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Sunday, 26 June 2011

~Kitten Wine~#28: Primal Scream's Anthems For A Doomed Youth

I get quite angry when British television does a retrospective on the 1980s and comes up repeatedly with the same boring old cliches about how the 1980s was all big haired yuppies in shoulder-pads and red braces quaffing champagne while listening to dreadful soul-less synthesised Pop and bragging about Thatcher and the Falklands and Charles and Diana.....BOLLOCKS!! That isn't what the 80s was about to me and my friends! To us it was all grit and great music. It was The Smiths, Crass, New Order, Creation Records, Sarah Records, Sonic Youth, Channel 4, genuinely dangerous alternative comedy, Coal Not Dole stickers, Greenham Common, The Miners was about making a difference, not sitting around patting yourself on the back.
So when the 1980s ended I did feel genuinely sad. I remember clearly Griff and I standing on the floor of our local Jive Emporium on the 31st of December 1989 watching the countdown to New Year on the big screens, and I turned to him and said, "Well, that's it then. The end of our generation". "So, you think we're the children of the Eighties then?" he replied. "What else could we be?" I remarked. Had I known how the Eighties would be portrayed by future generations, I might have kept my opinion to myself, but I did genuinely feel that a specific time was coming to an end. In January 1989 I decided to document the final year of the Eighties in Diary form, and it's quite depressing that the youthful bright eyed and bushy tailed, over excitable, easily pleased young man who writes the first entry is replaced by a bitter cynical, downtrodden unhappy individual who brings the diary to a close.
The final entries are full of vitriol and bile, heartache and disillusionment and were soundtracked by an album which, for me, summed up the death of 1980s and the end of my generation.....the eponymous second album by Primal Scream!
Primal Scream, and Bobby Gillespie in particular, have always been cast as Indie chancers jumping on every bandwagon in an attempt to be cool, but if you look back carefully you'll see that in actual fact they were always just a step ahead of the rest; they made C-86 music before 1986, they made swirly psychedelic music two years before The Stone Roses released their rather familiar sounding debut album, they made the first truly great Rave generation album in 'Screamadelica'; and with the album we're focusing on tonight, they pre-empted Grunge by releasing an against-the-grain leather-kecked Rock album beneath which beat a broken heart of love lost.
And it was this album that played out alone in those final weeks of 1989.
As November 1989 kicked in and I knew now for sure that SHE wasn't coming back, I bought three album one Saturday afternoon; 'Dum Dum' by The Vaselines, 'Workbook' by Bob Mould(ex of Husker Du), and Primal Scream's second album. Of the albums, I expected the Primal Scream album to be the lesser of the three....little did I know it would become a permanent fixture on my turntable as the final weeks dragged on.
The album became like both a serenade and a requiem to the end of such a fantastic year, the end of the Eighties, and in many ways to the end of a way of life for many of us. Hank Williams once sang "Those wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine" and within 6 months of 1990 two of my friends would be married. Others disappeared into a shady world of hard drug use, others just stopped calling. The band that I had played in since High School would only last 6 days into 1990 before splitting up on January the 6th. My youth was falling apart and disappearing, taking many old friends with it.
But let's look at Primal Scream's eponymous album and reflect on it's bittersweet glories....
First single from the album set the stall out beautifully; 'Ivy Ivy Ivy' is a raucous leather bestrewn beast of a thing underpinned by Bobby's almost too sweet vocal. You get the feeling that Bobby can't really rasp or roar like his idols can so he replaces the vocal with a gentle, almost tremulous wail that creates a beautiful dichotomy tenderness within the confines of rock music....

One day somebody might record the sound of the sun setting, or capture the actual sound of a leaf turning from green to Autumnal brown. The reason I say this is because the next track I've chosen, 'I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have'(a perfect title for the times) has become synonymous with the changing of Indie music from guitar based shimmer to Dance inflected hedonism. Little did I know it at the time but the fade out of 'I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have' would form the basis of Primal Scream's most instantly recognisable single 'Loaded'; a song which formed the touchstone of a night in April 1990 when Griff, myself and a couple of friends organised our own DJ set which we also called 'Loaded'. Thus yet another 1980's quirk was replaced as, instead of playing live music as we always had, we were playing our record collections at full volume to a room full of paying, I mean 'punters'.....

