Category Archives: Music

…Popular music is splitting down the middle.

There was a time when a pop music afficionado like myself could keep track of almost everything important happening. Nowaydays nobody can even keep track of all the different sub-genres. A lot of people won´t see this as a problem, as choosing your special brand of entertainment is a more pressing issue than actually experiencing something unique. After determining the direction of your own personal tastes, the rest of your cultural life will be spent eating very much the same dish with slight variations in the seasoning.

All well and good if that´s what you´re satisfied with,  but not so hot if you´re interested in actually expanding your experience of human culture. The reaches of expression of what it means to be a person, and what a life can or could contain are wider than what anybody could imagine. That´s why art can still be surprising and thrilling. Replace that with formulaic expressions of thoughtless exercises in the mundane, and you´ll have a popular culture without meaning or direction. As I´ve said before, the white noise is so much stronger than the true signal. It´s high time to amplify meaning and drown out insignificance.

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…2018 w 44 – Album of the week is just a song, “Mot ett annat mål” from the “Irrfärder” album by Lolita Pop.

A vintage Swedish band written about before, this is a celebration of one of their songs. An autumnal walk in the woods with my wife on a sunny day reminded me about the initial lyrics, which kept spinning in my head for a long time afterwards. Written and recorded during their heydays this is a song of immaculate quality that´s managed to hold it´s own over the years.

Real drums and primitive drum-machines followed by the Swedish version of a John McGeoch guitar line is followed by a melancholy pop song about leaving your old memories behind and aiming forwards into something new. Beautiful, melancholy and so aptly sung by peerless leading lady Karin Wistrand.

Here´s my attempt at translating the originally very poetic Swedish lyrics into English. They don´t really make them like this anymore, do  they?

Towards a different goal

The smell of earth, as we are walking through the woods

Tastes like fall, autumn´s colours dyes the leaves

Immersed in light, like the skin upon your neck

Gazing out, view the harvest made by men

Whisper thanks, for all that we´ve been given

Light stings my eyes as I spin

 

Oooh, turn towards a different goal

Oooh, firing up a sodden pyre

Oooh, of everything I´ve saved

 

In a dale, hidden from all I that I´ve brought with me

Hiding out, I won´t dare to face the world

Adding mile, after mile, after mile to my pilgrimage

Journeying far, into what can liberate me

Hints of flight, resembling birds 

Above me, where I´m fighting nothing at all

 

Oooh, turn towards a different goal

Oooh, dreaming of a giant pyre

Oooh, of everything I´ve saved

Oooh, of everything I´ve saved

Oooh…….

…2018 w 43 – Album of the week is “Wasted” by Alice in Wasteland.

There are a huge number of musical artists that never got the accolades they deserved, and Finnish power-pop group Alice in Wasteland certainly are one of them. Not that much information is to be found about this band, active between 1986 and 1992. With a classic rock set-up of bass, drums, two guitarists and a female singer this group managed to create a series of wonderful songs through two vinyl albums and a handful of singles.

For some reason that I can´t currently remember I picked up their vinyl debut album  “Between the Zoo and the Jungle” upon it´s release in 1987. Although the instrumentation and arrangements were pretty standard there´s no way to demean the quality of the songwriting. This album contains more fantastic songs than could be expected from any band. The sound is cohesive and still has a modern edge whetting the appetites of anyone interested in contemporary guitar dominated pop.

Their second and last album “Red Eye” was released in 1990 and while being very good can´t in my opinion eclipse their debut. That said, opening song “You´ll get yours” is a rare treat with an unbeatable chorus. “It´s time for a new romance, take a ride in an ambulance”. Wow, where did that come from?

The vinyl albums are long deleted and hard to get, but anyone interested in this greatly undervalued band can satisfy their curiosity by acquiring the Poko records compilation “Wasted”, which contains almost all of their greatest songs in CD-format. While not widely available http://www.discogs.com is a good starting point for getting hold of this hidden treasure.

This is music that I will never tire of listening to. Hugely original while still firmly anchored in tradition. We´re not seeing groups like this popping up these days. Talent and originality is very often replaced by the reorganisation of older music heralded by the current DJ as an artist concept.

So far I´ve been unable to find any information about the future careers of the members of this great band. Maybe yet an example of immensely talented people giving up on the music business.

