Gomez - Get Myself Arrested (from Bring It On 1998)
Plus One - Arabesk (from Bare Necessities 2000)
Marvin Gaye - Abraham, Martin and John (from That's The Way Love Is 1969)
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles - More Love (from Make It Happen 1967)
Isaac Hayes - Medley: Ike's Rap III: Your Love is so Doggone Good (from Black Moses 1971)
Skepta ft Boy Better Know - Too Many Man (from Microphone Champion 2009)
Silkie vs Mizz Beats - Test (from Purple Love 12" 2009)
Dark Captain Light Captain - Questions (Hatchback Dub Remix) (from Miracle Kicker Remix EP 2009)
Graham Coxon - In The Morning (from The Spinning Top 2009)
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
I recently crapped on about the new Jackie-O Motherfucker record for The Line of Best Fit.
I wonder if the relatively safe nature of this record is indicative of the whole atrophying of the New Weird America thing - of its co-opting by the mainstream etc. I was listening back to Jackie-O's triple Live in Europe CD from 2002 and it sounds like a manifesto for the scene. It contains multitudes: free jazz skronk, wild bliss outs, a wringing through of 'Amazing Grace' - it's a mess but it has a fire in its belly that seems to be missing from Ballads.... Anyway, the review is below.
Artist: Jackie-O Motherfucker
Album: Ballads of the Revolution
In a brilliant short essay in The Wire, Byron Coley delineated the boundaries (or lack of) of the New Weird America scene – a term coined by David Keenan to describe that broad swathe of acts that had taken on John Fahey’s inbuilt experimental fervour and run with it, and in doing so had rediscovered and re-enlivened the haunted howl at the heart of the Old Weird America that had so entranced Greil Marcus in Invisible Republic - his book on The Basement Tapes. When Coley spoke of the common ground between jazz, noise, folk, psych, experimental, electronics and free rock he was of course describing the possibilities that the scene explored, but he might have been talking about Jackie-O Motherfucker…
The Jackie-O Motherfucker remit has always been a broad, inclusive thing: to delve with both hands into the claggy mulch of the American musical unconscious, dredge up what resides within and throw it into the air and see what clamour results from the humming tensions between sound and air. Consequently, listening to them can be a very visual and at times sublime experience, as if the weight of all that stratified music were absently present in the fragments they capture on tape. And naturally, because of inclusivity of their sound, they can also be a maddening self-indulgent mess.
All that said Ballads of the Revolution is probably their most coherent and song-based record to date. It still has that undercurrent of experimentation and the same sense of historical weight, but here it’s streamlined into (relatively) recognisable forms, which in its way is as subversive a move as they’ve pulled. Even the blissouts, when they come – like at the end of ‘The Cryin’ Sea’ – are understated and restrained. Perhaps it is due to a settled line up (the focus point of Tom Greenwood, plus Nick Bindeman, Danny Sasaki and Honey Owens; plus an assorted crew of scene luminaries such as Michael Duane and Lewi Longmire) or the mellowing of age (though god knows the live sets can still be violent and challenging) – whatever the reason, Ballads… is a lush and at times delicate piece of work.
This is nowhere more apparent than on the opening track, ‘Nightingale’ - a traditional ballad reworked as a kind of post-rock lullaby built around some aching pedal steel from Lewi Longmire and Greenwood’s flanged guitar and odd fragile vocal. ‘Skylight’ – a long-time Jackie-O live staple - follows a similar pattern but has a darker undertow of drones; Greenwood sounds more distant here too, deeper in the muck of the past. There’s an element of The Doors at their most opiated to ‘Skylight’, or some of Spacemen 3’s longer jams. Yet there’s always something else lurking with Jackie-O Motherfucker and it feels at a number of points, bizarre as it sounds, that ‘Skylight’ is going to mutate in ‘Sloop John B’. And while we’re at it, ‘The Dark Falcon’ featuring a knee trembling vocal from Honey Owens (intoning the liner notes from a Mamas and Papa’s album sleeve, no less), also seems to reseed ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, taking it apart and leaving a shell of treated guitars and sheet-metal skronk creaking in the breeze.
‘A Cryin’ Sea’ is the album’s centrepiece and throbs with the same psych/spacerock vibe as ‘Skylight’ – but you could argue that the track never quite delivers, that if anything, it suffers from the general sense of restraint that suffuses Ballads of the Revolution. The track is built around a bowel-deep bassline and swathes of spiralling guitar courtesy of Bindeman and special guest Michael Dustdevil, and whilst it has a propulsive psychedelic heart it shimmers towards a climax that never quite arrives. As the tumult gathers, you long for some of that free jazz squawk that fired up their early recordings.
