Songs (not songs)

May 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Tropic of Cancer – I Woke Up & The Storm Was Over’ (from I Can’t Give You The Life You Want) / Carla dal Forno – ‘Fast Moving Cars’ (from ‘Fast Moving Cars’ 7″, Blackest Ever Black)

“A glimpse of immediate reality is the blue flower in the land of technology.” But what if a song was at once dream & flower, forgotten passage & concrete fragment? The playing on this compilation track, stronger than any of their album cuts or standalone singles, is impossibly distant, its guitar figures constantly slipping into disembodiment, the instrumental longeurs that bloated earlier work turning to the intentless darkness of weather. Carla dal Forno’s whispering goth Nico vocal is here less pose than prose, as if waking & dreaming, despondency & blank everydayness, were intertwined (as they are everywhere in psychoanalysis). She goes further on her debut solo single – whose cover metonymises the broke-ass bohemian 20s I never had (apart from the “broke-ass” bit) – where the chorus’s melody suggests an escape – a line of flight on the other side of a century of speed we never actually left – that the muffled drum machine & the field recording of a storm, that seems to come to invade & smother the vocal, deny.

Simon Fisher Turner – Nazca’ (from Give Me New Noise, Crammed Discs)

By far the best thing on this mildly bizarre disc of tributes to Tuxedomoon’s Half-Mute, included with the new reissue, it turns the original into a current of inhuman particles fallen from some unseen cosmic body. The soprano sax that surfaces in the first minute, clawing through the same circular sequence of staccato notes, sounds halfway between a fairground organ & some creature gasping for life. The strings, alternating between cold & mournful, of Turner’s soundtracks are here replaced by sweeping synthesisers just this side of kitsch – an aerial shot poring over a landscape, until they ebb & curl away, as if they can’t keep away the world they survey; Turner dedicates it to Bowie.

David Bowie – ‘Quicksand’ (from Hunky Dory, RCA)

More than anything, the tempo: seeming, even in the strictly punctuated choreography of the chorus, barely to move, never leaving the disposition of guitar chords oscillating just on the edge of motion, as if to do more would be to lose some thread of thought caught on the threshold of sleep, in a voice that knows its loss is a fait accompli, the brutality that beckons through the song (“Himmler’s sacred realm/of dream reality”) what lies in the fatal interior of its pain.

Trevor Duncan – Girl Theme’ (from La Jetée, Superior Viaduct)

What I didn’t, in all my alleged research on Marker, know (via Ken Hollings’ review in the April Wire): that the music enswathing the bleakest love story in the cinema – except maybe Joan of Arc’s with Dreyer’s camera – was from a Boosey & Hawkes library LP, by the composer of the immortal soundtrack of Plan 9 From Outer Space & the old Pearl & Dean theme that led into British cinema adverts. The fact that I can hardly bear to watch it these days – & haven’t since that afternoon at J.’s place in Bethnal Green, at a time when London wasn’t, for me, another planet – lends an odd extra poignancy to the soundtrack, as the only remnant left to me, jutting out from the culture industry rubble under wh/ the film is buried. The note of ripe sentimentality that connects it w/ the spaced-out modalities of Les Baxter’s ‘Sunken City’, flutes & an accordion struggling to escape its Gallic scare-quotes dragging themselves along, turns it into a sort of awful readymade, pulled from the bargain bin of culture (better than the “ashbin of history”), ready to disclose that you & what you loved are themselves reproductions, the inner soul of the commodity that kitsch unveils mobilising itself to move again through the world – the fatal coagulate of another, extinct world, where, as Victor Burgin phrased it (after Nietzsche), every memory was “a roll of the dice”.

Sixpence None The Richer – ‘Kiss Me’ (from Sixpence None The Richer, Squint)

“the recent past always presents itself as if destroyed by catastrophes” / “the apparition of a distance, no matter how near it might be”

Pájaro Triste (composed by Federico Mompou, played by Chris Marker, from Cat Listening to Music, dir. Chris Marker, 1990)

The melody flirts helplessly w/ kitsch, as if finding its spare emotional architecture secondhand, formal nakedness no guarantee of what culture pre-codes as ‘authenticity’. It isn’t helped by the cheap late 80s keyboard sound that bobs up w/ the green volume readings. The cat (Guillaume-en-Egypte) lies on the keys, screening off even the haptics of playing: sound as automatism, a space of night in wh/ nothing moves beyond the camera’s occasional shifts. If, as Marker seems sometimes to suggest, cats are the shadow of the “cunning of reason” in history, the true self-consciousness of nature that fends off (or mitigates, if only for the span of natural lives) the utter callousness of Hegel’s Geist, maybe this is their anthem, their equivalent to the Dangermouse theme: nature, in the form of the second nature of kitsch, opening its eyes to look without intent pityingly on mankind.

