Friday, February 17, 2006


Orange Juice: Or The Inevitable Problems Of Music Writing

For many years, when people would ask my what kind of music I like (I'd probably say "jangly pop" or something like that) and would then ask who my favorite band is, I would say "probably Orange Juice." The next response would be "never heard of 'em" and that'd be it. It was probably assumed I was just trying to be cool by championing the totally obscure (who must not be that good if they never even put anything out in the US). Finally, to my eternal surprise, Edwyn Collins got a hit in the US with "A Girl Like You" and I had some sort of reference point to provide for the band. Of course, whatever its merits, the hit song had virtually no musical relation to the work of Collins' former band, so I still couldn't explain where I was coming from.

Fast forward to the new millennium and Franz Ferdinand is one of the most popular bands in the world. They seem to talk up the virtues of Orange Juice in nearly every interview and seem to suggest that F.F. wouldn't be the same without 'em. Their praise helps the band get a reissue on the Domino label. The Glasgow School comprises most of their prime Postcard Records era material: their singles and initially unreleased first album that comprised The Heather's On Fire and Ostrich Churchyard respectively. I'm not really sure how the influence of OJ manifests itself in FF's music; in many ways the two seem diametrically opposed. FF is filled with swagger and attitude while OJ is self-effacing and courageously UN-macho. FF sounds more like the Fire Engines to me, who coincidentally also have a new collection on Domino, called Codex Teenage Premonition.

Anyway, I'm certainly glad that Orange Juice is getting the credit they deserve and that their most essential material is mostly back in print. They have a feature in Resonance magazine and are even mentioned on the cover. So what's the problem? Maybe I'm too cynical but before I opened the magazine, I thought to myself that there would be factual problems with the article. The article mentions that unlike most bands in Glasgow, OJ wasn't from an art school background. If I remember correctly, Edwyn did attend art school for a time I think, but I suppose that's minor. Most of the bands in town would not seem to be from art school backgrounds at all. It would seem that there was a very tough ROCK sort of mentality in Glasgow at the time, despite the way it might now seem from the surviving recorded output 25 years later. It would appear to me that the Postcard label flew square in the face of this mentality and was the artsier side of the scene. Their motto was "Fuck dance let's art!" after all! OJ had the guts to repeat "I'll never be man enough for you" and if I recall properly, to open for the Buzzcocks playing a pink drum set! OK that's not that big a quibble...

As one reads on, it is mentioned that the Rip It Up LP gave OJ their only hit, "I Can't Help Myself." This isn't accurate. Their biggest hit (and the only that hit the top ten) was the title track from the LP. "I Can't Help Myself" was the second hit and wasn't as big as the first. Am I being too trainspotter-y here? Shouldn't the people who write articles do just enough fact checking to get this right? Thirdly, the article describes the new cd as the first thing the band has had out in the US in years. Isn't it relevant that they had NEVER before had anything out in this country?...that they were finally getting a proper release for the first time 25 years after they started and 20 after they broke up? That seems like a pretty big deal to me.

So maybe I'm just a music dork. I have a theory though, that any time one knows a lot about any band (or perhaps any subject of any kind), one will find that the people in the press writing about said band, will inevitably get things wrong. Perhaps that shouldn't be such a problem to me but it just makes me wonder if nearly all articles are inaccurate; we may just not notice usually because we assume that people know what they're writing about. Maybe it should be enough for us just to have something we care about getting a little bit of press for a change. Yet I can't help but feel that to be a bit of a copout. Maybe people should take their duties are writers a bit more seriously perhaps. Nonetheless, I'm glad folks are writing about Orange Juice.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Another Desperate Bicycles post...

I just stumbled onto this old debate about people posting Desperate Bicycles tracks despite the band's desire not to reissue any of their music. Perhaps I'm naive, but once a band releases a record, the music is out there in the ether...Whether or not the band wants it heard by people anymore, people can still hear it as it has been released on a format that doesn't quickly self-destruct (unlike perhaps an acetate or something). I'm not sure why the Desperate Bicycles wouldn't want to reissue their music but that's their decision. I just don't see how FANS of the band could complain that people are giving others an opportunity to hear the music! Are these fans denying THEMSELVES the ability to listen to the D.B.'s music!? Of course not! Perhaps the music should only be left for those who can afford to buy records on the collectors market...which just so happens to be diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the band itself, that helped imbue its music with so much power. People SHOULD hear The Desperate Bicycles. This is music just as fresh today as it was nearly THIRTY years ago when it came out. I'm not being nostalgic here; I hadn't heard the band until a few years ago. I'm glad I finally did. Do yourself a favor and check them out here or on soulseek...Here's my original post from my old blog location if anyone's interested.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Music, Politics, and Sarah Records

It's kind of an adage that music and politics don't mix...not very well at least. It's true that it's pretty rare to find political themed music that isn't overly heavy-handed. It's still hard to fault a band like Green Day or Rage Against The Machine for taking a stand and trying to reach people with a progressive message. I'll never figure out why it is though that people get all up-in-arms complaining about musicians and actors talking about political or social issues or even being active in these sectors. It's generally the right that complains (i.e. "what does Billie Joe or Sean Penn know about anything?). Of course, we have a President who basically prides himself on his lack of curiosity about the world (and whom we're supposed to take seriously when he gives a speech about...anything really, that requires contemplation or background knowledge). We had a President who WAS an actor and a Governor of California who is an action hero! Why is an entertainer only fit to comment on politics or enter its realm when said entertainer is right-of-center? The fact that Sean Penn knows more about the issues he speaks of than most politicians do...that just isn't relevant!