I promise that everyone getting the “Wasted” compilation will get access to one of the finest bands in recent rock history, and will also get a primer on how to make good pop songs. Check this band out, it will be worth your while. Not that much available on Youtube, which is perhaps not that surprising considering the time period they were active. If you´re interested in pop music from a purely aesthetic viewpoint there´s an absolute obligation to somehow manage to listen to their song “A deadly tune”. Songcraft developed into perfection, with a band and a singer delivering their best. Relatively simple but absolutely unforgettable.

Do what you need to get access to this music. It might not be easy, but if it was everyone would be doing it.

 

…2018 w 42 – Album of the week is “Lust for Life” by Lana del Rey.

Lana del Rey

Born as Elizabeth Grant in 1985, Lana del Rey has created one of the most enticing personas of the contemporary music scene. Her career so far has not been entirely uncontroversial, and a bad tempered reviewer once called her the musical equivalent of a fake orgasm,  after learning that her trailer-park Lolita credentials were not solidly anchored in reality. The quest for something “real” sometimes goes overboard, mixing art as an intellectual endeavour with the often overvalued lure of portrayals of individual personal experiences. I personally find this both reductive and restraining. What actor in a blockbuster movie has ever had real life experiences similar to what is depicted on the screen? Why would a musical or literary artist need to? Art is seeping out of a creative mind in bursts and spurts while digesting the day to day life, just like every other human thought and emotion.

First real album “Born to die” went by my radar totally unnoticed, which is my mistake more than anything else. Filled with great songs this is an extraordinary record establishing Lana del Rey as a force to be reckoned with. Singles “Video Games”, “Blue Jeans” and “Summertime Sadness” are all modern classics and songs that I´ve listened to more times than I´m comfortable of confessing. Melody and drama, emotion disguised as cynicism, coupled with perfect playing and those ethereal lyrics sung both matter of fact and with dreamy abandon. In retrospect it should have been easy to see that something very special was going on.

Follow-up “Ultraviolence” carried a harder edge with it´s Anthony Burgess quote, and was the first of her albums that I bought, as a result of an enthusiastic review in a large Swedish daily. While initial listenings didn´t make that much of an impact it´s now one of my favourite discs, rich with pop-cultural references and a feeling of being the ideal soundtrack to the new Twin Peaks-series. The flirtation between 60´s pop and modern r´n´b comes even more alive than on the first record. Simultaneously laid back, melancholy and edgy this would be considered a great album by any artist.

“Honeymoon” reeled off in a different direction, chanelling the jazz references of Nina Simone as well as more of her intricately accessible pop tunes. Perhaps my least favourite of her records, but still better than what almost everybody else managed to produce at the time. With a series of strong songs, this is still a subdued album mainly looking backwards instead of into the future. The overall impression is a fluffy cloud of opiate satiety. The best songs of the album has a dreamy, narcotic feel while still abounding with slow-burn melody.

Latest album “Lust for Life” brings together all the previous influences into a coherent whole larger than it´s components. The songwriting and melodics has evolved immensely making this a career-changing album. It´s hard to find another record with so many great songs performed so well and feeling so earnest. Listening to this I actually couldn´t give a crap about how much of these lyrics are written from personal experience and what part is just fiction. It truly doesn´t matter since life is life and art is art. The sheer beauty and artistry of these songs are unsurpassed and will continue to be considered modern classics. Yet again a record that I love more than should be considered normal. Not only an album of the week but a disc that has been on regular rotation for months and months, and will continue to be so indefinitely.

Opener “Love” establishes a melancholy but still exuberant mood that will be thematic through the entire record. The freshness of being young and in love lifting the song towards the ending mantra of “don´t worry baby”. As an opening song as good as anything you´ve ever heard before.

The duet between Lara and the Weeknd goes way beyond in it´s slowly unfolding grace. Singing doesn´t get better than this and the heavenly chorus lifts your spirits up and away from the mundanity of everyday existence, into a realm of the sublime. Vocal chords dripping of honey weaving an intricate melody with lyrics to match, as well as a video taking the Nick Cave/PJ Harvey and Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush template into contemporary culture. A rare beauty touching your heartstrings in just the right ways. As far as songs go very few could be said to be better than this one. The pain and pleasure of love encapsulated in a few minutes of pop perfection.

