Monday, December 31, 2007

More year-end lists + surprises of 2007

There was no shortage of great music released in 2007, but it did seem like a weak year for memorable singles. It was the year of "Umbrella" and "No One" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" (note the song quality heading rapidly downward) and "Irreplaceable" (now we're reminiscing about the spillover from 2006). Rihanna had the summer jam that seemed to stay ubiquitous throughout the entire year, so in the long run "Umbrella" sticks out as the Sound of 2007, not so much by its quality, but by getting noticed when there wasn't anything else to challenge for the crown.

More than ever, Best Tracks of 2007 lists are leaning more toward what the title says -- tracks, not necessarily singles. In past years, songs like "Hey Ya" and "Crazy" topped polls in a laugher, and the response ranged from passive nods of agreement/understanding to outright applause. This year, it feels more like there was a concerted search to identify some song, any song that could meaningfully challenge "Umbrella". Cue the Pitchfork list stocked with plenty of album tracks, including some that are ranked ahead of actual singles from those albums.

In 2000, Spin magazine named "your hard drive" as its album of the year, and their choice was met with what we can diplomatically term "polite ridicule". Yes, it's a huge copout to print a year-end list and not choose a #1. It's also stupid to publish a prominent music magazine, where one expects to see intelligent and non-trivial criticism, and make a non-insightful comment that can be summed up as simply "the internet is important". Even if there was a good point lurking beneath the ridiculousness, it was simply an obvious, uninspired take on things (no, Spin's attempt to justify it in hindsight doesn't make the decision any better at the time it was made). Nevertheless, it's been seven years, and "your hard drive" is reaching progressively higher levels of influence when it comes to shaping not only individual music tastes (obviously) but also in defining the "hits" independent of whatever MTV or radio might be playing. At one point, "you" compiled the album of the year by downloading your favourite hits, but now the internet is so entrenched in musical culture that "you" choose the hits yourself.

I tried hard to identify ten singles I truly cared about, but it was an impossible task, particularly when there were so many non-singles that meant infinitely more to me this year. Shoehorning something like "No One" or Gui Boratto's "Beautiful Life" onto the list and not including "Windowsill" because it wasn't a single? I couldn't do it. Unfortunately, I will admit up front that these decisions led to a fairly boring list. There is a a lot of overlap with my album choices (lists are boring when there isn't enough variety) and the inclusion of obvious, if indeed fantastically great, mainstream artists (Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado) is hardly distinctive. I made a point of including as many singles as I could, hence the inclusion of "Beautiful Girls" when it probably wouldn't crack the top 25 if I fairly and honestly ranked all tracks from 2007 as equals. So, in all, this list doesn't deserve a fancy graphics-laden rollout, so here it is, along with some brief comments:

Top Ten Tracks of 2007

1. Jichael Mackson, "The Grass Is Always Greener"

Mind-warping track that only gets better once the Chris Issak samples come in.

2. Arcade Fire, "Windowsill"

All of "Neon Bible" is building toward this track, and I have no idea why I'm the only one who knows it.

3. Nelly Furtado, "All Good Things (Come to an End)"

Best Chris Martin song ever?

4. Panda Bear, "Bros"

Most joyous track of the year.

5. Justin Timberlake, "What Goes Around ... Comes Around"

Another great single from an album that finally won me over in 2007, with a fantastically sexy and engrossing mini-movie/video to boot.

6. Rihanna, "Umbrella"

You may have heard this song once or twice.

7. Go Team, "Doing It Right"

"Sesame Street Theme 2007"

8. Low, "Violent Past"

Far and away the best track on an otherwise uninspiring album.

9. Substance and Vainqueur, "Resonance"

It's like they never left (except less awesome than before they did)

10. Sean Kingston, "Beautiful Girls"

Fun summer jam. Isn't it weird how "Stand By Me" makes a comeback in 21-year intervals?

That was the list I finalized in mid-month and sent off for the critics polls. But all month, I've been imbibing lists and catching up on music that I didn't pay close enough attention to during the year. Every year it's the same thing. All the supposed best music of that year gets unceremoniously pushed aside the second after the ink has dried on your own year-end list because you've been playing the hell out of that music all year and particularly in the previous few weeks and you're bored shitless of all of it. Then you cane the hell out of albums and tracks that you discovered too late in the year to warrant inclusion on your list, or simply stuff that you discovered while browsing through everyone else's lists. Then you question which of these albums and tracks should have made your list, had you known/heard about/appreciated them earlier, which is an interesting exercise that probably deserves a year-by-year personal breakdown, which I'll get to if I ever get around to completing the year-by-year look back on my actual year-end lists that I promised to work on in January(incidentally, to anyone who actually might care about it, the project became derailed not because of laziness, but from indecision about the best way to quantify the review process. If that doesn't make sense now, then it will if I ever get around to completing it).

So here are some December 2007 surprises (an incomplete list):

Spoon, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga". Spoon's "less is more" approach to music is very much at odds with the music I normally like, particularly in regards to indie rock. Guitar/drums/piano songsmithery that hangs the melodies out to dry -- it's not really my thing unless the music is unbearably depressing. Spoon didn't hit on any kind of newfound magic formula here, except that the tunes are exceptionally good, particularly "The Underdog" and "Finer Feelings". The former catches you from the start, trumpets blazing (literally), and the latter gets hookier as it progresses, straight through to the finish that arrives far too soon.

Of Montreal, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal". Although capable of greatness in fits and spurts ("So Begins Our Abalee" was one of my fave tracks of 2005), Of Montreal tend to bore me over the length of a whole album. There are only so many tinny, lo-fi dance dance beats and smart-ass lyrics a person can take ... or so I thought! With this epic track, Of Montreal not only rock ass with twelve captivating minutes of simple yet infectious beats, caustic lyrics that spawn a million spiraling verses, and a cooing chorus that you hope will never end -- oh no! it's more than that, it's "This Corrosion 2007"!!!

And you know what ... I *still* haven't heard the entire album, just a (very good) track here one month, a(nother very good) track there in a different month. But "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" was the tipping point. I messed up by not believing the hype sooner.

Black Kids, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You". This popped up on Pitchfork's list, and along with a bunch of other songs on that list that I wasn't familiar with, I dl'ed them and road-tested the bunch on my iPod. This kind of music-sampling arrangement is perfect for producing those magical, revelatory moments when you get blown away by a spectacular song by a band you've never heard of while you're standing on street corner or sitting on a train. *This* is what the Go Team need to sound like in order to jump from being party kids making rough-and-tumble sugary anthems, to being full-fledged Bomb Squad/Spectorian teen-opera makers. A shoegaze Go Team, I mean, that's such a simple and obvious combination to make, but the best ideas are always the simple and obvious ones that nobody else was smart enough to come up with.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's December 15 December 21, so that can only mean one thing:


The list has been in the can for a week (since before December 15, naturally), it's this post that is embarrassingly overdue. The combination of a few factors (incl. hectic, self-imposed deadlines at work; new apartment) not only figured into my tardiness, but created the welcome feeling of a tidy conclusion followed by an imminent new beginning. These are the sorts of feelings that one should, but rarely does have heading into a new year.

In terms of the variation in quality (or the "quality standard deviation"), this is the most closely matched Top 10 I've ever done. For #4-#9 in particular, you could have picked the order by drawing names from a hat and I wouldn't have argued too strenuously with the results. The #1 album was a late bloomer like no other from past years -- mildly appreciated during the spring but never considered to be a great, or even very good album, mostly ignored over the summer, and coming on strong over the past couple of months as the brilliance of each and every song (even the very short ones) became evident to me.

I hate all-encompassing year-end statements, but it's hard to shy away from certain changes in the industry that will, in the not-so-distant future, come to define 2007. Music sales continued their downward plummet (which isn't news) and the year's best-selling album might not clear three million sold in the US (which is news, sorta). The year's biggest sellers are the Josh Groban holiday album, the soundtrack to High School Musical II, and "Daughtry". Again, we have a novelty record that was bought exclusively by women over the age of forty, a tie-in to a TV-movie/phenomenon by Disney, and an American Idol reject. None of these can be thought of as "conventional" star-making models for musical success. For decades, the formula has been: artist gets noticed by A&R men after years of work (this even applies to Britney Spears-type teen stars), label puts out record, everybody buys record on account of massive radio/music video exposure. There's been a shift in the notion of who can sell records and how to market those artists to the consumers. The crucial role of television in all three examples (for Groban, it's the Oprah endorsement) is obvious.

The retailing shift is now complete, with Tower Records shut down for good, Wal-mart entrenching its spot as the #1 music retailer (which it has been for a few years now), and Starbucks developing into a recording and retailing force, to name three examples. Exclusivity deals and cross-promotional tie-ins have led to the retailers taking a sizable role in deciding who the stars are, rather than simply selling the records of the most popular artists. Wal-mart played a big part in returning the Eagles to the top of the charts in 2007, if there was any doubt as to that chain's continuing power and influence in the music industry. Again, that in itself is not new, but there is surely a causal link between the now-entrenched retailing shift and the "star-making" shift. *Some* records sold quite well this year, they just weren't the ones that the industry was expecting, and several others that were supposed to be massive turned out to be duds. [It can be said that 50 Cent's "Curtis" was one of those flops, but then again, the "Curtis" vs "Graduation" throwdown turned out to be a huge success, for it was only the second time in chart history that two new releases sold over 600K copies in the same week. The only other time was in 1991, with "Use Your Illusion" I and II.]

Basically, I'm not sure that anyone knows how to market music anymore. I sure as hell don't have any idea what will sell in 2008. The internet is still an untapped marketing resource that nobody knows how to deal with. The TV writers strike has brought this issue into sharper focus, given that the biggest point of contention is the issue of internet revenues. Everyone knows that the money will be there, both sides want a piece of it, but nobody has any clue how to package and sell the product. Whoever can figure it out successfully is going to make a hell of a lot of money. In music, we're seeing sales breakthroughs by people with an eye and an ear for cross-media marketing, and I see no reason why that won't continue.


The Angelic Process, "Weighing Souls With Sand"

The tremendous swarm of guitar noise this band makes must be heard to be imagined, and if all metal records sounded this overwhelming, I'd have to give up listening to some other genres to make room for more Angelic Processes.


Paul Hartnoll, "The Ideal Condition"

If he wants to, Hartnoll can trot out tunes like "Please" and "Nothing Else Matters" all day long, using a succession of famous guest singers and riding the formula into the UK Top 40 whenever he wants. On the other hand, if that was Hartnoll's long-term plan, then he could have filled up this entire album with songs like that, instead of devoting at least half of "The Ideal Condition" with highlights from his probable audition tape for future soundtrack work. "The Unsteady Waltz" is begging to be thrown into a Wes Anderson movie, and it's this type of effort that fills me with curiosity as to what Hartnoll will do next.


Stars of the Lid, "And Their Refinement of the Decline"

The phrase "floating on a cloud of titties" was invoked on ILM, which is pretty much all the description you'll ever need regarding this album. So how does an album that consistently reaches such ecstatic, blissful, lofty heights for two hours rank "only" at number eight? SOTL make beautiful, mood-altering music. It's nice. It's too nice. "Nice" doesn't stir up fanboy admiration, it doesn't bring out the passion I feel for my favourite records. I crave basking in their aura when I play their records, but in between listens, I don't crave their records, if that makes sense.


Sean Kingston, "Sean Kingston"

My favourite bite of harmless pop in 2007, it's been dismissed this as juvenile, watered-down reggae by people who seem to have missed the point (dissing J.R. Rotem's occasionally amateurish production, or the way the album is compressed to all hell, comprise two much more relevant points). It's supposed to be a fun album, a summer album, one that Will Smith might have made if he'd been born in Miami instead of Philadelphia. "Sean Kingston" is to reggae what Justice's "Cross" (2007) and Vitalic's "OK Cowboy" (2005) are to house, to name two recent albums that were highly praised by people with widely diverse tastes in club music, to the point that they practically became the token dance music album on most non-dance music critics lists. In fact, there is and always will be albums like these performing well in year-end critics polls, because many critics enjoy consensus and even feel inclined to reach consensus on the canonic way to have fun.

The Vitalic and Justice albums are light, flimsy, but ultimately enjoyable albums of music that make no serious attempt to represent the vanguard of house music. Sean Kingston's album bounces energetically through one's speaker system, requires no listening brainpower, and puts forth a series of fantastic summer jams -- almost any one of which could be released as a single.

With all the year-end poll results flooding in, there's been a lot of talk about reasons for the success of MIA and LCD Soundsystem. It is said that each of them fares well in the difficult high-wire act that is condensing one genre of music and selling it to fans of a different genre, i.e. James Murphy makes indie music more palatable for dance music fans (and vice versa), while MIA saves indie fans the trouble of catching up on what's new in reggae and certain Eastern musics. What is this horseshit? First of all, will anyone claim that Sean Kingston is doing anyone a favour by dumbing down reggae? His beats are even more kicking than the wack, wannabe-highbrow crap that MIA churns out, but you don't see anyone claiming that Sean Kingston is a creative force, do you? As I've already argued, Sean Kingston is not a creative force. Neither is James Murphy, but he makes entertaining records, bordering on great sometimes. MIA makes astonishingly bad records with the occasional decent track.

At times like these, I worry that writers care more about writing than they do about applying self-consistent theories to the music they write about. Sometimes, there are discussions about an article in a noteworthy publication, such as the New York Times, where people become incensed that the author dared to dumb down the topic a little bit. I tend to err on the side of the Coles Notes version in situations like these. The writer is penning the article for non-specialist readership, so I can tolerate a bit of creative licence in the interest of presenting the relevant background information in a succinct way that doesn't disturb the narrative flow of the rest of the article. Many others disagree, by which I can conclude that a writer can't dumb down his subject and still produce good art, but MIA can.

Don't get me wrong -- it's plenty possible to make a dumbed-down record and still be fiercely creative. Lily Allen did it just last year, working in exactly the same genres we're discussing here. But sometimes I feel there's a gaping logical disconnect between the language of music criticism and the music that is being criticized. MIA is supposed to be a genius, whereas Sean Kingston is called a fat loser teenybopper, even though critics will readily admit that both are trying to do the same thing.


Panda Bear, "Person Pitch"

"Person Pitch" is the next-level shit that The Beach Boys "SMiLE" probably resembled when it was first conceived, that is, if it had been conceived and recorded in Brian Wilson's bedroom (or sandbox) instead of in pricey LA studios. Wouldn't the actual "SMiLE" have been a million times cooler if it had been recorded Panda Bear style, in a bedroom on a tiny budget, most of which could have been spent on harmony arrangements?


Arcade Fire, "Neon Bible"

I had serious reservations that their formula (dream big, sound big, mythologize everything) wouldn't hold its own for a second go-around, and I definitely wouldn't have bet the farm that they'd multiply their fame many times over. I definitely didn't foresee them actively spearheading the return of Springsteen to the circles of indie, fluidly sucking in fans, critics, and magazine covers along the way. Whether all this will seem embarrassing a year from now remains to be seen, but Arcade Fire are a band that's best enjoyed in the moment, and 2007 provided plenty of opportunity for experiencing that.


Horseback, "Impale Golden Horn"

You can overdose on almost anything. You can have too many minimal techno records, too many stoner rock records, or too many fluffy ambient records. I can never have too many records that sound like, e.g. Fennesz at his blistering best. Horseback has his own take on guitar drones", opting not for the coarseness of Fennesz, but a more mellowed, stoned stare, closer to SunnO))) minus 85% of that band's testosterone. The final track, "Blood Fountain", with it's gentle pulse and piano-led melody, nicely fills in the void left behind by six years without a new Labradford record.


Matthew Dear, "Asa Breed"

In a future universe, where minimal techno rules pop radio, we'll look back and say that Matthew Dear was the Ramones.


Explosions In the Sky, "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone"

Their past albums are marred by nagging flaws, particularly the band's reliance on long interlude segments that presumably build up to a noisy, dramatic crescendo. The noise blasts can't possibly live up to what those slowly-building interludes suggest, particularly when I find myself losing the plot midway through each slow section. But "All of a Sudden ..." is seamlessly cohesive, flowing by in a brisk 40 minutes, its volume rising and falling it's way through a fascinating narrative that is not unlike a three part symphony. First, the big brash overtures ("The Birth and Death of the Day", "Welcome Ghosts"), a slow middle third ("It's Natural to be Afraid", "What Do You Go Home To"), and the uptempo, blowaway ending (kicked off in the opening notes of "Catastrophe and the Cure"). If the album has a flaw, it's that the middle third tends toward their old, meandering habits ("It's Natural to be Afraid" can't justify it's 13-minute runtime), but it works in the context of the whole album, as the calm before the closing storm.


Eluvium, "Copia"

Is there a better combination of triumph and melancholy than the stately closing track, "Repose In Blue"? And just to prove that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, couldn't you say the same thing about the best moments on the EITS album?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The stream-of-consciousness "In Rainbows" review

This is the time of year when the year-end lists start rolling in and curiosity gets the best of me. I start rushing around, desperately tracking down anything notable that I really ought to hear before the year runs out. "Notable" covers a lot of ground, everything from music I didn't even know existed until this month (Six By Seven got back together and released an album? Whoa) to bafflingly overpraised cack made by unoriginal charlatans (MIA, I'm looking at you).

And then there's Radiohead. Normally, I simply step back and stay out of the way whenever they release something, avoiding almost all the discussion and allowing the mountain of hype to build up all around me. Eventually, much like a dog run that you never bother to clean, all that shit builds up so high that you finally have to clear it out once "In Rainbows" starts landing in the top ten on every magazine and website's Best of 2007 list. So I'm going to listen, finally, to the new Radiohead album.

Much like the "Kid A" exercise I did a couple of years ago, this is essentially a real-time review. I don't really have the time (OK, the inclination) to give Radiohead any more time than the bare minimum. Call it half-assing it if you wish, I call it "visceral". It's like reality TV -- unscripted, premeditated, totally unhinged! I haven't heard a note from this album, at least not knowingly. I barely skimmed most of the album reviews. This isn't liveblogging, but trust me when I say that I'm writing these words before I hear the music. I'm fully prepared to look like an idiot for writing this smarmy introduction should the album turn out to be astonishingly good. Needless to pay, I paid $0.00 for my copy of "In Rainbows". Lead-in music: Sean Kingston's bitchin' self-titled album.

"15 Step". So I do know this much: they're back to doing more freaky experimental stuff after rediscovering guitars on "Hail to the Thief". Where there's smoke, there's fire, Radiohead version = when you have Radiohead trying to be experimental, you have Radiohead trying to sound like Autechre. Except that Autechre weren't known for breaking into freaky space jazz in the middle of their tracks. Hey, that's one good track in the books!

