Since I’ll be making a pair of appearances this week, my Kindle eBook will be free for the next 48 hours. Later today you’ll be able to hear me go Toby N. Tucker with Zach Hart of We Listen For You over a six-pack of Löwenbräu.
Next Wednesday (2/27), I’ll be guest-speaking during Amanda Petrusich’s NYU Gallatin course, Pop Culture Criticism. I’m not certain yet whether this will be recorded and/or made available at a later date, but it should be a more informative (and sober) walk through the minefield of editorial self-expression online.
The Fall are an example of the extent to which indie music has become a kind of commentary on pop—a system which purports to represent us, but in fact excludes most of our experience. Indie-pop is a kind of parallel system, unacknowledged by POP, but bound in reaction. Like, say The Smiths, The Fall write about all the matter - squalor, maladjustment, antagonism - written out of pop’s script. If Mark E. Smith represents anything it is bloodymindedness, a recalcitrance towards those who would improve us out of our bad habits and prejudices.
Boris - Sometimes (My Bloody Valentine cover)
For today’s review — well, let’s face it, I WOULD talk about this.
This is from a group tribute album just released earlier in the week on High Fader over in Japan — Shonen Knife is on there as well doing “When You Sleep,” as you can also hear via the link. But little surprise that Boris’s contribution was the one I was waiting to hear most of all, and here we are.
Back in 1991 as part of his Melody Maker review of Loveless, Simon Reynolds referred to the original as “an aftermath ballad, Kevin Shields’ vocal huddling forlorn in a crater overshadowed by a looming precipice of grunge.” Given where ‘grunge’ itself was about to become an unavoidable thing thanks to a couple of other things released in fall of 1991, that’s about right, but it was only in retrospect, a couple of years later or so, that I found myself going “Wow, the opening guitar suddenly makes me think of the Smashing Pumpkins a lot.” Corgan was already name-dropping MBV by that point anyway, so it was an understandable connection.
Still, the song itself was more like a fan favorite/deep cut as such than anything else. In 1999 I couldn’t separate it from talking about the album as a whole, and I couldn’t really talk about the album then either. In any event, “Sometimes” was loved by the worshippers and all rather than being singled out for something else. That changed a few years later with Lost in Translation, Shields supervising the music to Sofia Coppola’s film and including a couple of newer songs on the soundtrack as well as selections from other artists. Plus one old MBV number and…there it was, used for a minute and a half for a scene that fans of said film — if YouTube comments are to be trusted — describe thusly: “my favorite movie, scene, actress and song,” “possibly the greatest fusion of music and film ever,” “I remember when I first saw this scene, I almost cried, I don’t know why.” So yeah, clearly it’s settled in with a lot of folks.
Admittedly my own favorite musical moment from said film, which I’m aggressively neutral about as a whole but maybe a rewatch will finally make me decide one way or another, is Bill Murray busting out the Roxy Music, so age and perspective or I don’t know what feeds into that. A couple of years after the film, when I finally got around to describing “Sometimes” in a little more particular as I did the rest of the album, I rather floridly described the song as “the kind of ghost that haunts a darkling plain rather than lurking around mere coffins,” but hey. It begs a sense of the vast, per Reynolds’ comment, big and open.
By that time, of course, MBV had pretty much become canon — the reunion was almost on, the original shoegaze followers/fellow travellers had become a crazy-quilt of everything from electronic freaks to art-metal types to who knows what else, and while Boris was hardly only referring to Loveless when it came to its work overall, the band by then was well on its way to becoming one of those group in that metallic vein either celebrated for the full-on Shields-style guitar overdrive or loathed for the imprecision they brought in thanks to the reverb and more. No guesses where I fall on that front — more, please.
