I did have a slightly linked post almost ready, but in a slight departure from the last post, and as I always like a music post from time to time, I am going to combine an update on the “latest” music I’m currently listening to, with some Haiku. Well three Haiku, somewhat linked to each other and the rest of the post. Some readers might want to skim through the music part. Or the Haiku part. Or maybe the whole thing and just enter what you are listening to in the comment box at the end.
In most cultures around the world, in some way, our lives are linked to music. It might be through traditional songs that tell stories of our culture, it might be from songs in the music charts, it might be songs you hear on a tv show, or it might be songs used to stir emotions which on the surface might seem more primitive, but have a deep underlying resonance. Underlying this might be how we universally have an innate capability to understand music, and to distinguish different musical notes and tones, even if we understand none of it. “This is your brain on music” by Daniel Levitin is an excellent book on this subject, but that is a different blog piece. I’m interested on a different take, and in particular how it works in Western cultures.
Much as songs are used in some cultures to document historical events, and passed on from generation to generation, Western cultures experience this in a different way. There is so much music around these days, and we get exposed to a lot of it. We might have similar interests in music, and have experienced different events with the same music, but all our experience will be different. If you were able to draw a map highlighting how music has impacted your life, you will see that certain songs or pieces of music link to certain events. It could be that you like a song a lot and use it at a significant life event such as a wedding, or it might just be that something was playing as something happened. I’m not talking about your favourite tracks necessarily, it might not be something you chose, or even like, but nevertheless, in some way it is linked. If you were able to somehow extract all these different songs and pieces of music, you would have a music map of you. It would need some translation, but I would hazard a guess that everyones map would be quite different, even if some destinations are shared. I wrote a short piece of fiction called “the unusual map” that began to explore this idea, which I published on the blog last week, however let me examine that idea further with some examples from my life.
In the early days of January 1994, I was in a branch of the long since departed UK music chain “Our Price”, actually one of the earliest casualties of music downloads, and approached a listening post. They had on several not big selling, but critical hits from the year before to listen to. One of these was “Giant Steps” from a band called The Boo Radleys. I had heard of the album, it being Select magazine, and the NME’s album of the year. I had not hear anything from it. I listened to first track “I hang suspended” and immediately knew it was for me. I bought the album. It subsequently soundtracked a significant part of college, and my first year of university, and is still one of my all time favourite albums. This one event however, had a big influence on where my music tastes went, and as regular readers know, I’m a big fan of music.
Sometime in the early 2000’s I was in a fast car with a good friend of mine. He was driving down country lanes at night far too fast. Don’t worry he said, I know these roads well. He has pretty much terrible taste in music. The track playing at the time was “Money for nothing” by Dire Straits, not a favourite of mine it has to be said. I was convinced as a music snob of varying degrees, that I was going to die an ironic death soundtracked to this. Thankfully we got home safe although every time I hear that track now it still reminds me of that drive.
I have an album I like a lot but by someone not really cool, which I call my guilty pleasure. I won’t tell you what that is, because I have a post about it soon.
“Bunsen burner” a fun track by musics biggest failure (his words), John Ottway, was a nice live moment which myself and my then girlfriend, now wife, experienced at the half moon pub in Putney back in 2007. It was unexpected fun as we thought the gig would be crap, and still reminds us of those early days together and what seems quite a different time back in England.
“Changes” a track by Sugar I originally got in 1992 on a cassette from long dead UK music magazine “Vox”was incredibly significant in where my music tastes went, even more so than the Boo Radleys. The album the track came from “Copper Blue” was the first CD I ever bought, and one of my favourite all time albums. I heard this album played live by Bob Mould last week in its entirety which I loved. This cassette moment reminds me of my old walkman, some lazy times hiding in my bedroom at my parents house, a fun time in buying / reading the music press, as I discovered a lot of new things, and evenings this summer blasting the remastered version of the album through great headphones. That track and album lives with me.
Elbow’s beautiful track “One day like this” which has become a wedding favourite, was used as the money dance for my wedding. It obviously reminds me of that, actually one of my favourite parts of the wedding, but also of the times around it, and of leaving most of my family to move to the US. If you don’t know the track, take five minutes to check it out below. I’ll be surprised if you don’t like it.