Yet a highlight of this extraordinary album, the exquisiteness of this song makes it unique in so many ways. The simple but alluring melodics paired with unparalleled singing and an arrangement so much fitting the material makes this a tune to remember and cherish. I will never ever tire of listening to this song, and it absolutely knocks me out every time I hear it. This is music as balm for the soul.

“Cherry” revels in beautiful melodies, in the same way that “White Mustang” takes nostalgia and emotionality to the fore. “Summer bummer” and “Groupie love” might be the weakest songs on the album but are still sweet and enjoyable compared to everything else. The next exclamation mark on this great album is “God bless America”, which blends a proud verse with an ecstatic chorus dealing with the power of the women of the USA. Not exactly feminism, but still cherishing the idea of femininity, with a melodic twist and lyrics to boost.

“Beautiful people beautiful problems” presents a juxtapositioning of the voices of Lana del Rey and legendary singer Stevie Nicks, delivering a song rich with connections to the pop music of old refracted through a lens of the present. This is where any normal album would end, but this disc is nothing of the sort. A series of wonderful songs remains to be heard, and they are as good as anything else found on this sublime album.

This is work from an artist on top of her game, and it’s sheer beauty and delivery is nothing short of sensational. While listening to the voices of sceptics you sometimes need to acknowledge what’s really there and how it affects you. This is very accomplished music with tons of style and attitude, both emotional and cerebral and carrying the power to restore your faith in beauty and intelligence.

 

…2018 w 24 – Album of the week is “A secret wish” by Propaganda.

 

Propaganda band picture

Nobody put their mark on contemporary pop music in the mid-80´s like Trevor Horn did. Establishing his record company ZZT (Zang Tumb Tumb, getting the name from a sound poem by Italian futurist Marinetti), Horn made history with releases from ABC, The Buggles and most of all Frankie Goes to Hollywood. A creative powerhouse using the best talent around enhanced by the cutting edge technology of the time. Much of this is part of musical history, and as such impervious classics. Propaganda was probably the most unique group that this hotter than hot label was able to get their hands onto.

Formed in Dusseldorf in 1982 it took until 1985 for their first records to be released. Landmark album “A secret wish” was produced by Stephen Lipson under the auspices of Trevor Horn. While more than 30 years old today, this is a collection of songs that went way beyond what was expected of pop music at the time, and still does today. I have very fond memories of getting this record on vinyl at first release, and have been listening to it occasionally ever since. So many years later this still sounds like modern music pushing the envelope.

Opener “Dream within a Dream” builds around a spoken poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and in it´s original version delivers 8 minutes of dreamy pop melodies with mutating bubbling rhythms. Not many bands would dare to have this piece of music as the first track of their first album. Every time I listen to it I´m just as mesmerized as the first time in 1985. There´s not that much around that beats this one as an opening track. Melody, atmosphere, the propulsive beats and a certain amount of drama made this an instant classic.

“The murder of love” went further into the budding electro-pop territory with timeless verses and chorus, as well as an oddly fitting instrumental part of jazzy guitar. The evil twins of “Jewel/Duel” juxtapositioned the same song as both abrasive dark electronica and melodic electronic pop. Very few bands could write a chorus like that, as well as executing it as seemingly effortless as is done here.

 

p:Machinery went all in when it came to ecstatic synthesized pop, with an ear-worm faux-brass riff never to be forgotten. Absolutely impossible to sit still when this one blasts from the speakers. Great melody coupled with throbbing rhythms. Full of dark joy and flow.

The choice of covers also defines a group, and the decision to remake classic Josef K song “Sorry for laughing” was as well made as the song itself. There´s both novelty and adherence to the original in this version. Great music put through a time-warp and coming out as something unexpectedly shiny and new.

“Dr Mabuse (First Life)” was a rework of their first single, the obvious Fritz Lang references setting the tone. Done in several different mixes, but on the original album concentrated and concise. Sprung from one of the band´s oldest songs that over a period of time metamorphosed into this glowing gem.

