Posts Tagged ‘lyrics’

Sam Said, by The Middle Ones

Posted 24 Sep 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music

I went and saw a couple of really great bands at the Riots Not Diets night in Brighton on Saturday. The first were the excellent Edible Arrangements, who played a short set of really excellent stuff, a kind of slightly gothic take on Electrelane’s two note minimalism. It’s obviously v early days for them as they’ve released nothing so far – but they’re worth keeping an eye out for.

Likewise The Middle Ones, who were up next and played some absolutely terrific songs. A two-piece who combine wonderful lyrics and beautiful voices with rudimentary playing and occasional bursts of joyous noise, they were really great.

We picked up one of their CD afterwards and I’ve been absolutely floored ever since by one song in particular – the very short and very beautiful ‘Sam Said’ which is so simple and profound that I feel the need to share it, lyrics included. Shades of those early, devastating Emmy The Great songs like ‘City Song’ and ‘MIA’.

Do listen; learn the lyrics, sing along. It’ll make your life better.

“Driving away
I feel stupidly happy again
I feel more like myself every day
Since you said I should stop worrying, stop worrying.

Sleeping on trains
always used to make me feel safe
made me think that I could be more brave
made me think I could stop worrying, stop worrying now.

and today I ought to feel bad
for the loss of the hero I used to have
but maybe that just means I can
finally stop worshipping, stop worshipping
people I see
who seem better at living than me
who seem louder and faster and free
Maybe I should stop worshipping, stop worshipping

Sam said it’s better this way
Sam said it’s better this way
Sam said it’s better this way
and at last I believe him, at last I believe him today.”

There’s more about this excellent band here.

the lyrical genius of luke haines

Posted 09 Dec 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music

I’m getting in a right muddle listening back to this year’s records and trying to pick my favourites – increasingly I find that when I can’t decide between a few LPs I end up plumping for the one with the best lyrics. Not really clear on what my top ten will be. Might have to be a top 15.

Anyway, talking of lyrics – there are some moments on Luke Haines’ intermittently terrific 21st Century Man which are just sublime. I’m in raptures over ‘Love Letter To London’ at the moment:

“I’m not frightened, I’m no longer tired of life,
but the grass is greener in the English countryside.
A voice in the wilderness cries out from time to time,
and says “I’m off the dial, in my country pile”.

Young couples with children leave the big city,
we’ll not see them again.
It’s just like the blitz. The countryside groans
with the stress and the strain.

So don’t send us a postcard.
We like it here now that you’re gone
They said that they loved you, but they used you as a playground,
when they were young”.

noah’s misery

Posted 27 Oct 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

My impression – I may be wrong – is that the new Noah and The Whale record has underwhelmed quite a few people. It feels like the fans who liked the upbeat arrangements of their debut album are bewildered by the introverted, melancholic seam running through The First Days Of Spring. Equally, the people who understandably took against the contrived, Wes Anderson-influenced trappings of the band’s image and first record have not been convinced by the earnest, mature stylings they’ve followed it up with. Accompanying the new album with a full-length DVD film may be their biggest mistake; a brave, admirable artistic endeavour which nevertheless feels desperately pretentious.

Anyway – as you’ll know if you’ve spent some serious time with The First Days of Spring, it’s an excellent record; a big improvement on Peaceful The World Lays Me Down and a really rewarding, emotional account of what sounds like a pretty fucking awful year in the life of the band’s songwriter, Charlie Fink – whose break-up with Laura Marling doesn’t just dominate this set of songs, it positively defines them. On ‘Stranger’, my favourite song, he sounds positively wretched, musing on the sense of shame he feels after a night of casual sex with a new acquaintance. It’s a peculiar topic (for a man, particularly) to write about, but it’s oddly moving – once one has reconciled Charlie’s lyrical approach with a natural aversion to cliché.

My first reaction to the set of songs on The First Days of Spring was that Fink had written an extraordinary, brooding, lilting set of instrumentals but been unable to find words to express his heartache without resorting to a set of anodyne, stock-phrases to voice his anguish. That may well be the case – there’s an interminable amount of cliché here. But there’s something more complex going on here too.

A year or so ago I was confronted by a very strange, emotional experience. In a venue in Hove, surrounded by my friends, I watched a couple of musicians perform a song for a shared friend which was informed by a sense of loss and regret and love. It was a completely beautiful, spine-tingling moment. Yet I mused afterwards that if I had heard the same song on the radio, unaware of the context, I would probably have written it off as mush; as mawkish, middle-of-the-road stuff. All of a sudden, an alarm went off in my head. All my life I have written off songs with unimaginative or sentimental lyrics as ‘meaningless’, without really given much thought to the fact that they might, despite their failings, be essentially truthful, heartfelt and honest.

Listening to The First Days of Spring now, it’s impossible to argue that Charlie’s lyrics are not predictable and clichéd – and yet something about the completeness of the narrative, the tone of his voice, and the sheer brilliance of his arrangements, persuades me that they’re entirely real, entirely true. When Charlie sings about “songs for the broken hearted”, or needing “your light in my life”, I think, why adorn these despairing sentiments with beautiful embellishments if the plain sentiments get to the heart of the matter? In as much as I believe that anyone’s heart can be broken, I don’t doubt that Charlie’s truly was.

And of course, ‘Stranger’ is just particularly pretty – built, like, most of the record, around simple, ringing, circular guitar lines played on a clean-toned electric guitar, and rich with Charlie’s heavy, regretful vocal. “Last night I slept with a stranger for the first time since you’ve gone / Regretfully lying naked, I reflect on what I’ve done”. It even contains what I hope is a gag; the line where, having described his lover’s naked body entwined with his, he croons, “I’m a fox” – before completing the line “…trapped in the headlights”. If it isn’t a gag, it’s still funny.

