Archive for April, 2010

‘In the gardens you can see a Manon…’

April 22, 2010

Today, Chris offers us his recollective music-based memories…

‘I began writing this article some time ago as a run down of my top 10 ‘most influential’ albums listened to during my formative years. I got about half way through and I got stumped. It was then I realised I couldn’t define my musical life in a rundown of albums, it was more appropriate to list my life in phases.

So here goes.
I was never really known for having taste as a child/youth and was often mocked for this attribute. I do remember always liking music in the varying forms it approached me. As a very young child (4-5) dancing to Yazz’s “The Only Way Is Up” when it came on Top Of The Pops, and I remember also falling deeply in love with Sonia a year later in 1989 and crying for an hour when the dog scratched my prized “You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You” single, which I had on vinyl.

I actually owned two other records as a child, both were soundtracks to films that I had enjoyed, and both are still in my collection. These were TURTLE POWER (1990) by Partnerz in Kryme and the soundtrack to My Girl (1991) starring Macaulay Culkin who was some kind of childhood hero, though I am unsure why.

Meat Loaf (1993 – c.1995)
I remember Take That being in the charts for a very, very long time whilst in junior school (c.1990-1993), a fact that caused me great depression at the time. I was unaware of any music existing outside of the charts/mainstream consciousness and believed that it was compulsory to like what was in the charts (which all other children claimed to) but that as hard as I tried I couldn’t bring myself to like anything I heard. It was around this time Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II was released and was probably the first album that I purchased, and also my first CD.

This marked the beginning of my Meat Loaf phase. I suppose I thought that due to his chart success with “I’d do anything for love” I had found my entry into chart music membership, and that buying the album bought me popularity. That, and the ‘epic’ music video that accompanied it was like something out of a film (I loved films) and I spent quite some time genuinely contemplating whether or not it was part of an actual film or just a stand alone video.
Anyway, following the logic of “if I like this song I will like all his songs” I pretty much bought all his albums. And it worked, I liked a good 80% of his songs.
Meat Loaf remained my favourite artist for a quite a while until I realised absolutely no one else at school had a clue who he was and I was becoming severely out of touch with my peers’ tastes. Although I wouldn’t say he was a major influence on my current tastes, I do still enjoy the odd cheesy power ballad, and still have a soft spot for the old ‘loaf’ if only for nostalgia.

When I suddenly realised Meat Loaf was neither cool nor current (around high school time) I began looking for my way ‘back in’ and invested in compilation albums like Now 34 (1996). I purchased this CD as a quick fix way of learning what was in the charts so that I might be considered cool. I listened to it almost every day. It was dreadful. Awful. I hated every track, but felt I must learn to like it. To this day, some of the appalling tracks from this double-disc monstrosity remain in my head.

Pulp (1995 – Present)
I’m not quite sure how I started liking Pulp but I do know I loved both Common People and Disco 2000 equally. Up until this point I had been hearing about the bands Blur and Oasis, but didn’t really know any of their songs very well. While the rest of the country became obsessed with their chart battle, I was listening to Pulp and was convinced that they too were part of this chart battle, when apparently, they were not. Following the very same logic of “if I like one song, I will like them all” I purchased any Pulp related merchandise I could find in Our Price. I purchased His ‘n’ Hers off the back of Different Class, not knowing much about it, but it sealed my obsession with the band. I can still trace my current tastes back to this album, with its prominent and almost clumsy synths . I remember singing one of the songs from this album in CDT, unaware of the sexual connotations, and being questioned by Stacy Worby about what it was I was singing. I replied “Pulp”. Annoyingly, she came back with “Egh I hate him”.
One memory in particular tied to this album is Lee Brookes and myself playing Golden Axe II on the Mega Drive in the small room of my old house. Everything looked yellow. It’s also tied to a third memory, that of getting Matthew Gadsten to sing along to one of the more famous songs on the album and laughing at him fail miserably. Go me (and Spokes, who was another culprit).
Also around this time I purchased “Masters of the Universe” a sort of compilation of Pulp’s earlier work. To my adolescent surprise it was much darker, much more raw and far less poppy than my other purchases, but because it was Pulp I gave it the benefit of the doubt and got stuck right in. I think this was probably my first true, if minor, break from what I perceived as chart music, as the album was almost frightening to me and had I heard this album before the previous two, I probably wouldn’t have purchased it. Looking back retrospectively, this album is still very close, if not the closest, to some of my more recent purchases and interests, as well as some of my own work in terms of style and sound.
One memory tied to this album: trying to get Mr Short to translate some of the French lyrics of ‘Manon’ for me, and him refusing.

Google translate interprets them as:
“Oh, Manon
In the gardens you can see a Manon
Child forty-five
It’s wife died, yes,
true, but he broke the skin
these bones
Behind the trees, he sees
girl playing with
his brother
He approaches
I renounce Manon
You’re a real dog
Leave his body in peace Manon Manon.”

Radiohead (1996 – present)
I still hadn’t given up on chart music, I knew that I loved music, I just wasn’t sure which music was for me, and although I still loved Pulp, one band just wasn’t enough – plus the fact it still hadn’t seemed to buy me any credibility with anyone other than lifelong partner Mr Spokes.
I continued purchasing compilation albums, but I had learned the lessons of the past and had migrated to “The Best Indie Anthems… Ever”. This proved such a success that I followed it up with “The Best Indie Anthems Ever… TWO”, the title of which always amused me. Sadly again, I wasn’t too pleased with the majority of tracks here, it was the strength of just a handful of songs that inspired me to purchase the next CD. The real breakthroughs for me were Swallowed by Bush (who I went on to become a fan of) and the tracks Creep and Street Spirit by Radiohead. I couldn’t afford more CDs at this point so I simply listened to the two Radiohead tracks on loop. I now associate them with whatever PS1 games I was playing at the time, namely the Tomb Raider 2 demo. Eventually I managed to borrow The Bends from Spokes and record it to cassette tape. I think it was a while before I gave the CD back though, it was just that good. My memory of this CD largely consists of inspecting the sleeve artwork on the floor of the little room in Telscombe Way while the disc played Planet Telex. I was just so impressed with the quality of the album, I felt I had found the next band I had been looking for.
It wasn’t long before OK Computer was released and my first chance to make a purchase came during a visit to Dad’s, where I made him take me to the local MVC so I could buy the album. It was all afternoon before I could listen to the CD so I just spent the day reading the lyrics. I recall telling Dad’s former friend Sarah “ha! You’re in this song – ‘Kill me Sarah, Kill me again’…”. Sarah didn’t take too kindly to this and seemed rather perturbed by my reading. I later found out she was schizophrenic and I have often wondered whether I had sparked some nasty nonsense in her head that afternoon. Annoyingly, literally every music publication bums this album and probably will until the end of audio itself, but I bought this album after enjoying The Bends and I honestly believed my world changed.
From that point on my work in art class definitively and began to mirror the sleeve art on the CD. The sounds coming out of my speakers were completely alien, most of which I couldn’t understand how they were made. Now, with a more educated ear, it’s easy to tell that the album is layered with various loops and effects and is played largely on guitars, but back then I couldn’t figure out what instruments would make some of those noises. I remember listening to this album on my earphones, walking with Laura Cockfield to the cinema, with her telling me I was rude for not turning my music off to talk. It became a mission of mine to learn each chord played on that album, sadly I never made it quite that far, but I do still give Lucky a quick blast each time I pick my guitar up.

Constellation (2001 – 2005)
During 6th Form I suffered a social shuffle around and couldn’t be bothered to re-make new friends, so the need to fit in was kind of abandoned. By this point I had realised that there was obviously more music out there than I was aware of, but had no way of finding new music easily as in those days, the internet was shit. My only choices remained free CDs on the cover of NME and Kerrang (this was how I discovered Mogwai) but mostly I would just pick up CDs whose covers or names I liked, with a view to returning them if they were shit. This worked out nicely when I purchased Music Has the Right to Children via this method, but not so well when I purchased Staind. The latter I was so ashamed to be associated with, I sent my then girlfriend to Our Price to return it rather than show my face again. This remained the normal.
It was around this time I purchased Godspeed’s album F#A#∞, which was on a completely different level.
Since getting into Mogwai’s instrumental rockings, I had been on a post-rock buzz, looking for the next ‘hit’ and this was it. Geniusly, Constellation Records included little inserts of their back catalogues in the CD case and as with my previous phases, I began working my way through it. I creamed myself ever every CD – Godspeed, ASMZ,Set Fire To Flames, Hangedup, Exhaust, all the way up to Frankie Sparo which I found less satisfying. Memories largely consist of playing drums to American Motor Over Smouldered Field in my student house, or sitting on the train listening to Steal Compass/Drive North/Disappear, but strangely most of the memories conjured when thinking of these albums are of composing, playing and recording my own music. I think because although my previous ‘phases’ all inspired me to get into music, and start making it for myself, it is through this collective of bands and artists I found a sound that really rang true with me and really motivated me to find my own sound. I also cannot separate listening to ASMZ and reading Adbusters in my mind. I often get them confused even though they are two entirely different mediums.

Post Uni
Not really sure what happened post uni. I pretty much exhausted the Constellation label’s catalogue, Radiohead had continued releasing albums which impressed me, but by this stage I came to expect that their albums would be good, and they had run out of rare, mysterious bsides I hadn’t heard of/had to spend days downloading through my dial connection. The internet had opened up and it was easier to download whole albums at a time. Which I started doing, resulting in me never really having the time to listen to it all.
I started clubbing more, partly because uni was over and I was bored, partly because I planned to move to Japan and wanted to spend as much time with friends as possible. Where I had previously been none too impressed with the music that clubs had to offer, either a shift in pop’s direction or my new association with pop/indie music and ‘having a good time’ had allowed the genre to grow on me. After I moved to Japan, I found myself going to bars, requesting particular songs by the likes of Bloc Party, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Postal Service and thinking of home.
Upon my return, pop hadn’t moved on that much, but had taken on an electronic vibe which both fitted in with my enjoyment of the 80s as well as my soft spot for the likes of Pulp. I tried a few times (and still do) to make 80’s style electronic pop, but so far have largely been unsuccessful in my attempts. I find I am far more accepting of chart music than before, and consider Lady Gaga to be somewhat of a genius, partly because she writes quite good pop songs, but mostly because of her successful creation – the Gaga image.
The rest can still go suck a fuck though, I still cannot stand talentless shit like Jean Paul and am appalled that the dance style music that I thought died in the 90s is still around, with lyrics like “Here’s my key/Philosophy/ A freak like me/ Just needs infinity” and dick heads shouting “CHOON”.

Summary
I spent my early life attempting to like whatever was popular, though somehow always failing. In hindsight this has been rather lucky. However, after years of deciding to avoid the charts and actively dismissing anything ‘popular’ as talentless and worthless, I’ve accidentally slipped into liking quite a lot of chart music. I’m unsure if that’s because I’ve finally given in or whether at this point in my life, chart music and myself have coincidentally become compatible and that this is just a temporary phase.
I have noticed that my zest for music has died down, I play far less and compose far less than I used to, and I am less obsessive over new albums and favourite bands. In some ways this saddens me, in others I have found it’s freed my time up and perhaps opened my mind up.
For a time I was just as prejudice against pop as “mainstream idiots” were against my own tastes, but these days I’m more open minded and aware of different kinds of music and their relative merit than I have been my whole life.
In terms of my own music, the music that I compose, I keep constant mental notes “I’d like to try that kind of song/I’d love to write some music that sounds like this”, most of which never gets put into practice, though I do often sit down and figure out how I would play it if I were to play at all.
When I do play and try to put these things into practice, it is tough. Partly because I am rusty, but partly, perhaps, because I’m attempting to play something that simply isn’t ‘me’.
I do believe that the music I am most comfortable and most competent in creating is still the style that I found at university while listening to ASMZ, Godspeed and Set Fire to Flames. So throughout my many phases in life – cheesy Meatloaf, poppy Pulp, angsty Radiohead, indie Stereophonics (didn’t really touch on them), and the rest, it’s probably the Constellation records that have had the biggest impact on my personality and in forming who I am as an audio artist, but without doubt, Radiohead (my long term favourites) have had the biggest say in who I am as a visual artist.
I used to be very competitive in my illustrative skills, showing off all the things I could draw and how realistically I could draw them, though through seeking photo-realism I never really had a style of my own. Since the release of OK Computer, my drawings became much more scribbly and rough, work that I would have previously thrown away or torn up I now became very proud of. But I had to practise very hard to achieve this ‘look’. It’s now got to the point that it’s almost the only style I can draw in. I have to concentrate very hard to get anywhere close to the realism I used to be able to attain in my youth.

I haven’t really thought about how to conclude this.’

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Albums of the Week: 9th -16th April

April 17, 2010

Top Five listening habits for this week including:

Excepter
5. Excepter – Presidence

Herbert
4. Matthew Herbert – One One

Sight Below
3. The Sight Below – It All Falls Apart

Airports
2. The Black Dog – Music For Real Airports

Alva
1. Alva Noto – For 2

Alva Noto was an easy choice for No.1, largely because the album (as with almost everything else Carsten Nicolai’s done) is so amazingly well produced; the sounds are crisp, clean and uncluttered, the songs themselves, be they fragments or fully realised pieces are, above all else, deeply involving. For 2 runs to five minutes shy of an hour, and I was surprised so little time had passed by the end of it. Even the 50 second tracks feel like you’re held motionless for a lot longer as the sounds evolve, coalesce, disperse in to the air. When it concludes, I wonder why there isn’t more of it. If you’re in to just downloading individual tracks, which I wouldn’t recommend for this release, then Stalker for Andrei Tarkovsky and Early Winter for Phill Niblock are recommendations.

