Saturday, August 08, 2009

Ten Songs

1. Coil - 'Triple Sons and the One You Bury (live)' (from ...And The Ambulance Died in His Arms)

Having heard The Ape of Naples, I'm beginning to agree with Penman's view of it; this should have been the last Coil album, instead. As the creeping background of bleeps behind grows ever more roiling, Sleazy and Thighpaulsandra's blurting glitch interventions bursting the fabric, Jhonn Balance intones a litany that straddles the borderline between love and death ("Aphrodisiac/Necrodisiac"). The Iraq War was still a painfully open wound when this live performance was done, and it becomes a reiteration of the most harrowing portions of Derek Jarman's film of War Requiem: a lament for the transmogrification of young men into dead flesh, for the necessity of death. "The one you bury" elides into "the one yewberry", the poisonous and tempting fruit of the tree most associated with death; "I drank from a cup of mercury" he sings, the toxic substance regarded by alchemists as one of the secrets to eternal life. Balance would be dead within a year, killed by a fall that some have imputed as an indirect suicide, disoriented by the alcohol he was addicted to.

2. Arthur Russell - 'In The Light of the Miracle' (from The World of Arthur Russell)

Like knowing what it is to be loved.

3. Richard Youngs - 'A Storm of Light Ignites My Heart' (from Beyond The Valley of Ultrahits)

The moment you know you've lost it is when you can't find the words for a fucking pop song. Beyond... is framed as Richard Youngs' "pop" album; certainly, the early songs on here are as impeccably well-constructed and summery as anything on Kompakt's Pop Ambient compilations, but this doesn't fit so well into that category. If anything, it reminds one more of 'Summer's Edge II' from The Naive Shaman - the same bubbling analogue, the rumbling drums and cymbals, the same distant guitar out of the electric lava-flow of River Through Howling Sky. This is pop-sized, though - under 4 minutes - and flush with jouissance, with Edward Wilson's 'biophilia': the hill-top view opening up a landscape pulsing with love, the central chant escalating and overwhelming as it pours on towards the end. "WITH A STORM OF LIGHT, IGNITE MY HEART."

4. Miles Davis - 'Yesternow' (from A Tribute To Jack Johnson)

Although 'Right Off' is the more immediate track, including some devastating guitar noise from an uncredited Sonny Sharrock, this is perhaps the best post-Bitches Brew exemplification of the subtle side of Miles' electric aesthetic, including Teo Macero's cut-and-paste wizardry. A Michael Henderson bass loop and similarly in-the-pocket drums from Billy Cobham serve as backdrop to Miles' devastating trumpet smears - a piercing, lonely sound, as if he were, each time, breathing his last - and accumulating layers of organ/electric piano and slowed-down guitar. When, halfway through, the ghost of 'Shhh/Peaceful' from In A Silent Way appears out of the murk, Miles gently blowing over the top, the audacity is surprising and strange, as if the listener's hearing has gone, and you've started hearing double. "The first thing to do, is to consider time officially - ended" - Sun Ra.

5. GAS - 'Untitled 3' (from Konigsforst)

Alternative title: Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog.

6. Little Boots - 'Remedy' (from Hands)

She's a tough one, Victoria. The presentation is perfect: dresses and hair a close cousin to Roisin Murphy, keyboard fetish (not analogue, admittedly, but still), indie-girl-made-good. The sound is sumptuous, flush with electricity, mainlining synthetics; glitterball alchemy. You have to wonder, though, why, given the rejection of sex for sound - "Stop, stop praying/'Cos I'm not playing" - we have a shot of her sprawled on the dancefloor like a higher-class Dannii Minogue. I'm reminded of Hayley Avron's live review several months ago: "Why don't the boys take a turn shimmying for their supper?" In other words, is it possible to buy into the pop dream without it mutating you? As they say, like the monkey's paw, capitalism gives you what you want, but never quite in the way you intended...

