Archive for August, 2009

31
Aug
09

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #80

library_of_congress_reading

I realize I’ve missed yet another weekly mix last week; as usual, work has been hectic, and I had to go out of town for a work meeting – really out of town, meaning the rock-and-tree landscape of northwestern Ontario, not really my comfort zone. For this week’s mix, I’m going to return to a theme I did last year: songs inspired by literature/books/authors. If you’re interested in what I chose last time, or want to check before you point out that I missed some obvious song, click here.

One of my favourites in this batch is The Cure’s Charlotte Sometimes, which is based on the excellent Penelope Farmer children’s novel that manages to remark upon the identity issues involved in growing up within the frame of a specific sort of time travel and a shadowy backdrop. It’s a poignant book, and The Cure evokes the ghostly, strange atmosphere of the story perfectly. I also feel as though I should highlight Buttons by Kingfishers Catch Fire since it has a fascinating story of adaptation enabled by the digital age, which can be read at the original poet’s blog. This one’s called Songbook.

The Small Print – Muse (Reference: German Legend of Faust or Faustus)

Colony – Joy Division (Reference: Franz Kafka’s Penal Colony)

Charlotte Sometimes – The Cure (Reference: Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes)

Don’t Box Me In – Stan Ridgeway and Stewart Copeland (Reference: S.E. Hinton’s Rumblefish)

Ichabod Crane – Momus (Reference: Washington Irving’s The Headless Horseman)

Narcissist – The Libertines (Reference: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray)

Anne Carson – Archivist

Lucy – The Divine Comedy (Reference: William Wordsworth’s The Lucy Poems)

Trainspotting – Primal Scream (Reference: Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting)

Reel Around the Fountain – The Smiths (Reference: Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey)

Buttons – Kingfishers Catch Fire (Reference: Jim Murdoch’s “Cinders”)

The House That Jack Kerouac Built – The Go-Betweens

Billy Liar – The Crooner (Reference: Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar)

Oscar Wilde – Company of Thieves

The Sensual World – Kate Bush (Reference: James Joyce’s Ulysses)

Oedipus – Regina Spektor (Reference: Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex)

Like Straw Dogs – Vanilla Swingers (Reference: John Gray’s Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals)

Tea in the Sahara – The Police (Reference: Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky)

Blake’s Jerusalem – Billy Bragg (Reference: William Blake’s Jerusalem)

So Said Kay – The Field Mice (Reference: Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart)

30
Aug
09

Everyone’s a Critic: Fandom and Subculture

Fan

Since last year, I’ve been thinking more and more about fandom and subculture. I suppose a good deal of it came from the research involved in writing my MA thesis, but I haven’t really stopped examining both concepts. I tried to steer clear of fandom studies (led by the lovely Henry Jenkins) for my thesis in order to stay on course and not get myself mired too deeply in several different arguments (rhetoric, remediation and subculture seemed like sufficient material when studying MP3 blogs). However, I’ve now tried to delve back into the world of the fan to see how I can re-frame music fandom and MP3 blogger fandom. I also just got prompted to reconsider some ideas I’ve had about subculture via email discussion with Miles of Vanilla Swingers (but more about that later).

As I understand them, fans are often countercultural by virtue of being fans. If you ascribe to the Adorno-I’m-A-Marxist-Grumpy-Pants view on popular culture as a whole, you will see it as an extension of capitalism that reproduces power hierarchies and perpetuates the unfair economy. Fair enough. Record labels and television/movie studios have no doubt proved that over the past century. Popular culture is manufactured to be consumed by the masses, turning many celebrities into products that a passive, subdued audience can buy into without thinking too hard about it. However, many fans take their love of certain pieces of culture, popular or not, and extend it beyond a passive consumption; they extend it so far that they, in fact, become producers. This changes the power dynamic.

