Sunday, December 28, 2014

bands from nowhere, or, "faceless rockno bollocks"

Rather enjoy the way the radio (here at least - LA) throws up these groups that seem to come from nowhere  - you've never read about them, they don't appear to tour or play gigs -  they go from obscurity to ubiquity just like that (but you could be standing in line next to them at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's and never know it).

Often it's rock with an electronic tinge, or at least a studio-airlessness - suggesting that the music, while it might have electric guitar or bass guitar in it, has been assembled in the studio rather than developed through playing the song at gigs - basically not much adherence to the performance model of the rock band going on here.


what actually made me think of the genre-not-genre is this lot (or person - who knows, who cares?). "Dangerous" sounds to me a bit like DFA if they weren't playing to the hipoisie gallery - DFA if they were more concerned with serious bread than serious cred - DFA coated with some Phoenix-y melodic flair.

(Phoenix -  although I had read about them, know they are rated by Pitchforks and Spins and so forth - feel like an archetype for this kind of "faceless rockno bollocks"  - electronic but not EDM - tuneful as hell -- but as much as I love "Listomania" when it come on the radio never felt much of an urge to find out anything about them, listen to their albums - which makes me like most radio punters I should imagine)

Another archetypal band-from-nowhere with a song I always turn up is Foster the People "Pumped Up Kicks" - this instantly struck me as a cleaned-up take on Ariel Pink  - the vocal, the weak but insistent drums (could almost be mouth-generated), the hazy elegaic production, the wistful melody, even the Dark Lyrics about, what, a school shooter, a Columbine-style misfit?

One hallmark of these bands is they usually have really wack names.

The other big hallmark of these bands that you don't really care if you ever hear anything else by them. Even if the track  is wonderful, there's zero investment of expectation for a follow-up.

I suppose F.U.N. would count here

(But I suspect they also have fans, an actual following... )

A key ancestor for all this is  "Young Folks" -  although this I also heard first through the usual hip channels, where it seemed vaguely in the zone of Sally Shapiro and stuff like that. But certainly "Young Folks" crops up on modern rock stations in LA as a "recent oldie" as if they were just a Big Data / Foster the P type one-off

What a great beat...

Scandinavians do seem good at this kind of thing, or maybe it's more the case that American radio consigns them to this position - ensuring they'll always be the One Radio Hit band, never achieve that sort of Foo Fighters / Tom Petty / Steve Miller dependable-perennial status on rock radio

One of the first examples that caught my ear

I mean, what is that? How would you genre-assign it?   It's not dance music, it's not rock music, it's not what most people think of when they think of pop (Rihanna, Britney, Ariana, et al), it's not indie....  The video has a bit with a drummer bashing away in it but the groove doesn't sound like a real drummer.

All these tunes sound much louder and forceful on the radio, through compression and whatnot, but outside that context, it's wispy stuff. Denatured to the point of insubstance.

But rather that than the vintage-artisanal rock of Black Keys or Jack White's sundry strands of raspage

stop press: another one i meant to include, reminded of its existence by Ricardo in the comments

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

bonus Head / "The Musical Era in Which The U.K. Ceased to Matter"

i think the idea was that they were meant to be a sort of modern Mott ("modern" meaning Eighties) or perhaps more nearly The Faces (George Best as icon)

kind of New Lad avant la lettre  -  lovably incorrigible reprobates, boys who should know better

congruent perhaps with ironic cock-rock (Zodiac Mindwarp) and Grebo (how's about that for Bad Music Era,  although that would be more 84-85-86-87)

the "raunch" with "Sin Bin" is entirely gestural, not backed up musically

it sounds like Simply Red (or Simple Minds even) trying to do Free, maybe

but in terms of trajectory the (dis)continuum from




is remarkable and tells you something about the wonky path from postpunk to postpostpunk to the directionless heat-death nadirscape of the UK scene in the mid-to-late Eighties

There was a desire to revert to, or resurrect, rock....  but the knowledge-base (immersion in blues, R&B, seasoned through gigging in small club environments and functional orientation towards making crowds dance) atrophied by punk's indoctrination of the attitude + concept = all you need delusion.  The deskilling of a generation.

But I'm merely parroting Carducci at this point.

