Friday, 13th February

OH GOD, NOT THAT AGAIN…
I’m going to tell you, until you all go and see him: Blake Mills played a two-hour set at the wonderful place that is the Union Chapel, with Jesca Hoop as his support act and duet partner. Her minimal, unusual guitar playing and swooping voice were brilliantly suited to the stunning acoustics of the Chapel during her three songs, before Mills joined her to play “Murder of Birds”, a song I knew but had no idea he was the guitarist on. Joined by the band they essayed the kind of performance that would thrill any lover of the musics of the American West, South or East over the last sixty years. I can’t add much to what I wrote about October’s show at Bush Hall. Subtly different, but just as good. Opening song “If I’m Unworthy” has assumed such gigantic proportions of feedback and emptiness, I remember thinking most acts would be thrilled to save that as their last song to ensure an encore…

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
From Mark Kermode’s Observer interview with Paul Thomas Anderson: “Some years ago, when we were doing an on-stage interview in London, Anderson told me that he sometimes felt his movies were best viewed as musicals. In a now iconic scene from Magnolia, the disparate cast are seen spontaneously singing along to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up…”

“Well,” he says, “those movies you mention are musicals in the sense that the music is woven so strongly inside them. I think that’s probably true of There Will Be Blood too. But starting with The Master, I was working on things that had a little more dialogue. You know, there’s music in there, but the film isn’t structured like a musical. This was more a matter of just driving to the set each day and listening to some stuff Jonny had sent me, or listening to Can, or Neil Young [both feature on the soundtrack] over and over. That’s what we were trying to do – to make a movie that felt like a Neil Young song, that has that sweet sadness to it.” For all its anarchic sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, Inherent Vice does indeed possess a “sweet sadness”, a quality enhanced by the fact that Anderson’s partner, the actor and comedian Maya Rudolph, makes a small but significant appearance. “Maya and I don’t avoid working together,” Anderson says, “but there just hasn’t been much opportunity before. So we squeezed her in here. And you know that we’ve got her mom [the late Minnie Riperton] singing in Inherent Vice, too? It’s a moment that makes me well up every time – as we’re looking at Maya, you hear her mom singing this song, “Les Fleurs…” it makes me so warm and fuzzy.”

Always nice to be reminded of the great “Wise Up” scene (and of the great Melora Walters, an actress who doesn’t get cast in nearly enough good movies), but just as cool to be sent back to the astonishing Minnie. “Les Fleurs” is  basically a descending chord sequence (courtesy of Ramsey Lewis) above a funky laid-back beat provided by Maurice White (of EW&F fame), topped off with shimmering layers of vocals and horns that keep peaking and waning through the whole of the song in an incredible arrangement by producer Charles Stepney. Interestingly, her most famous song was written for her daughter: “[Perfect Angel Producer Stevie] Wonder felt that one more song was needed to meet the industry standard of a 40-minute album. He asked Riperton and songwriter-husband Richard Rudolph to come up with a tune that they considered to be their “most embarrassing song”. With hesitation, Riperton did mention a lullaby she sang to her daughter Maya to put her to sleep at night so that she and Rudolph could spend “grown-up time”. With Rudolph’s help, Riperton came up with “Lovin’ You” – which was quickly recorded with Wonder on electric piano and synthesizers, whilst Rudolph supplied the chirping birds from a sound effects reel.” – Wikipedia

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
An interesting tributary that emerged owing to my lack of knowledge re: Enoch Light. John Walters at Eye sends me a great site that details Light’s record label, Command Records, and its commissioning of Bauhaus legend Josef Albers for the cover art.

Obsessed by “experimentation in the realm of stereophonic sound, he went to great lengths to achieve his vision. His sessions used the best available recording studios, musicians, and equipment. He also experimented with the arrangement of musicians during recording to create interesting effects. To achieve the sound he was looking for, Light mastered the first three records 39 times until he got it right. The records came with extensive liner notes, detailing the minute details of the recording process and crediting all of the musicians involved. Each track was also annotated on the packaging, describing the way it would test the home stereo equipment… a sample of his rendition of “Autumn Leaves”… became the theme for the AMC hit drama Mad Men. A very appropriate choice given the television show’s focus on the shifting consumer culture and its influencers of the 1960s. And to add another layer to all this is the fact that the original version of Autumn Leaves was written by Joseph Kosma, who was related to László Moholy-Nagy, another legendary Bauhaus figure and a colleague of Albers there.”

