Why We Killed It

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why Todd killed it. Because it was him. I guess we were all accomplices, though. (Look how much I’m writing! I can’t fucking stop; it’s a reaction, clearly.) Accomplices firstly by not… doing more, perhaps. Accomplices secondly by understanding his reasons and accepting the inevitable.

Todd’s line is that he “got off the subway one day and thought I don’t want to do this anymore”. What that means is that… the guy didn’t sleep. At one point he was working two fulltime jobs and running Stylus. Which is a fulltime job and a difficult one too, and which pays fuck-all. Money from advertising ploughed back into bandwidth. A couple of people got part-time meagre wages for doing stuff towards the end. And that includes Todd. Dude didn’t sleep. I know because he’d answer emails at 9am my time straight away. I ran Stylus for about three months back in late 2003 (I think) when he moved away after university, and it nearly fucking killed me, the lack of sleep, the stress, the organisation, the lack of help or thanks or tangible reward. He’s done that for five fucking years.

Some of the guys wanted to carry on, to take over the name. But it was Todd’s baby and none of them would have been able to give it even 10% of what he’d given it. And if we took it on and fucked it up, that would be… shitting on Todd’s hard work.

Some of the guys wanted to start a new site, but… the work involved five years ago was monstrous. The work involved now would be absolutely fucking unconscionable. The rules have changed. See Playlouder, see all that login shite, that community network download application Facebook bullshit. If you wanted to start a new site today and make it into a viable success, a business model, you need Web 2.0, simple as that. Because people don’t fucking care about… thought, and criticism. Not most people. Consumption is not thought, as Alfred so wisely said.

Dom Passantino and I spoke about it at length in the days after Todd dropped the bomb, talked of starting something new and what it would have to be, and the conclusion was one of two things; either a minimal, blog-esque approach, easy upkeep and low-cost, or something Web 2.0, interactive, with networks and links and gadgets and widgets and… run by programmers, not writers.

This is why I blame Last.fm – sorry Fiona. I’ve nothing personally against the people who work there – say hi to Steve Gravell from me – and I don’t imagine anyone sat down and said “let’s start something which kills music journalism”, but side-effects and repercussions are never considered – they’re side-effects and repercussions.

And yes, Last.fm is a strawman here for me, and I could equally say Myspace or any other net-based music protocol (or other application that includes a music protocol), but Last.fm is the one that…

I’ve just been interrupted by a phonecall from my brother, and explained this to him, and I hit out a sentence that fits perfectly. Why read 600 words about why you might or might not adore a record when you can get given a list of records you almost certainly will quite like for nothing, everyday? And that’s the thing about downloading, about free music; everything is worth a listen if it costs you nothing. The amount of things that are worth tearing your fucking heart open for and following a band around the country for remains the same. But no money out = no disappointment if something’s just ‘average’. Last.fm promotes mediocrity. Not deliberately!

And this isn’t going to be Todd’s reason, but it’s my understanding, my reason. Stylus’ hits were rising massively between 2003 and 2005. From 2006 onwards they weren’t, yet our reputation and influence (look at, to blow my own trumpet some more, Imperfect Sound Forever) continued to grow. But no extra hits means this never becomes the ‘business model’ we needed it to be to make it… not ‘worth our while’, because the people I wrote with and for and about made it worthwhile, but… when you come home from a shitty day at work, tired, and sitting down to write a review seems like yet more work rather than a passion or a hobby, which is something that happened often, then you need a carrot. And yes, I’ve spoken to and met and exchanged emails with and listened to music by amazing people, but… I’d like to be able to pay the mortgage and not worry so much, you know? My ‘career’ outside this has suffered, not because of this… but because I love this, and it’s important.

The game changed for print magazines when we pushed out content daily and they could only manage monthly. The game changed for us when bandwidth speeds meant getting MP3s was as quick as getting a page of text used to be. Initially it helped us. Now? Not so much. I’m not a programmer. I’m not a music journalist! I’m a fan who writes.

And yes, the sort of recommendations Last.fm makes are probably great – Emma’s found plenty of stuff she’s really liked via it – and yes that sort of protocol and the kind of long-form thought, comment and criticism that Stylus purveyed ought to be able to co-exist, but it doesn’t look as if they can.

I had a piece syndicated from LA Weekly to East Bay Express. Initially I thought “wooo! more readers and more money”, but syndication fee is a lot less than commissioning fee, which means that huge publishers get content cheap, and writers other than those syndicated see their opportunities cut down. It also means the collective critical voice gets watered down just a little bit, as one opinion eats another, and does so for financial reasons at the behest of New Times Media or whoever, not because of the relative worth of either opinion.

