Tuesday, November 24, 2009

George Pringle. Salon des Refuses (2009).

Connoisseurs of electronic music might scoff at her canned beats and off kilter MIDI programming, but George definitely has it - I just don't know what "it" is.

There are four CDs in my car right now, Immolate Youself by Telefon Tel Aviv, Pop Ambient 2007, and 2008, and Salon des Refusés by George Pringle. Today I was listening to Row by Thomas Brinkmann on my iPod, but the CD I can't stop playing again and again from the beginning is the one by Ms. Pringle.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes George Pringle so different, so appealing. Her clap-trap drum tracks won't give Xenomania any sleepless nights. She can sing, but hardly ever does, preferring to deliver her lyrics/stories as monologues with F. Scott Fitzgerald's powers of social critique. Her mind is like a closet stacked with overflowing shoe boxes full of trivia and details, you pull one out and the rest tumble down. But it's more poetry than stream of consciousness I hear. It must be the voice: an upscale, cynical, yet vulnerable instrument she uses to depict her tales of observation and loneliness.

The last year has revealed a raft of electropoplettes, and some are quite good, but I don't recall any of them being described with the words, "outsiderness" and "self-parody," as the
Independent did when discussing George.

She first got attention on Myspace, which, if you do music, and are actually making an effort to get noticed there, is (as some of you must have found out by now) virtually impossible (although it's happened a couple of notorious times). George has pretty much gone it alone, using the built-in mic on her Mac to record tracks all by her lonesome on GarageBand, releasing her own record and getting gigs without a booking agent. She's been subsequently profiled in such high-profile journals such as The Independent, The Guardian, and The Times (London). This is the type of exposure you don't get just because you're a girl doing music on your own.  You have to stand out from the crowd, and she does. 
I was thinking of contacting La Pringle for an interview, but then I found this, and realized I couldn't do it any better myself. It even includes embedded videos, so I won't bother posting any here - just give it a click, please.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Joy Division / New Order

I can't think of another band that lost it's frontman and focal point, yet regrouped and emerged as an even greater popular and critical success. Genesis lost Peter Gabriel and enjoyed an upsurge in appeal, but critical esteem - well, no.

Joy Division, with it's epileptic and depressed Ian Curtis, seemed to find a shadowy corner somewhere at the end of the punk era, hinting at a haunted netherworld that was both raw and spooky. They foreshadowed Goth bands like Bauhaus, and contemporary post-punk revivalists such as Interpol.

After Curtis's suicide, the band stayed together and brought in Stephen Morris's girlfriend Gillian to play keyboards. Now renamed New Order, the band turned out sleek, terse music that flirted with the dance club but retained its punky muscle.

As you can see in this video, the members exude what I would call an attitude of "ordinary genius." In other words, they don't look at all like gods of rock and roll, but they possessed an aesthetic sensibility that set them above just about anything else going on in popular music at the time. Things I love about this video: Gillian turning the knob of a synth module, Stephen looking sheepish, and the Joy Division poster on the wall. The serenity displayed on their faces opposes the cliched depiction of the Romantic "struggle" of the artiste. This is about as far as you can get from "Rock" and still remain "Rock." Their almost militant stance against the Rock stereotype actually seems "punk" to me. It's "cool," in the sense of detachment, but it still rocks like a sledgehammer. It's an enigma.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saint Etienne. Fox Base Alpha (1991/2009).

While the Beatles are getting a great deal of attention for the reissue of their remastered recordings, Saint Etienne is also in the process of re-releasing their entire recorded output with additional discs of supplementary material, starting with their first CD, Fox Base Alpha.

One can only imagine artists such as Springsteen or Dylan receiving such special treatment in the States. Saint Etienne's fans are often completists, so the band will most likely have no problem selling scads of these repackaged gems. Despite the seeming homogeneity of pop music worldwide, Saint Etienne is recognized in the UK as a marvelous and sublime entity, while being only a rare delicacy around these parts. But true fans anywhere are inspired to an almost religious level of unconditional devotion. Lucky folks in the UK are being treated to
concerts during which they will perform the entire Fox Base Alpha record.