And then, just past the half way mark, the song changes emphasis and a still, clear, piano line emerges, accompanied by muted acoustic strumming and some gentle vocal harmonies. “You know in a year”, Charlie starts to sing, “it’s gonna be better”. The riff starts to circle. “You know in a year, I’m gonna be happy”. As it shifts pace, it slides magically from tortured to reflective to uplifting; it’s Charlie reassuring himself, calming himself down, the sound of the early signs of healing. As the next song reflects, “blue skies are coming / but I know that it’s hard”.

If The First Days of Spring is written off as self-indulgent and pretentious – or just plain depressing – it’ll be a real shame. There’s a hugely satisfying single-mindedness of purpose about it; a clear-headed, direct portrayal of misery (and the emergence from misery into a more hopeful state of mind) that, yes, employs a host of well-worn, too-familiar phrases. But I think they are true.

all men are liars

Posted 12 Oct 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Video

Thanks so much to Simon from Sweeping The Nation for reminding me how good ‘All Men Are Liars’ by Nick Lowe is; I just love that wonderful, Andy Partridge-esque descending line in the chorus.

And the lyrics elsewhere, of course:

“Well do you remember Rick Astley?
He had a big fat hit, it was ghastly.
He said i’m never gonna give-a you up or let you down.
Well, i’m here to tell you that dick’s a clown.”

if you leave it alone

Posted 07 Apr 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music

I’ve already used this blog at length to extol the virtues of the quite stupendous Wave Pictures, who I think are making the best records in the world at the moment. That’s not going to stop any time soon.

Perhaps I’m summoning up memories of a fictitious Willy Wonkafied youth here, but I have a probably-false memory of buying chocolate bars and eating them one corner, one segment at a time when I was a child, unwilling to gorge on the whole thing in one go, savouring every mouthful.

That’s how I feel about the new Wave Pictures album, which I’m rationing out as a kind of penance for my having illegally downloaded it (I’ll buy a copy when it comes out) and as a kind of tease – because I’m frightened that it’ll be so good that I won’t need another record again this year. So I’ve only listened to the first three or four songs so far, getting to know them back to front, chewing delightedly on every detail and nuance.

The first track, ‘If You Leave It Alone’, is transparently one of the best things that Dave Tattersall and co have ever done, but repeated obsessive listens are driving me bit crazed and reaching blindly for superlatives. Like a lot of their stuff, it’s achingly simple – little more than a beat, a bass line and a beautiful, tender vocal, but the genius is in the melody and, particularly, the lyric – which, from behind Tattersall’s usual oblique wordplay, reveals an absolutely beautiful insight into his song-writing process, which is deliberately straight-forward, unforced, natural.

Once a song is written, it’s written, and is just left to sit until it is needed. And like wine, or meat left to hang, it becomes richer and better with age.

Here’s the key verse. I can’t tell you how beautiful I think it is.

“Now I’m full up with lessons learned
and the days that I made just to throw them away.
Now I’m closing all the curtains, I’m switching off the phone,
now I took down all your cameras and I opened the fridge…
and hung from the hinges with the eggs and garlic,
the cheese and tomatoes, the milk and the beer,
the strings and the bridges of a brand new year;
The first tear was a note and the note made a song,
and I hung the song from the hinges of the door,
then I carried on just the same as before.
And nothing got different, and nothing got changed,
but a new tune gets sweeter and simpler with age
if you leave it alone”.

Not much more I can add to that. That for me is reason enough to love the Wave Pictures, unconditionally, forever.

emmy the great’s ‘canopies and grapes’

Posted 04 Jul 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music

I love break up songs, always have, so much so that I’ve written tons of them during the happiest of relationships, always finding the raw emotion and mourning a fascinating thing to write about, from whichever side of the break-up fence you’re looking. Today my favourite break-up song is ‘Canopies and Grapes’, by the impossibly great, er, Emmy The Great.

I love how it oscillates between pop culture references and declarations of despair, and I love it how it’s funny one minute and tragic the next. Having taken in references to S Club 7 and Friends in the first verse, Emmy goes on to sing, in her slight but beautiful voice:

“Later on, me and a bottle will hook up to have some fun
Then I’ll call your house at 12 to let you know that I’m drunk
Say I’m sorry Mr C, I was just looking for your son,
How are you incidentally? Do you know if he’s out alone?
There was this book he leant to me something like seven months ago
I’m gonna burn it in the street, be so kind as to let him know…
… That I’m dealing with this badly.”


One of the wonderful thing about Emmy’s songs are how revealing they are; she always ends up telling you more than she needs to, giving away too much about her vulnerability, in just the way we all do sometimes. I remember a period about two or three years ago when I had a month of just being horribly overcome by emotion generally, so much so that it seemed that every night I was telling a near-stranger something personal in an overwrought voice in a busy pub, acting completely without self-control. It didn’t last long but some of Emmy’s songs remind me of it.

And she’s just as good at constructing the internal conversations, because the dialogue with the one you’ve lost so rarely stops at the break-up point. Having reeled off a list of bands she’s been listening to get through it, she confesses:

“And it’s getting much too late to give back your Magnetic Fields EP…
Can I keep it? By my pillow?
Fucking loved it.
How I’d love to tell to tell you so.”