“The Chase”, slowly flowing with dreamy melodies starts the winding down of the album, ending with “The last Word (Strength to Dream)”. An instrumental piece finishing “A secret wish” just as it begun, with Susanne Freytag reciting the opening lines of the Poe poem.

Shortly after the vinyl release, a CD-version appeared with an additional song, remixes and a slightly different running order. The thing to go for today is of course the Deluxe 2010 2 disc reissue, with all the material from both the original vinyl and CD´s, as well as an entire disc´s worth of wonderful extra material. If nothing else a good way of getting the exclusive “Do well” cassette songs from 1985.

Although the band came to a slightly messy end, this album lives on as their legacy. A dark and exciting excursion into what electronic pop could have become, that succeeded in being both art and entertainment. The music complemented by the artwork, stylish black and white imagery of the band, the sense of mystery and of course the at the time shocking Baader-Meinhof quote. A must have in every record collection.

 

 

 

…2018 w 11 – Album of the week is “Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls”.

 

What´s actually spinning on your turntable any given week is very much up to sudden changes in mood, or the usual game of association. This week we´re going way back to 1980, which saw the release of an exceptional album that´s haunted me through the years.

Forming the band “Penetration” in 1976 Pauline Murray was a vanguard of the punk movement in her part of Britain, and made herself a name as an incendiary singer, songwriter and artist. Releasing  two studio albums under the “Penetration” name she later continued her career as a vehicle for the visions of Factory Records demon producer Martin Hannett, as part of the Invisible Girls.

Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls

With songs written by Murray and ex-Penetration boyfriend Robert Blamire the band also incorporated musicians from The Durutti Column and Buzzcocks, as well as the cutting-edge productional skills of Martin Hannett. It´s hard to remember anything he was involved with during these years that seriously failed. My huge respect for Hannett is embarrassing enough to own an album consisting only of experimental sounds used or not used for the early Joy Division records.

 

 

Apart from his reputation as unwordly maverick sound genious he was also known as a hard-core addict of alcohol, heroin and all other substances under the sun, ultimately leading to his too early demise in 1991. However, before that Hannett was involved in so much of the best music of his time. A record being produced by Martin Hannett made someone like me buy it totally unheard, which made me a proud owner of the first Stone Roses 12″ “So Young/Tell me”. Not much there to indicate future success.

 

 

“Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls” is an album of only great songs, delivered and produced flawlessly by fantastic musicians and a producer at the top of his game. I rember very well the feeling of this album hitting the music scene. No commercial appeal to talk of but artistically just so good. An album to be listened to again and again. Even though the vinyl version is the Holy Grail, the CD re-release contains later singles that also needs to be heard. Here´s great songs in fantastic arrangements. A continuos sonic fellow since 1980 that will never go away. Listen and be in awe.

…2018 w 10 – Album of the week is “Kinder Versions” by Mammút.

Mammut Kinder Versions

Released in 2017 this is the latest record from Icelandic band Mammút formed in 2003, this being their 4th album so far. The fact that singer Katrina Mogensen is the daughter of Kukl-alumni Birgir Mogensen matters less than you might think, while still anchoring the group firmly in the Icelandic indie rock succession order . Although fiercly and wholly original, some aspects of their overall sound probably owes something to the legacy of The Sugarcubes. Echoes of the vocal style of early Björk appear in some of the songs, which is not a bad thing if you´re asking me. For example, title song “Kinder Versions” could easily have been an alternative universe follow-up to the third Sugarcubes 12″ “Deus”. I´m not sure that the band enjoys this type of comparison, but for me it´s amongst the highest possible praise.

This song also delivers some of the gradually developing dramaticism perfected by Australian band The Triffids, in the case of Mammút bubbling under the surface creating an intoxicating mix of tension and restraint.

I got this record shortly after it´s release, but haven´t had it on heavy rotation until recently procuring their album nr 2 and 3, which by the way are also absolutely great. There are many bands with technically proficient musicians able to play almost anything imaginable , but fewer who are also good at choosing exactly what is necessary to convey the feeling of the song without overloading the sound.

I really like this collection of evocative and emotional songs. Accessible as well as serious, accomplished while still often sounding deceptively simple. Filled with drama, beauty and dissonance.

A group well worth discovering if you haven´t already. I so much hope to be able to see them live on some future trip to Iceland.