. pepper's or the beach boys rearranging "waterloo sunset." the chorus emerges from out of the blue--or out of the black, more likely, a short vocal harmony interlude rousing helios early, calling forth daybreak in the dead of night.

it's a song that makes you want to hug yourself--or someone else, if you're the lucky sort. perhaps i shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the criminal charges against the girl; what it does is foreground something lurking within all human relationships, that is, the strange chemistry that exists between two individuals, which must seem all the stranger when one of the two is a jailbird. i hope they're v. happy, at least as happy as "care of cell 44" always seems to make me.

i also hope she didn't try to rip off his testicles. b/c, really, then he's just asking for it.

07 June 2006

polytechnic - "won't you come around" (from the won't you come around 7", import available for purchase here.)

apart from being another success for the folks at transgressive, polytechnic's "won't you come around" is also one of the year's dance records.

when i say "dance," i don't necessarily mean anything having to do w/ its sound. instead, "won't you come around" inspires in me the desire to dance w/ somebody. not b/c of the interlocking of the drums & bass, or the words "talking," "heads," or "gang" appearing in the press material, or a rhythm guitar that suggests the label played the band a chic record or two; not b/c, then, one feels as if one ought to dance, scanning the floor, everyone else dancing, and looking in the eyes of your partner & just shrugging, "what else can we do?"

and it doesn't make you want to do the sprinkler or the white man's overbite or anything ironic--and it doesn't require heavy intoxication. it's as simple as this : you hear the song, you see a girl, you take her by the hand, and you spin her around the floor, dancing to the night's end, dancing even if you're the only ones on the floor.

genuine, then? genuine sounds about right.

06 June 2006

the louvin brothers - "satan is real" (from the satan is real lp, available for purchase here.)
current 93 - "lucifer over london" (from the lucifer over london ep, out of print.)

sinner friend, if you're here today, satan is real, too; and hell is a real place, a place of everlasting punishment.

666, it makes us sick / we're sick, sick, sick of 666.

05 June 2006

herbert - "we're in love" (from the scale lp, available for purchase here.)

music & politics, right. "movers & shakers" would have been the track to post, w/ its line about how "christian bones can orchestrate shock and awe."

but "we're in love" is the track i like best; and ultimately i want you to buy this music, b/c it's probably the best album i've heard all year.

when one knows that an artist or record or "political," s/he goes out of his way to find references. on "we're in love," dani siciliano sings of flights to china and a "smart designer"--was china chosen b/c of american pols' tough talk regarding what they see as undervaluing of the yuan? is "smart designer" a shot at "intelligent design"? does the song's first verse address a post-liberation iraq, in particular the mixed feelings of those who were opposed to invasion but must admit that, for a moment at least, it seemed a success?

truth be told, if i had another person here--i wouldn't be writing this write now, first--and there you have it, the seductive powers of music (and music & sex, which is an entirely different conversation). "we're in love" is opulent & luscious, the tenuousness of the orgasm elongated to two-hundred-and-eighty-three seconds. this is what, i think, goldfrapp intended to do w/ their last album; and it sounds like prince ca. 1986, the widescreen enchantment of the parade soundtrack, all strings, horns & the south of france. it's a sweet surrender, all things by necessity made secondary to pure feeling. moreover, it's an orgasm w/o a comedown, no postcoital doubts or fears--not until the next track at least. maybe that's the point, then : people take their opiates where they can get them, whether it's the drug, the sex, or the music; it's unbearable lightness of being, wild sex while the outside world goes to shit.

or maybe, just maybe, even "political" artists need love too, "we're in love," a brief, too brief a treat.
the feeling - "never be lonely" (from the twelve stops and home lp, import available for purchase here.)

the feeling's debut is released today in the uk. they're poised to be the biggest thing to hit the country since the arctic monkeys.

on the surface, they seem like a reaction to that band, the feeling playing it soft and then softer--music for your mother, indeed. a closer listen, though, reveals that they're merely two sides of the same coin. that is, they're all really nice guys.

and yet the press reception for both bands has been glowing, music and mainstream alike, words like "perfect pop"--and "guilty pleasure," too--constants in every write-up of the feeling. until recently, niceness has largely been considered a cardinal sin for a british band; indeed, had either band released their debuts a decade ago, their manners & good behavior would have gotten them as far as gene or dodgy. whence this change of heart?