I had hoped to include the track 'Kill The King' next but no accompanying clip exists to feature with it. The song though is a beautiful, psychedelic gem that wouldn't have disgraced 'The White Album'.

And so to the two most important tracks on the album, beginning with 'Lone Star Girl' another raucous blast which opens with the line "Hey Wendy, you move me!". In the 1980s I had two relationships with girls called Wendy, both of whom left an indelible stain upon my easily bruised heart, so when Bobby gets to the chant, "Hey Hey Wendy Wendy Wendy" you wonder if it's possible to say the word 'Wendy' any more times in a song without sounding silly. Even the Beach Boys song 'Wendy' doesn't feature the word 'Wendy' so many times(although it does feature Brian Wilson coughing on the keyboard solo!!). So as a grand Hurrah to all the girls who led me astray through the 1980s, each armed with a (metaphorical)knife bigger than the previous, 'Lone Star Girl' is my kiss-off to you all....

And so to the most important track upon the album; 'You Are Just Dead Skin To Me', again a perfect title that sums up how I was feeling at this time.
This song is a song that I played to death from the moment I got the album home until the Eighties and all it stood for and all it meant to me and my friends vapourised in a heart beat on that December night. It's a song about putting on a brave face while being unable to accept that something special has most definitely ended. Whether it's an all important relationship, or maybe the end of a friendship, or maybe the final days of a certain time and place; or maybe that your entire youth and all the things you burned for, all those nights you escaped from the confines of the family home into the company of your alcohol soaked friends or the perfumed arms of a beautiful girl, all the nights you sat crying listening to your favourite songs, all the nights you laughed yourself hoarse in the company of your dearest friends, all those 7" slices of vinyl that are more permanent fixtures in your psyche than even the deepest tattoo, all those scars you attained which look cool on the outside but which tear you up inside, all those girls who never stayed, all those nights when you just......existed! "I don't care now// You are just dead skin to me......"

Primal Scream would become much bigger on the 1990s but 'You Are Just Dead Skin To Me' remains the one track which I will love them forever for; an anthem for my own doomed youth.
Whenever I hear talentless journalists berate Bobby as some derivative flybynight I smile quietly to myself and thank the lord that he's not, and never will be, Noel Gallagher!

The 1980s then....just dead skin my Friends, just dead skin......


You can download Primal Scream here

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Robert Wratten, and Songs As Map Of The Human Heart

The recent massive success of Adele has been a good thing for music, I think, as it has shown the popularity of the classic style of songwriting, away from repetitive dance tracks or talent show karaoke rubbish. The 6 weeks or so at Number 1 for 'Someone Like You' in particular should be applauded; a classic arrangement, superbly played, beautifully sung....a return to proper songwriting! But it's the lyrics, or at least the sentiments of the lyrics that I have a problem with.
In the song, Adele contacts her former boyfriend/lover whom she has obviously been madly in love with. He, however, has moved on and has gotten married and settled down with some new love. Adele can't seem to handle this and does a bit of 'What about me?' protesting to him, creeping back into his life. Now, it may just be me and my rather oversensitive views and feelings about love and relationships, but to me this is dangerous ground. This is borderline stalking. Think of former Radio 1 DJ Andy Kershaw, unable to accept that his marriage was over he took to heavy drinking and hanging about his ex-wife's new's pretty much the same thing. Sure, it's all very romantic when viewed with clear eyes, and I'm sure Adele doesn't advocate stalking a former lover in any way, but sometimes love has too strong a pull and it's actions can be viewed as a little odd.
It also reminded me a great deal of 'Sometimes I Still Feel The Bruise' by Trembling Blue Stars; a song which pretty much covers the exact same ground. Have a listen and see.....