So when Todd got off the subway and thought “I don’t want to do this anymore”, and when he told us that, we understood, each in our own way and in our own time, that it was the right thing to do, that we should acquiesce to his wish for closure.

Sometimes you just have to walk away.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Top Ten Records I Meant To Write About For Stylus But Never Got Around To

When Todd told us back in July that he was shutting Stylus, one of my first reactions was- actually wait. Hang on. Let’s go back to how it happened.

I was in the kitchen with my girlfriend and her brother, and I’d just opened the MacBook and was about to turn it on and login. I had cold beer in the fridge and was going to cook the three of us a meal, as I remember. Then I got a text message, just as I was logging in. It was from Dom and it said “Oh shit”. I replied “wtf?”, or somesuch. Then my email popped open. Literal seconds between the two. I knew what the “Oh shit” meant.

One of my first reactions; I scribbled a list of things I knew I needed to write about before we closed, ideas I’d had and started work on plus things I’d always vaguely wanted to write about one day “in the future" but that wasn’t urgent. Suddenly everything became urgent. A lot of them I got round to; some of them I didn’t. The Rita Lee piece was one, as was the most listened piece, the ‘make better records’ top ten, the headphones piece that’s underneath this. I shoed in Long Fin Killie, Kitchens Of Distinction, Califone, Jim O’Rourke, Lift To Experience and a handful of others I’d always wanted to cover but never quite known how.

But I didn’t manage everything. Obviously. So here are ten I wished I’d got round to, or tried to get round to, or only remembered at the last minute, when it was far too late.

10. Deee-Lite – “Groove Is In The Heart”
I did a handful of Final Seconds pieces for Todd, because… I could, and I wanted to, and I thought it might help. They came pretty quickly. He only ran with one, though, which is good, because it was the best one, and it fitted the feel of the piece well. The very first song it struck me to write about, though, wasn’t “I’m Free Now” by Morphine, but this. Which I’d always wanted to do a Seconds piece on, because… well, if pushed, I’d pick this as the greatest single ever released, just edging out “I Want You Back”. I love it. I have done since I was about twelve. It’s perfect.

9. Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies
Joe 65dos raved about them to me. They had something about them live the other night that made me want to dig further. But an album won’t emerge until next year. Too late for Stylus.

8. Dave Brubeck – “Take Five”
For that scene in Pleasantville, and also for my dad. He loves Brubeck. Cheesy as hell? I only thought so cos I assumed my dad isn’t cool. He isn’t. This is, though.

7. Elbow – “Station Approach”
I love Elbow, in a platonic way, and I think this might be my favourite song by them. It surges, you see. The best songs do. Surging is something dynamic range compression fucks-up. I wrote another Final Seconds blurb about “Station Approach”. It goes like this;

“Both triumphant and exhausted, this is the sound of coming home, literally. Comfort and revulsion, a slow, resigned meander suddenly enlivened by the stomp of recognition; ‘Coming home I feel like I / Designed these buildings I walk by’. Guy Garvey even finds affection here in the things he used to hate. From nothing to everything.”

I didn’t write about Elbow’s last album for Stylus because Ian called it first. Initially I thought it trailed off a touch too much; it doesn’t. Those last few songs are beautiful. Guy Garvey posting a comment on Imperfect Sound Forever made my heart swell. I walked past him on a Manchester street corner once, nearly a couple of years ago. I wish I’d said hi.

6. De La Soul – “Eye Know”
Would have been number 11 on this, but wasn’t, for some reason. It’s those opening guitar notes, isn’t it? Are they Steely Dan? I bet they’re Steely Dan.

5. Mega City Four
My first favourite band, because they were my older brother’s favourite band. His name is in the thank yous on one of their albums. He went to the guitarist’s stag do recently. My favourite song might be “Shivering Sand” or possibly “Shadow” or maybe “Vague” or perhaps “Anne Bancroft”. But it’s probably “Storms To Come”, which sounds like a storm, the grinding bassline and the sudden eruptions into maelstrom. It’s about being caught in blackness, trying to find your way out, waiting for the lightening to illuminate your path and realising… well, here’s how Wiz put it, more than fifteen years ago, in the song itself; “The lightening is too far away / And I can’t wait that long / Regardless of the light I’ll carry on”. Wiz died suddenly almost a year ago. I pitched a piece at The Guardian about how Myspace had brought together a network of past fans of the band. People who’d gigged and ligged together but lost touch as they got laugh lines and mortgages and children, but it was too late and they didn’t bite. My brother is one of those people who’d gigged and ligged.