"Bodysnatchers". Thom Yorke's voice isn't suited for singing along to sludge rock. Otherwise, I've got no complaints: this isn't too far removed from kind of music the Warlocks should be making these days, that is, if they had ever been bold enough to dig themselves out of their acid hazes and try something new. The Pitchfork review for their new album was so horrible that it scared me away from even wanting to heard it, but then again, Pitchfork has always hated the Warlocks with a passion.

"Nude". This may as well be a fairly uneventful strum through something from Acetone's backcatalog. But Acetone were always more enchanting live than they were on record, so I can see this track working beautifully in the middle of a long live set.

"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi". There's something proggy about these echo-y tracks where the guitars sound like jazz pianos, and I don't mean that in a good way. Have Radiohead ever done something really loose and jammy, I'm talking 15-20 minutes long? I'm wondering if they could pull it off.

"All I Need". They've gone from stealing from Autechre and Miles Davis, to Spacemen 3, to Acetone, and now to Bowery Electric's "Lushlife". That's quite a downward slope. That bass screams "we just wanted a cool-sounding bass sound and nothing more". The track starts to redeem itself by brightening into a piano and cymbal-led wall of sound. You know what Thom Yorke's voice *is* suited for? Wailing his way though multiple repetitions of a song's title while barely being audible above the music.

"Faust Arp". You know what Thom Yorke's voice isn't suited for? Trying to channel Nick Drake.

"Reckoner". The smooth, laid-back intro makes it official: this album is "Radiohead: live at Red Rocks". The singing ruins whatever good vibe I might have had. This track and the last one seem to force in a string section where it wasn't needed, presumably to sell the drama and emotion of the track. Note: the singing is prominently featured on both "Reckoner" and "Faust Arp". Coincidence? I think not.

"House of Cards". Oh great, liberal use of echo. Is Thom Yorke into reggae now? Is King Tubby the new Warp? "I don't wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover". I think my dick just locked itself into a cocoon for the winter. I'm hearing a lot of Verve, c. 1993 on this track (along the lines of "A Man Called Sun"), right down to the gently rising guitar squalls that are definitely Nick McCabe-ish. And what do you know, Verve reunited with McCabe this year and sound a lot like their jam-it-out, early incarnation (as opposed to the Ashcroft-dominated folkstrumming singer/songwriter wankery that slipped its way onto "Urban Hymns"). Coincidence? Perhaps not.

"Jigsaw Falling Into Place". It's the indie rock song. On the bright side, this is reminding me to check out the new Spoon album before the year is out.

"Videotape". Time to put away the bong and smell the paranoia instead. This is the kind of doomy minimalism I can really get into. Pounding piano, off-beat knocks and frittering hi-hats, ghostly voices, all of it has made me sit up and start paying closer attention. This track, all by itself, has redeemed the second half of the album.

Well, the first two tracks delivered plenty of twists and surprises, but it went downhill rapidly after that. Once they settled into the soft rock stuff and brought Yorke's voice to the fore, things dragged heavily and didn't fully recover until the very end. Still, there are four or five really good songs here, which is two or three more than I expected to hear going in. Sure, my level of scrutiny is raised when it comes to something like this, but for a band that's always lauded for being fearless and trying out new things, whose albums seem to make top ten lists out of habit as much as merit, I think I feel justified in holding Radiohead to that standard.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Spice Girls Reunion II -- Live in Vancouver

Idolator collected some reviews and a youtube vid from the Spice Girls' Vancouver show -- the first gig of their comeback tour and their first performance as a fivesome in nine years.

Stuart Derdeyn of the Vancouver Province loved the show.

David Sinclair of Times Online can be somewhat cynical about Spice Girls Inc., but never to the point where it interferes with his fanaticism toward their music, or their ability to put on a great show.

Jane Stevenson of Sun Media harbours some petty resentment toward the Girl Power Mothership, but didn't let her jaded half overcome the enjoyment experienced by her "I know fun when I see it" half. Choice quote: "And the hits-heavy set list was so cleverly choreographed and the Spice Girls energy was so infectious that their lack of vocal chops was hardly noticeable." A reunion tour featuring some old hits? Excitement on stage? Nah, say it ain't so! The whole review reads like someone approaching the concert not with an open mind, but with a blank slate. She seems genuinely shocked to have witnessed a well-organized, energetic concert full of songs that she forgot she used to like (and songs she didn't know she liked -- yes, Jane, the SG's all had passable solo careers!)

Jeffery Simpson of Metroblogging Vancouver wins the "I Can't Believe It's Not 1997" award. Offhand reunion tour dismissal? Check. Pithily invoking ten-year old catchphrases? Check? Claims of Spice Girl corporate sell-out status? Check. Complete refusal to ascribe any artistic worth to the songs or to the individual talents of the Spice Girls themselves? Check. Choice quote: "They might not be artists, but the Spice Girls are clearly performers." Actually, there are far too many choice quotes to share here. Line by line takedowns, firejoemorgan-style, aren't really my bag (exception: Tim Hecker review in eye a few years ago. eye magazine in general, come to think of it. OK, NOW magazine too).

I can't help myself, choice quote II: "Nobody is going to call this great music, classic earth changing music, any more than someone is going to call the Teletubbies great drama, and yet it's fun. Sure when these songs were popular and preventing the new U2 video from appearing on Much Music ...". Man, when are U2 FINALLY going to get the airplay they deserve? Squeezed off of Much Music to make space for a bunch of dancing girls and their sexy videos! You go, Jeffrey, way to stand up for the little guy in the face of the unstoppable corporate behemoth!

You also have to love the delicious irony -- completely lost on Jeffrey and his self-proclaimed elephant's memory -- that the U2 songs he's mentioning were part of that band's mega-sellout, McDonald's-stooging, America-loving, wannabe biggest tour ever; complete with Vegas-staged, "making of" documentaries that were filmed and broadcast BEFORE THE TOUR EVEN BEGAN.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Daft Punk, "Alive 2007". Daft Punk decided to release "Live 2007" on its own as an audio recording, sans DVD. They claim that hours and hours of "in the moment" youtube clips capture the craziness, excitement, and overload of the visual cortex better than any DVD ever could. I suppose there's something honourable about being satisfied by the DIY approach to concert archiving, and of course, the finest DVD can't recreate the feeling of "actually being there" for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has ever attended a concert. I'm not saying that standing in a crush of human flesh at a concert and trying to peer over the shoulders of the stoned assholes who just butted in front of you and trying to avoid any and all contact with a sweaty dancing guy whose flailing arms are coming precipitously close to your face is always a better experience than sitting at home with a DVD in front of an inferior set of speakers. They are *different* experiences.

If any band's tour deserves preservation on a DVD, I would think it would be Daft Punk's. A DVD won't capture everything, but whatever it does contain should appear in brighter colours and more pristine sounds than the average person's memory will allow. For sheer variety, there's always youtube, for the best quality, there's a DVD. This is obvious, right? It should be obvious as long as people continue to pay for their favourite movies instead of taping them off of TV or being content with videotaped versions. As far as visual quality goes, Daft Punk's live show was one of the most astonishing assault on the eyes of any major tour in recent memory.

I became quickly addicted to live Daft Punk youtube clips in the wake of their massively successful coming-out party at Coachella 2006, and worked hard to track down a good-sounding audio recording of the complete show. But in hearing the audio alone, I found much of the magic had vanished. The breathless "Close Encounters"/"Robot Rock" anticipation in the intro, the roar of physical energy from the crowd as "One More Time" kicked in, the seizure-inducing light-show beatdown during "Human After All" -- all of it, gone. The audio by itself is a bit of a bore. It explains why the same people who found "Human After All" (the album) boring and monotonous started lining up to praise those same songs when they were presented as part of the live show. Hearing "Live 2007" only makes me want to head to youtube to check out the *real* show. And if the real show -- even by the band's own admittance -- is best enjoyed as a series of one-to-four minute clips as recorded on somebody's cell phone, then why does "Live 2007" even exist?

Jah Cure, "True Reflections ... A New Beginning". I suppose one can claim that R. Kelly is the American Jah Cure. A presumably career-ending child pornography charge did virtually nothing to derail R. Kelly's career either creatively or commercially. If anything, his notoriety combined with the increased quality (and quantity!) of his musical output has made him more successful than ever, even with his constant and ongoing legal troubles. Jah Cure's folk hero status in Jamaica increased while he served eight years in prison for rape, robbery, and gun possession, partly thanks to three well-received albums that were all released while he was behind bars.

In complete opposition to the thug persona that casual observers might apply to them, both men are softies on record. R. Kelly croons about the pleasures of sex, love, sex, and sex. Jah Cure pleads for peace and justice with an aching, soulful, fragile voice that weakens the knees. Both have always claimed innocence from the legal charges leveled against them.

The music on "True Reflections ...", which was released mere days after his release from prison this summer, brings Jah Cure closer to R. Kelly both in style and spirit. It's "Jah Cure -- the Love Album", and it's gentility showcases his voice more prominently than anything he's done previously. For a man who usually has weighty issues on his mind (the struggles in his personal life and the social justice issues that have always troubled him) Jah Cure, to me, always seems like a man who is very much at peace with himself and with the world. He doesn't spit vinegar and black ink, rather, he uses his soul-bearing honesty to plead for improvement in the world around him, not unlike a preacher. That said, "True Reflections" certainly sounds like the work of a person who has had a burden lifted from his shoulders, at least in comparison to his earlier work. However, it's not always for the best. Much of the album comes off as flaccid and mushy compared to the edgier beats and sharper vocals of his previous album, "Freedom Blues". He's aiming for a smoother style that edges closer to American R&B than Jamaican reggae, and it's not hard to imagine a handful of "True Reflections" tracks sounding at home on American urban radio playlists. Jah Cure is an enormously gifted vocalist, to the extent that there's really no such thing as a bad Jah Cure record, but I was hoping for something with a bit more bite.

