Nite Jewel – Good Evening

January 22, 2010

Nite Jewel apply the no-fi production ethics of Ariel Pink to the world of electro and shoegaze.  The result sounds like Enya improvising songs in the bath over the backing of synthesisers and drum machines low on battery power.  And while this sound undoubtedly possesses novelty value, the hidden depths suggested by the murk fail to emerge.  My conclusion is that this album is wallpaper.  Not only that, it’s ugly wallpaper, stained and pretentious.

Nite Jewel sounds like an unfunny pastiche of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.  It replaces the humour and song craft in Haunted Graffiti with a procession of necrotic proto-electro dirges.  These dirges rely on kitsch synthesisers and crap old drum machines to “keep them fresh” and to retain some sense of post-ironic cool amid the desolation.  Nite Jewel sounds like a dilution of a dilution of a dilution of something that wasn’t very good anyway.  Cocteau Twins, maybe.  Yawn.

No degree of intentionality or self-conscious cool can disguise the simple fact that the album is dreary and banal.  No hipster shrug saying “but it’s meant to be dreary and banal” convinces me that Good Evening is ever worth listening to, ever again.  Knowing it’s crap doesn’t justify it being crap.  In fact, it taints the cynical exercise in narcissism even more.

Nite Jewel’s Good Evening can provide enough entertainment for maybe one optimistic listen before you can be sure it really is a load of cynical crap.  Maybe it’s not a load of cynical crap, but I certainly found it challenging finding any cultural nourishment beyond the aspartame of its obscurantist production strategies, kitsch instrumentation and windy vocalising.

Now go get House Arrest by Ariel Pink.

The Top Ten Blair Is A Cunt

January 22, 2010

  1. He may not be the Prime Minister anymore, but he’s still a cunt.
  2. He uses charity money to fund his “humanitarian” flights to countries like Libya, where he then does dodgy undercover arms and oil deals with complete bastards because he’d rather take the money and leave the kids to die. Then! He comes back and says that he’s been doing humanitarian work. Looks like Satan, acts like Satan…
  3. He is a money-obsessed child-murdering cunt, and he sleeps well at night in the firm belief that what he is doing is right. Why do we elect the religious?
  4. He hated and systematically destroyed everything that was good about Britain. Again. Again.
  5. He didn’t live in America where Al-Qaeda might have accidentally blown him up when that plane landed in that field and Blair was standing there, because Blair was buggering a small child goat there because he’d run out of children to do because he’s a stinking, hypocritical Christian Cunt.
  6. His we’re going to have a war face.
  7. The way he used to go on telly and do this sanctimonious speech about every single person who died. And he didn’t even write the speech. He just read it out. He probably had a factory of speech writers somewhere, writing speeches for everybody who died, so he could cheapen the memory of the recently deceased to get a few fucking votes from the pensioners too senile or drunk or poor to realise that the winter of discontent was over so they could vote Labour again.
  8. He is friends with Jamie Oliver.
  9. He is friends with Jamie Oliver because he thinks Jamie Oliver is working class.
  10. He will probably be selling the communists oil so we can’t shoot him when the revolution finally comes.
  11. He is a Christian. But this is also a good thing as well because it means that he is going to burn in the very hell that he believes in. And that’s a sort of Shakespearean form of poetic justice I think. Maybe God’ll force him to live in Iraq during his carpet bombings. Similar, I would imagine.

Atlas Sound: Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

April 22, 2008

Yes folks, another dream pop / post rock / shoegaze outfit with a ridiculously long title for an album; Atlas Sound is the moniker for Deerhunter’s Bradford James Cox, and is a container for what you would presume would be his more self-indulgent side project stuff that isn’t as good as the material he produces in the band. That’s right in the first aspect, but wrong in the second. Bradford Cox seems to be somebody that we want to know after all.

You see, what I wasn’t expecting from the album was that it would actually be as good, if not better than the sloppy but shimmering work of Deerhunter. The opening track sets the Pitchfork Media friendly stall out; a badly recorded child struggling through an anecdote about a ghost over a glazed, distant-sounding synthesiser. The ambient opener also acts as an entrance into a womb. Before you think I’m getting too weirdly Freudian, let me explain:

Genres fixated on youth, innocence and love include Bradford Cox’s beloved shoegaze movement, epitomised by the muffled female vocals, loud, reverberated guitars and simple melodies of My Bloody Valentine and, to a lesser extent, Slowdive, Ride, and a number of less prestigiously reverb drenched, maudlin others. Lyrics are self-consciously artful, sparse, and incomprehensible, and the aim appears to be to offer comfort and solace to the newly born adolescent terrified of the harsh and hateful world in which he or she arrived as an alien. I don’t know whether that’s pretentious or not, but heard words reverberated through the walls of a womb as blood rushes all around, and the experience of a My Bloody Valentine gig don’t seem too far removed from one-another. Perhaps art is all about regression after all; Mr. Freud was right.