4. Embrace – The Fireworks EP
I wrote another Final Seconds about “Blind” from this EP, because… oh fuck it.

“Blue and streaming, screaming even; the guitars in the centre of ‘Blind’ slip and slide from channel to channel, rip it apart from the inside; not a mixing board trick, but swinging a microphone around their head in the studio, rattling the sound up inside it. It snarls, it strides, it hides a battered heart. ‘Next time I run I’m gonna open my eyes’. Those guitars; my favourite guitars, ever.”

Really that was a makeweight though; what I should have done, months ago, years ago maybe, was write about the whole of the EP, every contour and note. How it starts with a strident, violent blast, a punch in the face, and then dips into the most beautiful song ever. How it then rises up again into “Blind” and pulverises. How it then dips back again, even more beautiful and ethereal. My relationship with Embrace is all kinds of fucking weird, as you know, and it all, every second of it, stems from this EP.

3. The Beta Band – “Push It Out”
The first Beta Band song I heard, and still my favourite; is that a gong that opens things or just an intrusively close cymbal? The rolling bassline; the distracted hum of the vocals, calling together from east and west; the lazy, jazzy piano breaks that bring things close to a head. Even after a decade I still can’t fathom what Steve Mason is pushing out, I just know it’s important to me. Every day in every way, like I say somewhere underneath in a blurb on his solo album, I love Steve Mason more and more.

2. M/A/R/R/S – “Pump Up The Volume”
Just because.

1. Talk Talk – Laughing Stock / The Colour Of Spring
Aside from a paragraph in the Postrock Top Ten, I’ve never really written about Laughing Stock, and I’ve never written about The Colour Of Spring at all. I wrote the following for the Final Seconds piece, too;

“The preceding four songs on Laughing Stock give ‘New Grass’ its power, its beauty, its bizarre amalgam of joy and desolation. ‘Taphead’ climaxes half an hour of emotional tumult in complete and utter crawling, isolated darkness, sin and death… and then ‘New Grass’ is the rebirth, dawn sunlight breaking through heavy clouds. Those skittish, distant drums, those hesitant guitar chords, faltering in perfection, falling from the sky. Sublime.”

That’s about half of one percent of what I’d want to say. Marcello Carlin once suggested on ILM that I ought to pitch at the 33 1/3 people about writing a book on Laughing Stock. Maybe one day I will.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Top Ten Headphones Albums

Written for Stylus, but we ran out of time.

If you hadn’t realized already, I view a decent pair of headphones or three as an essential accessory in the armory of any self-respecting music geek, whether they be for the walk to work, privacy in the office, or those late nights when you don’t want to upset the neighbours.

Cleary many people will say that EVERY record sounds better through headphones, and that therefore a ‘top ten’ is redundant. This is broadly true for most things bar the latest Keane album and its siblings in digital limiting, where all proximity breeds is pain, but nevertheless there are certain records, and certain types of records, that most assuredly gain something extra special when you play them through a pair of good headphones.

10. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Spoon’s latest is remarkably well engineered, but a little aggressively-mastered, which can make it slightly wearing over a pair of speakers. Run it through headphones that are good with guitars, though, and as well as the drums, brass and six-strings all being rendered beautifully, all the low-level studio chatter and ambience starts to come through; all of a sudden you’re aware of someone humming the guitar riff just before it starts in “Don’t You Evah”, for instance.

9. Augie March – Moo You Bloody Choir
Augie March’s profile is criminally low outside Australia, and even in their native country they’re not exactly superstars, so I don’t feel at all guilty for having included them in three of my recent top tens, because they’re brilliant. What makes Moo You Bloody Choir great on headphones is the scale, depth and variety of the arrangements; Augie are essentially a bloozy bar band, but they ambitiously augment their songs with piano, brass and strings with a cloudy, ornate and inscrutable sophistication way beyond the remit of general indie rockers. The intimate moments are agonisingly personal, the grand passages irreverently pompous, and the rocking bits genuinely rocking; a good set of headphones helps you fully appreciate the scope of what’s going on.

8. US Maple – Talker
I’d never heard of US Maple until a certain scatological violinist recommended Talker to me via email as “the deepest and most rewarding headphone listen of the last 10 years”, and indeed it might be; the extraordinary interlacing of guitars, drum rhythms and gruff, incomprehensible vocals is difficult to take in at first, but on repeated exposure reveals itself to be truly something to behold at close quarters, like a really deranged Magic Band circa Trout Mask Replica accidentally run through a filter of grunge by people who’ve never spoken to anyone bar their immediate family. Particularly astonishing are the outrageous guitar textures, the like of which I really have never heard before.

