Thursday, March 30, 2006

THE PERFECT SONG

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MASSIVE ATTACK Unfinished Sympathy (Wild Bunch, 1991)

"Like a soul without a mind
In a body without a heart
I’m missing every part"

With Collected released last Monday, Massive Attack have been all over VMR this week, and the song that seems to be played the most is Unfinished Sympathy. Fifteen years after it was first released, it still sounds like nothing else around, and still gives me goose bumps and a lump in my throat every single time I hear it. Massive Attack have never done anything better, and even the collabs with the divine Liz Fraser on Mezzanine aren’t a patch on this timeless classic. I don’t actually know anyone who doesn’t like this song. It just has truly universal appeal.

I was listening to it on my way back from the sandwich shop just now, and I found myself involuntarily walking a bit like Shara Nelson in the video. I think it is still one of the best and most perfect music videos ever done. It’s got no special effects, no computer wizardry, no bells and whistles… just one seven-or-so minute sequence of Shara Nelson walking in a dodgy suburb of Los Angeles I think, no cuts, no edits, nothing. It was, I believe, the first music video to be filmed with a handicam. The legend has it that the only thing that was done to the original video was that it was slowed down a bit as Shara was extremely nervous doing it and ended up walking too fast. I don’t know whether this is an urban myth or this is true, but the result is just about as perfect as the song itself.

COMPULSIVE LISTENING SESSIONS

I’ve been doing a bit of compulsive listening in the last couple of days, first with Autechre yesterday (Peel Sessions 1 & 2, LP5, EP7 and Confield) and then Björk last night and today (Post, Vespertine, Debut and Homogenic).

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BJÖRK: Homogenic (One Little India, 1997) - beautiful visuals from Me Company from the limited edition Digipak CD

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BJÖRK: Vespertine (One Little India, 2001)

Listening to almost the entire post-Sugar Cubes Björk catalogue has brought back so many memories, right from the moment when my view on Björk totally changed when I first heard Violently Happy on the radio while I was working the night shift in a petrol station back home all these years ago, to the feeling of intense joy I always feel when playing Homogenic. Although Vespertine is probably my overall favourite album of hers, Homogenic contains two of my favourite Björk songs, Jóga (the "tectonic" video is just sublime - see below) and Bachelorette, the latter featuring some of the most beautiful lyrics I know…

Bachelorette
I'm a fountain of blood
in the shape of a girl
you're the bird on the brim
hypnotized by the whirl

Drink me - make me feel real
wet your beak in the stream
the game we're playing is life
love's a two way dream

Leave me now - return tonight
tide will show you the way
if you forget my name
you will go astray
like a killer whale trapped in a bay

I'm a path of cinders
burning under your feet
you're the one who walks me
I'm your one way street

I'm a whisper in water
a secret for you to hear
you're the one who grows distant
when I beckon you near

I'm a tree that grows hearts
one for each that you take
you're the intruders hand
I'm the branch that you break

Leave me now - return tonight
tide will show you the way
if you forget my name
you will go astray
like a killer whale trapped in a bay

From bjork.com

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

THE KNIFE: CUTTING EDGE POP

Upon recommendation from Woody, I’ve been giving the new Knife album a thorough listen over the last few days, and I must say that I actually really like it. If I instantly liked Heartbeat from Deep Cuts (well before the Jose Gonzalez version surfaced on our TV screens for that Sony ad), the rest of their previous album kinda left me a bit cold around the edges.

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THE KNIFE Silent Shout (Brille, 2006)

Silent Shout is somehow quite different. Proudly wearing its bleeps and other rumbling noises on its pop sleeves, this album sounds a bit like if an E’d Kate Bush had teamed up with Depeche Mode at their most electronic and had been remixed by Orbital. Woody described Silent Shout as “scary – like being attacked by mechanical toys”. Not sure about the mechanical toys bit, but scary it surely is. And beautiful, in a sick kinda way…

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

THE ELECTROLYTE EXPERIMENT

I’ve just put the finishing touch to a new compilation. For some reason, it’s taken me a while to get to a point where I was happy about the track listing and how it worked. The selection has taken a surprisingly "electro" turn, so the compilation has been named The Electolyte Experiment, as it remains rather far from anything too electro-clash (thank God!)

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Coppé by Tony Williams

Here’s the track listing:

Scala: Remember How To Breathe
Dot Allison: We’re Only Science
Zeebee: Truth
Magnétophone: A Sad Ha Ha (Circled My Demise)
Cursor Miner: Remote Control
Broadcast: Black Cat
HK119: Friend For Dinner
Gus Gus: Ladyshave
Erlend Øye: Ghost Trains
Themselves: Good People Check
310: Opposite Corners
The Knife: Heartbeats
Alpinestars: Snow Patrol [Pt. 1]
Swayzak: Keep It Coming
Mirwais: Naïve Song
Margo: Little Kitty Mix [Remix by Tomas Jirku]
Krom: Outside
Coppé: Lavender Oil

All in all, 77 minutes and 8 seconds of rather nicely twisted pop.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

FANTABULOSA!

