Me, Gary and Edd have lived together since September, and by all accounts, very harmoniously (unless they have hidden pictures of my face on dartboards which they ritually throw darts at, cackling demonically, but I’d like to think not). Anyway, this harmony often ends at musical taste, with all of us typically very staunch in our liking of our often very disparate tastes. Edd came up with the genius idea – on the can, naturally – to turn this into a challenge to regularly provide the other two with albums ‘they need to hear’, for them to review – no holds barred. The results follow the pre-fight introductions, written by the other two…
How to describe Edd’s music taste? Well, you’ve got to the start with the Clash. Edd fucking loves The Clash. His love for them is so great that he styles himself upon them and that it’s become a running (endearing) joke. He practically worships at their altar. It’s not just the music itself, but their essence – disillusioned youthful rebellion.
Other bands are almost judged in their musical proximity to The Clash. So Oasis and Blur are also much liked for their rock ‘n’ roll swagger (often ironic in Blur’s case), which also captured the generation’s zeitgeist. Similarly, Kasabian and The Black Keys are the only ones really holding up the rock’s flag at the moment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vacuous, ‘floaty’ statements of Snow Patrol and their bed-wetting ilk are given short shrift, as is pop music with a capital P, even if the talent is recognised as with Adele. He doesn’t go towards too much stuff with bleeps, presumably in the belief that production means things are almost by definition not raw or genuine. And, except for a slightly ill-fitting love of reggae, the greatness of much music of black origin hasn’t really been investigated. Hopefully, I can show that there is invention and heart and soul is much more than guitar music, starting this week with the electro-soul of new critics’ fave Frank Ocean… (Joel)
The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Clash, The Stones, Reggae.
- The Clash
Edd likes The Clash.
No, he like some good tunes as well (Ha! see what I did there? I took all your expectations about my stating Edd liking The Clash as a neutral observation, then I completely subverted them, and turned your narrow-minded, middle-class world upside-down by deftly turning it into a statement of judgement). No, he does like some good tunes: anyone who likes Gimme Shelter or Jumping Jack Flash knows what good music sounds like. (Gary)
Despite being a bald man, Gary likes music. He loves anything from the Wu-Tang Clan to the Stones, from Bo Diddley to Gaslight Anthem. It is impossible to say he has a bad taste in music because he has such a BIG taste – every shitty band he likes will almost always be cancelled out by two brilliant bands that appear on his iTunes. I’ve even walked past his room late at night to hear him humming along to well-known social recluse J’im Le Fáébbeoú, one of the great pioneers of the Gospel-Funk movement. Fucking mental. While not being partial to some of his winter-y folk stuff, I admire his wide taste and open-minded approach to music. I’m just hoping he doesn’t force me to listen to Chippy D’Arabaley, the man who fused mime and hip-hop together. He really pisses me off. While he’s got a great knowledge of the old and the weird, he’s not so up with much…well of this millennium, really, through some combination of lack of time and wanting to cultivate a dad-ish ‘things were better in my day’ attitude. Just this week, he walked into the living room to me playing the new Bombay Bicycle Club album and, not entirely unjustifiably, commented: “Who are these bunch of gays, then?!”. Hopefully, we can somewhat break down this chronological and taxi-driverish musical wall. (Edd and Joel)
Despite being a ‘haddock basket’, Joel does like some good tunes. Then again, he likes some shit ones. So, if I was to draw a graph, I think an average cross-over of taste versus match correlation would result with most people. Looking at the whole pie, we find blues/rock, plinky-plonky indie (gay shit), standards, anthems, and a recent flirtation with R ‘n’ B ‘sensation’ (I’m told) Frank Ocean, who is black, so doesn’t quite fit with the aforementioned textbook suburban white-boy genres. So he’s open-minded and definitely NOT a racist (at least when it comes to music). (Gary)
I regularly walk into the living room to hear him nodding his head along to some jangly indie music, hip-hop, or the latest sounds of Jkandwe Smythe-Ubanoodlebaratabonky, King of African bee-bop jazz*. Some of it, in my opinion, is utter shite. Some of it makes me want to cut my balls off and feed them to a passing bumblebee. But I am looking forward to gaining a little insight into the musical brain of Durst. From the outside his main musical preference is floaty indie stuff like the Foals, but I have heard him Marvin Gaye-ing it up. He’s also a keen Florence & the Machine fan. Dubstep is up his street too, as well as some of Drake’s ‘fat beatz’. Whether I’ll like those obese riddims is the intriguing question – but not nearly as intriguing as Joel’s almost library-like musical taste.