Animal Collective, "Chores". Not their mis-step, but mine. I finally "get" this song after two years of scratching my head whenever I heard it during live recordings and on "Strawberry Jam". The turning point came courtesy of the versions Panda Bear played during his solo shows this year, where he skips Part One: Crazy Yelling and Part Three: Ambient Noodling/Segue Into Next Track on the Set List and churns out the entire song in the style of Part Two: Gauze-y Haze Held In Endlessly Suspended Fog. It's easy to get distracted by all the yelping and cymbal smashing that Animal Collective are so fond of, and miss out on the blissful moments like these. That's probably why I kept overlooking "Flesh Canoe" from "Feels", until finally coming around thanks, again, to some fantastic live versions.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pitchfork brings the snark

Just reporting the news isn't enough anymore, you have to be sure to crack jokes as well.

Since Idolator came on the scene one year ago, it feels as though sites like Pitchfork have stepped up their efforts to deliver more News With Attitude to you, the venerable indie consumer. This may very well be an inaccurate characterization of both Idolator and Pitchfork, because I will readily admit that I haven't always checked them too faithfully (this has recently changed now that I have entered the 21st century and discovered the magic of RSS readers). This "trend" certainly didn't start with those two sites, and maybe it isn't linked to the rise of the Gawker/Deadspin/BoingBoing-type sites (i.e. we're not reporting the news, we're just organizing links to the people who do all the actual work in gathering and reporting the news. Then we're gonna tell you why those people suck, or why the stuff they're reporting sucks) although I certainly feel that it is. Pitchfork overhauled their news section a couple of years ago, putting news, features, and interview coverage on equal footing with their review section, which involved drastically increasing their volume of stories and the word count contained in each item. More content equals more choice, sez I, thereby giving me a new reason to keep up with the site. That doesn't mean that the overall product is any better though. Pitchfork is a utility rather than a source of entertainment. I read and watch CNN but I don't particularly enjoy anything they do, but it is a convenient outlet for news and is better than a lot of alternatives (damning through faint praise, etc.). I don't like most of the writing on Pitchfork, but it's a nice place to stop for keeping up with news and new releases. Sometimes I even want to know what they think about an album, or whether they can keep up their 5-year streak of always giving 7.1/10 to any indie band releasing their fourth album or beyond (regardless of what they once thought of said band).

Idolator is clearly a cut above Pitchfork in the news department, and the reasons why are absurdly simple. 1. They have excellent writers. 2. Their writers are funny. Pitchfork news writers rarely pass up an opportunity to act like assholes if the situation presents itself. Rather than putting the news over, they're trying to get themselves over. Jess Harvell might scoff at the "publicity" over the fake Fergie sex tape, but when I walk away from the computer I'm more likely to think about Fergie than I would have just five minutes earlier. I'm not thinking "wow, Jess really showed them by getting in that awesome zing".

Pitchfork recently showed their mettle in this interview with Jonsi from Sigur Ros. Excerpt:

Pitchfork: Certainly you've seen many beautiful locations all over the world, but you chose to shoot all of Heima in Iceland. Other than the fact that you're from there, is there something about Iceland that ties in with the music that you make?

Birgisson: We have got this question so many times-- it's just one of the questions on the hate list [laughs].Maybe it is. Maybe, I don't know. Of course, like you said, you are from there, you grow up there, you are raised there, so definitely I think in some ways. Maybe it's just more unconsciously than something planned. It's kind of hard to say, but I think definitely we'd make different music probably if we grew up in Jamaica or something [laughs].

Paul Thompson, who conducted the interview, makes sure to intro his piece by painting Jonsi as a snob who dared scoff at some of his questions. Let's see ... the album is called "Home", the music is featured on a DVD that was filmed in intimate locations all over Iceland, hmmm ... could their native land be tied in with the music that the band makes? REALLY, COULD IT BE??? Naturally, the "Jamaica" line was used as the byline, because gay white dudes from Iceland talking about Jamaica is supposed to be funny, I guess. "The interview you thought you'd never hear -- Jonsi namedrops Jamaica, today on Pitchfork!" Plus, newsflash: build a time machine, take band X out of country A and have them grow up in country B instead. Voila, the music sounds different, what a shock. Jonsi had to morph into Captain Obvious to tell Thompson some basic axioms about music that he is apparently too dumb to know about, only for Thompson to turn his line against him in an attempt to pull off a high-larious tagline zing. At least he can take solace in knowing that plenty of other music hacks were stupid enough to ask the same question, leading to that question's one-way trip to Sigur Ros' shitlist.

Even though it appears that the interview ended abruptly due to tight scheduling, I'd like to think that Jonsi had become fed up with the ridiculousness of the interview and finally hung up. "Do you feel much pressure as a band to sort of continue to evolve or change?" Is there anything other than a "yes" answer to that question? Seriously, is anyone going to answer "no, we prefer to do the exact same shit year in and year out" except for possibly KISS? How hard is it to do a tiny bit of research about a band and to think up some non-trivial questions with non-trivial answers? This is the same website that meticulously pieced together sections of the new Radiohead album entirely from youtube links, so we know that they are capable of putting in a couple hours of work on occasion.

They don't deserve Philip Sherburne's columns, they really don't.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless", by Mike McGonigal

How wonderfully bizarre it was to start reading Mike McGonigal's contribution to the 33 1/3 book series and only a couple of days later, to be greeted with news of a long-awaited follow-up to "Loveless". More on that later on, but first, the book. McGonigal doesn't try to write a sensational expose or to uncover the untold "real story" behind the album. His opinion of the album sticks rigidly to the orthodox fanboy template -- he makes no attempt at criticism or to goad the reader into thinking about "Loveless" in a unique way. But all of this is made perfectly clear from the very beginning, as McGonigal bluntly states that the album has already been praised and dissected in so many different ways, while acknowledging that he doesn't feel that there's much left for him to write about in that regard. Instead, he digs into what has been a fairly untapped resource for information about "Loveless" -- the memories of the band members themselves. Kevin, Belinda, and Debbie are quoted at length from a series of exclusive interviews done specifically for this book during 2005 and 2006 (Colm declined to be interviewed). As far as I am aware, compared to any other piece that has been written about post-1992 MBV, this amount of access to the band members is unparalleled. McGonigal relies on them for fresh perspectives and to fill in previously unrevealed details, while for the most part he simply writes what he hears and resists the urge to play rock critic. Between the interviews, the few exercises in myth-busting, and McGonigal's easy-going style, it's plenty good enough to make this book an engaging read.*

[*aside: I found a bunch of typos and factual errors, but only one of them annoyed me: the continuing American habit of writing "You Made Me Realize" (American spelling). I can't think of another example in music in which two spellings of the title of a piece of music float around and people feel free to use whichever one is more convenient to them. McGonigal even makes light of it, getting all "well, that's the way we spell it here" on us, but this type of error is unforgiveable. The title of the EP is "You Made Me Realise". There is no editorial direction on titles. Does anyone in America have issues with the title of Talk Talk's "The Colour of Spring"? Should we be correcting the grammatical error in Oasis' "Standing on the Shoulder of Giants"? Is anyone insisting that the text of "Hamlet" should be translated to take into account modern American spellings? The whole realise/realize thing is so stupid.]

I was giddy to learn that Shields consciously borrowed from Phil Spector's production style, even as far as recording entire songs in mono (e.g. "To Here Knows When"!). The MBV-Spector similarities always seemed natural and obvious to me, and I am happy to finally find out that the connection was genuine and intentional. The most controversial chapter deals with the cost of the album and the relationship with their former label Creation. The book was pulled from printing, at the band's request, because Shields was displeased with how McGonigal told this portion of the story (granted, it's only fitting that the release of a book about "Loveless" would be subject to a series of delays). Shields felt that McGonigal was sourcing too heavily from David Cavanaugh's "The Creation Records Story: My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For the Prize", saying that it read like an accountant's take on things and that 80% of that book was made up. He goes on to claim, with ever greater and more ridiculous hyperbole, that Cavanaugh's book has dropped out of sight and practically vanished from the realm of publishing history, because everyone knows how ridiculous it truly is.

Sure, compared to Oprah's Book Club, Cavanaugh's book wasn't a big seller. Inasmuch as a book about UK indie rock can be termed "successful", "The Creation Records Story" has done quite well for itself and is fairly well-respected. It breaks down the lives of the people who ran the label in impeccably well-researched detail, but was far weaker in providing intimate detail about the bands, some of whom did not cooperate with Cavanaugh while he was writing the book. McGonigal, as you might expect, remains neutral on the subject, inasmuch as he doesn't try to take sides and declare who he'd rather believe. He quite plainly rewrote the chapter to give more space to Shields' side of the story, but continues to reference Cavanaugh throughout this book. This has to be viewed as a smart decision in the interest of having his book see the light of day.

