Saturday, April 26, 2008

Happy Mondays - "Tart Tart"

Waaay better than anything Joy Division ever did.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Latest Vinyl Purchases including Two of a Kind: If the Kids are United
Amoroso is another addition to the Touch Sevens series. You may remember I bought Fennesz's Transition a little while back. This one features Fennesz too, alongside K-Punk-approved turntablist Philip Jeck.

Amoroso is also part of Touch's ongoing Spire project, which seems to involve experimental/electronic artists reinterpreting church organ music (there's a full-length Spire LP coming soon too). On Amoroso, Fennesz and Jeck tackle the work of one Charles Matthews.

The Fennesz side is an extremely pleasant wash of sound but - rather astoundingly - I actually prefer the Philip Jeck side. Jeck's Charles Matthews refix is at once angular and immersive; more challenging and ultimately more satisfying than the Fennesz effort.

In other record-buying news, I just picked up The Monstrous Surplus, the 2007 album from Pluramon - a "modular project" helmed by glitch veteran Markus Schmickler. This project has always mixed digital electronica with electric guitar melodies but the melodic, organic side of things has really started to come to the fore on recent Pluramon releases.

The Monstrous Surplus is surely the most conventional thing Schmickler has ever done, yet it's actually very peculiar in its own way. Side A of the album is packed with flagrantly synthetic dreampop confections, overloaded with soaring synth strings and excessively autotuned vocals
(some of them provided by David Lynch muse Julee Cruise).

On side B, though, things take a real left turn into dark and thorny territory, starting with the Sunn0)))-meets-Hawkwind freakout of "Fresh Aufhebung". And then there's the cover of Sham 69's gutter-punk classic "If the Kids are United".

There's an obvious irony inherent in Pluramon covering this song, which Schmickler seems keen to amplify to the greatest degree imaginable. On The Monstrous Surplus, this unmistakable three-chord wonder is presented as a mellotron-laced prog rock power ballad.

One thing that's remarkable about this transmogrification is that Schmickler manages to make the song sound hugely epic (even finding time for a key change), while still bringing it in at almost a minute shorter than Sham 69's already concise original.

What's really amazing, though, is how beguilingly lovely the results are. The whole thing could come off as a cheap gag but - by playing it absolutely straight - Pluramon succeed in making "If the Kids are United" incredibly moving.

On the face of it, turning this song into something emotionally rich might seem fundamentally impossible. The original is little more than a testosterone-fueled soccer hooligan's terrace chant (it even concludes with an actual terrace chant). The title may be "If the Kids are United" but the implied meaning is clearly "If the Lads are United".

Perhaps more to the point, it hardly drips sincerity. The opening is
a ludicrously staged piece of matey dialogue ("Alright mate?"/"Yeah, I'm alright") and the body of the song itself is hardly any less contrived. Oddly enough, it reminds me of a street punk equivalent to Simon and Garfunkle's stunningly inauthentic misunderstood bohemian youth chic.

Were Sham 69 even real real punks? My dad once claimed that he used to play cricket again the band's frontman Jimmy Pursey, who had bought a country manor in Herefordshire. Admittedly, this story is a little hard to swallow but witness the hammy artificiality of "If the Kids are United" and it starts to seem oddly believable.

On the other hand, there's another element to the song that I totally missed until Pluramon's cover version emerged. Listen closely to the words and you'll find that this macho crypto-oi! anthem is actually about sticky, messy, girly feelings! Seriously! The verses are full of lines like "Take a look around/And what do you see?/Kids with FEELINGS/Like you and me".

So, really, all Schmickler and co have done is bring out the hidden side of a familiar song. Conceptually, this is quite brilliant but it's the delivery that puts Pluramon's take on "If the Kids are United" over the top, into the realm of real genius. Take a listen to both versions and you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, this is only one track on what is a truly astonishing and unique album. I'd like to make a late addition to my 2007 albums of the year list, please.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Monday, April 14, 2008

Uptight Crickets
New comics day is becoming increasingly depressing. Precious little new talent seems to emerging either in mainstream comics or the indie scene. Meanwhile, old favourites like Frank Miller and Gilbert Hernandez are happily churning out work that is - more often than not - utter, unmitigated crap.

recently, though, two excellent new titles have emerged, each of which combines a true mastery of the comic book form with some very apposite and rather unsettling observations about the human condition.
Jordan Crane's Uptight is intense and unflinching in its portrayal of human relations. The short stories are told with the skill and pacing of a master. They have an uncomfortable sting of authenticity about them and yet are carried along effortlessly by Crane's remarkable lightness of narrative touch.

Speaking of which, I notice that his wonderful all-ages book The Clouds Above just got reprinted. It's got an awesome cat in it and I commend it to your whole family.

Sammy Harkham's Crickets is similar in style and tone to Uptight but it has a more surreal, dreamlike quality to it. The closest comparison I can come up with is Ander Nilsen's excellent sketchbook graphic novel Monologues for the Coming Plague. Like that book, Crickets has a darkly whimsical Kafkaesque quality.

It's a shame - but also an inevitability - that independent auteur-created comic books like these appear so irregularly. Getting a new issue of something as masterfully done as Uptight or Crickets is a great way to brighten up a dreary Wednesday afternoon.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Oh Come On
It's a good thing that some people have a lot of time on their hands because I have a lot on my plate right now, Kenneth. New 30 Rock on Thursday, BTW.