Saturday, June 27, 2015

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 23

"If you're in the mood to hear mixes available only in heaven" - 132 minutes

The first Shesek tribute was so much fun, I decided to do a sequel.

Things didn't go according to plan, as usual.  The sequel turned out to be a rather different animal.  Instead of scuzzy rock with a few dance elements, it became a tribute to the dance music I listened to circa 1990.  The last mix captured the mood of the bar (at least as I remember it) more accurately, but this mix is a hell of a lot more fun.  Old school tunes rub shoulders with newer tracks from the likes of Efdemin and Radio Slave, with some mid-90's Tresor thrown in the middle, and a zonked-out ambient/noise finish.

Monday, June 22, 2015

NEU!, "NEU! 4"; Brandon Flowers, "The Desired Effect"

Hardly anybody ever talks about this album (including the surviving core member of Neu, Michael Rother, who disowned it when it was released without his permission) and even fewer have bothered to listen to it.  Until a few weeks ago I was one of the large majority of Neu fans who had never heard it.   And on the surface, why bother tainting one's impression of the band and their timeless mid-70's album trilogy by subjecting oneself to a dour stuck-in-the-80's palette of spotlessly clean production, horribly dated synthetic slap bass sounds, and sterile guitars mixed so blandly as to contain not a grain of the excitement and danger of rock and roll?

I hate to be that guy, but "Neu! 4" is great, perhaps even the equal of any of the first three Neu albums, all of which are patchy anyhow and tend to be dominated by their standout tracks.  As fine as the non-"Hallogallo" tracks are, the first album can't help but be "Hallogallo" plus non-"Hallogallo" support.  That's the narrative of the first album, and my opinion hasn't changed from the first time I heard it some twenty years ago, right up until the present.

One might counter with the assertion that "Neu! 4" has only two tracks on it, "Schoene Welle", "Good Life", and several variations on both.  One could also say the same about "Neu! 2".  But whereas "Neu! 2" was little more than the original tracks played at different speeds in order to fill out the second side of the album, "Neu! 4" twists a few basic melodies into fascinating variations.  "Wave Naturelle" re-imagines "Schoene Welle" as a mid-tempo ballad in the style of U2's, "With Or Without You", actually predating the mood of the Lanois/Eno transformation of U2 by a year. "Quick Wave Machinelle" cranks up the soaring, glittery synths and with its propulsive, insistent beat, gradually blossoms into a cheerier version of Joy Division's "Isolation".  "Crazy" is "Good Life" by Neu by way of the Feelies, a fascinating combination that is sadly not explored further on this album.  Elsewhere, "Nationale" and "Fly Dutch II" are a couple of wonderfully moody ambient pieces that could have fit comfortably onto any Neu album.   It's only with "Danzing" and "La Bomba" that the album strays into more pedestrian dance funk mode and kowtows to 80's trends that now come off as dated.


I admit to being skeptical that a Brandon Flowers solo album had any reason to exist.  I assumed it would be a Killers album in all but its name, much like his first solo record.  But how wrong I was ... far from coming off as a lesser version of the Killers' anthemic brand of rock, this is Flowers' love letter to a side of the 80's that most artists haven't bothered ripping off.  Whereas most 80's throwbacks are about Duran Duran's sense of glamour (and their spidery basslines) and synths shaped like guitars, Flowers' heroes are Don Henley circa "Boys of Summer", Bruce Hornsby and the Range, and Huey Lewis and the News.  With "I Can Change", he even managed to pull off the best of the 58923 "Smalltown Boy" sample/homages I've yet heard.  It may never reach the dizzying heights of the Killers' best songs, but it's a consistently great effort that manages to be cool by daring to be uncool.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

One more time with feeling: thoughts on Mogwai at 20

This article is generating some interesting discussion, where its detractors are accusing the author of backhandedly flinging mud at the band when it's supposed to be an article that celebrates their longevity, while the people who don't care/stopped caring about Mogwai a decade ago don't get the fuss because Pitchfork has long since locked the band into the critical friend zone where their albums seem to merit a steady stream of 7.1's regardless of quality or level of praise in the review.

For me, the problem boils down to the following two points:

1) I find it somewhat disingenuous on the part of PF to accuse Mogwai of stubbornly sticking to an unpopular genre when they are the type of website that can have an impact on which microscenes get popular and stay popular.  They're not a small site that can do nothing but sit back and churn out clickbait about some massively popular cultural phenomenon as it evolves in a manner too complex to be controlled by anyone.  Music genres can be cool if PF says they are cool.

2) Twenty years of cultural relevance is an unrealistic goal for any band.  No band can be at the vanguard of a chic genre for that amount of time -- neither the band or the genre will retain its pedigree over such a long period of time.  By the early 80's, the Rolling Stones were well past their culturally relevant peak, and even the most diehard classic rock fans wouldn't say they were still making their most impactful music.  It's simply not a standard that any band can be held to.

In techno, I'm reminded of techno acts like Adam X (and his various monikers) or Chris Liebing, who stuck with hard techno during the years that it was cruelly unpopular, only to come out the other side and get hailed as saviours again when everything came full circle and that style became popular again.  Some might say they were being stubborn by not changing with the times when everyone and their brother went minimal or electro or schaffel.  But the glass half full viewpoint would say they were dedicated to their craft and wouldn't compromise.  That would be a far more interesting angle for an article about 20 years of Mogwai.  Unfortunately, in most rock-based criticism, the writers are too locked into a simple model where a band is lumped into a scene with a bunch of other like-minded bands for easy classification purposes, and loses their relevance when that scene is no longer the hot new thing.  At that point, their window of opportunity for making canonical records has passed so they are rarely spoken of again, except by die hard fans who are anyway too distracted by their own homerism to be taken too seriously.