7. Alan Skidmore Quintet - 'Imagine' (from Once Upon A Time)

After Rob Young's 'Visionary Jazz' primer, had to return to this remarkable concatenation of talents - Tony Oxley's brilliantly deft violence on the drums, Harry Miller (perhaps the closest thing Britain had to Mingus in terms of forward-thinking bass), Kenny Wheeler's plangent precision, the leader's own acidic sax, recalling Pharoah Sanders at his most sandpaper-raspy. And, towards the end here, John Taylor's piano drizzling McCoy Tyner showers over the ensemble, it gets as cosmically lovely as anything in his catalogue

8. Ludwig van Beethoven/Detroit Symphony Orchestra - 'Allegro - Allegro - Allegretto' (from Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral")

The last three movements, on my own digitised vinyl copy of the symphony, picked up for 10p at The Salvation Army (the same place as possibly the world's saddest music, the 'Pathetique' of Balance's predecessor in mourning, Tchaikovsky). They form a perfect model of musical expansion and contraction: the effervescent (and evanescent) joy shapes of sunlit violin and silvery clarinet ceding to a chiaroscuro cloud of strings, the constant movement of a field mouse darting through the grass, expanding again and again into explosive cracks, drizzling on down. And then, the smell of wet countryside.

9. Our Love Will Destroy The World - 'sadnessfinalamen' (from Krayon split 7")

The spring to Gunpowder Temple of Heaven's snow-blind winter - a born-again voice, working with much the same elements as always (voice-shards, fragments of what might be distorted sax, raw, hovering tones accruing detail with each cycle), and the usual stunning depth of field, but with a new lightness. Figments of acoustic guitar, overtly psychedelic backwards echoes, a hallucination of colour as overloaded as Stan Brakhage's films or Derek Jarman's Super-8s to set against the white-light overkill of Gunpowder... or the ashen wasteland of the Black Boned Angel albums. (Bark Haze (Thurston Moore's duo with Andrew 'Gown' Macgregor), incidentally, populates the other side. Purchase is recommended.)

10. Current 93 - 'Red Hawthorn Tree' (from Sleep Has His House)

This is one of the songs that I'm not allowed to like; when I was recently trying to write a short section of text about C93, I had to keep looking over my shoulder. No-one will touch these guys with a barge-pole, save The Wire and whoever keeps Cold Spring in business - and perhaps rightly so, given the Douglas P years, the appearances of Troy Southgate and Tony Wakeford on various albums (Stewart Home can tell you all about that), David Tibet's ever-proliferating range of things to sell to fans, the esotericism. An editor's opinion of them as "bullied-at-school crypto-fascist hipsters" seems an exemplar of the critical consensus. Most of the people whose taste I most respect despise them, utterly. But, sod it, if they have to be a guilty pleasure, they'll be a pleasure nonetheless.

A slow, half-waking pulse of harmonium and guitar, Tibet quieter than usual, a breath as intimate and close as nightwood. A trumpet puncturing the fabric, glockenspiel dotting the canvas. The stillness, the unearthly radiance of Rossetti's Beata Beatrix. When I heard this, it had the sense of déja vu, of the return of something known and lost - revenance. A dream in which the face smudged from your life swarms into your "sightless view", out of the dark of the woods. "My flight from your face/Must finally destroy me/I had always hoped/This world could be complete for me." No, no it can't.

6 Comments:

Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

Don't you ever - ever - use the word jouissance again in my presence, Dan, or I will hunt you down and kill you. But before I kill you I will wee on all your Morrisssey records. And after I kill you I'll kill Mark Fisher too for teaching you that awful word.

Just a friendly warning. Nothing I wouldn't say to my own kids when they use a naughty word.

August 10, 2009 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

PS: Little Boots is shit.

August 10, 2009 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

All I can say is I'm glad you weren't my father. You'd probably have burnt my copies of Barthes and Lacan to boot. And then how would I be a theoretically-enabled social and emotional cripple, eh? BTW, I don't own any of Morrissey's solo records. And no more than 3 Smiths albums.

P.S. You're wrong, but you're allowed to hold that opinion.

August 11, 2009 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

"you're allowed to hold that opinion" - that's big of you. Thanks.

How do you know I'm not your father? You're running with a bad lot, Dan. Those middle-class bloggers'll lead you astray and I'd hate to see that happen. You need these Tuff Luv Interventions and one day you'll thank me for them. Probably as you weep uncontrollably at my graveside.

August 11, 2009 at 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did you manage to track down the Penman link? His archive seems to have disappeared and all I can find is the odd cached page. It's frustrating to not only miss out on new stuff, but also to lose the old. His judgements were often right on the money.

He's right about The Ape of Naples, as are you.

August 12, 2009 at 2:34 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I had to Blogger-search 'Coil' on his front page. From single posts you can manipulate the url to give individual months of the archive. No idea why the archive link leads nowhere now...

August 12, 2009 at 11:29 AM  

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