I have no idea if Shields still has an axe to grind with McGee. Maybe he overreacted to being reminded of McGee's reminiscences, as they were told via Cavanaugh. His comments carried a strong whiff of sour grapes from where I sit (AKA the truth hurts"?), but that's something that we will never know for certain. Fifteen years on, McGee has managed to let bygones be bygones and has gone out of his way in interviews to praise MBV. He even called them the best band he ever had on Creation. Granted, these are feelings that he can afford to have after earning zillions from Oasis and shutting down his label on (more or less) his own terms, as opposed to being forced into bankruptcy by MBV's spending habits. From Shields' side, "Loveless" ended up sounding exactly how he wanted it to, and it continues to sell and to provide him with a steady income. So what gives? McGonigal's new interviews demonstrate that McGee and Shields' memories of 1989-1991 are so divergent that there is absolutely no middle ground with which to reconcile their stories. McGee tells of numerous near-breakdowns from various Creation employees and and having to borrow cash from his parents to release master tapes of "Loveless" in exchange for unpaid studio bills. Shields tells of the entire band being literally homeless during that time, squatting at friends' flats because Creation claimed they didn't have the money to pay them regular salaries. What's more, he says "Loveless" didn't cost Creation anything because it was recorded using MBV's own money that they had earned through sales of their other records.

For the rest of us, it's an individual choice as to whose persons' version of the truth is more trustworthy. My take is that Shields was far too immersed in his own problems at the time (finishing the album plus his deteriorating relationship with Belinda, both of which are discussed quite candidly in the book) and was not seeing the big picture. By secluding himself in an all-out effort to craft the album as he wanted it, he probably took no notice of how many livelihoods were dependent on the decisions he was making. In a fair bit of high comedy, he confidently claims that he added up those studio bills himself (um, from memory, and long after the fact) and the total couldn't possibly be any more than 160K pounds. You know, nowhere close to the 250K that other people have claimed, end of story, why the complaints?, no sirree, get off my back jack, etc. Yes, a measly 160K -- a mere pittance for an indie label run by drug-inhaling hooligans who, collectively, didn't even have a sixth grader's grasp of accounting.

Last week saw MBV retake the lead in their sixteen year race versus Guns N Roses to be the first to release the long-awaited, prohibitively expensive, endlessly delayed follow-up to their highly acclaimed November 1991 album. Axl and his hired guns looked to have built an insurmountable lead once they started touring again, but talk of a release date for "Chinese Democracy" has died down considerably in the past couple of years. Little did we know that MBV were lulling us all into a false sense of security while they retooled and readied their Myspace page for worldwide release!

We all tend to get misty-eyed even at the vaguest details about any remote possibility of perhaps maybe hearing some new MBV material, and although this kind of news still tugs at my heartstrings, in my head I know better than to get excited because we've heard all this before. Many many many times, in fact. McGonigal cops out a bit at the end of his book, alluding that "Loveless" is so good that he has no burning need to ever hear another MBV record and that we should all stop bugging Kevin about it, because the guy really has been busy all these years. I call bullshit. People only make these kinds of excuses for bands once they've been lying dormant for near-geologic periods, at which point mythologizing takes the place of instinctual anticipation. Nobody would have claimed, in 1993 (or 1994 or 1995 or 1996) that "Loveless" was just too damn good, so don't bother with the follow-up. There hasn't been another MBV record because Shields hasn't gotten around to making one, not because of the distractions of broken mixing desks, interpersonal band relations, and other side projects.

He didn't have a problem getting off his ass to release material under the MBV name for the "Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip" compilation. This album, BTW, kicked off the first bout of "they're back now ... no really!" hysteria as it featured the first new material released under the MBV name since 1993. It happened so long ago that a lot of fans don't even remember that particular "comeback" (McGonigal neglected to mention it in his review of the band's post-"Loveless" activities). The waiting has gone on for so long that it literally dates back to the days when I first discovered the internet and would track down MBV fan sites and message boards to look for info on their new record. One year, I remember reading about how MBV were under pressure to deliver some sort of finished product to Island, but no prob, Shields claimed that he was 100% sure they'd have at least an EP done by the end of the year. I believe that year was 1997. In 2004, Amazon incredibly began taking pre-orders for an MBV box set that featured remastered and live material. There was even a shipping date listed.

To sum it up: I haven't stopped hoping, but I've definitely stopped offering predictions.

[update 15/11/07 ... and the very next day, they announce tour dates. A Coachella appearance is rumoured for 2008, and I am currently entertaining silly dreams of flying to California if that happens.]

Friday, November 02, 2007

Amy Winehouse and the rest of the MTV Europe Awards

The Bad: Ummmm ... the entire show, actually. The whole thing crept by like some never-ending joke that I -- and more importantly, the Munich audience -- weren't getting. There were no show-stealing, kitchen-sink performances like the ones that Kanye West can put on with regularity. The endless string of bar scenes hosted by the Foo Fighters were the very definition of a time filler. Sitting at home, I enjoyed Snoop's mini-monologues, but almost everything he said was met with a flat response, with the exception of the "how you doin' Europe"-type exclamations that prodded the audience to cheer. After a while, I got the feeling that the muted response was because most of the people in attendance didn't understand his accent.

The program directors made a major mis-step with some of the guests and talent, in that they didn't seem to have a clue what the Munich crowd wanted to see. When Paul van Dyk gets zero reaction, and local boy Boris Becker gets 1/3 the reaction of Nelly Furtado, then you've booked the wrong people. Getting the right local or national acts onto the show should be childs play. One of the most intriguing things about the EMA's being held in a different country every year is that you get to see the superstar reactions for national heroes that we (people who don't live in those countries) haven't heard of. A few years ago, Rammstein played the EMA's in Frankfurt and the crowd rewrote the book on "going apeshit". Where was this year's Rammstein?

The Good:
1. Snoop's lederhosen. Everything Snoop wore.

2. The raised awards podium overlooking the entire arena.

3. The magician in the bar (the only redeeming quality of those bar scenes).

4. Amy Winehouse. OMG Amy Winehouse. Between Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse, there was bound to be some kind of drug and alcohol-induced meltdown. Well, Doherty was well-behaved. Amy Winehouse made Britney Spears' appearance at the MTV Awards look like tea and crumpets at the Ritz.

The problem with scoring Amy Winehouse as a last-minute addition to an awards show was made brilliantly clear -- booking her the week before the show doesn't give her handlers enough time to sober her up. First, she accepted an award in front of a crowd that adored her. Obviously zonked on some wild paranoia-inducing stuff, she slowly and deliberatively walked to the mic, eyes peering around her as if preparing herself to be ambushed at any moment. She stood in front of the mic for a few moments, soaking in the cheers inasmuch as anyone so doped up could possibly soak in anything other than the rapidly-chattering voices racing through her head, sputtered a quiet "thank you", and slowly turned around to leave. Boos were clearly audible.

Part of me (0.00001%) still held out hope that it was all simply a case of nerves. The next hour did nothing to improve her condition, and only five seconds into her performance of "Back To Black", her background singers and her band were doing their best to not laugh on stage. Their professionalism stood in obviously contrast to Winehouse's out-of-tune, incomprehensible warbling. Considering that her band knew exactly where they were (performing on the MTV Europe Awards in front of one billion people) and Winehouse didn't have a clue if she was in Munich, Mumbai, or the women's bathroom in the bar where she snorted drugs the previous night, the contrast was hardly surprising.

At times, she tried to dance, or at least perform various motions that were vaguely synchronized to the music. She could barely coordinate herself enough to place her hand on her hip and keep it there. She looked down for nearly the entire performance. When she wasn't doing that, she was blankly staring into space toward nothing in particular, her head slightly cocked to one side, Her hairdo was piled high over her head and almost appeared to be weighing her down. Her caked-on makeup made her look much older than her 24 years.

I'm listing this under "the Good" because it was the only truly memorable happening of the night, the only appearance that we'll still remember once next year's show rolls around. I suppose I enjoyed all this in the same sense that I'd enjoy any other celebrity train wreck, but it's too bad that Amy Winehouse has been trying so damned hard to unravel her life in public over the past few months.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Very Rough Guide to Good Albums

I'm always writing about end-of-year lists (my lists, other people's lists, year-end polls ...) but I don't write much about exactly what makes a good album so good, a great album so great, or a Best Album of the Year so different from All the Other Albums of the Year. With a hefty dose of arbitrariness, let's identify a few categories and demonstrate their utility by using some recent albums (including those from 2007) as examples.

Strongly unbalanced albums. These albums contain one or two exceptional songs that basically obliterate everything else on there. Note the contrast with the Verve release, which is 2/3 godlike, 1/3 ordinary; whereas the strongly unbalanced album is more like 1/3 godlike, 2/3 material of unspecified quality (which could actually be quite good, just nowhere close to the quality of the other 1/3). It's been that kind of year for members of Animal Collective. "Strawberry Jam" contains "Reverend Green", "Fireworks", and a bunch of other tracks that are left in their dust. Panda Bear's "Person Pitch" has "Bros", which is not only the best track on the album but is one of the best of the year.

In subcatagorizing these two, the key difference between them is to consider what you're left with once you remove that fantastic leading 1/3. Is the remaining 2/3 still essential listening? If "Yes", then that album is Top Ten of the Year material in most years, if "No", then it's most likely not. Applied to "Strawberry Jam", the answer is "not really", but with "Person Pitch", it's "absolutely". Last year, "Altar" by SunnO))) and Boris fit the "Yes" category, and "The Air Force" by Xiu Xiu came closest to fulfilling the "No" condition, but in a year where the quality of the Top Ten falls off precipitously after #5 or so, albums like that can still rank as high as #8. Compare this to 2005, which was a much stronger year. Here, I'd maybe slot Madonna (#20a) and Six By Seven (#18) into the "No" category, and even then those are borderline calls.