These are just a few of the destinations on what would be my music map. An alternative way of looking at your life and how it has been affected in some way by a small part of your culture. I hope you followed what I was getting at, maybe found the journey interesting, and hopefully made you think of some significant links in your life. If you have time, tell me below of a destination on your map, the track and how it relates to you.
On another occasion I think I might revisit the character from the short fiction and use him as part of a different story. But that is a different post.
Lexicon word of the day: distrain.
I love music. Regular readers of this blog will know and understand this. An early post of mine discussed how music influences me, or more specifically, what music and writing have in common, to me anyway. I’ve blogged on music lots of times, although not too much recently. I’m always hearing new things I like on radio Sirius XMU, or reading about music that sounds interesting in Mojo magazine or on Pitchfork. So I like getting hold of it. I’m mostly talking about albums here. The snob in me looks down on just buying individual tracks. I’m an old timer in that sense. You can tell I’m a music fan when I love the album over downloading seemingly random tracks.
My current dilemma involves buying new music. Although I prefer CDs (for the quality of the format), I’m quite willing to try new music as downloads, especially when the price is good, that always seems to serve as a good introduction. But naughty Amazon.com keeps putting albums on a $5 or sometimes even less, price. So what is a music fan to do I ask you? Ok I shall give you the answer. Buy some music. Bring it on…
So I both do, and did. And you know what, it’s great. Problem is, when you get a new album, especially a half decent, or good, or great one, they take four or five listens to really open up and to begin to get to know the songs a bit. Your mind needs time to decode the layers. Usually a song that sounds great straight away, rarely lasts that long, before fading into the sometimes played. So time is needed to play new music, to fall for the lyrics, the melodies, the beat, the timbre, or whatever facet grabs you most. And I’m now getting a bit of a backlog of albums I’m trying to familiarise myself with. Here is a list of recent buys, loosely grouped into genres although admittedly some could cross into several groups:
Pop / Folk
- The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do – Fiona apple
- What we saw from the cheap seats – Regina Spector
- Thats’s why God made the radio – The Beach Boys
- Yours trully cellophane nose – Beth jeans houghton
- Home again – Michael Kiwanuku
- Tramp – Sharon Van etten
- Valtari – Sigur Ros
- Bloom – Beach house
- Master of my make-believe – Santigold
- Dr dee – Damon albarn
- Huh? – Spiritualized
Rock / Alternative
- Maraqopa – Damien jurado
- Oceania – The Smashing pumpkins
- Neck of the woods – Silversun pickups
- Open Your Heart – The Men
- Celebration rock – Japandroids
- Ghostory – School of seven bells
- Funeral Blues – Mark Lanegan
- Blunderbuss – Jack White
Dance / Soul
- Hurry up, we’re dreaming – M83
- Wonky – Orbital
- The bravest man in the universe – Bobby Womack
This particular pair are open headphones which means if you are sitting nearby you will also be able to hear what is being played. But as anyone familiar with how headphones work can tell you, you can get a much better sound out of open headphones than you can closed ones. It is to do with the airflow. These headphones really are fabulous, they do a great job of opening up the sound, great clarity on instruments, great separation, they introduce things you have not noticed before. As a downside, they also show up when MP3 quality can be bad (the detail isn’t in the file to play), or when something has a dense mix and the separation is not there. These headphones are great, noticeably different from e.g. a $50 pair. An upgrade from my older pair Grado Labs Sr60i (also very good). And more encouragement to buy more music. Oh well, I love music, what can I do.
Music. It’s my addiction. Am I addicted to buying new music? Well of course, and old music as well. I love it. It is entertaining and inspiring in so many ways. If only I had time to do it justice. This addiction I’m ok with. Oh by the way, suggestions for other new good music are welcome below.
Lexicon word of the day: pudendum.
This past monday I was going to write some words on what Copper Blue by Bob Mould’s then band “Sugar” means to me, but I got distracted by the Grammys. It did have some relevance in the end, but it wasn’t what I was going to write about then. – Back in 1992 when I was finding out that I loved music, but was still finding out the beginnings of my taste, I would buy a variety of music magazines / music weeklies, often with a free cassette, so I could check out some tracks, and no doubt then, considered my music collection increased. These days I still buy Mojo magazine, but that point is distraction here. One such cassette from a magazine in those earlier times contained a track called “Changes” by a band I’d never heard of called Sugar. Back then there were lots of bands (especially Indie), that I had never heard of so it was nothing new in that regard. However “Changes” was one of those tracks that was different. It’s opening melody just stood out. It was guitar music but not like the hair metal or fret w*nking, of similar ilk to most eighties rock bands, nor was it the melodies of pop bands like the Smiths. This was a little more dirty sounding, a little more raw and basic (plus at this time I was still yet to hear Nirvana, which followed shortly after). But it felt real in a doable sense, and it rocked. So naturally I wanted to give the album a try.