Albers

 

VISUAL OF THE WEEK: Selfridges Window Display: “Bright Old Things” featuring Roger Miles
Roger Miles worked for 32 years as a chartered accountant for Deloitte, and was a senior partner for 20 years. In 2009, he hung up his abacus and went to Chelsea College of Arts, being awarded a BA in Fine Art with 1st class honours. Roger’s final College show in 2014 was an immersive experience that focused on the interaction between visitor and artist. The installation recreated a ’70s record store in a mobile library, with most of the contents coming from his previous art residency at a recycling centre.
This isn’t the first time you have worked at Selfridges? “No it isn’t. During Christmas in 1975, I worked for four weeks in the bedspread department. I had just started my accounting degree, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was at number 1 and punk music was just around the corner. I was working hard to convince customers to convert from bedspreads to the new fangled duvet from Scandinavia. Almost 40 years later, I have returned as an artist – just don’t ask me about tog values…”

Selfridges

ADVICE TO FOLLOW…
David Byrne, The Proust Questionnaire, Vanity Fair
What is your favourite journey? From the barroom to the bedroom… that’s not really true – it just popped into my head, but, wow, it sounds like a song waiting to be written! Maybe a song for someone else, I think. My favorite journey is the journey that an idea takes when taken all the way to its logical conclusion–  which usually ends up being a place that is surreal and ridiculous. Logic and rationality taken all the way to the end are irrational and nonsensical.”

SONG OF THE WEEK
“Stonemilker” by Bjork. Entirely written, played and produced by Bjork. The Max Richter-like orchestration. The ebb and flow. The percussion from the Beach Boys’ “Diamond Head”.  The way she sings “juxtaposition”.

IF I WERE ON TWITTER, I’D FOLLOW: Maureen Van Zandt

Maureen

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Isn’t it odd when you haven’t thought about a musician in years and then, in the space of a few days their name comes up. Recently, designing a novel for Sam Charters, this was quoted at the start: “In the olden days they called them fables/But they’re nothing but doggone lies…” Old minstrel show song recorded by Jesse Fuller, “The Lone Cat.”  A lovely post by Thom Hickey, dreaming of being the Smithsonian’s Director sends me back to Jesse’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” (which you’ll find on the music player to your right). Here’s the nice story of the inspiration for his homemade foot-operated bass/percussion instrument, the Fotdeller: “It took me a whole week one time when I wasn’t doing anything, and I made the thing I call the Fotdella in my back room. I just got the idea lyin’ in my bed one night, just like I write songs… I thought about doin’ something like that (the Fotdella) so that I could have something to go along with me and help me out instead of another fellow. I just took some Masonite, heated some wood in hot water and rounded it off around a wheel. I learned that in the barrel factory where I used to work – that the way they do the staves. I tried to use bass fiddle strings, but they don’t sound so good, they stretch out of tune so I use piano strings”.

Friday, January 30th

ONE THING I HEARD: The origin of the Mad Men theme.
Ever heard of Enoch Light? Me, neither. I was sent to this by an entertaining piece on the LA Times blog, Pop & Hiss, by Gustavo Turner, about the origin of the Sinatra songs that feature on Bob’s new album. “Jerry Lee Lewis, strangely enough given his manic persona, has had a moving version of “Autumn Leaves” as part of his extensive repertoire for decades (there’s a YouTube video of Lewis performing the song in 1971). The song has subliminally reentered popular culture in the last few years: as noted Dylan expert Scott Warmuth pointed out, the intro to Enoch Light’s easy listening arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” provides the core sample for the popular loungey theme for the TV show Mad Men.” [nb. Jerry Lee Lewis’s performance is restrained and Willie-like, but the most unusual part is his posture. I’ve never seen anyone sing a song with arms folded across his chest, the only movement the occasional raising of his chin. The repeated last line, “start to fall… oh woah oh hoo”, goes to a ghostly falsetto and fades out. Fabulous.]