Pleasant albums. Decent enough, but not so good that you would ever listen to it on its own, without either cooking, reading, watching TV, working, or some other very common music-listening mental distraction. Perfect for random play, either by itself or lumped in with a few more albums. Apparat's "Walls" fits the description very well. The major flaw with this type of album, obviously, is that you listen to it without really *listening* to it, so the melodies have a memory half-life that lasts to the end of the day at best. In the long run you never bother getting too attached to this kind of album, and they essentially drop out of one's personal consciousness once the calendar year is out and newer albums start getting A-space placement on one's hard drive or CD rack. In a weak year, these can crack the personal Top Ten due to the force of oft-listened familiarity (i.e. Jan Jellinek's "Tierbeobachtungen" in 2006). Ordinarily, you'd prefer to not have these mini-albatrosses around your neck when reviewing your charts a few years down the line, but in most years, I think you'd be hard-pressed -- be it as a fan or a critic -- to not have one or two of these albums in your Top Ten each year. There's nothing wrong with having a bit of audio junk food lying around, it's just a natural element of everyday musical enjoyment.

Rotating favourite song. This is #1 on my list of ways to separate the Album of the Year Contenders and Personal Classics in the Making from the sizable chaff of more ordinary musical releases. Maybe you don't think it's such a rare thing that one's favourite song would hop around an album during the course of a year. I believe that most of the time, people's favourites get locked in after two or three listens. Sometimes these are the inescapable singles, but not necessarily.

This year, I'm not sure that any albums fit this category for me, which is a bit worrying because even in the weakest years, there tends to be at least one album like this that stands out. Even a weak year like 2006 had "Ticket Crystals", but 2007 has been a much better year for albums overall. 2005 was even stronger and provided two textbook cases in "Takk ..." and "Before the Dawn Heals Us".

Once in a while, there are exceptions, where an album doesn't really come close to being the best of the year, but features rotating favourite songs. I find that The Arcade Fire's "Funeral" is one rare example of this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Internet Concert Experience

1. NPR brings the goods ... I listened to the Animal Collective show today, and it was great to finally hear a quality sound recording of their tour. The new songs, despite my initial reservations, have been really growing on me, particularly "Dancer" and "Brother Sport". The extended, stripped-down reworkings of "Fireworks" (now "Fireworks/Essplode/Fireworks") are simply spectacular.

I'm unfamiliar with "All Songs Considered" host Bob Boilen, but if his comments before and after the concerts are anything to judge him on, then I fear for the brainlessness of his interviews. Thanks to Boilen, I have learned that the crowds at these shows really love the bands on stage, and can go crazy when hearing songs that they like. Imagine that, fans paying money to see their favourite bands play concerts and having a good time while watching them on stage.

2. Time to start following Les Inrockutibles online (and to brush up on my French). This link is for an Animal Collective session, but there's plenty of juicy-looking stuff in the archives. As of this writing, the lead story and live video is by Sigur Ros, and speaking of which ...

3. The "Heima" soundtrack is streaming on their Myspace page now. The complete track listing is featured in the media player, but it makes for a fairly short 2CD package (less than 100 minutes) if this is exactly what will appear on the official release. The new songs aren't flooring me, after one listen, I felt that they were trying too hard to sound expansive. Then again, you could level that criticism against everything Sigur Ros have ever recorded, so maybe I need to hear this a few more times. Highlights were "Samskeyti" and the first (of two!) ten-minute versions of "Von", which aims for -- and reaches -- the epic, string-drenched, heart-sobbing heights of the renditions they occasionally played on their 2002 tour (search: the Vienna version, which is probably the single greatest song they have recorded to date).

All this discussion may be irrelevant because the songs likely don't make sense outside of the context of the film.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Orbital, "Live at Glastonbury", Paul Hartnoll, "The Ideal Condition"

It's hard to believe that Orbital split up only three years back because it already feels like it was a long, long time ago. Their post-90's output (actually, their post-1996 or 1997 output) occasionally bordered on embarrassing, and was for the most part simply a portrait of a couple of ex-ravers trying to cheer themselves up and remind themselves of a time when techno was more fun and didn't have to be about depressing topics like religiously-themed alien abduction and saving the whales.

If nothing else, the DVD is a reminder of how much has changed in live video display technology over the past decade or so. Simple video loops and the occasional vibrating sine wave was the apex of high-tech in 1994. These nervous, spastic oscilloscope traces provided a sensible backdrop for the all too prevalent pre-millenial jitters of the time. Years later, live techno and spectacular video accompaniment went hand-in-hand. Their 2002 show, which was bathed in enormous quantities of light and colour, is a striking example of this.

Nevertheless, putting all splashiness aside, the 2002 and 2004 shows contain music that was completely out of sync with the times. It feels like it's been so long since Orbital broke up because in those final years, it was as if they had already gone missing. The bleeps, the drum loops, the goofy waving to the crowd (not to mention hearing the Belinda/Bon Jovi samples for the 100000th time) were all the work of a rave relic from a time long past. The cheery anthems of "The Altogether" couldn't sound more out of place when heard alongside the clicky, minimal techno and house that was coming into prominence at the time. Even when held up against electroclash, the short-lived semi-movement that supposedly brought dancing and fun back to European dance culture, Orbital's work in 2001-2 stands out as a curious time piece -- they represent the persistent hanging around of the old guard, a throwback to the dancing habits of the previous generation starring a once-legendary group churning out crowd pleasing hits to a crusty festival crowd, but nothing more.

I could stop there, but you probably know that there's more to it than that little exercise in myopic (albeit truthful) analysis. Focusing on any one year is to miss their career's overall plot arc. Adhering to this type of tunnel vision is not a fair analysis considering that this CD/DVD collection is a multi-part retrospective of a band whose widest fame was founded and perpetuated over a decade at this very festival. It ignores the pivotal role that Orbital played in making "live techno" something other than an oxymoron with a convenient punchline. It ignores how they were one of Glastonbury's most consistent draws during the past decade -- including the historical importance of their breakout 1994 gig (which almost singlehandedly dug techno from the never-read middle pages of the music weeklies and vaulting it onto the front cover) and how bringing the Orbital project to a permanent close in the same place exactly ten years later was the obvious and fitting conclusion to their amazing career. Fully appreciating the 2004 gig is only possible by viewing the performances from the intervening years.

The sequencing and track selections are exceptional. Considering the restrictions imposed during the compilation process (approx. equal time given to each of the five performances, keeping the total running time to a little over two hours, no repeated tracks), this is just about the best selection possible. "Walk Now" might seem like an unusual choice for opening the set, but it was important to capture a portion of the incredible 1994 show in sequence, and they wisely chose to feature a section with the unedited "Are We Here" and the gorgeous "Attached", which even then was rarely performed live despite being one of the best songs Orbital ever recorded. The next year, they played mainly the same tracks as they had in 1994, and in that vein, the 1995 selections capture the middle third of that set. "Impact" is included, naturally, since no live Orbital comp could possibly claim to be complete without it (probably the only track for which I would make that claim).

The selections from 1999 illustrate why that year was a transition period for Orbital. They began settling into the grandfatherly role that they'd happily entrench themselves in for the next five years. The live sets began reflecting that, turning into "greatest hits" galas rather than focusing on their newest material. "Halcyon" might have been a sure-fire crowd pleaser, but they'd been caning it live for years with hardly any variation. It had become representative of how much their show needed freshening up if they wanted to progress as a live band. But they didn't want that, and were content to continue relying on various combinations of tracks like "Halcyon", "Chime", "Satan" to pop the crowds. Whether that's a positive or a negative is largely a matter of personal taste, I suppose. Their sensational take on "Style/Bagpipe Style" shows how things might have turned out if they'd pushed a more challenging, kitchen sink approach. "Middle of Nowhere" turned out to be more influential than it had any right to be, once the likes of Apparat and Ellen Allien dusted off those grinning, pinball machine melodies.

"The Altogether" might have been a weak album, but its two best moments, "Frenetic" and "Funny Break" sparkle in this extended, proggy form, rubbing shoulders next to "The Girl With the Sun In Her Head" and "Belfast" (arguably Orbital's finest moment). Along with the hypnotizing light show, this four track segment is a grower that very nearly steals the whole CD/DVD set, with only the 1994 selections rivaling it for emotional heft, variety, and dancefloor bliss.

The 2004 set was a semi-big deal in musical circles, for it was billed as Orbital's final gig (in actual fact, they played one final gig a few days later on John Peel's show, which in turn was one of the last shows that *he* ever did). It was important enough for the BBC to broadcast it live on the web, resulting in one of the sunniest moments in yours trulys' otherwise drab summer of 2004, thanks to a pile of beers and Orbital blasting through the amplifier. The "Dr. Who"/"Chime" setcapper could be seen from a mile away but there was really no other acceptable way to bring their career to a close than with their most famous song and three or four fake endings. Fischerspooner were paid a zillion dollars by record execs who hoped they could create moments like this. The fact that they couldn't pull it off (and to be fair, nobody else could or is currently threatening to) shows how singular Orbital truly were. They went from playing raves and small club dates to being Glastonbury headliners and NME gossip fodder in a matter of months (1994 was definitely the year for that type of mercurial success in the UK, although Blur and Oasis accomplished it on a much higher level). They helped drag techno onto critics lists and became pop stars all the same, even gaining a mild following in the US and headlining a great Lollapalooza that nobody remembers. Their music could ring triumphant in the key of E or exude paranoia and despair -- and both sides of the coin resulted in some of the most recognizable tracks of their career. Any remaining doubters must turn to this CD/DVD to see how they did it.

