Churn Milk Joan – One (avant-funk)

It’s very hard to know where to start talking about this record. Do I begin by describing its sound? The words I would use would have a hard job to distinguish these sounds from other, entirely less interesting music. I could tell you that it sounds like some kind of funk, but that might give you the impression that, like most funk, this music’s central purpose is to be funky. I usually begin by sketching my general approach, based on my sense of how the music works, and that is indeed what I’m doing right now, but I’ll say this: One is a very slippery fish, and Churn Milk Joan are not going out of their way to adopt any established practices …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

It’s a hard lesson to learn, when you realise you’re not likely to hit the big time with your art, and you’ve already invested so much, with so little to show for it in material terms… it certainly can make you feel like an underachiever. Ben Black seems to conflate his focus on his work (rather than work) with a persistent immaturity, and looks wistfully around him at the homes, wives and cars of his friends. ‘How can I look my children in the eye/ and tell them Daddy didn’t make it because Daddy didn’t try?’ he asks, though, which more or less answers his own questions.

Monday Musing: Eclectic Taste and Artistic Truth

I’m decidedly omnivorous in my musical tastes; if you read my blog regularly, you know this. If not, a quick glance at the genres of the music I’ve reviewed in the past few months should confirm it pretty rapidly. Taste, however, is a matter of discrimination, of distinguishing one thing from another, and if I deny myself the use of genre as a basis for taste, I’m refusing what is probably the most widespread single criterion for forming musical value judgements.

Olds Sleeper – New Year’s Poem (avant-country/ noise-folk)

This is a recording with a self-consciously ‘lo-fi’ sound, but there’s a whole sonic ideology wrapped up in an idea like ‘lo-fi’. What does it even mean? Low fidelity; and fidelity means truth. I would guess though, that it’s a primary concern of Olds Sleeper’s to get the truth quotient of his music right up there near the top of the dial. The whole duality of high- and low-fidelity has its roots in the early days of recording, a time when verisimilitude, a resemblance to actuality, was a technical challenge to be met, like pulling focus on a cine camera.

She Makes War – Little Battles (gloom-pop)

I’ve been waiting with some considerable bating of breath for this album to come along. The first She Makes War full-length was a real revelation for me: accessible, guitar-based music, founded on traditional songwriting virtues, that hits the sweet spot aspired to by writers of prose fiction, and articulates characters whose experiences chime with the listener’s (or my own at least) memory and understanding. Artistic truth, in other words, and in art, truth is beauty. Laura Kidd, whose project SMW is, has thought through the requirements of promoting her own music with a great deal of clarity, and so her work is beautifully packaged …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Glockamole is a great name for a comedy hip-hop record. There’s clearly a lot of wordplay left in ripping the piss out of hip-hop’s tropes and clichés, but I have to say there are probably not many jokes left in it. It’s a well worked mine, especially gangsta rap, bearing in mind that everything N.W.A. released after Straight Outta Compton was basically a joke. No, it takes more to make a funny hip-hop record than just pointing out how ludicrous hip-hop is, or being incongruously self-deprecating. It requires some comic creativity to raise a laugh in any medium, but luckily for me, I find Fat Ross pretty darn funny.

Army of 2600 – Return Of The Bloop Beep Buzz (chiptune/ noise)

Chiptune purists may stick exclusively to using sounds as they are synthesised by their chosen platform, but there’s a well established set of musical practices that take the sounds of a Gameboy, an Amiga, or, in this case, an Atari 2600, and liberally mash them up. Mike Bourque likes to slather distortion over his sounds, but he still has an ear for the original context of his instrument; the sounds captured on Return Of The Bloop Beep Buzz are not sourced exclusively from his computers, but they are deeply, nostalgically redolent of the sounds that accompanied many geeky kids’ gaming experiences in the 1980s.

Goosepimp Orchestra – Swagadelic Fertilizer Castle (funk/ latin/ jam-band)

Music has many functions, central among which is entertainment. For all that fans of its more abstruse, intellectual forms might claim otherwise, I would argue that it’s a central function of all music; the stuff that seems self-consciously serious, or which adopts a texture at odds with conventional notions of the aesthetic, is still entertainment, it’s just that it’s directed at a particular audience. To those artists who claim to be motivated exclusively by their own creative needs, I’d point out that if they didn’t care about anyone else hearing what they have to say, they wouldn’t say it out loud. Music is an act of communication…

Monday Musing: Special Pleading And The Ethics Of Culture

Every so often the liberal press likes to get up a nice bit of moral panic about ragga/ rap/ whatever singers’ appalling attitudes towards women, or exhorting their listeners to shoot gays; usually the right wing press likes to join in as well, as it’s a good excuse for them to trot out their ongoing concerns about black people, with their primitive passions and oversized penises (well, they don’t say that out loud any more, but the subtext is still there). So there’s that, but we need a few more examples. There’s a well known song in Britain which expresses a desire for Marshall Wade to ‘…like a torrent rush/ rebellious Scots to crush’

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

A thin-sounding electric guitar (maybe a Telecaster), an electric piano, filtered through the glitchy sound of dusty vinyl, and looped in incomplete gestures that sound like a needle jumping. It’s the sound of nostalgia, the sound of distance from a desired space that the imagination is better equipped to apprehend than the senses. The uppercut combinations of the kick, when it enters, are located firmly in the here and now. That’s the heartbeat of the subject, the locus of the act of remembering. Such a simple psychodrama between so few musical elements seems a shaky scaffold to hang anything off, but when the female voice enters…