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Michael Sheen as Kenneth Williams (Fantabulosa!, BBC Four)

Fantastic program about the life of Kenneth Williams last night on BBC Four. Fantabulosa!, based on Williams’s Diaries, which were published a few years after his death in 1988, retraced the life of "the man of a thousand voices", with Michael Sheen playing a rather impressive Williams.

Williams kept a diary for over forty years, documenting the highs and lows of his career and his life and exposing his sexual frustrations, torments and obsession with his role as an actor and the way he was perceived by others.

One scene in particular seemed to sum up the character. As workers were digging a hole in the street next to his flat, he gave them an extravagant Kenneth Williams performance from his window, before closing it again and commenting on the expectations of others. He seemed to crave for love and recognition, and never got there, at least in his eyes. He never got the love he so desperately wanted, and despised the Carry On image that has become so emblematic.

Kenneth Williams was a very complex character, "a consummate entertainer who was loved by everyone - with the exception of himself".

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I GET EXCITED (YOU GET EXCITED TOO)

I’ve had a bit of a Pet Shop Boys week ahead of the release of their ninth album proper, Fundamental, at the end of May. The week culminated with me working from home yesterday and listening to Please, Behaviour, Very and Nightlife in one go, and I am currently going through a few of the gems on Alternative (CD2).

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The fantastic Behaviour - does pop music get any classier than this (Parlophone, 1990)

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B-Side collection Alternative (Parlophone, 1995)

I wasn’t always a big fan of the Pet Shop Boys, although I was totally hooked by the beautiful and haunting West End Girls way back when it was released, and actually bought the LP version of Please back then, and still have it at my parents. I however didn’t quite get the underlying wit and cleverness of their approach until a while later. While I was still buying some of the singles (I know I have the 7’ version of It’s A Sin), I only really GOT the Pet Shop Boys when Discography was released, and I realised that I’d been a total idiot. I then got Disco, Actually, Introspective and the absolutely pop-perfect Behaviour and I’ve been mad about their stuff ever since, with the exception I must add, of the God-damn piss-poor Release.

Notably though, some of their best tracks have never been released on albums, but as B-sides. Tracks such as Paninaro (Suburbia, 1986, consequently released as a single itself to promote Alternative), I Want A Dog (Rent, 1987, an extended version of which was consequently released as part of Introspective), The Sound Of The Atom Splitting (Left To My Own Devices, 1988), Your Funny Uncle (It’s Alright, 1989), Shameless (Go West, 1993), Too Many People (I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing, 1993), Some Speculation (possibly my all-time favourite PSB track, Yesterday When I Was Mad, 1993), The Truck Driver And His Mate (Before, 1996), The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On (Red Letter Day, 1997), Sexy Northerner (Home And Dry, 2002). These were, especially in the early years, acting as a lab for Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe to experiment with their sound, and missing on any of these is actually missing on about half of what gives this excellent pop band it edge.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

REAL HORRORSHOW

I invested the last remaining pounds of the voucher I got for doing a little job in a couple of DVDs, the first one, Kubrik's fabulous adaptation of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, and the second, Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The first of the DVDs, A Clockwork Orange, turned up today, and I have just finished watching it.



I first became aware of the film while growing up, as Orange Mechanique. Well before I knew anything about the film, or the book, I was fascinated by the absurdity of the French title (Mechanical Orange) as much as its strange poetry. The film was available in France and regularly played in a local cinema, and when I turned 18 (it was, of course, given an 18 certificate), I went to see it. I can't say I remembered much of the film, but I remember being impressed by the particular aesthetic developed by Kubrik. I also found it all very dated.



Viddying it again some fifteen years or so later, and having read the book a couple of years ago, I realise how terribly modern and fresh it is now, and how controversial and shocking it must have been back then. I found the book a lot more disturbing though, perhaps because of the non-English words inserted as part of the common language, but most probably because only the limitations of my imagination served as boundaries to the sheer horror of the story.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

POINTLESS EXERCISE

I was recently going through the pointless, yet terribly satifying, exercise of listing my top 5 favourite artists. Although this is surely limitative, any more than a top 5 would be totally futile considering that, beyond place number two, things become pretty interchangeable depending on my mood. Here’s about what the top 5 looks like:

1. Autechre
2. Cocteau Twins
3. Broadcast
4. Biosphere
5. Animal Collective

Autechre, with their ultra complex and beautiful electronic music, are still undisputed leaders of the pack for me, and I still cannot (and do not wish to) resist the appeal of the wonderfully lush and emotional soundscapes from the Cocteau Twins. Yet, in recent years, Broadcast have become an essential part of my listening diet, and are currently my most played artist according to Last.fm. A week doesn’t go by without me listening to at least one of their record. Same goes for Biosphere and Animal Collective.

Interestingly for someone who proudly claims to feed mostly on electronic music, three of the five acts in my top 5 use guitars, albeit all in various treated forms.