Afterward, there's an opportunity for lifting any lingering sadness over Orbital's absence from the music world. Thankfully, the story continues with Paul Hartnoll's "The Ideal Condition" On initial listens, it appeared to pick up roughly where Orbital left off, i.e. with bleepy melodic techno with a strong pop flavour that includes vocals and actual choruses. Once I peer deeper (the benefit of a few months of hindsight definitely helps), these similarities feel more superficial, and are mainly chalked up to the eye for variety shared by the "Blue Album" and "The Ideal Condition". Both albums mesh several styles successfully, but Hartnoll never attempts any "Impact"-style thumpers like "One Perfect Sunrise", and thankfully stays well clear of the inane goofiness of "Acid Pants".

Instead, "The Ideal Condition" picks up where the first minute of "Middle of Nowhere" left off. During that glorious opening of "Way Out", it was looking like Orbital had constructed something even more grandiose than "In Sides" -- a weepy techno album stuffed with epic symphonic touches. "Haven't We Met Before", the strings-only album closer "Dust Motes", and the jaunty, Mozartian "Unsteady Waltz" display the compositional flair that "Way Out" hinted at only fleetingly. "Simple Sounds" recalls the bleepy, classic sound of Orbital at their best, but adds some bonus retro chic in the form of chirpy flute solos that would have been at home on early 70's Kraftwerk albums. Best of all, "Please" arrives insta-ready for festival performances and radio play. It's swooning chorus intones "you know you've got me", and who can resist a song that tells you that you can't resist it? Who would have expected this from Robert Smith -- yes, that Robert Smith -- at this point in his career? "Please" is the type of playful, cheeky song that he's tried to capture ever since "Lovecats", and since "Lovecats" is basically intolerable these days, I propose that we erase it from the minds of mankind and put "Please" in its spot.

All in all, it's the strongest effort by a Hartnoll since "Middle of Nowhere", and maybe even including "Middle of Nowhere" (which had a fairly boring middle third, a problem that doesn't plague "The Ideal Condition" with its sleek 45 minute run time).

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Three Follow-Ups

Sigur Ros, "Heima". This is the title of their new DVD, which they've been screening all week. If the trailer is anything to go by, it's going to be spectacular. My voice is cracking into falsetto just thinking about it. It's looking like a two hour love letter to Iceland, a series of breathtaking postcards, which all in all, composes the best propaganda film that the Icelandic Tourism Ministry could have ever hoped for. All this, plus some new music!

I must say that I feel vindicated when it comes to Sigur Ros. I praised the Untitled album at a time when most others had stopped fawning over their music using a generous array of cryptic glacier references, and had switched to descriptors like "boring", "coma-inducing", "unbearably pretentious", while making fun of lyrics sung in "Hopelandish" (fine, that last one still kind of applies). Now they're encroaching on a spot as the heartstring-pulling, symphonic Pink Floyd that it's OK to like. Yay!

The Go Team, "Proof of Youth". As follow-ups go, this one is as indistinguishable from its predecessor as any album I can remember. Sure, there are general similarities between "Proof of Youth" and "Thunder Lightning Strike" (length, pacing, production, etc.) but one can easily trainspot on a song-by-song basis too. It's almost as if they simply sat in the studio with the latter album, went through it track by track, and for each one they said "let's write another song just like this". Most notably, "Patricia's Moving Picture" with it's bittersweet, dewy optimism, succeeds in 1) closing the album, 2) feeling quite out of place with the rest of the album, but a perfect chill-down, album closer all the same, 3) being probably the best track on the record. All of these qualities can be applied to "Everyone's a VIP To Someone", the closing track on "TLS". Even the basic structure of the songs are almost xerox copies of each other, right down to the double-repeated big finish.

The only meaningful difference between the two albums, at least to my ears, is that "PoY" is even goofier and more playful than "TLS", as implausible as that might sound. In parts, I feel that I'm nodding my head to a segment of a "Sesame Street" soundtrack, particularly during the jump rope-ing, singalong chorus of "Doing It Right". The other difference, unfortunately, is that "PoY" isn't as good as "TLS", which was the catchiest thing since chicken pox and became embedded in my head right from the first listen.

On an opposite tack, PJ Harvey usually pulls an about-face with each new album, and "White Chalk" is no exception (and thankfully so, considering the horrible quality of her career nadir, "Uh Huh Her"). It's mostly claustrophobic piano-led ballads, with PJH channeling a fair bit of Tori Amos but also the angel-haired folk weirdness of Joanna Newsom. In fact, if I'm reading tea leaves for 2007 Pazz and Jop, I'm thinking that the combination of PJH name recognition (not to mention her high status among the votership as a two-time album of the year winner) plus spin-offs of the 2006 "Y's" vote could add up to a high showing for "White Chalk" in the poll.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Pornographers, "Challengers"; Emma Pollack, "Adrenaline" (single)

New Pornographers have been indie rock poster children practically since their conception. With those accolades come responsibilities such as the need to exude geeky cool, spew quirky lyrical imagery. and other indie rock hallmarks. They'd settled on a formula that had produced three nearly indistinguishable albums, a formula that they could have pleasantly ridden with until the end of time or until they got bored with it. Many fans would have been perfectly happy with the first option, but it seems that the second option was the one that actually came to pass. "Challengers" is a pop album with wistful boy/girl vocal interplay and the breeziest, catchiest tunes of their career by far. Their over-reliance on choppy tempos and bouncy guitar hacking has nearly vanished -- in its place, we have the new Delgados. In the meantime, former Delgado Emma Pollack wants to be the new Coldplay. Or maybe she is moonlighting as an uncredited songwriter on the new New Pornographers album?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Seefeel, "Quique" (reissue)

Even when they were around, Seefeel were criminally underrated, and now that they've long since split, they've been sadly forgotten. Their blending of MBV's guitar pyrotechnics, Cocteau Twins' ethereal hymns, and the Orb's free-range flotation was completely out of place with anything going on in rock or techno at the time (there were some exceptions, such as A R Kane, although they had long since jumped the shark by 1993. Nevertheless, their latter-day "dreampop" was a virtual blueprint for what Slowdive would do shortly before they too disintegrated). By not fitting into any then-existing scenes, they never found their fan-base niche, thereby leaving few people behind who were likely to remember them. Then again, they flaunted their outsider status in interviews, so one could say that they were working hard at tarnishing their eventual legacy practically from the moment they first started getting press. And yet again, if you absolutely *had* to shoehorn them somewhere, it would be with the crowd of occasional ravers with a strong curiosity for techno but who, nonetheless, were more comfortable getting stoned in their basements than in going out dancing. In other words, Seefeel's fans were prototype IDM'ers, but unfortunately for the band, that genre and fanbase didn't exist yet as an outlet for this type of music.

Despite being a near-completist, I never owned "Quique" on CD. I still have my old cassette version, which somehow never got re-purchased along with my other 1993 cassette faves (the relative unavailability of "Quique" has something to do with that). Overall, Seefeel dominated my listening habits across multiple formats in 1994. The "Polyfusia" compilation was one of the first five or so CDs that I ever bought. It is a strong encapsulation of early Seefeel before they got all weirded out and ditched the guitars for something far more sinister. Afterward, the band became dominated by the sounds in Mark Clifford's head. Fletcher, Seymour and Peacock later regrouped as Scala, more or less picking up where Seefeel c. 1993 had left off. But once the calendar flipped to 1994, the actual Seefeel started to split from the style they'd become known for, beginning with the "Starethroughs EP". Darker and dubbier than anything they'd released to that point, each successive track is more frightening than the one before it, virtually telegraphing their eventual slide into paranoid isolationism as the EP plays on.

The "Fracture/Tied EP", which was released as a 10" single in the leadup to the release of their second album "Succour", was undoubtedly the point of no return. Even at their most other-worldliness, the Cocteau Twins' music was always grounded in a certain warmth and compassion thanks to Liz Frazer's voice and Robin Guthrie's shimmering layers of guitar. Any remaining stylistic links between the Cocteaus and Seefeel dropped out of sight with this EP. The A-side's crackling rhythms, akin to flailing away on an aluminum pie plate with a wooden spoon, signified the end of their fascinations with guitar and the emergence of a jittery, mechanical form of ambient isolationism. Autechre were one year behind Seefeel at this stage -- with "Amber", they were going through their own "warm" phase, and by the next year, they'd take tracks like "Fracture" to their limits by crafting something even more inhuman, more alien.

But before their music drifted off into those neo-industrial wastelands, there was "Quique". Seefeel at their most accessible, synth-tickling, sunshine-drenched best. The Seefeel that were ten years ahead of their time in anticipating Morr Music and a host of other guitar strumming folktronica bands, which is undoubtedly why most of "Quique" remains remarkably fresh. In the liner notes, Mark Clifford writes how he'd forgotten how little unreleased music was left from that period. That means they were scraping the bottom of a very shallow barrel when compiling the second CD, most of which is vastly inferior to the material on the proper album. So credit goes to the band for making wise choices back in 1993 with their track selections on the album. Regardless, fans will certainly enjoy hearing as much as possible from "Quique"-era Seefeel, and curious not-yet fans are in for a treat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Animal Collective, "Strawberry Jam"

Until quite recently, Animal Collective took a somewhat lackadaisical approach to, well, let's call it "full band participation". Those who wanted to involve themselves with a project under the AC name were welcome, and if they stayed away for whatever reason, then it was no big deal. Before the release of "Strawberry Jam", only "Campfire Songs" and "Feels" were recorded with input from all four band members. Once the band's critical and popular acclaim hit a new peak in 2005 with "Feels", it appears that they hit a turning point. Every subsequent release would have too much riding on it to not require everyone's full attention. Suddenly they had to concern themselves with things like their creative direction and long-term career planning, instead of just mucking around in the studio or at live gigs with whoever happened to be around.

