A Walk in the Dark

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It was past 6 o’clock on Halloween and already dark as she crossed the road into the Yew Grove estate, the little duffle-coated figure trailing behind her. Oh, how tired she was, how she longed to get home and shut out all the posturings and jargon of her day, but he hadn’t wanted to leave his childminder – he’d refused to fetch his things, wanted to stay in the warm watching tv, and she’d got angry and said there’d be no trick or treating, since he couldn’t do what he was told. And certainly the idea of tramping from house to house smiling politely while hissing at him to say thankyou made her want to scream. But it was mean of her, she knew. She’d tell him he could go after all, just as soon as it was decent to relent. Meanwhile he was dawdling. He was in a sulk.

The houses in this estate were large and blank for the most part: neat blinds, trimmed borders, prosperous cars on brick-paved drives. There weren’t many children here, but a few people had decorated for Halloween, and they hadn’t settled for home-made cutouts or plastic skeletons from Centra. One house had a row of ragged scarecrows in the garden and a single pumpkin carved into a leering face; another had a giant black spider on the wall. “How clever,” she said to herself, but her pace quickened. “Hurry up!” she called to her son.

As she rounded the corner it turned quieter and far darker. Two of the streetlights weren’t working; instead of their yellow glow there was an intermittent white flicker which she realised after a moment must come from LED projectors. On the side of the nearest house a procession of stooped, bony shapes endlessly crept along the wall. Further on wispy ghosts scattered into the eaves. Behind, now the noise of the main road had receded, she could hear the stubborn little footsteps. Suddenly, a great shadow swept across the pavement, so dark she couldn’t help but jump and cry out – what was that? It looked like a clawed, grasping hand, but it missed her, thank god – and of course it must just be another projection, but what a horrible one! She scuttled a few yards more and then stopped and waited. “Hurry up! Run and hold my hand!” She heard him stumble, and looked back, but for a moment she couldn’t see him at all, and the dark lay over the pavement. Then there he was, walking on at the same pace as before. Well, be like that! If he wasn’t scared, he was tougher than she was. She turned and resumed walking.

Round another corner, and they were out of the Yew Tree estate and into the brighter and smaller streets of their own neighbourhood. Soon she’d be able to turn on the television, put on a kettle for pasta, make tea. She hurried to her front door, opened it and flicked on the lights. The small figure finally caught up to her; she let him in and firmly closed the door. And then gazed in horror at the blank white eyes of the creature that was no longer her son.

 

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Two records

Dot writes:

over the last few months of listening, two records have been my favourites, and if I spin it right (see what I did there) I can present them as representing almost opposite strategies for how to be a musician.

One is meditative, intricate, makes use of mostly traditional orchestral instruments, has no vocal lines unless you count birdsong, responds to traditional crafts, remote places and the natural world, and comes upon you gently; it’s a record to think with, to be alone with, to drive through the rain with (as I have); and I realise I don’t actually know what the artist behind it looks like, which is appropriate given the project is called Hidden Orchestra. The album is the exquisite Dawn Chorus.

The other is brash and loud, draws on a garish mix of genres but most prominently on rock and EDM, has songs about drugs, vacuous self-help, twisted internet obsessions and cowboys finding friendship, veers from the utterly bleak to the camply hilarious, is ugly in places and cliche’d in places and full of catchy tunes, and is made by an artist who dresses like he’s in a different Sacha Baron Cohen film every week, when not actually naked. (Or wearing – brace yourself if you plan to click the link – these very memorable underpants.) Also, he’s pissing on his own face on the cover. It’s amazing I like it, but I do, very much. (Not the pissing part, but those truly are memorable underpants.) In this case I’m talking about Kirin J. Callinan and Bravado.

What do these records have in common, apart from that I like them? Collaboration, for one. Hidden Orchestra combines field recordings, especially of dawn in various places, with instrumental performances, all brought together by the magic of a laptop; one of the performers is Tomáš Dvořák, the clarinettist and composer responsible (as Floex) for the Machinarium and Samorost soundtracks. Kirin J. Callinan I discovered through his collaboration with Alex Cameron, another singer who likes to inhabit different characters, though without experimenting so recklessly with his trousers. Here’s the collaboration. It should win Eurovision and bring about world peace.

Another connection is that they both repay repeat listening. With Hidden Orchestra perhaps this is obvious: some of the tracks are quite long; they’re richly textured; the way the field recordings blends into and works with the instrumental music is worth thought. (I found myself thinking about how the birdsong somehow starts to seem melancholy in conjunction with the human music – for its innocence, for the damage we might do it, for the consciousness of fragility and loss that we bring to this sound that is so much more ancient than we are, for how we strain to connect with the natural world around us). But with Kirin J. Callinan too I find there’s a lot of substance behind the brashness. As I keep listening, the funny tracks don’t stop being funny, and the difficult or initially ugly tracks (thinking here especially of “Down 2 Hang”) turn out to have powerful stories to tell and music that helps to tell it. And his lyric writing is remarkably good, as witness this bonkers piece of rhyming from “Song About Drugs”: “wrapped up in plastic, thrown down the stairs / feeling fantastic…” But approach his Instagram account with caution.

Door

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Once upon a time there was a boy who had a little door in his belly that he could put things inside. He was embarrassed about it and didn’t tell anyone, even his parents. He still ate food as normal but sometimes he knew he needed something for the door. Usually it was only something small. Once he placed the thing inside, It might disappear, or it might change, or it might wait. The boy worried about being so strange and he didn’t want to be laughed at, but he had to accept this was how it was for the present.

Continue reading “Door”

What does she see in him?

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What does she see in him? He certainly doesn’t know. Her mam thinks he must be controlling. Her sister thinks he must be great at oral. Her friends go for pop psychology: he’s the manifestation of her low self-esteem, she doesn’t rate herself high enough to find a fella who’s actually attractive, or funny, or successful in any way. She wants to be wanted and he’s hopelessly needy.

They’re all wrong.

Look at them, sitting together on the bus: he fills a bit more than half of the seat, he’s got a summer cold and keeps sniffing honkily, you can see the roll of belly fat bulging in his blue t-shirt. He yawns, and at the peak of the yawn he also burps. She’s cuddled up beside him hugging his arm, with her blonde dye-job, brown roots, style-statement tilt-cornered glasses. She’s talking in his ear about nothing – oh look, the petrol station’s closed, was that one Maxol, nice new houses there, used to get off here to visit Lisa, did you ever meet Lisa, ah she’s gas, great craic altogether, in Manchester now or is it Bradford. He’s braced against his headache, leaning into the pain: left forehead, left sinus. He kept off the booze last night but at what cost. Trying to be a better man. Which man would that be, then. Continue reading “What does she see in him?”

The Basics, “In the Rude!”

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At the start of The Basics’ new live album you hear Wally De Backer say “This’ll be a little different”. Happily it’s a complete lie. They’re as much fun as ever. Though there are some songs on here I don’t think they’ve played live very often, for a fan of the band it’s very much a convivial evening with old friends. For a non-fan of the band – well, that’s a mindset I don’t have much insight into…

The album is released to celebrate the band’s fifteenth anniversary and was recorded at The Howler, Brunswick, on 27th December 2016, one of only a couple of gigs they did that year. Their first live album, /ðə’bæzɪtʃ/, was an exercise in “bringing the studio into the live show”; it has all the bells and whistles, including keyboardist and horn section, and came after a period of intensive touring. (They’ve also done a concert DVD/CD, released in 2013.) In contrast, In the Rude! is an unpolished reunion gig, but it’s loveable in its dodgy moments – and there are some, and not just the one the band loudly point out to each other near the end (e.g. what’s happened to the bottom of the chord at 1:22 of “Memory Lane”?). It’s warm and human, and beside the rougher sounds there’s not only rock’n’roll energy but tenderness. At the end of “To Think of You”, a quiet, poignant song, you can hear the hush before the crowd break the spell to applaud; and listening to the album you get a little piece of that special moment.

Some highlights: one of the pleasures of live albums is being given a different angle on tracks that maybe stood out less in the studio albums. Here “Bitten By the Same Bug” emerges as a really engaging combination of tongue-in-cheek ska plaintiveness (in the verse) and rollicking rock (in the chorus). There’s a flash new video to accompany this version.

It’s well paired with “Time Poor”, which is funny, shouty, and clearly a blast live. It’s great to hear “With This Ship”, here sounding darker and leaner than it does on Keep Your Friends Close, and “I Could Go On”, the opener from their first album, Get Back. The best track of all, for me, is the performance of “Home Again” in the encore. It’s an audience request and Kris reveals they haven’t rehearsed it, “but give us a second and we’ll do it really well”. And it has a tentative quality, especially at first, but it’s a song about homesickness and what-ifs, and the delicate approach – the way it softly assembles from sketches of its former parts – really suits it. Plus Wally’s singing is beautiful. He has the lion’s share of lead vocals on the record and they range all the way from gentle and reflective, as here, to the style he once elegantly described as “screaming my nuts off”. He’s certainly prepared to put everything on the line for music.

The CD is available in two different packages, both with photographs by Barry C. Douglas, who also made the videos for “Bitten By the Same Bug” and “With This Ship”. I love Barry’s photos: he takes honest, unglamorous and yet beautiful shots and they perfectly complement the immediacy of the music. In The Rude! is the sound of three men having fun, playing some stonkingly good songs, taking the piss out of each other, making themselves vulnerable, and connecting with their audience. And I’m enjoying it very much.

On sale from Waterfront.

Jean-Jacques Perrey et son ondioline

Dot writes:

sometimes a niche collector’s item can also be a lovely thing in and of itself. This is true of Jean-Jacques Perrey et son ondioline, the first release from the new Forgotten Futures record label set up by Wally De Backer (Gotye).

Perrey was a pioneering electronic artist, the sole virtuoso of the early vacuum-tube-based synthesiser, the ondioline, and in the 1960s one of the first users of the Moog. The music for which he is best known is often comical and boisterous and frequently makes use of tape loops of animal noises and other odd sounds. In albums such as The In Sound From Way Out! (1966, with Gershon Kingsley) and Moog Indigo (1970), he presented both catchy melodies of his own and cheeky reinventions of older material, such as the updated version of the Cygnets’ Dance from Swan Lake on In Sound… and, on Moog Indigo, a recording of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ using samples of real bees.

The A-side of Jean-Jacques Perrey et son ondioline collects rarities, many previously unreleased, from the early part of his career, when he was often not playing his own compositions but contributing his skill on the ondioline to the work of others. Having recently read Dana Countryman’s biography of Perrey, Passport to the Future, I get the sense this album could be the answer to a Perrey fan’s wish list: many of these pieces of music are mentioned in it as episodes in Perrey’s colourful story. Here is ‘L’âme des poètes’ from 1951, on which he and his ondioline supplied Charles Trenet’s wish for ‘the sound of a soul’ (Countryman, p. 25); here is the theme from Dandelion Wine, the 1967 musical based on the novel by Ray Bradbury for which, again, Jean-Jacques played ondioline (the composer was Billy Goldenburg: Countryman, pp. 126-7). However, despite the range of dates and composers, and despite the obscurity of some of the tracks – dug up from personal archives, often painstakingly restored from acetates – the resulting album is far more than a collection of curiosities. All the tracks are engaging, some are truly beautiful, and they are skilfully sequenced to present a cohesive progression of tone and mood. In contrast to Perrey’s better known albums, that mood is often one of wistful sweetness.

L’âme des poètes’ quickly became my main earworm from the album. I was struck by how the ondioline in it doesn’t sound so much like a violin as a very early recording of a violin. I wonder if it already sounded that way in 1951? Because this is a song about how the echoes of art linger sweetly through time, and that nostalgic sound seems immensely appropriate. Of course now the song itself, in its style and the smoky recording, is deeply nostalgic and evocative of mid-century France (a context known to me chiefly through film and through shorthand signals such as this type of music). Layers upon layers of gentle longing and memory.

Next but one before ‘L’âme des poètes’ in the running order, ‘Danielle of Amsterdam’ sounds like the theme song for a 1970s sitcom (it was actually the theme from a film), narrowly holding onto its dignity; following it, ‘Cigale’ has more poise, of an old-fashioned, ballroom-dancing kind: purple rinses on holiday in Blackpool. ‘Chicken on the Rocks’ is irresistibly exuberant and funny, as is ‘Barnyard in Orbit’ (a different version to the one on In Sound From Way Out!, with, according to De Backer, a sprightlier performance; I also notice a different style of stereo mix with less hard panning to left or right). ‘Visa to the Stars’ and ‘Pioneers of the Stars’, the second and last tracks on the A-side, both have a brave quality with galloping guitar lines evocative of westerns. ‘La Vache et le Prisonnier’ and ‘Dandelion Wine’ are both fragile, yearning melodies. ‘Sérénade à la Mule’ is cautiously jaunty. ‘Mars Reflector’ is sustained more by sparse texture and disjointed angles of sound than by melody and effectively portrays the floating strangeness of outer space.

The second side of the record is taken up with a demonstration disc of the ondioline, restored from the single known copy. Perrey takes us through some of the sonic possibilities of the instrument and it’s a fascinating insight into its huge range of tones, as well as a chance to hear his voice speaking out of the past. If only we could see exactly what he was doing with the controls. The slider marked ‘D’ seems to be popular.

All of this comes in a physically beautiful and (joy of joys) richly informative package. The booklet offers a wealth of photographs, an introductory essay by Simon Reynolds, and notes on each track by De Backer. The essay outlines Perrey’s early career and positions him as an electronic pioneer concerned not so much with ‘alien zones of sound’ but with connecting new technologies back to human emotions; we’re given a small thesaurus of terms to alert us to what Perrey offers: ‘humour, romantic yearning, wistful nostalgia, insouciance, and frivolity’. The track notes burst with enthusiasm but also with detail. One has a sense of the patient work that has gone into all this – the exploration of boxes and artefacts, the labours of engineers – and of the tempting wealth of further material waiting to be quarried.

Wally De Backer has been promoting Jean-Jacques Perrey’s music with performances (at National Sawdust in Brooklyn in November 2016 and at Moogfest on 18th May), radio appearances (2nd November and 16th November), and a Spotify playlist. His Facebook post about Jean-Jacques Perrey et son ondioline is worth a read. From his remarks at Moogfest, it seems another Forgotten Futures release, a reissue of Perrey’s album of sleep music, Prélude au sommeil, is almost ready to go.