Friday, September 29, 2006

Hyper-real worktime

Following on from the last post, one way to change for the good the sonic deficit is to listen more intently, to be more locked in, via the iTunes© and headphones at work. A freer day on Friday allows an intensification of sound (not loud enough so that other people can hear). We R IE’s Blogariddims has joined the various d’step mixes in being inspirational if you can zone off for a while from the Microsoft documents. Throughout the week, however, I have been discovering the joys of, and have been in enormous debt to, the MP3 bloggaz. On the work G5, at first my parasitic self resented the fact that you can’t save the file to the system and play it forever off the iTunes hub, then I began to appreciate the transient joys these temporary links provide. File-spreading but faithful sorts like Headphone Sex, the defunct Spoilt Victorianette, Moistworks , Moebius Rex, Some Disco and Silence is a Rhythm Too represent in deliciously titled portals, and in feeding the imagination surely encourage more music sales.

Booming out of speakers has always been the preferred aural feeder, I never took to Walkmans, Discmans or now the drug-white Pods (all of whose owners seem to play them too loud in a misguided statement of cool), but current circumstances are making a virtue out of the cans. And in further dissemination, here is a little list of recent online favourites. Hopefully they’ll all stay up for a bit, and I hasten to add I’m adding the links out of love, either that of instant attraction, nostalgic rushes or some other sensation. If you open them all up in separate windows you can mix between tunes using the volume player as a fade. This is my order, but remix the reality, make new connections. Do that before some suit asks you a question staggering in its banality:

First off, blogfaves JUNIOR BOYS go dance-synaptic from the new album. Twice as nice these cold as ice flavours. They’d remember
EDWYN COLLINS when he was good, as well as ULTRA NATE from 89. Basic Basement Boys business from Baltimore can still stir the senses.
Dance can be distorted as well as pure and clean, the unwilful meeting of minds like MR OIZO vs JAMELIA for example, but be careful not to pastiche Marvin Gaye too much like SHADOW and GUEST on track 1 of his new album (nice audio player on his site though).

Back to charged nights in the cold narcosis of hermetic pleasure, with those guys who were just out of their Joy Division nappies, it’s NEW ORDER with 586. To think of them as bloated djs, scenesters, zelebs and musical rockists now breaks my heart. Bollocks to that, let’s head out for the communal empathogens, aided by lovely stuff from electronic gazers THE FIELD, JUSTUS KOEHNCKE and DIRK LEYERS and DFA, all over Soulwax. The pulses have tuned my prisms. After that, let’s finish on a non-matriculated high and let loose amens that skip and slide from your grasp, riddims that dazzle in their slight of mind. In the hands of Foul Play and Omni Trio, breakbeat dance was this good once.
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Monday, September 18, 2006

Basic channels

Hardly surprising that sonic asides have taken a back seat as part-time fatherhood and full-time work feature. I could reel off a list of the moods and grooves the little smashers have been listening to, but of course that is purely an extension of parental taste when it’s not the cheap versions of classical music hits on colourful toys. And more extreme readers might reel in horror at the chill out/ambient numbers. But they do seem to like unfussy techno that emphasises the synthesised rhythms and bass rather than the instrumentation, nice grooves that they can lock into. And my screaming boy zoned out nicely to Skream’s 0800 the other day.

Hardly surprising that babies seems to ‘get’ most popular/dance music as the best tunes are often defiantly simplistic, formulaic and, worse, nice. Like babies, the masses don’t want to hear the experimentation, the theoreticising or the dangerous juxtaposition of disparate ideas, they want a brilliant and meliffluous whole. Bliss, via Clark, rightly points out that grime has been cut up in the urban jungle by the eternally recurring funky house, because that’s of course what the girls like. Bit obvious this one, the garagey/housey bounce never went away from the raves or the pirates while grime, though deserving of props for refusing to dilute, is not about the funk or the dancefloor and has probably had its place in the sun. Caught between r&b, garage and dancehall (often doing similar things sonically but not afraid of space and uncluttered, well layered production), a lifetime of fetishism by bald white anoraks in The Wire awaits. Meanwhile, dubstep, which lost a major online telegraph when Gutter had to take a back seat, is carving out a sustainable niche out for itself as neo roots music, despite the best efforts of some who emphasise the similarities to techstep, taking it nearer to more functional, danceable breakstep tempos. But remember that the best grime and ‘step often relies on a simple catchy hook. Get that, and the rest of the composition follows naturally.

Of course, it’s not just girls who want a good time and not something too challenging. It’s the normal people with their jeans and iPods and car stereos (has anyone ever heard grime out of an auto system?). It’s a pity then that those getting their top-one/nice-one experiences will be doing it to the sound that is essentially the updated/local variant of the disco/house that has served hedonism for 30 years now, and that they’re being prepared, musically speaking, for the Hed Kandi/Defected school of grown up dancing. But if we are to take the long view of popular music development, rather than look for false year zeroes and revolutions, it seems that there are only a few occasions when the multitude are havin’ it to something sonically inventive (Kool Herc and co in the US block party; late 80s hip-hop and rave; 92-94 hardcore-into-jungle); the rest is consolidation and repetition – let’s go round again.

Moving from Bow to Shoreditch and the West End, electronic house rules. Buoyed by a firm bedrock of European experimentation/sophistication on the fringes, mainstream producers took on the lessons from electroclash, descholocked some of the genre’s outré stylings, the excesses of Tiefschwarz et al and the contiguous punk-funk elements, and now we have regular assaults on the charts. Think spindly top end lines, bouncy electronic bass and occasional interspersions of alien, arpeggiated sounds, all chucked over the ubiquitous 120-bpm four to the floor. Zdarlight, Justice v Simian, Booka Shade, Hot Chip’s Over and Over. Again, this is all about pop simplicity – almost any melody line can be effective if the digital sound is already a warped one. It has similarity with the Trapez/Trentmoeller/Playhouse/Villalobos Europhonic minimal emissions, but resounds in the commercial music biz as potential pop smashes.

Still dancing? Then there’s neo-rave, which the NME has been very excited by, not least because the combination of young hipsters taking drugs and dancing to guitary music markets itself conveniently to their own nationally-franchised Club. Less electronic in flavour than any of the actual dance genres which share most of the above components, it’s important to remember that there is no rave in the new version: it’s just students remembering you don’t have to just drink beer and vodka to have a good time; and the Pavlovian register of the best rave is rendered via an angular post-punk palette that has already been so popular this millennium anyway. But again, someone like the Klaxons realise that a two-note bassline can work well with other well-chosen but basic content to hit home.

The mainstream of indie rock has hit new lows: the Fratellis tried simple but went simpleton with the boorish singalong Chelsea Dagger (couched in a certain level of irony, of course); Razorlight pictured themselves in the even bigger stadia of ‘America’ (where the stuff on the TV ‘doesn’t mean that much’ to Johnny – how much gravitas does UK Vision normally provide you Boznut?); the revelation that Tom Chaplin of Keane is in rehab for coke addiction – never before has the music of supposedly quaint, outsider emotion seemed quite so inconsistent with the top 10, balls-out reality. Never before has the complex poetic soul of the indie auteur been exposed for being so much of a sham. But I liked Kasabian’s retrofuturist Empire, wherein the lads emphasised their 70s glam influences far more than their Britrock ones and came up with an enjoyable stomp with the telling message to UK hedonism – “Stop, we’re all wasting away”…
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