While the trio produces their own dance-pop masterpieces, they have occasionally covered other tunes, most notoriously, Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." Here's a live performance on Top Of The Pops of a hit single originally recorded in the 70's by Jigsaw. Anything Saint Etienne touches they make their own, so it ends up sounding like something they would have written anyway.

Who Do You Think You Are:

One of the (many) things I appreciate about Saint Etienne is how they maintain a profound level of chic while being kind of surreal and whimsical. And they've never been too cool to be a little silly. The royal getup that Pete is wearing during this performance is the same costume he wore in the official video
(unavailable on YouTube), in which he portrays a king with Elvis glasses. A very recent and fascinating interview with Bob Stanley is here, if you're interested in his thoughts on the history of pop music.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Keiichi Sugimoto (Fourcolor, Fonica, Filfla). Interview.

I'm fairly obsessed with Keiichi Sugimoto's music. Keiichi is a Japanese laptop composer/guitarist with a highly refined sense of taste and style.

He records under various project names such as Fourcolor, Fonica, and Filfla, collaborates with singer Moskitoo, and is part of the band Minamo. Except for his last release, Frolicfon, which presented live, exuberant drums upfront in the mix, his music sounds pretty much the same: delicate electronic textures interweaved with layers of simple and attractive guitar parts.

Keiichi is also a graphic designer and runs the Cubic Music label. He writes music for TV advertisements in Japan for McDonald's, Ritz crackers, and Häagen-Dazs, and has released music on such uber-chic labels as 12k , Tomlab, and apestaartje. His music epitomizes what I would identify as one particular slice of contemporary Japanese aesthetics: cool, intimate, delicate, sensitive, pretty, undemonstrative, detailed, and minimal. I appreciate work that can at once sound random and tightly controlled. That's a tough dichotomy to straddle, yet Keiichi makes it seem unforced and natural.

FilFla live at [F]luister:

FourColor/Filfla - Berklee College of Music - 10/20/08:

There is little available information out there about Keiichi, except for some reviews of his records, and his own blog. Motivated by curiosity and admiration, I contacted him for an interview. He very quickly agreed and sent back his responses. Although he expressed an insecurity about his grasp of English, I felt his answers were clear and precise. (I did a slight amount of editing just to clarify tense in some cases, or for singular and plural agreement.)

When you compose, do you have a sound in your head, or do you improvise until you find something interesting?

yes, mostly i have imagined sounds in my head when i compose.
some times, i do make sounds by improvisation.

Do you have a goal in composing music? To quiet the mind? To create a fictional space?

maybe i don't have the goal.
because, i have to develop all the time.

How do you know when a new song is finished and doesn't need any more development?

mostly i have a plan for making tracks.
it's like, compose --> recording --> mixing --> mastering.
i just make along like that.

What influenced you to create music in the beginning?

it happens suddenly.
for example, when i saw an interesting building or when i heard
interesting sounds in town...

What record are you most proud of?

very difficult question.
every work is special for me.
so i can't choose anything.

Your last cd was a Filfla release. Will you release any new music on cd soon?

yes, i will.
maybe next is me and other members of the project "minamo" for release.
also, i have some idea for new works.

What kind of guitar do you play?

electric guitar: fender jaguar
electric acoustic guitar: morris
and 12 string gibson guitar, no brand classical guitar

What software do you use when you perform live? Do you use loops, or linear arrangements? What kind of digital processing do you use? Max/msp, Pluggo?

i use ableton Live when i perform.
i use both loops and linear arrangements.
i have used pluggo before. but recently i just use default
plug-ins of ableton live.

What guitar effect pedals do you like?

delay, looper.

Are you busier with music or graphic design?


How did you get involved in doing music for television advertisements?

mostly, from music production.
some other advertisements are directly from clients of companies.

Will you come back to the United States for any performances?

i hope.
no ideas or offers right now.
but, i really want to perform in us as soon as possible!

That's great! Thank you Keiichi!