At this time I owned little music, the indie scene was considered a little bit cool, and (this sounds completely daft now), you didn’t want to make any embarrassing mistakes buying the wrong album. Describing what music you were into was a bit like describing your personality then, although now I come to think of it I can usually tell what someone is into now and vice versa after spending a bit of time with them. Also I find it hard to buy an album after it has done big sales in the charts. It feels like everybody’s then, and not as personal, and that I’m buying it on everyone else’s recommendation and not my own. I want to eliminate most of the snobbishness in writing, but in some ways, I will always be a bit of a music snob. Ho hum.
So to cut a slight tangent off and get back to the point, I bought Copper blue. It was a good choice, didn’t hurt my “music coolness factor”, well actually it probably improved it (not that I was ever cool but you might see what I mean). I listened to it a lot. It was a bit punk, a bit melodic. The singer seemed to be putting a lot into it. It was part of the soundtrack to my college years. This music was real. I still don’t know what I mean exactly, by that. Tracks like “The act we act”, “Good Idea”, “If I can’t change your mind” all seemed to mean something to me, although perhaps as I would come to find out, a little different to what they meant to Bob. But this is how a good album works. It might not sound good at first, but it grows on you, then grows into you, so that it becomes a part of you. The songs become a part of your life, they soundtrack certain things, and remind you of certain things, both of which might be the same. This is what Copper Blue did to me. I still love playing it now of course, otherwise this post might be taking on a different meaning. It went on to become the NME’s best album in the year end poll for 1992, so it validated my pick, but also validated some of my choices in where my music tastes were going. I thought this was important at the time. Is it still now?
It occurs to me that I often find new music by reading the music press (or these days sites like Pitchfork). I’ve read so much of it over the years that I can usually tell by how an album is favoured across a few different publications whether it will be something I would like. This is aside from listening to it on the radio or online. In comparison the itunes / Amazon previews online rarely give me an indicator of this, perhaps because there is only song fragments and I need to listen a number of times. It may have been experiences such as the one with Copper Blue that provided the grounding for doing this, after all I don’t use it as the proverbial bible, but just a starting point. I’m beginning to think Copper Blue has more to answer for than I first thought.
I subsequently learned more Sugar, and about Bob mould (Sugar was essentially a Bob Mould band under a moniker). Bob had been a big influence in the punk scene as part of the band Husker Du, which was a lot rawer, and less melodic than Sugar, or even Bob’s solo material. Later in the nineties, Bob was outed as a gay man so there was the potential issue of the love / relationship songs being sung about another man rather than a woman. Was I bothered about this? Well no actually, and why should I be? I kind of figure that when a song is out there it can be about whoever. Plus relationships have the same underlying emotions regardless of whoever is involved, I’m secure enough in myself that I don’t have to have concerns it they happened to have been written about two men. The music was far too good for that anyway, and I’m also not a homophobic idiot.
Not too many months after Copper Blue came out, a six track mini-album called “Beaster” was released. This was much more raw, and a lot more emotional and cathartic for Bob, you could pretty much tell this from the vocals. These tracks it turned out, were also recorded at the Copper Blue sessions but deemed to intense for that album, so were released separately. I loved this even more. At a push I might even name it as my favourite album, even now. It was just brilliant, – noisy and intense, and at odds from a lot of other music I had been buying (I was likely getting into The Smiths at this point as well). It served as part Yin to the rest of it as Yang, if you want to view it like that, and to which I guess is partially true. It is also played less than Copper Blue. Beaster is a more intense experience and preserved as so by not playing it too often. Copper Blue, brilliant, a little more towards Pop, less intense, arguably Bob’s best album (and my second favourite of his). Incredibly, almost twenty years old (and I suppose with it, Beaster). It still sounds as fresh now, a brings back lots of memories of times long gone. Well that and some new ones. Still good see! – Bob will be playing the album in full, in San Francisco, on February 24th 2012, followed by some European dates.
Lexicon Word of the Day: Lollygag.