"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues
- Name: Masonic Boom
- Location: South London, United Kingdom
Sunday, February 03, 2013
Friday, May 11, 2012
Music Diary 2012 Day 5
Today I am tired on a scale that I can't even process. I was afflicted with the dreaded insomnia and got about 4 hours of sleep last night, and I'm a walking zombie today. I'm just coming to terms with the fact that my job is actually difficult. This is a good thing - and makes me realise how much I've been sleepwalking through the past couple of years. It's good to be challenged and interested. But it does make functioning on less cylinders than I need an almost impossible challenge.
When I'm sleepless, I misread, misunderstand and sometimes outright hallucinate. So this morning on the bus, skimming over ILX, I somehow managed to hallucinate the existence of an entire Medicine album.
Well, there was a new Brad Laner solo album released about a year and a half ago. And he recently made available an ancient artefact of a live Medicine cassette from the early days of the band. But my sleep starved brain somehow added these two facts and thought that a brand new Medicine album was available on Bandcamp. Not so, not so at all. And it's devastating to have somehow raised mine own hopes like that.
But still, it was enough to make me dig out The Mechanical Forces Of Love and listen to it on repeat today.
God, I love this album. It's just such a weird little artefact, and as much as I love it, I can't shake the feeling that it shouldn't really exist. That it was an odd afterthought that came about almost by accident, almost a decade after the band first broke up - and somehow still ended up as my favourite Medicine album.
Which is saying a lot, because Medicine were one of those bands that I am almost irrationally attached to. They were in so many ways the odd one out of the Shoegaze scene - and not just for the obvious geographical reason of being American instead of coming from the Thames Valley. Mixed in with their blissful wall of noise was a deep love of Prince and psychedelic funk that made their music move from the hips in a way that most shoegaze moved from the shoulders. This was not music that anyone could accuse of being sexless or sterile.
I discovered them completely by accident, when my sisX0r was dating a member of a 4AD band who shall remain nameless - and Medicine were the support band on an incredible bill that also included one of the very first live performances of the band that would become Belly. My whole band (well, all three of us) drove down for the show - and initially were captivated by Medicine because Laner was using the 4-track that we'd recorded all of our music on, as a guitar pedal - the distortion it generated when overloaded was absolutely ferocious. And yet despite the ferocious howling gale of pop noise they produced, they were the most incredibly laid back and friendly group of Californians. I remember taking turns guarding the unlockable loo backstage with their first bassist, Ed. He was incredibly tall, exaggerated by the large woolly hat he wore (complaining that NYC was too cold.) And he did this kind of dance that we called "The Medicine Sway," legs wide apart, hips splayed, back leaning at an impossible angle, and then he would just kind of sway back and forth like tree-branches in a gentle breeze, until we were convinced he was going to fall over at any moment, but somehow stayed upright. I can never hear Medicine without wanting to do that dance. Another tour, another backstage in a tiny college town in Upstate NY, I ended up teaching "The Medicine Sway" to their next bassist, Justin. It was such a thing, we thought he needed to know it.
And there, I'm sitting on the packed 109 bus to Croydon, doing The Medicine Sway in the very back seat. It's just so easy to close my eyes and give in to the music, the disorienting textures of IOI and IM Yrs whizzing about mine ears, the basslines pushing on the bottom of my ribcage, commanding me to move.
Candy, Candy (from the third album, Her Highness) came on just as I got off the bus, and I knew I was going to be late for work. It's one of those songs I've been listening to for 20 years, and it still tricks me every time. It starts off with the most cliched drumbeat and a cheesy 80s synth wash, like the most anodyne and predictable slow jam in the world. And then slowly the layers built up until the entire song just... melts. There's no other way to describe the effect it has. It's like a castle made of ice cream, that just shifts and slips off sideways, and no matter how many times I hear it, it never loses its potency, one of those moments of perfectly magical pop production. And everything around you just disappears, the anonymous office blocks of Croydon just buckle and twist, the whole world sliding away. I stood outside my office for the whole five minutes of the song, right up until the last heartbeats and vinyl crackle of the outro. In a magazine review, I once described this song as "Amon Duul mashed with Madonna" but that doesn't even begin to cover the lysergic strangeness and the unapologetic poptimist sentiment.(Warning: the video is not the full version of the song, but I was so surprised to find that there was a video, I just had to include it.)
