Archive for November, 2008

29
Nov
08

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #45

I really don’t enjoy Christmas and haven’t done for about fifteen years. It’s pretty much one long capitalistic wank, and considering I only usually buy gifts for my immediate family, I avoid the whole shopping mall extravaganza as much as possible. Sure, there’s all that supposed “Christmas spirit” about, making people do and think things they don’t for the rest of the entire year. And there’s that fantastic family time where you are forced to hang out with relatives who don’t really know you at all and don’t care to, and who inevitably have nothing to talk about. The only part of Christmas I tend to enjoy is watching the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but without fail, I miss it on TV every year, which only serves to make me more grumpy. I should just get a proper copy of it and be done with the whole thing. (My family has also created a Christmas tradition of searching for our copy of the Claymation Christmas special with the California Raisins, camels in sneakers and bells with faces – we swear we taped a copy, but we have never found it. Again we should just get a new copy, but no one can be bothered.)

One of the most abysmal things about Christmas, though (aside from fruitcake) is the music on offer. When I worked retail for five years, I heard the same loop of Christmas songs for two months out of each year until I wanted to stab my eyes out with candlesticks. The particularly horrendous one that still makes me twitch to this very day is that Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime song from Paul McCartney. It’s difficult to find decent Christmas music – I generally grin and bear the traditional family Christmas music like Boney M and Mannheim Steamroller (we usually only play it during our four-Sundays-before-Christmas-German-advent tradition when we light another candle on the wreath each Sunday evening leading up to Christmas). The only Christmas music I have ever purchased is Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Sufjan Stevens’ four-disc set. However, over the years, I’ve built up a small collection of songs that I find bearable and I’ve assembled a chunk of them here for the weekly mix. So, when you have to do Christmassy tasks of any sort (wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, baking cookies, running people over in the parking lot), you can have something to listen to. There will be no Band Aid, no Elvis, no Frank Sinatra, and definitely no *twitch* Paul McCartney.

As with my Halloween mix, I’ve only provided links to every second track, but the full mix is available to download at the very bottom. The mix kicks off with a little rock, including the brilliantly satirical Christmas Number One from last year done by the geniuses of Black Box Recorder and Art Brut. Then there’s a little bit of electronic with The Knife and Dandy Warhols before you eventually hit some retro Spectorish songs by The Raveonettes, The Long Blondes, The Hives and Cyndi Lauper, and of course The Ronettes themselves. I’ve included Stars’ cover of The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl classic because I had already used the original Fairytale of New York for a duet mix earlier this year – don’t fear, the Stars version is pretty great. Then it goes rather gentle into the good night with Kate Bush, Goldfrapp, Mogwai, Momus, Okkervil River and that duet with David Bowie and Bing Crosby, which must be included – despite its awkward bit of cringe-inducing dialogue – because I love David Bowie. It all finishes up with Kermit the Frog because I love Muppets as much as David Bowie (which explains why my favourite film is Labyrinth). Also, as an exercise in craziness and kicks, I would suggest you take a look at the Last Christmas Web site, where all known covers of George Michael’s contemporary classic are gathered. I stumbled across it last year when I started realizing just how many covers of that song I had come across – apparently someone else had already beaten me to the wondering and took that one extra step toward OCD. For this mix you’ll get the Manics version from an appearance on TFI Friday (much better than the strange Christmas Ghost song they came up with last year). So, this mix is called Better Than Fruitcake. Bah, humbug!