7. Cornelius – Point
You’d be forgiven for assuming that Cornelius makes records purely for the headphone addict, given the joie-de-vivre with which he applies the stereophonic panning, mixing desk tricks and flippant textural changes. Point in particular lays it on thick – from field recordings of running water to upshots and downshots of guitar flitting from ear-to-ear, every second is crammed with sensuous detail; so much in fact that it can be overwhelming if you’re not in the mood.

6. Mark Hollis – Mark Hollis
Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock are both common and very understandable shouts as ‘great headphones records’, but I’ve written about both before, and if anything this decade-old solo album by Mark Hollis takes their aesthetic even further into the austere. Recorded live in a room on two carefully-placed microphones, with no overdubs and as little electricity as possible, Hollis spent seven years preparing for this album, teaching himself classical composition amongst other things. It’s great on headphones because no other record I’ve heard puts you in a room the way this does; it’s the fall of the piano keys in “The Colour Of Spring”, the space between them as the notes decay and the tangible sense of fingers depressing different areas of the keyboard; down and up, left and right. And then there is the brass, the drums, the strings… Listening to this album feels almost intrusive.

5. Disco Inferno – Technicolour
I’ve written about Disco Inferno at length before on Stylus; suffice to say that their bizarre, prescient amalgam of environmental sampling and postpunk is absolutely dazzling on headphones. By Technicolour especially they had mastered their art to the extent that they were creating hooks and riffs from found sounds; the opening title track uses slashes of guitars alongside an array of breaking glass, screeching brakes, ringing alarm clocks and parping car horns. Elsewhere across the album splashes of water, whistling winds, erupting fireworks and untold other effects jostle with orthodox instrumentation to concoct some truly bizarre pop songs; remarkable.

4. PJ Harvey – Rid Of Me
It may seem ludicrous to choose such a relentlessly visceral album for a list of records that work best on headphones, but I’ve found nothing as wildly exciting as running Rid Of Me through a pair of Alessandros at frantically stupid volumes; if I tried to get anywhere near this with speakers I’d either burst my bass drivers or have the police round inside three songs. It’s something to do with the pronounced dynamics of this Albini-produced beast; the quiet parts, on headphones, lull you in like nothing else, before the frightening crescendos threaten to rupture your cerebellum in the most deliciously tinnitus-inducing way. I wouldn’t recommend listening to Rid Of Me in this manner every day, but I’d certainly suggest trying it before you die.

3. The Beta Band – Hot Shots Part 2
It’s a combination of cavernous space and minute attention to detail that makes Hot Shots II so rewarding through an expensive pair of cans running off a proper headphone amp; subtle arrangements of live and synthetic percussion, snippets of acoustic guitars, melodica, piano, sub-tectonic bass, textural inserts drawn from r’n’b and electronica plus intricate layers of Steve Mason’s forlornly beautiful vocals paint wide but intimate refractions across the inside of your head. After the haphazardness of their eponymous debut album, Hot Shots II is a remarkably subtle and controlled affair that reveals more of itself each time you listen, especially when you’re as close as only headphones can get you.

2. Califone – Roomsound
Tim Rutili’s post-country outfit consistently produces such richly textured and beautiful records that choosing them for a list like this seems almost redundant; it’s also incredibly difficult given the high quality of each of their full studio albums. So as a cop-out, I’ll pick their debut, which showed the ex-Red Red Meat members emerging with aesthetic fully formed. The amalgam of slide guitars, feedback, improvised and electronic percussion, mumbled, growled and crooned vocals as well as delicate, spacious layering of atmospheric and found sounds makes this album an experience on headphones like almost nothing else. That the riffs and melodies underneath are insidiously catchy and emotive is more than a bonus.

1. Orbital – In Sides
I think the single experience that convinced me I’d have a long and happy relationship with headphones was listening to this album on a walkman for the first time; specifically the moment when “Out There Somewhere (Part 2)” starts and the scary alien pre-amble suddenly bursts into stereoscopic delight, the melody flitting from left-to-right like points of light in a darkened room, sparking your senses to life. It’s not just that, though, which makes In Sides such a headphone treat; the subtle heartbeat-bass of “The Girl With The Sun In Her Head” being slowly rattled awake by drums and exalted by intertwining layers of synthesiser; the zither textures of “The Box”; the crawling ambience of “Dwr Budr”; the martial tension of “Adnan’s” – every track unveils itself further and further the closer you get to it, and while this is ostensibly a ‘dance’ record by genre, it’s definitely more headphone fodder than club banger.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fifty From Five

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

These are, as of Tuesday 30th October 2007, my fifty favourite records released during the existence of Stylus Magazine. Only three rules exist for this list; things must have been released between June 3rd 2002 and October 29th 2007, only one album from any given artist, and no reissues or compilations. Oh, and I must like it. A lot.