Of course, innumerable ambient albums have attempted to push this theory ad nauseum, from ambient electronica’s strange, and from what I can gather, subconscious insistence on BPMs that match the human heart beat, to the hypnotic noise work of our Krautrock gurus. I guess what separates the snowflakes from the slush is the content rather than the form, innit?

To accentuate my thesis, lyrics about movement to and from rooms and enclosed spaces pepper the album. “Recent Bedroom” starts with the simple verse: “I walked outside / I walked outside / I could not cry / I don’t know I don’t know why” which sounds like an adequate reconstruction of the adolescent desire to return to the state of a weeping child in the face of a meaningless and monstrous outdoor world. The song is sweetly helpless. Similarly, “Cold as Ice” starts with “walk into back room… back room… back room. Cold as ice.” Simple lyrics and songwriting are kept alive by a beautifully fragile vocalisation set against a sparse, repeated backdrop. It doesn’t take too great a stretch of the imagination to link all of this walking about to being shoved through birth canals, and the whole thing being a kind of primal scream for mother to take him home, but then maybe by liberal arts education is getting the better of me again.

I could bang on about Bradford Cox’s oft-publicised adolescent troubles, but I doubt that would matter. Sure, he’s articulating a deep, anxiety-fused pain here, but that doesn’t necessarily make a good album. However, an impeccably sparse and discerning ear for production, melody and lyrics do, and keep these scraps from his personal sketchbook from falling into either introspective thumb-twiddling or generic confessional singer-songwriter dirge. Twinkly xylophones, arpeggios and dense reverberated harmony falsettos punctuate the general wash of noise. Most important, Cox’s unaffected, touching vocals seep through the swamp. Poignantly offset against the synthesised world that he balefully ruminates in, “Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel” feels like part-sketchbook, part-novel, and negotiates that tricky artistic terrain of making the private public in ways that sets this apart from your traditional singer-songwriter confessional stuff. Plus, it made me feel strangely nostalgic for a time I can’t quite put my finger on.

The Fall: Imperial Wax Solvent

April 21, 2008

The Fall have befuddled their reviewers for 30 years. Their new album is no different. Lyrics are a cryptic, nonsensical, semi-inspired / semi-moronic patchwork quilt of sound bites that always seem to be three steps ahead of the suffering reviewer trying to make sense of what The Fall are actually up to.

The new album contains lines as simultaneously idiotic and profound as “Wolf kidult man, wolf kidult son, where is your mum? Your power is gone.”, about Jeffery Archer’s trial: “I was provoked! It was not in accord with any known law. Laughing in the middle. Time blenders, all of them.”, and in a marathon-length “50 Year Old Man”, the bizarre, hilarious lyric: “It’s that Steve Albini. He’s in collusion with Virgin Trains against me.” This heathen disregard of concern about appearing smart or directed by high concepts that make for ease of inquiry concerning “what the song is about” is anathema to the discerning critic looking to put bands into sweet little paragraphs that serve to orchestrate and summarize their direction, aims or purpose. The shameful thing happens to be that with most bands this is easy to do. Despite many critics turning to Mark E. Smith’s working class Northern roots, his grumpiness, his awkwardness with conducting pop interviews with the usual insipid, conformist glee, The Fall remain as difficult to describe now as they ever have been. I figure that’s why the word genius was invented.

Despite not wishing to appear overly intelligent, Mark E. Smith can’t seem to help it. His love of language shines through above and beyond any concern with the theory of the high-concept art rock, or the practice of flaunting his ego in front of a melange of clueless fad-shoppers. His attraction to strange sounding, sometimes clunky, sometimes idiotic, sometimes brilliant phrases echoes through his work: strange vocabulary for a rock and roll poet abound: terms such as “itinerant” from Guest Informant, “collusion”, “calvary” from 2006’s Fall Heads Roll et al. asserts his smartness against the irreconcilable odds he often puts against himself during the many self-sabotage experiments he indulges in periodically.