Trembling Blue Stars were the band formed in the wake of the demise of The Field Mice by it's principle songwriter and vocalist Robert Wratten; in my opinion a genius in the Morrissey/Brian Wilson mould.
Sometime last year on a cold hungover Saturday morning, Griff and I were discussing great British songwriters and how some songwriters often hailed as geniuses weren't as good as their reputation suggests; Shane MacGowan and Joe Strummer being our biggest culprits. We thought of who we would suggest as undervalued replacements to these; I first proffered Mark E Smith but had to concede that ranting over what sounds like an industrial cacophony doesn't constitute songwriting, genius though it may be. So I rather timidly put forward the suggestion of Robert Wratten as his songs were second only to The Smiths or The Beach Boys as being able to genuinely move me. Griff admitted he wasn't too aware of Robert's songwriting in any great quantity but accepted my argument.
So, even though we've covered The Field Mice before, let's take a look at why I consider Bob Wratten to be such a genius....
Say the words 'Sarah Records' to anyone and they almost immediately conjure up some ultra-fey floppy fringed twee music about heartbreak and Vimto. And it's The Field Mice who are often held up, by extremely lazy journalists, as the best examples of this. People who have clearly never heard any Field Mice songs. Likewise, Martin Strong's mighty tome 'The Great Alternative And Indie Discography' describes The Field Mice as having released a 'string of pastoral acoustic singles and EPs'...EH?? What the fuck are you blethering on about man? Acoustic?? All those shimmering Rickenbacker guitars and icy synthesizers....acoustic?? Try listening to the songs first next time!
Their 'The Autumn Store' EPs feature staccato Motownesque brass and Stax Record style guitar bursts. Their 'Snowball' 10" album features glacial Kraftwerkian electronic soundscapes of which St Etienne covered 'Let's Kiss And Make Up' as their debut single. Hardly twee and hardly acoustic.
Where Bob Wratten connects with me most though, rather obviously, is in his lyrics. I've never known any one to wear their heart on their sleeve so blatantly as Bob does. In fact, he practically wears his heart as a rather fetching three piece suit (of armour). Even Morrissey would probably advise Bob to reign in the confessional heartbroken approach a tad.
Maybe it's because Bob is virtually the same age as me (actually a year older) that he was able to articulate exactly the kind of things that I felt myself go through in affairs of the heart, or even just the beautiful agony of full-on unrequited love that makes his lyrics both uplifting and soul-destroying in equal measures. Listening to The Field Mice when in love is a joyous thing....listening to them while in the throes of heartbreak, well let's just say that you DON'T listen to them when your heart is broken, not if you want to retain your sanity.
Let's look at some examples of their songs then....

'So Said Kay' is one of my most treasured of all Roberts songs, probably because the song is based entirely on the narrative of one of my favourite films, 'Desert Hearts'. 'Desert Hearts' tells the story of a straight-laced woman whose marriage ends and she finds herself in a small town in 1950s USA where she begins a reluctant affair with a free spirited young woman. It's an absolutely beautiful non-exploitative film which should be required viewing for everyone. The song, such a gorgeous arrangement, captures the beauty and tragedy of the movie completely.....

'The World To Me' is from the aforementioned 'The Autumn Store' and is just an astonishing piece of music on it's own, so far removed from the perception that exists of them. The lyric too, such a yearning declaration of love is so heartbreaking that if you don't fill up when he pleads "Don't go// Don't go away" then you are obviously Anne Widdecombe....

'When Morning Comes To Town' is a huge song that begins with just the gentle strumming of an uneffected ELECTRIC guitar but builds into a huge multilayered symphony before regressing back all the way to the strummed guitar. The lyric sees two people, a boy and a girl, share one last night together, both knowing that their love and their time together will be over by the time the sun rises. Go on, let it all out, dear readers, you'll feel the better for it....

When The Field Mice split circa 1991 it was a sad day, a day of lachrymose mourning round our way. But thankfully Bob didn't leave us hanging round waiting for long. His new project, Trembling Blue Stars, began almost immediately. Now, there are cynics who will say that there is scant progression between The Field Mice and TBS, but again, those are the people who DON'T LISTEN!!! TBS applied a slightly grander, more muscular approach with Bob's vocals becoming less breathy and more forceful in the mix. The subject matter too, expanded away from just introspective moist eyed longing, taking in all life itself. But as we've seen with 'Sometimes I Still Feel The Bruise', above, when he goes right to the root of the emotional complexities and the psychological damage inflicted by that crazy little thing called love, it can be too much pleasure and too much pain, and it can leave you giddy and ranting and contemplating Van Gogh like acts of self-mutilation....all for a beautiful girl!

