Sunday, November 13, 2005

Review: Lady Sovereign, Vertically Challenged EP, Chocolate Industries

Comparisons to Sri Lankan-born MIA (Maya Arulpragasam) are unavoidable, but fellow tracksuit-sporting Londoner Lady Sovereign, aka "the cheeky midget," has her own thing going on. After all, the 19-year-old hoody fanatic, born Louise Harman, likes to "get random" and "wear her trousers baggy." (Sartorial soul brothers Madness would surely approve.) Like MIA, her music is often described as "grime" or even "back-pack." (The AMG adds the descriptors "2-step/British garage" and the rather misleading "electronica.") Well, there's nothing I hate more than trendy jargon, so please forgive me if I just call it hip-hop (even if, as Scotland's Sunday Herald notes, her studio is located on a "grimy block").

Granted, Sovereign's style lies somewhere between dancehall (or jungle) and hip-hop. Her flow is fast and feisty, as much a toast as a rap, but there isn't much worldbeat to her sound. You could say she has more in common with the UK's favorite "boy in da corner," Dizzee Rascal, but her voice sounds nothing like his--or the similarly pigment-challenged Mike Skinner (the Streets), i.e. like Skinner, she's white. (Sovereign has played with both; also Basement Jaxx, the Go! Team, LCD Soundsystem, Obie Trice, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC--the girl gets around.) There is, however, one US rapper who comes to mind, and that's MC Lyte. I have no idea whatever happened to her, but for a while there Lyte ("as a rock") was the go-to girl when it came to female-centric hip-hop, especially in the male-dominated late-1980s/early-1990s. Of course, there was also Queen Latifah (and a few short-lived lesser lights), but she was in a class by herself. Lyte was a scrappy young kid bursting with confidence. The poised, imposing, future Oscar-nominated Latifah was self-proclaimed royalty. No comparison.

I received Vertically Challenged, a two-disc EP, as the first eight-track disc only, which features four remixes, including one by the Beastie Boys' Ad Rock ("A little Bit of SHHH"). Other remixers include Cheque 1-2, Menta, and Ghislain Poirier, while guest rappers include Riko (Menta's "Random" remix) and Frost P., Zuz Rock, and Shystie ("The Battle"). According to the Amazon listing, the second disc features two tracks, one remix, and an "exclusive interview with live footage interlaced throughout." For my money, "Random" is the standout track with Sovereign's high-pitched "Make way for the S-O-V" chant sure to lodge its way into your grey matter right quick. The other cuts are good, too, and I look forward to hearing more from this "multi-talented munchkin" (Sovereign clocks in at five foot one).

Postscript: Lady Sovereign's full-length debut, Public Warning (or Straight Up Cheeky, according to Pitchfork), will be released on Island in the UK in February 2006. She is currently shopping for a US deal and recently took a meeting with Def Jam rapper-turned-mogul Jay-Z. Image from UK Flava.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Love vs. Love

Alone Again Or AndMoreAgain 

"AndMoreAgain" is, of course, the name of this blog. I've always thought of it as a sequel of sorts to "Alone Again Or." The latter isn't just another song off Love's third and finest recording, 1967's Forever Changesit's the song. Similarly, "Time of the Season" is the track that elevates the Zombies' strangely spelled Odessey and Oracle (1968) to classic status. If you remove it, you have a pretty terrific album on your hands, but is it still a masterpiece? Perhaps, but I think both records would be more likely to qualify as cult classics without these signature compositions. 

As for "AndMoreAgain," it's got the same weird syntax as "Alone  Again Or," but why are the title words separated in one song, run together in the other? Only God—or Arthur Lee—knows. Musically, they're also quite different, although both represent the softer side of Love. Neither is likely to be confused with such driving rockers as Love's "My Little Red Book" or Da Capo's "Seven and Seven Is" (Love also features "And More," the first song in the "And/Or" trilogy). Songwriters Lee and Bryan MacLean are in a more melancholy mood on these numbers. 

Oddly enough, however, Love's most recognizable voice doesn't sing lead on "Alone Again Or," but rather MacLean, its composer...sound-
ing a lot like Lee. As it turns out, there's a reason for that. As Mac-
Lean explained to Ben Edmonds in the Forever Changes liner notes: 

One thing about the Forever Changes album: Arthur wasn't confident in my singing. So the harmony is actually the melody you're hearing. You're not really hearing the song the way it was written. You're hearing the harmony part from Arthur, but I was singing lead. They mixed Arthur's harmony over my lead vocals. So what you hear, after it bleeds in on the mix, is actually Arthur's harmony, which is mistaken for the lead vocal...I understand why he did it, because I knew I wasn't that great of a singer at that point. I think it would bother me now, because now I can hit the notes. He probably did it out of necessity, and I probably knew that in my heart. 

