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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Griff Says; Botched Fairytale, unleashed at last!

Last July, The Streetlamp team, led on by a dangerously over-excited Griff, got very, very enthusiastic indeed about a handful of tracks released onto Soundcloud by two young Irish musicians, Marie O Hara and Mariel McCormack from Co Longford, Ireland (see 'here'). At that time I declared that;

"When I first heard them I immediately knew that they were exactly what I'd been waiting to hear for the last ten years. If I hear a better song this year than the duo's The Flats then I'll quite happily lie down and die."

And of course that song duly found its way into our 2010 Streetlamp festive Thirty. After gushing on for some time about the unique, aggressive, experimental, folk-punk sound that these two precocious young musicians had conjured up I went on to state that; "The album will be available soon. Keep an eye on 'Streetlamp' for the details".

Well, Summer rolled into Autumn, and then Autumn into Winter, and still no album. We got in touch with the girls (specifically Mariel) around Christmas time to ask about the album's progress and could immediately feel the frustration and disillusionment in her reply;

"I dunno we hope to have it finished soon. I took a break because I got really pissed off with it for a while, I hated it, then I got back into it and now we only have 3 more songs to go and then she's finished".

We were disappointed, of course, but anticipation only sharpened our appetites. Indeed, in January of this year Gordon wrote in the blog;

"It must go without saying, and must be obvious to anyone who reads our meanderings, that the one recording that shook us to the core in the first year of our Blog was 'The Flats' by Mariel McCormack and Marie O'Hara a.k.a. Botched Fairytale. Like the greatest records we've heard in our lifetime, it didn't just entertain us, it moved us, it motivated us, it reinvigorated us, and it awoken within us a political passion that we hadn't felt in a long time".

Boy, were we hanging a lot on the release of this album. Honestly, the suspense was killing us. So, that is why The Streetlamp is pleased, no delighted, to announce that (fanfare, roll of drums, release the balloons) Botched Fairytale the album is finally with us, my own copy having arrived in the post at the beginning of last week.

And now, I guess, the all important question is hanging in the air. Has the wait been worth it?
You bet it has. This album is a prodigious and singular work of art which should make every minute of its prolonged gestation time worthwhile. To me, the album has the feel of a 'state of the nation' address. It's dozen uncompromising songs seem to be about right here, right now and when I look back on 2011 I know that this album is going to be my soundtrack. Hopefully, it will be yours too and it can be, starting right now, as the album is available as a free download on Mariel and Marie's bandcamp page.

As the album is so unusual, both subtle and substantial, I wanted to place it into some sort of context for you, the prospective listener, and so I fired off a set of questions to the girls, prompted by my own early listens. My questions were, as anyone who is plodding through this dense and ponderous prose can confirm, well, yeah, dense and ponderous and fairly pretentious. But the girls (mainly Mariel), to their great credit have attempted to answer them as fairly as they can and I think that the whole interplay between my over-analytical, psuedo-intellectualism and their own feral, intuitive and instinctive artistry is both entertaining and even mildly illuminating.

Griff: Firstly, the music itself is quite experimental and the lyrics are literate and thoughtful (The Law of Gravity). This combination immediately brings to mind Patti Smith who combined dense, complex lyrics with ostensibly simple, three-chord songs that would veer off into free-form experimentalism. This gave her music the appearance of being simultaneously, and paradoxically, high-art and amateur. Is Patti Smith any sort of influence?

M&M: We both say no to Patti Smith. She's definitely not an influence. In fairness some of her songs sound catchy but I've no idea what she's scuttering on about most of the time.

Griff: Is the experimentalism simply born out of necessity, i.e. your seeming lack of formal musicianship? I know that you share lyric writing, how then do you manage to achieve one, single and effective poetic voice? Does one of you take the lead in the lyric writing or music?

M&M: The "experimentalism" is born out of necessity, it's not meant to be experimental at all, it's just us making the most of our limitations! This album isn't about the music, though. It's kinda just there in the background. We know it's not up to scratch in a "formal musicianship" type of way. As for who does what, it's hard to say exactly. Basically, we go into a room and dont come out 'til there's a song. I'm not sure what happens but, whatever it is, its so horrific that we block it from memory immediately.

Griff: Many of the lyrics seem to be atmospheric portrayals of grotesque, often seedy characters and places (None of Your Money, The Flats, Chasers). The music too, particularly the percussion, tends at times towards the cacophonous and is evocative of industrial music. This combination is reminiscent of the ragged, junkyard poetry and music of Tom Waits. Is he an influence, or does that style come from your literary influences, i.e. Bukowski? Waits often writes songs in the style of a 'short story'. This is something that you also seem to have done. You say:
"It is a collection of 12 uncompromising songs about Ireland and the people in it.
These songs are full of stories, written with unflinching honesty and set in a landscape of wild and decrepit music, excess and failure, personal and political lunacy, tourist attractions, broken bottles, shattered people and battered dreams."
That milieu is the stamping ground for Waits too, but your songs have a much harder edge, an unflinching brutality. Do you recognise that quality yourself in the music? Was it deliberate? How much of the anger or resentment portrayed is auto-biographical? In other words, how much of it comes from disappointment at your own life experiences?

M&M: Tom Waits is an influence. Musicwise, I think the cacophonic thing would be more closley related to the "born out of necessity" thing than an industrial music influence, but I couldn't say for sure we'd have known it was alright to use a piece of steel as the main instrument in a song if it wasn't for Tom.
As it says in the spiel you quoted from, we were "sick of sitting around complaining about the lack of lyrical content...", that's a very simplistic and blurby version of things but, in essence, it's true. I remember this was around the time Glen Hansard won an Oscar with some really vague love song which had an over-sincerity of tone. It wasn't that specifically, but I just remember being really annoyed at the way no-one seems to question anything, and it's like we're all being brainwashed into thinking it's normal to write and listen to songs that don't mean a whole lot. We were saying surely there must be more that people could be doing. You hear that shit (and a lot of shit like it) and then compare it to something like Tom Waits or Cave, whose albums mean something because they really put in the work. We wanted to do an album like them, to find an honest way of writing properly and thoughtfully like that; not trying to sound like them or write like them, I mean finding a way of almost translating those types of songs into our own lives.

