Sunday, March 26, 2006
I've been wanting to write this one for a while. It's a difficult topic to tackle with my limited frame of reference but what the hey...
For quite a while, as far as I was concerned, grime was (i) something I read about on blogs; (ii) something I couldn't actually get to hear. During this period my expectations were extremely high and constantly growing.
Although drum'n'bass (still!) has quite a following in Vancouver, UK garage never caught on AT ALL. So, it took a while for grime to arrive on these shores. When it did, I didn't even notice. Honestly, I didn't realise that The Streets, Dizzee Rascal and Wiley were considered to be grime artists. When the penny dropped my reaction was pretty much: "Is that IT??? They ain't even that grimey!"
I was shocked and disappointed when I still didn't get it after hearing the first volume of "Run the Road". Simon Reynolds even went so far to say something along the lines of "if you don't like this comp, then you don't like grime." The only explanation I could come up with was that I'd been out of the UK for too long and that I simply had no context to fit this music into. Grime, after all, is All About context.
Things have changed a bit since then. This is partly due to expectation adjustment: it's not as great as I thought it would be but it's not all that bad either. It's also partly down to my growing acceptance of the fact that really great music can be - and often is - unintentionally funny. Actually, the best stuff (and The Fall are a perfect example of this) is often both unintentionally funny AND intentionally funny. My point is, if you don't fuckin' love "Pies" then you seriously need to get over yourself, hipster.
I only really started to dig grime unreservedly after Reynolds sent me a bunch of his CDR comps (in exchange for some primo English folk). To my surprise the stuff I liked best was the more recent stuff, rather than the classic hits - particularly tracks from the first half of 2005. This seemed odd as the bloggers who had turned me onto things grimey had recently started claiming the genre had pretty much run its course.
So why does this new stuff connect with me more than the epochal cuts? Here are a few initial thoughts and possible factors:
1. Trim, Trimbal, Trim Trimothy... This guy is a fucking genius and the first truly great MC to come out of the scene. He is the Ghostface of Grime.
2. More like 90s hip-hop than noughties R&B: slower tempos; more dissonant; darker; more complex rhymes.
3. Occassional triplets. The riddim makers have discovered this simple shorthand for "experimental" and that Prefuse 73 bloke is going to have to find another gimmick with which to justify his existence.
4. Less in-yer-face annoying. I am a 32 year-old white man who spends most of his time at home playing with his cat. I mean, C'MON!
That's all I can come up with for now. Questions, comments wanted, please.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Electronica Obscurities: An Occasional Series.
1: "Frantz" by General Magic.
First of all: Best Band Name Ever! Makes me consider the occult equivalent of General Electric or General Motors - a hysterical confusion of the corporate with the magickal- or, perhaps a jovial, portly children's cartoon character with an aristocrat's demeanor but a wizard's power. Apparently, it's also a type of psychedelic mushroom.
Anyhoo, General Magic are sort of the house band at excellent Austrian haus-der-noize Mego. I have a lot of time for this label but I've always wished they'd concentrate more on releasing records by their core roster (Pita, Farmer's Manual...) and less on putting out sub-par CDs by avant luminaries such as Merbow and Rob Mazurwhatsit.
So to Frantz, which was the duo's first "proper" full-length album. It remains so obscure that I don't think it even sold through its initial deluxe packaged edition. This is a crying shame because it's a truly enchanting mix of oval-style glitchtronica with post-basic-channel tech-dub.
Actually, none of this really does justice to the album's uniqueness. In it's own way, Frantz sounds just as alien as Farmers Manual's wonderfully baffling Explorers We. That it does this within a relatively straight rhythmic framework is amazing and really puts General Magic up there with the best of 'em as far as I'm concerned.
Their second (and final?) album Rechenkonig uses a similar format but is much more abstracted. Initially, I preferred it to Frantz but I've recently discovered that, while Rechenkonig is funny, ingenious, challenging, otherworldly and brilliant, Frantz is all these things and also BEAUTIFUL.
On both albums, there's a good-natured whimsy at work but with a little something dark and threatening lurking around every corner. It's very hard for me to put my finger on what the motivation behind it all may be but I keep coming back to these CDs -usually a good sign. I'd very much like for them to be more widely heard.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Mike Barnes has been sent a copy of the new Scott Walker album, "The Drift". Here's what he tells me about it...
“…Awesome…slightly more lyrical than Tilt, or at least more sonically developed, and with some extraordinary orchestrations. The twelve minute "Clara" is a bit like a Schoenbergian monodrama in places, as we are led through a succession of tableaux in an elliptical narrative (in other words it's completely beyond my comprehension at this point). Utterly extraordinary - probably even further out than Tilt, actually… You must hear it, especially the track that suddenly brings hideously disturbing donkey braying in with searing, atonal strings and proceeds to a late refrain of "I'll punch a donkey in the streets of
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Am I wrong?
Got this in an email from my friend Stephen in London, apparently not prompted my last blog post....
"Well – I like listening to weird and wonderful music – and I’m finding I am doing a lot more of it with my ipod now. Gets me listening to all the connect_icut stuff – and those great compilations you make. It’s an excellent way to listen to stuff that normally sits on the shelf – not just your stuff I mean of cours e- but all sorts of stuff – when you have 1,000+ CDs it’s easy to miss stuff too often!"
Thursday, March 09, 2006
A discussion with Brady Cranfield, who has a new blog here, brought me to some realizations regarding the whole "uncool" issue.
1. Turns out that the standard I was using for my value judgments was not that of Van City indie-rock hipsters but that of I, me, myself. I realize now that it's me who thinks that Kate Bush, Ween and abstract electronica are embarassing/not "okay to like".
2. There is a "new cool" in the indie-rock world, which is rather like the old cool but without limits. That is to say, to the Pitchfork/Ipod generation, it's okay to listen to pretty much anything, just so long as you don't like it too much. This is the coolness of expertise rather than the hot, flustered state of fandom. I remain a fan of the things I love, through and through but I am, at least, very embarrassed about it. Am I cool yet?
3. Seriously though, this goes to what people have been saying about downloading exposing listeners to a massive variety of music but only in a very superficial fashion. Dilettantism is in; it's cool to dabble. But to me - a FAN of challenging music made by genius-auteur archetypes - this kind of behaviour is seriously square capitulation with the dictates of consumerism and the rule of mediocrity. Not cool. Also: Constant! Shallowness! Leads! To! Evil! At least the old cool was about hidden depths not proudly displayed shallows.
4. So who's cool then? Is it Saelan, with his voracious appetite for whatever he can download today? Or is it Barbara, with her collection of a mere five albums she really loves and listens to again and again (at least three of which are by Current 93). Ah... I think you're both super cool.
5. And the moral of the story is that I have to decide whether (a) i want to be cool (b) I want to be wilfully uncool (c) I want to grow up and get over it. Each has its advantages and disadvantages life-style and ideology-wise. I'll keep you posted.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Friday, March 03, 2006
Not only is there a review of the excellent new Mountains album (Sewn) in uber-hipster rag Arthur, not only is it a positive review... It's actually rather intelligent. And I quote...
"It's not sentimental, flashy, hot left-brain human, not cold technical right-brain robot: strictly ahuman, objective in a naturalist's sense."