Christmas Number One – The Black Arts

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight) – The Ramones

Father Christmas – The Kinks

We Three Kings – Reverend Horton Heat

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Bright Eyes

Little Drummer Boy – The Dandy Warhols

Christmas Reindeer – The Knife

Can You Hear What I Hear? – Bodies of Water

Frosty the Snowman – Cocteau Twins

Christmas Fire – The Deer Tracks

She Came Home For Christmas – Mew

Put the Lights on the Tree – Sufjan Stevens

Child’s Christmas in Wales – John Cale

Fairytale of New York – Stars

The Christmas Song – The Raveonettes

Christmas is Cancelled – The Long Blondes

A Christmas Duel – The Hives and Cyndi Lauper

White Christmas – The Pipettes

Sleigh Ride – The Ronettes

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews

It’s Christmas Time – Yo La Tengo

Carol of the Bells – The Polyphonic Spree

December Will Be Magic Again – Kate Bush

Winter Wonderland – Goldfrapp

Christmas and Train Trips and Things – Trembling Blue Stars

It’s Xmas So We’ll Stop – Frightened Rabbit

Merry Christmas (I Love You) – Hawksley Workman

Listening to Otis Redding At Home During Christmas – Okkervil River

Last Christmas – Manic Street Preachers

Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Christmas Song – Mogwai

Christmas on Earth – Momus

The Christmas Wish – Kermit the Frog

Weekly Mix #45 (Megaupload)

28
Nov
08

My Top 40 Albums of 2008: Numbers 40 Through 33

As promised, here’s the first installment of my top albums of 2008. At the very beginning, I wanted to do a top 20; then it became a top 25; soon after, I made it a 35; eventually, it ended up as a top 40. Of course it now means that every Friday til the end of the year will feature a rather odd yet even eight albums. I will admit that I was still listening and arranging today. The inherent disclaimer in all this is that this list is of my top albums, in other words my favourites. That means that I didn’t listen to every major release this year, let alone every release (even music nerds need some silence once and awhile), so I may either be missing out on some potential top albums or I may just be disinclined toward them in the first place – feel free to let me know what your personal favourites of the year were.

Before I dive into the countdown, I’m going to remind you a little bit about what was released in the first two months of 2008. (I was originally going to go a la The Big Fat Quiz of the Year and review the music events of every few months of the year, but I realized that I’m no match for such an activity, especially when I have difficulty remembering what I ate yesterday.) The year kicked off with releases by British Sea Power, The Magnetic Fields, Cat Power, Lightspeed Champion, Sons & Daughters, Beangrowers, the soundtrack for the hipster film phenomenon Juno, and the infinitely bloggable Vampire Weekend, a band that still leaves me completely cold despite the year seemingly belonging to them. As much as their pretentious, arty lyrics and Afro influences should draw me in, they end up sounding like a watery Paul Simon to me. February brought Hot Chip’s highly anticipated third album and Goldfrapp’s unexpected pastoral turn along with releases from Robots in Disguise, Dirtbombs, The Mountain Goats, The Raveonettes and another Amy Winehouse substitute, Adele. There were also debut LPs by Antarctica Takes All!, Los Campesinos! and the less exclamatory School of Language. Justin Vernon’s first album as Bon Iver also made its official release in February.

On to the countdown:


40. The Penguin League – Anarctica Takes All!

As mentioned in the intro, The Penguin League released early in 2008, though it had been previously self-released by the Santa Cruz band. From the first burst of energy coming off the opening track I’m No Lover (featuring the great line “I’m not a lover, but a fighter”), the album cartwheels over itself like an even more puppyish Sufjan Stevens. Using glockenspiels, accordion, violin, harmonica and brass, the record is an eclectic mixture of folk, twee, and shambolic pop. Despite its rather frozen motif, its heart is warm enough to melt any ice shelf.


39. This Gift – Sons & Daughters

On their third album, the Glaswegian quartet turned to Bernard Butler for their production. The result is a blistering, whirling dervish of an album that takes the slightly dark folky bits evident on their excellent debut Love the Cup and transforms them into buzzsaw riffs and big choruses while the darkness continues to bubble beneath the surface like tar. Adele Bethel and Scott Paterson’s vocals play off each other and blend in haunting combinations while the pace never slackens. I was fortunate to see them live early this year and it was an absolutely raucous show that largely showcased this record.

38. Apocalypso – The Presets

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Modular record label – rarely is there an artist on their roster that I’m not excited about. Having said that, I didn’t pay quite as close attention to the Australian electro act The Presets as I did to many of their peers. It took their second album to really grab and shake my attention like ripe fruit from my skull. There’s a hard edge to their synthpop sensibilities, closer to labelmate MSTRKRFT than Cut Copy or Van She, and there are definitely viral melodies along with the relentless beats. The deep, often overwrought vocals can be both soulful and theatrical while the music leaps from grimy depths to soaring heights of melodrama.


37. Sea From Shore – School of Language

Also mentioned in the intro, this is the Sunderland group’s first album, but not exactly. School of Language was born as a side project of the band Field Music, which is composed of David and Peter Brewis and Andrew Moore, a group that had already released two albums of their own. It is also fitting that two of the tracks (Disappointment ’99 and Extended Holiday) feature members of The Futureheads not only because one of the Brewis brothers used to play drums for The Futureheads, but also because I detect a similar off-kilter jittery quality in some parts of the record, including the chorus of vowel recitation permeating the Rockist quartet, a group of four songs that bracket the album. Sea From Shore also shares the wry wit and wacky rhythms that seem inherent in bands from the Northeast while adding smoother melodic surfaces and laidback grooves.


36. The Colour of Snow – Polarkreis 18

This album is the fourth from these five friends from Dresden. It shares a similar dramatic, but atmospheric quality to Mew, and electronic elements are fused with gossamer vocals, creating a blinding panorama of translucence and light. There’s also a widescreen epic feel to the tracks on this record, ranging from a boundless energy akin to a child on a snow day to melancholic swathes of sound like wind-sculpted drifts. Listening to this record is a bit like staring through the spidery patterns of frost on windowpanes – with one breath it could shift like a kaleidoscope.


35. L’anthologie des 3 perchoirs – Duchess Says

I wrote a review of this album way back around the time of its release and I stand by my opinion of this Montreal band. This record is the perfect blend of violent electro and punk that screams through every bone in your body like electric shock therapy. Daisy Chainsaw-like banshee howls punch and pummel their way through distorted beats and ominous synths. It’s like a roller derby on a rink of broken glass.


34. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – David Byrne and Brian Eno

It was the duo that many music fans wished would team back up again. David Byrne and Brian Eno hadn’t worked together since their classic 1981 album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a mixture of tribal rhythms and experimental electronics. This time Byrne and Eno tackle gospel and create an uplifting journey, shimmering with reverb and redemption. Byrne’s vocals are bold and warm as burnished brass and the lyrics are optimistic yet ambivalent and witty enough for the cynical age we live in. At the same time, Eno’s characteristic experimental flourishes are still present. Tentative tendrils of hope poke through this record despite a mundane reality the colour of gunmetal and concrete. This album is the equivalent of a baptismal font for a human race that has just gone on too long.


33. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver

This particular album is bound to be on many a year-end list. It has been critically acclaimed everywhere you look. Justin Vernon famously wrote this record while spending three months in a remote cabin in Wisconsin. For Emma, Forever Ago is a document of catharsis and healing, and it emanates a profound solitude and gentle desperation. Sung in a raspy falsetto over acoustic guitar, there is an undeniable intimacy and rawness to these songs as though Vernon was slowly chipping away at his pain-clad heart with weary, calloused hands. In the process, he created a universal spark that has now been nourished by thousands of people worldwide, making it a toasty bon hiver indeed.


For each part of this countdown series, I will also include one album that almost made my list. The honourable mention for this installment is Hot Chip’s Made in the Dark. Hot Chip’s third album was a colourful patchwork of styles, ranging from dancefloor anthems to vulnerable ballads. Notably, Ready For the Floor, with its goofy music video, was an enormous hit that I keep coming back to.

Shake a Fist – Hot Chip

Numbers 32 through 25 will be coming at you next Friday. And this Sunday is the dreaded CTRNR Christmas Mix.
26
Nov
08

It’s the Comedy and Death of the Senses: IAMX Live in Warsaw

I just received my IAMX Live in Warsaw album this morning in the post. Officially released on November 14, this recording of IAMX for the Polish radio station Trojka is an incredible reminder of how truly incendiary they are live. It features nearly an identical set to the ones I witnessed last year with an absence of Nightlife, but the presence of the stunning Mercy (which was played for the encore of some shows on that 2007 tour, but not for the ones I attended) and Missile. Mastered by Chris Corner himself, this live recording is a brilliant taste of what makes IAMX an unparalleled behemoth on stage.

