Posts Tagged ‘Psychedelia’

Old music: The Electras – Action Woman

Friday, June 1st, 2012

The Electras have got to find themselves some action, a little satisfaction – anyone know a woman who might lend a hand?

In his magnificent autobiography, Head-On, Julian Cope recounts one of the arguments that would rend asunder Liverpool’s music heads in the 70s: whose version of the 1967 garage-rock staple Action Woman was better? Was it the one by the Litter, better known by far, after featuring on the first volume of the Pebbles series of albums? Or was it the one by their Minneapolitan confreres, the Electras?

Action Woman was written by a man called Warren Kendrick, who was the manager of the Electras. He was also the manager of the Litter. So the ownership of the song – usually ceded to the Litter, though no one seems sure whose version came first – is open to debate.

What’s certain is that in either version, Action Woman deserves its reputation as one of garage’s gnarliest, snarliest, most tight-trousered pieces of hormonal aggression. He’s got to find him an action woman, you see, to satisfy his soul, a mind distraction woman before he loses control. And he’s got to find that woman while a brutal three-chord riff lumbers on behind him, and Keith Moon-style drum fills occupy all the spare space.

So what makes the Electras’ version better? I’ll give it to you as three-point plan (this isn’t sophisticated music – we won’t need any more points).

1. There’s a baroque-style harpsicord intro! The Litter’s version goes straight into the riff, and that’s fine, but harpsicords are the great instruments of 60s rock. There isn’t a song they don’t improve – and the nice-nasty contrast of the intro and the riff works just fine.

2. It swings a little more. The Litter lurch, but the Electras up the pace just a bit, making Action Woman seem a fraction less self-pitying, a fraction more angry. These things are relative, though – this song is never going to be about anything but not having sex. And, particularly, not having spectacularly dirty, throw-me-round-the-bed sex.

3. 2’01″. The greatest scream in garage punk. Better even than the one at the beginning of Gonn’s Blackout of Gretely – because our boy has to get some words out, too.

• Old Music will be on holiday until Monday 12 June.

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Fixers: We’ll Be the Moon – review

Saturday, May 19th, 2012


The world may not need any more dream-pop exponents but Oxford five-piece Fixers are too ravishing to ignore. Fittingly, for a band who come from the Thames Valley, their debut album references not just the usual acts (Animal Collective, Panda Bear, MGMT) but 90s shoegazing outfits such as Ride, the region’s cherubic answer to My Bloody Valentine. Groundbreaking they are not, then, but that matters not a jot when, as on Majesties Ranch and Iron Deer Dream, they use handclaps and harmonies to wonderful effect, imbuing psychedelia with a youthful glow.

Rating: 4/5

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Gaz Coombes Presents: Here Come the Bombs – review

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

(Hot Fruit)

No matter how far Gaz Coombes hastravelled from the days when no festival bill was complete without Supergrass chirping out Alright, he can’t escape his gift for writing songs with hooks you can hang a coat on. Hisdebut solo album is packed withthem, starting with Bombs, which links one of his wooziest, prettiest melodies to a lyric thatgets inside the “mind” of a bomb as it falls to earth: “What a lonely view as I tear away, breaking sound, speeding down.” You get the feeling, from the electronic curlicues, guitar-distortion andguttural dance beats that crop up throughout the album, that Coombes would have loved to ditch the choruses and devote the entire record to off-piste experimenting (the six-minute Universal Cinema, which begins acoustically and gradually cranks up the distortion, shows a musical mindset no longer informed by chart positions). But even as he thrashes andfulminates (“Everybody is a whore in a world that’s sold out” is his sour take on things in Whore), hecan’t keep the gorgeous melodies at bay.

Rating: 3/5

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Pop’s long players: sometimes extra length makes all the difference

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

The reissue of Sleep’s Dopesmoker shows musicians with the nerve to really stretch a song and take listeners on a journey

The three-minute pop song is an undeniable design classic: short enough to fit on one side of a 7in, long enough to turn a repeated chorus, melody or hook into an insanely addictive earworm. But greatness can also occur when an artist changes their game up from sprint to marathon, breaking past the 180-second barrier as far as their creativity will take them.

I’m talking specifically about tunes that rely on their uncommon length for their effect, not just songs rendered radio-unfriendly by lengthy instrumental excursions. While I’ll gladly play air guitar through all 10 minutes of the album version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legendarily solo-slaked ballad Free Bird, were the 3:31 radio edit to pop on the jukebox, it’d still be enough to have me sobbing into a tumbler of bourbon. The five-minute radio edit of Neil Young’s Change Your Mind, however, has none of the impact of the 15-minute original found on his 1994 LP Sleeps with Angels, one of many of his tracks – see also Cowgirl in the Sand, Down By the River, Like a Hurricane – where the song’s troubled heart is only truly expressed through the cumulative power of Young’s extended, discursive and emotive guitar solos, more erudite than lyrics could ever be.

Similarly, it would be hard to imagine an effective radio edit of Sleep’s Dopesmoker, recently given a deluxe reissue by Southern Lord. When the San Jose metallers submitted the unbroken 64-minute track as their first album for London Records in 1994, they were comprehensively rebuffed, and the album shelved, leading to the group’s dissolution. “We were stubborn,” frontman Matt Pike told me in 2009. “Our contemporaries, like Soundgarden, were recording their ‘radio hits’, but we refused to. Out of integrity.” Its subsequent posthumous release saw Dopesmoker rightfully recognised as a subterranean masterpiece, and no mere gesture of bloody-mindedness: the song derives an elephantine majesty from the way its grinding, weed-soaked riffs evolve and elucidate over that most-heavy of hours.

Decades earlier, the Velvet Underground reveled in the similarly alienating perversity of the track that closed their second album, 1968′s White Light/White Heat. Sister Ray chased a two-chord chug over a quarter of an hour, John Cale’s searingly distorted Vox Continental firing off peals of crazed carnival organ as Lou Reed unspooled a foul-mouthed urban shanty of cock-sucking, drug-shooting transvestite prostitutes. Six minutes in, the song descends into a seamy chaos, where it stays for another 10 minutes, an excessive, debauched paean to excess and debauchery that’s never less than electrifying (though the engineer evidently didn’t agree, reportedly quitting the session in disgust and leaving the Velvets to improvise as the tapes rolled unattended.)

In 2002, another New York art-rock group, Oneida, took Sister Ray’s bloody-minded concept one step further with Sheets of Easter, the opening track to their Each One Teach One double album. Named in tribute to a particularly fearsome batch of blotter acid, the track opened with the whispered words “You’ve got to look into the …”, before the Brooklyn trio hammered into a needling one-chord, two-note riff punctuated by repeated yells of “Light!”, like a stylus locked into a scratched groove, for 14 further minutes: a scourging, hallucinatory experience, a strychnine-laced mind enema.

But long songs needn’t be such masochistic (albeit rewarding) experiences. Funk artists long ago realised that “more is more”, that a sweet groove gathers exponential power the longer you play it, as long as the audience is still dancing. Many of James Brown’s finest funks could barely be shoehorned into the 7in format, broken up over two parts flowing from side A to B, cut down from even longer studio jams (check the unedited take of Escapism from the 1993 reissue of his 1971 LP Hot Pants, where Brown’s JBs happen on a vamp so hypnotic it keeps you moving, as Brown clowns his musicians at length for their “country” roots).

The advent of the 12″ single saw the rise of the disco edit, as soul evolved into grooves extended specifically for the dancefloor. Donna Summer ascended to disco’s throne via songs such as 1977′s I Feel Love; Hi-NRG pioneer Patrick Cowley remixed the track, almost doubling the length of the original eight-minute 12″ version of the Giorgio Moroder-scored mantra. Summer had made her maiden voyage into disco two years earlier with Love to Love You Baby, the album version of which found Summer simulating climaxes over sultry tantric funk for almost 17 minutes, serving as some disco-era equivalent to Ravel’s Bolero; the success of the song provoked Diana Ross’s own move towards the dancefloor with her ambitious 1976 epic Love Hangover, which segued from languid post-coital purr to urgent disco barn-burner over eight minutes.

The lushly orchestrated, deep-voiced seduction of Isaac Hayes’ 70s albums similarly soundtracked intimate moments in bedrooms across the world – with Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra following in his wake – but his remarkable, meditative cover of Jimmy Webb’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix, from his 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul, remains one of the most compelling portraits of love’s death. It would be an understatement to describe it as unhurried, but what Hayes humbly describes as “my own interpretation of it” is so powerful precisely because of his lengthy preamble, spending nine minutes describing what he imagined as the back-story to Webb’s ballad of betrayal and resignation, detailing the blind love of the song’s hero and the cold cruelty of his cheating partner, over Hammond-organ hum. Having so established the dramatis personae, the song’s lachrymose glide is affecting as never before; edit away Hayes’ tear-etched prologue, and its impact would be profoundly lessened.

This is but a brief sampling of pop’s excursions into the epic – I haven’t even touched on the lengthy pleasures of Krautrock, the heart-pulse hedonism of house, the gonzo song-cycles of prog. And, of course, a surfeit of ambition, ego and indulgence is equally likely to result in travesty as triumph. But the likes of By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Sister Ray and Dopesmoker prove the risk is worth taking. As Matt Pike said of his magnum opus: “Dopesmoker was a ballsy move, but it destroyed the band. It also made us legends.”

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Readers recommend: songs about parks – results

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Cut down on your porklife, mate, and take a route straight through this week’s theme about parklife

An easy, mid-pace beat; falsetto harmonies; major-seventh chords; plenty of reverb to make everything shimmer, and lovelorn lyrics about being stood up: the ideal ingredients for a park-themed song. Chicago soulster Billy Stewart’s 1965 hit Sitting in the Park set the bar high for such songs. “Hope over experience, keeps him sitting in the park waiting for her,” says LittleRiver. “Pretty, pretty song.”

Ticking a few of the same boxes is Gentlemen of the Park, by Swinging London types Episode Six, whose lineup included a pre-Deep Purple Ian Gillan and Roger Glover. The track was included on cult (translation: not many people like it) film Les Bicyclettes de Belsize.

Parks offer an oasis of tranquility in the tumult of urban life. “Someone left the cake out in the rain …” The oft-derided MacArthur Park (named after a public space in Los Angeles) is convincingly defended by RR commenter AshenFacedSupremo, who praises “genius” songwriter Jimmy Webb for his ability to “achieve the perspective of an old man looking back on a life that is filled with … fragile, fleeting, bittersweet memories and painful regrets”. So which version to choose? Many preferred Donna Summer’s disco reading. “Pop music never ceases to surprise,” says AshenFacedSupremo.

The park in Department of Eagles’ complex but beautiful In Ear Park also prompts stirring memories. RR nominator Fuel says it’s “about going to the same spot in a park where someone close to you once went … a folkish Dock of the Bay”.

RR regular Slademan recalls Nick Nicely’s appealingly odd 1982 single Hilly Fields (1892) being described in NME as “the best psychedelic record made since the 60s – multilayered, lovingly crafted and endlessly complex – it could come straight off Magical Mystery Tour”. Something about parks seems to capture the imagination of the psychedelic-ly-inclined, as evidenced by the Small Faces’ mythical Itchycoo Park “one of the greatest records ever made”, says Beltway Bandit).

Meanwhile in In tha Park, Ghostface Killah and Black Thought locate the origins of hip-hop in the urban outdoors: “Hip-hop was set out in the park/ We used to do it out in the dark.”

Tangerine Dream recorded an entire album of park-inspired music, Le Parc. Gaudi Park was named after Barcelona’s uniquely odd yet dramatic Parc Guell. And staying in Spain, the breathtaking Moorish garden at the Alhambra is celebrated in Enrique Morente’s Generalife, a song that RR nominator (and resident of Spain) Makinavaja says actually manages to do them justice.

To Washington DC in the 70s, and jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd’s third album with the Blackbyrds opened with breezy funk workout Rock Creek Park, all heavy breathing and darting flute. The lyrics, however, concern nocturnal park-use that I suspect contravenes bylaws.

The narrator of A Walk in the Park is trying to forget his breaking-up-with-girlfriend woes. No idea if he succeeded, but Sub Pop’s Baltimore duo Beach House’s sublime melody is a tonic. And on the Curtis Mayfield-penned Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Major Lance observes someone experiencing similar park-based anguish.

Here’s the playlist:

Sitting in the Park – Billy Stewart

Gentlemen of the Park – Episode Six

MacArthur Park – Donna Summer

In Ear Park – Department of Eagles

Hilly Fields (1892) – Nick Nicely

Itchycoo Park – The Small Faces

In tha Park – Ghostface Killah (featuring Black Thought)

Gaudi Park – Tangerine Dream

Generalife – Enrique Morente

Rock Creek Park – The Blackbyrds

A Walk in the Park – Beach House

Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um – Major Lance

* Listen to these songs on a YouTube playlist

* Read all the readers’ recommendations on last week’s blog, from which I’ve selected the songs above

* Here’s a Spotify playlist containing readers’ recommendations on this theme

* We’ll reveal the next Readers Recommend topic at at 10pm on Thursday.

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