Her lyrics aren’t just conversational, too, as the many wonderful lines in her songs attest. She’s one of those writers capable of dropping brilliant lines in to her songs in a constantly surprising way. It’s done better elsewhere in her material, in fact – try her devastating pay-off in ‘The City Song’; “They pulled a human from my waist / It had your mouth, it had your face / I would have kept it if I’d stayed” – but as ‘Canopies and Grapes’ draws to a close there’s a line that sticks in my memory, which for the last few days has been dancing around my head. Here it is:

“When I get to sleep I’ll dream again of canopies and grapes,
And wake shaking from the knowledge that the mattress holds your shape”

Here’s Emmy’s myspace. If you go here, you can download ‘Canopies and Grapes’.

songs for the week

Posted 17 Apr 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

1. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – ‘Living Like a Refugee’ : This is my favourite song of the year, so far; heartbreaking African reggae. (“You left your country to seek refuge in another man’s land”)
2. Arctic Monkeys – ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ : I wonder if they’ll be wilful again and hold back the new album’s obvious number one, like they did last time? Either way, this is just brilliant. (“Oh that boy’s a slag / The best you ever had”)
3. Dinosaur Jr – ‘Back To Your Heart’ : Amazing hearing Lou Barlow back in Dinosaur, this rocks like Sebadoh meets Dinosaur meets Elliot Smith – ace. (“Breathe your air / cut my teeth / bones of a hypocrite that looked like me”)
4. Le Volume Courbe – ‘I Killed My Best Friend’ : Sexiest, flimsiest track on the list – a minute and a bit of JAMC/MBV tinged acoustic pop. (“I killed my best friend / He was so early”)
5. Electrelane – ‘The Greater Times’ : Is the new Electrelane their best album yet? Sounding pretty amazing so far. (“You say you don’t know what love means anymore / Since I found you I’m tearing down the walls”)
6. Ola Podrida – ‘Cindy’ : Another good find from Dan – don’t know much about this, other than it’s dead pretty. (“She’ll bring almost everything / except her wedding ring / cause she threw that in the sea”)
7. Lemonheads – ‘Let’s Just Laugh’ : One day I’ll do one of these lists without a Lemonheads track on it – for the moment I’m still obsessing over this gorgeous anti-Bush rant/beauty from last year’s eponymous comeback LP. (“I hope that you’re tried and fried before you’re finally fired”)
8. Sebadoh – ‘Kathy’ : The new Dinosaur album has inspired a period of Lou Barlow obsession, and this is untouchable. (“Every anxious wave rode through / To find me lying safe with you”)
9. The Young Knives – ‘Kitchener’ : Had this in my head all week after hearing it again at AS’s the other night; a great Adam and the Ants rip off (“It’s nice to be wanted / It’s good to be useful”)
10. Lone Official – ‘Pony Ride’ : Delicate Pavement-esque country rock (“Set off on a secret tide / A good friend is nice to have / When your makeshift raft washes out on you”)

currently playing:

Posted 06 Apr 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

1. The Good, The Bad and The Queen – Doghouse (amazing funky afro-beat romp they left off the album – shame).
2. Stephen Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash (“It’s that kind of night / Everybody blushes but no-one blinks to check the scenery”.)
3. V/A – ‘Choubi, Choubi; Folk and Pop Sounds of Iraq’ LP (demented, vital music from age of Sadamm Hussein).
4. The Mountain Goats – Love Love Love (“Some things you’ll do for money, and some you’ll do for fun / but the things you do for love are gonna come back to you one by one”)
5. The Horrors – Draw Japan (which sounds like a cross between British Sea Power, Birthday Party and the inside of Noel Fielding’s head)
6. Field Music – She Can Do What We Wants (“I should have put my fist through the lock and said / Now leave me, it’s easy”)
7. Dinosaur Jr. – Almost Ready (“Come on, night / I’m almost ready”)
8. Deerhunter – Octet (I believe I am legally obliged to call this ‘sonic adventurism’ – it’s nice)
9. Bill Callahan – Diamond Dancer (“She was dancing so hard / she danced herself into a diamond”)
10. Panda Bear – ‘Person Pitch’ LP (taking me a while to get into this but I’m really getting it now)

i just decided i don’t trust you any more

Posted 15 Mar 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

“The tender caresses that bring out the man.
I can’t still be drunk at five.
Oh, I guess I surely can.
Slowly your beauty is eaten away,
By the scent of someone else in the blanket where we lay”

I absolutely adore The Wedding Present, one of the the best bands Britain has produced; from shimmering C86 indie to the carnage-pop of the Albini years, they’ve been resolutely singular, bitter and brilliant. Dave Gedge remains one of pop’s great frontmen, an awkward, dour romantic with a reedy voice and an amazing ability to write heartfelt, direct lyrics. Like The Fall, they’re too monochrome for some, but I love that consistency and single-mindedness of purpose. Every song surfs this incredibly poignant wave of heartbreak and jealousy, underpinned by double-speed guitar savagery. Amazing band. Anyway, you can now purchase their entire Peel Sessions in a 6 CD boxset – 94 near-identical songs for £27. Bargain of the year.

Get it from Amazon from the end of the month. And how many male indie-rockers would write stuff like this?

“And is it sexist to say
that I thought just boys were meant to behave in this way?
You seemed quite sincere.
Will you even recognise my face this time next year?

And yes there was one particular glance
that made me afraid
That you were just seeing me as a chance
of getting laid”.

The Good, The Bad and The Queen

Posted 07 Jan 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

The BBC finally got round to showing the The Good, The Bad and The Queen concert which myself, Andrew, Anne-Sophie and Jeanne attended in the autumn, and it was nice to watch it back and marvel over what a lovely new set of songs Damon has written (delicate folky hymns to london with maurauding dub basslines, ace) as well as try to ignore the fact that he had a hissy fit half-way through. Still, what a brilliant band – excited about the album in a couple of weeks.