You can listen to some of Fourcolor's here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lene Lovich. Lucky Number (1979).

Another bit of nostalgia here from the end of the 70's. I was quite captivated with this tune when it came out, but I don't believe I ever saw the video.
Lene Lovich is truly one kooky chick. She makes Bjork look like Nancy Reagan.

The bald guitarist is Les Chappell, her longtime collaborator and life partner.

My favorite line is, "There's something in the air besides the atmosphere."

Lucky Number

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

David Bowie. Boys Keep Swinging (1979).

I remember seeing this video, very late at night in 1979, on some random TV show. At the time, all I was really listening to was classical music and prog rock, so I had no previous interest in David Bowie, I thought he was just some wacko. When this video came on, it took me by surprise, and I sensed there was more going on with him, in fact, I believed I was seeing "art."

It's not that the video is weird. Weird isn't always good, or even interesting, sometimes weird is just dumb. Boys Keep Swinging is chilling in a metaphysical way. Note the lack of special effects. It's essentially a theatrical performance. It's not spontaneous or tossed off, it's premeditated and carefully staged.

There are two parts, the "performance" and the "runway show." In the performance part, Bowie performs enthusiastically in eerie isolation, doing his awkward/cool rock and roll dance, without a band or any visible audience. It's like a claustrophobic peepshow. If you haven't seen this, or forget what happens next, I won't spoil it for you, but David takes some female personas for a stroll down a catwalk. It's has you wondering at first, "Is that him? It can't be him. Oh, yes, it's definitely him!" The cheap set design for the "runway" section is completely fabulous, it would have been ruined if it were of a higher quality. And don't forget cheap can look expensive on film, this was meant to look tacky. The female characters are deftly mimed in brief cameos and each of them is individually defined with a few ingenious bits of actor's business.

How can I not mention Adrian Belew's guitar solo that accompanies the runway portion? It's a sublime and unbounded bit of ecstatic improvisation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yuan Quan. Short Stay No. 2 (2008)

I came across this video while our family was in Guangzhou, China for our second adoption. Our son was taking a nap and I found myself watching the V Channel, which is the Asian music video channel.

I had read in the
NY Times that Chinese pop was generic and bland. Some of it is, but I found a lot of the music really delightful, pretty, delicate, and light as air, and that's not a crime. I saw a band that did some really sweet Indie pop reminiscent of the NY band Ivy.

And I was impressed by this video, “Short Stay No. 2″ by
Yuan Quan. At least I think this is the video, it looks like it, but I remember it sounding different, more of a samba. Either way, it's probably something most folks in the states would never see, and it has a refreshing charm. Yuan Quan is apparently quite a big deal in China. She's an actress and musician, and she has compiled a collection of travel related songs under the series title, Short Stay that she recorded with musicians living in each of the cities she visited.

Yuan Quan. Short Stay No. 2:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Röyksopp and Robyn - "The Girl and the Robot." 2009

I've been listening closely to Junior, the new album by Röyksopp. Even if you think you've never heard of this Norwegian electronic duo, I'm pretty sure you are already familiar with some of their music,
and here's why:

Please don't hold this against them.

Anyway, what's really impressive on this disc is the second track, called The Girl and the Robot, a techno tinted pop tune with a sophisticated chord progression, evoking a 19th century art song as it
might have been written by Grieg over a hundred years ago. This lovely harmonic sequence goes like this, in a minor: iv / VI / #VII / i / VII / VI / iv / i. It's interesting how the progression avoids the more obvious use of the dominant chord, substituting the iv chord instead, which has a softening effect. Using a #VII chord is also a brilliant substitution for the V chord, and gives the song a unique flavor.

The track is a collaboration with the truly peerless Swedish pop singer-songwriter, Robyn. There is an official video for this which is rather fabulous , but I prefer the version
Röyksopp performed live on tv with Robyn (notice the cheers when the audience recognizes her!):

Other tracks feature vocals by Anneli Drecker, Karin Dreijer from The Knife, and Lykke Li from, presumably, some other planet. All worth a careful listen.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Anthony Adverse. The Incredible Anthony Adverse (1988).