When you get down to it, there's nothing that makes a politician more qualified to have opinions than anyone else. If anything, a politician's opinions are less valid, as he or she is generally most interested in attracting campaign contributions and getting elected. When one thinks of a "politician", it generally conjures up an unflattering mental picture, and for good reason! Perhaps the only people as untrustworthy as politicians might be the talking heads like Limbaugh and especially Bill O'Reilly who have absolutely no qualifications of any kind and who have clear agendas to protect and promote those on the right. Just because someone is on TV (for example Tim Russert) does not make that person fair, balanced or even a real journalist. I certainly think that these days it makes them far LESS of journalists as they have to answer to advertisers and they want to remain cozy with the sources in the circles of power who throw them their scraps. The real journalists are the ones who don't suck up to Rove and Libby just to get their carefully crafted talking points. Is there anyone LESS credible than a Bob Novak or now Bob Woodward who just seem to think they're cool for getting to hang out with these powerful White House folks? I'd prefer to listen to reporters who might actually do some real investigative reporting...

But back to is possible to be political without being overt. For example, the Sarah Records roster came off as left-of-center based on the brilliant polemics of Clare and Matt who ran the label and based on the way they ran it. They remained FIERCELY independent (perhaps our press could learn something from Sarah's example!). They kept an intense feeling of freedom and possibility alive during the whole of their label's existence, and the bands on the label benefitted from this. The music was often tender and without prickly defenses, but it still seemed like (and ultimately was) part of a revolution. The Field Mice managed to be TOUGH by refusing to be tough. The Orchids sounded like they might break down in tears at any moment but they had the guts to show it unlike some big macho posers. That seems like what's missing in our public discourse if not our whole society. Everyone is unwilling to step back and show any vulnerabilities of any kind. This is understandable because someone else will immediately step in and take whatever they can whenever possible, whether it be your lunch money or natural resources. Nonetheless, there stands a much better chance of people getting along in this world without killing each other if people were a bit more empathetic and less vicious, self-serving, and greedy.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


It's Been A Little While...

I really should write more I know. Here I start. I reqally need to do an MP3 blog or something but I don't own the webspace...Anyway, This past weekend was the WFMU Record Fair. I wish this thing happened every weekend but I guess that just cannot be...anyway, I bought some stuff and have listened to some of it. I can't believe I'd never heard The Instant Automatons before but...I hadn't! I bought the new compilation on the fabulous Hyped To Death/Messthetics label and I must say I was quite impressed. I'm not generally as interested in lyrics as a good tune (though bad lyrics can sure ruin a song!); however, these guys have some excellent lines! I shouldn't be surprised that Mark was really interested in poetry first and just found a band to be a good vehicle for his words (though these are songs with hooks) but he really has something to say. He says it with a sense of humor too but not without an earnestness that I generally kind of require to really enjoy music. I don't really want to quote his lyrics because I feel that it's best to listen to songs and hear words in context before examining texts in prints. Otherwise music can seem secondary or an afterthought.
That would be a shame in this case as these guys really made a clear effort to marry the words to just the right music. They were part of a tape-trading scene that believed in giving music out for just the cost of a blank tape. I have to commend this concept as it sure went against the grain for the time but would allow the artists involved to have total control over their music. I was too young to know about this scene in the 1979-1983 era but luckily some of it is being reissued now. So what did they sound like? The vocals are a bit like John Cooper Clarke with their proud British accent (not trying to Americanize themselves to make it "over the pond"!) and often poetry-like delivery. Nice primitive drum machines and homemade synths mix with quite competent guitar work and each song has just the right mood for the words. They succeed on every level. THIS is why my head is musically stuck in the early 80's!
There's such a feeling of discovery and of the need to make music. Fame and fortune were utterly irrelevant here. This is what it seems too many 80's revivalists are missing now. They're quite interested in being cool and stylish but kind of miss the sense of wonder and adventure of bands like the Instant Automatons. Please keep sending new music my way by all means, I'd like to hear some great new bands!...I'll just be pleasantly surprised if they delight as much as the Instant Automatons.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Am I Blue?

I guess for the moment I'm back to writing in one color for politics and one for music. This I suppose will be the music color...I feel like the DJ with "radio blinders" on who thinks people want to hear their ramblings instead of music so I guess I should talk about music and not ramble for long. If you ever feel like there isn't any good stuff coming out these days, maybe it's a good time to listen to Iron And Wine's The Creek Drank The Cradle. That's one big picture below...but I think this album is worthy of it. It's a collection of tunes you're surprised haven't been written before (and probably wish you had written yourself as I do). They seem so natural...sounding somehow like Sam Beam discovered them in his dusty old attic in a stack of faded yellow papers. The harmonies are exactly what they should be. The songs are recorded in such a way that they sound inevitable...there was no other way for them to be. This is music for all time. If this music is dated it seems like the date could be anytime in the last 200 years...of course these are ultimately pop songs (meant in the best of ways) but they have a feel that is beyond "classic"...these could be field recordings on a wax cylinder...but I wouldn't want to leave the impression that they're lo-fi...They're just right. The second album Our Endless Numbered Days is recorded quite differently and doesn't have that southern haze but I'd still recommend it. Who knows what wonders of song might still be forthcoming from Sam...Sub Pop really has their ears to the ground...There's also the Shins...more on them later...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


my first

I've been writing this blog on Salon and while I love Salon, the blog system through them is ridiculously complicated. I blame RadioUserland and not Salon (Salon is still my home page)...My blog stopped updating when I wrote new things though it would seem from my end that it was updating fine. What sucks about moving is I'll lose my high placement on Google when someone searches for INDIE MUSIC BLOG...I used to be first! If I could update the thing then I'd just have it point here but now I paid my money and it still doesn't work and nobody seems to be able to help me. I'd like to figure out a way to have the political posts separate from music posts...hmmm...I guess we'll old blog is here.

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