3/23/11

Grab a calculator - fix yourself...wind your clocks forward (my favourite tracks of 2011 #1)

Temporarily bored of 2010. Will get back to the year in question soon. (PS - this is one of those interactive posts that work best if you play the first MP3 while reading the text).


MP3: Lucy-Gas

Have you ever seen a cheesy music video or ad clip where a lithe person swimming underwater at night is lit by millions of tiny phosphorescent lights? I used to think such stuff was bullshit - like twinkly crapola deployed at suitably romantic moments in Smashing Pumpkins videos, in Dawson's Creek, or in any subsequent Smashing Pumpkins or Dawson's Creek derived thing.

This was what I thought until one May night where I ended up standing in my boxers at the end of a wooden pier. In a bay! On the Pacific-facing side of Vancouver Island! An unlikely situation that was made possible by the school I was attending at the time, an international college founded on the principle of "educating future leaders for a changing world" (except in my case, they only got the 'changing world' bit factually correct).


The promise of phosphorescence had brought a bunch of us (a robustly Captain Planet style mixture of gender and nationalities) down to the pier while others slept in forested darkness, or sat alone at phones calling parents in parts of the world where the sun was up. 

I remember the dull sound of roped plastic canoes knocking against each other, the odd rubbery bellow of a weird nocturnal bird from across the bay, and the near perfect reflection of everything on the water - spruce trees, moon, stars hanging from the moon. Then boatsails. The moon reflected white on dark water and the boats' dim clack.

Shamsher jumped into the mirror first. And there it was. An underwater comet trail of green followed him deep down - and he went down strong like a cannonball. I couldn't believe my eyes. When he came back up, his body had relaxed and the phosphorescence clung to him like, well, like something out of a corny perfume ad. He swam further out and the glow spread around him in a bright disc, dimmer trails following the treads of his feet under the surface. 

We all took our turns to jump in afterwards. I think I was next to last, or last, because I was afraid of the temperature of the water, as I knew the Pacific was still going to be ferociously cold around Canada in spite of the mild weather. By the time I loped awkwardly down the pier towards my jump, there were more than a few luminous green tails following my shit-eating mates through the water. Still, I wasn't all that brave. But I did it. I leaped off the pier; I pulled my arms under my knees and I went under, into the frigid black. I was heavy, and I went deep. I opened my eyes as I dropped and I saw the phosphorescence all around me, computer game brite. As my nose filled with salt - and my brain with a fresh dread - I could see my friends' legs moving slowly and confidently in the sea. 

Could they not see the other stuff?

There were huge worms all around me. No, not worms - there were seawater millipede things. They were everywhere, but they were hard to see. They moved in thick rippling mobius-strips towards the light on the pier. They were tubular, dark, and covered in tiny ridges. 

Something brushed every so slightly against a toe. I could see wibbly stars through the surface film. I heard a garbled "Darragh". 

I was cold. I thought I was choking.

Later, we all sat about eating noodles and getting dry in the art room. I asked the others if they had seen the millipedes. Only one guy had (Forrest. He was from the place where the school was built) and he said he knew they were there most of the time. Also, he said they were harmless. 

A night later he creeped into my room with a bucket, woke me up, and asked me to come down to the pier with him. Soon, the two of us were stood under a sodium light, staring into the bucket, watching two giant sea millipedes twist blackly around each other.  Silent. Dreadful. Dull figure eights moving rhythmically in their plastic prison. I felt so afraid of them, I wanted to puke.

This tune simmers away at an enigmatic pace between 90 and 100 bpm. It is heavily influenced by Ricardo Villalobos's Dexter. It is pretentious but, like a lot of druggo dance, it couldn't be as genius as it is without being pretentious - "grab a calculator and fix yourself. Wind your clock, baby wind your clock". 

I said on facebook that his album sounds like womb fluid, and Nicolas Jaar would kill James Blake in a fight. The track above will take some beating in 2k11. Blakey ain't gonna do it.

3/21/11

My top tracks of 2010 (3)

It's still 2010 in my head, okay?
#3 Tensnake - Coma Cat

Sometimes, being a bit reductive can be brilliant thing. Sauces, for example, depend on skilled reductions - complementary ingredients, cooked down to their essence according to a failsafe recipe. The difference between a good reduction and a bad reduction depends on the coo...ah shite, this is the most laboured metaphor I've ever written. 