Co-written by the two, "AndMoreAgain" sounds more like Lee. To Edmonds, it's "one of the loveliest melodies Arthur ever conceived." The vocal is Brit-inflected and over-enunciated--especially the "pum-pum" part ("Then you feel your heart beating, thrum-pum-pum-pum"). It's twee, yet totally affecting. "Alone Again Or" is more straight-
forward. It's less cutesy, more mystical, and downright spooky. (Come to think of it, Rod Argent's "Time of the Season" is pretty spooky, too.)

I first heard "Alone Again Or" while in college. It wasn't the original version of the song, but rather a cover. The band was the Damned, the album was Anything (1986). It's the sound of a once-great punk group in decline, which is to say it isn't punk at all. The Damned were more of a goth rock concern at this point, but their version of "Alone Again Or" doesn't creep the song out or send it scuttering towards the darkness of doom and gloom. It's actually quite lovely. Dave Vanian over-sings it a bit, perhaps, but you sense the band "gets it" and it doesn't hurt that the track was accompanied by a psychedelic Western of a video. All dust and sand and elongated images. It encouraged me to seek out the original. Naturally, I prefer it, but the Damned certainly deserves their propers, even if I'll always prefer their early material. 

Alone Again Or 

Yeah, said it’s all right I won’t forget All the times I’ve waited patiently for you And you’ll do just what you choose to do And I will be alone again tonight my dear Yeah, I heard a funny thing Somebody said to me You know that I could be in love with almost everyone I think that people are The greatest fun And I will be alone again tonight my dear 

I first picked up Forever Changes a few years later. After "Alone Again Or," "AndMoreAgain" quickly became my favorite track. So much so that I briefly took it as my air name when I started working at KNDD, "The End," in the early-1990s. Phonetically, the title resolves as "Ann Morgan." My program director, however, thought I should stick with my real name--even if no one can pronounce it correctly--so I let Ms. Morgan go. Nonetheless, I've adopted it as my pseudonym. 

The other thing I like about the song is that it's fun to sing. So why haven't more bands covered it, as they have "Alone Again Or"? After all, it's harder to do the latter justice, even if it's better known, which leads me to the second cover to catch my ear: Arizona-based band Calexico's 2004 version. I had been a fan of Giant Sand for several years before Joey Burns and John Convertino left to form their own combo. I've always liked their music, but felt they lacked a vocalist as distinctive as Howe Gelb, and didn't pick up one of their recordings until 2003's Feast of Wire. Not too surprisingly, the Love influence won me over. It's as if they had come up with the musical equivalent of that Damned video, i.e. "All dust and sand and elongated images." Plus, a healthy dose of mariachi to brighten the corners. So it made perfect sense when they issued their cover the following year on the Convict Pool EP (which includes a slowed-down version of the Minutemen's "Corona," AKA the Jackass theme). From the time I first heard it, I noticed that the vocal was stronger than usual, but it still sounded like Burns.


Not until I picked up a copy did I realize that Sweden's Nicolai Dunger and his band actually guests on the track. How could I have missed that? I have three of his recordings. Well, I think it's because, as with Bryan MacLean on the original, he's made an effort not to deviate too much from the group's primary vocalist. Or maybe it just came naturally to him. In any case, there's less of his patented Van Morrison-meets-Tim Hardin thing going on, which is to say, Dunger has taken things down a notch. It was a wise move. Arguably, his approach is too subtle, but that's preferable to overwhelming such a fragile composition with his usual, if highly appealing vocal gymnastics. 

The same week I picked up Convict Pool, I traded in my old copy of Forever Changes for the new remaster with bonus material. A few years before, I had done the same with Odessey and Oracle. Forever Changes has seven extra tracks to Odessey's 15 ("30th Anniversary Edition"), but they're more interesting, because they include previously-unreleased songs (not just alternate takes), as well as some feisty studio chatter, i.e. "You're playin' too hard on the're rushing guys should just relax a little." As an experiment, I played the albums back to back to see if I could pick a favorite. No dice, as Badfinger might say, even if Forever Changes does include the unfortunate line, "The snot has caked against my pants" ("Live and Let Live"). The two records couldn't be more alike and yet more different. They're from the same era, they're both often categorized as psychedelic or baroque, and yet they have less in common than I expected. Of course, one group was American (LA's multi-racial Love) and the other was British (St. Albans' Zombies), but Lee always sang like a Brit, so that tends to narrow the geographical gap. The main difference is simply that one is more rock (Love), the other is more pop (the Zombies). Some people, like Joe Carducci (Rock and the Pop Narcotic), have no problem throwing their lot in with one genre to the exclusion of the other. I'm not one of them. I love the two equally, so I call it a draw. 