It's funny, Medicine used to be one of those bands I was completely evangelical about. That I simply could not accept that anyone didn't like them - because there seemed to be only two reactions - "I've never heard of them" or "OMG I'm obsessed with them." They mixed the things that I loved most in the world - lashings of sugary sweet bubblegum pop, walls of textured noise, and then played it as if it were dance music - not even just the usual nod to EDM, but crate-digging through funk and disco. I could hear and admit the bits that don't work - the occasional slightly leaden foray too far into prog or Beatles homage. (And we really won't talk about the LA-Goth flirtations that somehow landed them a bit part in The Crow.) But they really were one of those cult bands whose cult I was I was actively trying to proclaim to anyone who would listen. They weren't even ahead of their time - they were just in the wrong place, wrong time, but I can't imagine any other place that could have made them.
And it's been lovely walking down memory lane like this, but I really have to die now. I'm barely keeping mine eyes open until a reasonable hour that I can collapse into bed that I won't wake again at 1am, unable to get back to sleep. So I'm going to put on Todd Terje's Snooze For Love and drift away.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Music Diary 2012 Day 4
I had no headphones this morning, so I wasn't able to listen to music on the bus. Well, I wasn't able to listen to mine own music, instead I was forced to listen to the clicking insect buzz of other people's leaking earbuds, probably my least favourite sound in the entire world.
Again, listening at work was out because my boss was in, but we talked a bit about music at lunch. It's known that I'm a music obsessive - and my boss joked that I'd get on fine with the company owner because he is also a music obsessive, though he then modified that, saying that we probably didn't listen to the same music. But that's not really even the point, as I tried to explain. I don't really get on with casual music fans. People who say "Oh, I just like whatever..." - I can't even talk to them about music, it's like it doesn't even mean the same thing to us. But people who are obsessive about it, the genre doesn't really matter. If someone says something like "oh, well, I listen to Jazz, specifically 1970s Jazz, but only West Coast, and preferably this scene and label instead of that one..." then I know that even though I can't abide Jazz, we're likely to have minds that connect in the same way.
At least I've believed this since I was in my early 20s. After 10 years of wandering in the land of internweb music obsessives, I'm not so sure any more.
On the way home, I listened to Voices from the Lake some more. I don't know why I'm finding this record so compelling, it's so nothing-y, there's so little to it, like it should be flimsy. And yet it isn't. It's one of those minimal designs whose lines are so clean and sparse that you admire its elegance, and how much they do with so little. I got off the bus a mile early and walked home through Biggin Woods and Streatham Common again, the smell of the woods after the rain is just so evocative and the music was so perfect. As I walked up the muddy path to the top, back, far, overgrown corner of the woods, a flock of crows descended noisily on a tree above my head, the sounds interweaving perfectly with Twins In Virgo, which is fast becoming my favourite song - and possibly the only track which has a recognisable melody instead of just textures washing across the insistent beat, though the melody all happens down in the bassline.
It's hard to explain, again and again, how everything I love about techno are exactly the same things that I loved about dronerock, back in the depths of my obsession. The preponderance of texture and dynamics over anything else, the disappearance of melody, the transcendence and the delicate relentlessness.
It's one of those records that could so easily be a cheesy "deep forest" type thing, but because of how simple it is, how stripped bare, like tree branches in winter, it manages to be beautiful.
Got home, and to my great joy, my fan fiction comm had actually been updated, and had new comments and a work in progress from one of my favourite authors. I'm so meta I've started to wonder if I love talking about fan fiction more than I love reading it. Seeing how people - read: women - interact with music through these imagined interactions with the people who create it. I love when fan fiction writers write about *fandom* the most, I think. Although that kind of "wouldn't it be hott if the singer and guitarist were totally ~doing it~" slash obviously has its totally prurpient appeal, my favourite stuff is when fans write about what it feels like, what it means to be a fan. But there are so few people who can really do that well - or else they get bogged down in following the rules and conventions of the fandom without actually addressing what the fandom is. But this writer - she writes about that kind of heart-stopping euphoria of loving a band, going to shows, following them on tour, the heady bliss of a really good gig, in a way that makes it all seem so utterly real to me.