As a result you won’t find Is A Woman, Point, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tallahassee or Original Pirate Material on this list; they all came out in the first six months of 2002. There’s no Can or Sly remasters and no Tropicalia either. And there’s definitely no fucking Blueberry Boat. Just fifty new records that I have loved during the life of Stylus. I was going to just do twenty, but it was too hard.

Here they are, in a very vague semblance of preference.

1. Bark Psychosis - ///Codename:Dustsucker
I say vague, but I think this is almost a clear favourite for me. Certainly, unlike almost any other choice here, I feel no pangs or divisions regarding whether this should be above or below this or that other record; it just stands apart. Maybe it’s that I interviewed Graham Sutton and that we’ve occasionally corresponded since; maybe it’s just the infinite depth of the actual music on this record. No, I don’t listen to it every day, and couldn’t, either; but I don’t and couldn’t with any other record on this list. They each have their time and place. In fact, I’m not sure when I last did listen to this; I just know that when I do, nothing else matters.

My Stylus review.

2. Manitoba / Caribou – Up In Flames
Whereas this… I might prefer, right now, both The Milk of Human Kindness and also, especially, Andorra, but this had such epochal impact on me when it landed that I have to pick it over them; I still remember the first listen and the crazed, hyperbole spitting ILM thread I started over four years ago. It’s a freakout, really, and though it’s perhaps a tad too frenetic, I love it, and it definitely hit hard and helped define, I think, what Stylus, and my own personal taste, was / is about.

My Stylus review.

3. Electrelane – The Power Out
Is this really my third favourite album of the last five years? I’m not sure. Is it even my favourite Electrelane album of the last five years? I’m not sure of that, either; No Shouts No Calls perhaps holds as much weight. Hell, maybe Axes does too. But this was first contact, and as such… when “The Valleys” opens up it swells something inside. And the sound! Albini magic. I wish I’d known them sooner. (As with many, many things musical, Emma got their first.)

4. Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position
I probably personally prefer Wind In The Wires as a mood mover, an emotional pipe into me, but as with Manitoba / Caribou and Electrelane, I’m picking the artist here rather than the record. And this, of the three Patrick’s produced since Stylus started, was the most anticipated and explosive, a glitterball burst of positivity that harboured just as much beauty, fragility and fractured persona as the previous two despite what people said about him going ‘pop’. And again, an interview added a further degree of personal connection. The man’s imagination and talent astound me. We’re seeing him live again soon, at the Phoenix again with a minimal approach rather than the full-on glam storm he brought to the Thekla and Birmingham Academy earlier this year.

My Stylus review.

5. Califone – Roots And Crowns
Like I say, this is a very vague semblance of preference; I don’t know this record well enough to call it as my fifth favourite of the last five years in all probability, and that’s largely because there’s so much to get to know, so know much depth, so much detail, so much space, so many hooks and strangely wrought emotions in this weird, spaced-out country headmusic. Perversely catchy too, for something so obstruse.

6. Acoustic Ladyland – Skinny Grin
Should have been epochal but wasn’t; the world in 2007 isn’t ready for jazz anymore, not jazz like this anyway (in the face of Norah Jones and Jamie Cullum), and I was always fighting as losing battle to convince fellow Stylus-ites that Acoustic Ladyland’s relentless pursuit of futurist energy and emotion was as revolutionary as it really is. And it fucking is! Wow. Noise, energy, pitch, feeling, tone, pace, scope; everything goes to the max.

My Stylus review.

7. Battles – Mirrored
As above, really, except that, this being American, NYC even, and allied with postrock or mathrock or whatever, means it got a degree of attention Skinny Grin missed. Don’t get me wrong; this is just as freaky and amazing and weird as the one above, just as wonderful, but the two aren’t that far apart. Is it too recent to pick here? Maybe.

8. The Necks – Drive By
Both vatic and profound; infinite. From casual exposure (playing it in the office) I’ve had more comments about this (“what is this?”) than any other record over the years. Just a… perfect thing. It’s like a sculpture or something; it reminds me of the mirrored cubes that used to be in the Tate Modern (probably still are?- a while since I’ve been) and which, while deceptively simple, can absorb you for hours as you walk around and through them, seeing how they corrupt light and space and time.

My Stylus review.

9. Augie March – Strange Bird
Absolutely immaculately crafted, and a touch boozily so, to add some all-important character; some cracks, wheals, chips and knots in the wood that carving, waxing and polishing can’t fully conceal.

10. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
What a beautiful, strange, old and unexplored house, full of cobwebs and aged oak furniture full of bizarre curios, everything put together with immense skill but at an angle, an incline, a woozy displacement to where you’d expect.

