Sunday, 16 December 2007

'97 mentality: the last stand

Galactic Mystery Solvers is on hiatus for a month of festive cheer. hence this '97 mentality series has to wrap up sharp-ish.


Exhibits V, W, X, Y and Zee

Five of this year's best albums were made by people who made five of 1997's best albums. Longevity kicks ass. I reckon that the 1997 ones were better. But basically this is just a list of ten cracking albums. I expect that'll do. Go and search for them on youtube or something.

Nick Cave
Boatman's Call > Grinderman

Camp Lo
Uptown Saturday Night > Black Hollywood

El-P of Company Flow
Funcrusher Plus > I'll Sleep When You're Dead

Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Forever > 8 Diagrams

Euros Childs of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Barafundle > The Miracle Inn

Previously on '97 mentality

Saturday, 15 December 2007

covered inglory: the complete top ten

over the past couple of weeks GMS has identified the ten best cover versions of the century so far. we haven't heard them all, and sometimes we weren't concentrating, so they might be wrong. but then again, they might be right.

anyway, here they are, all in one place!

1. easy star allstars - 'no surprises' (radiohead cover, from radiodread)
original post

2. richard hawley - 'some candy talking' (jesus & mary chain cover)
original post

3. ukulele orchestra of great britain - 'wuthering heights' (kate bush cover)
original post

4. joan baez - 'motherland' (natalie merchant cover, from dark chords on a big guitar)
original post

5. bonnie 'prince' billy & tortoise - 'thunder road' (bruce springsteen cover, from the brave and the bold)
original post

6. wondermints - 'the porpoise song' (monkees cover, from the wonderful world of)
original post

7. six organs of admittance - 'thicker than a smokey' (gary higgins cover, from school of the flower)
original post

8. absentee - 'my dead wife / you're the one that i want' (grease cover, from donkey stock)
original post

9. rodrigo y gabriela - 'wish you were here' (pink floyd cover, live)
original post

10. wilco - 'comment (if all men are truly brothers)' (charles wright cover, from kicking television)
original post

Friday, 14 December 2007

covered inglory #10 - wilco 'comment'

a few months ago, sasha frere-jones caused a bloggish furore (no animals or real people were harmed) when he identified a parting of the ways between lascivious, bass-heavy black music and uptight, strangled, funk-free indie. he laid most of the blame on dr. dre and (good lord!) pavement's second drummer. to illustrate the parlous state of music in 2007 he used arcade fire as his favoured sorry-ass lame-o pale-faced whipping-boys. but wilco, whose records have dominated year-end lists and marked the shifting tastes of indie fans for almost fifteen years, could have fitted just as easily. this year's sky blue sky, though one of the best records of 2007 (yup), is entirely devoid of groove, opting instead for stark white album production, splintering guitar noise and cautious, self-conscious lyrics. their previous release, kicking television, was that most-feared expression of chin-stroking jam-band self-indulgence - the double live album.

flying in the face of this manichean musical moan is wilco's version 'comment (if all men are truly brothers)', the final track on kicking television. fans of six degrees of separation (music nerd edn.) will be glad to know that 'comment' was originally recorded by charles wright and the watts 103rd street rhythm band, more famous for 'express yourself', as sampled by dre for NWA (and, earlier this year, by statik selektah, with termanology, talib kweli and consequence).

'comment' is a rich, warm, social-protest soul ballad. its uplifting sentiments are just as mawkish as those of 'wish you were here', though (mercifully) they are far more direct and don't aspire to the status of bong-addled poetry. i'll be in trouble for posting it, as last time i played it in GMS HQ i got shouted at for putting on "plodding earnest crap". it does feature a sleigh-bell solo.

but in its context, coming after more than an hour of wilco's awkward, downbeat indie-prog workouts, it's a redemptive triumph, sending the crowd off with a deliberately overblown sense of solidarity and brotherly love (i think chaps make up the majority of wilco audiences). no matter how far bands like wilco drift from frere-jones' dream of miscegenation, listeners are still drawn in by the same sorts of communal sentiment, and are still listening to black and white music without (too much) prejudice. 'comment' joins the dots. it makes me smile.

wilco - 'comment (if all men are truly brothers' (from kicking television: live in chicago)

buy charles wright

previously on covered inglory

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

martin carthy's wellington concert online

the university of southampton has put martin carthy's 'songs of wellington wars' online for video streaming. it's well worth your time, if you can get past the vice-chancellor's introduction.

for the full gig, go here.

for the lowdown from GMS, head here.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

'97 mentality

1997 vs 2007

Exhibit U

How Master P played basketball in 1997:
seizure-inducing strobes
a gold-plated tank
a gorilla costume
comedy sound effects
people shouting "uhhhhhh"
mind-melting stupidity

How Master P plays basketball in 2007:
grainy black and white film
rural poverty
ku klux klan robes
some borderline-handy no-name guest rappers
belligerent political outrage

previously on '97 mentality

Saturday, 8 December 2007

covered inglory #8 - absentee - 'my dead wife / you're the one that i want'

absentee pitch themselves somewhere between the maudlin restraint of current indie favourites the national and the the lavish melancholy of british veterans the tindersticks. their calling card is to inject a streak of bitter, black humour into this elegant mix, spicing their red-wine-sodden romanticism with references to alcoholic indiscretions and grubby toilet-sex.