In books like Textual Poachers and Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins argues that fans become active, creative artists in their own right by transforming the texts sold to them. This kind of transformative actvity could take the form of fan fiction, fan art, modifying existing video games, remixing music, and creating fan video tributes. In many ways, fans are cultural magpies and intertextual innovators by taking pieces of the art they love and putting them in a new context or connecting them to something entirely different. Once you’ve started using someone else’s art as a launchpad for your own, you’re not exactly a drone consumer anymore, and you’re actually going against the prevailing culture by using it and modifying it to your own ends.

More often than not, the people in positions of power within these cultural industries don’t like the idea of losing that power or control over how and how much their products are being consumed or re-produced, as the case may be. This scenario has played out with copyright attacks on artists like Danger Mouse and on Harry Potter fan site webmasters around the globe, and through the millions of YouTube video takedowns over the past few years. However, I’m not entirely sure how MP3 bloggers like me fit into all of this. MP3 bloggers have been under an ever-increasing threat of copyright law and post takedowns (see my comments about that here), much like the artists who remix snippets of other artists’ music together, but at the same time, MP3 bloggers aren’t exactly re-creating art from art either. Just as those dastardly Napster pirates of the late 90s weren’t considered sympathetic postmodern artist types, MP3 bloggers come under fire for giving other people’s art away for free. Peer-to-peer filesharing was considered thievery despite the fact it wasn’t a countercultural power reversal of the consumer-turned-producer type. Instead, it was and is (now through torrents) a countercultural power reversal of the capitalist market system (hey, perhaps Adorno would finally approve). Is this as seemingly worthy a cause as the transformative fandom discussed earlier?

Are we MP3 bloggers actually transforming the culture we’re fans of? My initial answer is no. The closest I come to changing the context of another artist’s song is by linking it to others in a mixtape compilation. I’m not writing fiction based on other artists’ music, nor am I creating my own music videos to it; I am merely discussing, criticizing and/or reviewing others’ art. And while some bloggers arguably do it more artfully than others, it’s not the same kind of fandom practice as employed by those who write Harry Potter slash fiction or those who create new computer games from old ones. In my MA thesis, I argued that MP3 bloggers are a subculture mainly because they include MP3s for free download, which is still seen as illegal by most authorities, but I also saw them as a subculture because of the way they positioned themselves against those in power in the cultural industries – not always the record labels, but the music press. MP3 bloggers are not transforming the art of music, which they are fans of, they’re transforming the art of music journalism.

As much as the record labels (and even some artists themselves) want to lynch the bloggers, it seems many music journalists are just as antagonistic. Not one of the music journalists I contacted for my thesis came through for me; despite agreeing to answer some interview questions, they backed out without a word or explanation. They just simply refused to respond to any of my emails. Conversely, MP3 bloggers were more than willing to discuss and argue and submit answers. I would also like to point out that I didn’t present a biased set of loaded questions to either the bloggers or journalists – I honestly wanted real opinions, positive or negative. Additionally, while researching, the primary sources of music journalism that I found mentioning bloggers often denigrated them as lesser talents, as hype mongers, and as all-out thieves (along with those evil aggregators that make it easier to steal).

While the music industry reels and spins its wheels against a digital landscape, music journalism has seemingly done the same. It’s been widely reported over the last few years that magazines like New Musical Express are losing readers and bleeding money, perhaps even leading to Conor McNicholas’s relatively recent resignation. There have been many rumors about NME becoming a strictly online publication and a brand used for concert/club night promotion. And similar fates seem to be popping up for publications like Rolling Stone, which is seen as less and less the countercultural force it once was. Yes, some music magazines that cater to an older demographic, like Q, Mojo, etc., are still doing all right, but as their market ages and dies, their days seem to be numbered. Not to mention their lack of producing anything exciting or new about an art form that was built on being exciting and new. This Drowned in Sound piece provides some interesting opinions on why official music press is failing, including the question “does anyone except those already embedded in the fabric of a system so clearly trying to shed its weighty overcoat give a shit what a critic has to say about their favourite band’s latest LP?”. It all leads back to the argument of whether music journalism and criticism are legitimate in their own right; as Chuck Klosterman says, who else gets to make a career out of reviewing their mail? It’s a precarious job, as is many a critic’s job, but perhaps even more so because music journalists are usually reviewing what would be considered low culture rather than high culture; academics who review and write about culture are arguably less likely to be dismissed. Critics, especially muso types, can argue until the proverbial bovine comes home about subjective reactions to subjective pieces of art; that’s great, I love a good argument – providing it’s actually good. I would say that I haven’t seen very good arguments, nor interesting commentary on music, in print for a long time. On the other hand, I haven’t always seen very good arguments or commentary on MP3 blogs either (especially those of the “here’s an awesome track I just found – take a listen” variety).

