Friday, 22 February 2013

“SO I SING FOR EVERYONE WHO FEELS THERE'S NO WAY OUT”: RIP KEVIN AYERS



Sometimes the brightest lights really do hide beneath a bushel.

Kevin Ayers, who sadly died earlier this week, was perhaps not the most household of names. He shunned the limelight and eschewed a music business career to a degree eclipsing even his sometime compatriot Robert Wyatt. His Wikipedia entry describes him as “a self-imposed exile in warmer climes, a fugitive from changing musical fashions, and a hostage to chemical addictions.” Never prodigious in his output, in the Nineties and Nighties he managed an output of one album per decade. (Neither of which I've heard, to be honest.)

When he is remembered now it's as a founder member of the legendary Soft Machine (though he left after their first release), or for the live album 'June 1st 1974'. Featuring John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico as well as Ayers, it's virtually the trump card to bring out when know-nothings claim nothing happened in Seventies music before punk. Though Ayers headlined the gig, ironically these days he's probably the least-known name of the line-up.

You could call that unfortunate, but really - it was the way it had to be. Ayers' musical explorations were undertaken the way previous generations of well-bred Englishmen had their more literal explorations – the preserve of the gentleman amateur. Where he was going, that was the only way to get there.

Quality was admittedly uneven. But the point was to tread the most eccentric of paths. Tracks were too playful, too song-based to be labelled as underground, experimental or avant-garde. But they were too quirky, too idiosyncratic to file under pop. They'd often sound like the soundtrack to some hip Seventies children's show, broadcast from behind the looking glass. (See for example 'Girl On a Swing.') A compilation album was called 'Odd Ditties' (after the working title of 'Up Against the Dried Fruit at Tescos' was nixed), which probably sums things up better than I ever could.

Put it this way... it was Ayers who started off Mike Oldfield's career. And I still love him!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

"NUMBERS ADD UP TO NOTHIN' ": A SPOTIFY PLAYLIST



Click here to listen to a Spotify playlist of stuff I've been listening to lately.

The Fugs: Nothing
Fidelity Jones: Blood Stone Burn
Can: Thief
The Waterboys: Where Are You Now When I Need You?
Aretha Franklin: Going Down Slow
The Rolling Stones: I Just Want To See His Face
Pulp: A Little Soul (Original Mix / Album Version)
Harry Nilsson: Don't Forget Me
Bob Dylan: Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues
Current 93: A Sadness Song
Fever Ray: I'm Not Done
The Ex: The Lawn of the Limp
The Cravats: XMP
Fucked Up: Running On Nothing
Band Of Susans: Tilt
The Fall: Noel's Chemical Effluence
Neil Young: Powderfinger (1991 Live LP Version)

“Daddy's rifle in my hand felt reassurin'

He told me, Red means run, son
Numbers add up to nothin' “

Sunday, 3 February 2013

METZ (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

Audio, Brighton, Thurs 31st Jan


Through being signed to Sub Pop and with a home page that takes sideswipes at the anti-rockism of the Constellation Records scene, I had thought of Canadian three-piece Metz as a grunge revivalist band.

Which they kind of are. But seeing them live I was more reminded of the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants.” It's like they're looking back at the history of noisy guitars all the way to the days of garage rock, able to pick up what they choose along it. Yet none of this is done in a knowing or citational way, things are simply picked up for use - the way a differently tuned guitar might be brought into play. They're actually pretty damn lively live, playing that kind of music to which you can't stand still, at one point the guitarist crowdsurfing while still playing.

Perhaps the most surprising ingredient is noise rock. That may be more of an inclination than an element, but it's definitely there. We're talking the imprint of the noise rock scene of the Eighties and Nineties – Big Black, Live Skull and early Sonic Youth – rather than anything that came along afterwards.

What might seem strange. At the time, noise rock was for many of us a gateway drug into fully-fledged noise. Through it we discovered that you could dispense altogether with song structures and other rock elements, and bathe in de-hyphenated, unalloyed, free-form fields of sound. Myself, I may not have taken to much of the stuff at the annual Colour Out of Space festival without that introduction.

Which raises the question, having made that journey - why bother to go back now? After all, once you've learnt to swim, don't you dispense with the water wings?

Yet I'd argue the opposite – why burn the bridges? It seems every piece that gets posted here has to feature one of the axioms of Lucid Frenzy, and this time it's 'in art, restrictions enable'. Pushing the envelope can have more traction than being outside of it, and balancing noise against rock give Metz the same advantages it did the earlier generation. Even the noise acts I rate, such as Merzbow, can sometimes suffer from a lack of context. Having come on like the end of the world turned up to eleven, what do you do for an encore? This kind of noise rock can work on the ears like a sweet and sour does to the tongue. The noise simply sounds noisier when erupting out of the tunes, which for their part sound sweeter when placed against the noise.

Moreover, Metz neatly incorporate the noise into their overall sound. One example would be the way the noise breakouts often occur at the end of tracks. I've always found interminable those extended workouts bands insist on making into finales, with the drummer going up and down his kit like he's stock-taking his instruments. They just sound like those conversations which never quite close - “I'll be off then”, “okay, bye”, “well see you” and so on. By substituting fields of noise into those areas, Metz slip the unexpected into the expected.

In short, a great live band. Guitars are dead? Nobody told these guys!

The gig's closer is probably a fairly good example of the blend I'm on about...


...plus an optical assault course of a video for 'Negative Space'...