I was a fan of the band The Police in high school—to be fair, I still am—and hungry for everything they’d made, including their solo work individually. I got Andy Summers’s experimental albums with Robert Fripp, I listened along with half the world to Sting’s solo debut, but Stewart Copeland was always my most compelling draw.
The Rhythmatist, released in 1985, was a kind of encapsulation of Stewart’s trek across Africa, visiting musicians and tribes from East to West, recording their music and composing songs as he went. I got the album on cassette (it was my preferred format just before I started collecting CDs exclusively) as soon as I knew about it. I loved just about all of it, and consumed it obsessively as I do everything I love. I hoped desperately to see the film that was attached to this weird, wonderful soundtrack, but it never came to Tucson theaters or video outlets, and I let go of the idea of ever seeing it. Until today.
The film was a strange avant garde film project, something he said he wanted to resemble a music album, with no clear plot or story that people would want to watch repeatedly in the way they listened to music. I chanced on an upload of the film to YouTube, and threw it on the living room TV immediately.
It’s a bit like Stewart himself: strange, goofy, intense, energetic. It’s full of infectious and odd low-bit percussive synth melodies layered over recorded African drums and voices as well as Ray Lema’s vocals and Stewart’s own drumming. He spends time with African residents, drumming with them, dancing with them, taking in ceremonies and rituals. It feels a little exploitative for me now, with Stewart feeding us interpretations of his experiences, and no Africans get to talk about their music or their lives. That could be my own sensitivity coming into play. But it’s a product of its time, and not a documentary proper.
There’s another video of Stewart being interviewed about the film and music, which is also worth a look if you’re at all into either or both.
I’ve been in love with Allan Holdsworth’s guitar playing and composition since I discovered him obliquely through a few more famous guitarists in the mid-80s, who praised him as one of the best of the best. If ever I start watching a video with him playing or call up a track I suddenly recall, I’ll often keep following links to more of it.
The above video is a window into Allan’s musical origins. He taught himself to understand the guitar by math and visual patterns, figuring out how to make his understanding work within the framework of mainstream—more or less—music. It’s complicated and unusual, but it’s all his.
His music is strange, even now, not easy to decipher, endless melodic lines coming at you with great speed and transition. But it’s worth digging into, rewarding in a way the most deeply connected artists can convey. Like the best literature, it can be a bit of work and persistence to absorb and penetrate, but his music rewards close attention.
His speed and wild runs is what gets the most attention, but there’s equal, aching power and beauty in his quiet, airy chord voicing that so often precede and follow those blistering passages.
For weird, synchronistic and untraceable reasons, I got Flesh for Fantasy, above, there, stuck in my mental earholes earlier in the day. When it was released, I was in high school, and had eclectic taste even then. But though I respected Idol’s presence and abilities as a songwriter and singer, it didn’t seem particularly special.
Now, through a lens of 35 more years of listening to music, it’s scintillating. There are beautiful tones and colors on guitar and guitar synthesizer both. The song is very dynamic, rolling from the sneering shouts of the chorus, to the soft whispers of verses. It’s not characteristic of much music then or now, when so much production isn’t allowed to breathe and rest, it’s balls-to-the-wall sound and—if you’re lucky—silence.
An advantage of age often mentioned but not appreciated, maybe, is wisdom. Along with that is a sense of perspective. Things look different through a lens of decades. Art of all kinds can be reassessed like this. Sometimes things you thought were great turn out to be paper thin. And—if you’re lucky—some things turn out to have great depth.
Somebody linked Holly Herndon’s Godmother on Twitter months ago, and I was an instant convert, sorry that I hadn’t found her before. Herndon recently finished her music PhD, and her sound is a kind of amalgam of vaguely recognizable traditional cultural forms of uncertain origin. It sounds weirdly familiar, but I can’t place specific influences.
There’s an emphasis on rhythm and voice. Herndon and her collaborators pile vocal tracks atop one another in a dizzying stack, though production remains remarkably unmuddied.