(When Lydon made a similar dialectical about-face - back to capital 'r' Rock, only half-a-decade after declaring wishfully that Rock Is Dead -- he at least had the nous to hire Ginger Baker, Tony Williams, Steve Vai, Bill Laswell - i.e. technically adept musicians, dating from a pre-punk era or posssessing a pre-punk mindset)

Thing is, Sager knew what  "cooking" was - he'd ridden one of the great rhythm sections of its era in P. Group... and as much as I find RR&P annoying as hell, there is a heat there - the engine was turned on


Graham Sanford from Our God Is Speed drops by to offer his other-side-of-the-pond perspective on the Bad Music Era, describing it as "The Musical Era in Which The U.K. Ceased to Matter"
as far as nearly all Americans were concerned: 

"I was in high school when MTV went national, so my hs years were filled with Duran Duran, Culture Club, and all the other acts that were being called The Second British Invasion. (Me? I mostly was scrounging around trying to get my hands on records from a couple/few years earlier -- mainly the post-punk stuff that preceded the "New Pop" explosion.)

"But at some point around 1985-6, it was like no one care about what was coming out of the UK, anymore; even though record companies were trying to push the acts really, really hard (via Spin magazine, MTV's "120 Minutes," etc.), relaying all the promo hype. Not many takers, it seemed, for the likes of That Petrol Emotion, SSS, It's Immaterial, Spelt Like This, New Model Army, Gaye Bikers on Acid, et al.. (I think Red Lorry Yellow Lorry might've sold a few stateside discs; but in the end no one seemed to think they were any great shakes.)

"But of course ultimately it was about how most of the music just wasn't much good, if not just plain awful.

"With one of your old Bad Music Era posts, I found myself trying to pinpoint when the tipping point might've been. I think the marketing of Frankie Goes To Hollywood might've been what exhausted the last of American interest -- the frenzy of promotion and sensationalism, but when the album finally came out no one thought it anything special. And then by my calculations, I think the Blow Monkeys was the act at which American audiences said "enough," and pretty much wrote the UK music scene off entirely."

That is how it felt like on our side of the pond too - for some of us, anyway. I was a devout Americanophile, worshipping Husker Du, The Replacements, later Butthole Surfers, Dinosaur Jnr, et al. And ashamed, with a few exceptions, of the output of the U.K, which seemed spent.  The Bad Music Era lingered on well into the period I was writing on MM, throwing up (appropriate word) the likes of Age of Chance and the aforementioned Grebo gunk. 

 (Of course American had heaping platefuls of indigenous shite. Hold tight for a forthcoming post on College Rock). 

Another one to add to Graham's list of British ignominions would be Love and Rockets, who actually had some chart success in the USA (not in UK though).

And actually all right in their flimsy glammish pop way, but certainly a decline from Bauhaus, who while Gothshit vocally + lyrically, nonetheless had quite an exciting postpunk-related sound and put out some cracking singles.

Also to be filed under f(l)ailed aspiring Resurrection of Rock would be The Cult, although at the time I quite enjoyed their Electric move and even wrote a Sontag-style appreciation of them as camp in a live review, which I might just dig up. (What on earth is a "Love Removal Machine" though? )

The reason I keep returning to the Bad Music Era like a scab is two-fold I think: because it's objective proof to me that there can be periods of cultural decline, it goes against the poptimist article of faith that every year is a a good year; but also because I've reached that point where bad music is more interesting to think about than good music. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

the Bad Music Era (84-85-86) [slight return]

The strange shit my country comes up with...

Confession: I did like the Blow Monkeys for a moment... even interviewed Dr Robert....

now a little self-mystified I confess

pretty man, though, Robert

as was

ooh gosh, always forget about these guys -- front cover of Melody Maker shortly before I started writing for it

Could go on endlessly (not touched Goth or psychobilly or wide-brim hat indie or Kitchenware or ...) but I'll leave it with this one (who i actually reviewed live, early on, severely paying my dues - and eviscerated, naturally)

And then this one - by a groop that had its supporters at MM at the time - not my gang obviously, we loathed them - but which I curiously find compulsively watchable now, as a sort of aesthetic car-crash - the sight 'n 'sound of  British Post Post-Punk Rock Culture Going Down the Plug Hole (which it really felt like it was, pre-MBV etc)