11. 65daysofstatic – The Destruction of Small Ideas
Another personal link, a holistic web of influence: this album reaffirmed why I ever wrote anything in the first place; in order to try and make things better.

My Stylus review.

12. Sonic Youth – Sonic Nurse
Amazing that such messy, dirty guitars can be done with such extraordinary clarity and care; and such hooks as well! That’s what surprised me.

13. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther
Genuinely beautiful and timeless; or as genuinely as you get. Those harmonies; people said Radiohead as pilgrim fathers but really it’s Fleetwood Mac as persecuted hermits.

14. Roots Manuva – Awfully Deep
Token hip-hop entry number one; this isn’t hip-hop though, it’s some kind of fucked-up cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s beautiful and tapped and deep, deep, deep.

My Stylus review.

15. Working For A Nuclear Free City – Working For A Nuclear Free City
Just really well done, if a little… too eager at points to flit through its record collection. Better than anything Primal Scream managed since XTRMNTR. In love with music.

My Stylus review of the expanded American release.

16. The Clientele – The Violet Hour
Jonesy did the engineering! I didn’t know that until afterwards. My sepia saviour.

My Stylus review.

17. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver
Is it just those two songs in the middle that make this mean so much? Even if it is, it’s deserved.

My Stylus review.

18. Kate Bush – Aerial
Actually physically beautiful.

My Stylus review.

19. Lift To Experience – The Texas–Jerusalem Crossroads
Undeniable; frighteningly so. Joe 65dos assures me that Josh T. Pearson is a genius. I don’t doubt it.

20. Elbow – Leaders Of The Free World
Their best? Might be. Rise, fall. Rise, fall. The last four songs or so reward so much over time. About the details.

21. Embrace – Out Of Nothing
Flawed, so flawed, but so impassioned too. Hearts in the right place; heads not always.

22. Guillemots – From The Cliffs
Pipping the album proper because… “Cat’s Eyes” and “Who Left The Lights On Baby”. As simple as that.

23. Polar Bear – Held On The Tips Of Fingers
Modern jazz but without all the nods to electronica that so much modern jazz seems to need; no less modern, though.

My Stylus review.

24. Stars Of The Lid – And The Refinement of Their Decline
Just beautiful, again, and calm, and slow.

25. King Biscuit Time – Black Gold
Grows in stature every time I play it. Pips the final Beta Band album. Steve Mason actually is a genius. I wish him well.

My Stylus review.

26. Loose Fur – Loose Fur
This and the second one both, simply, get listened to more often and enjoyed more fully than any of the “important” Wilco albums; they’re just music.

27. Spoon – Kill The Moonlight
As is this; funky, fun, different. I love his adenoids and his clumsy ass-shake. Like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s younger, less po-faced brother.

28. Four Tet – Rounds
Pause is the one, really, but this will do. Final tracks should sound like going home. This one does.

My Stylus review.

29. The Delgados – Hate
Too bold, maybe, but those melodies and voices make up for it.

30. TV On The Radio – Young Liars EP
Love the aesthetic – drone, groove, soul – and this perhaps does it best of the choices available.

31. Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds
Just exquisitely musical.

32. Fennesz – Venice
Austere and beautiful and strange. The review is worth a read, if I say so myself.

My Stylus review.

33. British Sea Power – Open Season
Calmer, more comfortable; some beautiful moments but still with energy.

34. Two Lone Swordsmen – From The Double Gone Chapel
The start of the new phase; dirty forest rock.

35. Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man – Out Of Season
Distant. Unlike almost anything else. Rural vocal theatre.

My Stylus review.

36. Ghostface Killah – The Pretty Toney Album
Token hip-hop two. Boy got soul.

37. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People
Can’t deny it, even if it’s not quite everything.

38. Missy Elliott – Under Construction
Token hip-hop three. Girl got pointillist digital stereophonic funk.

39. Studio – West Coast
Very recent; unsure; impressed though.

My Stylus review.

40. The Notwist – Neon Golden
Changing men; organically digital. Surprisingly strong songs.

41. Boredoms – Seadrum / House Of Sun
Ambient jazz, or something. Less frenetic, almost; more beautiful, certainly.

42. Scott Walker – The Drift
Still never taken in in one sitting. How could you?

43. Sugababes – Three
Just. Really. Good. Pop.

My Stylus review.

44. N*E*R*D – In Search Of
Second version, for chronology. Dirty drug fucks.

45. Akufen – My Way
Literally cut dance music into tiny new pieces.

46. Vitalic – OK Cowboy
Took those pieces and recast them in classic forms.

47. Rufus Wainwright – Want One
Comically grandiose; staggeringly gifted and egotistical melodicist.

48. OutKast – Speakerboxxx / The Love Below
For a little while, seemed like the best, most important thing ever.

My Stylus review.