So I'm listening to Thom Yorke bits and bobs, the unsteady drip of demos or unfinished pieces, the soundtrack textures he wrote for Rag and Bone fashion show. It's total comfort food, both emotionally and musically (he's playing magpie with the bits of electronic music that I love most, wubby arpeggios and cut-up vocals repeated into nonsense phrases.) And I would love nothing more than the upcoming Atoms for Peace album to be a series of ten-minute pieces of textured electronics, because that would please me and piss off the messageboard rockists that I hate. Hey, a girl can dream.
I mean, that's it, isn't it? Spending more than ten minutes on a Radiohead messageboard makes me hate the band and myself for loving them. So perhaps it's not even the quality of being a music obsessive or putting the fanatic in fan, it's about kinds and qualities of obsession. About whether you use your obsession as an uplifting thing, to increase the amount of joy and happiness not just for yourself, but as a kind of sail to lift those you share it with - or whether you use it as a kind of status symbol to tear down those around you. I don't have time for those games.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
Music Diary 2012 - Day 3
I'm tired and I think I'm coming down with something, so this is an ill-formed rant that many people will probably disagree with, but I'm thinking out loud and not prepared to defend it. So take that as a warning.
I woke up with Throwing Muses stuck in my head this morning, probably because I watched a few YouTubes late last night. (I was trying to trace the origin of the swimming-fish head-dance, which both sisters were guilty of.) Unfortunately, when I got on the bus, I realised that I only had one Muses track on my iPhone, and I was running too late to load it up with more, so instead I listened to the playlist that was from.
It was an odd playlist, which I made for a mixtape that was a Secret Santa gift for the FD at my last job. He was very into music - half of my original job interview was discussing what were the best guitars - but confessed to being totally ignorant of the past 10 years of developments, so I just made a random mixtape of some of my favourite tunes of the 00s and even a few 90s things mixed in. Starting with Aeroplane's remix of Paris (in case I ever forget how amazing that really is, I sometimes think I've killed it through overplaying it, but then I hear it again unexpectedly and it just picks me up and carries me away) and breezing through Electrik Red, The Knife, Lindstrom & Christabelle, all tracks I hadn't heard in a couple of years and had forgotten how amazing they were. Even that Memory Tapes song, Bicycle, one of those astonishing one-hit wonders, where nothing else he ever recorded turned out to be quite as good, but that single moment, it was just perfect. Bat For Lashes, The Asteroid No. 4, what a trip down memory lane.
It's odd, I was reading some Telegraph article that someone retweeted, which was moaning about the ubiquity of The Cloud and the problems of "Everything All The Time" music - I hate those kinds of articles, because usually what it boils down to is "Music just isn't... ~special~ any more" is less about The Cloud and more about "Wah, I'm not 17 any more" and nothing has the same immediacy as when you were an adolescent discovering the power of music for the first time. Because every one of these tracks brings back a time and place for me - Goldfrapp's Strict Machine, which I heard for the first time, sitting in the garden of my old bassist's house in St Alban's, and our diametrically opposed reactions to it made me realise that our band was essentially finished. The Knife track that reminds me of the kitchen of one of Shimura Curves' house on the Holloway Road. Howling Bells' Setting Sun, which reminds me of early Sonic Cathedral nights at The Legion on Old Street. Music can and does get written to a time and place of one's life, if one lets it happen. But it's random, it's a gift. It's not a function of only owning 5 CDs, that's artificial memory creation.
I have no idea if the FD liked anything off this mixtape at all. I suspect not, as he never mentioned it again. I also can't help but wonder if he read too much into it, as I never pay attention to lyrics when I'm making mixtapes, I just go for what atmospheres and moods and tempos lead into one another, songs that I love for a melody or a riff. And then I realised how many love songs and crush songs there are on this comp, and I just winced with embarrassment thinking oh crikey, I hope he didn't think I meant anything by that. I just love the yearning mood of most of them.