both elements work together on 'my dead wife' from 2005's donkey stock ep. the first section is a barely coherent, mumbled fragment from the perspective of a mourner - "some kind of memory, you were beautiful, or at least that's what i recall ... i just need more time". it's subverted - but somehow made even more moving - by the song's sudden transformation into a somnambulant cover of the grease standard 'you're the one that i want'.

there's a seam of darkness in a lot of the sort of late 50s and early 60s pop records that inspired grease, and absentee tap into that tone here. the purity and innocence of their teenage emotions need very little alteration to come across as an unsettled, delusional single-minded statements of intent. phil spector's brassy, grandiose productions covered a weird, deranged, reputedly abusive temperament. many of the beatles' early songs of innocent devotion contain a vicious, possessive, misogynistic streak. in buddy holly's moral universe, favour and faithlessness are matters of life and death, or are at least for the line between sanity and unmitigated, unpredictable desperation.

innumerable am-dram productions of grease have bled any possible tension out of 'you're the one that i want', and to a great degree, absentee's cover works as broad, grim humour. but it also goes some way to reclaiming the weird falseness of the original, a late-70s pastiche sung by ludicrous non-school-age hollywood stars, one an aerobics instructor, the other a balding scientologist, for a middle-aged hen-party audience.

absentee - 'my dead wife'
(from donkey stock)

john travolta & olivia newton-john 'you're the one that i want'

previously on covered inglory

Friday, 7 December 2007

covered inglory #7: six organs of admittance 'thicker than a smokey'

sometimes, and only very occasionally, something unexpectedly poignant appears on an album's sleevenotes (no, i don't mean "peace to my dead homies"). on slint's spiderland there was an appeal for female vocalists to get in touch for auditions - something that never happened, as slint disbanded and committed themselves to mental institutions on completing the harrowing record. i'd love to know what they'd have sounded like with a proper singer.

a similarly poignant story, but with a happier outcome, appeared on the sleeve to psych-folk outfit six organs of admittance's 2005 album school of the flower. lead organ-admitter ben chasny put out a missing persons appeal for gary higgins, the author of the haunting blues number 'thicker than a smokey', whose whereabouts since serving two years for possession of marijuana in the early 1970s were unknown. like other recently-rediscovered freak-folk progenitors like vashti bunyan and karen dalton, higgins had released some tantalisingly brilliant music in the early 1970s, before retreating into obscurity and ebay notoriety.

in an age when every artist is a potential myspace buddy, and every public indiscretion is memorialised on youtube, higgins' disappearance had a strange, romantic allure, particularly given the mysterious, mystical concerns of 'thicker than a smokey', with its haunting refrain of "what are you gonna do, young man? where are you gonna go?". the search for higgins also had a refreshingly dated and quixotic feel: chasny and drag city head-honcho zach cowie got a tip-off that higgins was still in his native connecticut, and decided to send a letter to every gary higgins in the region.

eventually they got lucky. unlike the drifter in 'thicker than a smokey', higgins hadn't headed down to mexico. he'd done his time, settled down to earn a living, occasionally playing music in local venues, never expecting to be rediscovered. he replied to cowie, leading to a few live appearances with six organs and a reissue of red hash, a beautiful, calm set of hippie spirituals, which stand alongside like-minded projects such as bunyan's just another diamond day, chris bell's i am the cosmos, david crosby's if i could only remember my name and skip spence's oar.

six organs of admittance - 'thicker than a smokey'
(from school of the flower)

gary higgins - 'thicker than a smokey' (from red hash)

interview with higgins at splendidzine

previously on covered inglory

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

the way we "wire"

for those of you "addicts" "fiending" for a "fix" of the wire, here's a "pre-up", wherein we head "back in the day". "rad".

collins & harlan - 'back, back, back to baltimore'
(from edison cylinder recordings, 1905-12)

omar little, 1985

proposition joe, 1962

mcnulty meets moreland, 2000

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

live review - martin carthy sings songs of the wellington wars @ southampton university

long before bob dylan realised the potential of playing around with identity, arthur wellesley, 1st duke of wellington, was shape-shifting his way through seven decades of british cultural history. he was a young officer rising through the ranks in india, a military hero who "liberated europe" on the fields of waterloo, a disastrous and short-lived prime minister, an unshakeable presence at the horse guards as commander-in-chief, an irascible elder statesman holding court at apsley house on hyde park corner (aka no.1, london), a pillar of the establishment who came out of retirement to defend london against chartist protesters in 1848, and a focus for patriotic sentiment on his death in 1852. he also got his picture painted by goya (see above) and pioneered lucrative product endorsement deals, putting his name on wellington boots, beef wellington and thousands of british pubs. as the 'iron duke' he had an excellent rap nom de plume. but he is not to be confused with duke ellington, who does jazz.

