Musicophilia

[One-Off] – ‘Zygotic’ (After the Flaming Lips’ ‘Embryonic’) (2009)

Posted in Mixes by Soundslike on November 9, 2011

I would never have guessed I’d be making a mix in response to a Flaming Lips album, in 2009.  But the Lips, purveyors of grinning, gleeful quirk-pop, festooned by confetti and bunny suits during the last decade–a recipe with initial charm but diminishing returns–have, according to Wayne Coyne, killed off their “former selves . . . Our more crafty or calculated selves. Our less brave selves . . . Our less spontaneous selves”.  Thus in their 26th year, the band has created what I feel is their strongest work ever: ‘Embryonic,’ (which can be streamed here at NPR).  I was so floored by the strength of the album–a total surprise, including its staggering cover–that rather than trying to review the album, I felt compelled to respond in mix form, with ‘Zygotic‘.  The Flaming Lips’ new album borrows from the production techniques and stylistic eclecticism of their previous best, ‘Zaireeka,’ and from the manic energy and freak-out distortion of their 80s and early-90s albums.  The stylishness and cinematic scope of their most acclaimed album, ‘The Soft Bulletin,’ is channeled into a darker, sparer, more visceral direction.  Though there are moments of silliness and optimism, most of the cartoonish clowning (“She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”) and scrubbed-clean brightness of their mainstream successes is gone.  The lyrics remain largely abstract, but a more lifelike character voice is conveyed, one wrestling with the ambiguities of humanity that can be “evil” but can “be gentle, too, if they decide”.   It all adds up to their most sonically vigorous, sometimes most soothing, sometimes most ferocious, and certainly most emotionally evocative work to date.

Looking back, I see that 1997’s ‘Zaireeka‘ was a truly mind-altering experience, formative in my expectations of what music could do in terms of sound, increasing my appreciation of how sounds could be produced and arranged on a record.  Without it, I doubt I would have traveled as readily during the next couple of years into Can, 70s Miles Davis, early Reich, Faust, Silver Apples, early dub, or the more experimental side of post-punk–to say nothing of music concrete favorites like Bernard Parmegiani or Pierre Henry a few years later.  ‘Embryonic‘ proves the link was no fluke, as it reflects a deep connection with many of the sounds that are central to the Musicophilia aesthetic–to the music they propelled me toward.  ‘Zygotic‘ is not meant to suggest, however, that Coyne & Co. have created a pastiche; the mix isn’t an attempt at sonic genealogy, and I wouldn’t claim that any of this music is definitely a direct inspiration for the Lips’ resurgence.  ‘Embryonic‘ is imbued with a here-and-now quality, and it maintains a wit and vocabulary that is uniquely Flaming Lips–ultimately it sounds like nothing else.  Rather, ‘Zygotic‘ is primarily intended as an echo (or pre-echo, as it were) of the spirit of the album; and only secondarily is it an attempt to illustrate the sound-heritage from which the Lips may have drawn inspiration.

I’ve followed the overall form of the album: two halves totaling roughly 70 minutes, in 18 parts, all interlinked with repeating motifs and sounds.  I’ve also attempted to match the careful blend of the beautiful and the ugly, the ambient and the massively heavy, that characterizes ‘Embryonic‘.  The result is hopefully a nice counterpart to the album–but certainly not a replacement for it, and I highly recommend you buy it from the band or at your local record shop.  If you need some convincing for the download, I’ll break down the mixes after the “more…” link, along with the full tracklist.  Personally, I recommend that you surprise yourself and listen to the mixes first, and then look at the artists and tracklist later.  So, if you trust my mixing heretofore, here is the download link.