Oh and finally-finally -  this also-oddly-compulsively-watchable, almost inexplicable piece of music / visuals, which - hard though it may be to believe - actually involves a former member of The Pop Group and later of Rip Rig and Panic (who I'd also lump in the Bad Music Era folder if I was feeling mean)

strange strange shit my country came up with - and still comes up with

Sunday, December 14, 2014

“Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment” (1986)

Sigue Sigue Sputnik - not the first but certainly exemplary and refulgent in that long line of UK groops who thought that if you got the attitude right, the concept right, the image right, the interview chat right...  that the music could be an afterthought... that make-do would be sufficient to carry it all off

They swallowed the McLaren line (the music doesn't matter, the schmutter and patter is what counts) hook and sinker

Oh I bought it, for the duration of the first single -- literally, paid my own money *

The sound is Tony James imitating Alan Vega imitating Billy Idol and his producers

But the flimsy became apparent with this

Then you learned that they couldn't sell ads to fill the spaces on the album Flaunt It

That the million dollar advance was only 30 thou

When you've come over like you're the Gordon Geckos of cyber-rock, promised world conquest and the ultimate ruthless rush...

And haven't delivered

probably you should have the decency to crawl away and curl up in a ball of embarrassment

But they always cling on

(And don't forget SSS was go-round #2 for James, after the non-follow-through of Generation X)

They keep trying, as if injecting adrenalin into a knackered death's-door horse could make it spring up sprightly and win the Derby

I love the fact that the single titled "Success" got to Number 31

This peaked at Number 75

Their last "hit"

* This was when I was at Melody Maker so probably could have blagged it, but thought why not buy it at Our Price.....

 MM of course was rabidly pro SSS - or at least those in charge were, i think they thought it was a wedge issue against NME, who would have to be anti on account of their soulcialist bent or indie-ism, but then the inevitable MONSTER success of the band would leave them looking out of touch cf MM. Possibly one or two of those in charge at MM actually liked the monetarist realpolitik espoused by the band, as counter to bleeding-heart Red Wedgism  

At some point that year (86) I was dispatched by my higher-ups to attend, with a view to writing up, a business conference-styled presentation / press conference, given by Tony James, a  primitive version of power points + video as I recall it, in which he unfurled the SSS ideology to an audience of... I'm not really sure.....   potential investors?   Came bac and wrote up a long thinkpiece about how it was just a mirror to the thinking of the financial powers-that-be, there was nothing even fresh or different let alone subversive about it at all ....  said piece was quietly shelved, never appeared.

An interesting case study of how rock's smash-it-up-til-the-day-I-die rebellion posturing and the disruptor discourse of neoliberal financier class actually fit together rather well

Steve Jobs loved the Beatles, after all...

Further Reading: Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment” (1986) by Andrew Britton. No really, such an essay exists and is worth reading if you can find it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

cool Joolz

as Driscoll she was the It Girl for a year or two in the second half of the Sixties

best at covers, JD & BA

the high-octane raspy organ drive thing of Auger's gets a bit wearing

then she reinvented herself as a far-out jazz-ish chanteuse with  partner Keith Tippett(s)

a female British Tim Buckley

(often a bit too Lorca and not  enough Starsailor)

cool lady though

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

alternative rock history #1

One blogpost I never got around to writing up: trying to imagine a world in which Godley & Crème’s 1977 album Consequences was as massive as the record company thought it was going to be.

Consequences was this concept album the duo did immediately after leaving 10c.c. at the zenith of that group's success ("I'm Not In Love" etc). 

A triple LP, in a deluxe box (like a classical box for a Wagner opera or something), with a 20 page booklet and four full-colour illustrations outlining the Concept.

It was made using the Gizmo, or Gizmotron to give it its full name: this sort of reinvented guitar they’d developed to simulate orchestral textures.

Consequences was a huge production, blurring the lines between pop, radio play, and comedy (Peter Cook was involved).

Now this is what interested me: the record company, Mercury, actually priced it even higher than a triple LP needed to be. They thought it would sell as this quality, high-cultural thing, a prestige purchase. They were thinking, I guess in the wake of Mike Oldfield and so forth, that this was the direction music was going.