The show begins with the genius title track of The Alternative – its extended intro hammers away and whips the audience into an anticipatory froth. The cataclysm continues with Bring Me Back a Dog and The Negative Sex, both of which are bigger and more vicious than most live rock songs I’ve ever experienced. The show then slows down slightly to the swaying hypnosis of President, the ethereal pulse of Mercy, and the undulating depravity of Lulled By Numbers. Next come Kiss and Swallow and Spit It Out, two of IAMX’s previously released singles and hugely powerful anthems. Before Spit It Out, Corner plays his seductive game with the crowd as he continues to say, “This is our last song,” and the audience keeps screaming “No.” Then just as the music strikes up, like a benevolent master, he says, “Well, we’ll see.” Spit It Out in all its bombastic glory, beautifully rearranged slightly for the live show, is the last song for the show proper. However, after chants of “IAMX,” Corner and the band return for the encore.

As in the shows I saw, the unholy, esoteric cabaret of Song of Imaginary Beings kicks it off. Its accordion and plinking keys introduction drips with the beguiling bewitchment to come. Then, the opening bars of Missile elicit a roar of recognition from the crowd and the delicate, vulnerable song moves along to the climax when Corner gives the vocals over to the audience. Almost immediately after Missile concludes, the dark beats come back to another one of my favourite songs from Kiss + Swallow, Your Joy is My Low. It is one last battlecry for the beautiful people in IAMX’s kingdom of the wretched.

Outside of Poland, you can only order the album through the Nineteen95 shop. I’m still waiting, as other fans probably are, for a live DVD to be officially created and released to document the intoxicating image that goes with the music. I’m still rattled by the energy that the IAMX band and Chris Corner’s intense persona have managed to project through my speakers. I’ll happily write an elegy to my senses tomorrow.

The Alternative – IAMX (Live in Warsaw)

Mercy – IAMX (Live in Warsaw)

25
Nov
08

"I bet that you look good on the dancefloor…but nowhere else": Mikrofisch’s Masters of the Universe

Though Masters of the Universe by Mikrofisch released last year, I only just discovered it. I actually only just discovered Mikrofisch, so that could be part of the problem. Apparently, Mikrofisch began in 2001 when Mawe N. Klave and Silvi Wersi met in Cologne. Though they intended to cover The Smiths, they ended up producing original material, and a year later, they released their debut album Gleichstrom/Wechselstrom. After Wersi moved to London, the duo ended up recording Masters of the Universe over a three-year period, and the product is a magnificent anti-hipster shot in the arm. With lyrics like these, making countless music and pop culture references and observations about the trappings of being twenty-something in the 21st century, I’m surprised Klave and Wersi’s tongues haven’t come clean out the other side of their cheeks.

The album begins with Alien Monsters, a hilarious send-up of alien attack films complete with deadpan vocal delivery and rot-your-teeth twee background. Let’s Kiss and Listen to Bis starts with a Peter Hook-like bassline and then ’80s synthesizers kick in to augment a sweetness worthy of the twee mentioned. The narrators stalwartly refuse to make love to DFA; instead they want to regress into the ’90s of their adolescence, including the Glaswegian pop-punksters. The ’80s influence continues as arcade video game aesthetics, drum machines and vocoders cover the track Bad Hair Days with a retro veneer. Shifting into a more down-tempo feel, I Never Get Much Sleep on Weekdays emulates the catatonic state of the fatigued, apathetic twenty-somethings they sing about. The sarcasm and ennui drips off the chorus: “We’re the twenty-somethings/We’re the part-time punks/We got our records from Ebay and our clothes from H&M/Don’t look back in anger/Today will okay/Tomorrow will be much like yesterday.” The following track, Morrissey, Jeff Mangus, Stephin Merritt, John Darnielle, is a brilliant existential anthem for indie moper-loners everywhere.