southampton university runs an annual wellington lecture. this year, in acknowledgement of wellington's pop-cultural presence, the lecture was given over to a musical performance by elder statesman of british folk, martin carthy. wittily self-deprecating and humble, carthy foreswore attempts at cultural or historical analysis, instead giving centre-stage to his selection of folk songs about the experience of war, with their fleeting glimpses of the duke. the performances are faltering, given that many of the traditionals have been unearthed from folksong collections specially for the lecture, but this makes the process all the more compelling, as carthy breathes life into songs that were collected at the turn of the last century from singers old enough to remember the hungry '40s, and to have known veterans of waterloo.

billed as a solo performance, carthy receives accompaniment from wife norma waterson, and from norma's bluff, flat-cap-wearing brother mike, one of the finest living exponents of traditional yorkshire finger-in-one-ear untutored folk-singing. norma handles a couple of solo tracks, giving a female perspective, with songs about the experience of the women who followed the military baggage train across europe, and those who waited at home. carthy mixes styles, genres and subjects, throwing in a thomas hardy poem, snatches of 'whiskey in the jar' (in english and irish cadences) , and songs featuring wellington's military and naval colleagues such as nelson. the officer class, from the perspective of the common soldiers singing the songs, is all-seeing but also ignorant of the soldiers' plight, sympathetic in their apportioning of rum, yet heartless in their cruel discipline, symbols of heroic valour and patriotism, but also of cowardice, self-interest and privilege.

carthy's populism, presenting the experience of war from the wide range of perspectives that the song-book offers, is also the lecture's greatest weakness: like dylan in the current biopic, wellington remains an elusive figure, sometimes entirely absent in the selections, sometimes glimpsed fleetingly. carthy admits frustration at being unable to find any songs about the duke's indian and peninsular campaigns, and wellington's second-life as a political hate-figure receives no reference, although there is no shortage of satirical song-sheet material on this period. perhaps a reliance on traditional collections (such as vaughan williams' work in hampshire and dorset in the 1900s) means that the songs dealing in universal themes have tended to survive in the sung folk tradition, while pointed satires have followed a different trajectory, aired only in more conventional academic settings. but this is an observation more than a criticism: carthy's skill as an interpreter and performer allows the audience to dwell on the easily-ignored connections between present and past. at a time of WAR, folks!

lal waterson - 'the welcome sailor'
(from the definitive watersons collection)

bonus video: martin carthy & dave swarbrick - 'byker hill'

Monday, 3 December 2007

covered inglory #6: wondermints - 'the porpoise song'

currently brian wilson's backing band, the wondermints made their name recreating the sound of the beach boys, circa pet sounds. what elevated them above similarly myopic musical revivalists like ocean colour scene (a 1990s bluesbreakers) or cat power (currently failing to update dusty in memphis) was their nerdy love of the sounds of mid-60s LA, wantonly and unconditionally uncool but all the more joyous as a result. plus, they had the ability to write songs that could rub shoulders with the originals.

2000's wonderful world of the wondermints made the logical step to a covers album. the band recorded faithful, starry-eyed covers of familiar songs by abba and pink floyd, as well as several more obscure tracks, with the emphasis on cheery, cheesy pop rather than nuggets-approved classicism, and one of their own - 'tracy hide', possibly the best of the bunch.

opening track 'the porpoise song' was originally written by carole king, and recorded by the monkees, who used it in the opening sequence of their crackpot film project head, which features mickey dolenz jumping off a bridge after disrupting an opening ceremony. the wondermints' version is pretty much exactly the same as the original, but this time it doesn't matter. everything about both songs is brilliant.

wondermints - 'the porpoise song' (monkees cover) (from wonderful world of ...)

monkees - 'the porpoise song'

previously on covered inglory

covered inglory #5: bonnie prince billy & tortoise - 'thunder road'

will oldham's collaborative covers album with chicago's beard-stroking raised-eyebrow post-rock jazz-boffins tortoise came in for some stick on its release in 2006, especially for their cover of bruce springsteen's 'thunder road'.

detractors complained that oldham's strangled, ghostly vocal performance, and tortoise's decision to replace the original's surging piano rolls with sterile guitar lines leeched all the passion and urgency out of the song. round gms' house, we reckon that's the only interesting way they could have taken it. the original 'thunder road' wasn't a straight-up, Born In the USA-style anthem - it gestured towards that, but the voice-and-piano arrangement reined in the more bombastic tendencies, while springsteen's lyrics never made it clear whether the speaker believed in his dreams of automotive freedom and redemption in "the promised land", or whether he's consciously "praying in vain", already aware that "we ain't that young any more".

as springsteen says in his storytellers performance, 'thunder road' is an invitation. the speaker tries to play up the attractions of his romantic vision, but the downsides and the risks keep edging in, and "the ride it ain't free". oldham and tortoise recognise that it's this dramatic tension that makes the song great. instead of replicating the same tension, they introduce new dimensions. like nick cave's reading of 'by the time i get to phoenix', their version has a bleakly ironic and fatalistic edge. the delivery points up the hollowness of springsteen's orbison fantasies, playing up the sinister qualities of lines like "i just can't face myself alone ... you know just what i'm here for", while still making those fantasies feel like the singer's "one last chance to make it real", if only the "scared" addressee would "show a little faith".