We're aware of the brutality (if that's what it is) and it is a bit scary that people might listen to this and think we're a pair of mad miserable bitches but I think it's really important to put that aside and just go for it, which is what we did. (We decided to call the album Botched Fairytale early on, so it was never going to be pretty anyway.) It's not autobiographical.

So we started out with a kind of fuck you to that kind of sugar coating things mentalitity, we're going to talk about real things and be totally in your face and honest, and we don't give a flying fuck that it won't get on the radio or if it's not very palatable, because that's not the point. And we're not going to let the fact that we've no idea what we're doing get in the way! Because we'd nobody to answer to and nothing was expected of us, that made us totally free to do whatever we wanted. And because the (initial) driving force behind us was "the lack of lyrical content" thing, we went quite extreme on it. So I think that's where the brutality (again, if that's what it is) started and that's why the whole thing is so cluttered with words as well.

I don't know if it is that brutal though, it might be. This could well be a really terrible album but im pretty sure it's original at least. So I don't know how to look at it in context because I don't know what to compare it to . There's some very harsh Nick Cave songs for example, maybe ours seem more brutal 'cause twenty-something Irish girls don't usually do songs like that? We seem to be mainly influenced by really well-established, middle-aged men, and nothing to do with anything that's going on in music now or even our own generation, so maybe it sounds more extreme than it is because there's nothing around it to compare it to/cushion it (that I know of anyway)?... Then again maybe it is brutal, I don't know. But yes we were aware of the "brutality" and it was deliberate".

At this point I began to witter on about Joyce and the Irish psyche and started to sound like someone giving a lecture called something like 'The Textural Trajectories of Modern Irish Literature; A verbiose man explains'. Thankfully, the girls wisely side-stepped this line of questioning and Mariel finally pinned things down with the following statement/war-cry:

"It took us an awful lot of effort to write these songs. Three years spent on something that's under an hour is very extreme, it's a lot of attention to detail. The way we see everything is going to be nothing like how anyone else sees it.

For me the whole point of songs is because they're about something that there isn't a word for. Like, otherwise, our album would just be 11 words that we could have written in a few minutes... and we could have spent the rest of the three years learning to play instruments properly! We wrote them to try and explain something, so people either get them or they don't. If it were possible to concisely explain (I dont mean that we can't explain, I mean it would take a very long time) what these are about then there wouldn't have been any reason to write them. Basically we write about the same things that our "influences" write about, we just tried to put these things into our own words and senarios".

Reading through this interchange of thoughts and ideas I'm reminded of the great dancer Isadora Duncan and her famous response to a questioner persistently demanding to know, after having seen one of her dances, "What it meant".
"If I could tell you that, I wouldn't have to dance it."
replied Ms. Duncan, and that is perhaps the artist's only correct response to any prying into the nature and meaning of art. Perhaps art, like religion, requires its mysteries. So, here we have an album which is complicated, intricate and refined, yet, at the same time, ferocious and uncouth. And here we have a duo who present themselves as naive, uncultivated and unrefined, yet can make music which is so complicated, elaborate and subtle. Mystery within mystery!
I sometimes wonder if the Marie and Mariel personas aren't even real but are instead part of an elaborate hoax played out by a Nobel prize-winning poet and a world-renowned experimental composer and musician intent on a critic-confounding Meisterwerk. Can you believe it? I'm imagining Seamus Heaney and Laurie Anderson getting together to make an album of rare and precious beauty just to fuck with me. Lord, these girls are confusing me! Still, I do love it.

Below are my three favourite tracks from the album. I won't try to explain what I think they're about!

I hope you loved those as much as I do.


Sunday, 28 August 2011

~Nippy Sweeties~#9: No Milk Today

Okay, here's the script:
There's this band from Manchester who decide to go against the grain of the times and ditch any phoney American accents, and choose to sing in their own Mancunian voice, mixing lyrics that deal with everyday English life with the fabric of Rock'n'Roll. They're fronted by a lead singer who looks NOTHING like a conventional rock frontman but who exudes a strange charm, coupling an immediate charisma with the trappings of the dork or the nerd. Their music is a blend of pure Pop/Rock mixed with some old time English Music Hall; kind of Keef Richards backing George Formby. So who am I talking about?
Well, given that I've already written a fairly lengthy eulogy to The Smiths, we can safely conclude it's not them. No, we're going back two decades prior to the glory days of The Smiths to the mid 60s, and to the time of Herman's Hermits.
Now, these Nippy Sweeties affairs are written for two purposes; to shine a light on obscure or forgotten gems from the 1960s, or to re-assess and re-evaluate the careers of some of the more maligned bands from that era. And just as I banged the drum for the brilliance of The Monkees, it's time to don the whistles and bells and sing out the praises of another fine and under-appreciated band.
The history books are rather harsh on Herman's Hermits. The first book I ever read on the phenomenon of the 1960s, back in 1984, really tore them to shreds; mocking their cheeriness, lambasting their 'goofy' lead singer Peter Noone and, as with The Monkees, viewing them as an embarrassment not fit to stand along side The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks or The Who. Tish and pish to you Sir; what exactly is wrong with some good old fashioned pure Pop music? Something the Hermits delivered in spades.
While the Hermits were often viewed rather incredulously in Britain, they were absolutely MASSIVE in America. They arrived in the States just as America's love affair with The Beatles was starting to sour, following John Lennon's 'bigger than Jesus' remarks. Watch any footage of disgruntled teens angry at Lennon from the time, and when they are asked who they now favour, Herman's Hermits are the favourite answer. Another reason for the disdain!