“Birdsong in the night
The sound drags a net through the twilight
Emptiness in computors bothers me
These are the seas in our minds
We make our own confine in time”

dear mariella

Posted 29 Nov 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

I do that ‘currently listening to’ feature quite a lot, enjoying it cause it’s an easy post and it gives me a chance to compose a sentence or two about the songs I’m currently favouring. But this week – for now – I’m just going to concentrate on one song, because despite having a surprisingly intense period of listening to stuff recently (really digging recentish records by CSS, The Long Blondes, Bonnie Prince Billy and Joanna Newsom) I’ve kept coming back to one track which is worthy of particular attention.

The whole of The Hot Puppies debut album, ‘Under The Crooked Moon’, is really great – arty, literate pop with nods to Blondie, Pulp and PJ Harvey – but the best song on the record, ‘The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful’, is just majestic, both musically and – particularly – lyrically. So I’ll take a little time to admire the lyrics and the theme of the song, because I think it’s quite special – a kind of short story of a song. It begins:

“Dear Mariella, I am 25.
I live alone.
I think I might have found love,
But I just don’t know.
There’s something wrong”.

I’m a big fan of Mariella Frostrup and her no-nonsense relationship advice column in the Observer, so the first time I heard this song that’s the bit that jumped out. That’s pretty neat, I thought, a love song in the shape of a letter to an agony aunt.

The next few lines somehow somehow slipped by unnoticed for a while, but then I noticed them:

“Cause he has another love,
and she’s been buried a year.

And there might be a passing resemblence,
but dear Mariella, how can I compare with the girl, with the girl, with the girl, with the girl
who was too beautiful?”

And all of a sudden the song is in a much darker place altogether. The protagonist, expertly voiced by the marvellous Bec Newman, is preocuppied with her partner’s dead lover, and begins, despite the warnings of those close to her, to assume her predecessor’s persona.

“And all my friends say that it’s not right,
but I don’t care, I’m gonna change my hair.
Cause he wants her.
And I just want somebody there.”

The next verse raises the drama. The bit where Newman sings “Dear Mariellia / It’s gone from bad to worse / It feels like I’m chasing a hearse / And now I’m even wearing her clothes / I feel like a ghost” is plain shocking. Worse still is to come.

“And just the other day, staring from across the street,
I think I might have seen her mother, but dear Mariella,
She didn’t see me. Just a girl.
Just a girl, just a girl, just a girl who was too beautiful”.

By the song’s end, the by now wretched sounding Newman is almost totally subsumed, asking and threatening “would you wanna let go, like I wanna let go, and I need to let go?” and concluding, finally, “I am the girl who was too beautiful”. It’s a deliciously Hitchcockian theme, simultaneously dark, knowing and sexy, and brilliantly performed. The tune itself positively sizzles, bursting with tremendous melodies, keyboard riffs and it even briefly swoops into an indie-disco breakdown without breaking its stride.

Odd how so much press time has been expended on the (admittedly great) Long Blondes while the Hot Puppies are bubbling under – it was great to see Kate Jackson up near the top of the NME’s supremely daft Cool List this year, but surely Bec Newman deserved a place too. Hopefully they’ll be massive in 2007 – they deserve to be. Doubtless half of the blogs in my sidebar and starting to put together their yearly round-up lists, and I probably will soon too. And this is a serious contender for best single of the year.

on the stereo

Posted 14 Jul 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

Currently liztening to:

1. The Young KnivesLoughborough Suicide: Easily the best thing the thrilling ‘Knives have done to date, this is just tremendous; an elegant, caustic little slice of small-town ennui which occasionally splutters into The Jam-style fury. The lyrics marginally edge it over the tune, with Henry spluttering “I’ll never go down fighting” while House intones “Well, it’s cold cold cold and I think I’m gonna die in here / considering Loughborough suicide, which I’m definitely going to do, this year / And if you take a look outside then the answer to your question is quite clear / that you may as well leave because there’s nothing else to do around here”. When the guitars briefly erupt into a kinetic little riff half way through something physical happens and I want to punch the air. Ace.

2. Lily AllenLittle Things: Apart from the luminous ‘LDN’, my favourite Lily Allen song so far, from the first wistful lines (“Sometimes I find myself sitting back and reminiscing / Especially when I have to watch other people kissing”) to the way she alternates between sassy wit (“Drinkin’ tea in bed, watching DVDs / when I discovered all your dirty grotty magazines”) and girlishness (“the first time that you introduced me to your friends / and you could tell I was nervous, so you held my hand”) – it’s lovely. Best of all, obviously, is her voice, which is unshowy yet demonstrative, and totally convincing, especially when she sings lines like “I know it sounds lame but its so true”. It is.

3. MidlakeRoscoe: Dan is loudly proclaiming Midlake’s ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’ as record of the year so far, and he mightn’t be far wrong – it’s a super little record, all beguiling harmonies, soft-rock piano riffs, buzzing synths and bucolic calm. It may seem lazy to pick the first track on the album as the best song, but it’s really beautiful. Clincher is the escalating harmonies and the line “Whenever I was a child I wondered what if my name had changed into something more productive like… Roscoe”, which triggers a little cascade of shivers. Soft rock need not sound like The Feeling.

4. Sol SeppyThe Bells of 1 2 LP: Another Dan-discovery, via last month’s Wire Tapper, this is a lovely, insular record. You can test the water by downloading a track here. If you can’t be bothered to do that, I’ll just tell you that the album is strange and beautiful; acoustic folkiness switching with churning Velvets guitars, the odd glitchsome beat and some ethereal, rather gorgeous vocals. And Sol Seppy mainwoman Sophie Michalitsianos is kind of, erm, pretty, too. And stop looking at me like that. I would have said the same of the Young Knives if it were true.