Not only lonely indie songwriters get mentioned. Referencing the ’60s model and muse of fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, Peggy Moffitt Look-alikes pops about like a soft drink or a fun fair as it satirizes those hipster girls who come to gigs dressed like thrift store mods. Then, whizzing into life and making a personificative address to the theremin, Drum Machines Will Save Mankind uses fuzzy, lo-fi synths and drum machines to revivify the twee genre – it’s a bit like if someone decided to use Darling Buds songs in an Atari game. Then disco is given an 80s 8-bit makeover in Disco Fantasy as Klave and Wersi’s vocals drift dreamily over top. They even use the galactic leitmotif that often comes with disco and funk music. The album then shifts into pure power-pop bliss with We Love You, a cutesy song ostensibly sung from the perspective of crazy fans, but which adds a brilliant twist to the narrative. It features a screamy chorus akin to Robots in Disguise or Chicks on Speed.

This is followed by one of my favourite tracks on the album, The Kids Are All Shite, which namechecks Brit indie rock mediocrity in monotone vocal delivery against an intense bassline. It lampoons the MySpace generation perfectly, including their propensity to follow “indie” trends slavishly and to idolize NME bands whose music plays in supermarkets “before the sell-out’s even started” and who “all look like Johnny Ramone.” One of the best lines is “I bet that you look good on the dancefloor, but nowhere else.” The chorus also reminds me melodically of Depeche Mode’s New Life. The record takes a slower turn with See You Next Tuesday, a delightful, electro anti-ballad with interplay between male and female vocals. The tempo comes back up for Evil Customer, a perfect track for anyone who’s felt stifled by their city or town or chained to a crap retail job – they create a perfect contrast between the pleasant sing-song of a polite front and the deteriorating mental state of the narrator that descends into Tourette’s-like hysteria by the end. Just as astute as Evil Customer, (No One Listens To You When You’ve Got) Flat Hair is one of the better songs I’ve ever heard about the mind-sickening “reality” of reality TV; the verses are delivered with a cool detachment like that of Black Box Recorder’s Sarah Nixey. The record concludes with Focus On It, the harshest song on the album with its dirty, crunchy beats and its play on and with hypnotic trance and house genres.

With the generous use of drum machines and minimal synth sounds, there’s something lo-fi and homemade about the record; indeed, it was recorded in various bedrooms and living rooms. At the same time, it is the perfect aural document of the love-hate no-win situation of being an indie music lover in the noughties. Mikrofisch intelligently deconstruct the world they live in while paying unironic tribute to the music they love. You can download the entire album for free here with the band’s blessing. This album is a bit like finding a He-Man action figure inside a Kinder egg: a nostalgic but nerdy cool surprise inside a sweet, waxy chocolate shell. The perfect gift for a generation who know too much to care very much.

Let’s Kiss and Listen to Bis – Mikrofisch

The Kids Are All Shite – Mikrofisch

Evil Customer – Mikrofisch

23
Nov
08

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #44


As promised, this week’s mix is of songs from 2008. There are hundreds and hundreds of songs I could have picked for this compilation, but I was also trying to keep track of the songs I want to include throughout my countdown of top 2008 albums beginning this Friday (like the music addict that I am, I ended up expanding my list to a top 35 albums rather than a top 25). So, if you don’t see particular tracks here, there’s a high probability they will show up at a later date. My brain is becoming a little overtaxed as I compile the list of this year’s releases, major labels and not-so-major labels, and I still have a fair bit of work listening and deliberating. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve assumed albums released in January were actually from last year. I’ve become a bit like the Stasi of music.

Having dispensed with that preamble, I will move on to the mix itself. I tried to take into account some singles that I couldn’t shake from my head, including the raspy, yelpy perfection of Kings of Leon’s Sex On Fire, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ rather excalamatory Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, and Supergrass’s White Stripesesque Diamond Hoo Ha Man. A few of the songs on this mix are from some of my top albums of the year, but you’ll have to wait to find out which ones they may be (not to mention they could always change anyway). For the most part, I kept to songs from more major artists (of course in my blog bubble world, I start to lose perspective and many of the artists I think are wildly popular and too obvious are apparently…not, and I’m left looking rather ovine). Consider this mix to be a mere appetizer in an eight-course meal and a small reminder of some of the songs released in 2008. This mix is called Mini Quiche.