*JD also dips into Seamus O’Trunkandeer, a glam-folk acoustic act with a penchant for a dazzling funk oboe solo. (Edd)
Now on to the selections
Edd chose The Clash’s self-titled debut for being “the album that changed music“.
Mmm… Not bad. What’s that? You want me to elaborate? OK. Well first of all I think I’d say that I thought all the tunes sounded more or less the same. By the end I had Clash fatigue as the anaesthetic of familiarity (Dawkins’ phrase, not mine) took hold. There were highlights however. ‘White Riot’ being one, another being.. er, forgot now. But I’m sure it was there.
I think this album illustrates the flaw in the concept of the album. Why is it lionised as the unit that best parcels an artist’s work? Alan Partridge is made to look a fool when he replies to the question ‘what’s your favourite Beatles album’ with ‘I’d have to say the Best of the Beatles’. He is completely demolished in his attempt to appear as one of the musical cognoscenti by lumping all of the Beatles’ best works together. In a sense, he can’t therefore be wrong; everyone’s favourite Beatles album is trivially ‘the best of the Beatles’. So his reasoning is flawed, but the thrust of the gag is in his ignorance of these units, knowledge of which makes one cool. Why? I can appreciate the commercial need to put out between seven and fifteen songs on a regular basis, and albums can reflect the musical style of a band at a certain time; linking them creates an arc of creativity, and we can usefully discuss ‘early’, ‘middle’ and ‘late’ periods. But an album is itself composed of discrete units (I believe they are called ‘songs’, or ‘tracks’) and there’s nothing stopping us, especially now, in the cyber space-world of the 21st century, chopping these up and putting the best ones together into temporal continuity.
I actually don’t like any album, because that would imply that I liked the majority of tracks. But every time I try to listen to one I find myself thinking the weak tracks drag down the good ones, spoiling my enjoyment. The case was slightly different, but definitely akin, in the case of The Clash. I just couldn’t distinguish one from the other. I’m sure Clash fans can discern the nuances, but until I train my ears to tune into these, I will be lost in homogeneity.
One last point about the Clash, then I’ll shut up: To their fans they kill two birds with one stone: they are paladins of rebellion, expressing anti-establishment sentiment through equally intense anti-bland music… and that. The natural audience for displays of vexation is the teenager, and it’s easy to mock and parody as half-baked political philosophy immaturely expressed. It gets easier to mock as one has to earn a living and, with all probability, get trapped in a vapid, sterile bubble. However, I think their sentiments deserve to be taken seriously, at least as far as its honesty of passion and simple sense that things can be improved, somehow.
Joe Strummer at Glastonbury once addressed the crowd, quite soon before he died I think, drawing attention to the festival’s significance. The phrase he repeated a couple of times was ‘this is not meaningless’ (a clip I still can’t find on YouTube). In other words, the gathering and the music go beyond just mass hedonism.
Now that can cynically be interpreted as self-aggrandising; Glastonbury does not seem to have any direct causal power to change the world politically, probably contains as many opinions as there are attendees, from crypto-fascist to Marxist pseudo-intellectual, and only increases the eudaemonia of those attending for three days, usually by way of drink and drugs. But I do like the fact that it, and the Clash, exist as an ‘up yours’ to ‘the system’, even if they have contrived this for themselves, and they don’t quite know what ‘the system’ exactly is. If only to contrast with the brushed-steel and glass environs one has to spend most of one’s life surrounded by, as one accumulates tokens of effort called money, I like that there is a kernel of portable rebellion, however misplaced, and however impotent.