5. Jarvis CockerRunning The World: chiefly here because it proves that Jarvis can still do it, rather than because it’s streets ahead of the other stuff I’ve been listening to this month (honorable mentions to Quarterstance, Tapes ‘n Tapes, Herbert, Infinite Livez and Plan B); it’s much as you’d expect, really – lots of keyboards, neat guitars and a het up Jarvis on fine lyrical form, claiming that it isn’t cream that rises to the top in life but shit, and that the “cunts are still ruling the world”. Neat, and right. You can download the song here if you’re minded.

time for plan b

Posted 25 Jun 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Music

I’ve read a few reviews which marvel over the lyrics on the new Plan B record, particularly his jaw-dropping last verse on Sick 2 Def, so instead of adding to the hyperbole by expanding, I’ve just typed out the first half of the verse in question as a demonstration of the guy’s talent. Maybe you have to know the song to really get the pattern, but even so some of the phrases are tremendous. I’m not sure that the whole album is of a standard comparable to, say, Skinnyman’s ‘Council Estate of Mind’ or one of Dizzee’s efforts, but when he’s on form then his rapping really soars.

You can hear Sick 2 Def on Plan B’s Myspace page

“The last verse is just as bad as the first,
but compared to the second, yo, it’s definitely worse,
cause it’s about a guy getting chauffered in a hearse.
Let me do what Nas did and tell this shit in reverse.

The hearse brings the corpse back to the morgue,
the guy from the morgue undresses the corpse,
the embalming fluid goes back out, the blood goes back in,
body goes back to hospital where it comes alive again.

The paramedics walk backwards like an Irish dance,
put the wounded man back in the ambulance.
The ambulance’s engine turns back on
and its lights flash, the siren plays his favourite song.

The guy goes back to the exact spot where they found him
and the medics and the passers-by go back where they came from,
’til eventually no-one surrounds him
and the blood pours up him rather than down him.

The man then falls upwards, back on his feet,
stumbles towards a dark figure on the other side of the street,
he walks into the blade, that cut his belly,
then he holds his neck, which was bleeding already.

He removes his hands so that you can see the cut
and as the knife undoes the slice, it closes back up.
He unsays the words he said – which were ‘what the fuck?’,
and unscreams the scream from the first initial cut…”

Is it just me, or is that pretty terrific stuff?

somebody’s unholy hoax

Posted 12 May 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Two great letters from The Guardian follow. First, Helen Brown’s hilarious assertion that it is impossible to be good without belief in God, and then Claire Raynor’s beautifully terse response. Great stuff.

“Julian Baggini’s article on sin (G2, May 9) misunderstands the significance of sin. There is in fact no distinction to be made between doing something contrary to God’s will, and doing something contrary to our own good. The Aristotelian guiding principle of human happiness, to which Baggini refers, is not intrinsically without reference to God’s will – if human beings have been created by God, then the happiness of the rational animal will involve conformity to God’s will, as only God can satisfy the human body and soul.

Of course today’s youth is not amoral as such; young people are still human and capable of thinking about morality. But a true rejection of God is ipso facto a rejection of good: you cannot have the latter without the former.

Without the knowledge of God, one can neither fully appreciate the calamitous condition of fallen mankind, nor make fully informed moral judgements, nor by grace attain beatitude. To reject God’s will is not to reject the arbitrary rule of a tyrant, but to reject the most loving overtures of the creator who has made us for the only lasting happiness, eternal happiness with him.
Helen Brown
Edinburgh”

“The arrogance of Christians like Helen Brown is breathtaking (Letters, May 10). To state as she does that it is not possible to be good without believing in a supernatural being domiciled in a supernatural heaven, who keeps his (never a her, of course!) worshippers in line by reminding the faithful of a disgusting hell ruled by another supernatural being, is positively juvenile. Indeed, by saying so I insult the many children I know who have a far clearer view of the real world than she does. I hope they will forgive me.

I am as offended as must be the many hundreds of thousands of other secular humanists who share the view of Thomas Paine – a real, breathing man, and not in the least supernatural – who, when quizzed by one of the sort of person that Helen Brown is and represents said: “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Like him, today’s atheists need neither heavenly carrots nor hellish sticks to persuade us to be moral, ethical persons who love our neighbours as ourselves simply because it is the right and good thing to do, and not because of supernatural flummery.
Claire Rayner
London”

Seeing as we’re talking about both letter-writing and God, let’s end with a quick verse from XTC’s terrific ‘Dear God’, shall we?

“Dear God, don’t know if you noticed, but
Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book…
That us crazy humans wrote,
you should take a look.
‘Cause all the people that you made in your image
still believe that junk is true.
Well I know it ain’t, and so do you, dear God”.

silver jews live

Posted 18 Apr 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

You ever done that fantasy gig line-up thing? Or the ultimate festival line-up, even? It’s kind of a boring habit of mine, when I’m too tired / bored / anxious to think about anything else. That and a fantasy Spurs line up which consists entirely of Robbie Keanes. When I do it I start with bands I missed because I was too young or stupid to go and see them before they split up – The Happy Mondays, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr – or people I could never conceivably have seen – The Clash, Can, Joy Division etc. Then I fill in the bands I love and have seen; Blur, Pavement, The House of Love, PJ Harvey. Finally I end up with the two still-going bands who I’ve never seen and would, frankly, die to see. XTC haven’t played live since 1983 or something like that, and aren’t ever likely to do so. So I end up with the band who are – in my meaningless opinion – probably the finest on the planet right nowSilver Jews, who never started touring in the first place.

Except of course that, more than ten years into their career, they’ve started. They’ve just played a run of dates in the US and are coming over to the UK very shortly. And… I’m going to be away when they come. Unbelievable, but I don’t feel too bad as I had already assumed that I would never get to see them. And I figure, I’m gonna review ‘em anyway, something which would have been impossible a few years ago, but with the wonderful advent of MP3 blogs I’ve managed to download four full concerts from the tour, including what is officially the first ever Joos concert at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA on March 10th. And, well, it was stunning.

