Current Listening

Friday, March 30, 2007

In unrelated news, a certain online music/books/DVDs/stuff retailer named after a rainforest really, really wants me to buy Neon Bible.

“Last year was rubbish for music” is a common complaint in circles I occasionally find overlapping like a ven-diagram of music-lovers. Personally I thought last year was great; Midlake, Guillemots, Grizzly Bear, Final Fantasy, e.s.t., Scott Walker, Jenny Lewis, TV On The Radio, Howe Gelb, King Biscuit Time, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Lambchop, Shack…

I think every year is great. This year is also shaping up to be mighty fine; LCD Soundsystem, !!!, Patrick Wolf, Battles, Electrelane, The Field, Do Make Say Think, Acoustic Ladyland… It’s not even April yet. There’s always stuff worth listening to, and generally stuff worth falling in love with.

If you think a year in music is rubbish, you’re not trying hard enough. You can’t expect it to come to you. How often has Radio 1 enlightened you? (Feature idea there – Top Ten Moments When Listening To Radio 1 Actually Made Me Go Batshit Over New Music. I can think of… three. Delakota; Guillemots; “Blind”.)

The life of a music writer is an odd life. Much less interesting than people suppose. It involves a lot of listening to records on one’s own, and then trying to think of something witty or incisive to say about them. It’s not exciting. Maybe it is for some others who do this, but I doubt it.

It also, potentially, divorces you from being able to listen to music the way a “regular fan” does, or looks as though it might from the outside – OK, so “free music” is within reach of anyone with broadband and no fear of the RIAA or BPI, but listening to something in order to formulate an opinion on it rather than just because you enjoy it (or suspect you will enjoy it) is an alien process, perhaps. But is it really what music writers do? Is all our listening critical, purposeful? Do we sit around in an office playing records and discussing their merits? I never have. I consider myself a fan who writes, very definitely, and my listening is still (or, rather, is once again) very much governed by what I like rather than what I feel I need to hear. I simply don’t have the time or heart to try and take in everything.

I think the “normalcy” of music writers’ tastes and listening habits is something that could do with a bit of demythologising, especially in the age of the unpaid internet “critic” (although the ontology and ramifications of the word “critic” are another meme on my mind lately), and as such I have a couple of ideas for Stylus that may see fruit in the next few months. (Mythology, or pop.cult. mythology anyway, and the destruction thereof being something I have always been very keen on anyway, and I’m getting keener. [Listened to The Stone Roses the other day and was struck by how monochrome and dull it was; hmmm.])

As such and in the meantime, here are three current favourite artists who are frequenting the iPod, the hi-fi, the head-fi and sometimes the car, who don’t have new product to pimp and who I shan’t be reviewing any time soon but whose music nonetheless thrills and delights me.

Re-releases of the Super Roots series of EPs and mini-albums (or whatever you want to call them) have piqued my interest. I’ve had Vision Creation Newsun and Super æ for a few years, but aside from one particularly memorable evening dancing to VCN on Emma’s bed with her little brother (then 12 and bewildered / fascinated by what we were listening to and why we were behaving like nutjobs, now 15 and comfortably ensconced in self-identified chav-hell), I’d never really given either much time. I love the idea of crazy Japanese psychedelic rockers playing 10-minute call & response drum grooves but… Perhaps it was that Super æ begins with some nasty, dissonant guitars that put me off enough to make me put it on the shelf and think “one day”. (How many books, DVDs and CDs are waiting for that day? And when will that day come? When I retire and can finally catch-up on my cultural-stockpile pension?) Maybe I first listened during a period when I wanted something soothing (which, of course, some of Super æ is, once you get past those opening guitars)? Whatever, a moment’s research via AMG convinced me to order Super Roots 7 and run Super AE through my headphones properly, all the way to the end, and I was smitten. Super Roots 7 became great driving fodder, and Pop Tatari, purloined from emusic, proved to be much less abrasive and much more fun than I had surmised from hearsay. I think I have an aversion to the word “punk”, probably because the punks are now attempting to do what the baby-boomers have done so effectively for most of the last 30 years – i.e. lord it over current pop culture, constantly claiming their revolution to be the most important and best revolution ever, until I (and presumably lots of other people too) get thoroughly fucking sick of it.

Long Fin Killie
I actually do feel a strong urge to write something about Long Fin Killie, and pretty soon too, although for obvious reasons it won’t be a review for obvious reasons. I’d even try and not make it a simple “Luke Sutherland is a genius” piece, either. (Seven albums [under various guises] and three novels in eleven years suggest he may well be a genius though.) Emma has observed that I “always” listen to them on a Sunday morning, which is an interesting phenomenon and may actually form the basis of what I do end up writing. Three albums, all brilliant – interestingly they got more concise and their albums blessed with greater brevity as they went on, songstructures and musicianship tightly winding-in from the breathless, endless vistas of their debut. I couldn’t pick a favourite record by them.

A recent discovery thrown up by my adventures in fidelity, Califone’s miraculously arranged, engineered, mixed and mastered records have become my default headphone listening choice. To be offensively reductive as only a music writer can be, imagine Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot dissolved in acid and reassembled from only the basic elements – country guitars, whispering, feedback, wafts of electronics – with ego, epic gestures and sense of import drained away. Songs are not obvious or enlarged here and neither are sonics – every gesture is microcosmic, deeply felt and ruminatively placed. Without wanting to become compression-geek again, they joy I get from listening to Califone, as well as being from their subtle tunes and the deeply-felt (but never over-egged) emotions within those tunes, is a lot to do with their music establishing real, physically topographical spaces that I can climb inside, especially with headphones on (current weapons of choice are a pair of AKG K601s running from a Meier Audio Corda Headfive, geek-fans). There’s amazing control and care taken in the making of these records, and one can only conclude from that, that Tim Rutili and co. care very much about what they’re doing. It’s a shame that more artists don’t seem to take as much care.


Friday, March 30, 2007


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Nick Southall was born in southwest England at the tail end of the 70s, and is the youngest of three brothers. He has a degree in popular culture and philosophy and has written about music for Stylus Magazine, The Guardian and Drowned In Sound, amongst others. He likes red wine, expensive headphones, spicy food, and the Hungarian national football team of the 1950s. His favourite record is the last one he listened to. You can contact him by email via sickmouthy @ gmail dot com should you so wish.

All material copyright Nick Southall 2006/2007/2008

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