Ultimately, Ballads of the Revolution is a worthy addition to the Jackie-O Motherfucker canon – a back catalogue impressive in its sweep and form. And while it does feel a little safe at times, in the context of their ever evolving sound and their continual reshaping of the musical traditions to which they are heirs, it’s another impressive foray into the sonic possibilities of forever. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess but you can rest assured it’ll be worth hearing.
Download: Jackie-O Motherfucker - Skylight
Artist: Boduf Songs
Album: There Is Something Hanging Above EP 2009
Label: Under The Spire
This was my first brush with Boduf Songs - the work of Mat Sweet. Since 2005 he's released three albums and a slew of EPs and CD-Rs, all exploring the primitive, blacker side of folk and drone music. On first listening to this limited edition EP, I assumed it was emanating from some Appalachian backwater, a mid-West hideaway; to discover it was conceived and recorded in Southampton somehow adds to the uncanny nature of it. This is of the old soil...
The EP begins with an ominous swamped drone, like the underside of something Windy and Carl might dream up, a drone that bleeds into 'Deathbed Triumps of Eminent Lackwits' a 6-minute hushed folk song - Sweet's signature style. Think of Nick Talbot's spookier moments, or perhaps the haunted sound explorations of Matt Elliott. At the halfway point, the song drops away to a single note pulse over which Sweet croons, his vocals layered and backtracked. Garbled effects gradually add to the soundscape, which conceivably could be a forest recording - a possibility confirmed by the buried background sounds on the dark final track, 'Peripheral Man' which sounds like a neolithic field recording.
Listening back to some of Sweet's older material - the likes of The Lion Devours The Sun and last years' How Shadows Chase The Balance (both released on Kranky) - 'Left Behind Like A Piece of Shit', the EPs centrepiece, might just be the most straightforward and accessible piece he's recorded. It's based around a relatively 'bright' guitar figure and brushed drums, and thematically it's a paean to movement, the song driven on by a incessant plucked bass string. Yet I wonder if perhaps the song is actually about the impossibility of movement, the bass string a ligature, a manacle... Sweet's lyrics here dwell on Sisyphean imagery and the clipping of wings and the temptation here is to map this onto the drab streets of Southampton and the mute horror of being trapped in the endless suburbs. And instead of escaping, Sweet has instead stayed and become mired - a pathway for the old voices.
This is a very limited EP but there should be copies out there and it, and Sweet's other records are well worth tracking down. There's more info on his website: Boduf Songs.
Download: Boduf Songs - Left Behind Like A Piece Of Shit
"There is an excess of information, making us prisoners of the news…It is as if history had caught up with us in the form of the news…Yesterdays news becomes history, already just barely perceptible. It ages more rapidly than fashion, of which it is an accelerated form."
Sad to hear that the author Gordon Burn has died. I'd only recently discovered his work and immediately felt as if I'd stumbled across something vital and charged, visceral. There is a short piece in commemoration over at The Guardian.
Ben Reynolds - Skylark (Scorner of the Ground!) (from How Day Earnt Its Night 2009)
Lake Heartbeat - Mystery (from Mystery 7" 2009)
Pontiak - Aestival (from Maker 2009)
Sa Ra Creative Partners - Go Ahead (from Sonic Seduction EP 2008)
Starkey - Dark Alley (from Ephemeral Exhibits 2008)
Beenie Man/Bounty Killer - Borderline Mobster (from Ragga Jungle Anthems Vol 2 1992)
Joker & Ginz - Re-Up (from Re-Up 12" 2009)
Shitmat - Whitelabel Unity (from One Foot In The Rave 2009)
The Platters - Only You (from Only You 7" 1955)
Prompted by the Borges radio shows I linked to yesterday, here's a piece on Borges I wrote a while back, plus a couple of his later poems and a few links to some of his works currently online.
Over time I have come to accept Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s idea of Borges as a master of evasion, both in his oneiric, ephemeral short stories and too in his oddly tragic escapist life. His admittance in a late poem called ‘Remorse’ that ‘I have commited the worst sin a man can commit/I have not been happy’ might be typical of Borges’ melancholy self-dramatisation but his late essay ‘Blindness’ based on a lecture given in 1977, a period in which he was running as fast as ever, suggests a more noble version of Borges’ evasive aesthetic.
