23 June 2012

Queens of the Stone Age - Go With the Flow

I've needed to listen to a lot of loud music recently to deal with, well, life. The best I have come across in the last few years is Queens of the Stone Age. Or QOTSA as most people seem to write their name.

An iconic album cover, with rather significant pitckfork symbolism.  Their name seems to play on homosexuality, metal and the album title is rather forward too.  Is it just noise?

You decide with this video from the UK's Shynola collective.



I remember  when I first heard them, back a good 15 years ago when I was on a Web Design course (this was when it was still in it's real infancy and it wasn't so easy - you had to write code to make things happen.)

One of the guys I got on well with "Mike Tok" was into all sorts of left field music - from stuff that would make Aphex Twin sound like Tom Jones to "4 to the floor Techno". I didn't imagine he would like guitar music, but he ripped a disc for me - and it included the QOTSA album "Rated R".  It was great - not only well produced and with a coherent sound all the way through, but as a musical item - a complete album. Every track seemed to be part of the whole.

A couple of years later this came out, so I bought it. And I wan't dissapointed.

The most important thing about this album, for the band, was that they had to replace their drummer. Now that is always a problem for any band - getting a drummer is difficult. Getting a good drummer is next to impossible. Getting a great drummer is just wishful thinking.  That is unless you are friends with Dave Grohl.

So they called him up - he was looking for a change and said yes. There isn't a single time when "Dave Grohl" isn't the answer to "Who is the best drummer we can get for this record?".

In this song they could have just gone with a 4/4 rhythm and it would have been acceptable. But he doesn't.  He takes 3 different beats and changes every so many bars, adding a complete dimension to the sound.

The guitars and bass almost take up the space of the drums, pounding away to a steady beat, with the drums and lead guitar adding accents to the music. So much better than anything ordinary.

How about live? Is it playable - you bet, faster too....
Obviously not Mr Grohl there, he had left again to go back to the Foo Fighters. But he is just part of the package.

Having the lead guitar accenting - answering each line of the verse, along with the "Iggy and the Stooges" plinking piano in the background bring the whole thing to life.
The rest of the album is very similar - not in a bad way, but in an accessible manner, including the incredibly hard "First it Giveth" which has some of the best vocal harmonies recorded in this genre.
Oh, the fun of a full time rock band eh?

More drumming from Mr Grohl, rather reminiscent of his work with Killing Joke.

Well, if you see me speeding down the motorway singing my face off, you will now know what I am listening to.

This, or Westlife.

08 June 2012

John Denver - Take Me Home Country Roads

So - another tough week. Still having a few of them.
Driving home tonight, still listening to 105.6FM (Church of God Ministries pirate radio) which is just the best thing I have heard - wonderful deep Nigerian voices full of life, with accents SO deep you can make one word in 20. I swear last night the guy was passionately rallying against Tesco, Lidl and Aldi as they were the only words I could make out.
As the broadcast filtered out, I shoved on the iPod...

Track 23 was this flipping brilliant tune.
Listen up and try not to join in.

Right - straight off the bat - he was not the Milky Bar Kid when younger and yes he did die in a plane accident. And more weirdly for me - this is a Folk Singer/songwriter of a popular "easy" classic pop tune.

What the hell? Am I ill?

Probably, but that is unrelated.  There is such a thing as good pop.
I like all sorts of music - it's just that there is precious little really good pop. So what makes this great and worthy of being somewhere on my iPod?
I was walking back to my brothers place a few months ago at about one in the morning after a few jars, up and down the Hampstead roads - chatting and laughing with him. A rare thing when you consider how different we are.

Even though we are brothers, our childhoods were somehow different, we didn't share interests, hobbies, or anything (apart from a girlfriend once, but that's for a different website....).
We certainly didn't swap music or share musical tastes. I played musical instruments, ending up on guitar and he played sports, ending up with football. Quite different.

At one moment he just started singing, as you do when no-one is around - "Almost Heaven~"
I answered back with "West Virginia" immediately.

During that walk back, we almost remembered every line between us.  HOW?

It wouldn't have been in our childhood homes, it is certainly not the type of chune played on the radio or would be in our separate music collections - how did we both know it?
When I got home I checked my music database - 71 thousand tracks and counting - Not there, and only Annie's Song by John Denver on an old compilation CD.