49. Boards Of Canada – The Campfire Headphase
Over-exposed sound, more willing to communicate now. Beautiful. Another review worth reading.

My Stylus review.

50. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
For a little while, seemed like the best, most important thing ever.

My Stylus review.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Good Night, Stylus

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stylus Magazine, which I have written for for over five years, ceases publication on October 31st.

There will be lots of 'goodbye' and 'and finally' type pieces published there in the last few days of its existence, including a farewell piece by myself, so I shan't write too much here. Needless to say, I'm sad, and it feels like the end of an era. It is the end of an era.

The following is an excerpt from an email I sent a couple of weeks ago to PR contact of mine, explaining some of the reasoning behind why I think music journalism is dying;

"Last.fm has hit sites like Stylus hard because it removes the need for
criticism / reviews - it essentially cuts out the middleman of the
music press by giving access to specialised peer recommendatons; why
trust a journalist who might be biased or swayed by free gifts when
you can trust someone who likes lots of other records you like?
Couple it with services like emusic and illegal download clients and
you've got a fast system of finding out about bands and hearing them
without having to read an article or visit a record shop; it cuts time
and money from the process, but also ties people up on last.fm or
facebook or whenever which cuts down time they might have spent
reading. No one reads (about music) anymore, so there's no need for
(music) writers."


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Haven't Had A Think In A Long Time

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Seems a long time since I took a photograph for the beauty of it.

50 albums from 2007 that I like a lot right now.

1. Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position
2. Electrelane – No Shouts No Calls
3. Caribou – Andorra
4. Battles – Mirrored
5. Acoustic Ladyland – Skinny Grin
6. 65daysofstatic – The Destruction Of Small Ideas
7. LCD Soundsystem – The Sound Of Silver
8. Stars Of The Lid – And The Refinement Of Their Decline
9. Studio – West Coast
10. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
11. Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
12. !!! – Myth Takes
13. Six.By Seven – If Symptoms Persist Kill Your Dr
14. Working For A Nuclear Free City – Businessmen And Ghosts
15. Two Lone Swordsmen – Wrong Meeting 2
16. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
17. Bjork – Volta
18. Apparat – Walls
19. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
20. Menomena – Friend And Foe
21. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
22. The Tuss – Rushup Edge
23. Von Sudenfed – Tromatic Reflexxions
24. Ulrich Schnauss – Goodbye
25. The Clientele – God Save The Clientele
26. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
27. L’imparfait Des Langues – Louis Sclavis
28. Do Make Say Think – You, You’re A History In Rust
29. Two Lone Swordsmen – Wrong Meeting
30. Ash – Twilight Of The Innocents
31. Strategy – Future Rock
32. The Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters
33. Miracle Fortress – Five Roses
34. Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!
35. Pharoahe Monch – Desire
36. Matthew Dear – Asa Breed
37. Fraud – Fraud
38. Floratone – Floratone
39. Siobhan Donaghy – Ghosts
40. Queens Of The Stone Age – Era Vulgaris
41. Radiohead – In Rainbows
42. Grinderman – Grinderman
43. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
44. Basquiat Strings – Basquiat Strings
45. Kanye West – Graduation
46. Rufus Wainwright – Release The Stars
47. Bill Callahan – Woke On A Whaleheart
48. The National – Boxer
49. Phosphorescent – Pride
50. The Good The Bad & The Queen – The Good The Bad & The Queen


Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Monday, October 15, 2007

I woke up on Wednesday having forgotten about Radiohead and In Rainbows because, to be honest, although I respect them I’ve never really cared for them. But then the BBC breakfast news confronted me with the visual identity of their new album and a female music journalist talking about how bands make their money off touring rather than selling CDs these days, and I was reminded that today was the day and I could pay whatever I wanted for digital files of Radiohead’s new record (+45p). So I turned my computer on, opened a browser, searched “radiohead”, clicked a few links, entered a few details, and downloaded In Rainbows for the sum of 1p (+45p).

I got halfway through the album’s ten tracks on my walk to work. Each time I passed another pair of white earbuds I wondered if they were listening to the Radiohead album too. Pre-‘release’ hype had seemed almost non-existent outside the environs of messageboards and other online music communities; several people who I would have expected to know of the existence of In Rainbows actually knew nothing. Until the day of its ‘release’ maybe almost nobody knew anything about In Rainbows. Certainly no one outside Radiohead and their inner circle knew what it would sound like.