Maybe the majority of music writers and readers are just bored with the rhetoric associated with music; maybe no one sees the use in an expert. In this digital world, we’re all experts in our own adhocracies. This can be a good thing, opening the floor for interesting writers with real opinions and the freedom to publish as they wish; however, it also seems to take something away from the fundamental mythology surrounding popular music. Just as I’m feeling less and less separated by a gulf between artist and audience (the occasional band and artist still manage to create a mystery about their work and identity, but most are very accessible, and there are several that just come across as very ordinary people), the myth of the rock journalist is vanishing. Being the collector of the tangible that I am, I miss having good music press to put on the shelves next to the vinyl records and CDs. I really would buy it if I felt it said anything or made me actually think about the music and artists I was exposed to. Just as the record industry was rendered out-of-date and is now increasingly in the hands of fans and artists themselves, music journalism is being superceded by innovations that those in the industry didn’t seem to be prepared for.

This jaded, blasé attitude toward music and its criticism can perhaps be linked to an ostensibly different stream of thoughts I’ve had about subcultures in general. This is where Miles’ email comes in. He was telling me about why he has mixed feelings about Camden, including the sense that it isn’t that great because it’s the haven for subcultural tribes, like goths and punks, to buy their uniforms. It’s a very valid point, and one that several friends have made to me over the years. If you agree with Dick Hebdige on subculture, people that start off swimming against the mainstream end up co-opted by the same system they wanted to overthrow (and this was before people gave the practice the creepy name of “cool-hunting”). Goths, punks, and their contemporary love children, otherwise known as emos, are tribes that march to a different drummer – but many of them are marching in the exact same lockstep. I don’t have a beef with these subcultural tribes (I, myself, have dressed in the “uniform” of several different subcultures throughout my life); I can’t assume that they’re all doing it to fit in or to be cool or cooly uncool, or that their fashion semiotics are ultimately meaningless and empty. I have a friend who is over thirty and still dressing in a way that makes strangers either stare or feel as though they have the right to touch her clothes and accessories, but I know that this kind of attention makes her highly uncomfortable, demonstrating that she doesn’t look the way she does for the sake of others and their reactions, but because she likes the look herself. Not to mention the fact, humans tend to re-align themselves into tribes naturally, whether the tribe is distinguished by eyeliner and bondage trousers or something less immediately visible. Semiotics in these subcultures are just as complicated and diverse as the social meaning behind fannish practices like MP3 blogging.

On the other hand, maybe globalization just makes it a lot harder to provoke or shock anymore. In my reply to Miles, I wrote about seeing a gothy teenager in West Edmonton Mall last year; this kid was wearing a full-length fox tail and all I could think was “kids in Japan have been doing this for years.” Granted, this isn’t everyone’s response, but it’s why I feel like subcultures (at least of the sartorial persuasion, and partially their musical counterparts) are losing any power they may have had at their births. Perhaps they empower those who embody them, but they don’t necessarily make a grand statement anymore as extremes of all sorts become less and less extreme. It has become a J.G. Ballardesque and Michel Houellebecqesque world, where it will take a lot to get anyone to have a visceral reaction anymore.

Perhaps the only hope for subcultures of these sorts, which are no longer dangerous, could come from other fandom practices, from the textual poachers. Even from the “amateur” music critics like us. And maybe nowadays the most radical practice that can come from the world of music and its fans is thought itself. I may never be an actual music journalist or journalist of any kind, but this blog at least allows me a little bit of control over how I consume and produce culture. Emos may, in fact, be the defusion and diffusion of goth and punk, but the more people there are creating art from art and using language as a thought-provoking weapon, the more we can keep proving Adorno wrong.