doing a springsteen cover is today's passport to hype machine plays and pitchfork approval. his songs have characters, drama, big hooks and an air of authenticity. but of the hundreds released since 2000, this feels like the only completely successful re-imagining. to illustrate the point, included below is badly drawn boy's version - faithful, reverent, pretty - but this is the one that really leeches the spirit out of the original. whose offer would you take? eh? EH? etc.

bonnie 'prince' billy & tortoise - 'thunder road' (from the brave and the bold)

bruce springsteen - 'the story of thunder road' (live on vh-1 storytellers, original on born to run)

badly drawn boy - 'thunder road' (buy some badly drawn boy)

bruce springsteen - 'thunder road' (live 1976)

previously on covered inglory

Saturday, 1 December 2007

covered inglory #4: joan baez - 'motherland'

looks like the polls closed over at berkeley place for cover version of the century. but none of the top twenty coincided with anything i was planning to post, so on we go:

joan baez has spent more than four decades covering other folks' material. she's pretty good at it. her 2003 album, dark chords on a big guitar saw the 60-something-year-old covering songs by no depression-era alt. country songwriters like gillian welch, ryan adams, josh ritter and steve earle. the album stood out amongst a slew of old-legend-tackles-hip-songwriter LPs through its occasional political nods (including earle's bittersweet election-time lament 'christmas-time in washington' and a dedication to michael moore), and also because of its scrupulous avoidance of novelty selections, and because of baez' voice, still as pure and dignified as ever, but with a depth and warmth that's as affecting as johnny cash's geriatric croaking.

these three elements are at their strongest on baez' version of natalie merchant's 'motherland'. i'd always dismissed merchant as a hippy-skirted, doc-martens-toting early-90s also-ran, and her band 10,000 maniacs as grunge-era sleeper-blokes who fitted snugly into their role as house-band on shows like sabrina the teenage witch. this cover version suggests i might have been wrong - but then again, baez' ryan adams and steve earle covers are much better than anything adams or earle ever managed, so who knows? informed, informative ....

joan baez - 'motherland' (natalie merchant cover, from dark chords on a big guitar)

more fun

seriously strange, here's baez and GMS guest-blogger phil spector doing 'you've lost that loving feeling' (original by tom cruise), introduced by someone who looks like donovan. it doesn't quite work, but it is A CURIOSITY!!!!

and here's an excellent muppet show appearance:

Part 1 - Joan arrives dressed as Cam'ron
Part 2 - 'Honest Lullaby'
Part 3 - Joan does her Don Corleone impression, hilarity ensues

Part 4 - 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' (with an interlude teaching rats about Gandhi)
Part 5 - 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken?'

previously on covered inglory

Sunday, 25 November 2007

covered inglory #3: ukulele orchestra of gb - 'wutherng heights'

no introduction necessary. gigging tonight at the oxford c***ing academy.

incidentally, hands up anybody who remembers the lumpy oi-punk version of this by mid-nineties brit-rock also-rans china drum? radio 1's evening session's novelty cover of 1995, no less. shite.

Friday, 23 November 2007

'97 mentality

1997 vs 2007

Exhibit S

Meet Tiger. In 1997 Tiger released a bunch of sparky, odd-shaped, buzzing pop, to mild acclaim. But NME hounded them out of town because they wore mullets, played 2-string bass and put weird naive artwork (courtesy of frontman Dan Laidler) on their records.

Tiger - 'Race' (from We Are Puppets)

If their debut album, We Are Puppets, had been released in 2007, it would be in most critics' end-of-year polls. Why? Because it sounds a lot like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's second record (which will be just outside a lot of polls), only better.

Tiger - 'On The Rose'
(from We Are Puppets)

Tiger bio at Bar/none records

Exhibit T

Meet Ultrasound. In 1997 Ultrasound released a bunch of massive-sounding indie epics, filled with histrionic references to 'the kids' and the redemptive power of rock'n'roll. But NME hounded them out of town because their frontman was fat and half of their debut album, Everything Picture, was already available on various singles and EPs.

Ultrasound - 'Cross My Heart' (from Everything Picture)

If Everything Picture had been released in 2007, it would have topped most critics' end-of-year polls. Why? Because it sounds a lot like Arcade Fire's second record (which will be in the top 5 of a lot of polls), only better.