'Letter Never Sent' is a song about the agony of not knowing if that all important relationship has indeed ended as you doomily suspect it has. The vocal, like that of the most emotionally satisfying Morrissey, Tindersticks or Beach Boys compositions, breaks and quivers at all the right moments. I often wonder if Bob really is as easily bruised as he comes across in his songs, or if he's actually as cold hearted and uncaring as I am(ppfffftttt!!!!)....

'This Once Was An Island' is possibly my favourite TBS song and proves (I think) that my theory that TBS's songs are more meaty and chunkier than those of his previous band. I'm not entirely sure what the lyric is about, but sometimes that's the best way....

'Abba On The Jukebox' is a song which ironically deals with the emotional pull of certain records or songs, something Bob has delivered in spades over the years. I had also hoped to bring you the similarly themed 'Doo Wop Music' but unfortunately there's no accompanying video....

So that's my eulogy for Robert Wratten, one of Britain's finest songwriters and one of my own personal favourite artists of all time. Quite how my lovelife would have been soundtracked without his wondrous songs is quite unthinkable.

Six weeks at Number really means nothing!


A catch-all of The Field Mice's output called 'Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way' can be downloaded here

There are too many Trembling Blue Stars albums to single out one but they are all worth investigating!

Griff says; The uses and abuses of love and power

As a grumpy old leftist with a natural suspicion of the official channels of communication I can often be overheard complaining about the servile, government-sanctioned, PR propaganda machine that the BBC has in recent times become. At other times, mainly after accidentally watching US news channels, I can become rather fond and protective of our state-sponsored broadcaster and sometimes, as you are about to see, I can even become really quite enthusiastic about it. The reason for my recent softening towards the BBC is their decision to broadcast brilliant documentary maker Adam Curtis' latest work; the three-part documentary, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. You may recognise the title as originally belonging to a collection of poems published in 1967 by Richard Brautigan. The title poem of this work (see below) envisions a world where cybernetics has advanced to a stage where it allows a return to the balance of nature and an elimination of the need for human labour.

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Curtis' work, by contrast, is described in the accompanying blurb to the series as;

"A series of films about how humans have been colonised by the machines
they have built. Although we dont realise it, the way we see everything
in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. This is the
story of the dream that rose up in the 1990s that computers could
create a new kind of stable world. They would bring about a new kind of
global capitalism free of all risk and without the boom and bust of
the past. They would also abolish political power and create a new
kind of democracy through the internet where millions of individuals
would be connected as nodes in cybernetic systems – without hierarchy."

In my opinion, having watched and thoroughly enjoyed all three episodes, the above description doesn't fully explain the core themes of this important work as I see them. Namely, the itinerant nature of power and the elusive fantasy of liberty.

Anyone, familiar with Curtis' previous work will recognise these motifs as being essential to his greatest and best known films, such as; 2002's exploration of consumerism The Century of the Self, 2004's comparison of Islamism in the Arab world and Neoconservatism in the United States The Power of Nightmares and 2007's analysis of the concept and definition of freedom, The Trap. All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace employs the same techniques as these previous documentaries; a fast-paced, cut-and-paste collage of interviews, news footage and retro pop-culture nuggets overlaid with Curtis's own cool voiceover polemics and well-chosen bursts of music. If you're any kind of music obsessive; and let's face it you're reading this blog, so it does seem likely; then the latter will drive you mad as you seek to identify each of the tracks.
Beyond this 'spot the music' frippery though, Curtis' latest work is essential viewing for its edgy, sometimes overly-complicated, but always provocative opinions, as well as for its sheer entertainment value. In a TV world of cheesy, dumbed-down, deviously-manipulative, lowest-common-denominator awfulness, this series stands out like a diamond on a dung heap. I decided to write about it because I wanted to bring it to a wider audience, and in particular, knowing that the majority of our readers are based in the US, I wanted to bring it to their attention. I hope some of you will be persuaded to have a look at it, and hopefully Curtis' other work too.