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[1981] – ‘Fire’ Mix (2005)

Posted in Mixes, Talking by Soundslike on March 31, 2009

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One element of post-punk that’s generally overlooked in the prevailing narratives (grey overcoats, “art school,” edgy guitars, politics) is that it directly countered the lockstep of punk by vastly expanding, if not exploding, the rhythmic possibilities of “rock” music.  Gone was the polka-like punk stomp, gone was the prog 20-piece-kit pomp; and in their place, a cultural pluralism of percussion, groove, shake, surf, shimmy, disco, jazz, skank, and free-form funk.  You might call it renewed cultural imperialism after 20 years or so of rock-whiteyfying; but perhaps Malcolm Mclaren-touched projects aside (think Bow Wow Wow), the sound to me is one of liberation, not domination; honor, not theft; it’s exploration, not usurpation, in earnest joy.  As evidence, here is the 8th mix from the 1981‘ Box Set: ‘Fire‘.  This is perhaps the most generally encapsulating mix of the broader zeitgeist of post-punk (at least as I see it) after the first mix posted six months ago, ‘Feet;’ and both share a prevailing danceability and buoyant pace, making this another good mix to share with your post-punk neophyte friends.

Loosening up the beats across 24 tracks and 80 minutes are plenty of well-known names: New Order (from their underrated debut, the gloom already beginning to lift); David Byrne going solo and mirroring his contemporaneous work with Brian Eno, along with Talking Heads and beside the Tom Tom Club; The B-52s; INXS (telling you something about just how vibrant 1981 was by being actually quite decent); Wire, in one of their last first-run releases; Prince, already stirring up controversy.  Then there’s queen Banshee Siouxsie in her fantastic polyrhythmic side project Creatures; David Thomas really going all out like a parade, from his first solo album, and sounding about as far from contemporaneous Pere Ubu as you could imagine; The (English) Beat; The Specials with their all-time great and post-Specials Fun Boy Three; Japan with Mick Karn’s singing bass; and A Certain Ratio demonstrating Factory’s shifting modus oparandi.  Rounding it out are Fad Gadget, the Raybeats‘ surf stylings, Loung Lizards‘ snake-skin jazz, The Suburbs, indefatigable Lizzy Mercier-Descloux, Bauhaus, The Raincoats marching to their own drummer (in this case This Heat’s Charles Hayward), and a barn-burner from my favorites, Family Fodder.  And that leaves one more to go–the counterpart to this mix, ‘Ice,’ so keep on the lookout soon.  Full tracklist and download link at the “more…” link.

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[Sensory Replication No. 5] – ‘The Somnambulist’ (1908-2007)

Posted in Mixes, Talking by Soundslike on December 17, 2008

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I’ve never really understood the practical reality of sleepwalking, but the idea has undeniable mystique.  Mainly what I’ve wondered is how the body’s action and interaction with its environment fails to jar the somnambulist into a conscious state.  I guess the case isn’t that one is actually asleep, but simply that the conscious, memory-forming parts of the brain are not engaged.  I take this to mean that in essence, the physical world has become as a dream, and the somnambulist’s actions in it equally as ethereal, incapable of inducing standard awareness.  This is the basis for this mix, then: to guide a virtual, thrill-seeking adventure in somnambulism; no walking to the bathroom or making a sandwich here, but rather, roaming through a dream-world made physical, full of strange landscapes, ghost-figures, fogs and miasmas, echoes and shouts, fear and beauty.  Like in a dream, nothing can quite be held in focus, and the laws of physics bend to the laws of imagination.  Like in the world of a somnambulist, the unremembered physical world becomes an imagined place of shadows, however solid it was before sleep arrived or will become again in the morning.

‘The Somnambulist’ is the third posted mix in the ‘Sensory Replication‘ series, which seeks to create an immersive aural environment through the dense intermingling of a large number of individual tracks, treated as source material.  For the first two mixes posted and a greater exploration of the impetus for the series, look here.  This mix is particularly dense, with sixty artists represented in just under forty-two mintues.  If you listen casually, you will still recognize music here: a “spine” of central tracks emerges more or less recognisable and intact.  But the point here isn’t any individual component, as there are often four, five, six or more bits of “source material” comingling, lurking around the edges, fading in and out of earshot in the landscape; solos, duets, trios emerge and recede.  The hope is that you will take the time to listen without distraction, letting all your usual sensory inputs other than hearing fall aside, to see how fully your ears alone will compensate.  I pretty regularly find myself standing on a city corner or in a laundry geeking out to the sounds around me, just shy of being brave enough to be that crazy guy who closes his eyes and stands still for a few minutes amongst the activity.  So this is a chance to just-listen freely, set in the most bizare bazaar of movement and interaction one could hope for.

