Archive for March, 2007

Get funky: Remembering Disco

March 22nd, 2007 2 comments

In the 1981 Bill Murray comedy Stripes, a character ( played by Judge Reinhold) wears a t-shirt bearing a legend which summed up a particular spirit of the time: “DISCO SUCKS“.

Of course, our t-shirted friend was spectacularly wrong. He might have had a point, however, had his t-shirt proclaimed: “Certain aspects of Disco Suck, particularly its appropriation, dilution and exploitation by The Man who has no interest whatsoever in maintaining its artistic and, let it be said, joyful integrity.” But those who represented the “Disco Sucks” mindset were already struggling with the two syllables contained in the name of the genre they claimed to despise, never mind applying their mind to what they were really protesting against.

Of course, nobody was obliged to like Disco. I don”t hold the artistic talents of Ms Paris Hilton in high regard, but would find it unnecessary to communicate my protest at her lack of talent through sartorial media. The “Disco Sucks” movement (which went as far as record burnings) was not about the music.

There is little doubt that some resented Disco because the sub-culture was alien to supposed “American values”. For one thing, disco was the first musical genre that allowed homosexuals to express themselves explicitly in a mainstream arena. For another, it was dominated by lots of black people, in an age before every suburban boy was from da “hood, yo!

Of course, Disco was not a homogenous genre. Even at its roots, it was disparate. Gay Disco, mainly Euro-based and heavy on synthethisers, was quite a different kettle of lamé flares from the harder bass-driven funk sounds of Black Disco, or the harmony & backbeat Disco for which the Sound of Philly provided the blueprint. Somehow the two cultures collided and fed of each other, to the point that Earth Wind & Fire dressed as outrageously as Sylvester.

Disco was black and and it was gay. It was quite fabulous and it was popular. So Commercial America had to lighten it, straighten it, exploit it. And thus the Kings of Disco were inaugurated: three white lads from Australia who just a few years previously were the Kings of Melancholy Ballads. Make no mistake, the Bee Gees produced some good Disco, but they were no more the “Kings of Disco” as Benny bloody Goodman ever really was the “King of Jazz” (The Man tried the same trick a decade later when he sought to crown Vanilla Ice the “King of Rap”. That time, The Man failed, and Hip Hop prospered commercially anyhow).

Who knows whether Disco would have crossed over “” been dragged over “” into the mainstream in such an exploitative manner as it was, had it not been for the success of the Saturday Night Fever, and the uncontrollable popularity of its (only half-decent) soundtrack. Suddenly Disco was everywhere. The muppets of Sesame Street did a Disco album, with Grover in iconic Travolta pose, of course; Ethel Merman “” the natural badass queen of sweaty funk “” got in on the act; and ridiculous manufactured pop acts such as Boney M came to be regarded not only as being part of the Disco movement, but as representative of it (a mistaken notion perpetuated even today by Afro-wigged revivalists. Let it be known that Boney M were not Disco!).

If Grover, Ethel and the dubbed Bobby Farrell were Disco, then one might confidently pronounce that Disco indeed Sucked. But they weren”t, and it didn”t. Just as Ethel Merman got the funk, the disco-funk scene in particular was reaching its artistic peak. While much of Disco”s varied genres were effectively killed by the Studio 54 hype, “Disco Duck” and John Travolta”s choreography by 1981, the funk sub-genre lived on and evolved. Alas not Chic, those innovators who were too closely identified with the Studio 54-type scene “” ironically so, if one reads the history behind “Le Freak” (Nile Rodgers has much to say on the subject).

And all this to introduce a few early-80s disco-funk classics that survived the Death of Disco “” and a bonus track of a superb mid-“80s South African dance classic, Brenda & the Big Dudes” “Weekend Special”.

Positive Force – We Got The Funk
Skyy – Here’s To You
Jimmy “˜Bo” Horne – Spank
One Way – Push
Billy Ocean – Stay The Night
Brenda Fassie – Weekend Special

Tack så mycket for the music, Sverige

March 15th, 2007 4 comments

The centre of the Indie music universe is turning out to be Sweden. It started a decade ago with the international emergence of the Cardigans. Today the likes of the idiosyncratic Jens Lekman, the Shout Out Louds, and Peter Bjorn & John contribute to the country”s fertile music landscape.

