Napalm Death – Caught In A Dream
My friend, Sarah, asked me this week what is death metal. “I don’t know anything about it,” she said. “Neither do I,” I replied. This hadn’t stopped me dredging up, from half remembered issues of Kerrang!, and columns by Neil Kulkarni, references to the Norwegian metalers Mayhem and Burzum (“They killed each other,” I said. “Onstage?” “No, in real life.”) and alighting somehow on Napalm Death as an example.* I have always know something about Napalm Death. I could always reel off a few vague facts about them (very short songs, vocalist Barney Greenway, from Birmingham.^) but I have never actually listened to them properly. So, what’s death metal? Really I don’t know. This though is Napalm Death.
* As I’ve tried to make implicit, I understand I was on shaky ground with all my examples.
^ Yes, after checking, I realised I’ve been labouring under a misapprehension.
Low – When I Go Deaf
I was discussing with my friend Eddie, what song would we play to someone who had never heard Low. In turned out both of us had ‘When I Go Deaf’ in mind. Eddie was nicely matter of fact about why: it has “some quite bits, some really loud bits, easily accessible lyrics, just a decent song all round”. I can’t disagree with any of that. (Though I think easily accessible here doesn’t necessarily mean simple). I’d asked him because, after hearing Low’s new album, I’d been listening to a bit more of them than I had done for a while. Their last couple of records hadn’t really captured my attention, but I thought this new one, on the strength of a couple of listens, seemed as good as anything they had done before.
This has happened to me a couple of times. A band I’ve followed for a long time release a couple of albums I like, but don’t really do anything more for me than that. Then they go and release an album that makes me get into them all over again. Without a doubt, since my discussion with Eddie, ‘When I go Deaf’ has been the song I’ve listened to most this week, including a couple of plays of it yesterday. I guess in part it’s because of those “really loud bits” at the end. The guitars make a noise that allows you, despite whatever might be going on to make you feel to the contrary (in and outside of the song), to experience a sense of calm for a bit.
X-Ray Spex – ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’
Could have been the saxophone was anathema to a punk in 76; it doesn’t present itself as an instrument you can just pick up and play. But anyone introduced to punk through ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ by X-ray Spex wouldn’t be too foolish to think it had been an integral element of the genre. Lara Logic’s playing dismisses any preconceived notions anyone might have of the saxophone as anything like smooth. The sound and tone she achieves is reminiscent of how the saxophone was used on those Little Richard records in the 1950s (‘Tutti Fruitt’, ‘Jenny Jenny’), when it was the solo instrument of choice, before the guitar supplanted it.
Throughout ‘Oh Bondage’ the saxophone is used as a parallel to Poly Styrene’s vocal, just able, by accident or design, to sit alongside, competing at times (I mean, it actually jumps the main vocal by coming in before – the audacity), but always complementing. Logic left, or was sacked (depending on what you read), shortly after recording ‘Oh Bondage’, to be replaced by another sax player, Rudi Thompson. Maybe the mix they found here was too hard to sustain and conceive of again. Indeed, on their album Germfree Adolescents, ‘Oh Bondage’ (the preceding single) was left off. But it is on ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ they used the saxophone to pursue their own particular goal. And this maybe was something that many hadn’t thought anyone able to do with the saxophone for a long time.
Mclusky – Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues
Despite everything, I made friends that outlasted Mclusky. So when it was announced they were reforming for a couple of shows, Rob J texted, 12.47pm, Mclusky are playing the garage in December; then Andy texted, 16:49, Mclusky are playing a London gig, fancy it? And it was a review I wrote of a Mclusky gig in 2005 (“I have Mclusky so I can stand on the edge of everything and shake; shake so I can finally feel something”) which allowed me the chance, for a short while, to write for a music magazine I liked. So you could say Mclusky gave me a few things.
I’m not going to the gig though – can’t make it. A shame because despite my reservations about bands reforming, after reading this* by Falco (I too, Falco, put songs in quotation marks, but italics for albums), Mclusky would have been the band I took the risk for (“If you/we/us/it must venerate the past then I suppose that we should at least venerate it for a good cause” – Falco). So I’m hoping these 200 odd words go in my stead; and let me echo, in 2015, my 2005 self signing off that live review, in all its calling upon the divine glory: God bless Mclusky and God bless their cocksucking blues.
* It’s great. Do read it.
Boo Radleys – Four Saints
The eagle eared of you will have picked up on the allusion to The Boo Radleys at the end of my last post on Kevin Morby (‘I hang suspended’, anyone?). The Boo Radleys are maybe now best known, if they are known at all, for their song ‘Wake up Boo!’. A song so ubiquitous on morning radio shows in the mid-nineties, that Capital FM would probably balk at playing it now for the worry of seeming too obvious.
Kevin Morby – Harlem River
My ways of finding out about music have significantly changed over the years. Throughout my teens into my mid-twenties it was predominantly done through the UK music press (Melody Maker, NME, Kerrang, Select); late twenties it refined (narrowed?) into such publications as Uncut, Plan B, Careless Talk Cost Lives; today, for better or for worse, it is through radio (well, 6music mainly, with the odd foray) and Spotify. (One constant, however, has been recommendations by friends). My thoughts on Spotify are far too untidy to work through in this short post, but I would like to mention Spotify’s Discover Weekly. This is the service by which an algorithm, and for all I know a system of winches and pulleys, presents you with a playlist each week. It’s how I first heard ‘Harlem River’ by Kevin Morby.
Cat Power – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
I’ve not been thinking about this song particularly this week. And I’d be lying if I said I was a big Cat Power fan. I have considered it (with the intention of writing something on cover songs) alongside Devo’s cover of the same tune. I was (and still am) interested in how both bands remove the swagger from the original: Devo with the rhythm section pushing the image of the narrator towards one of a Midwestern high-schooler, loping along, listening to the original; Cat Power by removing the chorus (I’m simplifying here what Chan Marshall does to it for the sake of brevity) and finding an untapped weariness in the verse lyrics. Importantly though, for covers, both versions return you to a reassessment of the original. But the reason I’m choosing it this week is because it was when discussing these songs with Douglas Cowie I thought to start this blog; “appropriating” what Doug has been doing for a while now on his website. I’ve asked him, he’s ok with it, so the least I can do is point whoever reads this in the direction of his Song of the Week. I’ve discovered some very good music following it, so I recommend giving it some of your time.