Girls & Boys – The Subways

Up All Night – The Young Knives

The Beginning of the Twist – The Futureheads

Diamond Hoo Ha Man – Supergrass

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Sex on Fire – Kings of Leon

Being Here – The Stills

Paris – Friendly Fires

Kids – MGMT

Paris is Burning – Ladyhawke

You Cross My Path – The Charlatans

Paper Planes – M.I.A.

Olive Eyes – frYars

Little Bit – Lykke Li

Caravan Girl – Goldfrapp

Rockist Part 4 – School of Language

An Eluardian Instance – Of Montreal

Galaxy of the Lost – Lightspeed Champion

Chemtrails – Beck

Shiller – Ratatat

Death Take Your Fiddle – Spiritualized

Magic Doors – Portishead

21
Nov
08

Brain Tattoos and Doublethink: The Japanese Popstars and Jon Ryman

This post is another double feature to showcase two different electronic records that I’m excited about right now. The first is the debut album from Northern Irish trio The Japanese Popstars (We Just Are due to release in North America in January 2009) and the second is the fifth album from Jon Ryman (Nineteen Eighty-Four which just released this year). The former has gritty, dirty beats akin to Justice, Boys Noize and MSTRKRFT while the latter emulates smoother synthpop similar to The Human League, Depeche Mode and New Order.

Consisting of Declan McLaughlin, Gary Curran and Gareth Donoghue, The Japanese Popstars are exactly what I want to hear on the dancefloor. We Just Are begins aptly with We Just Are (Intro) – a confident declaration that pulses with metallic starbursts around the simple vocal sample. From here, you are taken into a world of fantastically brash and hypnotic electro, where you are under their purview and held in compliance with your will. The first track proper, Sample Whore, built around samples of “ohs” and “ahs,” is a perfect blend of the lusty and clinical while Face Melter does just what it says on the tin (I’m still trying to mop up the remainder of my face from the floor). Then Delboys Revenge kicks in with a jackhammer insistence, but a needle-like precision soon backed by lasers that slice through your cranium.

As a refreshing reversal to the assault of Delboys Revenge, B.C.T.T. provides a gentler, poppier side with breathier rhythms and the heart rate comes down for awhile as the delicacy of the track washes over you like cool antiseptic. Dr. Frenchy Bernard continues the gentler arc with springy synths and old-school bleeps, creating a mini electro symphony. Anthepic (We Have Taken Over) begins to bring back harsher, dirtier beats, smudging up the otherwise pristine technicality of the track, and by the point the wispy vocals that declare “Just like you asked us to, we have taken over you” increase into a hynotic maelstrom, you realize that they have indeed taken over. Rising slowly from beneath the previous track, The Smile wends its way insidiously and surreptitiously into the folds of your grey matter.

However, it only serves as an introduction to the epic Rise of Ulysses, a whizzing, buzzsaw return to the grimier earlier tracks of the album. With its demonic chant of “rise!” at various points, it injects a darker pigment into the heart of the record. With rapid metallic beats and clipped cymbals, Total Distorted Mayhem, like Face Melter, is rather self-explanatory. A barely detectable “Come in, just jump in” pulses between rhythms like a shadow of an Id. The next track, F19b (Droppin’ Bombs), definitely sounds like bombs dropping in a constant loop, ultimately merging to sound like a siren against gritty, hollow beats. Like most of the tracks on this record, it puts you into a rather pleasurable trance. To tie the album up in a consistent circuit, it ends with We Just Are (Finalizer), once again deliberately declaring their existence. It builds from a low hum into scales of fuzzy tonalities before bursting rather unexpectedly into sunny, jubilant melodies, like pure endorphin being shot into your veins. The Japanese Popstars have also just released a free download of an unreleased track called Electronic Poet, which is equally as brilliant as the album and which I’ve made available below. If I opened my skull right now, I have a feeling The Japanese Popstars would be tattooed all over the surface of my cerebrum.