The reclusive, remarkable, drug and alcohol ravaged genius that is Jews mainman David C. Berman has always been a bit of enigma, refusing to play live, refusing to read his song lyrics at poetry readings (he’s the author of ‘Actual Air’, one of the finest collections of American poetry I’ve ever read), and sacking and reinstating Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, Bob Nastanovich and Steve West on regular occasions. His most recent album, Tanglewood Numbers, saw most of them back, along with Will Oldham and his wife, Cassie, but on tour only Cassie and Bob make the line up – the latter only for a few, nostalgic numbers. So there’s no Malkmus. He’s barely missed however – the show is all about Berman, who apparently has to perform with his (extraordinary) lyrics on a music stand in front of him as he can’t remember them. And god, we’ve waited a long time to see him do this.

The outpouring of collective joy from the audience is immediately obvious the moment the band takes the stage. Berman’s voice, greeting the audience, is surprisingly nasal. “You wanted the jews, you got ‘em”, he announces. “This isn’t my speaking voice”, he continues, “but I know you don’t what it is, so I’m making you think this is it, fuck you”. Then he counts to four, hits his guitar and sings “In 1984 I was hospitalised for approaching perfection / slowly screwing my ways across Europe, they had to make a correction”. The audience wants to laugh but instead it whoops deliriously as the musics kicks in. The formula is set. Every lyric – “I know that a lot of what I say has been lifted off of men’s room walls” – is met with hollers of approval. Is their another living musician who raises cheers with every other line? Finally the songs ratchets up to the point everyone is waiting for; Berman sings the pay-off “If you don’t want me, I promise not to linger / but before I go I got to ask you dear about that tan line on your ring-finger”. At which point, although I can’t vouch for the spines of the “real” audience, mine seems to explode in a tumult of tingles.

It’s by no means a practised performance; Berman’s voice is even flatter and less expressive than on record (but this is the man who once sang “all my favourite singers couldn’t sing”), and the band turn in an accomplished set shorn of Malkmus’s pyrotechnics. None of this matters at all, however – the sheer pleasure of finally hearing songs that have lived like friends for years kills all possibility of disappointment. And Berman is clearly a beguiling frontman – frequently quietening the band down to tell jokes, praise the audience and address good-natured heckles. The set itself is drawn in roughly equal measures from across the band’s five-album back catalogue. Berman says next year he’ll learn 15 different songs and come back.

In the meantime, he’s picked such glorious songs to play. Nastanovich – still the friendliest man in the world, by the sounds of things – comes out for an incredibly emotional run through of ‘Trains Across The Sea’, which unfurls like something heart-breaking by The Velvet Underground. “Half hours on Earth”, Berman sings, “What are they worth? I don’t know”. The song over, he notes, new to this, “No-one ever told me, I just found this out this week, that it sounds shitty on stage, like I thought it would sound as good as it does in your car, or at home. It sounds worse! How are you supposed to rock out, it sucks!”. It’s funny to think that this stuff is new to him.

Elsewhere, ‘New Orleans’ is lovely but the first time I miss Malkmus, and several songs from Tanglewood Numbers sound super, but it’s the classics that really sound amazing. ‘Dallas’ takes my breath away, alternately hilarious – “I passed out on the thirteenth floor / the CPR was so erotic”- and beautiful – “How d’you turn a billion steers / into buildings made of mirrors?”. Guitars chime melodiously around Berman as he begins to spin stories, addressing the crowd. It makes me burn with desire to visit Dallas, not an experience I’ve had before. “Sorry if I’m harsh on a song that means a lot to you”, he apologises afterwards. Hardly.

‘Horseleg Swastikas’ is equally fine. “And I wanna be like water if I can”, Berman croons, “cos water doesn’t give a damn”. The song quietens down for a piano break and Berman observes, “you know, I guess this has been a pretty good first concert. There’s been some screw-ups. But er, I only really started practising for the tour a few days ago. And I know you guys waited for a long time. I didn’t deserve to do that to you”. I think I know what he means.

‘Slow Education’ is another song packed with lyrics the crowd has waited a long time to hear him sing. “When God was young / he made the wind and the sun / and since then / it’s been a slow education / And you got that one idea again / the one about dying”. ‘Buckingham Rabbit’, from American Water closes the set and it’s worn-out sounding and euphoric, Berman having relented and okayed an encore he was determined not to do, getting Steve West – “an excellent human being” – on to drum. It’s another song which I associate so strongly with Malkmus that it’s impossible not to wish he was there, but the Joos do an outstanding job without him. “So the rent became whisky / then my life became risky”, Berman sings. Ain’t that the truth. It’s not long ago that Berman tried – and failed – to kill himself.

But it’s great to see/hear him in such good form. “You know, I’ve caught a lot of you guys looking at my wife tonight”, he jabs. As the guitars build and lead us out at the end of a remarkable set, a huge, warm cheer erupts from the crowd. “See you next year”, he mutters, oblivious to the fact that half of this crowd is probably intent on following him round the States for the next couple of weeks. And, yeah, it looks like it’ll have to be next year for me, David, but it’s worth waiting for I suspect. In the meantime, I get lovely Pavement flashbacks as Bob comes back out on stage to apologise that there’ll be no more music tonight and tell the crowd how beautiful they are. Still a gentleman after all these years.