Sometimes I second guess my own taste. When my most favorite musical discovery of 2008 was a campy, easy-listening album from the mid 1980's, I fear I am losing my grip. Then, I have to remember, I rarely find myself in consensus with the mainstream over what is commonly being hailed as good, or the greatest, or the best thing ever in music, anyway. I just go my own way, and that often leads me into some strange locales.

The I
ncredible Anthony Adverse was a best-seller for el Records, which makes sense because it's truly an eccentric gem. The cover of the CD boasts, "On screen or off, an original from the outset," a typically oblique declaration from the el Records myth makers. "Original" certainly defines her.

The disc launches with a brief, and gothically gnarly, instrumental for a digital chamber orchestra. The first vocal track is an outlandish recounting of the Garden of Eden story, complete with diminished chords, a Cookie Monster-ish
"voice of God," and a kazoo solo. It's ebullient, ridiculous, and campy, the whole album being a camp masterpiece. El Records specialized in the stylized, the artificial, and the outmoded, combined with a sensibility for the literate, humorous, and ironic. Anthony Adverse was able to fully engage herself in these tunes, and takes them on with utter conviction whether they require a throaty cabaret voice, a mellow jazz voice, or a "mod" pop voice. Her singing is a bit like acting, she comes up with a character for every necessity. It gets you wondering though, what was the motivation behind this strange recording, what were the circumstances, and what is it with all these eccentric songs that mix pop, with jazz and novelties?

The best of the songs have a timeless quality that is difficult to pin down. The "Red Shoes Waltz," "Maria Celesta," and "Grisha's Birthday" all have a vaguely mid
1960's tint. "Now Listen" sounds more antiquated, like a small vocal group from the 1950's. The high point for me, emerging after many, many spins, would have to be "Imperial Violets," an impeccable tune which turns up as #55 on Jonathan Bogart's thoughtful list of 100 best songs of the 80's:

Imperial Violets

The songs on this disc still continue to draw me in. I listen closer and closer each time, attempting to catch all the lyrics, hear how the instruments fit together, and
to decipher the chord changes which are incredibly svelte, sublime and deceptive.

Much credit is due Louis Philippe, who wrote most of the songs on this disc, including all the best ones. He also provided the arrangements and most of the vocal and instrumental background. Let's admit, a fair number of popular songs are just riffs with a vocal layered above, the tunes of which employ a few steps of the blues scale. Louis Philippe wrote these songs the old fashioned way. There are distinct melodies within defined structures, and sophisticated modulations crafted in harmonies that borrow from the jazz and classical idioms.

In the late 1970's, the teenaged Julia Gilbert was a member of a couple of punk bands, Popular Theory, and Five Or Six. Subsequently recruited by Mike Alway as a solo artist for el Records, she was renamed Anthony Adverse, and paired with Louis Philippe for the album The Red Shoes, a tribute to the 1948 Powell/Pressburger film. The original is long out of print, but those tracks are included on this "best of" collection, which appends some of her singles to the Red Shoes song cycle, along with covers of 60's hits by Mary Wells and the Shangri La's.

After The Red Shoes album, Anthony Adverse released Spin, a collaboration with the late composer and songwriter, Daemion Barry, w
hich seems now very dated as a late 80's production, and sadly lacks the eccentricity which make el Records releases so engagingly outre.

Julia Gilbert retired the Anthony Adverse persona before the 90's even began, leaving behind very few images, and apparently no interviews or videos. Today, as Mike Alway himself related to me in an email, Julia writes scripts for the long running TV series in the UK, Eastenders. Over twenty years later, there is a lingering nostalgia over her haunting image. Momus recently posted in his blog about meeting her once, and being fairly starstruck in her presence.

The sound of The Incredible Anthony Adverse has the power to immediately obliterate the everyday world, plunging you into a whimsical and insular daydream of refined and charming kookiness. Once you enter it, it's very difficult to leave.

The Incredible Anthony Adverse on SPOTIFY