I use the word ‘release’ tentatively because this is not a release; with a ‘discbox’ containing a double CD and double vinyl available in December (for £40) and a ‘proper’ CD release in January, what the download version of In Rainbows amounts to is a leak, in the same way that any unscrupulous sort lets any advance promotional copy pass around Oink and beyond before proper release. The twin ironies are that Radiohead’s leak is a; lower quality (at 160kbps) than many other leaks, and b; earning them money. Presuming, of course, that you opted to pay them money for it; choosing a sum of £00:00 for the transaction is entirely possible. I know people who have paid, or donated depending how you look at it, several pounds for a ‘copy’ of In Rainbows. With no label and no manufacturing or distribution costs to get in the way, Radiohead are probably doing very well from this supposedly audacious move, although they’re under no obligation whatsoever to let us know how well.

But enough conjecture about the marketing of this. “15 Step” opens In Rainbows with an electronic beat, a sleight-of-hand tactic revealed as a faint, a joke even, as it transmutes to live drums inside 30 seconds. Sampled crowds of children, buffers of unidentified synthesiser, guitars, drums, bass, vocals; strangely I am left humming “2+2=5”. “Bodysnatchers” growls threateningly with nastily amplified guitars and wailing, but other than this the mood is atmospheric, understated, and calmly repetitious; the electronic synergy that seemed to reach an apex on “Backdrifts” sucked away in favour of a more orthodox instrumentation. I am most often left humming “Scatterbrain”.

“Faust Arp”, for instance, is a brief pastoral illusion, strings like Robert Kirby painted for Nick Drake, guitar playing not like Drake at all, nor melody; instead of melancholy folk we have mechanised repetition in the way Yorke sings, neither essentially or physically beautiful in itself, but thought of as such due to context.

“All I Need” mingled with the early-morning sounds of a brand new shopping precinct as I walked to work through the city again the next day; jackhammers and an outside broadcast by a local radio DJ attempting to hide his perfect ‘face for radio’ with trowled concealer and a leather jacket making a perfect symbiosis with Thom Yorke’s meticulously studied performative ennui. Yorke, once again, sings not of people or events or emotions but of vague feelings and sensations, the kind of oblique urban wretchedness and alienation we are used to; he is an animal locked in a hot car, an insect crawling away from sunlight, a befumed commuter stuck in traffic, a bystander lost in the 21st century, still. Vaguely disgusted, vaguely afraid, vaguely confused. He has talked about the lyrics being frightening, but the music here is so often low-key, warm and delicate, and the words so indistinct and indirect, that I am unconvinced.

“Nude” also approximates beauty, perhaps more effectively by not playing on context, with gentle basslines, filigree repetition of guitar figures, and cooed vocals. “Reckoner” is genuinely beautiful though, recalls the way “Rabbit In Your Headlights” recalls “New Grass”; the only problem being that I have never felt that Yorke actually meant or felt what he was singing in the way that Mark Hollis did; the lyrics “versed in Christ should strength desert me” from Laughing Stock sand-blasted with an openness and feeling that Yorke has conscientiously avoided ever since “Creep”, his intellect and ego presumably embarrassed by such a crass and vulnerable expulsion of emotion. Even “Videotape”, the piano-ballad closer, is oddly impersonal, its whirring percussion and wearied tone unconfessional.

Thom Yorke will never again write anything that might be deemed a hook or a chorus, but it’s nice to hear Phil Sellway actually get to play drums again, because he can, and well; likewise it’s nice to hear Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brian both thrash and caress guitars and Colin Greenwood play an organic, if clean, bass guitar. It’s not quite a stripped-back “live in a room” aesthetic, but it’s as close as we’re likely to get. Probably, possibly, in many ways, the record that casual fans wanted them to record after OK Computer.

Which is to say that In Rainbows is a modern rock record from an intelligent, arch group who are keen to posit themselves as something more than a rock band, and sounds like such; more linear than anything since Kid A but still at several removes to anything on The Bends. Seven albums into their career, Radiohead were never going to launch another paradigm-shifting missile at the heart of popular culture; for all their talk of anti-consumerism, their product is meticulously quality-controlled, packaged, marketed. In many ways they have reached the point, musically, where they are just a band making music; now largely playing it together rather than deconstructing it alone. What marks them out is the methods they construct for themselves to operate in. What still frustrates me is that, no matter how well I can recognise the artisanship of their craft, I know I will be seldom drawn to listen to In Rainbows for either pleasure or catharsis. After fifteen years, I still don’t know what Radiohead are for.

And now that the 'review' bullshit is over... I don't like it anywhere near as much as I like the Caribou record. Or Electrelane. Or Patrick Wolf. Or 65daysofstatic. Or Acoustic Ladyland. If I was clever I'd tell you why.


Monday, October 15, 2007

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Nothing Here Is True
Unless You Want It To Be

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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