Verdict: OK (Gary)
Listening to a whole Clash album in 2012 – 35 years on from its release – as an almost blank canvas is an odd experience. Of course, I’ve heard (and liked or loved) the classics such as London’s calling, Rock the Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I Go?, but never properly listened to them. And, I must admit, the first impression is that of ‘meh; they just sound like any old generic punky indie band’. Now, I realise the criticism of their musical style is somewhat unfair, because The Clash predated and influenced the modern bands I have listened to which make me see them this way (to name but a few: The Libertines, Babyshambles, Dirty Pretty Things, The Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party). But I can’t change the year of my birth from 1988 to 1968, nor know if that incidence would make me think that The Clash’s general output is, blashphemous as it may seem, anything more than mediocre.
It’s certainly got energy, attitude and a distinct identity – far more than many modern imitators (…’to the crown’ as Edd would say) – but often at the expense of a decent tune, as Joe Strummer snarls and shouts his various demands and condemnations of anything establishment. Maybe I’m just a bit… Mark Corrigan, as Edd has said before, or establishment, like Stewie Griffin at Woodstock. But I don’t think that’s quite true – I’m a Guardian reader and hate The Daily Mail – nor is it the reason for my general ambivalence to The Clash. Allow me to try to explain…
Listening to it properly, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really care too much for mere attitude and identity in music; only in so much as it complements the music itself – not intrinsically. For, in a similar vein, I don’t like The Sex Pistols, nor Dylan, but my taste does range from libidinous latter day nutjob Prince; to swaggering Oasis; to self-consciously cutesy teenage girls Pipettes; to psychopathically angry, first-album Plan B; to crestfallen, second-album Plan B. Strip The Sex Pistols of all their political influence and it just becomes that borderline alcoholic from the local making guttural noises over some basic power chords. For some, this statement will be as nonsensical as saying: if you take wheels of cars they’re just small covered benches, and I completely understand the arguments that music should not be heard in a cultural and political vacuum, but music is also first and foremost art; not political or intellectual statement. Often people get so caught up in a band’s image – and wanting to align themselves with it – they don’t really care about what the music itself sounds like.
Certainly, Edd, who gave me this album, is guilty of it, if in reverse. He admits that new indie darlings, Two Door Cinema Club, who NME describe as: ‘a band that would steal your library books rather than your girlfriend’, can play and thinks they have some good songs, but self-consciously stops himself from saying he ‘likes’ them because they do their top button up, play their guitars up fucking here (*air-guitars at chest height*), and are basically ‘too’ twee, straight laced, and resolutely not Rock nor indeed Roll. Now I am not professing that Two Door Cinema Club are a great band, but I don’t see the logic in, in a sense, fighting against one’s instincts to not like music which one instinctively does (or vice versa). At the risk of sounding insufferably pretentious, music is/should be an abstract, visceral and emotional interaction between song and listener; not an exercise in head dictating over heart (or tapping feet) to say I should/n’t like this. At least Edd’s more honest and reasoned than many of those in the ‘cooler-than thou camp’, whose self-conscious contempt of a generation that, shock horror, buys their music in Tesco – and consequent need to differentiate themselves from those masses – seems to mean they hate the likes of Adele and Coldplay before even them listening to much of their stuff.
This, for me, accounts for some of the Clash’s deification, and why I’m, still, relatively unmoved by them. (Joel)
Gary chose Squarepusher’s Ultravisitor because “while it might be for everyone, it should have something for everyone”.
Now onto Gary’s choice, which essentially, for some parts of the record, sounds like R2-D2 and C3-PO hosting a wild robot sex orgy. The bleeps and bloops fly about with the wild ferocity of a tactically-engineered moose with the ability to fly like a jet engine. See, that metaphor makes no sense, a bit like this album.
Robot sex orgy
Squarepusher – a brilliant name, it makes me think of Tetris, which is fucking brilliant, fuck off if you don’t like it – is curious. Sometimes on this record his stuff’s good; sometimes it’s not really music at all. I’ll tell you what I liked before I hit you with the shitstorm of dislike. I liked Every Day I Love. But I get the feeling that’s only because the rest of the album is so annoyingly awful that it stands out like a penguin among midgets. I can’t remember which track but there seems to be some kind of crazy jazz shit going on later on the record. Fucking dire.
Like Joel, I’ve also picked up on the 9-minute, slap-bass song. Seriously, Squarepusher, fuck off. Stop wanking off over a bass then trying to pass it off as a song.
This album is the musical equivalent of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. You get the sense it’s trying to be ‘OFF THE FUCKING WALL’ for the sake of being different and weird. This, as Noel Fielding and many other Boosh fans found out, is not necessarily a good thing. Again, like Frank Ocean, I appreciate Squarepusher’s musicianship but I don’t think half of this album could even be defined as music.
A good point about Squarepusher is the fact that he is obviously adept and musically talented, more so than Ocean. I’d rather him resort to making random sounds than completely sample (steal) a Coldplay backing track to make the album bearable. Take note, Ocean, you production-line, R’n’B twat.
The fucking End. Not particularly impressed boys. I’ve sent a letter home to your parents. You’re suspended for a week. Otter carcus. (Edd)
Before being recommended it, I hadn’t listened to Squarepusher. He was one of those artists I’d heard about, but never properly investigated, to use the pretentious muso speak. The first thing to say is Tom Jenkinson is certainly a talented fella. Where most of his contemporaries – if there can be any to this vast, bewildering array of sounds – rely on protocols and artificial bleeps, Squarepusher is primarily a slap bass artist but performs live on piano, laptop and more.
His style has been variously described as acid techno, acid jazz, drum and bass, musique concrete. Acid is the operative word, for even the mellow songs have the hyperactive restless energy of a man on that drug throwing the kitchen sink at his songs (indeed, one of the few things not employed is vocals). Tetra-Sync, in particular, is a nine-and-a-half minute electronic wig-out of frantic slap bass, spooky synths and mellow guitar plucking. Coldplay, it is not. If critics’ darling, James Blake, represents electronic music as afflicted with chronic lethargy, then Squarepusher is electronic music as diagnosed with ADHD.
The musicianship is rarely less than staggering, but often it doesn’t translate to any more than collections of awkward, disconnected, dissonant sounds devoid of any emotion, melody or even apparent purpose. Sessions; not fully formed songs. As in An Arched Pathway, which begins with the chalk-on-a-blackboard sounds of dial-up internet connecting, accompanied by frankly horrible sounds of stabbing piano, which gives way to bizarre, hyperactive free-form jazz. It’s songs like these which make you think he is being deliberately abstruse, like a modern artist who has cynically worked out if he can remove from the art any discernible thing to hold on to hipsters will tautologically disregard their own intelligence and label it as brilliantly visionary. Maybe I’m just a cynic. But, occassionally, it’s brilliant, like blessed-out melancholy of Iambic 9 Poetry and the lovely acoustic self-indulgence of Every Day I love.
Still, call me a traditionalist, but I do like melody, harmony and lyrics, so I think I’ll stick to the more computerised, but more coherent electronic wig-outs of DJ Shadow’s Entroducing for my muso thrills. (Joel)
Joel chose Frank Ocean’s mixtape Nostalgia/Ultra because it is “an R’n’B album which has enough innovation and depth that it can be justifiably – and enjoyably – listened to by white, middle-class kids from Oxford”.
I tried to like it, I really did. I wanted to, in fact, so I could say I’d broadened my taste in music. But when it comes down to what really matters the best thing about this thing were the samples. That’s bad for you, Ocean, you sample-mad, tomato casket.
The one song I found I could listen to without wanting to wrench my eyes out with a lobster tail was Strawberry Swing, with basically all the music provided by Coldplay.
Love them or loathe them, the original track is brilliant. So kudos to Ocean for recognising its quality and combining it with his stuff. The problem is the only good part about the track is the original Coldplay instrumental, none of Ocean’s stuff over the top. I didn’t really care for Ocean’s mumblings at all to be honest.
And that applies to the whole mixtape, I guess. This is what I feel is wrong with music nowadays. Ocean had the chance here to rap/sing about something that really has value and that young people can connect to. But he has used the well-documented stereotype that has engulfed R‘n’B recently instead – singing about shagging and money basically.
He has been given a spotlight, a chance to connect and write something meaningful, but he’s wasted it on the same drivel I could hear in a club. There’s no doubting the lad has talent, by all means he’s got a cracking voice, but he’s wielding it in completely the wrong way. I’m not saying he should write about “saving the trees, man” or “fight the system, bro”, I’m just saying write about something your fans can identify with. Luckily for him most of his fans will be the musical retards who accept the Black Eyed Peas as good music. Sorry, Durston, not sold on this guy. (Edd)
Mmm… how can I say that this is a pile of shit in a more sophisticated way? Well here goes: Ocean’s album is supposed to be the saviour of modern slick RnB (pure surmise). Perhaps it is. It’s more chilled out than the interchangeable club / pop dirge that rots the soul. But it does, just about, fall into the genre I’d Christen ‘Average Cool Pablum’ (ACP).
It makes you think it’s innovative, because it samples all sorts of different kinds of musician (everything, honest, Radiohead, MGMT, Coldplay. It’s mad!), adds some ethereal keyboard riffs in places (not sure if these are original), and some chilled out deep-voice rapping. I think an artist called Drake, who came out (in terms of music) a couple of years ago, sounds similar.
But the overall sound is just boring. It reminds me of those vacuous characters in Miami Vice, perhaps driving around in a cool car, looking cool in a slightly outdated way, but actually being boring cunts who have nothing to say. They just exist. On the Miami theme, I’ve never been there, but for some subliminal reason I’ve built it up as the physical manifestation of everything that is bland, tacky, monotonous, vapid. I’d apply the same adjectives to this album. (My association of Miami with the spirit-crushing was of course tacitly gathered through TV and films, but I think it was reinforced irrecoverably by Stephen Fry, who on his tour around the States a couple of years ago said it was the only place he didn’t like. It was the opposite of the wholesome, open, characterful USA that you rarely see – if you’re interested).
- Miami Vice
Being Miami-boring is bad enough, but coupling it to dirty lyrics about shagging makes it sleazy. I can smell the insipid provincial clubs that dominated that depressing hiatus between university and real (though interesting) life. Some imagery: blokes with fake tans and crap all-the-haircuts-in-one haircuts to which hair-straighteners had been applied (did young British men really fight in two world wars?); dry ice suggesting aspiration, until it insidiously hits your nose, when you realise OH FUCK, WHAT IF THIS IS ALL THERE IS??; fat slags with no personalities, who work during the week in insurance administration, literally having the time of their short lives dancing while silhouetted against a cloying green light. Nostalgia, Ultra is their soundtrack, and their elegy.
Oh yeah, back to those lyrics…
In one song he describes doing a girl ‘under the cherry leaves’ largely by way of innuendo. I was reminded of some of the ludicrous R Kelly’s lyrics:
‘I’ll take a rocket to Uranus [your anus – geddit?!]’;
‘Girl I got you so wet, it’s like a rain forest’;
‘Like Jurassic Park except I’m your sex-a-saurus baby’,
No, it’s up there with Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress. I’m not going to make Ocean guilty by association, and his words are marginally less Primary School. Also, I’m not going to take the lazy option and say that the lyrics/songs are bad because they’re ‘misogynist’, a criticism which doesn’t even properly belong to criticism.
I’m always very wary of the misogyny charge it seems to me misogyny is not a literary critical term. If I want to write a misogynistic book, I can write a misogynistic book I can write a brilliant misogynistic book or I can write a poor misogynistic book. But what would make it brilliant and what would make it poor would have nothing to do with misogyny. A person could write an anti-semitic book, a person could write a homophobic book. These are things which are taken from outside of the book. So they are charges which I think almost never hold and they’re mainly irrelevant.
But as I say, in combination with this plastic-palm tree aesthetic, I just felt a bit bilious. Maybe it’s not aimed at me. Perhaps I’d find it alluring if I was one of those dim-headed bints in the clubs, and getting done under cherry leaves was all I could hope for.
Critics’ choice? CUNTS’ choice more like! (Gary)
Edd Paul, Gary Napier and Joel Durston