Coma Cat on the other hand, isn't laboured. In spite of utilising every last trick in the house producer's handbook, it sounds as fresh, natural, and inevitable as a holiday sunrise. And in the Berghain dominated techno-gloaming of my iPod in 2010, it was the pill-gobbling party crasher with the big bag of CDs marked 'Bangers 1-10' and 'Choons'. The dude in the stoopid slogan tee shirt who doesn't give a fuck what's 'in' or 'out', but who always knows what's fun.



See also: Azari and III

3/17/11

Shneer

How was Saint Patrick's day yall? Did ye go to mass? I remember going to mass on Saint Patrick's day when I was very young. Down da brown back of the church, breathing in hot booze fumes and candle smell, chilling with the wrecked winky oul fellas with shiny patches all over their crumply suits. Yah, our family was one of the ones that loitered shamefully at the very back of the church in order to make a quick escape before communion. I never got that, why half the church would slink slyly out the door just before communion. It always made me feel shabby and a bit sinful.

But then again, I always felt a bit shabby and sinful at mass. I was a sniggerer. Couldn't help it. As soon as the sermon started my mind would invariably wander to a stoopid joke from school the week before (eg: what do square testicles give you? cubic hair), or I'd notice an old woman's ridiculous Kells perm, or, even worse, my twin brother would dare me to surgically remove a single curl of purple hair from said perm. Five minutes into any sermon, and it was game over as far as Storkboy and I were concerned. We'd make eye contact, and that was it. An excruciating minute of rigid trembling then a big dirty shameful snort of laughter. We always got in shite.

Serving mass was worse. Because then your snigger was in full view of the priest and the congregation, and the consequences tended to be brutal. Storkboy found this out one unfortunate Easter Sunday when he served mass with a bunch of messers who were all obviously jonesing for a snigger from minute one. The conditions were too serious and too quiet, the priest too much of a pompous bollox; things fell apart, the centre couldn't hold etc. A whispered comment near the end - something along the lines of "yer mother's a snowblower" - and pure convulsions broke out on the altar. Spasms. 

"lads, he bought the hat in the toy section in Dom Tighe's last week" "Shhhh"  "I swear. My mother saw him" *SNIGGER*

The priest, a self styled hard-ass weirdo who used to smoke like a train and wear a big black fedora, was in sadistic form that day. Straight after mass, he was all matey smiles and good sport with the lads who were expecting a tip for doing the easter service. He took them outside to his car, still grinning. "Come over and look in the window", he said. "Have a good look. Those are the easter eggs ye would have got if yis didn't make a sneer of my mass". He got in the car and left them for dust. He had a smart revvy car.

My brother thought about that easter egg for months. He swore it was massive, like one size up from your standard issue. I'd doubt that, but I felt extremely sorry for him. I gave up serving the year before because I couldn't hack the early weekday morning masses, and this would have been one of his rare opportunities to convince me it was a worthwhile endeavour.

Although, I did get jealous when I heard about the servers' tour to Mosney later that year. All sorts of stories about that one still float around - like the group-mooning incident enabled by the fact that the lower halves of people in funtropica swimming pool could be viewed aquarium-style over the chips counter. Not to mention X, Y, or Z returning victoriously from behind some shitty dodgem contraption waving an oyster scented finger at their bug-eyed mates. A holy grail of sorts for a twelve year old.

Ah fuck it; you know what, I'm still jealous I missed out on Mosney that time.

MP3: Bibio-Wake Up

Bibio's latest album, Mind Bokeh is three or four different varieties of ace. Nothing on the relatively one-note Ambivalence Avenue indicated such pop smarts. It's an album of the year for sure. And a brilliant answer to a what-if question that crossed my mind before - what if Boards of Canada composed pop songs?

3/15/11

my top tracks of 2010 (4)

Ah this old chestnut. Will I polish it off before the weekend? Will anybody give a shit? One hand claps...

#4 Destroyer - Bay of Pigs

At the start of this astonishing piece of music Dan Bejar sings like he lives up to his nom de plume. "Listen, I've been drinking/ and our house lies in ruin" he laments. And boy, but you believe him - so palpable is the sense of wreckage and regret that opens 'Bay of Pigs'. But the song is more than a simple exercise in regret distilled (even though it starts off as such); it's a sea-saw demented epic of self-evaluation from a grand master of demented epics. It's also a fucking disco song.

