Thursday, August 28, 2008


“Serious, but only for the short time it exists” – a nice description from DV of Ultra Nate or the Backstreet Boys or Robyn or any number of pop acts that the sterner rock fan might dismiss as throwaway. Pop usually has a finite use-value - it serves a profoundly important purpose, after which (as DV says) one's desire melts and the moment passes.

DV’s post was in response to a comment of mine which suggested that teenage boys have a death-driven impulse to make pop as orderly as possible by becoming collectors, completists, categorisers, whereas for teenage girls, pop is a vital (in both senses of the word) part of life, to be absorbed and forgotten as circumstances change.

I'm caught somewhere in the middle here – I use music mercilessly, never listening to whole albums, often not concentrating on what I’m listening to, interrupting songs so I can get on to the next one; but then I again, I hoard music, never discarding even my worst tapes and CDs and hungrily downloading whole batches of music I know I’ll never listen to.

Still, as I won’t be around for a week or so (off to be Bohemian in Prague and Cesky Krumlov), here’s a selection of the tracks I’ve been feeling in the last few days.

Pet Shop Boys / Akala

There’s an obvious, traceable line between early electro, UK garage and early grime – music condensed to a mere bassline, an hesistant beat, a yelp, an icy line of synth, spacey aspirations on foundations of social realism, delusions of grandeur, the exciting possibilities of cold rationality... But still, it caught me off guard the other day when the Pet Shop Boys’ “Bright young things” (b-side to their duff single of 2006, “Numb”) segued into the intro to Akala’s “Bit by bit”. PSB’s literary, baroque house seems incongruous with grime even as atypical as Akala, but the warm, restless thrum which runs through “Bit by bit” sounds like a classic Chris Lowe construction. Listening to it again now, I still expect Neil Tennant to fill in between Akala’s shy, sweetly passive-aggressive rapping with a flamboyant chorus...

Al Green

Completism isn’t just for musos. Al Green’s 70s output - all of it - is as essential as Neil Young’s or Joni Mitchell’s or Stevie Wonder’s. “One woman,” a minor epic that begins Green is Blues is the one I keep returning to at the moment: Green sings this song of irresistible adultery with the ecstacy of a man who is so enraptured that he never considers he mightn’t be able to get away it.

Here's Green on Soul Train in 1973. Michael Jackson / Prince fans, take note: the deferral and sexual tension that builds up around 4’30” in is agonizing.

Byrne / Reed / Cale / (Eno)

Stan poses a pertinent question at Farmer in the City: have David Byrne and Lou Reed ever worked together? You would have thought so. “There can,” says Stan, “only be at the most two degrees of separation between them (Reed > Cale > Eno > Byrne), and I suspect this could be further reduced. (Is Arthur Russell another possibility?)” The new Byrne / Eno single is pleasant enough, but not a patch on Bush of Ghosts (an album I fell asleep to every night for a fortnight in Argentina 18 months ago).

Much better is Songs for Drella, Lou Reed and John Cale’s tribute to Andy Warhol - when I first stumbled across this, aged 14, on tape in Ipswich's Our Price, I'd never heard of it, and I've never since met anyone who's heard it. But it's a minor masterpiece - the only recorded non-Velvets collaboration between two men united only in their love for Warhol and their dislike for each other. Cale plays keyboards and viola; Reed plays guitar; there are no drums or bass; the songs, like the man to whom they are dedicated, deal straightforwardly with arty things and artily with straightforward things. The whole album is on Youtube (check here for a tracklisting). This is the opening track.

Donks etc

Can't imagine Reed, Cale, Byrne or Eno have ever thought of putting a donk in it - an oversight on all their parts. Simon Reynolds posted this on Blissblog a couple of weeks ago, and followed it up with links to pretty much everything he could find with a link to Blackout Crew or donks. It has split the opinions of people I've played it to, but I think it's kinda smart. In fact, it may be well a 9-month-in contender for single of the year.

Reminds a bit of Genius Cru's "Course bruv" - there's something of the fairground in both tracks, something typically English, yet something very definitely not quite right, something whose soul is plasticky and chewy. And because we like segues at Homo Ludens, we might link both tracks to the Beatles, who invented a genre called "plastic soul" and nearly named an album after it.

Mustn't forget also a magnificent half-hour mix by Flying Lotus (free to download here, and dedicated to Dr Batty, who keeps burning Appleblim mixes for me without reward) - you can hear FL's track with the wonderful, ubiquitous, baffling Lil Wayne here. Subjects for further research when I get back include FACT magazine's top 20s. I've already downloaded what I can from the ambient list; krautrock, bleep and Bollywood will follow soon. See, I am a boy really...


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