 As for "Alone Again Or" vs. "AndMoreAgain," I gotta go with the obvious choice: "Alone Again Or." "AndMoreAgain" in its wistful whimsy speaks to me in a way the enigmatic "Alone Again Or" does not, but in the end it's all about quality and I think "Alone Again Or" is simply the better song. That said, when it came time to pick a name for this blog, "AndMoreAgain" was the first title that came to mind. For better or for worse, it's my song. 


And if you’ll see andmoreagain Then you will know andmoreagain For you can see you in her eyes Then you feel your heart beating Thrum-pum-pum-pum And when you’ve given all you had And everything still turns out Bad, and all your secrets are your own Then you feel your heart beating Thrum-pum-pum-pum And i’m Wrapped in my armor But my things are material And i’m Lost in confusions ’cause my things are material And you don’t know how much I love you Oh, oh, oh... And if you’ll see andmoreagain Then you might be andmoreagain For you just wish and you are here Then you feel your heart beating Thrum-pum-pum-pum


Note: Cover image from the AMG. Lyrics from lyricsfreak.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Reviews and Such
for November

Here are my reviews for the
month, along with some other
things I've been working on.

Amazon: Imogen Heap - Speak for Yourself (sopho-
more release from Frou Frou's lead singer), Remington Steele - Season Two [four-disc set] ("Before he was Bond, he was..."), Short Cut to Nirvana (documentary about India's spiritual event, the Kumbh Mela), Left of the Dial (HBO doc about the bumpy launch of Air America, the nation's first liberal radio network), 21 Jump Street - The Complete Fourth Season [four-disc set] (I also reviewed the third season; the fourth is the last to feature Johnny Depp), Duran Duran - Live From London [CD/DVD set] (I also re-
viewed Greatest - The DVD), Tales From Avonlea - The Complete First Season [three-disc set] (starring a pint-sized Sarah Polley),
George Harrison and Friends - The Concert for Bangladesh [two-
disc remaster]
(What friends! Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Badfinger, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, etc.), Kelley Polar - Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens, Bob Marley and the Wailers - Live at the Rainbow [two-disc set], Mission Hill - The Complete Series [DVD boxed set] (underrated animated series), Beavis and Butt-Head - The Mike Judge Collection: Volume One [two-disc set], and The Kids in the Hall - Complete Season Three: 1991-1992 [four-disc set] (I also reviewed seasons one and two).

Siffblog: It was down from 10/26-11/15 (due to ISP problems), but now it's back, so I posted a notice about a couple of upcoming NWFF music documentaries, New York Doll (11/18-12/1) and Be Here to Love Me - A Film About Townes Van Zandt (12/2-14).

Random notes: And that's it so far. I pitched a story about Seu Jorge to a publication which will remain nameless at the moment,
as I don't know if things will work out. I've been enjoying Jorge's latest release, Cru, for the past several weeks, and recently placed
an order for his debut, Carolina. On November 22, Hollywood Re-
cords--the big time, baby!--will be releasing the logical follow-up
to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack, which show-
cased Jorge's acoustic, Portuguese-language covers of early Bowie
tracks, called, naturally enough, The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions.

Ideally, I'd like to write about these four records plus City of God,
both the Oscar-nominated film, in which Jorge stars as the ill-fated
"Knockout Ned," and his contribution to the great soundtrack
("Convite Para Vida"). Its success even inspired a collection of re-
mixes. Oh, and something else to keep an eye out for if you share
my interest in Jorge--his video with Life Aquatic costars Willem
Dafoe and Bill Murray for Cru's "Tive Razao" ("I Was Right"). Mark
my words: Jim Jarmusch will be casting this guy any minute now.

Endnote: Image from Amazon.
Enomania, or 23 Years in Six Songs

Part Four: The Fat Lady of Limbourg

In late 2004, I went to see Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (which I liked much better than Vol. 1). Playing over the end credits was a song called "Goodnight Moon" by Shivaree. I hated the band's name--it's a variation on charivari, but sounds more like the ick-inducing "shivery"--but was enchanted by the track, which fits the film's bittersweet ending to a T, and was curious to hear more. That "little girl" thing doesn't usually do it for me, but Ambrosia Parsley (!) sexes the formula up without getting all sleazy about it. A few months later, I offered to review their CD, Who's Got Trouble, for Amazon. It's a winner. Turns out they are able to sustain that unlikely Betty Boop-meets-Tom Waits one-two punch for the course of an entire record, but what really seals the deal is their cover of "The Fat Lady of Limbourg." It's an unusual Eno song to take on and yet it sounds so right with a sweet female voice relating the surrealistic story. Shivaree's version isn't as creepy as Eno's, but it's strange enough and quite pretty as well.