But the music is quite wonderful.
After the toothachingly chirpy 'I'm Into Something Good' which broke them and gave them their only UK Number 1, they followed with a fine run of superb singles, all of which had that little bit of Britishness that the Yanks really went for in a big way.
The wistful 'Silhouettes' is a case in point. Like many of The Smiths' songs that had meant so much to me in my teenage years, here we have another song about being out and about on the streets at night. The protagonist is walking to his girlfriend's house when he sees her shadow embracing another boy, silhouetted against the blinds. Mad with heartbroken rage he pounds on the front door demanding answers, only to be confronted by two strangers! It turns out he's on the wrong street. If you live in Bannockburn (or any small town) you'll know that many streets all look the same.
The song is interesting because, as was the case with many records of the time, the producer had called in session musicians to ensure the playing was up to snuff, but the guitarist they had hired just couldn't cut the fiddly guitar intro, so the band's lead guitarist Derek 'Lek' Leckenby caught it in one take:

Next major single, 'A Must To Avoid'(now there's a Smiths-esque title!!) was another splendid slice of early 60s Beatpop, with a some nice descending minor chords on the chorus. The fact that the song deals with a girl who isn't all sweetness and light is another thing which set the Hermits apart from the others a little:

Detractors of Herman's Hermits often point to the asinine Musical Hall efforts that seem to blight their catalogue. In a recent interview, former members of the band pointed out that the massive Stateside success of their song 'Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter' was responsible for the band's permanent 'Chirpy Cheeky Chappie' persona, yet the phenomenal success of the song guaranteed them a level of American support second only to The Beatles.
I think it's fair to say that the world didn't really need a Pop version of Kiddie's nonsense 'I'm 'Enry The Eighth, I Am', but the exaggerated English accents ensured another huge American hit:

One of the Hermits best songs, maybe even their finest of all, was the fantastic 'No Milk Today'. When I first got a decent computer and an MP3 player, this was the third song I ever downloaded, after Althea & Donna's 'Uptown Top Ranking' and Duran Duran's 'Save A Prayer'. It was a song that I had heard often on Simon Bate's Golden Hour radio show in the 1980s but had never really worked out what the sing was about. Again, over some melancholic minor chords, we learn that Peter's love has left him and the house that once rocked with laughter and wild times now stands quiet and forlorn. There's no need for the milkman to leave any milk as SHE was the only one who drank it.
Quite, quite splendid:

1967 was a weird old year for Pop music, as it was the year that even the most Conservative of our Pop Stars decided to release Acid soaked Psychedelic explorations of their inner mind. Most of this nonsense resulted in many bands releasing their worst records including The Beatles ('Sgt Pepper' and 'Magical Mystery Tour'....both stinkers compared to the rest of their oeuvre), and The Rolling Stones (whose 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' is considered by almost all their following as the real dog in their 60s output!)
Herman's Hermits were no different, releasing the little heard 'Blaze' album. I say 'little heard', it wasn't even released in the UK, securing only an American release. But it does stand up as a fine document of the times.

The Hermits had a couple of Movie projects in the 60s; they appeared in a couple of Various Artists showcase movies such as 'Pop Gear' and 'When The Boys Meet The Girls', before securing their own movie with 'Hold On!' in which the band are sent of into space(!?!). The film was made by the team who made the Beach Party movies and was a moderate hit.
Their next and last project, 'Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter' wasn't a hit, but was a far better film. More gritty than their previous effort, the film is shot in authentic Mancunian backstreets with the titular 'Mrs. Brown' being a greyhound which the band somehow adopt. The film is notable for it's fine opening song 'It's Nice To Be Out In The Morning' (one of their best), and for a rather poignant scene in which all the grown-up characters in the film; parents etc, start singing a song called 'The World Is For The Young' in which they admit they've had their chance at life at blown it, and it's the young kids of the *cough* Swinging Sixties who run the world now. A rather strange and beautiful moment in a rather odd film.

Herman's Hermits never really survived beyond 1969. Again, in a recent interview, Peter Noone said he felt the band's name hampered them a great deal; "Nobody expects 12 minute guitar solos, or free-form Psychedelic Jazz workouts from a band called Herman's Hermits" he claims.
But they did give some of the finest Pure Pop from that decade.

Hermans Hermits personnel: Peter Noone - vocals, Keith Hopwood - guitar, Lek Leckenby - guitar, Karl Green - bass, Barry Whitwam - drums

In 1989, at his most 'English', Morrissey recorded a cover of the Hermit's most cynical song 'East West', a song which deals with being on tour but wanting to be back in the arms of your love; check and contrast:


You can download all of Herman's Hermits original American released Mono albums at this fine Blog

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Griff says; Dive right in with Swimming Elephants

I'm amazed, and a little ashamed, to say that it has been a year (see 'here') since I've featured any of the music from the brilliant SEA Indie netlabel. SEA Indie, the brainchild of founder Isarapan Boonyaso, has been bringing the best of South East Asian indie-pop to the rest of the world since 2008, and all for free too.
SEA Indie focuses on the twee and cutesy end of the indie-pop market and has a refreshingly simple mission statement;
"To unite and promote the great indie scenes in the Southeast Asian Region; Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand."

Their latest release is a two-song net-single from Swimming Elephants (pictured) who hail from Jakarta, Indonesia. Swimming Elephants originally started as a weekend musical workshop where a group of old friends, all non-musicians with no musical background at all, got together to play-around with music and unfamiliar instruments in a fun and experimental way. The outcome was pop songs with simple and beautiful arrangements, naively composed and arranged without falling back on pop/rock cliches. The band/collective hope that;
"Their songs might evoke some fond memories and repaint a long-forgotten picture in your mind."
Sounds good to us, Proustian even (as Gordon might say)!

The full line up for the session was:

Rizki Yogaswara (vocals, guitars, keyboards)
Gilar Di Aria (keyboards, guitars, percussions)
Wisnu Anditta (drums, percussions, vocals)
Saras Juwono (vocals, keyboard, recorder)
Aprilia DH (keyboards,glockenspiels, percussions)
Ranggi Mukti (Bass)

The songs on this release are 'At The Zoo' and 'Sarah' and I'm embedding the former below. However, I do stress that you go on to download the release, which you can do 'here', as 'Sarah' is just as lovely, plus, as always with SEA Indie, the download comes with a beautifully prepared accompanying booklet containing art, photos and information.

SEA 008 : Swimming Elephants - At The Zoo by SEA INDIE | The Singles

The wonderful cover art (below)for this release, another essential and distinctive SEA Indie element, is by Sudarat Chuphuakphong.

If you want to hear more, then check out the other songs on the band's Facebook page.



Sunday, 21 August 2011

I Misplaced It At The Movies: Rita Pavone

If you are under 50 and you know who Rita Pavone is then you are probably either a)Italian, or b)a Morrissey fan.
The reason I make this assumption is that Rita Pavone scored two minor British chart hits in the mid 1960s (with 'Heart' and 'You Only You' reaching numbers 27 and 21 respectively); and, in 1984, when Morrissey appeared on Radio 1's 'My Top 10', he chose 'Heart' as one of his favourite records, claiming it to possess 'the most incredible vocal performance ever recorded'. You can judge for yourself below:

And here's the original Italian language version of 'You Only You':

Rita Pavone emerged in 1963, winning an Italian talent show called 'Festival degli Sconosciuti' (literally 'Festival Of The Unknowns') and was hugely popular in her home country, but became even more popular in Spain where her blend of Pop Ballads and Rock earned her a huge fan base.
In Europe, though strangely not Britain, she constantly appeared on TV, and even made a couple of appearances on the Ed Sullivan show in the States.

Rita also carved out an interesting film career in the 1960s.
She starred in a couple of movies as 'Rita La Zanzara', which roughly translates as 'Rita The Mosqueeta', in which she plays a feisty college student who develops a crush and then falls in love with her music teacher. Her films weren't massively popular at the time, to be honest, but over the years a cult following has developed for them.

Perhaps her biggest Cult Movie was the one of hers which I own; her one and only venture in the murky world of the Spaghetti Western.
Last week I spoke of my passion for the Kaiju Eiga Japanese Monster movies, but even they pale next to my obsession with Spaghetti Westerns. I mean, you are talking to someone who has actually seen 'Lemonade Joe', the only Eastern European Spaghetti Western.

Spaghetti Westerns tend to fall into 4 categories; The Stylish: anything by Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci; The Political: many Italian Leftist film makers used the format of the Western to get anti-Fascist messages across, and check out 'Il Prezzo del Potere(1969)' which reconstructs the Kennedy assassination long before Oliver Stone got his hands on it; The Awful: there are so many cheap tawdry Spaghetti Westerns out there, that you really need a guide map to avoid the dross, but beware any movie that stars Italian Chuckle Brother lookalikes Franco and Ciccio....watching their films is like eating your own eyes; and The Weird: some Spaghetti Westerns are just downright bizarre. Take 'Death Walks In Laredo' in which a gunman joins forces with; his long lost brothers, a French hypnotist, and a Japanese Martial Arts expert, to take on a villain who thinks he's Julius Caesar.

Or 'Three Supermen In The West', a completely nonsensical affair in which some 'Three Stooges' style Superheroes end up back in time in the Old West. Not the Old West of John Ford and Howard Hawks, of course, but the Old West of the Spaghetti Western.
I defy you to watch this excruciating trailer all the way through:

And then there's 'Little Rita Of The West', starring the heroine of tonight's Blog.
The Spaghetti Western fan's Bible, 'The Good, The Bad and The Violent' by Thomas Weisser really gives this movie a hard time, even voting it one of the Top 10 Worst Spaghetti Westerns Of All Time (No.9 to be exact)...but that's all a little too harsh. Compared to the Franco and Ciccio efforts, or any movie by Demofilo Fidani (excepting the fabulously titled 'One Damned Day At Dawn, Django Meets Sartana' - see Hollywood, that's how you title a picture!) , or indeed any of the cheap, shoddy Sartana cash-ins; this is quite a solid little movie.

And it's good for a laugh.

Weisser and his cohorts even admit that the sequences in the movie featuring Django are quite droll. As are the scenes with Johnny Ringo and Black Star (called Black 'Stand' in the subtitles of the version I watched). Indeed, the scenes which parody the Spaghetti Western cliches are extremely stylish and very well done.
The song and dance numbers, often cut from American prints, are quite bizarre and I feel that this movie would be better served on a double-bill with 'Head', the Monkees movie.

A word of warning though, if you see this movie on the Japanese DVD then you'd be as well turning the English Subtitles OFF if you want to follow the plot as they make no sense whatsoever...especially in the lyrics to the songs. Or keep them on and get an extra few laughs for your money.

All in all this is quite a fun little movie and it's certainly an alternative to, say, the vile misogyny of something like 'Cut-Throats Nine'.

After a quiet 70s in which Rita married and started a family, she returned to movies in the 1980s, appearing in a couple of comedy films, none of which played much outside Italy.
In 1992 she appeared in the United States at a concert which featured Frank Sinatra and the Bloshoi Ballet, and then took to acting in the theatre, appearing in several Shakespeare productions.
She now lives in Switzerland with her husband and family, and as recently as 2006 was actively partaking in Italian politics.
She may be fairly unknown outside Central Europe, but thanks to Morrissey she's one of my favourite Euro-pop stars, and the star of one of my favourite Spaghetti Westerns.

And better than the New York Dolls any day!


And if you are interested you can download Rita's eponymous debut album here

Friday, 19 August 2011

Playing catch-up with The Streetlamp - Doble Pletina and Kitten Pyramid

Just occasionally, we get a little snowed-under here at Streetlamp HQ and things that we meant to do get lost at the bottom of the in-tray or pushed to the back of the mind. It can be hard sometimes to follow-up on a band that had you raving ecstatically a year back, or even 6 months ago, when there are so many new bands, books and films jostling for your attention. Tonight, therefore, I'd like to re-visit two bands that we've featured before on the Streetlamp, but of whom we temporarily lost sight. The first is the wonderful Spanish, lo-fi, indie-pop duo Doble Pletina, who you hopefully remember me enthusing over back in January (see 'here' for details).

Well, it turns out that after releasing the 6 track demo album that had me so excited, they quickly followed up with a two-song single release in March. This was called marzo, and featured the songs 'Eso hacíamos' and 'Deseos a la primera'. Both are every bit as good as the previous Doble Pletina releases and that's why I'm so ashamed to admit that your normally, eagle-eyed Streetlamp team totally overlooked this release at the time. Ooops! Let's rectify that now by belatedly embedding both tracks and suggesting that you head over to Doble Pletina's bandcamp page, or their page, to pick up the free downloads and have a listen to all of their wonderful music.

The other artist who has been beavering away since his Streetlamp debut in September 2010 (see 'here') is film-maker Scott Marson. You may remember that Scott was working on a long term project called 'Elephants & Cars'. This was a short, surreal thriller about a day in the life of Scott's uncle Jarek, a paranoid schizophrenic. Scott had also been producing music as part of the film soundtrack under the name Kitten Pyramid and it was these songs; clever, folk-infused, pop nuggets, that brought him to our attention. Indeed, we liked the songs so much that one of them, W.H.A.L.E., even made it into our 2010 Streetlamp Festive Thirty. Kitten Pyramid is now a three piece, with Matt Salmonella joining on Bass/Production and Rob Refrigerator on Drums/Guitar. The trio have refitted W.H.A.L.E. and it can be heard in its latest incarnation below.

Still an excellent pop song I think. As well as this new improved W.H.A.L.E., the band have recently released, and made available as a free download, a new song called Emily the Mermaids, which, you can hear above, is every bit as good.
Scott has also finished the film trailer for 'Elephants & Cars', as well as completing surreal short film 'Sherley's Famous Cat Book'. I'm embedding both below.



Tuesday, 16 August 2011

I Misplaced It At The Movies: The Peanuts....

....incorporating a slight, and somewhat idiosyncratic overview of the Kaiju Eiga film genre.

I have to admit that I am not a Trekkie.
And even when it comes to Star Wars, despite numerous conversations with Ray that would make Jay and Silent Bob's heads spin with geek overload, I have to admit merely a low-key admiration for the films.
No, when it comes to Sci-Fi, apart from a few classy Red Menace 1950s movies, my main passion, rather crude though it may be, is the heavily criticised and sniffily despised Kaiju Eiga series of films. That's the Japanese Giant Monster movies (you know...the Godzilla movies!!).
The Kaiju series of films have predominantly featured fan favourite Godzilla, but have thrown up many other atomic mutations such as Gamera, Rodan, Gappa, King Ghidora, Angurus; as well as a couple of unofficial performances from King Kong (in 'King Kong Vs Godzilla' and 'King Kong Escapes'), and (bizarrely) the Frankenstein Monster who appeared in 'Frankenstein Conquers The World'. The plot of this insane film (and trust me you will have to suspend a LOT of belief in this Blog!) has the heart of the Frankenstein Monster being transported to Japan only to be hit by the blast from the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima. A young boy, exposed to the now radioactive Frankenstein heart, grows into a Godzilla-sized version of the Frankenstein Monster, although it more resembles a giant Oddbod from 'Carry On Screaming'.

However, next only to Godzilla in popularity, is Mothra. This is quite strange as, apart from being one of the most beautiful Kaiju creations, Mothra is rather hampered by it's very clumsiness and non-frightening appearance. It seems though that Mothra's popularity is mostly due to the fact that in every Mothra movie there is an appearance by Mothra's tiny twin guardians, played by Japanese pop sensations The Peanuts.
The Peanuts are identical twin sisters Tsukiko and Hideyo Ito, who changed their names to Yumi and Emi when they embarked on their Pop career. Born in 1941, the twins broke onto the scene in 1958 performing variations of J-Pop from the time.
However, it would be their casting as Mothra's twin Guardians in the first Mothra movie that would seal their fame. There has always been some confusion as to what the Peanuts are called in the movies, due to both unreliable subtitles, or various dubbing by different studios. In some films they are called The Mothra Fairies, in others they are referred to simple as The Tiny Beauties, and in some film books and magazines they have been called The Alilenas, though this appears to be a complete mistake stemming from an early press kit that gave both twins names in the movies; one was Alilena and this appears to have somewhat confused an English speaking film journalist of the time.

Many people watch the Mothra films purely because they know The Peanuts will be appearing in them; often singing the famous and very catchy Mothra chant:

The Peanuts tend to act as both an embodiment of Mothra's soul or spirit, and often as the conscience of the human race, as time after time they try to persuade Mothra not to kill the humans, or vice-versa. Quite often they are kidnapped by evil humans who try to lure Mothra out so they can attack it.
Sometimes they are put on display as freaks like in the scene below which features an unintentionally funny and creepy scene in which two camp, middle-aged men grab two little boys and say, "I believe you know these fairies very well!"

Every Mothra film of the late 50s or early 60s featured The Peanuts, often performing a different song as well as the much loved chant. The chant proved so popular that an official single was released in the early 60s.

After their appearances in the Mothra movies, The Peanuts continued as Pop Stars in Japan, scoring many hits; their most popular being 'Furimukanaide (Gekichuukyoku) ' which translates as 'Misbehavin'(Don't Look Back)'. In 1964 they even appeared on the Ed Sullivan show performing 'Lover Come Back To Me'. They continued their Pop career throughout the 60s and early 70s before retiring in 1975.

The whole Kaiju Eiga series tends to polarise film critics, even those who deal specifically in Cult genre pictures. Danny Peary, in his excellent 'Cult Movies' series of books claims that Japanese Giant Monster Movies are the one genre he fails to see anything worthy in. While Michael Weldon of the 'Psychotronic Movie Guide', and Steven Puchalski of 'Slimetime' practically fall over themselves to heap praise upon the films.
Part of the reason the films have such a bad rep is that for many years they were only available in terrible cropped pan-and-scan versions, which reduced the Widescreen vistas considerably. They were also dubbed so badly that there are Dutch Porn films with more credible dialogue. Also, there's the fact that not all the movies were made by the same team. Any film directed by Ishiro Honda, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, are uniformly excellent; once you veer away from this production team however, you are in murky waters. Godzilla's suit becomes progressively silly looking, until it reaches it's nadir in the early 1970s, where he looks like a badly designed hand-puppet of a frog!!
My own fascination for the Kaiju Eiga movies began in Primary School when I was taken to the cinema one Saturday afternoon for a double bill that comprised of sleazy Spaghetti Western 'Finger On The Trigger' (pretty violent and definitely NOT kiddie-fare), and 'King Kong Escapes'. I didn't really catch on that it was Japanese, but I absolutely loved it.
A few years later, in 1983, the Medved Brothers began a show on Channel 4 called 'The Worst Of Hollywood' which tied in with their books, 'The 50 Worst Movies Of All Time' and 'The Golden Turkey Awards'. In the series they showed 'Godzilla Vs The Smog Monster' aka 'Godzilla Vs Hedorah' which they claimed was one of the 50 worst movies of all time. Interesting, because Kaiju fans don't even consider it the worst Godzilla film of all time. That accolade goes to 'Godzilla's Revenge', a childish slop that joins together old footage with an excruciatingly twee story about bullying. I should point out that, while I used to admire the Medveds for daring to bring 'bad' movies to new audiences, a lot of their ideas of what constitutes a 'bad' movie are way off. For example, they list 'Grease' as the second worst film of all time after 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'! Not even 'Grease 2', but the original!! 'Godzilla Vs The Smog Monster', however, is a guilty pleasure, especially in nonsensical opening song 'Save The Earth' which features the clanging opening salvo, "We've got cobalt// It's full of mercury(, are you sure?)// Too many fumes in our oxygen", take it away.....

Okay, Pop Quiz Hotshots....what is the name of Godzilla's son? Now, if you've just shouted out Godzuki then go and stand in the corner with the Dunce's Cap on! Godzuki originates from the terrible, late 70s animated series, and was in fact Godzilla's nephew(?!?). Godzilla's son is actually called Minya and was blamed by many for juvenilisation of the Godzilla series. Indeed, his own movie 'Son Of Godzilla' is 95% tripe, but redeems itself in the final scene, contributing one of the most beautiful and poignant scenes in the whole series history. Having beaten the rather rubbish enemy monsters (giant mantises and an absurd looking giant crab), Godzilla and Minya usher the friendly humans away on their boat just as a huge blizzard engulfs the tiny island. Godzilla embraces his son to him as they are covered in the snow, the humans exclaiming that ''they'll sleep till the spring comes". As the end music plays we watch Godzilla and son disappear beneath the snow.....a genuinely beautiful image.
Below is the only footage I can find of this moment. You have to get past a rather annoying opening 28 second intro, and the image is poorly cropped and doesn't show the whole scene, but I felt I had to share it.

It's interesting to note that both Godzilla and Mothra are killed in both their debut movies but both live on at the end of every subsequent film. This means, then, that in every sequel (and there are MANY) Godzilla is actually the son of the original Godzilla, and therefore Minya is the GRANDSON of the original Godzilla.
Godzilla's one and only death, in the wonderful debut movie 'Gojira' is also incredibly poignant. The whole movie is actually pretty sombre, being a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both of which occurred a mere 9 years previously. Godzilla is actually killed by the humans while he is asleep at peace in his own underwater lair, which comes across as both cowardly and immoral on behalf of the humans. The scientist who kills Godzilla then takes his own life, maybe we are to assume through his feelings of guilt, but it seems more likely as a result of the awkward love triangle that runs through the movie.

In 1992 'Godzilla Vs Mothra' was remade with all new, twin Mothra Fairies, this time called The Cosmos! They are played by Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa and they even recorded an updated version of the Mothra theme tune and released it as a single.

I realise this whole Blog is a very slight and personal overview of the whole Kaiju Eiga phenomenon, but I just wanted to express my love of these movies, and to show that it's not all Ingmar Bergman round this way.

Next time: Ingmar Bergman.....

.......Versus The Smog Monster!


Monday, 15 August 2011

Griff says; Tiny things in a tiny space from totokoko

I've realised looking back at my blogs in the last couple of months that I've deviated a little from my stated intentions, and indeed the agenda I set in the first year of this blog, to bring to you the best undiscovered and overlooked lo-fi experimental folk, and visual art, that the internet can offer. This being the case, I'm glad to say that today's 'Griff says' piece brings us squarely back to the sort of music that I hope you've come to know and love as much as I do; soft and light and lovely with a hint of hesitant introspection.

Today, I want to introduce you to a netlabel that offers a veritable deluge of just such music (plus more); that label is totokoko from Japan. totokoko was launched in January 2010 and since then have delivered 22 music releases. The label specialises in ambient, folktronica, instrumental music with the occasional foray into indie-pop. Their latest release (totokoko 021) is the excellent 'ame to wonder' by the Japanese musician Daisuke Ogura (pictured), recording under the pseudonym 'Bed'.

This album contains 11 chilled ambient lullabies recorded using acoustic guitar and toy instruments then given an electronic makeover. Daisuke describes the concept as "the sound of the rain and sleep" and "a story about the middle of the night". Have a listen to sleep/forest (available on the album as a remixed bonus track) to get a flavour of the sound:

sleep/forest. by Bed.

The 'ame to wonder' album can be freely downloaded 'here'. Indeed, all of the music and art released by totokoko is freely available. If you're wondering about that reference to art, then let me elucidate. totokoko, you see, is more than just a music portal; they also have a commitment to bring you the work of photographers, painters and illustrators whose visual art fits in with the totokoko aesthetic. As with the music, that aesthetic can be described as delicate, sensitive, harmonious and tasteful. Here are a few examples:

Kazumi Osawa/大沢 かずみ


[painter/visual artist]
yuki izumi

totokoko also has a further project, entitled 'four coloured season'. This is an online photography exhibit which aspires to convey the various colours and shapes of spring, summer, autumn and winter as they are experienced by many different people. The project is open to all and totokoko are keen to accept your photographs. To view the current photographs and to find details of how and where to send your own efforts, see 'here'. Below are some of my favourite photographs so far:

Any budding artists, photographers or musicians out there should also note that totokoko are on the lookout for more artists. So, if you are interested in a net release, and if you fit into there overall sound; soft instrumental,detailed istrumental or cute pop, drop them an e-mail. Similarly, if you are interested in a sensitive introduction of your visual art to the wider world then send them a sample of some of your work.

I'll finish by embedding 'one song for one album', a recent totokoko soundcloud release, which showcases the sounds of the label's stable of musicians. Hopefully, there'll be something there which will take your fancy.

totokoko release. one song for one album by totokokolabel



Monday, 8 August 2011

Songs in the key of Griff: You Are The Everything

As with my last 'Songs in the key of Griff' piece, which you can read 'here', this one is prompted by one of Gordon's blog entries; in this case his latest piece, in which he wrote about his moment of epiphany during our recent trip to Portencross.
Our trip to Portencross was, as Gordon has correctly recalled, something of a turning-point for us all, and I came to that realisation on the Sunday evening following when Gordon texted me to, more or less, ask after my 'spiritual' well-being. Now, I've known Gordon for a great many years and during all this time he has been a convinced, even aggressive, atheist, so this line of enquiry was unexpected to say the least. It seems, however, that the beauty of Portencross had stirred something deep within him that he felt the need to acknowledge in an, at least quasi-, spiritual way.

Now I must confess at this point, that I started my own long, slow march down from the fixed position of atheism a couple of years ago. It's fair to say that, like many people who are interested in the arts, especially poetry and music, I recognise and appreciate the sublime when I see/hear it and I suppose that I've always been susceptible to some form of 'spiritual' aspect to existence. Strangely, however, it was my continued study of physics that finally did for my atheism when I began to suspect that the reality that the science could describe was an approximation of something more profound and, crucially, more mysterious. In short, the deeper I went into the physics the more I began to see parallels with mystic explanations of the fundamental nature of reality, such as Taoism.

Now, this recognition of the relevance of mysticism didn't really frighten me, as I have long been an enthusiast of the Romantic era poets, particularly Blake and Wordsworth. These two, with their insistence on the pursuit of communion with an ultimate reality or spiritual truth through intuition and instinct and, in paticular, through the direct experience of Nature, have inspired hill-walkers the world over to look a little deeper; and I suppose I had more and more began to see the world refracted through the lens of their insight. And, in doing so, I began to intuitively experience, fleetingly and superficially, the sort of transcendence that Wordsworth describes so well in 'Lines Written In early Spring', 'The Tables Turned' or 'Tintern Abbey'. When I took myself out (as I increasingly did) onto the hills, lochs and moors of Scotland I began to hope for moments like these; moments of supreme well-being and contentedness. As Wordsworth puts it:

‘That serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on, -
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep powers of joy,
We see into the life of things.’

OK, I hope you don't think that I've gone all 'new-age' on you here, and I'm certainly not about to convert to any of the big 'axis' religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) but, I've got to say that sometimes, like that day at Portencross, I feel that there is a deeper or more fundamental state of existence beneath the observable, day-to-day world of phenomena, and that in fact the ordinary world is superficial or epiphenomenal. Who knows? Perhaps, as time goes, on I'll get crazier still and begin to see visions like William Blake. Maybe I'll have the full-blown 'Auguries of Innocence' experience?:

'To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.'

If I do, then I'll be in good company because the song I want to write about tonight is a song that acknowledges the sorts of experience that I've so far mentioned. And, more than that, the lyric is written in an oblique and implied manner that catches perfectly the nature of the feelings conveyed in the song. So, what's the song? It is 'You Are The Everything' by R.E.M. This is track 3 from REM's greatest album, 1988's 'Green',and I can still recall my eager purchase of that record on the day of its release. After hurrying home to slap it on the turntable I listened without interruption or conversation to the entire work and, to this day, it remains one of my best loved and most evocative records. But for me, the greatest track of all, on an album of great tracks, is 'You Are The Everything'. The music is wonderful, of course, and marked a turning point for R.E.M. away from rock to a folkier sound. In fact, 'You Are The Everything' marks the first use of the mandolin on any R.E.M. recording. But it was the lyric that really struck me; this is stream of consciousness poetry that's so irrational it makes the most sense of anything you've ever heard. This is how we think before we form our feelings into sentences. It's an existential masterpiece that instantly transports the listener back to their own childhood and somehow provides some kind of solace.

So how does it tie in to our Portencross trip? Well, it's because the song, like the trip, takes us into the world of the mystic. Much like poetry (or lyrics), the words of mystics are often idiosyncratic and esoteric. They can seem confusing and opaque, simultaneously over-simplified and full of subtle meanings hidden from the unenlightened. To the mystic, however, they are pragmatic statements, without subtext or weight; simple obvious truths of experience. One of the more famous lines from the Tao Te Ching, for instance, reads:

'My words are very easy to know, and very easy to practice;
but there is no one in the world who is able to know and able to practice them.'

And now, here are the lyrics to 'You Are The Everything', a song that evokes such strong feelings in so many people but which ostensibly makes no sense:

Sometimes I feel like I can't even sing
I'm very scared for this world,
I'm very scared for me,
Eviscerate your memory,
Here's a scene, you're in the back seat laying down,
The windows wrap around to the sound,
of the travel and the engine.
All you hear is time stand still in travel,
You feel such peace and absolute,
The stillness still that doesn't end but slowly drifts into sleep,
The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen,
And they're there for you,
For you alone, you are the everything.

I think about this world a lot,
and I cry, and I've seen the films and the eyes,
But I'm in this kitchen,
Everything is beautiful and she is so beautiful,
She is so young and old.
I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music,
The voices talking somewhere in the house
late spring,
and you're drifting off to sleep,
with your teeth in your mouth.
You are here with me, you are here with me,
You have been here and you are everything.

Perfect! Beautiful! Now here's the song (unfortunately only available live):

No free download of this, I'm afraid, as I suspect we'd have Warner Bros. on our asses if we did. However, I hate to send you away empty handed. So, in lieu of a song, here's a link to Wordsworth's complete poetical works, and Blake's fantastic online archive of illustrations, prose and poetry too can be found 'here'. Also, below are links to three good and freely downloadable translations of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching.

The Tolbert McCarroll translation

Peter Merel's interpolation

and, The sometimes illuminating, sometimes amusing, ultra-modern Ron Hogan translation



Sunday, 7 August 2011

The World That Summer

You get to a certain point in life when you wonder if "those glory days" will ever happen again.
I don't just mean days when everything goes right, or which leave you feeling good; but one of those days you used to experience in your youth where you felt your whole life changed as a result. Last year I got married, Griff and Ray were my Best Men, and it was a truly memorable day, and one I felt, or even knew, could never be repeated. But a fortnight ago we all had another "glory day" completely out of the blue....the day we went to Portencross.
It almost never happened.
I had been asked to work that Saturday, at the last minute, but because I had worked the previous five in a row, I made a strong case for getting the day off. So, Ray and I found ourselves up at Griff's and we were deciding what to do on the Saturday afternoon; go hillwalking, go up the West End of Glasgow, go canoeing. Then we hit upon the idea of going to Portencross.
Now, anybody who has known us since before we started this Blog will know that we started off as an Indie/Folk/Pop band called ~Sighrens~, and one of the best compositions Griff had come up with during that time was a song called 'Portencross'. To Ray and I it had just been another song which attempted to capture the headiness of being young in the Summertime, but to Griff it had been a lot more; a tribute and eulogy to one of his favourite places. He had always meant to take us there one day, if only to show us why the place meant so much to him and why it had inspired one of ~Sighrens~ best songs.

Portencross, roughly, lies between Ardrossan and Largs in the area of West Kilbride and is right on the coast, looking on to the Isle of Arran and the Holy Isle, the Cumbraes and Bute. As we arrived, the sun was already beating down beautifully, and the sea gleamed like an azure mirror. We walked to Portencross Castle, which has just recently been restored (see feature below). Inside the castle the sun beamed through the windows, casting rainbow patterns on the walls and floors. As we wandered the rooms, stairs and roof we could virtually taste the history, and as we looked down upon the harbour we could envisage the sea battles against the Spanish and the Vikings that previous generations had fought.

Walking along the harbourside, where young boys were fishing for mackerel, we admired the cottages that dotted along the sea front. We were especially smitten by one simply called Shore Cottage which had a rough, rustic, utterly bohemian look; and also one built right on the very precipice of the rock. We all spoke of how we would love to stay here, imagining wakening every day to the sounds of the sea and the harbour.
We walked along past the fields of wheat that moved like animated poetry, the heat of the mid-day sun now burning away any notion of this being the wettest, coldest Summer on record. At the far end of the coastline lies the Hunterston Nuclear Power Station; a thing of ugliness and horror in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Where the vents of the power plant emerge in the sea, the water bubbled and glowed like some mad Corryvreckan. Behind the power plant lay the walkway up to the cliffs and, missing our usual Saturday hillwalk, we decided to venture up onto the peaks, allowing ourselves a view of the coast and the sea which even Griff had never seen in all his visits here.
Walking up through the woods to the cliffs was like walking through some medieval fantasia, as the sun fittered through the branches into squirrel bestrewn glades. It was about this time that I remarked that days like this would probably make us live longer.
As we reached the cliffs' highest point we all sat on the edge to admire the show that nature had put on for us. Ray produced a bottle of Isla Negra (the black isle) wine from his rucksack and we poured ourselves three glasses. The sun reflecting on the calm water gave the sea a flinty, steely complexion that looked unlike anything we had ever seen; yachts and fishing boats dotted the surface.The funny thing about not being near the sea, or even seeing the sea all that often, means that when you do sit on the coastline looking over a vast expanse of water, you do get that feeling that you are on the very edge of the world.
And as we sat there, allowing the wine to loosen us up a bit, and as we looked across the calm, sun-streaked water to Arran, we began discussing the movie 'Man Of Aran' (set on the Inishmore Islands of Ireland) which had recently been re-scored by the band British Sea Power, who are big favourites among the ~Streetlamp~ fraternity....
Robert Flaherty's 1934 (pseudo)documentary is a work of art and a compelling study of Man's necessity to survive, not against the very forces of nature, but in tandem with them. The film shows the male islanders struggle in the flimsiest of boats, out on the crushing surf trying to gather both fish and seaweed, which is necessary for the growing of potatoes as there is no soil on the islands. The annual migration of basking sharks brings a one-off yearly opportunity to cultivate both meat, and fish oil which they use to fuel the lamps.

The film's power lies in it's depiction of man against the sea. The shots demonstrating the pure force of the sea are quite extraordinary, and it seems only fitting that a band named British Sea Power should be scoring these scenes. Masters of atmosphere, British Sea Power conjure up whole storms of music; scorching guitar runs match the camera work, slamming atonal keyboard blasts are impeccably timed to the crashing waves, while the drums and cymbals capture nature at it's most ferocious. The band's sense of theatrics combined with complete understanding of the images meld to create that old chestnut; sonic cathedrals of sound.

Music and image in perfect symbiosis. The fabulously named Colman 'Tiger' King out in his boat at the mercy of the crushing waves, whilst Earth Mother Maggie Dirrane watches on in both terror and necessity as her husband risks his life for food and oil. The music knows when to dip and allow moments of solemnity as the boat disappears from the shot, the horizon of the waves growing ever larger, and then suddenly the boat reappears, the men are drenched, Maggie's face showing a temporary relief, the music swells and you realise that not just all human life is here, but ALL life is here! Nature and humanity captured in one beat....

And as we sat discussing 'Man Of Aran' while gazing at our own Isle of Arran, surrounded by the calm, metallic sheen of Portencross's own sun-glazed sea, we all felt.....alive!
As we headed back down the cliff to the main drag, Griff and Ray were jabbering like schoolchildren about how this was their favourite ever ~Streetlamp~ experience. I put on a show of mild stoicism, pretending somehow that I was indifferent to the whole thing, whilst all the time knowing inside that something had changed. As the shadows stretched and the sun cast it's 'golden hour' shine over the castle and the surrounding streets, we could hear a band set up their equipment while the locals began to gather in the centre of the town. There was to be a music festival to raise money for the restoration of the castle. We would have stayed, and indeed probably should have stayed, but we had to head back.
The next day, I texted Griff to tell him that as a result of our visit to Portencross, I now felt somewhat changed, somehow cleansed spiritually (even if I don't really like using that word). He said he agreed and hoped that Ray and I now knew how he felt about Portencross and why he had taken to compose the song of that name. And now, when I feel the strain and the grind-to-five of work getting me down, I can close my eyes and find myself back there again.
But it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.
But we'll always have Portencross!
Here's looking at you kids!


Ray adds:
Portencross is a sort of hidden oasis it seems, most of the people I have spoken to about our 'hillwalk' in this area have never heard of it.
Neither had I, really, until it was brought to my attention when Sighrens wrote the song about it.

What a magical place! A place where everything I enjoy about the outdoors was in full view at a hidden away hinterland; historical castles, faraway islands, deep blue water, and a beautiful viewpoint from a 'nice wee hill'.

Even the scientific chit-chat that we so often fall into is well served here , with the rather 'out of place' Hunterston nuclear power-station to the North East.

Definitely in my all-time top three hillwalks we have done.

You can download the famous instrumental piece 'Flowers Of Portencross' here
of which Griff comments: The song is written about the flower 'geranium sanguineum' which grows by the sea in Portencross. The tune is supposed to mirror the moods of the sea around Portencross castle.