all roads lead to pete, it would seem. to be fair, pete doherty is a bit like the archduke franz ferdinand : the signs of weariness and strain had all been there; we'd all just been looking for an excuse, any excuse. look at the diminishing returns of each successive oasis album, then contrast that w/ the rise of post-coldplay bands and one gets a sense of exhaustion w/ the laddishness that has driven british pop for at least a decade, if not more; look at the amazon.co.uk top 100 sellers : 1. keane 2. paul simon 3. the feeling. your mom would be so proud.

like your mom, the feeling are resolutely uncool--and what's more, they don't care, though one gets the sense that they protest too much. (more on that shortly.) who do they sound like? elo, andrew gold, 10cc, supertramp, little river band. you know, all the bands whose buttons adorn your jacket, whose patches are on your backpack. there is an almost primitive urge to resist this kind of music; and how could anyone listen to music so politically suspect in the times we live in? and, in asking that question, another reason emerges as to why people have turned away from boorishness and have opted to give peace a chance.

whatever the condition of the world, "love goes on anyway," as a great man once sang. i'd like to recommend this record for more reason than just simply b/c "it's good" but i'm having difficulty; to paraphrase another feeling song, they make my head soft. as chekhov wrote in "about love," one must either, in their reasonings, start from the highest considerations, sin & virtue, or not reason at all. i opt here for the latter.


all right, let me give it a further go.

their timing is doubly good, for not only have they arrived in the era of the new politeness, but they're here in time for summer. the guitars that run through "never be lonely" have a drowsy quality to them, like eyes half-open beneath the shade of an oak tree on a hot summer sunday. the song engenders a feeling of closeness, a hand enlaced w/ your own. "people in love get everything wrong," it repeats several times, maybe including their taste in music, eh? but then there's the chorus : at least they're not lonely. touché.

all, however, is not as placid or serene as it seems. yes, singer dan gillespie-sells's attack on lovers--getting everything wrong, being scared & stupid, &c.--hints at his own anxiety, an anxiety that expresses itself on the stammering, spluttering chorus. "b-b-b-b-baby," he sings, "i think i'm goin' c-c-c-crazy, why should i be sane without you?" then follow the most telling words, "they tell me to fight it, but they can bloody well just try it." (yes, "bloody" is as rude as they get.) right, the anxiety is about love but one also feels that his anxiety is about music press reception--and he should know, being a one-time journo. dan, there's no need to be pre-emptive--"please don't!" certain quarters would beg you--for these are different times we're living in. speak to us unabashedly of love, establish the importance of our domestic sphere, give it meaning; increasingly, it's just about the only thing we have any control over these days. different times is right.

02 June 2006

australia update!

vain, selfish & lazy has been friendly to artists who have australian backgrounds. happily, australia continues to hold our interest.

the grates - "19 20 20" (from the gravity won't get you high lp, import available for purchase here.)

yes, yes, in the long run, the yeah yeah yeahs > be your own pet, but in 2006, i'll put "adventure" up against anything karen o &c. released this year. given the choice, i think i know which side the grates would line up on. sure, they sound a little like both bands, but they're definitely not bigger than the sound nor do they scream "look at me, mom!" (and unlike the pet, their choice of band name seems to indicate that they're both in on the joke and also know how good they can be) and i've never heard either band use a horn section. instead, they sing, at a moderate level, "19 20 20, 19 20 20, 19 20 20." it doesn't sound like much and i don't know what it refers to--maybe to the ages of the three band members--but i can't get it out of my head. never underestimate the power of songs w/ numbers in the chorus, vide roxy music, toots & the maytals, the time, wilson pickett, et al.

howling bells - "the bell hit" (from the howling bells lp, import available for purchase here.)

late last year, i posted a howling bells track; now their album has been released in the uk and it's one of the most beguiling debuts of the year. like the grates, they've got their own influences to deal w/ : mbv, pj harvey, mazzy star--girls & guitars, basically. "the bell hit" is a wonderful way to start an album, for it combines everything that the band does well and in so doing dispels any easy (and lazy) comparisons.

the pj harvey thing might not be so far off, if only pj harvey, as the band is so called, actually was a functioning band, each player making equal contributions. the howling bells are a communal outfit, like a late 60's british folk aggregate, only w/ shorter hair and darker-hued clothing. "the bell hit" sees hands being held on the brink of the void, a meeting on the ledge, if you will; guitars ring, voices come together, and, my, do they sound good--look good, too, always the prettiest people on the block. which is another reason we love the australians.

oh! i've probably got some wolfmother lying around here somewhere.