So the fact that Boris participated in this project in the first place wasn’t surprising, the fact that they picked the song most associated with a Japanese setting nicely appropriate enough if you ask me, and the fact that they took the song, slowed it down and made it more of an even beautiful wash and melancholic flow utterly apt. It’s not that I can’t analyze it further — strictly speaking, this is the kind of cover that comforts rather than challenges, a revision that isn’t note for note but doesn’t reinvent, that Boris puts a particular stamp on that showcases a clear debt more than anything else. The removal of the clipped tightness of the original riff, however much it was then turned into serene flow, for slow cascades and even slower rhythms, is ultimately the biggest change — it works for me, but that and the removal of the sweet, serene melodic overlay for something that, again, is even more of a slow, moody undertone starting about three minutes in is about all that’s been done.
But it works. I’m a sucker for it. I’ll ALWAYS be a sucker for it. And I have no problem in saying that, of course.
Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers
It’s double-bill Thursday! Here’s a repost-by-request of this summer night in NYC.
Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we? Not too long a trip, just 35 summers ago, to NYC’s Bowery, where great rock ‘n’ roll was being created on a frighteningly regular basis. This particular night, July 30, 1976, featured two sets apiece from Talking Heads and Television. What I’ve got for you here is both of the Television sets and just one Talking Heads set — sorry, not sure if a recording of the early set exists. But who cares, it’s an embarrassment of riches anyway. The Heads were still in their lean/mean trio phase, still a bit of a work in progress, but pretty incredible nonetheless. Judging from the audience response here and the shouted requests, they already had plenty of die-hard fans. Could any of those fans have predicted that just a few years later, this little Bowery band would record Remain In Light? Probably not.
Television’s two sets here are god-like (duh), as we hear the band just a few short months away from recording their Marquee Moon masterpiece. I’ve got a lot of Television bootlegs, but this one is special — Verlaine, Lloyd, Smith and Ficca are extremely energized, playing most of the debut LP (including a rare rendition of ”Torn Curtain”), along with a few other choice cuts. Both Lloyd and Verlaine really lean into all of their solos, Ficca and Smith bend all rhythm section rules, and, to make a long story short, Television basically sounds like the best band ever. Taken as a whole, the two bands here bear very little resemblance to what we’d come to call “punk rock.” I don’t know what to call it, other than awesome. Thanks to the taper(s) who preserved this wonderful time capsule for us to listen to all these years later. If you want to listen to it in the order it happened, here’s the tracklisting:
TELEVISION: 1st Set
1. Fire Engine
2. Poor Circulation
6. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
7. Marquee Moon
1. Girls Want To Be With The Girls
2. Book I Read
3. My Happy Days
4. Stay Hungry
5. New Feeling
6. Tentative Decision
7. Theme (instr.)
8. Warning Sign
10. So Much In Love
TELEVISION: 2nd Set
1. See No Evil
2. Prove It
3. Torn Curtain
4. Little Johnny Jewel
5. I Don’t Care
Send Chris Ott of Shallow Rewards on the Mark McGrath & Friends Cruise to pen a 100,000-word novel.
A former writer for Pitchfork and the Village Voice, and the author of both a self-published eBook and a 33 1/3 title on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, Chris Ott now produces an online video series called Shallow Rewards, viewable at shallowrewards.com
This cruise is an opportunity to engage with a number of very successful artists from the last generation of musicians to profit from physical media and the pre-digital music industry. With personal and academic commentary from the author, as well as indeterminate contributions from the artists and organizers, the ensuing book should be a rich summary of the myriad sea changes (yessssss) brought about by the Internet.
shallow rewards is my favorite thing going
I’m so excited. If you want to skip right to the app, go here.
Our friend and previous contributor Maura Johnston has started a weekly pop-culture magazine available for iPhone and iPad, featuring contributions from fellow OWOB alumni such as Brad Nelson, Michele Catalano and Katherine St. Asaph.
Have a look at the website or check it out on the AppStore, if you want. Good luck to everyone involved!
Q:Hi :) I realy like your blog here, great stuff! I have one question: You had this 26 Min. Version of I would die 4 u by Prince. It´s now offline :( I cant find it anywhere. Is it possible do upload this track? thanks!
Anybody have an mp3 or an alternate link to that godly performance? (It was on SoundCloud before.)
“Urgh! A Music War” (1981)
Yes, the entire film, on YouTube. This is a famous concert film consisting of nothing but one live performance after another, by dozens of bands like Devo, Dead Kennedys, Pere Ubu, Echo & The Bunnymen, XTC, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, The Police, Gary Numan, Gang of Four, The Cramps, X…
I haven’t seen it in decades, but I remember it being great. Super low budget — no interviews or other fluff — but the sound is decent and the bands are great.
According to Boing Boing you can also buy a (semi-?) legit DVD-R of it from Amazon.
The only thing I’ve got in common with Mark E Smith is that Morrissey was once asked which one of us he’d shoot, and he said he’d put one in front of the other and shoot both of us.
The Cure - Lovesong
(Okay, scratch what I said earlier. One last bit of Love and Hate bonus content… because I know better than to deny Chris Ott. -h)
Once a song ingrains itself in the historical record of Pop—once it becomes part of the landscape of Pop, helping define and expand its boundaries—we are often incapable of ever listening to it again without at once recognizing it as a milestone, memory, or at base, a “classic.” You’re all but guaranteed to hear “classics” in the course of your life, whether you want to or not. Most songwriters will never pen a classic. Memorable acts—the ones critics and attuned fans invoke whenever they’re asked about a particular style or sound—will write two or three. A select set of masters have individually concocted dozens of timeless tunes.
Robert Smith never cracked that canon, but owing to endurance, the Cure is more than simply memorable. The Cult is memorable. Love and Rockets are memorable. The Cure posted two Top 10 hits in America, despite wearing a great deal of makeup and Smith’s quizzical and on occasion even feminine affability. “Lovesong” and “Friday I’m in Love” have established themselves as FM-stroke-licensing standards in America, but the latter is a day-of-week novelty romp, and has endured more as a giddy drive-time bit of sunshine.
Owing to recent covers by Adele and Blake Lewis, “Lovesong” has enjoyed a substantial resurgence, and we are far enough away from the Cure’s heyday that it no longer plays (as I once put it) as one of those “great grey Anglican classics,” like “Pretty in Pink,” “I’ll Melt With You” and “The Killing Moon.” For Smith, “Lovesong” was the most personal and honest composition in a then ten-year discography of self-loathing, antisocial dejection, and see-saw silliness. It was written for and very publicly dedicated to his wife, Mary Poole, who has been by his side since they were fifteen years old.
One test of whether a song has really achieved classic status is whether or not it can be ruined. Hundreds of artists have probably covered “Lovesong” in concert—as a singer-songwriter standard, as emo treacle, as a pop-punk gag—but it wasn’t until 311’s infamous tiki torch rendition of 2004 (from the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore vehicle 50 First Dates) that “Lovesong” demonstrated its impervious eternality. It worked as dorm-room reggae. The identical-twin pro-lesbian hip-hop duo Nina Sky fashioned a sort of Rihanna redux of “Lovesong” during a fallow period spent battling their record label, and even that worked quite well.
“Lovesong” has all the elements of a classic single: a smooth, memorable guitar lick, a haunting, yet hummable verse melody, and even a fairly ripping solo. Oddly—and this is the case with nearly all of the Cure’s upbeat singles—it was never very good live. “Charlotte Sometimes” was probably the closest thing to a single that the Cure made better in concert. As with “Close to Me” and “The Walk”, “Lovesong” always suffered for the grating, untreated synthesizers that failed to recreate the finessed studio ambience, and sunk the whole piece.
Despite Smith’s assertion that “Lovesong” was an anniversary present to his wife, it plays for the rest of us like a letter to the one that got away, to that dream girl or boy we gave ourselves to, whether in the boundless naivety of young love, or as part of a commitment we hoped would last a lifetime, but somehow disintegrated.
The Units - “High Pressure Days”