Sunday, November 29, 2009

Three old records I’ve been enjoying.
Part 1.

I don’t know how it is for anyone else but I’m constantly surprised by my own ability to like stuff I ostensibly have no interest in or which I’ve been dismissing for years, often, given my penchant for hyperbole and attention seeking declamatory bluster (well you’ve got to keep yourself entertained, innit? Have you met MOST PEOPLE?) in fairly strident terms. Then, whoops, suddenly you hear a particular record by an artist you’ve marked down in the SHITE file or discover someone in a tradition you’re less than wild about/ re-hear something you couldn’t get any pleasure out of when younger and suddenly it’s that old AHA! yet OH-NO! shamefaced and sheepish recognition that some clubfooted old duffer you’ve been mauling/ignoring for years has actually produced toweringly edifying work.

This is not to suggest that I haven’t heard lots of great stuff that came out this year too, in fact it seems to have been a bit of an embarrassment of riches really, in large part due to Dubstep’s transformation into whatever post-dubstep is currently being called. Let’s just say that between Hyperdub’s first releases and the newer stuff on their half-decade compilation and Mary Ann Hobbe’s first Breezeblock comp and “Wild Angels” there’s a huge difference, primarily via the incursion of all those unserious things, swagger, colour, groove, panache, tunes, playfulness and dare I say, it glossy Futurisim (loving that Martyn album’s Outernational Hyper-Capitalist no-space sheen*) that seems to have just overwhelmed the Millenial faux-moodiness of early dubstep. In another large part it’s because I also contrived to finally get round to listening to and liking the Ghost Box stuff, hopefully just as everyone else goes off it! But more about all that in a later post, I guess.

The first of the old albums that blew me away this year was…

…I’d just like to point out that you’ve already been listening to this for years and I am gratuitously late in hailing its genius, which you’ve known about since birth etc, yes, well done you..

Well it was..

And actually we managed a Moment Of Silent Communion Among The Elect (hereafter a Moscate) in my local Music and Video Exchange at the mere mention of the as-of-yet-unaformetioned work.
So it’s this.

It’s what I’d always hoped “Astral Weeks” sounded like i.e, genuinely cosmic, folk-based, long and beautifully free-ranging, lyrical, lyrically rich and strange with gorgeous melodies and a dramatic use of overdubs and multitracking on the vocals to fill out the sound with all kind s of celestial choiring and choral-ing . It’s in the blasted, blissful Pantheon with Bitches Brew and Starsailor and Inside Out. “Astral Weeks” is probably alright but it is a wee bit pedestrian and anally-retentive compared to Buckley or John Martyn and anyway, its potentially inviting shimmery languor is heavily compromised for me by Van’s great raspy, blaring Foghorn-Leghorn of a voice. More grain than a Ukranian wheat silo.
“Stormcock” also manages to be astral without being whimsical, ie most of the genteel music-hall surrealism that still inflects the Canterbury scene and on through Steve Hillage’s solo stuff (which is interesting, don’t get me wrong and has, admittedly, been bled out by the time we get through to “Rainbow Dome Music” (hello “Fuck Buttons”)) and Gong and down the line to Ozric Tentacles.

I have mixed feelings about this element within a strand of British psychedelia, what gets called “dilute surrealism” elsewhere with regard to British film, but which is also the pernicious legacy of Dada-ism in music in lots of ways i.e. wackiness. John Martyn had the advantage of being by all accounts a really horrible person, no slightly apologetic half-measure in his glass: he took himself seriously and was probably extremely keen to insist you did the same. No Goonish-tomfoolery and pot-headed pixiness.
The same goes for “Stormcock”: it doesn’t have Martyn’s glowering, Blues-derived Dionysian intensity; Harper’s album is more akin to “Song to the Siren” seeming to float in a bright space all its own, clouds build up, darken and pass, colour and texture sift through the sky, it grows cold and damp, weak rays offer up a pale, wind-torn dazzle, the sunlight ebbs then intensifies. There’s something runic, antediluvian, faintly Old Testament to “Stormcock” something of the beauty of the deeply weathered, the burnish of the well-worked, the passed-down. I’m tempted to say that its use of vocal effects and multi-tracking is even more audacious than Buckley’s on “Song” or even the track “Starsailor” itself, offering up a dense but diaphanous net of nacreous glossolalia that swirls into and around the singer. Pianos drop through the sky and explode, orchestra’s swirl into view, brass sections float past, percussion surges and scatters, everything runs backwards for a few moments, the aurora borealis scintillate in the middle distance, a comet flares, the night breathes mysteries, Roy spins and struts, crumples, yearns and drifts, howls himself awake and lulls himself to sleep: the normal laws of musical physics are suspended.

An utter and complete masterpiece. Actually this is also what I always thought “Sergeant Pepper’s” was supposed to sound like.

*In fact I’d go so far as to suggest that there’s a hidden Hauntological element to Martyn and 2562: this is the sound of the promise of HyperCapital that never materialised, a soundtrack to the pristine Wired world of gleaming globalised third spaces like Starbucks in which we would all be in a state of Post-Historical ecstatic communication! ie were in a continuum of nostalgia for a previous generation’s futurist/political optimism. I suppose that even if you want to deny that you have any interest in the future that only OLD people care about the future, which I suppose will be the rhetorical move against the Nuum-general’s complaint of the lack of futurism in contemporary dance culture, nonetheless what you’re inevitably picking up on in the past is someone else’s investment in it. The past is largely just a set of engagements with what the future may be, so even if you disavow the interest on the discursive level, practically you’re still caught up in it, futurelessly you drink deep from the libidinally-charged wells of futurism past!!!

1 comment:

NormanStanleyFletcher said...

Funnily enough I had a friend at University who was from Northern Ireland, and was invited to a gig that John Martyn used to do annually in a protestant Unionist village on the Irish Republic side of the border (these places exist apparently).

The advice given to him regarding JM was "don't talk to him whatever you do. We can't be responsible for what happens".