01 June 2006

pet shop boys - "integral" (from the fundamental lp, released june 27, available for preorder here.)

in the magic mountain, herr settembrini, humanist & man of letters, says,
music ... there is something only semi-articulate about it, something dubious, irresponsible, indifferent. ... music, it would appear, is movement for its own sake--although i suspect it of quietism. let me overstate my case : my distaste for music is political. ... i maintain that music is ambiguous by its very nature. i am not going too far when i declare it to be politically suspect.
though, in his favor, he condenses joachim's unexpectedly garrulous response into the wonderfully concise "music awakens time, awakens us to our finest enjoyment of time."

there is, however, nothing either ambiguous or semi-articulate about the pet shop boys' "integral." the song is about the id card debate in the uk, which you can read about here and listen to here. neil sings, "everyone has their own number in the system that we operate under / we're moving to a situation where your lives exist as information"; he intones in an ominous voice, part big brother, part dalek, "one world, one life, one chance, one reason / all under one sky, unchanging, one season."

heady stuff, to be sure, but you can dance to it; "integral" is a reminder that, when they're not making dance music for people who don't dance, they're making dance music for people who do. "integral" is a bit like something from the ongoing disco series, only reined in for the charts by trevor horn's uncanny pop nous. ah! but this is where settembrini would interject : dance is an opiate; it distracts people from the message!

now, i don't know if i'm giving neil & chris too much credit, or if such a thing is even possible, but even in the music, i believe, they're making a statement. do you know the disco song "let's all chant" by the michael zager band? (you should, it's fabulous.) the strings on "integral" sound like a slowed-down version of the chorus melody ... a melody that begins, "your body, my body"--your body & my body, robbed of their individuality, all made a part of "one world, one life, one chance, one reason." perfect.

scritti politti - "locked" (from the white bread, black beer lp, import available for purchase here.)

scritti politti, you've probably heard, is italian for "political writing," and it was meant as an homage to gramsci. (not so fast, herr settembrini says : italian for political writing is "scritti politici." that's the marketplace for you!) maybe you also know that they had a single called "jacques derrida," in which "derrida" is mispronounced--once again, commercial instincts overriding accuracy, da-REE-da rhyming w/ more words than DERRY-da. also, green gartside actually met derrida, who told him that what he, gartside, was doing "was part of the same project of undoing and unsettling that he's engaged in," also adding that the boy gartside also really knew his wittgenstein. political credentials established, then. (although i've had more than one marxist tell me that derrida himself was politically suspect.)

"locked," though, from green's first album in seven years, is precisely what it seems to be on the surface : a love song. green, i've read, was recently wed and much of the new album is about how love has changed his life. he tackles issues on the domestic front, leaving the outside world & its concerns far behind, barred from entry by a locked door.

i once wrote to someone, "a writer in love is a bore to everyone except his beloved, for whom he saves his best; everyone else gets a dog's dinner." i find a similar sentiment expressed in "locked," green singing, "people want a part of me, but who they get is never who she sees." i think where so many musicians who get married go wrong in their subsequent albums is in trying to express to the listener just how perfectly happy they are. green avoids this in two ways, first, by detailing a world that really is such a bore, that hasn't been made better by his change in circumstances and, second, by appealing to his beloved directly rather than to the audience : "i'll close and lock the door, and you'll be there."

it doesn't hurt either that green has never sounded better, his voice a confection that one never gets tired of, somehow always managing to be sweet but never sugary, as if he were singing soothing words to a heartbroken child (and perhaps this accounts for the frequent use of the word "baby" in his lyrics). "sumptuous" is the word that comes to mind when listening the music itself, a warm bed of synthesizers, played off against brilliantly by a short acoustic guitar solo. it ends w/ a coda, straightforward & stirring, that builds & builds, green singing, "when i'm with you, baby, i know just who i am and no one understands the way that you do, darling." years ago, twenty-one to be exact, he would've written a song qua critique about the use of the words "baby" and "darling" in pop songs, but here he sounds v. comfortable w/ what he's singing & who he is. at this stage in history, i don't know of his political commitments, but i think it's accurate to say that the man is definitely devoted to a cause--and whole-heartedly, at that.