The Olivia Tremor Control
|Transfiguration of Vincent
Monkton Vs Plankton is a tribute to excruciatingly, achingly fantastic music - to the eclectics of sound in the digital age and the vibrantly unique experience of discovery. It probably won't be the first place you hear about the next big thing - the internet is very LARGE and no one is giving out prizes - but hopefully it will add to the collective addiction we all share. Monkton Vs Plankton is heartbreakingly silly and side-splittingly serious. And it is here, whenever you need it.
It’s gone all quiet on the Monkton front of late, so I best pop my head round the door and ho ho hopelessly apologize for my seasonal absence. And how’s about this for a start!?
Forgive me such a personal question, but can anyone else feel their cockles warming? This track has got me so giddy about the Sigur Ros frontman’s upcoming album that between that, getting the green light on Christmas jumpers and the festive onslaught of mulled wine parties I am certain to explode with pant-wetting excitement before I even so much as sniff a brusselsprout. And now that’s saying something - gunning for poll position on my stereo in the month of December is largely pointless (unless your name is Nat King Cole that is) but somehow I can’t resist putting this number on loop-de-loop… Tuuuune!
And what else did Good King Wenceslas see when he looked out on the Feast of Stephen? Sack that, what did he hear? Well if he’s anything like me, he’d swoon at the feet of Laura Marling’s wistful paean to the wintry homeshores of old England -
Tuuuuune! . The fully-fledged all fingers and toes single version hits the shelves on Monday 14th - so stockings at the ready.
And in other news, our lad Johnny Flynn has emerged from hibernation to toast us with a new EP -
More of the same astounding folkery that made Flynn’s debut A Larum such a joy, this time with an airier bent that builds in strides and marches - like the record is a living and breathing thing, where the last was more a verbatim testament of Flynn and his band of merry men, the Sussex Wit. Tuuuuuune(s)!  Between Marling and Flynn, you could say we’ve got the full English - and so with that homely sentiment I feel well and truly ready to start jingling my bells and mulling my Kintyres. If I may be so crude.
God bless us all -
The ’60s had Motown and The Beatles. The ’70s was punk rock and disco. The ’80s spawned laser portraiture and synthpop, and the ’90s, well, the ’90s had hammer time. So what are we supposed to remember the ’00s for?
I’ve been pondering this question for a while. The most cohesive endpoint I could muster is the lumbering monster of indie music - but somehow, that seems to entirely miss the point. What holds this decade together is not a specific genre, if anything, it’s an entire lack thereof, not a sound in itself, but a way of treating sound, using it, and listening to it.
In the absence of any truly original genres or movements, contemporary music is well versed in stealing from its peers, whether its the theft of style (e.g. Fleet Foxes pilfering from Crosby, Stills & Nash), substance (the notorious Coldplay court case) or raw sound (as in Radiohead’s sampling of Mild Und Leise). And it’s not just the musician, but the listener too; the decade began with Napster and is ending in mass industry hysteria (apparently stealing doesn’t sell). To paraphrase, in the 21st century, music is stolen, in almost every conceivable notion of the word.
It’s a bleak outline, admittedly. But I don’t intend to cast a shadow, rather shine a light; for the most part modern music has more in common with the gripping narrative of a heist than it does daylight robbery. Consider the cultural significance of mashup maverick Girl Talk, in particular the rapid fire sampling of ‘What It’s All About’, of which Wired drew the rather fetching timeline below (full image here):
‘What It’s All About’ is an eerie (albeit unintended) caricature of music in the ’00s; an identity derived from a complete lack of identity, with thirty-five samples spanning an array of decades and styles, the only shared characteristic a kinship within the same grand tapestry of theft. Dare I say, it’s a mirror held up to the decade, the reflection terrifying and ingenious in equal measures - entirely derivative, granted, but there is definite artistic integrity and a wholly distinct vision here, a fresh breed of brilliance somehow unique to its own era. Is this not a great thing, in its own delicate way?
Consider too that a legal clearing of ‘What It’s All About’ is entirely inconceivable (even if it were backed by the world’s most expensive lawyers) and yet last.fm counts nearly 70,000 listeners to this day. Theft has never been so accessible.
Of course, sampling - and the modern musical values that are associated with it - are not entirely new. But that is to miss the point; when DJ Shadow dropped the unbelievable Endtroducing upon the world in 1996, he did so with a vision that existed separately from the (almost incidental) sampling. Try listening to ‘Stem/Long Stem’ and telling me otherwise.
Where this leaves music an industry is another question altogether. Perhaps the apocalypse truly is (almost) upon us, but even if that were the case, I’m inclined to take a leaf out of the Andrew Bird school of thought; when it all comes crashing down, there will be tables, chairs, pony rides and dancing bears, heck, there may even be a band. So take a seat, and pass the popcorn… *
* He did say ”there will be snacks”, right?