Unlike The Japanese Popstars, Jon Ryman’s music is on the softer, synthier side of electronic music. I was actually made aware of the Brighton-based artist several months ago via MySpace, but I didn’t take a proper listen until now. Ryman has been creating music since the ’80s (including under the name Interloper) and has also worked on music for television. This particular album – Ryman’s fifth studio album – is loosely based on George Orwell’s 1984, the book that has spawned many a song and record. However, rather than seem clich├ęd, this record breathes new life into the seminal story, especially with its classic analogue feel. Somehow it is hugely fitting that an old novel set in the future, which is now the increasingly distant past, is set to new music in a style that was considered futuristic decades ago. Ryman also pushes Orwell’s ideas into the 21st century, demonstrating how visionary Orwell was in predicting that everyone would eventually experience information overload to the point of apathy, a world where everything is propaganda and everything is under surveillance.

The album begins with an introductory message delivered by a voice from a retro computer that promises to play a happy song for you. The first track proper is New Corporate Mass, which ticks away like a hollow machine before pulsing with sparkly waves of synth and a rather robotic Latin hymn sung by a vocoderized human in a world in which the new religion is controlled by the corporations via the government. The album then shifts into Humanized, one of the catchiest tracks on the album. It slinks along to a cabaret feel and features one of my favourite lyrics: “a paper tiger in a cage.” Overexposure places the Big Brother-induced paranoia against a relatively deadpan vocal and a backdrop of some of the best New Wave synthpop I’ve heard lately. Its sentiments display the ever-present (and ever-realistic) problem of minds being inundated with unwinnable wars and loaded terms that mean nothing to keep them from thinking critically. Breaking through this noise, Julia, an ode to the protagonist, Winston’s, love interest in the novel, is full of crystalline synthesizers, reflecting a New Wave dancefloor beneath a discoball made of ice and circuitboard. The narrator of the song, who we can assume is Winston, appears to be experiencing a reawakening, shaking off apathy for a moment and attempting deeper thoughts, including rather profound ones like “maybe I’m just circumstance, nothing more.” The next track, Autocue, flows along to a beat reminiscent of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World as what sounds like telephone rings tinkle in the background. It becomes the perfect atmosphere for lyrics telling how the monolithic corporation assumes its own impersonal, singular soul, acting as an individual driven by greed and drained of humanity while running on automatic pilot. Autocue drifts seamlessly into Stars Fall, which returns to vocoder and beautiful, soaring melody.

Breaking this dreamlike mood, Rhythm Machine begins with the same computerized voice from the intro asking you to enter an access code. The song then moves into clinical vocals paired with razor-sharp precise rhythm worthy of Kraftwerk, contrasting with the free-flow of the movement in Julia – this is what dance music is when computers create it on their own. Oneohone, which is named for the dreaded Room 101 of the novel, begins with echoey snatches of voices and random sounds before ominous synths slip in to create an air of nightmare and imprisonment. Beginning with whizzes and static, Omnipresent continues the dark, horrific feel of Oneohone, setting a scene in which fear is palpable. Nowhere Left To Run follows with a rather restrained rhythm framed by further whizzes as a rather resigned vocal sings the song’s title over and over. The record concludes with Acid Music, a bouncy, scrambled track that sounds like both a mental collapse and a system failure, poignantly demonstrating our propensity for treating machines like humans and humans like machines: machines get viruses while humans break down. Nineteen Eighty-Four is retro, but never cheesy, which is quite an achievement, and I hope Ryman gets more of the attention he deserves for this record.

Currently, you can order We Just Are from Amazon UK and you can purchase Nineteen Eighty-Four at CD Baby. Oddly enough, both albums, though very different, reinforce some similar notions of technology and humans and how we are both just made of information, whether DNA or binary code.

18
Nov
08

Not Down With Prince

A couple of weeks ago I had a hankering for watching a Prince music video. I didn’t really care which one it was as long as it was from the 80s. When I searched for any on YouTube, I barely got any hits and when I clicked on one for When Doves Cry, the video played without sound. I was puzzled, tried a different video, and got the same result: a muted music video. Finally scrolling down to the comments area, I discovered that all Prince videos on YouTube wouldn’t have sound because the Artist himself was trying to “reclaim the Internet.” This meant he was attacking any and all “illegal” uses of his property, including both his music and videos. For some reason, I hadn’t been aware of this controversy at all for the past couple of years.