The twinkling ambience that illuminates the broken opening line ebbs away, leaving Bejar singing his complex palaver over a properly thrilling disco swell. Of course, the lyrics reference the fact that it is a disco song before it mutates into one. And of course, he does sing some bobbins. But he wouldn't be Destroyer if he didn't. And when he is completely alight, firing out incantations of dates and girls names alongside humdingers like "I was ripped on dope/ you were a ray of sunshine/ I was a hopeless romantic/ you were swine", he really is incomparable. Anyone can talk shite about themselves and their past girlfriends after a couple of bottles of wine. It takes some sort of talent to make it poetic, never mind exciting and cathartic.

I figured last year that Destroyer could hardly top this song. But as a piece of work, his new album "Kaputt" is generally just as wonderful. 

MP3: Destroyer-Bay of Pigs

3/10/11

In the waiting room

The poem below by Elizabeth Bishop is one of the darkest and most affecting poems I know. It reminds me of lurching existential terrors I experienced before I was a teenager. Like the fright that my Mam, my Dad, and I existed - at the same time. And the fright that my parents will die (most likely before me). And the fright that clocks go forward - time is not a friend of humans. And the fright that we are all separate things with brains - things with brains that know what ends are. Unravellings. Dead ends. Family deaths.

We don't know the length of piece of string, but we know that it is finite. And we secretly know that we will all stop being alive at some point, yet our prefrontal brains deny these facts. Life (full of xbox, poetry, burgers, cinema) is a perpetual denial of such facts; facts that only children and the very old know in their hearts.

Childhood is not a paradise. In fact, childhood is a bees' nest of existential realisation. As people grow old and find out about sex, money, hobbies - they learn to shove such cold knowings aside. But such things never really go away.

Elizabeth Bishop bravely demonstrates this vague lurking terror and wise childish realization in her great poem 'In the Waiting Room'. This is a poem about the untamed horrors and knowings of childhood. Stuff we learn to blot out.

And after this poem, think... why are we afraid of aliens or ghosts?

Is it because both aliens and ghosts are supposedly sentient entities other than us? Isn't that in itself spooky, the possibility of another brainy being who isn't human? Or even one who, as the case might be, is human? This fact that we don't know other minds carries a dread. It might comfort us when we are older and full of rationalisations about it, yet it alienates us when we are children and full of truth. That is the key terror of the poem. The possibility of A. N. 'Other' person.


MP3: Elizabeth Bishop-In the Waiting Room

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited and read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How I didn't know any
word for it how "unlikely". . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

PHILOSOPHY/ LIT is over. The next blog will be about an indie album. *promise*

3/8/11

Winnin' Wimmen'

It was interesting to watch International Women's Day play out today as a hashtag drama on Twitter. Many tweets were thought provoking and some were funny; yet, a freakish amount were flat-out sexist. People who moan about feminism being a redundant concept in contemporary society are wrong. Feminism is still needed, and it is needed to inform women as much as men. I work with many women (in fact I am one of two men in a workplace of 26 - a story of my professional and college life), and I have stopped becoming surprised by the amount of female conversation that needs a good feminist kick up the jacksie too. Misogyny is insidious stuff.

How many times have you heard this one? "X (female) is a brilliant musician. I know we shouldn't mention it but...phwoarrrr...." Or this one? "Y (female) is a bit Kate Bush (sounds nothing like her) mixed with Patti Smith (sounds nothing like her) sprinkled with a hint of Joni Mitchell (sounds nothing like her) with the looks of Z (sadly, probably does look a bit like whoever Z is)".


 
Here are a few MP3s by artists in my iTunes who happen, oddly enough, to have no Y chromosomes.

MP3: Julianna Barwick-The Magic Place

"Knock knock, knock some more, let's see what's behind, the magic door" is what they used to say before they journeyed to a magic place on Bosco. Julianna Barwick's magic place is the sort of magic place I used to only find myself visiting through highly religious music, stuff by Messiaen or Arvo Part (umlaut not available). Her recent album (also called The Magic Place) floats around in the high end of a big church dome, a huge, resonant, airy space where deceptively simple loops of her singing voice slowly lap themselves, distantly remembering Newtonian equations about gravity and such shite.

MP3: Angkorwat-Be Good '09

Angkorwat is the Irish electronic producer Niamh Corcoran. The music assembled on her 'Early E.P' continues to grow and sprout and grow and tangle where other releases might have wilted. How do you cherry pick from an album where everything is some kind of fruit? See also - likeminded spirit Hunter-Gatherer (who'll get a mention on international men's day) and Catscars (who got mentioned earlier in the week).