I do hope too that people aren't mislead by the title into imaging some sort of ugly mix of The Matrix and Nineteen Eighty-Four. For me, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is not about man's enslavement by technology but, more subtly, that we've increasingly given over our thinking to them and potentially that leads us to become enslaved by the people who control the input-output. I think that, in this series of films, the crux of Curtis’ argument is that the radical individualism of the Objectivists and the Computer Utopianism of the California idealists has unexpectedly combined with the values of the contemporary global Neo-liberal order. But rather than creating order and stability and transcending the old hierachies of power, this has led to chaos and instability and has shifted power to a transnational, undemocratic, plutocratic elite who ruthlessly control the resources at the expense of the disempowered masses. It's notable that modern politics completely avoids discussions of power, or of ideology or alternative economics. We are all cast now as impotent subjects of the neo-liberal consensus.
Curtis demonstrates chillingly too that power never disappears. It is transient, it is everywhere, it circulates in all forms of human interaction. We cannot escape power, every sphere of human society is colonised by power. The films force us to realise that, as appealing as the idea of a world without power structures is, power doesn't just 'go away' when you decentralise it, it just moves out of sight. Sound depressing? I hope not, as I remain an optimist. I definitely don't think that 'the machines are in charge'. Admittedly, we can get mesmerised, by both technology and by the symbols of power, but we can still strive to build an alternative. We can still attempt to make solid the elusive fantasy of liberty. We can still hope to decentralise power but keep it within the glare of the public gaze. Technology can be used for the good of the mass of the people. The communications revolution has given us Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, the multiple, contradictory but equal opinions of the blogosphere. I believe that we can still create a non-hierarchical counter power. With care and balance, we can work collectively together through culture and politics to build a better world in which power is increasingly exercised in a just, equitable and accountable fashion. Yes, the abuse of power is only too human, but we can overcome. The future is unwritten, how the story ends is up to us.

The three episodes of All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace are titled: Love and Power, The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts, and The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey. They can all be viewed on tarabg's Channel on Youtube. Curtis' previous films can be seen and downloaded from the wonderful, non-profit digital library The Internet Archive. A track-listing of the music used in the series can be found here. The insanely catchy song that plays over the end credits of each of the films is Aua by German/French indie/electro duo Stereo Total. Here's an unofficial video.

The song is from their 2003 album monokini.


Sunday, 12 June 2011

~Kitten Wine~#27: 'Never For Ever' and The End Of It All

Okay I know it may seem a little too mainstream and a little too outwith the ~Streetlamp~'s agenda but, yes, this really is a Blog about Kate Bush!
Now I should point out that I am no authority whatsoever in Ms Bush, in fact within the confines of the ~Streetlamp~ I'm not the number one Bushman...that mantle falls to Ray who is much more knowledgeable about her music than I ever will be. But there are reasons for me composing this Blog, as we shall find out later.
Now I'm sure I don't have to do some lengthy introduction about who Kate Bush is and what trajectory her career has taken. I'm fairly convinced that most, if not all, of our dear readers have some inkling as to who she is.
Kate has managed that rarest of things; a lengthy, provocative and sumptuous career within music, completely on her own terms. No unnecessary cash-in albums, no record company imposed deadlines, no need for any live touring, no trash TV appearances, and complete artistic control. All of this and she still maintains a huge and devoted fanbase.
Complete freedom means she can release whatever she chooses, no matter how unconventional; from alarming screech-athons like 'Sat In Your Lap', 'Babooshka' and the perennial 'Wuthering Heights', through gorgeous immersions like 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes', 'Cloudbusting' and 'King Of The Mountain', and on into complete hat-stand wibblery like 'There Goes A Tenner', 'Hammer Horror', 'Them Heavy People' and 'The Dreaming'. That someone can be so diverse and yet retain such a vast loyal following is testament to her art and uncompromising approach.
So why am I writing about her?
Well it all stems from one fateful night and the morning that followed, and how Kate's third album became an aural tattoo upon my unwashable stain on the memory of the end of it all.....
It happened without warning! A casual remark that didn't sink in at just hit me like a stray bullet and I felt the sting grow larger until all I could feel was the gaping chest wound. I hadn't been prepared, I thought everything was going well, but this slight remark hadn't just sowed seeds of doubt, it rang every alarm bell that it was coming to an end. It would soon be all over. Finished! Really? REALLY??
As we sat in the silence of the taxi heading back to HER house I was already playing a symphony of heartbreak over and over in my head. The finality! Would this really be the last time I would spend a Saturday night in the Barrelhouse? Would this be the last time I'd view the panorama of neon as we headed back to Denny from Falkirk in the back of a taxi? What if SHE never kissed me again? What if I'd already tasted that last kiss? Would I ever sit amongst HER friends again? Would SHE ever visit my house again? The cold air and the colder silence told me....NO!
When we got back to her house we went straight to her room. She got into bed and I lay down on the floor (my choice!). I doubt that I slept, or maybe I managed an hour or so, but I hoped I would wake up and find it was all a bad dream.
When I did wake up it was a cold but sunny October Sunday morning. As we both lay there, in bed and on the floor, there was an uneasy feeling floating around. Neither of us mentioning what had happened, both of us giggling and smiling. What was going on, I wondered? The events of last night were like the elephant in the room, neither of us even hinting at what had happened. SHE got up out of the bed and went to make some tea. Before doing so, she put on her record player and picked out an LP that seemed to be housed in some horrible early 70s Prog-Rock sleeve. The record was 'Never For Ever'. I didn't even know she was a Kate Bush fan....turns out she was a massive fan!
As she went to make the tea, I lay there on the cold floor as the music began filling the room like incense smoke. 'Never For Ever' was one of Kate's more uncompromising and 'out there' records that baffled all those who bought into her 'Pop Star' early career. The music was almost too quirky, too noxious and overbearing for my delicate condition that morning. Had SHE chosen the record as a message, or was it something that SHE felt she needed to hear that morning?
As 'Army Dreamers' played out its haunting harpsichord melody, the poignancy of young men dying before there time stung my eyes as the intoxicating, overwhelming sense of grief and loss bubbled within me; "What could he do?// Could have been a father// But he never even made it to his twenties" went the lyrics, and in my moment of hurting changed it in my head to the rather cloying "What could he do?// Could have been her husband// But he never even made it through the Winter". The breakdown was on it's way, the first postcard had arrived!
Each twinkling note of music stung like long was this music going to go on....why had she put it on?

As she reappeared with the tea and some toast, I was starting to pull myself together, but the album, like some sadistic Greek chorus kept on going. 'The Infant Kiss' crept into the air like a demonic asphyx, the toast becoming ashes in my mouth as the realisation that I could already be spending my last ever moments with her, in her room....the music accentuating the pounding headache that was either a result of last night's alcohol or my ravaged tear ducts.
As she disappeared with the cups and plates 'Dreaming' was working it's cruel magic over me....suffocating, wrapping me in a shroud of heartbroken vapour...."Breathing my mother in// My Beloved in// Breathing her nicotine...out in out
It was all becoming too much. I couldn't breathe any more. I had to get away, even though I knew 'getting away' would have a finality all of it's own. I dressed quickly, hoping for a quick exit, but the 'Goodbye' became messy, overwrought, over-emotional and distressingly painful....and the bloody record was STILL playing.

Sitting in a taxi in the daytime is a weird experience when you've always made that same journey at night. But as I headed home and away from HER, and the taxi driver was just a little too cheery, I felt the weight of the music, at once light as air but also as heavy and bruising a punch to the jaw, hang around me like her perfume.
It would be years, decades even, before I could ever dare to listen to 'Never For Ever' again, and while I've grown to be a huge admirer of all Kate's music, my image of her as the High Priestess Of Hearbreak is one I find hard to shake off.
And maybe never will......


Never For Ever
(please note this is not my link, I have no control over it)

Griff says; Let's get Dekadent!

Regular readers will need no introduction to Symfoniorkestern as I've previosly written about them 'here' and 'here'. On that last occasion it was to inform you of the release of the official video for their excellent song Sommardepression '11, which I intimated was part of a soon to be forthcoming EP. The release of that EP is now upon us, in actual fact it was released at the beginning of the month but I've rather sadly not had time to write about it yet, despite it being a frequent visitor to the Streetlamp's figurative turntable during the past fortnight.

Anyway I make up for that now by presenting to you Symfoniorkestern's latest wonderful release 'IV' (below) with the recommendation that you have a listen to track 3; Get "Dekadent" Or Die Trying. This track is something of a departure from the collective's usual slightly folky indie-pop, and with its high-energy, fuzzed-up guitar, horn backing and hand-claps is reminiscent of a rockier version of The Go! Team. I, for one, am rather fond of it.

Symfoniorkestern - IV by Symfoniorkestern

As ever, the songs are available as free MP3 downloads from the band's website. You can also download then from soundcloud and The band can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

I'd like to close by reposting the video for Sommardepression '11, which with its faded and scratched sense of times past always evokes a feeling of melancholia in me.



Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Griff says; Road trip across a lost America

Keen readers may recall that back in November of last year I alerted you to the, at that time, latest release from the folks at 'A Pile Of Lo-fi!' . This was compilation number 6 of their free, lo-fi, indie-music taster series and I remarked at the time that it contained an excellent song, Blue Highways, by the criminally under-rated Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (pictured above). I then went on to inform you that the band were in the process of recording a new album, reportedly to be titled Buttermilk Channel, and promised that as soon as we knew more we'd post it on here. Well, that day has dawned. Yesterday, saw the release of their latest lo-fi, ghost-folk project and it is indeed called, actually no, it is now simply titled Blue Highways, and I don't know whether it is inspired by the book of the same name, perhaps Jasmine can let us know, but it certainly contains a similar spirit of a gentle but haunted soul searching for meaning along the roads least travelled. Those of you who who appreciate the 'Griff says' magic formula (almost whispered femal vocals, lullaby-like folk experimentalism) will, like me, be enthralled by the tracks contained therein, from the chilling folk-noir of St. James Infirmary to the fragile spectral beauty of Green Grass.

The record was recorded by the usual Cabinet of Natural Curiosities personnel; principal song-writer Jasmine Dreame Wagner ably assisted by slide guitarist and percussionist Alex Wilson. The duo recorded on their Tascam 424 4-track and Tascam 488 8-track tape machines, the results were then mastered to vinyl by Roger Seibel at SAE Mastering. The hand-printed album cover is as lovingly produced as the music and Jasmine says of the complete artefact:

"This record and its sleeve aren't just containers for music. Each piece has been handcrafted and assembled like a quilt. "Blue Highways" is a product of people and their hands, down to the smallest detail. I am even reluctant to release it digitally, but what I want most is for people to experience the songs. The cover looks like a relic from a lost era and the LP sounds like a music box found in a dusty attic in the 1940s: dark, warm, and haunted."

The album can be ordered from the band's website and the For Arbors/For Satellites site. If you're in the US you can also catch the band on tour this June, July, and August. The Cabinet will be sharing shows with friends from near and far, including mini-tours with World History, Whitman, Fort King, Blaka Watra, Edwin R. Perry, and Reed Wilson & His Tree of Smoke. Check out the RVLRY site for more details.

In the meantime, a free MP3 of title track Blue Highways can be found on the duo's page and on the Cabinet of Natural Curiosities website. The band also has a CLLCT page.
As well as making top-class experimental folk music, Jasmine also writes poetry and produces visual art; working in photo series, pen and ink drawing, collage, and bookmaking (see sample below). Her various projects can be viewed at her excellent website songs about ghosts. Now, that should give you plenty of interesting stuff to keep you busy for a while.

Before I go, here are the videos for St. James Infirmary and Blue Highways:


Sunday, 5 June 2011

~Musical Prozac~#1: The First In An Occasional Series

Regular readers of the ~Streetlamp~(or even casual readers for that matter), may find the music that we write about often falls into the wistful, melancholic or even depressing categories, being that we tend to write about either 'outsider' music, angry protest music, loner/bedsit music, or that we write about songs that seem to relate to us only because the remind us of times we got our hearts broken or which now make us teary eyed with nostalgia.
And you'd probably be right!

