Aug 25, 2009

One man twanging: Squarepusher's Solo Electric Bass 1

Squarepusher's Solo Electric Bass 1 is the four-cornered junglist only with a bass and a bass amp. One live event in front of an appreciative French audience. One take. One man twanging.

And it bores the eyelashes off me. It's noodlier than Wagamama, with far too few forays into 70s police show slap bass where maybe we would get a sense of the rhythmic unstructure for which Squarepusher is renowned.

I accept it's a technical triumph, but it's so pastoral he might as well be playing a harp.

Next up it's a 40 minute digeridoo solo from Aphex Twin, then 808 State on the saxomophone and nothing else, finishing with a huge Orbital opus featuring only Alison Goldfrapp's vocals and nothing else.

Actually, they all sound quite good. But you get my point. It might get his new-found Radio 4 audience tapping their loafers in gentle appreciation, but why the drill 'n' bass without the drill?

And that's the crux: if it's Squarepusher without the pusher, it's just square.

Aug 22, 2009

Intestine? What intestine?

I have spent an entire week drinking my face off.

The glugging began in earnest at my birthday celebrations last Friday. My problem is once I start celebrating I don't stop. Even if I go to someone else's birthday drinks, it's still me toasting me.

I seriously considered necking some cleaning solution yesterday. The label said 'degreaser concentrate', and the liquid was the brightest green you've ever seen. Like the nuclear rod in the Simpsons opening titles.

The theory went thusly: it might make me a little queasy, but it would wash away all the excess alcohol that has built up in my system, so providing an overall positive effect.

The only downside would be washing away my intestine and most of my stomach too. But seriously, who needs their intestine? I can't remember the last time I thought about mine.

On the up side, I finally own a CD copy of Chosen Lords, AFX's compilation of his Analord 12"s from a few years ago.

Buying a CD makes me feel a little old fashioned, so it's appropriate that Chosen Lords sounds a little dated. Like Steven Spielberg's War Of The Worlds, it feels like his greatest signature pieces plonked coldly in one place.

But that's good enough for my detergent-dripping ears. And yes, it sounds even wickeder when you're drunk.

Aug 16, 2009

Molly Half Head? Seriously?

Soundproof Magazine, a Canadian music mag, asked me for my top 20 Manchester albums. Here's my top 20.

If I have missed something obvious, it's too late because I already done gone sent it. I think they're compiling a great big top 20 based on the opinions of Manchester's movers and groovers, the results of which I will post on this here blog.

I wanted to include experimental flute-jazz band Upsurge (are you reading, Sam?), but I couldn't remember any titles. What I like most about my list is that it's meant to be the best Manchester albums of all time, but it's all too modern(ish) and it neglects massive swathes of Manchester music like, y'know, the Bee Gees and the Buzzcocks and, um, anything from the 60s.

1   The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead (I dare you to argue with this)
2   Autechre: Confield (it could have been one of several, to be honest)
3   The Fall: Hex Enduction Hour (ditto)
4   The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses (and not their dire second album)
5   Future Sound Of London: Lifeforms (gatefold vinyl..... mmmm)
6   Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (ditto my Autechre comment)
7   C Charge: Ripped And Ready (legendary Manc reggae collective)
8   New Order: Technique (dig those filters)
9   Rae & Christian: Northern Sulphuric Soul (an immense achievement)
10   Happy Mondays: Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches (changed my life, man)
11   Molly Half Head: Sulk (no, seriously, I genuinely loved it)
12   Electronic: Electronic (utter cheese, but loveable cheese)
13   Oasis: Definitely Maybe (their one great, great album)
14   808 State: Ex:El (or Ninety, but Bjork swings it)
15   James: Seven (just so unique and captivating)
16   Doves: The Last Broadcast (one word: Pounding)
17   Bola: Soup (Manchester's answer to Boards Of Canada)
18   Black Grape: It's Great When You're Straight... Yeah (a true celebration of Manc attitude)
19   Jega: Geometry (hits you between the eyes)
20   Mr Scruff: Keep It Unreal (even though he's from Stockport)

Aug 13, 2009

Chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool

It is officially my birthay.

I'm cool with being a tenth of a decade older than this time last year. People who have been my age include:

- Stephen Hawking, scientist
- Stephen Fry, comedian
- Kim and Aggie, TV presenters
- Michael Hutchence, musician
- Henry III of France, king
- DJ Jazzy Jeff, Will Smith cohort
- George Gershwin, composer
- Floella Benjamin, goddess
- Micky Mann, Orbital producer
- Mark Vaughan, Manchester's controversial tattoed bouncer
- Johnny Vegas, my lookalike
- my brothers

I am, however, older than Mr Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Aug 12, 2009

The key change: cheesy elation or pop diazepam?

So you're listening to a shmaltzy power ballad because it's the only kind of music you can cope with since you were dumped by your girlfriend / husband / android concubine.

The song starts with a quiet intent; nothing too fussy, just a clear melody and a trusty verse / chorus structure. The rhythm section beefs up at the start of the second verse, and swooping backing vocals in the second chorus signal that this is building up for something quite specatular.

The middle eight is a teaser. Often neglected and ropy, this turns out to be a bridge into a penultimate chorus that is sung with gusto and a tinkling of extra keyboard.

You're in the zone now. That bitch / doormat / electronic succubus can get screwed. You're an independent ballad-listener and you can lift your head high as the melody soars and your heart strings wobble.

What happens next? You know what happens next

It's the key change. The final chorus steps up a pitch, and all the extra black notes are a delight.