And then there is Hello Saferide (Annika Norlin), whose one-and-a-half albums have created a measure of Internet buzz. Sparsely instrumentated, sometimes it”s just an acoustic guitar and handclaps, Hello Saferide has an infectious, often quirky and sometimes very pretty sound that belies the often dark lyrics (such as the ill-wishes addressed to an ex-boyfriend on “Valentine”s Day“).

Hello Saferide”s quest for love finds expression in unexpected ways, be it the benign stalker in “High School Stalker“ or the resolution for the “shitty”new year of getting together with a chap who doesn”t know it yet (“2006″), or the interrogation in “The Quiz”. On other songs, she tries to reconnect with an old confidante (“Long Lost Penpal”). “My Best Friend” (video here) expresses the wish that she and the eponymous pal could be lesbians so that they could be lovers (a sweet sentiment, but imagine a guy telling his straight best friend that he wishes they could be gay together. Even postfacing such a statement with a heartfelt “MAAN” probably wouldn”t save the friendship, the enormity of the compliment notwithstanding).

The instant classic is “The Quiz” (listen to it here, video here), a catchy acoustic number with utterly enchanting lyrics. She states her appreciation for a romantic prospect “” he is attentive, made the effort to clean up the bathroom, cooks good soup, and has fine taste in music (Townes van Zandt, Jens Lekman, Rickie Lee Jones), though perhaps he should not display his full set of Star Wars Special Edition DVDs too prominently “” before introducing her compatibility quiz. Her fear of feet and concomitant request that socks be worn at all times would, alas, kill off any romantic notions the lopvely Annika and I might entertain ““ unless my non-fragrant, beautifully shaped and perfectly smooth feet might help her conquer that very strange phobia”¦

Hello Saferide – My Best Friend
Hello Saferide – High School Stalker
Hello Saferide – Valentine”s Day
Hello Saferide – If I Don’t Write This Song, Someone I Love Will Die
Hello Saferide – San Francisco

Salem al Fakir explores pop and soul genres in a unique manner. The voice may need some getting used to, but the talent is immediately apparent. One minute you listen to the “˜70s soul throwback “Good Song”, which recalls The Spinners, next you may hear a celtic prog gig which would not be amiss on a Gabriel-era Genesis LP. It”s all innovative and great fun.

Salem al Faikr – Good Song.mp3

Believe the hype: 29-member group I”m From Barcelona are quite excellent in their genre of twee indie-pop, If you can handle songs about treehouses (or tweehouses) or oversleeping on a Monday. Listen to it in the wrong mood and you might hate it. But give it another chance, and be rewarded by an exuberance that creates the brand of giddy happiness one might experience when drinking a cold raspberry soda after a good game of football at a satisfying picnic in a lovely park on a hot day.

I’m From Barcelona – Oversleeping

The album of 2007 awards at Any Major Dude HQ has an early contender in Loney, Noir by the idiosyncratically named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen, who features on the I”m From Barcelona album). Imagine Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie turning into a multi-dubbing Brian Wilson after OD-ing on Arcade Fire, and you might get a vague idea of Loney Dear”s wondrous music. The songs on this apparently home-produced album typically begin softly before building up into a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink crescendo. It should result in discordant racket, instead the listener is immersed in sounds of astonishing beauty.

Loney, Dear – No One Can Win
Loney, Dear – Carrying A Stone

Herman Düne might sound like a geography teacher, but is in fact a group. “I Wish That I Could See You Soon” sounds like the illegitimate lovechild of Van Morrison”s “Brown Eyed Girl” and any number of Desmond Dekker songs “” and it”s glorious. Listen also to “This Summer”, also on 2006″s Giant album, which evokes lazy days in lush sunshine in the Carribbean ““ just the sound to hear a song about “the lithium fucking with your brain”.