Sometimes, when something is so close to perfection it becomes embodied by it's cultural surroundings. It must have been on television hundreds of times, in adverts, films, on late night TV, Desert Island Discs. We must have picked it up by osmosis, in the same way that you remember hymns, if (like me) you had to sing them in school every day.

Good songs rise above everything else - the cheesy look, the blonde bob haircut, the folkiness, the overproduced backing vocals. It is just great - a great cycle of chords make up the song - a melancholy memory of home, longing and thoughts of being re-united with the physical embodiment of memories.

Just what we were doing then - walking to his home and just as I did this evening, driving home. Certainly "Almost Heaven, West Ruislip" doesn't have the same ring....

We got in and looked it up on YouTube - kettle on the boil in the background.

"I thought you got it wrong, Geej" he said.
"What the hell are you talking about - I'm never wrong"

He showed me what he described as "The Original" - this....

Well, it proves something - we are different. What he thought was the original was a cover - and quite a different style, at that, by the wonderful Toots and the Mayalls. Holy crap - yes I knew that as well (and had it on the database at home). It works.
It really does.
What other covers are there?
How about the Olivia Newton John one he mentioned in the first video?
Almost Heaven? Almost Gospel at the beginning....
I would say it almost works.
How about a punk version?

Hmmm.
Great songs, in whatever genre can transfer really happily as their original essence cannot ever be diluted.
It was only on Wikipedia that I realised the truth about where little brother had properly heard and sang the song before.
Iconic tunes, popularly know, only transfer finally to their end into one "genre", if you will.
Football grounds.
Fulham - his adopted club change the lyrics in the same way as Mr Toots did earlier.
The crowd sing "Almost Heaven, Craven Cottage"....

Bloody football.

06 June 2012

MC 900ft Jesus - If I only had a Brain

So I had a long day after a long weekend. Drove home listening to a truly bizarre Harrow based Nigerian religious pirate radio station (105.6FM - listen in, it's brilliant) which eventually started phasing in and out of reception, so I had to play my iPod instead.

I was happily listening to this and that, but Beethoven's 9th started up. A truly magnificent piece of work - intricate and moving, passionate and intelligent. The type of work people have obsessed over their entire lives.

Luckily for me, the 23rd track today was the antithesis of this - the wonderfully named MC 900ft Jesus.  Let's play...
What the living heck?

I know when I first heard it and why. Did I buy it when it came out? Nope.  I bought it when I saw the video.  It was on a compilation of the video work of Spike Jonez (Beastie Boys - Sabotage, Jackass, Where the Wild Things Are etc). There was a phase about 10 years back when the directors of pop videos managed to get their works compiled and released - Michel Gondry and the likes all had videos out - pre- YouTube. It was one of the only ways of seeing this stuff. So I obviously bought the lot.

And this stuck out for me.

Why? It's crap, obviously, isn't it?

Well, No.  It's a bit like how Eddie Izzard explains fashion from being Cool - to looking like a dickhead:
Music like this is very similar - I call it the "Awesome to Awful coefficient". Sometimes the difference between something so amazingly dull, boring and uninspired and musical genius is very, very slight. And such is the case here.
Perhaps the originality of the video pulls it out of the crevice of self-loving that it could so easily be thought of.
Perhaps it is the expanded half time chorus, auto-harmonized by some 80's synth that brings it above that.
Perhaps it is the unarguable catchiness of the bass-line.
Perhaps it is the lyrics, yet again - just a little better than their surroundings seem to say.

I'd like to think that the sum of the parts - all being 'just a little bit' better than they could be brings it all the way from Awful right round to Awesome.  That and the wonderful self depreciation of the first line - "Suppose - I accidentally got my shit together"
Going on to listen to the rest of the song, it is my dream for somebody else to sing it - somebody who has the same sort of feeling about their own intelligence, who wants to better themselves. Who do we all know from popular culture like that?
I would love to see a mash-up of the scarecrow singing that version of "If I only had a brain".

Imagine - Dorothy : "Well, what would you do if you had a brain?" Scarecrow : "Suppose - I accidentally got my shit together". Now there's a musical I would watch.

Then again, it could be that I like this for the same reason as these two pop pundits....