According to stories from a year ago, Prince hired a British-based company called Web Sheriff to hunt down those who were using his material in a pirately fashion. They’ve gone after sites like YouTube, Ebay and Pirate Bay on his behalf. It’s actually quite fitting that a prince should be attempting to suppress pirates with a sheriff. The problem being that Prince is yet another in the long line of people misunderstanding the Internet and its potential for the future of music and promotion. I know I keep coming back to this issue on this blog, but it’s something I feel quite passionate about.

I can fully understand not wanting your copyrighted work to be sold as pirated copies via Ebay (although I’ve never come across any pirated music except for bootleg concerts) or to be distributed free via torrents, but uploading Prince’s music videos or using his songs in YouTube video clips isn’t pirating in the same way. YouTube is often the only place people can view what they want on demand – before the giant Mighty Boosh purge a year ago, I was first introduced to the series via YouTube. How else was I to watch a series that is only broadcast on foreign networks and can only be purchased in a different region code? And because of the exposure on YouTube, I ended up becoming a huge fan, buying all three series and the live DVD in Region 2, and then buying a DVD player that could play them. Not to mention BBC iPlayers don’t work for anyone outside the UK, which has forced me to find alternate, seemingly “illegal,” ways to watch documentaries or series that I can’t find any other way. The BBC has been particularly ornery when it comes to watching their content; not only have they had tons of clips removed from YouTube, but they don’t allow foreign viewers to watch their clips via YouTube unless they’re posted to the BBC Worldwide account. A completely counterproductive tactic. If those at BBC were on the ball, they could see YouTube as a marketing measurement tool. The more people trying to watch a particular show or series from other parts of the world, the more they could potentially market their product there by releasing on an appropriate format.

And when I want to see a music video, I won’t be sat in front of the television waiting for a Prince music video to pop up on the music video channel. Hell would be having a toboggan party before I would see a music video from anybody on music television. YouTube has transformed the music video industry in that any artist with any budget can get exposure without television executives, advertisers and programmers getting in the way. The fans who are posting Prince music videos are not personally profitting from them – they are merely providing a service to other Prince fans. The greed is not coming from them, it’s from Prince himself. It’s a shame that someone who has had such a visionary career in music can’t see the future this time. It’s also rather ironic because Prince apparently received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 because he was the first artist to release an entire album exclusively on the Internet. Of course this isn’t hugely surprising for someone as conflicted as Prince is.

All Prince has succeeded in doing is creating a backlash akin to ones both Madonna and Metallica have experienced. Several videos like the one above are protesting Prince’s actions, and Prince fan sites banded together as Prince Fans United to take on the legal take-down requests. Despite this, Prince has continued the crusade, including taking down all fan footage of his cover of Radiohead’s Creep at Coachella this year. However, just as Prince has said, you take down one and hundreds more crop up the next day – I managed to watch the Creep cover here (aside from blistering guitar solos, not too much to be excited about). Fighting the proliferation and nature of the Internet is a losing battle, and any victory is a pyrrhic one. As Radiohead has proven, established artists can both continue their success and work within the new framework of technology and music distribution. And with someone like Prince, whose live performances and music videos have been intrinsic to his success, allowing footage of him (which would have been public in the first place) to circulate would only benefit him, especially at this later stage of his career.

I’ve been a Prince fan since I was a teenager, but this hasn’t been the first time I’ve felt burnt by him. Six years ago, Prince came to Winnipeg, but tickets were well over $100 a piece, so I, being a financially-challenged student, didn’t go to the show along with many others who viewed the price tag as exorbitant. I then found out that he performed a much cheaper aftershow at a small venue, but it was too late. The fact I only just found out about this more recent controversy probably says something about how much I’ve been following Prince these days. Apparently I’m just as out of the loop as Prince is – we’re both still caught up in the good old days from 20 years ago.

Sign O’ The Times – Prince

Creep (Live at Coachella) – Prince




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Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

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of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

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Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome