Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"My name's Blurryface and I care what you think"



I've not read a peep about this song -  last week at #3 in the US 100 - from the serious commentariat. Which is odd because even as an annoyance you'd think it had some text-generative potential. twenty one pilots seem to have been deemed not worthy of consideration.... literally beneath contempt in the sense of not even deserving to be actively despised!

For sure, I hated "Stressed Out" on the first radio hearing too. But by the third I'd decided it has a certain gauche genius - the missing link between "Thrift Store" and New Muzik, via emo and White Town. A catchiness not limited to the melody but the phrasing, the texture, the unique dinky toy-music atmosphere.

Strangely, it was a medium-size hit  last May and then came back - rereleased, or just resurged? - to penetrate the upper reaches of Billboard. I was thinking it might go all the way - become 2016's "Somebody That I Used To Know" : ubiquitous, long-lasting. But this week it has slipped to #4. Maybe just a blip.

The long player it's from, Blurryface, reached Number One on its release last spring. It's some kind of concept album.  I've yet to really get to grips with the concept, or indeed its contents, beyond a sense that "Stressed Out" is not a fluke.

The lyrics to "Stressed Out" - touching on belatedness syndrome, nostalgia, the lost promise of outer space -  stray into Retromania territory:

I wish I found some better sounds no one's ever heard,
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words,
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new

+

Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol' days,
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we're stressed out.

+

Used to dream of outer space but now they're laughing at our face,
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money."






Wednesday, February 03, 2016

shoegaze dayz

Had fun doing this extended review of the Still In A Dream shoegaze box set for Pitchfork



One thing that came up when listening through the five discs was the fact that Eno's scenius concept  - although generally applied by critics to electronic dance music, where it's particularly useful and illuminating - is actually almost as helpful in understanding the evolution of rock. You can see the same sort of  flocking or herding patterns at work. Grunge is a good example - suddenly everyone is down-tuning their guitars, using certain guitar effects;  the singers are going for that frayed/fatigued old-man-voice-through-young-man's-body thing.



For rock fans too, “generic” isn’t necessarily a bad thing:  if you’re really into something -  the hardcore punk sound of early Eighties America, any number of other examples -- what you crave is more of the same, only slightly different.  Now, you'll probably have ingested enough auteur-theory to still privilege the leaders, but if you’re a true fanatic you’ll have plenty of appetite for the followers, the second-wave and second-division. Maybe even third-division. 

(That's not a comment about the next tune, which is glorious)




The other thing I got interested in thinking about,  when relistening to this stuff properly for the first time since it came out really, was the "politics of vagueness". Why did this nebulous sound appeal at that precise time?  Then, it felt like the next dialectical step in rock - away from the failed militancy and hyper-consciousness of postpunk, into a new psychedelia. Now, in retrospect, it feels like an aestheticisation of surrender. A retreat.






One thing that got lost on the cutting room floor was an unformed set of thoughts sparked by remembering that Neil from Slowdive used to talk about loving Pink Floyd, despite it being unfashionable. By which - I think - he meant not the totally-cool-again-by-that-point Barrett-phase Floyd (as in the Syd solo cover above). I assume he meant the then still off-limits Pink Floyd of Meddle and Dark Side of the Moon. Which as Ian MacDonald has written, was the sound of post-Sixties resignation; Kevin Ayer's "Oh! Wot A Dream" without the jauntiness.  

It occurred to me that the secret precursor to shoegaze - not so much sonically but the life-stance of wistful passivity - was an early Floyd B-side, written and sung by Rick Wright: "Paintbox".   A wonderful watercolour sketch of a washed-out, disillusioned and disengaged boy-man. Above all the chorus:  "I open the door to an empty room / Then I forget"





That in turn reminded me of a passage from Jonathan Coe's The Rotters Club, in which the protagonist Benjamin - one of life's bystanders - slips into a trance: 

He stared at the trees for a few moments, then allowed his eyes to glaze over until the objects before him lunged out of focus. A blur of slate grey and chocolate brown and pastel green...  How the world strained to keep itself busy! Already Benjamin felt so distant from all of that, so far removed. He continued merely to sit at the typewriter, in a swoon of heaviness and incuriosity... He would have to go too, in a minute. Couldn’t very well sit here all weekend. And yet there was something strangely comfortable about this listlessness, this solitude....   Far preferable now just to savour this aloofness, to close himself off, settle further into a luscious insensiblity that no sound, no image, would ever be able to pierce.” 


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hauntology Parish Newsletter - January 2016 - Assembled Minds, CREAKING HAZE and other rave-ghosts; Moon Wiring Club winter mix

When Assembled Minds's CREAKING HAZE and other rave-ghosts came through the mail around the start of the year, I confess my initial reaction was to feel a little catered to. The coordinates (hauntology + rave nostalgia) felt a wee bit bang-on-the-nose in terms of an appeal to my niche demographic. 

But then I gave it a play...  and it turned out to be great. 




And differently great - nothing like Burial or Caretaker, or all the revenant-jungle I've been posting over at Energy Flash, or anything else in this vein really...

Rippling reverb-misted pianos and a sleepwalk trance of drum machines and pumping bass - the vibe is much more Ultramarine's "British Summertime" than ardkore. And there's this sound that's in most of the tracks:   a high-pitched "peaky"  timbre that is...  ecstatically edging into dissonance, is the best I can do by way of describing it. 

It reminded me of what Trevor Horn once told me: his belief that great albums have the same sound running all the way through - his example was The Blue Nile's Hats - so that every track is a chip off the same lustrous block, refracting slightly different.  






I asked Matt Saunders  - a/k/a Assembled Minds  and who also runs the label Patterned Air Recordings that Creaking Haze is out on -  about the sound, and this is what he said: 


"The sound was an attempt to capture the warmth of tape in the low end, and a kind of 78 vinyl scratchiness in the upper, tapes and records that have become frozen repositories of events passed by. I love the idea that when you play an old record, particularly ones recorded first take, no production, no making alterations to the moment as it actually happened, you’re reanimating that moment, projecting the sound of the room and the sound of the event into the present and into a new room and a new event. Making a portal between distant events. 

"Originally, I’d wanted to write tracks with a very high melody, low bass and not much in between to create a kind of musical skeleton, not much on the bones! It’s something I want to pursue further. 


"Combine that with recording to old tape, analogue synths and creaky effects, and mastered through old valve and analogue gear and you have an album that is threaded with the same DNA and hopefully, sounds like an event that happened somewhere else, sometime else."

I'd say he's succeeded in creating that "elsewhere / elsewhen" effect - you definitely go into a space when you start listening to the album, and nothing jolts you out of it while you're in it - the power of same-but-different c.f. eclecticism / versatility.
  



Apparently Matt has been working away at Creaking Haze on and off for seven years now, starting off with the idea of "all these old ravers were collectively re-living raves in their daydreams, trying to attain the euphoria their middle-aged lives lack."  (Again with the uncomfortably on-the-nose / close-to-the-bone !). "Almost like yearning for an acid-rapture." He also says that his goal was to make a record that "sounded like it came from a definite but intangible ‘place’, a place it had existed and lived in, and degraded somewhat, gathering a patina in its journey from where it existed to now. The idea of the album existing somewhere, spectrally, in the ghostly collective memory of old ravers was there in essence from the start, and grew stronger as  the album came together."





More Patterned Air patter about Creaking Haze

"Traditional analogue studio rituals, sci-fi dreaming, shimmering ravecore techno and arcane LED-lit magical practices make an odd kind of vintage haze. It is the Assembled Minds’ intention to collide wide-eyed sci-fi ambition with dirty workshop magic./// 'Creaking Haze' is an investigation into how a 70's British horror movie would sound, if a strange kind of proto-rave dance music had been at the director's disposal. We call this 'techno-Morris-horror'. Enter our world, wide eyed..."

and more

"The creaking haze of near forgotten, ages-old Saturday nights out; spectral dance music; flashback drug events; our young wide-eyed ghosts staring into the cardice fogs of synth-storms and heart accelerating drumbeats"

and even more

"Creaking Haze is foggy, hauntological techno; a strange mix of British suspense/horror film tension and euphorically happy-beat-cycling. Listen closely and you’ll hear rust-flakes from the eerier moments of Tubular Bells, broken pistons from a flipped Detroit techno juggernaut, even flickery moon-bell-echoes of Morris jigs and baton clashes. It’s a wyrd electronic album of rural myth and country-fear and it’s flipside, city-rites and night bus anxiety…"

and yet more

"This is an album that almost doesn’t exist.

It’s a cloud of old memories; a collective remembrance-pool of distant Saturday nights out, rave-fields, night-clubs, dancing, getting intimidated, getting high, feeling the love of the tribe but always looking over our shoulders for some dark threat or other. And best not mention the bad trips.

We’re getting lost in daydreams of flickering techno-rituals and the blinding lights of open-til-4am chippies. We’re dancing and belting around in the swirling whiteout haze of decades gone-by, and the highs we’re indulging in from these vaporous remembrances are becoming unbearably addictive. They’re almost too good to ever come back from; they’re so much better than the shit we have to deal with in the real world. So when the whole of the tribe is back in the rave-fields in a simultaneous collective recollection, every one of us dancing in the eerie pulsing fog, perhaps then we’ll choose to stay there in that moment, and fade away happily, if slightly intimidated, into our own memories."





The artwork and packaging is great too (photo nicked off Robin the Fog) although I have already lost the little leather tie thingy with which you seal up the package!

Now somehow I completely missed Matt's previous group Magnétophone  (on 4AD) even though it's up my street seemingly.

This isn't even the first Assembled Minds album, either. There was also the more Radiophonic oriented Tomorrow Curves, "a collection of analogue sci-fi soundtracks and voltage controlled incantations". 




^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Causing further shivery quivery ripples of delight through the memory-flesh of  this parishioner, a seasonal mix from Moon Wiring Club


"It's (potentially) cold outside! Therefore don your toastiest trouser-suit and smoulder gently to the synth-soaked sounds of forthcoming post-future yesteryear. Frothy favourites make way for calming interludes and a reliably new-vintage selection of sidereal almost-pop selections. All patently patiently ultra-pasted with occasional voices and shonko-fi recordings, sieved from the green recycling bin of atemporality. Contains werewolf break. 'ARE YOU READY FATHER?'"