MP3: Nico-Facing the Wind

Sometimes you want music to comfort you like a pretend volcano of mashed spuds that you made (with butter in the crater!). Other times, times when you feel cold, you want it to be your *ahem* mirror. At times like these, only a psychotic ex-member of The Velvet Underground will do. Narrow it down - a bit specifically, like - and only Nico or John Cale will do. Now, just checking, how cold and inhuman are you actually feeling? That cold? Really? Well then only a song off Nico's 'The Marble Index' will do. And don't worry John Cale fans. He's here too, playing second fiddle to the ice queen - his busted up accordion and cello drones getting blown around in the cyclonic apocalypse at the end of Supergirl. Nico (and second fiddle John Cale), I will never understand you - but I will appreciate the glimmering strangeness of your art. 

MP3: Annie-Heartbeats

Annie, ah Annie. Ah Robyn. Ah Annie and Robyn. Both are successful examples (Annie more critically than commercially) of how strong women in pop can create a watermarked identity in an industry that depends so much on investment, collaborative songwriters, and radio-play. Both are great. My mate Ciarán Gaynor (who doesn't know it yet) will write posts about both of these artists here soon. But, for now, Annie steals the MP3 slot...

MP3: Joanna Newsom-Emily

Very little that I can say about this song that I haven't said before. Except that I think it is the best songwriter song of the last decade and it was written by a woman. 

Happy International Women's Day bloggerz.

3/1/11

God save Donald Duck vaudeville and variety - 90s overload

So how nice was the weather today? I was on the phone to a friend looking for ways to describe how intensely Spring-like the day was. The only thing I could come up with was jigsaw puzzles.

"You know how when you are making a one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle..."
"ehh maybe"
"well there is typically a big swathe of blue sky. It's to make the jigsaw hard, like. Lots of similarly coloured pieces"
"sort of"
"you end up focusing really hard on blue sky, because there are so many pieces and it takes up so much of your time. You get really philosophically involved with good weather and blue skies. Today we had a jigsaw blue sky".
"Yah?"
"Yah. It was that blue."

MP3: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti-Bright Lit Blue Skies

This is easily one of my favourite cover versions ever. Ariel Pink inhabits an old sixties nugget by a band called the Rockin' Ramrods. It is purely him, and he sings it with the mad confidence of an egotistical man who is probably mentally predicting that pitchfork.com will award him best song of 2k10 (P.S. where will said song end up my list? - time will tell...). If I had the world at my feet (and was named after the little mermaid by baby boomer parents) like Ariel, I'd like to think I'd record a surprisingly faithful cover version of a demented sixties song. For the craic, like. And to show off my talent. And taste.

MP3: The Stone Roses-She Bangs the Drums

The internet police might be after me for this one, seeing as the Roses are on a major label. But fuck it, I listened to The Stone Roses for about three hours today.

Why? Because it was sunny. And they are the most sunny band of all time, ever.

Ever.

They are pure, liquid, sunshine. Their songs are like modern day shamanistic appeals to the weather (remember kids, they come from Manchester where it is not that sunny). "Fookin' shine, sun". They drank every last precious drop of the British sun and converted it into beautiful music. Oasis were their little brothers and they secretly knew it. The song is incidentally about ecstasy.

MP3: The Boo Radleys-Lazarus

A funny fact about the Boo Radleys is that Giant Steps was awarded NME album of the year 1993. The critics were blowing them off. The band wrecked it by writing a brillo pop song and becoming cocky party animals in the cokey fantasy of Britpop. This was a proper shame. Martin Carr, like Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn, was one of the premier league songwriters of the 90s. Ah, the 90s.

MP3: Rollerskate Skinny-Speed to my side


The revisionists are hard at work.

Rollerskate Skinny's place in the history of Irish alternadelica is as assured as Whipping Boy's. It is surprising now to actually realise how underappreciated they were in their heyday. Here, on our doorstep, we had a modern psychedelic band who were the equal of (if not the better of) Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips.

'Horsedrawn Wishes' is a canonical thing that the Irish did well, like Ulysses. We took this gnarly inward looking nouveau-psychedelia that the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Butthole Surfers, and Boo Radleys were doing - and we perfected it. There is no album from that sweaty scene that matches 'Horsedrawn Wishes'.

Like, none. (this is like a tabloid now, with single sentence paragraphs).

Not even 'Clouds Taste Metallic'. And that was a remarkable album from a remarkable scene.

Also, I love that every single time I get a bus home to Kells I queue up beside the plastic blind child from the album's cover.