F.A.N. – New Young Pony Club

Fan Fiction – Polynya

19
Aug
09

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #79

Rock Band

I realize that my blog is called Condemned to Rock ‘n Roll, and that this fact has sometimes led to misconceptions and misplaced expectations. I’m not sure I ever feature “rock ‘n roll” as such, and most definitely never “rawk.” I ply the trade of punk, post-punk/new wave, glam, goth, electro, disco, chamber pop, funk, twee, ambient, shoegaze, Britpop, psychedelic, folk, acid house, synthpop, Motown, experimental, ska, and all sorts indie, but the all-out rock that partly inspired my musical heroes, the Manic Street Preachers, and thus inspired this blog’s title, isn’t a common sound on these posts.

I do very much love a good guitar solo, especially of the James Dean Bradfield variety; however, at the same time, a lot of guitar virtuosity leaves me cold (people like Eric Clapton, and the macho posture of genres like metal and grunge don’t really interest me – okay, Kurt Cobain was a bit androgynous, but he was an exception, and I still can’t really connect with Nirvana). So, even as I tried to create a rock mix, I found myself inevitably shifting to punk and indie for a portion of it. And it sort of ended up as more of a guitar-based mix, which explains why Purple Rain is in here (brilliant guitar solo, but not really something to rock out to). This gap in my music collection and expertise explains why, as much as I love playing games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, I end up being puzzled by a lot of the songs. Nevertheless, having never been much of a video game player to begin with, games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are finally my type of game – I can play them for days, especially since these are the only ones that I can play without sucking (I don’t actually own any game systems, so I rely on the whims of friends – ultimately, it’s probably a good thing since I could see myself practicing Sweet Child O’ Mine into the wee hours until I actually looked like Slash and developed bad, swaying ankles like Axl Rose). I own an actual guitar, but have not had the patience to learn much on it – perhaps I need a few lessons to get me going. It just seems my unnaturally small baby hands don’t stretch across the fretboard very well (clarinet and trumpet didn’t involve that kind of positioning and coordination).

This one is called Rock ‘n Roll is Our Only Culture.

Welcome to the Jungle – Guns ‘n Roses

Pink Flower – Daisy Chainsaw

You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC

Rock ‘n Roll All Nite – Kiss

Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin

Woman – Wolfmother

Little Girl – Death From Above 1979

Everything’s Ruined – Faith No More

Slither – Velvet Revolver

Plug In Baby – Muse

Icky Thump – The White Stripes

My Generation – The Who

Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones

You Really Got Me – The Kinks

Clash City Rockers – The Clash

Imperial Bodybags – Manic Street Preachers

Killer Queen – Queen

Seasons – Jeff Beck

Voodoo Child – Jimi Hendrix

Purple Rain – Prince

16
Aug
09

A Happy Accident: The Rest’s Everyone All At Once

Tbe Rest Everyone All At Once

A few weeks back, I had ordered a physical copy of Allegories’ Surreal Auteur, one of my Top 40 of 2008 and an album I reviewed here, but by mistake, I was sent a copy of The Rest’s sophomore album Everyone All At Once (The Rest is Allegories’ Adam Bentley and Jordan Mitchell’s other band with five additional members, including Anna Jarvis, Blake Bowman, Dwayne Brydon, Matty Buzanko and Steve Jones) and a limited, hand-crafted edition of their single Apples & Allergies. There couldn’t have been a more fortuitous error. Everyone All At Once is like the natural world seen through ambling, hyper-speeding youth, tripping over tongues and blinded by the sun. Since Allegories largely used non-verbal vocals, The Rest allows for a different lyrical facet as Bentley’s vocals pitch between a graceful dreaminess to a crazed fragility. There’s an organic wholeness to the record that evokes that inspirational ensemble feeling that Canadian bands from The Arcade Fire to Broken Social Scene seem so adept at, and the entire record feels like a victory as songs build and build to ecstatic heights. There’s always a feeling of anticipation and tension in these songs, generating a heart-quickening buzz.