This is a band that loves to experiment with new songs on tour -- most songs on "Feels" had been regularly played live for nearly two years before the album was released, and the same can be said for nearly everything on "Strawberry Jam" (even current live sets feature a spate of even newer songs). Writer's block is apparently a non-issue with these guys. Deciding how the album would eventually sound presented a greater difficulty. But they knew they didn't want it to sound anything like "Feels".

"Feels" was their guitar album. That means their obsession with doing something different -- without guitars -- meant that they had to remove all the best things about "Feels". The gauzy drones that backed so much of the record highlighted nearly every track from a sonic standpoint and provided a counterbalance to the band's zanier impulses. I used to be (and still am) nonplussed by most AC records, and only joined the ranks of the converted with "Feels". With each new release, the superfans emerge to decry the more restrained sound of the album compared with their more freeflowing live shows. And now I've become one of them, because a big complaint I have with "Strawberry Jam". But I also worship at the feet of guitar-drenched albums like "Feels". What else, other than those swarming layers of guitar, could have linked "Flesh Canoe" (which slots itself beautifully next to MBV's "Glider" period) with "The Purple Bottle"'s frantic ode to giddy love?

So "Strawberry Jam" is their electronic album, and it's not that they go too far with the electronics, but that they don't go far enough. Once you subtract the sonic density behind many AC recordings, then the zonked out wackiness starts coming to the forefront, and that's not a good thing. Without enough sound smacking you in the face, parts of "Strawberry Jam" come off like They Might Be Giants with a few electronic bleeps added in. "Reverend Green" ups the sonic mayhem until it reaches a blissful density overload, and along with "Fireworks", these tracks build majestically and jam their way into the kind of semi-epic explorations that the band typically excels at. "Peace Bone" contains the type of pogo-beat and caveman chanting that they use for all their singles, and although the formula is a fun one, it doesn't go far enough over the top. Instead of the wimpy, two dollar electronic backbeat, they could have gone full-mode crazed hardcore techno and blasted the track into overdrive, but even that would have put them in a virtual tie with what Super Furry Animals were doing ten years ago (example: "Mountain People").

Still, the band is on a hot streak where nearly everything they do feels at least a little bit right (although the new tracks they've been playing live aren't exciting me at all just yet). I'm not sure I'd put money on this album not being embarrassingly unlistenable in a few years, though.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Britney Spears, "Gimme More"

This leaked track (leaked by Britney's people to build advance hype, no doubt) has been kicking around the internet for about a week now, and most opinions range between "better than expected" and "fairly impressed". I have no idea where one draws that reaction from a track so horrible. From the opening seconds, straight from the "it's Britney, bitch" opening line (oh, she's sounding it off now, she's so baaad ... don't call it a comeback!) and the muffled, "vocals from a megaphone" whining that kicks off 90% of her repertoire, it's clear that Britney hasn't woken up to the fact that it's 2007 and she might want to try something a bit different. The beat is lifeless and pedestrian, and the croaky two-word chorus is about as catchy and addictive as piss-flavoured cigarettes. One minute and a half into it, the load is blown and the song runs out of anything interesting to say or do, and the rest is little more than endless repetitions on the chorus ("Hey Jude" it isn't), filling time until the allotted four minute time slot runs out.

postscript: I wrote this on the afternoon of (i.e. before!) the MTV Video Awards ... honest!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Newish Albums: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Will Continue

The Ugly: Robbie Williams, "Rudebox".

In late 2003, there were some weird stories swirling around concerning Robbie Williams. I read that he wasn't handling his Knebworth comedown very well. In one interview, he claimed he was retiring. Elsewhere, he began speaking about altering his persona to that of a freakier, more zonked out character named Pure Francis, whose music would dabble in strange forms of electronic squiggliness.

After devouring Chris Heath's "Feel" earlier this year, I discovered the real truth. He did retire, but his retirement ended as soon as the interview ended, i.e. he meant it only during the literal moment that he said it. Hey, we all get pissy sometimes. The Pure Francis character wasn't a reaction to the comedown from Knebworth, but rather, a way to avoid the pressures of it. Messing about in Stephen Duffy's cramped studio proved to be a welcome distraction from rehearsal and the general realization that he was about to play the biggest gigs in UK history. It's too bad that Pure Francis never came to be, and the fruits of the Duffy collaborations (the "Intensive Care" album) were fairly indistinguishable from the music Robbie had been making for his entire career up to that point.

Along came 2006, and the re-invention finally came to pass on "Rudebox". Williams shook up his normal work routine and decided to work with a bevy of producers instead of just one. Somewhere along the way, he ditched stadium pop and decided to become a dancefloor diva.

At this point, even if you'd been closely following his career, you'd be forgiven for rolling your eyes at the prospect of Robbie going disco, chasing the electronica boom roughly ten years after Eric Clapton did. And why? For a laugh? Just because he can? Because he no longer gives a fuck? Fortunately, none of those three fears would turn out to be true, but before moving on, let's pause to examine how NOW magazine churned out, as they often do, the worst review in the universe. I hear that 1995 called and it wants its Britpop Review Spreadsheet back, because as you can clearly see from Evan Davies' writing, apparently any and all English artists are cheeky pop pranksters that are in it only for the laughs and for making delightfully naff videos. The notion that anybody might take them seriously as genuine artists who mean something to real music fans is nowhere in the vicinity of the radar.

Is it a great album? Far from it, but it's easily Williams' most inspired album to date, chiefly because he cared enough to try to craft a bonkers epic masterpiece without caring about whether he'd succeed or not. "Rudebox"'s closest recent contemporary is Smashing Pumpkins' "Adore" -- another case where the artists in question sold a zillion albums previously but still chose to release something weird and challenging in lieu of something they were certain would sell, made the album too long by about 25-30 minutes but still forced you to sit through it all because as everyone knows, becoming bored at times is essential for truly "getting" any epic piece of music; "went electronic" and succeeded far beyond expectations in four or five styles that they'd never attempted before but failed miserably with another two or three, and finally: produced some sensational piece of music but dragged down the overall product with the bad songs. Unfortunately, the latter group will likely define the album in the long run in the minds of casual (or is it cynical?) listeners.

Songs like "Dickhead" are fairly inoffensive, in that they were *clearly* done for a dumb laugh and can be easily ignored. But early in the album, the cover versions start piling up and nearly kill the record straight out of the gate. "Bongo Bong and Je Ne T'Aime Plus" is brutal (and a terrible song to boot), "Kiss Me" is fun but is a karaoke experiment that never needed to see the light of day, and "We're the Pet Shop Boys" (featuring the Pet Shop Boys) seems to last forever and is far too concerned with preserving it's own sense of self-irony than in being an entertaining song. It's strange though, that these bad covers rub shoulders with a home run version of Human League's "Louise", coupled with the tender "Burslem Normals" which isn't a Human League cover but could easily pass for one. Adding to the contradictions is the Pet Shop Boys -- after failing miserably with their other aforementioned "Rudebox" production -- who, with their spectacular "She's Madonna", brilliantly mimick the classic funny/sad moments of their peak period singles. "Never Touch That Switch" is a highly addictive piece of warped electro-funk that has to rank #1 on the list of things you never thought could be written about a Robbie Williams song.

Best of all is the pairing of "The 80's" and "The 90's", a couple of autobiographical sketches that are delivered in a passable Mike Skinner-style rap. The lyrics are simple but touching, and the little musical touches on "The 90's" (coming off as a cross between Matchbox 20's jangly guitar pop and "Great Escape"-era Blur complete with trombone solo) are really what make the song so great.

Monday, August 13, 2007

RIP Tony Wilson

Just a few things that made Wilson so great:

1. That batshit moment in neworderstory when he talks about Ian Curtis' death, and he states, completely plainfaced, that Joy Division would have been "as big as Pink Floyd if he'd lived."
2. That other batshit moment in neworderstory when Barney Sumner yells "you ruined my career!" at Wilson in a semi-ironic manner on a mock game-show but you can just tell that he was sort of serious about it and all Wilson can do is look sheepish.
3. Allowing himself to be immortalized by Steve Coogan in "24 Hour Party People" ... the movie is so-so but as a series of snapshots of Wilson's remarkable life, it couldn't be a better tribute.
4. Opening the Hacienda against all good sense and sanity, having it blossom into a cultural touchstone for 80's dance music (albeit never a profitable one), then romanticizing it at every opportunity. See also: Happy Mondays, signing and promoting.

And that was what made Wilson so entertaining -- he was the eternal optimist that you couldn't bring yourself to hate. He might have been irrelevant to the industry once Factory imploded (and the complete invisibility of the follow-up label, Factory Too, really hammered the nail in deep) but you could always could on Wilson to pop up in the middle of an NME news item, giving his two cents on some new band or controversy. There is a generation of Mancunians -- among them Mark E Smith and Peter Hook -- who were slightly bonkers (at least in quotes) but whose reputations had reached a certain level of immunity. That combination made them a bottomless source for good press, which is a tough combination to pull off consider how easily pop stars can become boring / the public can become bored of them. These guys could always say anything they wanted at any time and people would always tune in, not necessarily out of reverence, but for simple curiosity. I always got a kick out of reading Tony Wilson's two cents on something. And why not? He used to run the coolest music label on the planet.