Archive for May 2017

Songs from the Vault

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Songs from the Vault post and what better way to start it than with a tribute to the late Sir Roger Moore.  To be precise, the sample is from a Sean Connery movie – Diamonds are Forever.  Nevertheless, the tune smacks of Bond, James Bond.

I first heard this tune on Beats by Dope Demand 3, a trip-hop compilation released in 1996.  Regrettably it’s no longer available on CD or electronically – another good reason for this post!  The film buffs amongst us will have noticed that the band’s name, Grantby, is the name of the villain in the 1965 classic, The Ipcress File starring Michael Caine.

While we’re all on subject of great samples and tunes that are no longer available, I present Fader Gladiator’s Battle of the Planets.

I first heard this during an episode of the cult series Spaced.  Like Timber, it features on a Beats by Dope Demand album (No.4), which perhaps explains why it’s no longer available: the curse of Beats by Dope Demand!

From trip-hop to an artist who emerged during the mid-90s and collaborated with a number of trip-hop/electronic artists  – Beth Orton.

The tune was originally released in 1965 by The Ronettes, signed to Phil Spector’s record label and himself one of the composers behind this wonderful song.

To return to sampling, DJ Shadow produced one of the finest albums of the 1990s with Endtroducing, which almost entirely consisted of samples.  High Noon, while not on Endtroducing, is similarly built on samples.

The Northern Irish band Therapy? did a cover version a couple of year’s later, in 1998, which frankly wasn’t much cop.

I finish on yet another track that I can find neither on CD or electronically – Ballad of the Fallen Angels.  This is perhaps to be expected as it features in the climax of the 1998 anime series, Cowboy Bebop.  Still, the scene is well worth watching.

Album review – You want it darker

One of the best albums of 2016 was David Bowie’s Blackstar.  Blackstar was made more poignant by the death of David Bowie only a matter of days after its release.  Leonard Cohen‘s final album, You Want it Darker, shares this mournful circumstance, being released three weeks after Cohen’s death on November 7, 2016 at the age of 82.  The album’s therefore not new, but it’s one that I keep coming back to.

At 9 tracks and 36 minutes long, Darker doesn’t last long.  Why should it?  Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is even shorter, at 35 minutes, but is up there with the best of them.  What I’m saying is that it’s refreshing to listen to a whole album which can fit on one side of a 90 minute tape – remember that!

I only really got into Leonard Cohen having loved Nevermind, the main theme to season two of HBO’s True Detective.  How could I not with such a great song and stunning visuals.  Darker includes equally memorable tunes, including the album’s title track.  Every song sounds different but still part of a whole, joined by the golden thread of Cohen’s deep and evocative tones.

It was reported that Cohen wanted to make more albums after the release of Darker.  It’s regrettable that he wasn’t able to do so.  Not least as he appeared to be at the height of his powers.  But we can be grateful we have Darker and, for me, quite a back catalogue to explore.

Book review – every song ever!

Until recently Ben Ratliff was a music journalist for the New York Times, covering the pop and jazz brief.  He was there for 20 years and during his time wrote a handful of books, including Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, which, if you’re a John Coltrane fan, I’d highly recommend.  Ratliff writes well and has a very eclectic taste in music.  I was intrigued therefore about his 2016 offering, Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty.

The premise of the book, as far as I understood it, was how do we listen to music in the age of the cloud, where access to music is unparalleled?  Infinite access, as Ratliff points out, ‘can lead to an atrophy of the desire to seek out new songs ourselves’ while recognising the benefits of ‘the powers of the shuffle and recommendation effects.’  I had expected the book, which is actually a collection of 20 essays, to consider this subject more fully.  However, the book’s not really about that so don’t be fooled by the preamble you see on goodreads, etc.  In fairness, Ratliff himself is clear that the book is ‘about different things to listen for in music’.  So, in effect, the book isn’t really bound to the technological era of the cloud.

The 20 chapters take us through those different things, for example, repetition, virtuosity, density, silence, etc.  Ratliff rattles off a dizzying array of examples within each essay to illustrate his point, e.g. pointing out the same drum pattern between the Ronettes’ Be My Baby, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey and Bat for Lashes’ What’s a Girl to Do?  Ratliff is happy with navel gazing, which is perhaps inevitable when each chapter is an essay on a particular theme.  However, the extend of the navel gazing was a bit much for me.

Ratliff helpfully lists all of the tunes covered at the end of every chapter.  I can’t listen to music while I read but this is one book where it makes sense to.  I discovered far too late that there’s a Spotify playlist of all the tunes listed (search ‘ben ratliff’).  So if you do plan on reading this book, then I highly recommend doing so with the playlist to hand.  I think that if I’d done this from the beginning I may have enjoyed the book more.  Nevertheless, I’m glad that I read it and would recommend the book to those willing to delve into an eclectic range of tunes spanning the avant garde, classical, country, metal, latin, jazz, rock, etc.

Book review – sinister and surreal

Quite by chance, I happened to read two quite similar books.  Both about bodies being invaded.  The first, In the Darkness, That’s where I’ll know you (2015) by Luke Smitherd starts off with our protagonist Charlie Wilkes waking up inside somebody else’s head.  What would you do if you that happened?  And how would you feel if you, like Minnie (Charlie’s host), woke up to find somebody inside your head?  The book kicks off therefore with a really intriguing premise.  I can’t say a lot more without giving things away but we find our charming leads working together to solve the mystery.

At just under three hundred pages in length I thought this would be a breeze.  However, I found the experience to be a little like swimming through treacle.  As I said, the book has a great premise and charming leads but regrettably it takes at least halfway into the book to get going.  Moreover, I struggled with the fact that a lot of the writing centered on Charlie and his thoughts, which is perhaps understandable if you’re stuck inside somebody else’s head!  ITD wasn’t my cup of tea but it might be yours.

My other body invasion book was The Humans (2013) by Matt Haig.  Unlike ITD, The Humans features a case of body snatching.  Andrew Martin, an eminent professor of mathematics has his body invaded (by an alien) having just discovered or solved the Riemann hypothesis (about the distribution of prime numbers).  The solving of the hypothesis would lead to a step change in technology enabling humankind to travel the universe.  The aliens see this as a threat to the rest of the universe – as humans’ technological ability far outstrips their ability to wage peace – hence their preemptive intervention.  Our new Professor Martin is charged with finding out who knows about the solving of the hypothesis and to kill them.

Another book and another interesting premise.  The book’s cover features a quote from Joanne Harris: ‘Tremendous…Curious Incident meet The Man Who Fell to Earth’.  I can see where she’s coming from.  As you might expect, the book finds our alien living amongst us and gradually coming to understand a little better what it means to be human – observing all the things that we humans take for granted.  It’s a well trodden path (though I’m struggling to think of another example!) and well enough written.  It’s just not that exciting or gripping, when there was plenty of potential for both.  While a fairly average read, I can imagine this working well as a movie which I’d definitely want to see.