Incredible, stately viola and violin begin the album as the first track, Coughing Blood/Fresh Mountain Air, slowly drifts into your head. Bentley’s vocals are desperately beautiful as more instruments join in and the calm waves of perfectly rounded melodies progress into a more frenzied state. The lyrics are original and evocative:

A vampire Transylvanian
I’ve heard them all
Sanitorium
I’m coughing blood
And I wait
The only thing that’s real
I recover
With a fever
Sincere
My head is freezing
By the fire
Lungs
Reduced in air

You really feel as though Bentley is gasping for air as he yelps “I can hardly breathe.” The following track, Modern Time Travel (necessities), also begins in an understated, sparse way before it, too, sweeps you up in a triumphant torrent; Bentley sings “High above the sunny sky/I realize I’m going” as his voice wavers with the sheer momentum of being launched into the heavens. While no less propulsive, Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing is a delicate, almost folky, song with driving, spiralling segments of triplets, which aurally imitate the lyrics about feeling literally at sea because of another’s identity confusion. The music appears to take a sobering turn with Phonetically, Phonetically, which remains slower and allows Bentley to extend his vocals in wide swathes of soaring colour, much like what was featured in Allegories; oddly enough, the song takes a playful, banjo-inflected corner a couple of minutes in, and then one of my favourite lines: “If I was a figure of speech then we’d all be erased.” Communication problems are eloquently sung through the metaphorical screen of language, maintaing some of the tension felt through the first few songs. Released single, Apples & Allergies, continues with the uplifting feel and a tantilizing sense of wonderment through lyrics like:

Crossing my arms to cover my eyes
Moving pictures of apples
Demoralized
There I wake to find myself only five
Debating whether toads are frogs in disguise
And if pigs fly
Crossing my eyes to focus

There’s a brilliant delight in the possibility of the periphery and a different way of looking at the world.

There is a slightly quieter subtlety to Drinking Again, which, unlike the previous songs, stays in a pocket of mournful stillness. It is soft enough to allow for hearing every vibration of Bentley’s vocal cords, including honest breaths and swallows. The music picks up again with the bouncy, shambolic Blossom Babies Part Two; like many of the previous tracks, it has a desperate quality to it, a fierce questioning and burning need to believe in a certain version of life’s story. Bentley hits some gorgeously haunting notes before he launches into “Tell me, tell me, tell me/You had sex on the patio/And that’s where you fall in love/You fall in love/We fall in love.” The hum of viola opens Walk On Water (auspicious beginnings) before the tapping of snare and frantic guitar begins to accelerate the song into a freewheeling summer day; it feels like an endless race into a baptismal lake. As with most of the earlier tracks, The Lady Vanishes takes some time to build to its pumping escape. Humans and language meld and intertwine again:

I know that they treat you right
But the ellipses on your face
Have been filled in with observations of mine
I’ll chisel your bones
To take you home
Just to stare at your eyes
I’ll fashion an umbrella from your placenta
And sail on to the sky
I know

People become vessels for words as physical bodies become tools, and the sky continues to hold dreams and promise. The album concludes with the rather verbosely titled, Everything All At Once A) The last great cocoa owl job B) In my attic, souvenirs. It is broken between its two lettered components, the former being a rather jaunty melody, and the latter exploding into a whimsical ballad before coming down to near silence for “But here we’re hiding in the cold cellar/Kissing in complete silence/A coma with cartoon colours/Glue my eyes shut/Never to be found again.” The record fades away to the same strings that opened it.

The music of Everyone All At Once feels like a spiritual re-awakening, sometimes liberating, sometimes overwhelming. There’s a grasping at hope and a breathless commitment to exploring language; it becomes an endless struggle to see yet not to see too much. Just as all band members join in for the musical equivalent of a perfect, bittersweet memory, all the thoughts, emotions, and observations of humanity flood in and culminate in one flailing catharsis. The record has so much life (some of it has to be relegated to parentheses).

