Episode two – in which our hero contends with the realisation that Bad Guys frontman Stuart is his partially long haired doppleganger, and that perhaps he’s not the glistening adononis he imagines himself to be:
Y’know I still can’t quite get my head around the idea of music videos existing without actual music channels to play them. I know there are still technically such channels around, all with names like 90s teen girl magazines that play the same 3 videos in rotation (so far as I can tell there are only 3 videos shared by all the latest pop hits). But it’s not like it was Back In The Day when MTV stood for music television and if you sat and watched patiently for several hours you might see a decent video, is it? Those were the days. Or what about the heyday of MTV 2 where if you waited until 2am and were willing to watch 8 or 9 videos of identikit glitchy electronica you could see a few videos by semi-decent indie bands, eh? Good times. Now in this god forsaken age you can just type in what you want into an internet searchamajig and there it is. Blam: Bad Guys are singing about prostitutes right into your eyeballs. It all still seems like voodoo to me. But then I didn’t have access to the internet until I was 20 – I had to go round my mates and run up his phone bill on dial up waiting 2 hours to download the new Offspring single on Napster.
And they call this progress.
Ok, so maybe it’s not quite the stories of hardship my old man tells me about his tough Northern upbringing in the 60s. Yet I still get the feeling that when I try to explain this to my kids one day they’ll look at me the same way I did him when he told tales about hiking 7 miles in the snow to school.
Anyhow, in the absence of any kind of curated content (I’m ignoring the million or so curators on youtube; who would trust the kind of myopic psychopath who spends his time compiling internet videos?) I tend to careen sideways into music vids every now and again and go, “ooh, that’s quite good, isn’t it?” And then I put together this, the latest installment of the seemingly annual series Wanton Miscellany, in which I present some of these videos that I’ve stumbled over like a drunk idiot struggling to navigate the living room in the dark at 2am falling onto an upturned plug and screaming like he’s taken a hot knife to the liver.
That was a rough night.
Bad Guys – Prostitutes (are making love in my garden)
Bad Guys are fucking ludicrous. Willfully so, certainly, but this is not some mere internet lolrandom zaniness. This is died in the wool silliness, the kind that runs deep into the bone marrow. I’m sure they probably could write something a bit more serious than glorious odes to stealing Tonka trucks or the self explanatory Zoltan: Snake Hunter, but why would they? Would you ask a clown to sing you an aria? No, you wouldn’t, because that would be seriously fucking creepy.
Instead it’s best to treasure them as they are: completely, brilliantly ridiculous. In this, their first and so far only music video, they lament the use of their back garden by prostitutes and punters and illustrate it as luridly as you hoped they wouldn’t. There’s beer, there are beards, there’s some casual rogering going on in the middle of a lads gathering that isn’t at all awkward – and there’s the brilliant moment when three guitar wielding gentlemen leap out of the back of a van to riff furiously at a man busy inquiring about a lady of the night’s services. It’s kind of brilliant.
Open Mike Eagle – Celebrity Reduction Prayer
From bearded British rock to cerebral US hip-hop – my mixtape making skills are, shall we say, an acquired taste. Open Mike Eagle released one of the best records of the year in 2014 with Dark Comedy, an album that has only gotten better the longer I’ve been listening to it. He did a little victory lap earlier this year with follow up ep A Special Episode of.. as well as this, a collaboration with Oddisee for a Mello Music Group compilation. The dude is on fire at the minute and here he sounds as charged up as ever, building slowly to an angry crescendo while delivering his, “prayer to the American Religion.” It’s a simple psychic leveler, a reminder that people are just people regardless of their number of twitter followers or the size of their bank account – one that he’s delivering to himself as much as anyone else.
It’s in turns searing and funny and showcases why, to these ears, he’s one of the best rappers out there right now. Listening to it a few months after release is interesting – when Mike says, “I’d say that shit to Hulk Hogan,” – well, given recent events, he might have a few other things to say as well. Like, maybe, “what the fuck, Hulk?”
Jenny Hval – That Battle is Over
If it wasn’t for me watching this video on whim me and Jenny Hval’s work would never have gotten along. I tried listening to Apocalypse, Girl on the advice of some usually reliable sources and immediately hit a brick wall. The free poetry delivery of the opening track was too worthy, too self-consciously in my face for my taste. Perhaps that had something to do it being a drinking alone on a Tuesday sort of evening, but it was a bit too much.I didn’t get it. “Why is this woman singing about rotting bananas?” I wondered. “What was that about beckoning the capitalist clit?”
Then I saw this. I watched as Hval walked through a house full of sketches of traditional ‘womanhood’ – baking, reading to a child at bedtime, applying lipstick. I witnessed as she took a seat and lit a smoke as they gradually disintegrate – humorously, horrifically. l listened as she intoned, “Statistics and newspapers tell me I am unhappy and dying,that I need man and child to fulfill me,” with equal amount of sneering and of fear. And I listened as she shoved a stick into the sand to redraw the battle lines of the 21st century. Simply, eloquently, angrily: “You say I’m free now, that battle is over, and feminism is over & socialism’s over. I can consume what I want now.”