There’s also something disturbing, unnerving about both songs and video. Herndon uses programmed manipulation to chop up lines, in some cases letting a trained AI feed impressions back into songs. It’s all heady and fresh, and I’m very on board.
Thom Yorke’s Anima, the album, is an expected delight, moody and strange. Unexpected was how delightful this new short featuring music from the album is, from Yorke and director Paul Thomas Anderson. I wouldn’t ordinarily share a link from a paywalled/subscription site, but if you have Netflix, it’s worth a watch.
I don’t quite agree with the blurb that it’s “mind-bending,” as weirdly wonderful as it is, but perhaps my mind is already pretty bent. Also, we have trouble finding ways to categorize and label contemporary dance works. Maybe we all need to watch a lot more of them to get more familiar.
Miles is an often overlooked part of the striking design of many Blue Note jazz albums, having designed hundreds of them during his time with the label.
He designed, sometimes photographed, occasionally drew, and exhibited a seemingly endless capacity for clever juxtapositions and flashy, effective, bold colors and typography.
The simplicity and contrast of image and color influenced design for years, maybe still does. Reid contributed an essential component of American culture that went hand-in-hand with the scintillating sonic brilliance of the music inside those wonderful covers.
Keeping on the music tack, this article in Wired about “live-coding” parties is an amazing look at the pervasiveness of code and algorithms in our lives today. There’s a SoundCloud sample in the article for the music segment. It’s cool, I’d say not as good as a fully human-generated track or song, but an intriguing start, nonetheless. If you think the robots won’t come for your job eventually, you may be surprised sooner than you think. At least, there may be chunks of code that take over some of that job in relatively short order. There’s also a section outlining the visual art side of things and more links to artist pages.
As I wrote before about adopting Frank Chimero’s music organizing system, I make a monthly playlist to hold all the significant songs I remember or that impact my day which were released prior to the current year. March is nearly over and a short list, but February’s was rich, so here it is:
I’ve been working on a playlist for a coworker who’s not well-versed in the various metal genres, particularly the Euro-variety of symphonic metal, province of bands like Nightwish and Epica.
But along with that rabbit hole, I was sifting through a bunch of stuff online about John Lennon and his son, Julian. That led me to Sgt. Pepper’s, and the remastered “Fixing a Hole,” which I think still holds up in a contemporary context. It was a little jarring after so much distortion and vast seas of orchestration and voices, but I was surprised how easy I slipped back into the mode of a more stripped-down arrangement.
It’s eclectic and clever, with a typically monster hook in the major chorus to complement the minor verses. It could have been written today, really. Just a few changes in production would fix it in 2019 instead of 52 years ago.
Rabbit holes are the future. And past, apparently.
Mark Hollis, front man and major songwriter for Talk Talk, died at 64 today Monday.
He was the driving force taking them from synth pop to post-rock to something else. All in the span of maybe 6 albums. Massive evolutions between each release. Brilliant songwriter and musician.
I bought Hollis’s solo album (1998) nearly a decade before I finally listened to it. I was waiting for the right moment, and I decided last fall that it was time. I was alone on a calm fall day, and I watched the sunset as I played it. It’s a very quiet, open record, the final evolution in his musical exploration.
Laughing Stock, Talk Talk’s final album, is not so different, but it’s more well known. Good work, Mark, all around.
Assumptions about what I like can quickly become dogma, and it’s especially strong where music is concerned. Like any other preference in art, it’s good to push against your biases and preconceptions, even when you’re the one who made them.
Parquet Courts is a recent example. I like them, but wasn’t as blown away by their last album as a lot of people in my musical sphere of influence. And yet, somehow, this one song played while I was out today, and I didn’t remember they’d done it. It was terrific, different than most of the other songs, and made me want to listen more closely to the whole album.
There. Opinion diverted, openness to explore renewed. I hope I can keep that mindset going in the future.