Auteur Recordings Website

Coughing Blood/Fresh Mountain Air – The Rest

Apples & Allergies – The Rest

16
Aug
09

Sampling New Ground: Polynya’s Crop Rotation

Polynya Crop Rotation

I received a promotional copy of Crop Rotation, the second album from North Carolina band, Polynya, and as a rather beautiful personal touch, they also included a numbered screen print of their abstract cover artwork. Named after an area of open water surrounded by sea ice, this band creates a self-contained core of warm, honeyed sounds while sometimes bracketed by icier electronic elements or stirred up guitars, and the album title is apt considering the continuous refreshment garnered by the band’s changes in direction as they till new musical landscape on each of the eleven tracks. While they cover genres ranging over psychedelia, shoegaze, ambient, and jangle pop, one constant is the delicate harmony of Andrea Parthemore and Luke Berchowitz’s vocals. It’s not as though I think the lyrics in this record aren’t worth mentioning, but I feel like they become absorbed into the musical structure of the album, creating more meaning through their tone than the semantics of their sentences; in a way, there’s a stream of consciousness feel – snatches of passing thoughts – and your own mind sort of wanders along with the music, hand in hand with the band.

The album begins with some wobbly pulsing sounds before gentle drums and equally as soft guitars stir up eddies of sweet melody, and then Ribbon Dragons blooms into life. The music matches the fanciful idea of the song title and tumbles about like spindles of golden thread bouncing down verdant hillsides. With the first of many shifts in atmosphere, the record takes a moodier turn with People in Pictures, which thrums with a warm glow before the sweet vocals swoop in and sing about letting go of the steering wheel. A couple of minutes into the song, electric guitars shred out of their regular restraint and the twee vocals create a singsong out of the line “We are doomed.” Beginning a little scratchy, Fan Fiction then skips away from the static and along to the same vibe as Ribbon Dragons; the boundless energy and interesting little diversions in melody sound like Belle & Sebastian if they were more non-linear and experimental. Berchowitz comes back in more dominantly in Tightrope Walker as he sings, “I was the tightrope walker/you were the trapeze girl.” There’s a driving undercurrent to the pummeling drums as guitar skitters along its surface, calculated but not clinical – in fact, much like those who walk highwires and swing from trapezes; there is timing in the way musical elements hand off to each other. The passing into a slower beat and lackadaisical guitar signal the start of Fields, a song with disorienting rhythms and counter-rhythms, which still manages to feel dreamily coherent. The enunciation and pace of the vocals are reminiscent of Gregorian chant as the music diffuses and fizzes into a mist around them. The reverby vocals on the following track, Orlando, paired with the scattered melody, keep you slightly off balance and in a state of suspended animation; it’s sort of like riding a lava lamp bubble while hearing psychedelic music from outside the glass, happily isolated.

Then things become a little more disjointed with Calico as Parthemore’s voice spiders out in staccato bursts of unexpected notes; it doesn’t sound dissonant, but following the melody is sort of like trying to watch a balloon as it catches different air currents and rises further and further into the stratosphere. Then, a beautiful bass sound dominates the next track, Mobile, as Parthemore and Berchowitz alternate between speaking and singing lines, including lyrics about “abstract splotches.” The sound becomes poppier again with Tidepool, which feels more satsifying with each turn in melody and rhythm change; there’s something about the chords and the vocal harmonies that flow like sap through the trunk of my body until they beautifully unfurl in my brain. There are some harsher, buzzier electronic elements in Maul, and the minor chords steer you back to a different layer of fractured thought. The record ends with The Way Out At Last, as though you’ve finally broken through the last blind corner in the musical labyrinth. The song itself is grounded to a lower register while odd little harmonica-like accents poke through, reminding me of the surreal disjoints of the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppolla’s Rumblefish. Even the very last bit fights you for a complete resolution as the vocals slide off the finishing chord.