Borges delivered the lecture during a period of intensive travelling, when he was virtually omnipresent in North American Universities. It was period in which his veneration was reaching new levels, thus he could give a lecture that began by detailing his own ‘modest blindness’ and go on to discuss other lionized blind sages, such as ‘Homer, Milton and Joyce'. Borges’ own blindness had been foreseen, in that his father and grandmother had both died blind, ‘who both died blind - blind, laughing, and brave’. It had been a slow process of degeneration, one that he acknowledged as debilitating, but not one that should ‘be seen in a pathetic way’, for it enabled a different way of seeing, a strange movement, a different way of life: embedded in blindness was a metaphor for sight. So the ‘slow nightfall, that slow loss of sight that lasted more than three quarters of a century,’ that ‘began when I began to see’ contained an inherent capacity for sight of a different kind, a new way of seeing that allowed strange figures to dance and play and gave light a new, distinctive form. ‘People generally imagine the blind as enclosed in a black world…I who was accustomed to sleeping in total darkness, was bothered for a long time at having to sleep in this world of mist…vaguely luminous, which is the world of the blind’. What we have then is a fundamental blurring, a vague haziness: full sight not replaced by its opposite, but by a spectral luminosity; not something as simple as sight turned in on itself, or sight removed completely but altered, realigned, allowing for a space of possibility. Borges, remembering a line from Rudolf Steiner said that something ending should be thought of as something beginning, and that ultimately blindness should be figured as ‘a way of life: one of the styles of living’.
There’s a deliberate poignancy here, not a gawky shame - Borges as anti-Gaucho – but a contemplative acceptance a variation on Pascal’s dictum that ‘all men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone,’ a sense that in blindness Borges had found a way of accepting himself, the latest manifestation of the wandering blind sage, a mode of withdrawal he’d long sought in the anxious labyrinths of his fictions.
A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a cafe in the South,
a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a colour and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well
though it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets
of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.
Oh destiny of Borges
to have sailed across the diverse seas of the world
or across that single and solitary sea of diverse names,
to have been a part of Edinburgh, of Zurich, of the two Cordobas,
of Colombia and of Texas,
to have returned at the end of changing generations
to the ancient lands of his forebears,
to Andalucia, to Portugal and to those counties
where the Saxon warred with the Dane and they mixed their blood,
to have wandered through the red and tranquil labyrinth of London,
to have grown old in so many mirrors,
to have sought in vain the marble gaze of the statues,
to have questioned lithographs, encyclopedias, atlases,
to have seen the things that men see,
death, the sluggish dawn, the plains,
and the delicate stars,
and to have seen nothing, or almost nothing
except the face of a girl from Buenos Aires
a face that does not want you to remember it.
Oh destiny of Borges,
perhaps no stranger than your own.
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
The Lottery in Babylon
The Library of Babel
The Circular Ruins
Yes, we have been a little quiet of late. A combination of summer lassitude, eye-ache from sleep deprivation and the density of all the cricket that's around at the moment: it gets in under the door... Normal business should return once we've adjusted ourselves. We have another 6 weeks of it so we'd better adjust fast.
Speechification have been a little quiet themselves recently, but over the last couple of weeks there has been a whole host of great stuff posted. Follow the links below.
The Percy Edwards Showdown is almost too twee to contemplate yet somehow listening to a man imitate a jay and have Bill Oddie and Mark Cocker trying to guess if it's real or artificial is a thing to behold. Plus David Attenborough chairing. (MP3)
A whole series of Night Walks - from John Walsh in London to Nicholas Shakespeare in Tasmania.
Ever since being mesmerised by Richard Preston's The Wild Trees, a book that manages to make Californian Redwood's alluring and terrifying, I've been wanting to climb trees. This brilliant programme follows the exploits of James Aldred as he climbs one of Britain's biggest Redwoods - Goliath. (MP3) Some photos here too.
A London Ear special on Will Oldham. (MP3) Yes, of course it's brilliant.
Two cracking programmes on Borges - one featuring his old reader and all round polymath Alberto Manguel (MP3), and another that follows Peter White on a trip to Argentina to view a project that is making Borges work available in Braille (MP3).
Lastly, not listened to these myself, but two programmes on Larkin: both featuring Paul Farley who traces Larkin's journey during The Whitsun Weddings (MP3) and then discovers a box of tapes of Larkin reading his own poetry (MP3).
You can also follow Speechification on Twitter, and yes me if you want to.