Herman Düne – I Wish I Could See You Soon.mp3

Download also:
Sambassadeur – Between The Lines
Sambassadeur – New Moon
Sambassadeur – Kate
The Radio Dept – The Worst Taste In Music (video here)
The Radio Dept – Against The Tide

More about Swedish Indie music, with free MP3s, at Hello Sur

Loads of Scandinavian downloads here (including Loney, Dear’s astonishing “I Am John”)

Music for a wedding

March 5th, 2007 1 comment

Sountrack to this blog:
Ben Folds – The Luckiest (left-click)
Mason Jennings – Ballad For My One True Love (left-click)
The Weepies – Somebody Loved (live) (right-click and “save target as”)
Bob Schneider – The World Exploded Into Love (right-click and “save target as”)
Sadao Watanabe & Roberta Flack – Here’s To Love (right-click and “save target as”)

Oh my, what an exciting weekend: Liz Hurley got married!!! I learned all about what must be one of the great stories of the year from Sky News, purveyors of all the modern person needs to know.

On Saturday morning, Sky interviewed a wedding planner. Because such erudite insights into matters of this nature are crucial to our understanding of the world. Explaining why Ms Hurley needed a flashy celebrity wedding reception (at which the only acceptable gift was an organic cow, going rate £3,000; presumably an ironic statement relating to Hurley”s purported character), Ms Wedding Planner excitedly proclaimed: “Imagine Liz went to the local registrar”s office to get married and then to a three-star hotel for a chicken dinner. We”d all be disappointed!“ By Jupiter, how we would be!

It is one of life”s graces that Ms Hurley does care about us, and so had a just super wedding, with even shy and retiring Elton John on the celeb-studded guest list (important, because the quality and quantity of celebrities in attendance dictate the fee Ms Hurley receives from whatever gossip magazine secured the rights for the obligatory wedding photo-spread). The threat of our collective disappointment was averted. It just makes it so much easier coping with the climate change, the impenetrable mess in Iraq, and the worrying prospect of Rudy Giuliani succeeding the putrid spawn of Satan, if we know that Liz Hurley did not have a plebian nuptial ceremony at the local 3-star dig.

I went to a wedding last week. Elton John wasn”t there, but I heroically endured that obvious cause for distress. The bride also didn”t ask for organic cows. So we gave her a lovely casserole dish, as one does. But we abstained from buying the traditional congratulatory card.

Oh, the congratulatory message is necessary, even if I one gets to see the bride only every five years (at funerals, mostly) and makes one”s introduction to the lucky groom only on the wedding day. One is delighted and genuinely touched to have been invited. But here”s the problem: you buy a carefully-chosen and diabolically expensive greeting card, and scribble an awkward message inside. It will not be remembered in competition with all the other cards from closer friends and family. And after a decent period of prominent display, it will be packed away, never to be seen again until the couple moves or splits. And then it will be (ahem) discarded.

The casserole dish will soon be forgotten, but our good wishes hopefully not. For our mode of conveying congratulations was at once creative and thrifty: in lieu of tacky cardboard, the bridal couple received a mix-tape (on CD-R, but let”s continue, for sake of tradition, to call it a mix-tape). Don”t think I”m cheap: I spent the best part of three hours collating appropriate songs — and at my hourly rates, the couple easily recouped their financial outlay for two wedding dinners.

Selecting appropriate songs wasn”t easy. For one, I don”t know what sort of music the happy couple prefers to listen to. For all I know they are devotees of Gorgoroth and their death metal chums. Or perhaps they are faithful only to the deplorable Celine Dion, Anastasia and Simply Red “” and a spot of Coldplay if they feel really edgy. (In the event, Joshua Kadison provided the first “waltz”, and Al Green the exit dance). This lack of knowledge complicates the song selection. And yet, the reason I enjoy making mix-tapes is to share the music I love, perhaps introducing the recipient to new favourites. Because I have excellent taste in music, obviously.

But it isn”t good enough to bang together a mix-tape for virtual strangers on one”s egocentric speculation. Not many people want to hear 20 unknown tracks by obscurities they have never heard about, and probably never would have. The trick is to sprinkle such a collection with tracks the listener can identify with, even at the cost of compromising the compiler”s integrity.