And that’s how Jenny Hval made a fan out of me.
GNOD – Breaking the Hex
GNOD are a tricky bunch to pin down. Just when you think you’ve got them figured as a guitar based psych band, albeit one with a lot more versatility than most, they ditch the guitars and release a dubby, sax n’ bass led triple record. Of course. Infinity Machines sounds like a tricky listen on paper but it’s surprisingly easy to digest, so long as you’re willing to sink into it and let your mind wander now and again while it does it’s thing. Which isn’t to say it’s mere aural wallpaper – it’s good thinking music, good working music. Presuming you like what you do – if I listened to it in my job the thoughtful conversation snippets on 21st century living would likely inspire me to hand in my notice and head for the pub.
There are only a few moments where Infinity Machines grabs you by the lapels and demands attention, the pick of those being Breaking the Hex. The Rorschach test/twitching brain experiment video suts the band perfectly, letting the music do the talking and providing hypnotic series of images to accompany the pounding bass thump. The sax wails, the bass swings for your gut and a brain on a slab gets fried with electrodes. If they intended for something different when they invented the internet then, quite simply, they were wrong. This is what it’s for.
Hey Colossus – Sisters & Brothers
Hey Colossus cannot be stopped. They’ve already released one of the year’s best records in In Black & Gold and they’ve got a second record ready to go in October. They seem to be in something of a purple patch right now, one they plan to milk dry. No, that’s not a mixed metaphor – ‘Purple Patch’ would make a fine name for a cow. Though why they’d be in Purple Patch..
Let’s move on.
In Black & Gold is on the face of it the least straight up heavy Hey Colossus record yet – but they haven’t mellowed out completely, they’ve just redistributed the weight, so to speak. The guitars are more lithe these days but the rhythm section still hits hard. And they’ve amped up all the psych and kraut influences to create some sort of fracture sci-fi psych blues. Long story short they just keep getting better – and the word from people who’ve heard Radio Static High suggest that process shows no sign of stopping. Between these guys, GNOD and Teeth of the Sea the UK currently has 3 of the most inventive and intriguing bands in the world right now. It’s a good time, people. Treasure it.
Opium Lord – Challenger
There’s always plenty of room for bands in this world who do something seemingly simple and commonplace but do it god damn well. Opium Lord aren’t, on the face of it, a remarkable sludge band in any way – but they’re one that pay attention to the details and don’t just think that the right guitar tone is enough to fuel a career. They make sure that the riffs hit like a sack of snooker balls swung by a medal winning hammer thrower but they also get the atmosphere right, with eerie guitar noises moaning and whining in the background. If you heard them in a horror film alarm bells would start ringing that something truly awful was about to happen.
It’s miserable and it’s the aural equivalent of wading through a swamp while being pelted with bricks – but that doesn’t mean you can just throw this shit together. These dudes just straight up know what they’re doing.
Wand – Melted Rope
It may be cheating to put a couple of songs in these things that don’t have a video but there are songs I just like and hey it’s my list, ok? Wand are largely an inoffensive poppy folky rock band who’ve been labelled psych for reasons that only makes sense to PR people and lazy journalists. But they have an ear for a tune, best displayed by Melted Rope, a song which in an alternate universe run by and for me and me alone has been declared a Summer Anthem.
In the movie of my life this is the soundtrack to a scene where I lay in a field in the summer heat, the camera spinning slowly as it pans out, the frame occasionally blanked out with lens flare from the blazing sun. It’s not the most exciting scene but it’s all arty and pretty and hey what do I care I’m laid out baked in the sunshine.
Bantoriak – Lysergic Tantra
Speaking of being baked – enter Bantoriak. This is from there latest record entitled Weedooism in case you’re thinking that’s a lazy segue to a stoner band. “They’re not all scruffy vagabonds boondoggled on crazy leaf,” you’re probably not saying. But yeah – they kinda are. These laid back psych-steeped stoner records are ten a penny right now – but Bantoriak are a cut above their peers. Lysergc Tantra is little more than a laid back guitar line and some layered backing vocals that sound like long exhalations, but again the devil is in the details – the slow shuffling of the groove whenever it threatens to get dull, the gradual rising of the temperature to a pitch that never quite boils over.
The video is a bunch of sepia desert shots, which fits their desert baked sound neatly – though there’s perhaps more skateboardng than you’d expect. I can’t imagine flying through the air on a board on wheels whilst slanted. I guess it takes all sorts – I knew a guy who could only rack up a decent killstreak on first person shooters whilst listening to mellow soul records.