The Fall’s lyrical content can be hasty, self-indulgent and whimsical; the semi-stream of consciousness of Mark E. Smith’s decidedly leftfield poetry often carries the metaphors or themes of his song to the point of nonsense (see Tommy Shooter, which talks about “pictures of poodles”, “the clouds are darkening with wings of chickens / they are coming home to roost”, “chickens coming home to sit on your shoulder bone”, etc.). All of this playing around with meaning irritates some while it inspires others: in the former camp, Julian Cope is derisory about this seeming inability for The Fall to produce anything coherent or authentic – their messiness with ideas and concepts easily translated into further evidence that Mark E. Smith is merely acting as some kind of insane shyster making his living through empty posturing and by delineating that high-modernist ideal that the more obscurant one is, the better a genius he ultimately is. In the latter camp, a whole bunch of writers, artists and musicians who seem to be as attracted to Mark E. Smith’s bilious, self-made personality as they are to the music. As a Guardian overview of Mark E. Smith politely suggests: “The admiration he inspires might in part be down to the fact that he is a self-taught working-class man who has always enjoyed a pint and a ciggie.” Then, in The Fall’s case, separating the man from the music is often impossible.

However nonsensical and jarring such literary canoodling appears regarding the narrative, thematic content of the song or album, nonsensical content remains, for the most part glorious nonsense: compellingly playful, adroit, hilarious and, at times marked by that indescribable, sinister air of genius Mark E. Smith seems to effortlessly transcribe into his words and expressions. Julian Cope, in my estimation, doesn’t seem to see eye to eye with The Fall simply because he doesn’t share the band’s macabre, disjointed sense of humor. While Mark E. Smith’s continual denunciation of his role as band front-man leaves him open to criticism if his personality and unique poetic sensibilities fail him (which they rarely do), it also creates exciting new ground in what I will pretentiously call the meta-organizational identikit of the Indie-rock aesthetic, or the archetype generation through oft-stressed cliche of typical pop rock outrage and the subscription to thereof by clueless ruffians from inner cities. Chic. As embarrassingly demonstrated by my garbled prior sentence, The Fall can appeal to a postmodern theorist’s sensibilities as much as they can appeal to those in pursuit of simple common-or-garden genius. And it works both ways.

While The Fall’s seminal 1980s work, notably the acerbic, caustic Hex Enduction Hour, was marked by Smith’s ranting delivery that was angry even if nobody quite knew what the anger was about, their recent work seems more self-deprecating, more humor-filled and, in all, happier. When Smith says “I’m a 50 year old man and I like it” he seems to be, for once, expressing the truth without using any other obfuscating strategy. In case we are left feeling ambiguous by The Fall’s new joviality in the overarching light of Smith’s maturity, the song degenerates into an old-fashioned folksy banjo solo, perfectly reflective of Mark E. Smith’s newly found attraction to becoming the national treasure he undoubtedly is in a much better parallel universe.

The band charts similar Fall terrain, from the electronica-spiked “Taurig” that seems inspired in part by Smith’s recent collaboration with Mouse on Mars with Von Sudenfed, to the more traditional garage rock staples of “Wolf Kidult Man” and “Strange Town”, to the sketchbook cut-and-paste of “50 Year Old Man”, and combinations thereof. Evidence of Mark E. Smith relaxing his notorious grip on the band can be spotted in “I’ve Been Duped”, in which Elena Poulou sings in a cryptic, typically Fallesque fashion that exploits the multivalent ways in which the original line can be aligned to other lyrics. Instead of sounding like instrumental filler, the song is actually something of a highlight, and can either be read as evidence of the hidden depths of this recent incarnation of The Fall, or else proves that Mark E. Smith is a master of mind control. The song is typical insofar as it contains Fall grievances that juxtapose the sublime and the banal in a manner that many other bands would be reluctant to give the time of day: Late night TV is described as having “No art groups, just gambling”. If Mark E. Smith is no longer concerned about extrapolating the harshest criticisms for the most mundane of social developments: “Your lousy record collection”, “The bars are full of male slags”, “Cheap carpets line the way”, his co-conspirator and wife Poulou seems to be filling in for him. The fruits of this division of labour are that they lend a richness to The Fall’s sound where previously, Smith’s limited, atonal vocalising often tested audience patience to its limits.

The most oft-cited quotation about The Fall is John Peel’s, that they are “always the same, always different”, and is frequently used by lazy, unimaginative reviewers (such as myself) as a way to describe the band’s complex aesthetic. Imperial Wax Solvent is not a disaster; it does the usual Fall things, as in, it is as obscurantist as it is primitive, as serious and arty as it is irreverent and hilarious, and it is as cynically dispatched and exploitative of the leader’s personality cult as it is a particular expression of his unique and thriving genius. However it is put, this defiantly non-definitive album by one of British music’s most enduring and legendary bands deserves to be listened to over and over. Mark E. Smith’s transition from post-punk anger merchant to grumpy self-deprecating middle-aged man is one to be cherished and, while he may be mellower in his old age, The Fall remain full of poetry, playfulness and experimental zeal.

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