The key change is the sonic equivalent of that last-minute sprint, of that second wind after the sixth pint, of that moment of lucidity when you realise that yes your life is going nowhere and yes you're going to tell your boss to stick his job up his pipehole.

The key change is cheesy elation.

Which leads me to my question. Why doesn't the key change ever go downwards? And what would be the effect on those plucky heartstrings?

If the famous ballad key change went down instead of up, that last minute sprint would be an exhausted tailing off, leaving you gasping and retching at the finish line.

It would be like a shot of heroin and a long evening spent crying in the corner: a cloying realisation that there is nothing you can do about life; it inevitably ends in disappointment, rejection, and your boss sticking his pipe up your arse.

The middle eight was a teaser, but if the key change suddenly slips downwards, life would not be worth living any more. It would break all pop song convention. I will not always love you. Shmaltzy power ballads would become synonymous with anti-climax and diazepam.

Crikes, I'm depressed just thinking about it. I'm sure there are many songs that finish with a downward flourish, but I can't think of any and, to be frank, I plead with you not to suggest any. I don't think I could cope.

That android concubine was a no-good loser anyway. You're better off alone.

Aug 8, 2009

New York, London, Paris, Munich, everybody talk about complicated electronica with difficult time signatures and a limited listening demographic

XFM are asking listeners to vote on the bestest song of all timest everest.

I don't care. Firstly, I don't listen to XFM. Secondly, it involves other people's opinions.

These polls can go wrong, like the Telegraph's 100 Greatest Songs which stuffed Love Will Tear Us Apart down the back of the proverbial sofa at number 25 while dedicating the top ten to what looks like Mojo magazine's greatest hits.

And thirdly, whether it's a rock or a dance radio station, such polls inevitably miss out electronica.

Yet - and here, dear reader, is the point of this whole piece - writing a good electronica track is about knowing how to pen a great pop song.

Orbital once wrote an ethereal critique of body image called I Wish I Had Duck Feet. It started off unassumingly enough, with reedy percussion bopping over a looped water sample.

But it then builds and builds with melancholic chords swelling to a drum-rolled climax. It never threatens to be chart-worthy at any point, but it is as a perfect a four-minute pop song as Orbital ever wrote.

Their radio edit of Halcyon (as opposed to their long, beautiful sprawling epic Halcyon + On + On) is also worth a mention too.

The Future Sound Of London's Papua New Guinea is probably electronica's greatest pop song, in that it's short, structured, catchy but still unrelentingly electronica.

As a pithy pop package, it's up there with but better than Come To Daddy (pictured), Arcadian, 5:23 and In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country. Okay, some of those are a bit long to be 'pop', but there's something joyfully attractive and self-contained about them.

It's not just old tracks. Clark's Growls Garden signalled a move towards catchiness, having used vocals heavily in his music for the first time.

So I would encourage all other electronica artists to do the same. Aphex, let's have your own version of Song 2. Can we please have action dolls of Global Communication?

And Venetian Snares, you need a bit of glam retro like Girls Aloud, maybe trying out some sassy hip movements in a glittering, flowing dress.

Crikes. I think I fancy Venetian Snares.

Aug 4, 2009

Hey, Bleep dot com, whatcha been up to?

"Well, Dave, you can hear an Autechre remix of a track by scarecrow-baiting technistos The Black Dog on our site here.

Thanks, Bleep dot com. My name's not Dave, by the way. What else have you got?

"You might want to check out Antoni Maiovvi's Shadow Of The Blood Stained Kiss. It sounds like a slasher movie and it's got titles like Witchcraft and the onimously monikered They Return. You'll like that, Dave."

That sounds interesting. I'm not Dave. What's Kent electronic mentalist label Planet Mu up to?

"I'm glad you asked, Dave. We asked Planet Mu to come up with a six quid collection of some of their best stuff. It's called The Mu School."

Stop calling me Dave. Seriously. It was funny on League Of Gentlemen, but it's not funny here.

"How about an afro electro collection called Horse Meat Disco, Dave? It's like robots oiling up for an old fashioned disco."

Stop the Dave thing. I know it's a comedy construct to disguise the fact all I'm doing is just re-typing up a blanket email from Bleep, but it really is chafing my watermelon, man.

"Hey, Dave, check out this uber-swish white label remix of Goldie's Timeless--"

Right, that's it, I'm leaving the blog. *slam*

Aug 1, 2009

Burial and Four Tet's Himalayan percussion party

You know when you see something in the corner of your eye? A dancing clown, an robed pensioner spreading curses, an orphan boy from 14th century Cornwall miming the world 'help!' over and over again?

Maybe it's just me and my freakish imagination. But sometimes, things skip your attention. They're there, but they flit from your attention and remain a glimpse, forever to be neglected by your fading memory.

Burial and Four Tet's joint 12" is one of those such things. I totally missed it when I should have been blogging about it.

The south London dubstepper slapped down two tracks with the inner London post rocker to likeable effect with double-A-side Moth / Wolf Cub.

Wolf Cub is a gamelan-mashing grower of a tune and sounds like a percussion party in a Himalayan village. It has the comforting sounds of Four Tet (picture by watchlooksee) and that woody deepness of Burial.

It's a little samey, so thank goodness Moth is an epic. A light step beat and a standard trance keyboard line gives way to a spacious ambient hymn set to a crisp trance backing and wispy vocals that flutter about your ear.

Dubstep heads may not like it, because the Tet-ness of it all lightens it up somewhat. But stick Moth onto your car stereo as you bound down the M1 to a summer festival, and you'll be totally in the zone. Just don't run over any eerie Cornish orphans.