Ultrasound - 'Floodlit World' (from Everything Picture)

Previously on '97 mentality

Thursday, 22 November 2007

covered inglory #2: richard hawley - 'some candy talking'

richard hawley doesn't really need cover versions - his recreation of a 'lost' sound somewhere between scott walker and duane eddy locates him obviously enough, the trick being that his original compositions are as good as most of the songs he loves.

hawley's cover of the jesus and mary chain's 'some candy talking' is fish-in-a-barrel stuff, but that doesn't detract from its power. the original already had the doomed romanticism, the spector nods, the layers of harsh and melodic guitar. hawley's deep voice merely adds gravity, while the sinister edge of the lyrics save it from pastiche.

richard hawley - 'some candy talking' (jesus and mary chain cover)

jesus & mary chain - 'some candy talking'

more hawley on galactic mystery solvers

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

covered inglory #1: easy star allstars, 'no surprises'

three factors ensured that the easy star allstars' radiodread: a reggae tribute to ok computer rose above the status of summer 2006 blog novelty.

first was the quality of the source material - ok computer was the last great radiohead album, the last one that felt human and that mined interesting tension between the human and the mechanical, the last one that you could enjoy without buying into the myth of radiohead as 'transcendant' artistic visionaries.

second was the quality of the allstars themselves - featuring accomplished musicians such as horace andy, toots & the maytals, and on 'no surprises', the meditations. all of whom contributed to giving the project a warm, joyful, cohesive feel that works against the bleak textures of the original. the allstars' previous album, dub side of the moon, recognised that the vast, booming spaces in pink floyd's music would appeal as much to a reggae fan as to a prog-happy audiophile. as johnny greenwood's work with trojan records attests, there's something in radiohead's studio wizardry, fractured compositions, and underlying soulfulness that translates just as well.

third was the wit and intelligence of the project. both dub side and radiodread took middle-class white complaint-rock and relocated it in a working class black context that most listeners (and most middle class white musicians) feel has much greater authenticity. just as pink floyd unexpectedly became the soundtrack of choice for iranian dissidents a few years back, so radiohead's fears of mechanised language, "jobs that slowly kill you", and politics as marketing took on more weight, purpose and irony than was present in the originals.

apparently easy star are working on a follow-up. i vote the soft bulletin.

easy star allstars - 'no surprises'

bonus covers

radiohead do pink floyd. isn't that clever?

radiohead & sparklehorse - 'wish you were here'

ska pink floyd!

bim skala bim - 'brain damage'

previously on covered inglory

berkeley place's covers of the century

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Album review – Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – ‘This Is Somewhere’

Striking a blow for gender equality, Grace Potter leads her band of Nocturnals into the traditionally-male preserve of blue collar American bar-band rock. And, full marks: she proves that a woman can do chest-pounding choruses, earnest rootsy versifying and veiled political dissent just as effectively as the most macho of Tom Petty wannabes.

As the title suggests, This Is Somewhere is decided yet vague. Potter’s voice is strong, unwavering and compelling, while the band sounds entirely at home knocking out driving, soul-inflected rock that would be at home in a stadium or a dive. But the lyrics are allusive and elusive, aiming towards the universal and filled with conventional rock lingo. The clearest themes are patriotism (in the critical-of-government sense), “trouble”, life on the road, people called “babe”, and final judgement. Are the men on the front cover recreating the Iwo Jima flag-raising, or just struggling with a gazebo?

The performance is impressive – flawless, in a sense – but its single-mindedness and its wide-eyed homages to rock mythology sacrifices any sense of intimacy or self-doubt, qualities that would lift it out of self-imposed genre limitations. But once the 24-year-old Potter finds her own stories to match the voice, she could be Gillian Welch with powerballads. (This would be a good thing).

Artist homepage

Buy This Is Somewhere

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Oxford English Dictionary ... of ROCK: Part 3 - bass

"bass! ooooh-wa", as the furious five once sang. september 2007 saw some much-needed additions to our definition of bass, as the previous entry (1937) seemed to be referring to some sort of free-standing boogie-woogie machine. i used to pose as a four-string king. my bass had a sticker that said 'mean people suck', and i could play 'aneurysm' by nirvana and 'in the mouth, a desert' by pavement. there you have it.

bass, adj. and n.5 [DRAFT ADDITIONS SEPTEMBER 2007]

* A bass guitar.
Although it is not certain exactly what instrument is referred to in quot. 1937, the contrast with the Bassoguitar (an upright bass) suggests it is prob. an electric bass guitar of the type now familiar, which became commercially available (on a very limited scale) at around this time.

1952 Pottstown (Pa.) Mercury 18 Oct. 20 (advt.) Fender Precision Bass. A new sensation for bass players. 2005 Uncut June 30/1 Romeo..plays guitar..while younger sister Michele plays bass and harmonises.

* bass-heavy adj. (of music, sound, etc.) characterized by an abundance or excess of bass frequencies or by a prominent bass line.
2002 Time Out N.Y. 29 Aug. 143/4 The real centerpiece of Scarface's albums remains their bass-heavy beats.

that's convenient - magic numbers and scarface are both great! listen to their songs (especially the bass!), then buy their records.

scarface - 'in cold blood' (from the fix)

magic numbers - 'this is a song' (daytrotter session)


pavement - 'in the mouth, a desert' (live in cologne, 1996)

nirvana - 'aneurysm' (live at reading festival, 1992)

previously on the oed of ROCK

Saturday, 17 November 2007

covered inglory

Ekko at Berkeley Place is running a poll to find the greatest cover versions of the 21st century. Well done that man. Only time will tell if the results are interesting, or if they’re a Spoon-Postal Service-Death Cab-Feist-Bright Eyes blog-band clusterfuck, but I’m sure plenty of moral good will come of it either way. It’s certainly caused GMS to ruminate on the pros and cons, and on the popularity of covers, ironic or otherwise, in the blogosphere. I didn’t ruminate very much, mind, but below are a few thoughts, and a Pulp video that you ought to watch.

Thinking about it (a bit), it looks like GMS likes three sorts of cover version.

Firstly, there are ‘novelty’ covers of pop, rap or r’n’b songs by white indie types. Careful, though – these walk a fine line called irony, and only the ones that “cross boundaries of race and authenticity” and “ask searching questions about the creation and consumption of art” are any good: sorry, Travis’ ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’, Electric Soft Parade’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, the Vines’ ‘Ms Jackson’, Magic Numbers’ ‘Crazy In Love’ and Biffy Clyro’s ‘Umbrella’. Duran Duran, please leave the room. This genre reaches its apex along the Will Oldham-R. Kelly axis. A sexy axis indeed.

Secondly, there are old men and women getting down with the kids. This started with Johnny Cash, whose American Recordings stuff is sure to feature on Ekko’s list, and has since been taken up by all manner of ageing pop types. Mavis Staples, Charlie Louvin, Joan Baez, Solomon Burke – well done. Neil Diamond – just stick to ‘Sweet Caroline’, eh?

Thirdly, there are hip youngsters discovering / inventing / challenging their roots. By “roots”, we mostly mean Bruce Springsteen. And occasionally ‘Hallelujah’ or ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. The front page of Elbows and the Hype Machine will be full of these, making a few choice covers an essential marketing tool for up-and-coming interweb faves. Hence the recent tributes-cum-hipster-feeding-frenzies in honour of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Pixies, John Fahey and (cut-and-paste style) Radiohead and Belle and Sebastian. None of those have made the grade, though the Dylan one sounds interesting.

Enough! Galactic Mystery Solvers will be posting and writing about its top twenty-something tracks over the next couple of weeks. Some of them may have been recorded before 2000 – the precise details are often hard to track down. In some cases, the originals are attributed to people like Elvis or Elton John, who didn’t write them, but made them famous.

In the meantime, watch Pulp – ‘Bad Cover Version’

Friday, 16 November 2007

ukulele updates

gms, for all your ukulele needs.

dizzee rascal's new video, for 'flex', has a slightly lame pop idol theme, and is one of the less remarkable tracks off maths and english. it's all about shaking one's bottom, and can't hold a candle to 'sirens' - as a song or as a video. but it does feature a ukulele played behind the head - a first for a rap video?

dizzee rascal - 'flex'

rude uk blogger f***ing dance alerted me to dent may and his magnificent ukulele, whose myspace page features the oxford (mississippi) native playing uke ditties that recall the magnetic fields and nellie mckay. there are also some nice photos of dent pretending that he lives in the golden age of motoring. head to his website to download A Brush With Velvet - his free 6-song ep.


dizzee rascal - 'sirens'

jake shimabukuro - 'while my ukulele gently weeps' (rza missed a trick not getting this guy on their 'interpolation' - i need to hear an inspectah deck sixteen over this action)

previous uke action

Thursday, 15 November 2007

ian svenonius meets mark e. smith

former make-up / nation of ulysses / weird war frontman and pop-marxist ian svenonius is two episodes into his second soft focus interview series, which looks at british musicians. this week's kevin shields interview has caused a bit of a stir, as shields promises a new my bloody valentine album, and reckons it will sound like my bloody valentine. shields seems like a pretty normal, grounded bloke, which is interesting in itself, but that doesn't make the interview particularly thrilling.

soft focus works best when svenonius' interview technique - a mixture of louis theroux-style naivete and slightly-distracted ponderousness - comes up against someone equally odd, creating an unsettling, borderline hostile atmosphere that turns a muso chat into something altogether different.

will oldham was certainly up to the task in series one, but last week's mark e. smith interview took that 'ish to the next level. smith necks pints throughout, pulls his rubbery face into strange, childlike gurns, and airs his casual but sincere contempt for sonic youth, talking heads, bob dylan, neil young, all other manchester bands, british musicians, gene simmons, british tv, the irish, svenonius' teeth, clothes, private life and personal hygiene. he's like a weirdo in a pub who insists on sparking up a conversation and then seems to resent it. but he's also hilarious and generally spot-on. svenonius does a decent job of coaxing gems out of smith without getting outraged, intimidated or upset, though he cracks up when smith starts in on kurt cobain and courtney love.

the fall - 'a day in the life' (beatles cover)

part 1

part 2

part 3

part 4

buy the fall

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

i got the hook-up

not much "popping" at gms HQ this week, as i've been busy at a local school. was i selling drugs? you'll just have to make your own minds up. anyway, i can confirm that "gay" is still the choice insult du juor amongst the kids.

some links:

this review / assault on the awful new dj khaled video 'i'm so hood' is the funniest thing i've ever seen published on the smoking section.

lt. bunk moreland from the wire (aka wendell pierce) performs waiting for godot in new orleans' 9th ward, tells the grauniad all about it.

fat lace's crap graf feature is a good read. today they have a defaced picture of cliff richard, and a shout-out to darts legend 'big' cliff lazarenko. on that note, a quote from darts commentator, screenwriter and cambridge classicist sid waddell: "Big Cliff Lazarenko's idea of exercise is sitting in a room with the windows open taking the lid off something cool and fizzy." more here.

floodwatch writes on album tracks that shouldn't be forgotten (the flaming lips' 'oh my pregnant head' from the magical transmissions from the satellite heart) and some that really should.

poisonous paragraphs is counting down his hundred favourite cult films of the internet age. the quality might deteriorate significantly towards the end, but the first two instalments are full of good stuff (like 13 tzameti and brick), and some guy ritchie stuff.

jamie's runout groove on shine - the britpop-era compilation-album series. hopefully he'll run with this one - posting songs by bands like 60ft dolls and heavy stereo. lovely stuff.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

’97 mentality


Exhibit R

Pete Rosenburg on the 1997 WWF Survivor Series screwjob - a decade ago this weekend. Never this heated - or this consistent - again (though the Cactus Jack-Triple H series in 2000 came close).

Sebadoh - 'Loose N Screw' (from Freed Man)

previously on ’97 mentality

"68 but she says she's 54"

unhemmed came through and cold rocked the spot last night - my ukulele gently wept. here's the signature tune done with slightly less panache:

uncle tupelo - 'maggie's farm' (live in missouri, 1988) [buy]

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Live review – 65daysofstatic, Asobi Seksu @ Oxford C***ing Academy

Fittingly for Guy Fawkes’ Night, both of tonight’s bands – shoegaze revivalists Asobi Seksu and math-metal post-rockers 65daysofstatic – owe something to Explosions In The Sky.

Asobi Seksu draw their influences – as every other blogger has already pointed out – from late ‘80s British indie ‘gazers like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Lush. On record, Yuki Chikudate’s feather-light vocals blend into the band’s hazy dreampop. Live, the two components work in opposition – the airy melodies floating on top of swelling blasts of guitar noise. Their straightforward, accessible take on shoegaze recalls EITS’ version of post-rock – all instant gratification, the free noise tethered by a tight, propulsive rhythm section that owes more to power pop than to Sun Ra. They give a solid, but not stellar set: the band only shifts the template for a closing run through Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions' ‘Suzanne’, which sounds awkward, if appropriately strung out.

Asobi Seksu – ‘Stay Awake’ (from Adult Swim’s Warm And Scratchy sampler)

65daysofstatic would be entirely comfortable knocking out tunes that replicate EITS’ trademark wash-of-delay-pedals. But the addition of laptops, drum-n-bass loops, and the occasional glam metal riff signals that they’re more interested in heading towards Battles’ territory. They lack the celebratory grooves and the sense of in-the-round musicianship and that Battles create live, opting instead for well-worn rock posturing and moody laptop manipulation. Initially, they’re thrilling – like Klaxons but with the pedestrian indie replaced by bursting post-hardcore and crushing doom-metal riffs, and with the soggy dance-pop replaced by malevolent breakbeats. But as the onslaught wears on, there’s an increasing sense of dislocation between the beats and riffs, as if the band are throwing everything at the wall, seeing what sticks. With a little ironing-out, 65daysofstatic could be one of the UK’s best live bands. At the moment, they’re closer to a humourless version of the Rock Of Travolta.

65daysofstatic - 'don't go down to sorrow'

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Live review - Will Haven @ Southampton Brook

GMS' down-south connect Sean Smith took a break from spike-piledriving opponents onto a concrete floor to file a report on Will Haven's latest tour. His appraisal of the local crowd also slots into our '97 mentality series as Exhibit Q.

It is a cold, crisp Sunday night with a tinge of menace, and cheap gunpowder imported from China, in the air. Maybe it was the fear of being assaulted by fireworks-brandishing chavs, or the fact that only the night before, the venue had been rocked to its very foundations by the Bon Jovi Experience (with a frontman so believable apparently even Chad Kroeger is unable tell the difference) - but something was keeping the general public away from the Brook for Will Haven's first performance in Southampton, like, evar. Which is a damn shame, as a band of their pedigree deserve more than this meagre crowd, that seems to be mostly comprised of hangers-on and pasty faced metal WAGS to the brace of piss-poor local support acts that open proceedings.

Not everyone is as ignorant as the local public, mind. "Without bands like Will Haven, we wouldn't have been able to make music like this", notes the drummer for main support The Mirimar Disaster. And thank fuck for that, as the Sheffield quartet lurch into a bold, wildly experimental set that combines post-rock soundscapes with crunching riffage and a thunderous, Mastodon-esque rhythm section. The band are currently without a vocalist, yet on this evidence it is hard to imagine them having one.

Vocals have been an issue for the headline act too, after losing founding member Grady Avenell for the second time earlier this year. A ready made replacement was at hand though in the form of long-time WHVN alumnus Jeff Jaworski, who has stepped into the fold impressively. Tonight he leads his gnats-arse tight troops through a decade of Haven classics with barely a pause for breath. Older material such as "Ego's Game" and the always well-received "I've Seen My Fate" sit well with the newer material, whilst a brutally delivered "Saga" is an undoubted highlight.

Will Haven - 'Hierophant' (live at the Troubadour 2007)

All good then if you are standing to one side, enjoying the band and trying to work out how you are going to review the fucker. But what of the Kids? Ten years ago you would not have been able to move for alpha male sports metallers slam dancing up in your face, small children in Ash t-shirts flying around like luchadores and jailbait, cider'd up goth tweens behaving histrionically at any metal gig in the locality. When you consider that Der Haven are on top form at present, with an exuberant new frontman and a superb, Chino Moreno/Shaun Lopez produced banger on the shelves, it is sad to see that about 40 nodding heads is the best show of respect we can afford them.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Oxford English Dictionary … of ROCK Part 2: turntablism

turntablism, n. [added September 2007]

The action or practice of performing as a turntablist. Cf. TURNTABLIST n.

1996 Xmen vs ISP in alt.rap (Usenet newsgroup) 2 July, I know that both crews have mad respect for each other and I think battles like these keep pushing the art of turntablism into the future. 1999 Muzik Nov. 165/1 Anyone who says vinyl is dead now obviously has their head stuck up their arse... You only have to look around and see the amount of turntablism going on at this show. 2004 M. M. LEWIS Scars of Soul II. vi. 81 The beats from DJ Kayslay resuming his expert turntablism soon reverberate through the hall.

Better late than never – I was pioneering this ‘ish with my ma’s 7” Elvis singles in the early 80s. Apparently Kool Herc was doing the same thing a decade earlier, and Jimmy Savile thirty years before that. In 1998 I witnessed what I guess was turntablism in its highest form – the Invisibl Skratch Picklz supporting the Beastie Boys in Brixton. After a while it all sounded like birdsong, not that there’s much wrong with birdsong, but it wasn’t much to look at either.

I’m liking several things about the OED’s definition: the inclusion of the phrase “mad respect”, the attention to detail of mining an old-skool interweb discussion group, and the quality of writing on offer in Muzik magazine. But most of all I like the fact that shouty, beef-encouraging, pork-discouraging New York mixtape regular and “drama king” DJ Kayslay turns up. Here he comes now:

I was previously unaware that Kayslay, who is clearly excellent at fake reality shows and standing near Papoose, actually has skills as a turntablist. Initially, I assumed this was a clunky bit of authorial laziness, like when Funkmaster Flex and the ‘Aphex Twins’ make unconvincing cameos in Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama. But Bronx native Miles Marshall Lewis (who recently wrote on the making of Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On for the 33 1/3 series), has hip-hop credentials. Well, he has a good blog.

Famous types only get into the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography once they’ve died, so we’ll have to make do with the wikipedia bio, which provides useful insights such as “Kayslay knew the meaning of gangster at a young age” and “Upon his return to the streets, Kayslay began living a new, drug-free life that was a real hustle.”

Anyway, here’s Kayslay’s incomprehensible fake reality show, plus some turntablist fun

Grandmaster Flash – ‘The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel’

Statik Selektah – ‘No Mistakes Allowed (feat. Doug E. Fresh, Tony Touch, Scram Jones, DP-One, DJ GI-JOE, DJ Revolution, Esoteric)’ (from Spell My Name Right)

Those “adorable” turntablist kids!

And finally, RZA, possibly under some influence or other, claiming he tried to patent a digital turntablism gizmo that he discovered “at the end of a rainbow”. See if you can keep up:

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Halloween hi-jinx with the chill spectre of Phil Spector

Galactic Mystery Solvers is proud to welcome its Halloween guest blogger Phil Spector, fresh from wearing fright-wigs, appearing in court, producing pop records in the 1960s, and generally being crazier than a stuck pig.

Hello kids. Mwahahahahaha! If, like me, you’re nuttier than a squirrel’s “crib”, and love nothing more than the grim Spector – sorry, spectre – of DEATH, then I guess you’ll agree that Halloween’s just the ticket. I like Christmas too, but that’s in December. Other things I like include pop songs with loud drums on them, automatic weapons, and Galactic Mystery Solvers – an Oxford-based music blog that takes a sideways look at indie rock, hip hop, dictionaries and 1997.

Alright already. Anyone who knows jack shit about my career knows that I cast a long, terrifying shadow over the music world. Here are some songs that reflect my frightful presence (on the music scene, that is!). These tracks might not seem “spooky” in the conventional sense – in fact, they might seem like a bunch of songs that in some way reference my oeuvre, but are otherwise unconnected. But they are, one and all, “haunted” by the chill spectre of – who? – Phil Spector.


Nation Of Ulysses – ‘Today I Met The Girl I’m Gonna Marry’ (from 13-Programme To Destroy America)

Darlene Love – ‘(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry’ (from Back To Mono)

Spiritualized – ‘She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like A Hit)’ (from Amazing Grace)

The Crystals – ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)' (from Back To Mono)

Isaac Hayes – ‘Ike’s Rap / You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ (from To Be Continued)

Righteous Brothers – ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling' (from Back To Mono)