It’s coursing through my body, and streaming through my bones. Today, there is no school like the old-school. Today, my human friends, I listen to Dr. Dog.
- they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But you can teach a new dog old tricks, as demonstrated by Dr. Dog, a very new dog with reassuringly old tricks.
In some circles they’d be put in the stocks for the shame of thievery (notable victims include The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Band), but I would rather stand back and admire their immense songcraft. It’s so good, in fact, I’m almost tempted to use dangerous music reviewer words like arcane and redolence - but to kill any brooding pretense, let me just say that this is great music, and while we could shine many a bright, decorative light upon it, somehow it’s just not appropriate for something as lovingly whole as this. Fate, their latest record, somehow sounds better every time I take it for a spin - and it’s a relentless march that shows little sign of letting up.
Equally reminiscent of the old guard, but perhaps a more fitting suitor to the pretension, this week I’ve been rather buzzed to discover The Olivia Tremor Control of Elephant 6 fame. Their third full-length, Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume 1 is an irresistible psych-pop collage, destructively arranged and yet still strangely cohesive. It’s the fine details that make this record - there’s an infinite universe of great minutiae hidden in every track - coupled with the perilously frantic sequencing (you get the feeling Black Foliage could violently derail at any moment, even if it never does). In concept it threatens to be all substance, no style, but beyond the frippery and the fuzz, The Olivia Tremor Control know how to write striking, nostalgic pop. Throw in a surprise Jeff Mangum cameo - this is Elephant 6 after all - and what more could you ask for?
The Olivia Tremor Control reformed earlier this year (it’s been a decade since Black Foliage) and new material is currently in the works.
Such is the regularity of their releases and the endurance of the hype, it seems like an absolute age since we were last treated to a new Animal Collective release.
That wait, (brother) sports fans, is over.
The material is traditionally dense, and unsurprisingly for a post-Merriweather EP, its a close sonic cousin to its predecessor, albeit with a largely frugal approach to bass and a touch of the Feels about it. With my difficult ears, the first spin of an Animal Collective release is generally a muddled one - but as an early stand-out, I Think I Can is the best of an intriguing bunch. It’s time to open up your throat (again); this one is definitely a keeper…
If you like what you hear, then please buy what you hear.
Consider this: You are an expectant parent, expecting… well you’re not really sure… but you certainly have expectations. Great ones. But there are also things you don’t want. Like a child with a beak or a suspicious moustache. And the suspense is unbearable. I expect.
How then, could it even come to pass that the name ‘Fyfe Dangerfield’ was ever so daringly bestowed upon a child, especially with such resounding success? The likelihood is untenable. The odds are…. well a little skewered since, admittedly, he had to rearrange the many parts of his full name - Fyfe Antony Dangerfield Hutchins - to achieve the effect of ‘Fyfe Dangerfield’. But the remarkable power of it is still there. I mean, at the very least it’s testament to the man that he can pull off such a towering nomument without even a cautionary flinch. Impressive to say the least.
But if pop music was only about names, there would be more time in this world for the Englebert Humperdinks and Dickie Doos* among us - thankfully Fyfe has the musical hutzpah to go above a beyond his eye-catching handle, delivering some of the ohmygosh darndest avant-garde pop around. And - hurrah - the plucky Guillemots frontman has a solo album on the way next year. And here be a tantalising snippet:
MP3: ‘When You Walk in the Room’ - Fyfe Dangerfield (from Fly Yellow Moon)
Now imagine, if you will, the greatest sort of unexpected arrival (alack, can you not hear the bell’s a-jingling?) that of course is the advent of Our Lord, the baby Jesus, for whom we joyfully consume and exchange worldly goods, such as ye Playstations and thou shiny Goose, on Christmas Day each year. Now, courtesy of the wonderful Deastro, may we do it like they do in Oxford Circus and deck the halls in November, for it comes but once a year and must be milked within an inch of its holiness -
MP3: ‘Child of Man, Son of God’ - Deastro
Sadly we couldn’t have M People in to flick the switch - maybe next year, eh?
* yes, he of Dickie Doo and the Dont’s, of course
Slaraffenland. My, it feels soooo good just to say the word. Sssla-raffff-enn-lannnd. Glorious. I might even go one further and form a Danish supergroup - Slaraffenklang - if it hadn’t happened already. Too good to be true for fans of phonetics and Scandi post-rock alike. But alas, that was 2008, and I have definitely missed the boat.
Cue We’re On Your Side, the latest installment from Slaraffenland for the boat-missing Slaraffenfans among us. It’s a swelling, chattering affair - from the orchestra to the rockery - with bright, buzzing reams of distortion and intimately textural landscapes. Many many highlights, but for now this will do -
MP3: ‘Too Late to Think’ - Slaraffenland
MP3: ‘Falling Out’ - Slaraffenland
There is more loveliness in Denmark, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy. Word.
Buy it or Spotify it.
Sometimes I’d like to throw in the towel on all this music blogging and opt instead for the simple existence of the mudskipper.
This little fella is clearly the result of drastically unsupervised evolution. A fish. Out of water. Somewhere along the line this partially aquatic gobie (yep, I’m talking zoo lingo) was going through what can only be described as a biological identity crisis - and you have to admire its tenacity, favouring the life of a beach bum over its otherwise damp marine ways. This, ladies and gents, is a fish with scruples. And that is worth a good deal more than a single one of our human scruples. It’s worth at least 12 points on the scruple index, a truly scrupulous score, especially for the modestly befinned and amphibiously discreet mudskipper. I salute you.
And you may well call all this foppery, irrelevant fish talk to disguise the fact that I have little, perhaps nothing to say about music today - that I have drawn a devastating blank, and am just buying time, precious moments with which to scramble around, locate the bag, and pull something out of it - but then you would have missed a crucial lesson.
Ask yourself. What would the mudskipper do?
Imagine the mudskipper, before that evolutionary fork in the road - with eyes for the open air, but yet to fully realise his incredible potential…
Grizzly Bear - circa Horn of Plenty - before they really sounded like Grizzly Bear, sounding for a fleeting moment like they might one day sound like Grizzly Bear. Who would have guessed back then that GB would become the toast of the town, the London Symphony Orchestra a mere backing band at their sell-out concerts? And equally, who wouldn’t have laughed in the face of the first ambitious mudskipper with his heart set on dry land? Tsk.
And the new video for ‘Ready, Able’? Surely we can’t scoff at this cameo from a not so distant relative of the mudskipper?
The parallels are undeniable.
No comments please.
Radiohead may be one of the musical wonders of the world, but they sure have a tendency to frustrate even the most of ardent of their fans; be it studio recordings that betray the spirit of the originals, live classics that never see the light of day, or painfully slow recording cycles.
I’d complain - I can throw a rather accomplished hissy fit when called upon - but their outrageous behavior seems intrinsically linked with why they’re so damn good in the first place. Perhaps its best we leave them to their own devices, after all, why disturb them when there’s a whole league of crazed super fans waiting to pick up the pieces?
Reconstruction #1: Videotape, old-school Hammersmith style
Remember Videotapegate? In the build up to In Rainbows, Videotape was massively hyped thanks to the stirring full-band version that Radiohead had been touring with. When it arrived on record, however, the original had been put through the proverbial blender; a track once warm, epic and immediate became a challenging minimalist masterpiece, for better or for worse (depending on who you ask).
Reconstruction #2: Big Boots, back from the dead
Big Boots, also known as Man-O-War, is a fan favourite from The Bends era that never quite made it onto record. It’s difficult to understand why; Big Boots is probably the best Bond theme song that never was, a lumbering, sexed-up monster that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on OK Computer.
Enter the obsessive brilliance of Pawel Osmolski once again - unfortunately his vision remains incomplete (there are no recordings of Thom Yorke suitable for the latter half), but it’s definitely worth a spin or twelve for it’s raw, uncanny power:
MP3: ‘Big Boots (Pawel Osmolski Mix)’ - Radiohead
Reconstruction #3: I Will, the forgotten Kid A version
Perhaps the most curious reproduction out there, however, is this one. In the annals of Radiohead folklore, it is said that Like Spinning Plates was born out of a version of I Will recorded for Kid A. When they played I Will backwards, the band were captivated by the new melody it created, and the ominous character of the backing track in retrograde - understandably, they discarded their work in favour of this new song (for a full analysis of Like Spinning Plates, see Citizen Insane).
The original recording may never make its way to the surface, but its fairly easy to reimagine; reverse the backing track of Like Spinning Plates, and overdub the vocals from later recordings of I Will. This reconstruction by Michael Weber is probably as close as we’ll ever get - a lush, hypnotic arrangement, in great contrast to the plaintive acoustic track we’d eventually hear on Hail To The Thief:
MP3: ‘I Will (Kid A Version)’ - Radiohead
Not to go around pulling unnecessary punches - after all, For Emma… was a great record - but in the face of Timber Timbre’s self-titled, Bon Iver’s cabin heartache feels decidedly tame. While Justin Vernon was warming up by the fire, Taylor Kirk (aka Timber Timbre) was contracting a deadly fever. It’s here, committed to tape, a distinct earthen charm that we’ve heard in various forms before, but rarely as haunting or distinguished as this.
There are definite sonic comparisons to be made with Antony Hegarty and M. Ward; the vocal timbre of the former, an intentioned timber (a shared methodology perhaps) with the latter. Another strong root to the record is the gritty blues territory originally outlined by The Animals, an influence worn very much on the sleeve at times (see the lyrics of Until The Night Is Over, or the organ solo in Trouble Comes Knocking). The various shades really add up - Timber Timbre is an intoxicating record peering in upon itself with a gentle but fearful stare, and it deserves more attention than popular opinion has, thus far, been inclined to give.