But it took so long to make--18 months--that by the time it came out in the autumn of 1977, punk was all the rage. The album was a total bust.

That got me thinking about what circumstances would have had to prevail for Consequences to be a Tubular Bells level smash. I concluded that punk would either have had to not happen at all, or happen earlier, in a smaller way, such that it was all over by 1977.  It was just bad timing for Godley and Crème, their record came out at the worst possible moment.  The Wall was massive a few years later, as was Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (similar in many ways –  double elpee, lavish booklet, use of actors and spoken word, beautifully detailed and spacious production with lots of stereophony and alien electronic sounds  – a movie on wax, basically, with a cast of dozens).

My thinking was that there was a structural necessity in the music scene (and record industry) for something like punk to happen - the erosion of that whole level of small-club music that created intimacy and community between fans and audience;  the need for something that reflected teenage lives and frustrations, working-class real life; the gap for an aggressive hard rock with hooks and easy-entry levels of musicianship etc etc.  But what if all that came about earlier?  Say, in 1974, and had happened with less fall-out in terms of  political resonances and repercussions.

A premature punk, lacking the ideological content that span off into the massive renewals of postpunk, DIY, anarchopunk,  etc.  Such that it had all blown over by '77.

One scenario I came up with: what if  The New York Dolls had happened, had lived up to the hype, established a huge popular audience rather than the cult following that largely consisted of rock critics and people like Morrissey and the brothers Sylvian and Jansen? What if "real kids" rallied to them?

How could that have happened? The only way I could see was  if one of the original members whose role was, shall we say, "decorative" went missing early on in the band's existence, through misadventure of some kind. And the replacement turned out to be their Glen Matlock figure, a proper tunesmith and anthem-builder. Like say a future Ramone, maybe.

If McLaren found this Ramone-enhanced Dolls a little sooner, and perhaps even had the bright idea of steering them into the hands of a Chapman / Chinn...

Leading to a wave of Dolls-copyists across the UK, managing to vent pent-up aggression / frustration effectively but non-consequentially (in comparison with punk), and taking a lot of the actors and prime movers of 76/77 out of the equation early.... Causing Mick Jones to form a Dolls/Mott type band, something as poppy and insignificant as Generation X, and Strummer to molder on in the Grove squatland, becoming a Tymon Dogg-like figure, a raspy busker.

But the innate self-destructiveness of the Dolls would probably have won through anyway... meaning that the moment would pass quickly...

Going back to Consequences (and another problem with my counterfactual is the, er, limitations of the material itself in terms of its mass appeal), I love this story about some of studio shenagians G&C and their engineer got up:

"Three days were spent producing a saxophone sound from an electric guitar; each note of a guitar solo was recorded separately and faded in on the track, which was then sent through a speaker and out of a rubber hose with perforated cigarette paper at the end. Enough pressure was displaced by forcing the sound through the holes of the cigarette paper to give the rasp of a saxophone."

Wouldn't have been much easier, and cheaper, simply to hire a saxophone player?

Of course there is a further level of the alternative rock history scenario which I never got around to thinking about - what would be the consequences of Consequences being consequential - actually selling and being popular? Would the Gizmo actually become part of the standard arsenal of rock and pop groups going forward? One of the accusations leveled at the record at the time was that it was little more than a demonstration record for the new instrument, an advertisement....  G&C imagined they would be selling them by the thousand.

frankly confused

Came across this odd quote from Legs McNeil, in an interview, can't remember where...

"So when you got to New York you spent a lot of time CBGBs, what was it like back in the 70’s?

It was the most beautiful place I’d ever been in my life. Girls and beer. Cars, girls, surfing, beer, nothing else matters here. I live for cars and girls… woohoo…hot cars and girls."

Beer, girls - these are things that can be found most everywhere in America. 

Surfing - you wouldn't necessarily think of New York as a surfer's paradise, I don't think. 

And then, perhaps most mystifyingly, cars. One thing about New York, it's not a great place to drive. Or to own a car. The few friends in NYC we knew who had one were always having to get up early to move their car to the other side of the street, on account of alternate-day parking rules, to do with street sweepers I think.  It's a pedestrian city, a public transport city.

I think he must have intended to move to LA and gone astray.