Hear other dates from the tour here and here.

phone / westworld

Posted 17 Apr 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Uch, I hate not having my phone to hand; drank too much last night and didn’t eat properly so ended up either leaving my phone in the pub or at Dave’s house or in the back of the cab. Too fogged by hangover to do anything about it today. But I’m delighed to see that ‘Westworld’ is on the telly tonight. Apart from having a secret and shameful liking for Michael Crichton novels/adaptations, I’ve wanted to see it for years. Ever since I heard the commendably crazy ‘Jo Jo’s Jacket’ on Steve Malkmus’s first solo LP, where he sings…

“I’m not what you think I am. I’m the king of Siam.
I’ve got a bald head, my name is Yul Brynner
And I am a famous movie star.

Perhaps you saw me in Westworld?
I acted like a robotic cowboy.
It was my best role, I can not deny I felt right home deep inside that electronic carcass”

…which I think would intrigue anyone.

oh, alright, i like the arctic monkeys

Posted 16 Jan 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Always one to follow fashion, I’ve been listening to the new Arctic Monkeys album, ‘Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ and – although I was prickly and dismissive of the Monkeys when I first heard them – I have to admit to being impressed with the record. I keep reading reviews which hurriedly sum the band up as saying they cherry-pick from The Who, The Kinks, The Jam, The Smiths The Strokes, The Libertines etc, which I find pretty lazy. It’s shorthand I suppose for saying that the album is not fantastically original, but that’s a curious allegation to level against a band of 19 year olds making their first LP, especially in an area as conservative as indie rock. Like most guitar records you’ll hear this year, the Arctic Monkeys sound a bit like a few other people. But they also sound much fresher and more interesting than I’d given them credit for.

The first thing of note is the guitars; nice loud crunchy guitars which are at times more reminiscent of the full throttle Mudhoney than the tinny, ramshackle Libertines – it’s nice to hear a production job which doesn’t follow the brittle post-punk blueprint and instead goes for volume and effect. Alex Turner’s vocals, meanwhile, unlike Doherty’s, are more than strong enough to punch through the sound, as he does to such great effect on ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, which is great apart from the horrible backing vocals. Elsewhere, there are a couple of really quite decent tracks (‘When The Sun Goes Down’ and ‘From The Ritz to the Rubble’), a bunch of stompers (if Pete Doherty had the nous to write ‘Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But..’ he wouldn’t be in this mess) and at least two tracks which are amongst the loveliest I’ve heard all year (and last year, I guess).

‘Mardy Bum’ is the most immediate; one of the best examples of Turner’s really quite impressive lyric-writing skills. It’s all about a relationship pock-marked by arguments – something most of us know about – but carried with a maturity well beyond his years. “Now then Mardy Bum”, Turner sings, “Well, I’m in trouble again / Aren’t I? / I thought as much / ‘cos you turned over there / wearing that silent dissapointment face / the one that I can’t bear” – all of which is well observed enough, but he gets it absolutely spot on when he sings

“Yeah I’m sorry I was late.
Well, I missed the train,
And then the traffic was a state.
And I can’t be arsed to carry on in this debate
That reoccurs, oh when you say I don’t care.
Well of course I do, yeah I CLEARLY DO!”.

Even better is Turner’s take on youth culture in the marvellous, closing ‘A Certain Romance’, which is a really lovely, neo-Jarvis Cockerian rumination of adolescent frustration on the streets of Yorkshire. “Well oh they might wear classic Reeboks”, the song begins, “Or knackered Converse / Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks / But all of that’s what the point is not / The point is that there ain’t no romance around there”. What’s really charming about a band of teenagers singing about teenage life is that they really know what they’re talking about, and Turner doesn’t bother castigating or celebrating his contemporaries. “They’ll never listen”, he sings, “cause they’re minds are made up”. But he brilliantly adds “and of course, it’s okay to carry on that way”, which is a delightful display of nonchalance and beautifully delivered.

The entire lyric bears reproduction, to be honest, from Turner noting that there’s “only music so that there’s new ringtones” to observing that “just cause he’s had a couple of cans / he thinks it’s alright to act like a dickhead”. The best lines come at the end, when he sighs

“Well over there there’s friends of mine,
What can I say, I’ve known ‘em for a long long time.
And yeah they might overstep the line,
But you just cannot get angry in the same way”

I don’t think the Arctic Monkeys are the best new band in Britain or “the band of your generation” as the NME put it last week or anything like that, but on the evidence of ‘Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ they’re uniquely timely and expressive. I’m seeing them on the NME tour in February with Maximo Park, the Mystery Jets and We Are Scientists, and I’m really looking forward to it now.

inconsistent monkeys

Posted 27 Oct 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Music

it’s compare and contrast time at Assistant Blog:

Quote one:

“[Our new single is] a bit shit. The words are rubbish. I scraped the bottom of the barrel. It could be a big song, like. But I’d hate to be just known for that song because it’s a bit crap.”

Quote two:

“Most bands these days probably just write lyrics because they sound good without thinking.”

Both quotes are by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. Which to believe? Alex also says “But I don’t want to be a band like Kaiser Chiefs. I think if we’re next year’s Kaiser Chiefs we’ll quit.”

We certainly don’t need two Kaiser Chiefs. But is it really better to be this year’s Libertines than next year’s ‘Chiefs? I’m not so sure.

I have to say though, that the Arctic Monkeys single has kinda stuck in my head. Most of their songs are poor, but there are a couple which have grown on me. If I ever finish editing my new podcast, you’ll hear one, ‘Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts’, which I think is pretty good. Now who said I couldn’t be a fair and equitable critic?

Won’t soul music change / now that our souls have turned strange?

Posted 19 Oct 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

“Where’s the paper bag that holds the liquor”, David Berman asks as the first chords ring out on the Silver Jews’ exceptional new album, Tanglewood Numbers, “Just in case I feel the need to puke”.

It sounds like Berman, the man who once sang “In twenty seven years I’ve drunk fifty thousand beers / and they just wash against me like the sea against the pier” has spent the time since 2001′s understated, surprising Bright Flight doing what we know he does best; drinking. Well, that and maintaining his reputation as America’s best lyricist and one of her most under-appreciated song-writers. And erm, he tried to kill himself too, but didn’t succeed, thank god.