There is an abstract quality to Polynya’s music that matches the album artwork; you’re never quite sure where the music is leading, but because it heads there fearlessly, you are more than happy to follow. At times joyously buoyant, and other times darkly bewildering, Crop Rotation is a record to be completely buried in; with all of the unexpected, yet systematic, movement, you never know what might take root.

Ribbon Dragons – Polynya

Orlando – Polynya

10
Aug
09

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #78

Kate Bush Ivy

This week I’m going to feature some of my favourite female artists. This is significant because for a long time during my teens and even a bit after, I didn’t listen to music by very many female artists. There was absolutely no real reason for this – I just found myself inherently drawn to music produced by males, much in the same way I’ve usually gravitated towards books by male authors. In my teen years, the mainstream and alternative scenes seemed to be dominated by either pop tart music (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, etc.) or whiny/angry chick music (Alanis Morrissette, Tori Amos, etc.), and neither really spoke to me; I realize that, in retrospect, my music knowledge and exposure were incredibly limited. In my twenties, I definitely began to embrace a good number of female artists, the two frontrunners being Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux, and many of the bands I fell in love with ended up being boy-girl duos like Stars, The Brunettes, The Indelicates, The Raveonettes, and The Deer Tracks (a theme for another week). I’ve found a large proportion of bands that end in the diminuitive “ette” are quite good. If you believe Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, female artists can’t win – they’re either playing into stereotypes or denying their gender completely by pretending to be men. At which point do female artists enter into parody of themselves, and shouldn’t that be just as acceptable as male parodies ranging from hair metal to camp glamour? I maintain that I believe in fully-developed humans, not gender divisions. And perhaps we should all just take ourselves a little less seriously. For more of my witterings about gender, see here.

Siouxsie Sioux

This mix spans singer-songwriters, girl groups, and female-fronted bands, and it also spans a few different genres, including twee, electro, post-punk, dark cabaret, retro-Spector, indie-pop and dance-punk. This one’s called What’s a Girl To Do.

Never Forget You – The Noisettes

Dance and Boogie – The Pipettes

In These Shoes? – Kirsty MacColl

Them Heavy People – Kate Bush

Listen Up! (MSTRKRFT Remix) – The Gossip

Girl – Robots in Disguise

My Delirium – Ladyhawke

The Ballad of Lucy Jordan – Marianne Faithfull

I Could Be Happy – Altered Images

Backstabber – The Dresden Dolls

Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Blue Jeans – Ladytron

Glamour Girl – Chicks on Speed

On My Own Again – Bishi

Please Don’t Touch – Polly Scattergood

I Muse Aloud – Jane Siberry

Comme des enfants – Coeur de pirate

A Sister’s Social Agony – Camera Obscura

Prescilla – Bat For Lashes

The Hollow Men – Cocteau Twins

Into the Light – Siouxsie and the Banshees

Isobel – Bjork

09
Aug
09

Putting the Latin Back Into Carpe Diem: Jessie Evans’ Is It Fire?

Jessie Evans Is It Fire

Jessie Evans and her debut album, Is It Fire, caught my eye because of some its collaborators, including Toby Dammit (Iggy Pop, Swans) and Budgie (The Creatures, Siouxsie and The Banshees), and the fact it was recorded in Berlin by Thomas Stern (Einstürzende Neubauten, Crime and The City Solution). Perhaps that’s not the fairest way to judge whether to listen to a record or not, but in this case, it turned out just swimmingly. The record is a perfect blend between the two places it was created: Mexico and Berlin. There’s Latin flavour pumping through the sultry cabaret vocal style, and there’s some wonky saxophone and Afro-electro beats woven in as well. It’s like a spaced-out Old/New World fusion with a rime of retro cool; the cover art gives you some indication as Evans wields maracas while looking like a Marlene Dietrich figure (in other photos she looks a bit like a 20s flapper). According to her MySpace page, Evans has spent the last decade in bands like The Vanishing, Autonervous and Subtonix, and she has also collaborated with the likes of sexy electro group Glass Candy. Classy and dirty, this album conveys the beauty of the underground, past and present, and transatlantic. A primal sexuality in the lyrics becomes inseparable from the primal rhythm of the music.

