So I get a link over from Phil Freeman’s blog and discover this when I check:
Simon Reynolds roped me into this online meme:
“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.”
Hey, I’m in!
Been thinking about this for a few hours now, though. That may sound like overthinking and it probably is, but to explain:
As I’ve said before, what’s been the key thing for me in the last couple of years has been the embrace of process over product, the act of creating and engaging with something than whatever the end result is. This applies to listening as well, in the broadest possible sense — I’ve been taking in a lot of things but I have very rarely been obsessing over a song or group or album at this point at all, which definitely is a difference in general from the past. It’s not a complete break — my obsession with VNV Nation that started around this time last year shows that much — but it is a very clear shift.
In her closing post on Friday for Idolator, Maura addressed this kind of shift in general, and it’s a most thoughtful essay, as is always the case with her. To quote:
Idolator HQ has finally hooked up its turntable post-move (hey, it only took a few months!), and as a result I’ve been listening to more vinyl. And having to change over the sides of LPs or singles has seemingly resulted in me being more engaged with what I’m listening to than, say, just putting iTunes on shuffle or even putting five CDs in a changer. It made me realize how the download-then-import model wasn’t always successful as far as getting people to remember everything lurking within their music library, although truth be told I’d also forget that I owned certain albums, too. Maybe it’s just the idea of too much stuff being out there, and the resultant data smog, that results in people hearing less, whether the “stuff” in question is on vinyl or streaming from a MySpace page.
(This quote, I thought, was also notable given my recent chafing against the tunnel-vision of music blogs: Barry Schwartz, who wrote The Paradox Of Choice, told the Phoenix New Times “Less album listening means that people aren’t forced to listen to things that don’t turn them on right away, and as a result, tastes change less.” Which certainly dovetails nicely with the thesis of the book he’s still flogging, but could it be true? I know that if I’m in the mood for background noise, I’m certainly more likely to put on Music Choice’s classic-jams-heavy R & B Hits station than something I have to really listen to. And one can’t help but wonder if that sort of comfort-listening spills over to matters of taste in newer music, etc.)
The discussion that followed on from her post is also well worth a read, and I chimed in briefly yesterday. What I think is interesting is the variety of responses, conclusions, strategies — if anything, I think it seems to confirm that rather than there being a uniform shift among the self-conscious music listener (a strange formulation, I realize, but it seems to work as well as any), there’s been a further multiplicity.
Ultimately I find this healthy — I think it’s as problematic to assume that most everyone’s on random shuffle play as it is to assume that we’re all in a modern pop universe when it comes to the songs being listened to, say. Not that Maura is claiming either, but it’s the baseline that we’re all working with now — and it’s ultimately false, and we all recognized it was false to start with! But you wouldn’t know that from the Apple ad ethos, say.
So much for indirect prologue — my seven, with links where appropriate:
- Portishead, “We Carry On,” live from Later With Jools Holland — this was linked in my longer Bo Diddley piece some days ago but it’s good to pull it out further here, because this represents what easily was the ‘obvious’ pick for my listening this spring. Third was my preset favorite for the season if not the whole year, and this is both cool — I knew I would be thrilled and I was, greatly — and a bit problematic, since there was no knock-me-sideways surprise in full. That the album successfully showed the band reinventing its sonic identity is one thing, but it’s not like this was a new band coming out of nowhere, that there wasn’t months, years of anticipation beforehand. This all said — one hell of a song, one hell of a performance, and I can’t wait for the full tour.
- The Cure, “Baby Rag Dog Book” — similarly, this is a case of not being surprised and being amazed anyway. But it’s also representative of what modern music fanaticism can and does allow for — the instant sharing of music everywhere, anywhere. What I’ve linked above is not the performance of the song I saw — that was at the Los Angeles show at the Hollywood Bowl (and yes, I’m well overdue to finally say something about that concert — soon, soon!) — but it gives you an imperfect taste. I’ve since been able to hear the LA performance again, though, and that’s a fine thing and another example of what I’m talking about — the new baseline more than anything else. The impact of instant access is still not fully settled into the popular consciousness, I think, but we’re almost there — the current presidential campaign may well be the final tipping point, with instant quotes and snippets and more ricocheting around YouTube and blogs just like that, as this story on Mayhill Fowler’s amazing scoops this year makes clear. And what I think about the song itself? As I muttered on ILM, it’s “THE new aggro monster rampage death track from the band….Simon Gallup’s bass starts and carries this whole thing, it’s this high-speed grinddown that halfway to an unmelodic Joey Beltram riff and is similarly momentous. And unsurprisingly the recording just can’t compete with the pin-against-the-wall feeling of hearing it live.”
- Lloyd ft. Lil Wayne, “Girls Around the World” — Lloyd was one of those guys who I kept catching the name of but hadn’t consciously heard yet, though no doubt I’d caught stuff of his around just by being out and about (a very healthy way to hear songs in general, I will always argue). And Lil Wayne’s Lil Wayne, somebody who is so hypermaximegapraised that, frankly, I haven’t even bothered chasing down much else of his. (That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s long been the case with me that the more everyone else says some song or book or movie or the like is the best thing ever the more I’m inclined to take it as read and check out something else instead. Whether it’s willful contrarianism or just me trying to figure out what else is out there I’m still not sure.) Anyway, this all said — slamming track and the video is another example of the hyperclean video aesthetic that some corners are still trying to hold onto in the era of the fan-made YouTube clip, but in ways it’s not all that far removed from both the Portishead and Cure tracks in a conceptual sense, in that they rely on a familiarity that helps to sell the track to a predetermined fanbase that will respond well to it. In this case, it’s not just the identity of the performers but the fact that it’s “Paid in Full” getting transmogrified here, a beat reworked once again. If anything it’s a further sign that the pop world is what I’ve long been saying it is — as self-contained a subculture as all the rest, it’s just the biggest and most inclusive of them.