And then there was the challenge of finding songs with the right lyrics. I have discovered that there are many love songs that sound perfectly romantic ““ until a subtle twist in the lyrics rendered them useless for purposes of expressing “true love”. Few things in life are more embarrassing than two lovers playing James Blunt”s “You”re Beautiful” to each other because, you know, she really is beautiful. I”ve heard of couples playing this at their weddings, as if the line “she was with another man” did not subtly hint at a lyrical context quite at variance with the notion of a romantic union saturated with perpetual bliss.

In short, only about half of the songs are representative of my musical evangelisation work. But if this mix-tape inspires the couple to get into, say, the Weepies or Iron & Wine or Ron Sexsmith, my mission will have been accomplished.

So every song a proper love song, with lyrics and music better than Will Young”s ubiquitous “Evergreen” (OK, open goal. Shoot already!). Listening to this CD of love songs, I contemplated building a fireplace, shoot and skin a luxuriously furry animal, put on these 22 songs on loop, and make long passionate love to the love of my life.

So, here”s what the newly-weds listened to, I hope, as they consummated their marriage:

The Platters – With This Ring
“˜Baby, I never thought so much love could fit in a little band of gold. But I”m telling you, darling, I feel it in my heart, got it in my soul.”

Sadao Watanabe & Roberta Flack – Here’s To Love
“˜You fill my life with love and joy”¦a toast to all the things you are, my light and shining star”

Eric Ben̩t feat. Tamia РSpend My Life With You

“˜The years will roll by, but nothing will change the love inside of you and I”

Shawn Colvin – When You Know

“˜When it’s clear this time, you’ve found the one, you never let him go”

Lifehouse – You And Me

“˜Everything she does is beautiful, everything she does is right”

Ben Folds – The Luckiest
“˜And where was I before the day that I first saw your lovely face? Now I see it e

veryday, and I know.” (Possibly the greatest love song of all time)

Bob Schneider – The World Exploded Into Love
“˜The world exploded into love all around me, and every time I take a look around me, I have to smile” (Not too sure whether the lyrics don’t invite alternative interpretations, actually… Download it and hear.)

Ben Harper – By My Side

“˜My care for you is from the ground up to the sky it’s over under up above down below and to the side.”

Al Green – Let’s Stay Together

“˜Lovin’ you whether, whether, times are good or bad, happy or sad.”

Minnie Riperton – Loving You

“˜No one else can make me feel the colors that you bring. Stay with me while we grow old, and we will live each day in springtime.”

Earth, Wind & Fire – Be Ever Wonderful

“˜And be ever wonderful, stay as you are. Stay as you are, won’t you stay in your own sweet way.”

Anita Baker – Giving You The Best That I Got

“˜I bet everything on my wedding ring, I’m giving you the best that I got, givin’ it to you baby.”

Ron Sexsmith – Whatever It Takes

“˜The sun alone will never do, without your love to shine on through”

Jonny Lang – Beautiful One

“˜I gave my word, I made a promise And I’m gonna keep it til the end”

Alexi Murdoch – Love You More

“˜I’m gonna love you more” (That’s the lyrics, basically)

Peter Mayer – Now Touch The Air Softly

“˜And I”ll love you as long as the furrow the plow, as However is Ever, and Ever is Now.” (I owe the Late Greats blog for this.)

The Weepies – Somebody Loved

“˜Now my feet turn the corner back home. Sun turns the evening to rose, stars turning high up above. You turn me into somebody loved.” (Another one I’m not 100% of, but it’s a lovely sentiment.)

Richard Hawley – Baby, You’re My Light

“˜But I believe in you and now I’ll show it. And as life goes on you know you don’t have to hate all you find. Baby, you’re my light.’

Rascal Flatts – I Melt

“˜Don’t know how you do it, I love the way I lost it every time. And what’s even better
is knowing that forever you’re all mine.”

Mason Jennings – Ballad For My One True Love
“˜And all the while I ‘m dreaming of the ballad for my one true love, searching for the perfect way to say: I love you sweetheart, this is my dream come true.”

Eastmountainsouth – So Are You To Me

“˜As the ruby in the setting, as the fruit upon the tree, as the wind blows over the plains, so are you to me.”

Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights

“˜I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they are perfectly alligned.”