PRODUCT SALE

The last product sale at work was one of the best in a long time. The product sale happens ever 6 to 8 weeks usually, and is a good way to get rid of all the promo stuff that lies around offices, the lot being sold for charity.

Over recent months, the quality of the stock sold has dipped seriously, and it surely is a reflection of record companies cutting down on promos. Still, this time round, there was some interesting stuff on offer, some of it looking like store overstock that the company hasn’t managed to shift back.

There was, obviously, the usual amount of crap, and the usual fight to get to it, but I managed to put my hands on a few things, some only remotely interesting (The Kings & Queens Of Country for those moments when a bit of cowboy mood makes its presence felt, Thievery Corporation’s Abductions & Reconstructions, with remixes of tracks by Stereolab, David Byrne, Hooverphonic, Gus Gus and so on), some rather more promising (Stereolab: Fab Four Suture, Iggy Pop: Lust For Life, Luc Ferrari: Son Memorise, which will serve as my introduction to his work), and a couple of Fat Cat full copies of albums I only had promo copies for (Him: Many In High Places Are Not Well, Mice Parade: Obrigado Saudade). All in all, I managed to spend £10 (at 50p per CD, that’s not bad).

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

STEREOLAB: FAB FOUR SUTURE


STEREOLAB Fab Four Suture (Too Pure, out now)

Stereolab have a new album out. It’s called Fab Four Suture. Despite the fact that they are utterly up their own backside when it comes to their sound, and that the lead singer is French (cause and effect? Who knows?), I’ve never been too much into them, which is possibly strange considering my obsession with Broadcast, a band often associated with the Lab.

There is something about their music that I usually find utterly boring. I think it has something to do with the fact that much time is spent fine-tuning the sound and very little time is dedicated to actually developing compositions to fully-fledged songs. Also there is something in the way Laetitia Sadier sings that feels like your little sister singing over pop songs behind you while you’re trying to listen to something on the radio.

Still, they have one of the coolest names in the business and this new album is rather OK I think.

ZEEBEE / LOKA

It has been a while since my last update, and things have been moving on nicely. The one shelf in the office is practically full already, and we will probably be getting a second one in the next few weeks so I can carry on with the great CD unpacking operation. I am also putting a box together which will eventually be split up between e-bayable and non e-bayable stuff. Currently, I am not too sure what’s in there, but I know it is stuff I am not so keen on keeping: CDs that I’ve never listened and doubt I ever will, stuff that ended up in my record collection God know how, etc.

I have also been playing some stuff I haven’t heard for years, although so far, only a handful of albums have made it to the CD player. One of them was prompted by Stuart offering to review the new Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit collaboration, Secret Rhythms 2. I did get the first album some years ago and reviewed it for the site [link] but the CD had been buried in some box or another since, so it was very nice to rediscover the nice jazzy moods of this piece. I haven’t heard the new album yet, but from Stuart’s review, it is very much more of the same, so I should definitely try to get hold of a copy.

I have also been getting some very interesting records lately, too many to mention in just one post, so I will endeavour to update this a bit more regularly in coming weeks, although, obviously, themilkfactory takes priority.


ZEEBEE Priorities (Angelika Koehlermann, out now)

An album that has been entertaining me for a couple of weeks is the new opus by German-born songstress Zeebee. The album, , is the follow up to her debut, Chemistry, released two years ago. Zeebee lives in Austria and releases music on Austrian imprint Angelika Koehlermann. Her voice is similar to that of Nicolette, albeit possibly less soulful. Chemistry was a very pleasing record, but Priorities is extremely good indeed. Alongside regular collaborator Gherard Potuznik, she has worked here with a vast array of musicians, including The Bug on three tracks, one of them being a rather quirky arse-shaking version of Ella Fitzgerald’s A Tisket A Tasket. Highly recommended.


LOKA Fire Shepherds (Ninja Tune, rel. 27/03)

Another album that’s been blowing me away is the debut by Liverpudlian duo Loka. Apparently, Mixmag described what they do as "what Radiohead would do if they had balls". As interesting as this is (not), it hardly does Loka justice.

I’ve actually had this album on my desk for a few days and hadn’t found the time to play it yet, but one listen earlier today and I was hooked. The press release goes as follow: "Loka have created a music which at times sounds like Miles Davis jamming with Carl Craig and the Kronos Quartet. Only a lot more fun than that. Fire Shepherds is an album outside of time, immune to trend. You could argue that like Cinematic Orchestra the duo share an interest in the movie soundtrack as something to set our own lives to. You’d be on safe ground stating that like Jaga, Loka are concerned with the point where rhythms cease to be generic and just become propulsion. But neither of these references can fully do justice to Loka’s love of cascades of emotive strings and the jazz/rock experiments of the late sixties and early seventies."

All I can say is that Fire Shepherds is groovy in place, cinematic down to the last note, with jazz moods sweating out of every bar and that, at just under 45 minutes long, it is short enough to make you want some more. An impressive debut, and one of the coolest albums released on Ninja for a very long time.