So taking all that into account, I've decided that tonight I would write about a handful of songs that actually make me happy. In fact they make me VERY happy. Well, let's be honest, in a couple of instances they make me laugh out loud! Something that doesn't happen too often I'm sure you'll agree.
So let's turn those musical frowns upside down and let's imbibe some musical Prozac...

First up is Jackie Dennis with 'Lah-Dee-Dah'.
So....why do I find this so amusing? Well, in truth, I don't actually find the song all that funny, although from a distance of some 53 years(yes, really! It was released in 1958!!) it does sound a little odd, and certainly toothachingly twee, but here's why I like it and why it cheers me up no end: Imagine if Doo Wop music did not evolve from the black areas of America but from the suburbs of Scotland! Imagine, say, if Frankie Lymon had hailed not from the Bronx but from the Gorbals! Yes, we are talking possibly the only example of Scottish Doo Wop music that ever bothered the charts(it reached No.4). The song does have all the hallmarks of a typical Frankie Lymon song except for the rather unavoidable Scottish accent running through it.
Jackie Dennis came from Leith in Edinburgh and was only 15 years old when he recorded and performed this track, and I've only ever seen filmed performances of it, I don't think I've ever heard the song as a stand alone track. This is one of the reasons I find it so funny. Take the clip I've chosen below(and don't worry, the song doesn't last over 7 mins, it barely lasts 2, but the entire clip does), this from a movie version of the TV show 'The Six Five Special' which was a popular British programme which highlighted new Rock'n'Roll acts, although to be fair they were more skiffle and ballad based songs.
There are several things I find funny about the clip, such as who on Earth choreographed his moves? And why aren't the girls sitting watching him pishing themselves laughing? I mean surely even he must know he looks ridiculous...have you ever seen such self-conscious gyrating?
Go for it Jackie....

Next we have the charming DeZurik Sisters, Mary Jane and Caroline and a song from even further back in the mists of time. It's all the way back to 1938 this time for a spot of old time authentic Hillbilly music called 'The Arizona Yodeller'. Well....I say 'authentic', but I'm guessing you've probably never heard anything as bizarre as this in a long time. Whilst the song's structure is as straightforward as any Country/Bluegrass original, it's the distinctively unorthodox vocalising that makes it stand out; the freakishly fast yodelling coupled with weird little chirps and hiccups make this one of the funniest, or should that be happiest sounding records I've ever heard. Seriously, if those doesn't make you smile then I pity your Calvinist upbringing!
Just as Mozart claimed he used the patterns of bird song to compose his symphonies, or that Mateo Flecha used the phrase 'riu chiu' to represent the sound of the nightingale, so the DeZurik sisters claimed their unusual vocal approach was intended to give the impression that they were singing along with birds.

Our final track tonight is 'Happy Go Lucky Me' by Paul Evans, and once again this is a song that never fails to make me smile. It's basically the song of an eternal optimist who fails to see the dark side of anything life throws at him.
Recorded and released in 1959, I'm not entirely how serious we are actually meant to take the song. By that I mean, I don't know if the song was meant as a novelty song or not, bit it often turns up on compilations of 'Silly Rock'n'Roll Songs' or 'Novelty Hits' and it's easy to see why. The vocal is punctuated with an infectious laugh which rather annoyingly becomes a little hysterical a couple of times and reduces what is actually quite an uplifting little song into a rather jokey novelty. Take the more over-the-top laughter out and you'd have a perfectly acceptable form of musical Prozac.
The songs serious intentions are also further undermined by the fact that he refers to his girlfriend as a 'filly'(yep, there go the feminist readers!) but I don't suppose there are too many words describing a female loved one that rhymes with silly!
Despite my apparent nitpicking at this song, I absolutely love this track and I hope it makes you smile or even laugh as much as it does me.
Paul Evans wrote and recorded a whole raft of songs in the late 50s/early 60s, most of which didn't take life(or music) too seriously; 'Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat' being one of many. Interestingly he last entered the charts in 1978 with 'Hello, This Is Joanie(The Telephone Answering Machine Song)' which is often seen as the last of the classic 'Death Discs'.....and even that shouldn't be taken too seriously!

Pleasant dreams, my Friends,


Bonus track: 'Hello, This Is Joannie'