- Uno, “Cinemas of the World” — Calling this song obscure understates. There may be some corner of the world where it was a hit but as far as most of the world is concerned this is beyond unknown. That’s more than all right, most songs in the world are like that to start with. There is a sole reason why I care about this song, and why I’ve been humming its unknown-to-me-before-a-couple-of-weeks-ago chorus on a regular basis now, and it’s a reflection of how the Internet’s curatorial impulse can go into overdrive in the best possible way. If you check that link to the discogs.com entry, you’ll see that said song has lead and backing vocals by one of my all-time musical heroes, Billy Mackenzie — and for the past couple of months, the Mackenzie fan list online, covering his band the Associates as well as his solo and collaborative work, have been engaged in a massive project to try and pull together all the rarities, obscurities and other one-offs that he recorded which haven’t otherwise appeared on the CD reissues and compilations. “Cinemas of the World,” both in its single and extended edits, is both a product of its time — a 1987 bit of artier industrial-funk with an orchestrated pop edge to it — and, thanks to Mackenzie and the hints of strings, something a little out of its place. The chorus in particular is a total treat, and Mackenzie’s wonderful, indescribable falsetto is at its warmest; it’s a little surprising to realize he was nailing a wonder like this for a French-released one-off when he was simultaneously engaged in recording the flawed Glamour Chase album. So the fact that we can hear it, as well as all the other recordings out there he did in the odd corners — the earliest demos, the extended mixes, more — shows how all those subcultures quietly thrive, and how we’re obviously just one of many similarly dedicated to preserving some sort of legacy for the departed.
- “One of Those Days” by Tom T. Hall — I didn’t know about this song five minutes ago. I’ve just called it up right this second. Reason? My friend Angus sent along a recommendation and some fine thoughts about it via a private mailing, and since it is private I’ll obviously not quote it here. Tom T. Hall I know about though not as well as I could, but Angus holds a special place in his heart for Hall, having long since appreciated both his songwriting abilities in general and his deft singing voice. Hall’s sounding craggier by default but it suits the feeling of the song, a totally traditional, unapologetic and happily accepting yet still slightly melancholic meditation on the passing of time and what it means — as he says, ‘it’s one of those days where he misses Lester Flatt.’ The fact this kind of thing can happen — a friend in England suddenly alerts me to a new song across thousands of miles just like that — well, it’s a reason why I like being in this modern world just fine, for all the problems and fears and concerns. (Speaking of which, Angus specifically says another new Hall number on the site, “A Hero in Harlan,” is the best song about Iraq and Afghanistan yet recorded, and giving it an ear now…it’s damn affecting from the first lines. Listen to that too.)
- Gavin Bryars/Philip Jeck/Alter Ego, The Sinking of the Titanic — perhaps appropriate to think on this having just talked about Sparks’s album of reworking past songs Plagiarism yesterday, but speaking from a position of relative ignorance, there seems to have been much greater allowance for reworking and reinterpreting past work in the context of classical music (as VERY broadly defined) than there have been in other fields of music. In part this is because of the nature of pop music as contextual and consensual experience — the live/remix/demo/’alternate’ take/acoustic version in pop music is always the other for the most part, set against the original. There are exceptions to this, certainly, but they show up the rule all the more clearly as a result. Whenever you hear about older figures rerecording their hits precisely because they’d have the rights to those versions instead, you’re at once sympathetic to their position and still sadly shaking your head because you know you want the ‘real’ thing. And so forth. So that someone like Bryars would happily go ahead and revisit a piece he’s recorded and released before a couple of times — original listeners would go back to the late sixties, for example, while people of ‘my’ generation would think of the 1994 version on Point Music, which notably had an accompanying remix by the Aphex Twin. This newest version, a live recording featuring both Philip Jeck and Alter Ego as indicated, extends this allegiance with the world of experimental electronic music while still very much sounding like Bryars’s vision — a useful pointer on the nature of how you can rework, reinterpret, continue to explore rather than trap something in amber. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about process over product, and this is a product that captures a process — a useful compromise.
- Paul Stanley, track one of People, Let Me Get This Off My Chest — aka, “ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLRIGHT…TORONTO!!!!! YOU FEEL GOOD??? Alright, then LISTEN!…you know we may be under clear blue SKIESTH but you know, it’s getting a little…COOL OUT tonight, but that ain’t gonna stop usth! Cause if we try hard enough we’re gonna GET THIS PLAAAACE…I SAY WE GONNA GET THIS PLAAAACETH…HOTTER THAN HELLgaspgulp…”
I don’t need to say anything else, I hope.
My chosen seven blogs to get to contribute to the meme — crossed fingers they all agree! [EDIT: and it’s happening so I’ll update the blog links below directly to their entries as they’re posted.] The listing is alphabetical by blog title: