Hello, and welcome back. First of all, that title isn’t meant to signify much. I’ve never read Proust (yet) so it’s just a bilingual pun with pretentions above its station. This is just a few notes on what I’ve been listening to these past few weeks.
Hopefully Hardcore for Nerds’s readership hasn’t atrophied too much in the past three weeks, and that likewise this post will be of interest at least to some.
Having taken with my only a ‘small’ mp3 player – one gigabyte, practically the smallest amount of music memory you can buy now, thank you Moore’s Law – my holiday listening consisted of a) the last three Envy albums plus their two more recent EPs, b) a broad selection of Hoover/Crownhate Ruin listening and c) all the really good new albums I’ve bought – or near enough – this year. I collected most of the latter at the end of the fourth month of the year, and I hope to do a reprise of that list at the end of next month. In addition, I brought a few books to read to have something to do while listening to music...
- Carry The Meek by Ham Sandwich is still going strong as my favourite album of the year, and I’m not exactly sure why. Obviously, it sounds really really good, stays fresh every time I listen to it, and is connected to some very good live memories. Yet I can’t help feeling troubled by issues of parochialism, originality and simplicity; three things which are in fact strengths of the band for me. Kells in Meath isn’t my parish, certainly, but they’re in the orbit of Dublin and it still seems odd to prefer this to anything else I’ve heard from the US or UK, especially when that’s where I get 90% of my music from. I can’t even claim them, at least straightforwardly, as great innovators or even treaders of any particular obscure branch of rock – they’re just an oddly named indie band somewhere between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Smashing Pumpkins, and a little bit outside of either. There’s a good deal of complexity there that might be easy to miss in their songs, but for the most part Carry The Meek is the simplicity of the true punk-pop record.
- coming in a very close second is Triptych by Shooting at Unarmed Men, the follow-on band of Jon Chapple from the always-good-to-be-mentioned band, Mclusky. I was impressed by this album from the start, but thinking about in a more structured way for my post about it here helped me appreciate it on a whole other level, as a conceptual masterpiece of post-punk, hardcore and noise-rock that frankly puts Future of the Left, thrilling as they are, in the shade. Furthering this perception was a second – or third, I forget – reading of Nicholas Rombes’s Ramones essay for the 33 1/3rd series of music books. Rombes, an associate professor of English, opens the book with the statement “Ramones is either the last great modern record, or the first great postmodern one”. Not least for its atavistic qualities in returning to stripped-back hardcore punk, Triptych - essentially a series of vignettes in disparate but connected genres – resonates a lot with this description. Compared to Ramones, it really is just another one in a long line of great postmodern records.
One thing especially that struck me was Rombes’s claim that the first four tracks of Ramones - ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, ‘Beat On The Brat’, ‘Judy Is A Punk’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ – “capture the full range of the Ramones’ sound and stand as a sort of mini-album within the album” or a “self-contained mini-album” (pages 84 and 90, respectively). The premise of Triptych is of course three discs of four tracks each, and in total 13 songs, very close to Ramones total of 14.
- I don’t have very much to say about it here, but the self-titled album by Human Bell (Andy Heumann of Arboreteum and Nathan Bell of Lungfish - formerly and amongst other groups, that is) still ranks extremely highly for my year so far. It’s an incredible instrumental mix of post-rock and blues, not overlong on bombast but heavy, very heavy on texture. I’m surprised how little I’ve heard of it, even if Road Records did – and very accurately so – pimp it up as ‘if slint were more influenced by early blues music meets a bit of the explosive post rock of mogwai'.
- a new entrant to my 2008 canon is Vampire Weekend’s also self-titled debut. I took this album with me and played it more times than anything else other than Carry The Meek. Like that, it’s tremendously easy to listen to – it’s called indie rock, look it up – and if my feelings aren’t quite as strong for it in comparison, the album still has some fantastic and unique qualities . It’s not so much in the much-touted African influences although they are there and to good effect. Just as they have been done before, as the BBC Culture Show illustrated pretty neatly last night in a segment on Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, when they showed these two videos in immediate succession (although admittedly only a brief clip of the latter):
Talking Heads - 'Once In A Lifetime'
Vampire Weekend - A-Punk
What is different about Vampire Weekend, though, is the whole mix of sounds on the album; African singing and drumming, likewise indie guitar sounds, orchestral touches - faux-baroque string sections - and a real old-sounding pop style (I originally thought 60s, my friend says 80s, and I reckon music is in a constant 20-year cycle of rebirth). They also sound bizarrely English - part of the pop archaism, I suppose - right down to having lyrics about tea; "English Breakfast is like Darjeeling". Whereas as another indie band actually from England (Oxxxford to be precise), Foals, are trying really hard to sound like they're the ones from Brooklyn.
- Antidotes, by Foals is an album I didn't bring with me, but that's not out of any boredom with it. Quite the opposite, I'm fairly confident it will hold up for the year. It really was an album with a surprising amount of depth to it, considering how far it moved from the sound indicated by the early and popular singles. Anyone who judges bands on the basis of their haircuts or the TV shows their fans watch is a real chump, but my gut feeling is that Antidotes is far beyond, say, Crystal Castles. At the moment, it feels good to swop around the LPs of Vampire Weekend and Antidotes with No Kill Beep Beep and Different Damage by Q and not U, and I don't care if anyone calls me an indie hipster for my troubles.
- other albums I didn't listen to quite as much but still enjoy were the Black Keys, Attack & Release - some of the production magic is wearing off, but it's still a good one for the band - Sinaloa, Oceans and Islands - I'm really getting into this one now, apologies to any hardcore (in the genre sense) fans who thought I was oddly lukewarm before. Instrumental Irish albums Penny Black and Spectre and Crown are likewise still going strong, the latter particularly I'm starting to enjoy more fully now. Plus the two excellent Irish EPs, Bats Cruel Sea Scientist and Halves Haunt Me When I'm Drowsy; one with a heavy math-rock kind of sound, the other with a totally opposite ethereal post-rock, EITS-and-Sigur Ros style, both very accomplished and well worth a listen. And that's all the new stuff I've bought and really absorbed so far.
- Naturally, a few other recent or not-so-recent releases need a mention. I was conscious of not having Have A Nice Life's Deathconsciousness double album along with me, which has collected a lot of praise from both Geek Down and Last Train To Cool. Shoegaze-y post-hardcore, it's very hard to explain and I've been meaning to buy the proper release for a while now. Also, I just downloaded Patti Smith's The Coral Sea from eMusic yesterday. Kevin Shields plays guitar on the whole of it, quite mesmerising. Anyone else heard it yet, or for that matter the new Grails (Take Refuge In Clean Living)?
- And finally if briefly, onto things more emo-ish. The WFMU live recordings of Hoover and Lincoln are fascinating listens; the Hoover session is very lengthy, about three-quarters of an hour with songs from both Lurid Traversal and the then as yet unreleased EP tracks; the Lincoln a good deal shorter, under twenty minutes but showing some real fire in some of their songs. I think I'll sit down and work out the tracklistings (assuming no-one has done so already?) and make a full post on them. In the meantime you can of course find the Two-Headed Coin split from the two bands here.
The Fugazi Peel Session from 1988 which I just found before I left is also excellent, with more experimental version of tracks from the 13 Songs album, especially a screamingly good closing version of 'Glueman'. I haven't always been a great fan of live or demo recordings, but the above examples, plus Zen and the Art of Face Punching's timely resurfacing of the Clikatat Ikatowi demo release and the August 29, 30 1995 live recording (you can find the latter in the comments there), have certainly made me more interested.