Represented in the ether of sound are people like This Heat’s Charles Hayward; Dick Raajimakers; John Cage; Burning Star Core; Luc Ferrari; John Cale; His Name is Alive’s Warn Defever; Tod Dockstader; Funkstorung; Tortoise; Shuggie Otis; Miles Davis; Huun Huur Tu; avant-garde extra-Beatles George Harrison; Burial; Klause Schulze; Autechre; Pharoah Sanders; Maurice Ravel; Agitation Free; Deadbeat; Iannis Xenakis; Stockhausen; LaMonte Young; Steve Reich; Can’s Holger Czukay; Tony Conrad with Faust; Tibetan Buddhist monks from Bhutan; 23 Skidoo; Kraftwerk; Neu; Daniel Menche; Rhys Chatham; Peruvian folk musicians, and many others.  But I encourage you not to trainspot, at least the first listen.  Full tracklisting and download link after “more…”.

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[One-off] – ‘Post Post-Punk’ (1983-1994)

Posted in Mixes, Talking by Soundslike on November 17, 2008

As I’ve said before, I find “post-punk” to be a term of minimal descriptive accuracy, in terms of the character of the music to which the label is attributed, nor even in terms of any meaningful timeline. The types of music we call “post-punk” have less to do with “punk” to my ears than with forms of music and art created in the 60s and early 70s. All that said, for convenience we usually talk of “post-punk” as peaking between 1978 and 1982, being supplanted (ostensibly) closely thereafter by the mainstream ascent of “New Pop,” “New Romantic,” “New Wave,” and soon enough outside of MTV, “indie-” or “college-rock”. And I’ll agree that between the quantitative peak of 1979-1981 to 1983, something does seem to have significantly changed. Plenty of the flag-bearers of post-punk adopted a more through- rather than against-the-system approach (some to great effect, like Scritti Politti or Depeche Mode; others less so, like Simple Minds). But the good thing about “post-punk” is that it was always more of an approach and a sensibility than a close-cropped aesthetic or production value, and it was less overtly based in the typical youth-oriented trappings of pop/rock music; so it never really died as a fount of new energy either for many of its premiere proponents (like David Byrne or David Thomas or Sonic Youth) and younger artists inspired by the freedom it expresses.

‘Post Post-Punk’ is a playful glance at the continuation of the ‘Spirit of ’78 to ’82’ (to put it awkwardly) through the mid-80s and a little of the 90s. Many of the artists featured are directly carrying on from the “peak” years—ESG; Liquid Liquid; Wire’s Colin Newman; Pop Group’s Mark Stewart; the Specials as Special AKA; or Siouxsie’s Creatures—who didn’t fit the slicker sounds gaining dominance. Other included here ‘predate’ the peak and never lost the tack, and simply kept going regardless of fashion, perhaps reinvigorated by their slightly younger peers, like David Thomas; Arthur Russell; or This Heat’s Charles Hayward, carrying on with Camberwell Now. Others were there in the day but became better known for later work, like post-Urinals 100 Flowers; Neon Judgment; Thick Pigeon; The Ex (perhaps the most successful long-time miners of the post-punk zeitgeist); Cybotron; the Blackouts; or Sonic Youth. Finally, a few represent the best of the generation more typically associated with indie-rock or Brit-pop, whose sensibilities had more in common with the ambitions of post-punk artists: Dog Faced Hermans, Biting Tongues (featuring Graham Massey, later of 808 State and Bjork renown), and Disco Inferno (who seem to me a bridge between post-punk, what was called post-rock, and the post-whatever good stuff being done today). Ultimately, though, the mix makes no attempt at any comprehensive argument or any sort of historical revision: it was just meant to be a mix of some of my faves who “carried on” the weirdness. Full tracklist and download after the “more…” link.

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