I didn't get to listen to anything on the way home from work because, like a nidiot, I left my headphones on my desk. I didn't even get to listen to anything at work, which is why I took them out of my bag in the first place, as I spent half the day on the phone to my boss. But I got home to find a surprise - the Voices from the Lake CD I'd ordered had arrived and was sitting, thankfully dry, in my postbox.
Now here is where I commit blasphemy. I hate CDs. Yes, I own maybe a thousand of them, at a conservative guess. And I still hate them. Maybe because I own a thousand of them, I'm sick of the way they breed, the way they take up so much physical space, the way they colonise every flat surface in my bedroom with their precarious stacks that collapse and scatter bits of shattered jewel case all over my room.
I *like* renting music, because, let's face it, most music is not memorable enough to own. In my reminiscences above, you will note that it is songs that got written to my memory banks, not whole albums. Oh, and don't get me started, musicians moaning about services like Spotify and YouTube. If you want people to buy your music instead of renting it on server space, make something that I want to listen to more than 6 times. And most music, I don't. A couple of plays and I've warn it out, the thrill is gone, and I'm stuck with these wads of un-recycleable plastic cluttering up my life.
And it's odd that I take this viewpoint now, that I finally own mine own flat, and I haven't had to move in nearly 7 years, which is the third longest I have lived *anywhere*. (There are two houses I've spent just on 10 years in.) After a lifetime of carting boxes of vinyl and CDs from house to house, sometimes country to country, I just don't want to do it any more.
I had a long rant in my head about this as I cooked dinner, but of course it meandered off and I've forgotten most of it. Trying to separate my feelings as a listener/music fan from my feelings as a former musician requires a lot of disentanglement. And trying to separate my feelings on whether* or how musicians should get paid from my feelings that most music - especially on CD - has been vastly overpriced for so long that musicians have an over-inflated idea of what music is actually worth - even while being aware that most musicians don't see much of a return from those overpriced pieces of plastic. It's complicated.
*Yes. I said "whether." Because this is the issue with Spotify and YouTube, isn't it? Most musicians, including myself, got used to the idea that they make music for love and often give it away, for love. (If you want to get rich, go into accounting. If you want to be a musician, get used to the idea that it's *not* like waiting tables or making sandwiches or the other things that entitled idiots compare it to when they should be millionaire rock stars, it's something that people do because they *choose* to do it. You do it because it's fun and you love it and you can't live without it. If you're doing it because you want to get rich, don't waste your time, learn programming instead. It's a scam. Yes, this is the bitter ex musician in me talking.) But it's not the idea that stuff is getting given away for free that irks - so much as the idea that *other* people, i.e. advertisers and intermediary companies, are making large amounts of money off giving your music away for free.
Anyway. Thinking about what makes music special, the physical object and the fetishisation, or the strange ability of music to capture and crystalise emotion. And how many of my favourite pieces of music have been so transitory - something that came to me by accident, taped on the back of something to fill up a C90. Maybe I just love MP3s because they have that same transitory and sharing nature that cassette tapes had, and I am not of the CD generation, but the cassette generation. And yes, yes, home taping was killing the music industry just like MP3 are now, but the ease of use, the ability to shuffle and change the order, to create your own mixes and playlists, and then erase and rewind and do it all again. This is how I expect music to behave. I rebel against the unchanging platters of CDs and vinyl and their imposing demands that you sit through the whole thing, even if you only like a couple of tracks. And the faff of changing the damn things. (In the past, I have certainly ended up listening to the same album over and over again, not because I didn't have that many CDs, but because I couldn't be bothered to dig out the physical media of something different.)
Anyway, Voices from the Lake. Lex was raving about this on twitter, in a way that made me think I'd like it. There was a snippet on Soundcloud (I'm of two minds about Soundcloud. I certainly love that it enables musicians to share in a way that suits them, but again, it forces you to listen to songs in pre-decided order) which reminded me of Global Communication and all that early 90s ambient techno that I loved to death. So I ordered it on Bandcamp, thinking I'd be able to pay my money and download the MP3s.
No. For fucks sake. The download was the same 20 minute snippet that was on Soundcloud, and I had to order a very expensive (it came to nearly 20 Euros including shipping) CD I neither wanted nor needed. I had to rip it to MP3 as soon as I got it - which is an unnecessarily complicated process due to the fact that my laptop no longer plays audio CDs on its optical drive (though DVDs play just fine) and I had to locate and boot up a very old and cranky computer to rip the MP3s and then port them across on a data stick. There are very few artists I'm willing to go through this kind of rigamarole for any more.
Anyway. Voices from the Lake. I get so cranky thinking about all this stuff I have forgotten to even talk about them. It is very lovely, actually. But I'm really not sure this experience was worth 20 euros. Give me a shout if you want the CD, I'm done with it now.
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Music Diary 2012 - Day 2
AFX - Analords (special playlist selection.) The first music I listened to was on the bus. It's a reverse commute, down to Croydon so I usually get a seat to myself to spread out, read a book, listen to music. It would probably be faster to take the train, but I like the transition zone that a half hour commute serves, rather than dropping me straight from home into work with the disorienting crush of a train in between. I'm reading up on portfolio analysis for work, so this is something which requires my maths brain to untangle the equations, which means that techno is the best thing for it. I've whittled the 5 hours of Analords (released over 11 EPs, most of which were about half an hour in length) down to just my favourite hour and a half, rather than carry the whole thing around on my iPhone.
I'm listening on new headphones today - well, new to this purpose. These are my studio headphones, closed-back Rolands which have the driest and most clinical sound necessary for recording. This is not , however, what you want for bus listening, and it's a bit of a shock. Add to that the total sound isolation of closed-back headphones and it's a slightly disorienting and alarming experience, to ride a noisy South London bus in glorious silence. Or, rather, not silence, but the pristine machine chatter of analogue synths. This is the best way to listen to the Analords, actually, not to actually pay attention to them, but let them operate at a subconscious level, flickering in and out of one's focus as a particular cymbal sound wafts into the foreground and then wanders off. I love the way that Richard D James is not afraid to let the music get fuzzy and indistinct, the warmth and humanity of these machine sounds far more important than crisp focus, layers of reverb. I've heard stories (it's always stories with RDJ, secondary sources, rumours and allegations) that he recorded all of these just in a room, with natural acoustics, rather than sending everything direct, like bedroom producers tend to do. The Bank where he recorded much of this stuff is in the process of being knocked down - you can see it from the train as it passes Elephant and Castle, all wrapped in plastic and scaffolding. It makes me sad that a little bit of musical history is being destroyed - Aphex Twin's legendary converted bank. I caught the bus from just outside it for years without even knowing what it was - but I do remember hearing weird noises there late at night, though whether that was the genius at work, or just the train, I'll never know.
No music at work, because my boss was in.
But on the bus home, I switched to School of Seven Bells because I was in an extraordinarily good mood, and wanted something I loved to capture my high spirits. It seems kind of silly to listen to shoegaze on these crisp headphones, but suddenly so many of the background synth programming suddenly leapt to life. I started noticing the "oomph" of the drum sounds. I was in such a good mood I decided to get off a mile early in Thornton Heath, and walk home through Biggin Wood and over the top of Streatham Common, especially as I could see the ancient oaks finally coming into leaf from the top deck of the bus.
And here's where the sense of place and music really kicks in, because I associate those woods with two specific albums, neither of which I listened to today - Julianna Barwick's The Magic Place and Radiohead's Hail To The Thief. The former has a picture of an overgrown tree on the cover, the latter uses many, many sylvan references in the lyrics. And yet, as I was walking through the woods, SVIIB's Record Store Day single came on - a cover of Kiss Them For Me, b/w When She Was Me. This came out while I was in Cornwall, and I played them endlessly walking that last, barren, treeless, windswept stretch of cliff between Sennen and Land's End. I played them so much that they have become irrevocably associated with that walk. To the point where, even as I was walking through overgrown, tangled English woods, I closed mine eyes and I could see perfectly the jagged rocks and the windswept path, and almost smell the sharp scent of the sea, the tang of kelp washed up by the recent storms. A completely unexpected sense memory trigger, and yet a very welcome one.
And this evening, after I tumbled home, happily exhausted by my walk, I'm going to try to patch together the few 15 second bits of animation that I was supposed to use to make a video for SVIIB's competition, which I'll never have the time to finish. (Alas.) So it will probably be SVIIB for the rest of the night.