Anyway, what I dig most about Weedoism is it’s tranformative quality – I got stuck at a train station for a couple of hours recently and when I closed my eyes it felt exotic and faintly sleazy. The hazy, narcotic vibe feels at once seedy and transcendental, like an orgy in a Buddhist temple. The fact I was eating a BK and sneering at commuters was somehow inconsequential. That’s what psychedelia is for right there. Y’know, apart from the drugs.
Hop Along – Happy to See Me (live)
I hate reducing bands down to individuals (although I have an annoying habit of only mentioning vocalists by name in reviews, but I’m working on that) but the solo performance on this video gives me a good excuse to say that Frances Quinlan is an amazing talent. Their second album Painted Shut is a fine record all the way through but it’s no accident that the clear highlight features her and her alone. Someone her age really shouldn’t have a voice that sounds like it should be wailing in a whiskey distillery. It adds her songs an extra dose of gravitas – but Happy to See Me would stand up with a weaker voice. Quinlan sounds best when a the ragged edges of her performance are present – her strange and evocative imagery and odd observances would suffer with them sanded away. The last part of this song kills me:
“On the train home I am hoping/That I get to be very old/And when I’m old I’ll only see people from my past/And they all will be happy to see me/We all will remember things the same.”
I’m a sucker for moments in songs where a refrain is repeated as if the singer is trying to make what they’re singing true by sheer force of will. Memory doesn’t work that way of course – and if Quinlan’s increasingly desperate and insistent voice hasn’t changed that, well, I guess here isn’t one out there that can.
The Mountain Goats – The Legend of Chavo Guerrero
We’re all in serious danger of taking The Mountain Goats for granted. John Darnielle released another brilliant album this year, this time entirely about wrestling. Wrestling. It’s as if writing moving vignettes out of nothing is no longer a challenge for him and he’s decided to switch to hard mode. “How about I handicap myself by writing about Lycra clad greased up loons who pretend to fight for a living? That might make things interesting.”
Darnielle obvously has a lot of affection for those gladiators of the squared circle though, as evidenced in this track. Bringing up his relationship with his step-father might be considered cheating in that challenge I just made up but the way he weaves his memories in with the story of one of the forgotten greats of wrestling is every bit as wistful, sentimental and god damn triumphant as his songs about teenage drug dealers and the premiere death metal band of a certain american town. If Darnielle ever gives up this business the music word is going to miss him terribly. Thankfully, even though he’s knocking that being an author business out of the park now, it doesn’t look like we have to worry about that any time soon.
Cloakroom – Starchild Skull
Cloakroom say they’re a ‘stoner emo’ band, probably with a wry smile. But that immediately endeared them to me as they conjured up memories of an old friend and I wondering if we could make such a fusion work back in college. We planned to call call it Stemo. We were only half joking.
That’s not really the deal with Cloakroom though – in reality they sound more like a slowcore band with fuzzed out doomy guitar tones filling the gaps in the arrangements of the likes of Low or Red House Painters. With their sad-sack vocals and slow hand riffery there’s an unassuming quality to them – so much so that I discounted their debut Further Out on first listen. I kept coming back to it and leaving slightly underwhelmed – yet over time it’s wheedled it’s way into my psyche and become one of my favourite records of the year. It’s full of slouching sadness, so much so that it’s weirdly uplifting at times, so content it is in resignation – it’s like a comforting hand on your shoulder and a reassuring sigh of, “it’s not gonna be alright – but that’s ok.”
VAILS – Galactic Triceratops
I like VAILS a lot. Since moving to Wales there have only been a few local bands that have really left an impression on me, with these guys being my favourite. When I’ve played their stuff at friends they’ve failed to see the fuss – right now I think you need to feel the weight of their groove and witness the impressive below of singer/bassist ‘O Street’ live to really get what they’re doing.
As a bass and drums it’s hard not to compare them to Big Business or DFA1979, and there’s a fair bit of both in their sound. But neither quite have the straight up head nodding heft of VAILS. Maybe they’re not there yet – but keep your ears on these guys. And get yourself to a show if you have the chance.
Petrels – L. Caution Pt. 3
My second cheating non-video of this edition of Wanton Miscellany is a worthy inclusion on any list. Petrels is London based producer/illustrator Oliver Barrett and the album Flailing Tomb is a mythological themed album and an ode to the chasing of lost causes. That alone is the bio of someone after my own heart before mentioning that the second half of the record s based on an unused alternate score to Godard’s Alphaville. L. Caution Pt. 3 is the sublime finale to the record and a track that forces me to invoke the ultimate music scribe cop-out and say – it’s impossible to describe. And to say: just listen to it. Go on. Whatever you’re doing – stop it. Unless it’s open heart surgery this is more important. Few things have been released in 2015 that are even close to the euphoria of this track – and if any more come within touching distance of it then 2015 will have been a damn fine year indeed.