“There is a place past the blues I never want to see again / Black planet, black freighter, black sea”

The beers continue to take their toll on Berman’s voice; he’s gruff, clipped and uncompromising here, often mixed low in the mix behind Steve Malkmus’s astonishing guitar playing, which is revelatory after his absence on the Jews’ last outing, where Berman, keen to break out of his bandmate’s shadow, employed traditional country musicians to back him up. This time, with Malkmus and fellow Pavement travellers Stevie West and Bob Nastanovich back, as well as Will Oldham, the Jews return to the bustle and noise of American Water and make arguably the best Silver Jews record yet.

“Ain’t ya heard the news? / Adam and Eve were Jews”

Benefiting from one of the best production jobs I’ve heard on a record in recent years (it really captures what I imagine the Jews would sound like if they ever played live, which they don’t, apart from that one time that Berman and Malkmus showed up on stage, played a Grateful Dead cassette through the PA, and improvised on top of it), and a sterling contribution from new addition Cassie Berman – who takes over from SM on second vocal duties – the Silver Jews sound simultaneously frenzied, friendly, tired, and drunk. It’s a record that makes you feel like a participant, and summons up an extraordinarily vivid mental picture.

“Where does an animal sleep when the ground is wet? / Cows in the ballroom, chickens in the farmer’s corvette”

Like all Jews records, it’s an album that works on two distinct levels. It’s a record packed with mournful and beligerant melodies and beautiful sounds, perfect for a late night beer before bed beckons, and it’s also, of course, a headphones record, preferably with a lyric sheet to hand, as Berman throws a predictably gorgeous set of words over his shoulder into the mellee.

A beautiful record the match of anything else you’ll hear this year. Or next. Apparently this might be Berman’s last record, but we’ll have to hope that’s not true. If it is, he’s bowed out with a classic.

art brut – bang bang rock and roll

Posted 30 Aug 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

The first 30 seconds of Art Brut’s wonderful debut album are slightly hysterical; a wall of guitars and some joyous shoutin’: “Formed a band! We formed a band! Look at us! We formed a band!”, they cry. That done, the band showcase the two things they do very well – the heavy guitars suddenly shift into a keen, spidery riff, showcasing an innate melody and wilful subversiveness, and moments later, they’re telling us that they’re “going to be the band that writes the song / that makes Israel and Palestine get along”.

There are countless examples of singer Eddie’s bright, showy wit, and mini-tunes galore on an album which clocks in at a pleasing forty minutes or so. My Little Brother, the second track, exemplifies Art Brut’s celebration of the ordinary. Having just discovered rock and roll (“he’s only twenty two and he’s out of control”), the narrator’s brother, currently “living with all that unforgiving”, has to “make his own mistakes”. Seeing as the worst he seems to manage is a bit of frugging on the dancefloor, it doesn’t sound too problematic. Although a note of caution is voiced:

He no longer listens to a-sides
He made me a tape of bootlegs and b-sides
And every song, every single song on that tape said exactly the same thing:
“Why don’t our parents worry about us?”
“WHY don’t our parents worry about us???”

Emily Kane is better still; a warm tribute to first love, it gets romantic nostalgia dead on, even down to remembering – to the second – the last time the narrator saw his first girlfriend. “Every girl I’ve seen since, looks like just like you – when I squint”. I hope Emily Kane is real, and that Art Brut get what they want. “I hope this song will find you fame”, Eddie sings, “I want schoolkids on buses singing your name”.

Throughout, the Brut kick up an adrenelising Television Personalities / Fall stew. Eddie’s lyrics frequently slip off key, or run every so slightly counter to the melody, but the limitations of his voice and charming hesitancy is a big plus. At times he sounds a bit like Mike Skinner, which has been picked up on before, but his voice is more expressive, and his lyrics just as entertaining. Rusted Guns Of Milan, in particular is hilarious, a throbbing account of sexual failure which culminates in “I know I can, I know I can, I’m always fine with my own hand”

Like a lot of newish British bands, Art Brut draw fairly heavily on garage rock and late 70s punk, but they’re wise enough to raise an eyebrow at the boundless r’ and r’ cliches every now and again. Far better a band who declaim not only that “Modern art makes me want to rock out” but also “I can’t stand the sound of the Velvet Underground. I can’t stand the sound the second time around”. How serious Eddie is is uncertain, obviously, but I’ve been waiting all my life for a band to sniff “No more songs about sex and drugs and rock and roll. It’s boooooooring!”. Thinking back, several tracks merge effortlessly in my mind but, as with the Fall, Art Brut’s limited palate is not a problem when they’re this interesting.

The album’s two best songs, Good Weekend and Bad Weekend demonstrate Art Brut’s conflicting sensibility. Essentially a band who find real life a bit more interesting than rock music, the former is an ecstatic ode to a new girlfriend, culminating in the album’s finest moment, where Eddie, in conversational mode, and having played it pretty cool so far, finally announces “I’ve seen her naked, TWICE! I’VE SEEN HER NAKED TWICE!!!!”.

But Rock and Roll, for all it’s limitations (Razorlight, basically) is a more reliable mistress than any girlfriend, and Art Brut can never resist turning back to it, although Bad Weekend finds them somewhat out of touch. “Haven’t read the NME in so long! Dunno what genre we belong”, they cry. Indeed, “Popular culture no longer applies to me” is a gloriously pretentious and fun motto to adopt. But the way Eddie sings “Top Of The Pops”, his voice all crazed excitement, belies any notion that they don’t care.

The most fun pop record I’ve heard all year.