The title track sashays in first with Latin percussion and honking saxes, and Evans’ vocals come in with a cool, tantalizing flavour. It makes you want to salsa around on a lit-up disco floor with brisk and tight movements. And the lyrics set the precedent for undisguised, tangible lust: Is it lust that keeps me begging on my knees?/Is it a masochist that makes a fool of me?/Am I wanting you or haunting me oh please.” The percussion varies slightly for Scientist of Love, which showcases a side of Evans’ vocals that sounds a bit like Alison Goldfrapp, but the song still moves its hips to the same Latin beat with some lower, grinding saxophone. When she sings “Come over explorers/let go of your horrors,” she sounds both strong and playful, and throughout the song, she proves that attraction is something that cannot be analyzed mentally. The next track, Blood and Silver, sounds like a fast and loose samba with sprays of sliding trumpet, and Evans sings it completely in Spanish (it’s one of those songs that makes me wish I had cared about keeping up my own trumpet playing). The mood of the album remains spicy with Class Magic, but it also starts to shift into a slightly more electro direction as it pulses with faint synth buzzes. Once again Evans is commanding in her slinky imperatives:

If you feel you’ve got it
Then you better flaunt it
If you want to own it
Then I guess we’d better haunt it
Say it if you mean it
But love it when you leave it
Put your hands together and
We move down to the C now

The slightly more electro-influenced beat continues with Let Me On, but the song feels lighter and more understated than earlier tracks. There is still some tenor sax keeping everything grounded, but with her wispy, breathy “ooh’s,” the song seems to stay on a low simmer rather than a full lusty boil.

Featuring some accordion, Ninos del Espacio also retains some synth sounds to convey the theme of “cosmic lovers” – the electronic elements almost seem to create a sonic wind while Evans’ Spanish lyrics and her alternately smooth and percussive delivery twists and pummels you into submission. After the brief interlude of Micheladas, a sound effects track that sounds like coins rapidly spinning against echoey laughter, Golden Snake slithers in with call-and-answer saxes and distant trumpets. Of all the songs, this one sounds quite retro and cabaret as it writhes to provocative lyrics like “I’m in paradise/Yes its very nice/Got my sex wrapped around my throat/Like a golden snake.” The sounds in Micheladas make sense as Evans continues some coy, throaty laughter, and sings “I’m spinning like a top” while taking on a persona of flapper vamp. Slightly less Latin, Black Sand still has fantastic, lightly flamenco rhythms underneath the electronics. Evans’ vocals are fluid while her musical backdrop is incessantly staccato, making her seduction both lulling and frantic. We move back to a quicker beat with To the Sun, and those intoxicating honking saxophones emerge again; the percussion is allowed really to take centre-stage as the vocal involvement is a minimal drone of “to the sun” in the background. There’s something both jungle-like and Latin going on, or perhaps the song just makes it all the clearer how music evolves and how it links across genres. It’s a long beautiful jam that lasts over nine minutes. The record ends with Sera El Fuego, which is the Spanish version of the title track and takes us to a beautiful full circle while providing a different dimension to the vocal performance.

Tribal and glamorous, Is It Fire? is a pure dance record. You can’t help but move to it as though attached to some preliterate, innate need to make and feel rhythm. I don’t often pay too much close attention to percussion, but for this album, it becomes one of the prominent stars – intricate, insistent, internal. This fact probably points to the fact there are two star percussionists who worked on this album. The beats feel like the most natural in the world while the other musical components combine with Jessie Evans’ voice to create a glamorous, old-style cabaret sound that could be at home in either Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin or Paris. Listening to this record is a sensual experience, the auditory equivalent of mardi gras, carnivale, decadent cabarets; it wreaks rebellion and puts the Latin back in carpe diem.

Scientist of Love – Jessie Evans

Golden Snake – Jessie Evans




The Hype Machine
mp3 blogs
Add to Technorati Favorites

Blog Stats

  • 445,149 hits

Gigs Attended

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

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

You must let her go

She's not crying

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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

Photobucket

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