Bobby Womack – ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Hurt By Your Love Again’ / ‘You’re Welcome, Stop on By’ (from Lookin’ For a Love Again, United Artists)

With no prospect of a lengthy stay on a desert island, let alone one with a decent collection of Bobby Womack discs, these have to substitute for a sojourn from humanity – not that such a thing was ever possible. In the work of Womack’s imperial phase of the early 70s the seen-it-all nonchalance of his tone – those infamous winding spoken intros, pillow-talking with some new lover who just happened to answer the phone – slips seamlessly into the frank admission of need, nostalgia, regret, eroticism; the screams of the soul vocabulary mutate between defiance, dependence, weariness, a pain that troubles the very limits of expression, threatens to double back into ecstasy. The astonishing acidic attack of the guitars & the gusty horns on the chorus of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Hurt By Your Love Again’ depends on its opposite, slight on/off riffs & casual rimshots outlining a kind of professional reticence, the discretion of the perennial ex-lover. Drunk Friday nights the endless build through the verses, attack building on attack,  The strings that open ‘You’re Welcome, Stop On By’ offer a preview of the perfection of Leroy Hutson’s ‘All Because of You’ or Marvin Gaye’s ‘Since I Had You’: Apollonian hardness in the crunchy backline warring with the unspoken tenderness of these barely rhythmic sweeps of violins, bottomless as the vocals of Harry Smith’s Appalachians, figures for the unspeakable.

Au Pairs – ‘It’s Obvious’ (from ‘Diet/It’s Obvious’ 7″, 021 Records) / Wire – ‘It’s So Obvious’ (from Pink Flag, EMI/Pink Flag)

Coincidences, signs, symptoms: a 7″ picked from the vinyl left by a former resident at my old flat in London, a band from the inauspicious city I moved to (stranger still given that I always thought Au Pairs emerged from the same Leeds scene as Mekons & Delta 5). The flip of their second single sez that the obvious is a conduit of violence precisely in its obviousness, the leaping-to-the-tongue cadences of pop (“You’re equal but different” x 5), the guitar as hard & risky in its fraying, always on the edge of collapsing into texture, as the attack on LiLiPut’s ‘Eisiger Wind‘. But it’s the very mundanity of this message as it articulates itself in its spiky pop packaging – the Shulamith Firestone of Airless Spaces pressed onto a Crystals 45 – that looks like a Northwest Passage out of the mute savagery of everyday life. Meanwhile the 54 seconds of ‘It’s So Obvious’ – w/ the toughest guitar line of Wire’s career & the most abrupt stop – is about the blank unobviousness of the obvious.

O That Most Rare Breast (composed by William Byrd, performed by The Trinity Consort, from O Sprite Heroic, Beulah)

The devastation is less obvious than in Emma Kirkby & Fretwork’s somewhat overdone solo soprano version, but this is still music for ruins.

Aki Onda – ‘Side A’ (from First Thought Best Thought, Cassauna)

The first ever field recordings by cassette composer Aki Onda, made during a trip to Morocco in 1987, surprise by not sounding too obviously touristic. More so than the exoticism of the later approach of Sublime Frequencies – so obvious it seems to emerge on the other side – they break the frame of drifting observation; the haze of tape hiss & wobble doesn’t seem to veil some deeper sonic reality: it’s all there, right up in your face. Gnawa, Arab pop (& rock – in the opening minutes we hear wah-wah guitars shifting behind car noise & a small child’s cries) & classical music percolate in snatches like the world’s most DIY attempt at a KLF track: an endless, productive wavering between the seeming propensity of material to expand & swell w/ information & direction, across wh/ music & the tape edit itself slashes – the firestorm of metal percussion & hand drums, not unlike those on the astonishing Ecstatic Music of the Jemaa El Fna, breaks out like an answer to a question you hadn’t even known you were asking.


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