ONE THING I SAW: This lovely photo of the Copper Family, which reminded me of Saturday afternoons in Dobell’s, when the delivery of new records on the Topic label would lead to an hour of English traditional music being played on the store’s sound system, edging out the more usual fare of BB King and Bert Jansch.

Copper

ONE THING I READ: The wondrous Bjork interviewed by Pitchfork.
Who are confessional singer/songwriters that you like?
Funnily enough, with my favorite music like that, I don’t understand the words. I really like fado singers like Amália Rodrigues, but I don’t speak Portuguese. [laughs] I really like Abida Parveen from Pakistan, but I don’t understand a word she sings either. As for American singers, you know who I’ve loved almost since my childhood? Chaka Khan. I love Chaka Khan. I’ve totally fallen in love with a remix album of hers from ’80s. I don’t know if it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s just pleasure. Obviously, I really love Joni Mitchell. I think it was that accidental thing in Iceland, where the wrong albums arrive to shore, because I was obsessed with Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and Hejira as a teenager. I hear much more of her in those albums. She almost made her own type of music style with those, it’s more a woman’s world.

Hejira is one the most feminist albums ever.
Right? The lyrics! And The Hissing of Summer Lawns as well. I love “The Jungle Line”, it sounds like something somebody would make now, it’s crazy. Maybe it’s because it’s not my generation, but when I hear the folk stuff that she did before that, I hear it as a lot of people and not just her…

When it was originally misreported that Vulnicura was produced by Arca, instead of co-produced by you and Arca, it reminded me of the Joni Mitchell quote from the height of her fame about how whichever man was in the room with her got credit for her genius.
Yeah, I didn’t want to talk about that kind of thing for 10 years, but then I thought, “You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.” I’ve done music for, what, 30 years? I’ve been in the studio since I was 11; Alejandro had never done an album when I worked with him. He wanted to putting something on his own Twitter, just to say it’s co-produced. I said, “No, we’re never going to win this battle. Let’s just leave it.” But he insisted.

The world has a difficult time with the female auteur.
I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this – I’m not dissing him – this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second. For example, I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats – it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos’] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don’t even listen to him. It really is strange.

ONE THING THAT MADE ME LAUGH: Time Out’s review of Mark Ronson’s new album by Oliver Keens: “Like “Get Lucky” a couple of years back, “Uptown Funk” smartly tapped into a nostalgia the public didn’t realise it had. Where Daft Punk used disco, Ronson (and guest Bruno Mars) used the synthed-up sounds of ’80s electric funk. Yes, it’s generic to the point of parody, and sounds like hundreds of perfectly ace records by black American artists that already exist. Yes, Ronson admitted that it took six whole months to record and that he even passed out trying to come up with the relatively simple two-chord guitar part. None of that matters. This is pop working as it should: being totally shameless, ubiquitous and providing that sacred bridge between the club and ‘The X Factor’. If you plan on going to a wedding in 2015, you will hear “Uptown Funk”. Deal with it. Last year, Ronson gave a TED talk about sampling. In its studied and laboured way, “Uptown Special” sounds like an album made by someone who’s given a TED talk on sampling. You can’t fault the ambition here, but as an album, it’s hard to give an uptown fuck.”

ONE THING THAT MADE ME CRY: Fashion Gibberish
For a while I’ve been thinking of starting a blog called Property Developer Gibberish, as hoardings fill up around London with an almost Orwell level of doublespeak, with talk about creating “communities” and “legacies” and “respecting the tradition” of areas they are redeveloping and ripping the heart out of. The fashion world is equally guilty of misusing language in a bid to make their particular cut of cloth stand out from the crowd. The Dutch clothing store, The Sting (founded 1982), is responsible for this corker: harnessing sixties pop and a code of honour, but – best of all – Nonsenese!

Sting
By the way, The Sting is one of the very few London shops with a connecting tunnel leading directly from the tube. It can be entered via the Piccadilly Circus station.

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