The new Black Dog album is also highly accomplished, riffing on the vacuous and unchallenged opinions of Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient’ music, and the Music for Airports that brought it (uncharacteristically) to the fore. Here the music reflects, for me at least, the true nature of the airport. Rather than a place of possibilities and endless destination, the airport is rendered with alienating disquiet, a place of never-realised night, filled with brightly lit and endless corridors, shop fronts open like hideous metal mouths. Impersonal, distancing, horrific in their blandness. The music is anything but.

It All Falls Apart is pretty phenomenal as well (it’s been a good week), pulling together (largely) beatless soundscapes of epic proportions that remind me of Brock Van Wey. Numerous highlights, including the gradual emergence of a simple but devastating bass line in Burn Me Out From The Inside, the far off clatter of dub-like beats toward the end of Stagger and the appearance of the wonderful vocals of Tiny Vipers on a cover of ‘New Dawn Fades’.

Matthew Herbert’s One One is pleasingly personable, as with much of his work. This one focuses on his ability to perform everything himself, instead of using other people eating apples, scrunching newspapers etc. This extends also to include singing. His voice is fragile, which I think lends an honesty to the album, particularly the penultimate track, Berlin. All the trademark Herbert sounds are here, including a wide palette of rounded synths, perambulating bass lines and understated home made beats. It’s not as spectacular as some of his earlier work, but something new is definitely added to the sound by his honest approach and personal touch.

Excepter’s Presidence is long, dense, occasionally impenetrable. It attacks, deconstructs, reconstructs numerous forms via long apparently free improvised jams, though I presume a fair amount of editing happens afterwards. If you have the spare time to concentrate on it, I feel it could be very rewarding, but I only managed to have it on in the background whilst trying to take notes on urban heritage, so probably worth ignoring the last paragraph as I’ll have missed what ever point I/it was trying to make.

Vote Creeping Jaw Society!

April 15, 2010

Long time, no hello. Apologies for my lack of (inter)action. To coincide with the general election (well…in honesty, thematically, there is no link aside from track titles, but it seemed like a pertinent time to try some new material out), Creeping Jaw will be releasing an EP titled Election Special. It runs to around 20 minutes and contains the following tracks:

1.  Five Minutes to Three

2.  How We Get Things Done in Mexico

3.  Joanna In The Maze of Icons

4.  Your Mark

5.  The Result

The EP will be available to download either in its entirety, or split in to individual tracks, from May 6th. It contains entirely new CJS material created via a unique brand of limited programming experience, disastrous synths, lots of crackle and miniature fragments from artists including Joanna Newsom, Actress, Murcof, Alex Smoke, Flying Lotus, SCB, Heroines of the U.S.S.R, Moderat, Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir, Horizontal Ground, Kaito, Four Tet, Husky Rescue, Tomfire, Bola, Lisa Germano, Kyle Hall and Gaiser.

In the meantime, click here for a minute-long preview of a ghost screaming in The Result (the tracks will 320kbps rather than the 192kbps on the sample). Saturday/Sunday, possibly, albums of the week(s).

Silk and Dogs – Shanxi

April 5, 2010

Shanxi (Click to Download)

Today it was announced that 100 of the 153 miners trapped in the Wangjialing coal mine flood had been rescued, with a provincial party chief confident that more survivors would emerge over the day. China has one of the worst safety records for mining fatalities in the world, due to a combination of a lack of formalised safety checks, poor state and provincial regulation and the large number of illegal mining operations across the country. Shanxi province, one of the major mining centres in the People’s Republic, has seen three especially bad mining accidents in the last five years. In 2009, a  mine blast before dawn at Gujiao, left 74 dead and well over one hundred in hospital with serious injuries. This event saw the highest number of casualties since a gas blast outside Taiyuan killed a similar number in 2007 (exact figures for the number of dead and injured are often difficult to come by and, more often than not, woefully inaccurate). Wangjialing, with its seemingly successful rescue mission appears, thankfully, a comparatively safe operation.  Xinhua news agency reports that figures for the number of mining related accidents in China for the year ending 2008 had dropped 19%, but still stood at a frightening 413,700. These are the official numbers; the actual number of Chinese injured or killed each year, which go unreported, is much higher.

This track, the seventh part of the Provinces project, represents an audio interpretation of these three mining disasters.

Top 5 – Week End April 2nd

April 1, 2010

Pre-Easter Top 5.
This week I have listened to, and highly recommend, the following (you may notice a slight bias toward cold wave):


5. Masayoshi Fujita and Jan Jelinek – Objects, Lakes, Birds


4. Various Artists – Cold Waves and Minimal Electronics Volume 1


3. Stereo – Somewhere In The Night


2. Scuba – Triangulation


1. Greg Haines – Until the Point of Hushed Support

Next week – confused ramblings about cities and a new Silk and Dogs track
The following week – a new live set by Creeping Jaw Society


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