The Fat Lady of Limbourg

Well, I rang up Pantucci,
Spoke to Lu-chi,
I gave them all
They needed to know.
If affairs are proceeding
As we're expecting,
Soon enough
the weak spots will show.
I assume you understand that we have options on your time,
And will ditch you in the harbour if we must:
But if it all works out nicely,
You'll get the bonus you deserve
From doctors we trust.

The Fat Lady of Limbourg
Looked at the samples that we sent
And furrowed her brow.
You would never believe that
She'd tasted royalty and fame
If you saw her now.
But her sense of taste is such that she'll distinguish with her tongue
The subtleties a spectrograph would miss,
And announce her decision,
While demanding her reward:
The jellyfish kiss.

Now we checked out this duck quack
Who laid a big egg, oh so black
It shone just like gold.
And the kids from the city,
Finding it pretty, took it home,
And there it was sold.
It was changing hands for weeks till someone left it by their fire
And it melted to a puddle on the floor:
For it was only a candle, a Roman scandal oh oh oh,
Now it's a pool.
That's what we're paid for
That's what we're paid for
That's what we're paid for here.

A year later, I went to a SIFF screening of Olivier Assayas' Clean. It isn't his best film (for my money, that would be Irma Vep), nor is it his worst (that would be demonlover, which still has its merits), but there was something about it that made me feel right at home. Of course: The soundtrack consists almost entirely of Eno songs from the 1970s, like "The Spider and I" (Before and After Science) and the title track from Taking Tiger Mountain. Assayas has always used music well in his films, like the Ali Farka Toure guitar work that permeates Late August, Early September. Clean is no exception. Here's Kent Jones on the use of Eno's music in the film ("Our Music: Clean," Cinema Scope #19):

I would say that if one knows the music of Brian Eno, and the particular place he’s occupied within the world of rock for almost 40 years (everyone’s favourite behind-the-scenes demiurge), then the abundance of his music in Clean and its integral presence within the action carries a special resonance. Eno is deep inside the world of recorded sound, and yet out on the “fringe” of rock, on the meeting ground with the avant-garde. Which is perfect for a film about a recovering drug addict. Yet if you have no prior knowledge of Eno’s music or his persona, the use of his music here still carries a very special force. Where his soundscapes have traditionally been utilized as a shortcut to mystery in the work of countless film students and more than a few professionals (they literally open up the world beyond the frame), here they provide the characters with a protective aura, a redemptive warmth. And when Emily’s walk through the Chinese restaurant kitchen is accompanied by Eno’s “Spider and I,” followed by Jay’s walk accompanied by “Taking Tiger Mountain,” Assayas is establishing a subtle linkage between mother and son, both in need of protection, before they’ve been reunited.

And that's the last time I had an unplanned encounter with Eno, although I'm sure to have many more in the future. At this point, covering an Eno song or throwing one on a soundtrack is no longer an original move. It hasn't been for awhile. Then again, I hope the trend continues, simply because I want to keep hearing his music, but I also hope more bands opt to cover different songs and that filmmakers, in turn, will do their version of the same (which is to say, they might want to retire "By This River" for the time being). In the end, I think Eno's vocal recordings, circa 1974-77, have turned out to be some of the most resonant--if not the most resonant--to emerge from the 1970s. They've been following me around for at least 23 years now. And in whatever context, they always make me feel welcome, no matter where I am or what I'm doing. It's like the music in my head--the music I can't make, because I don't have the means to do so and also because, well, Eno beat me to it. And he did it best. Brian Eno hasn't changed my life, but in small, incremental ways, he's made it better. And every time I listen to his music, I'm exactly where I want to be.

Thanks to the long-forgotten sorority sister, Brian Sullivan, Brian's mixtape-making friend, KCMU/KEXP, Mick Collins, Quentin Tarantino, Nanni Moretti, Alfonso Cuarón, Shivaree, and Olivier Assayas: For encouraging the cause of Enomania.

Note: Part four of four. Lyrics from enoweb, image from AMG.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Enomania, or 23 Years in Six Songs

Part Three: By This King's Lead River Hat

By overdoing the music thing for so many years--all music all the time--I ended up burning myself out. I needed a break and film, which has always meant a great deal to me, provided the artistic alternative I needed. Plus, I didn't like the more mainstream direction KCMU was moving in, while I was simply bored by KNDD which, like most commercial stations, left no room for spontaneity (the playlist was pre-programmed). I left The End in 1996 and Microsoft in 1998 (although I would continue to do freelance voice work for Microsoft for the next three years) and took a job at Amazon. My goal was to write editorial reviews, which I began to do in 2000. Before that, the only paid film writing I had ever done was for Microsoft's Cinemania, due to the kind auspices of my friend Jeff (I had also done some unpaid work for That was in 1996. By 1997, Cinemania was no more. In the meantime, I had been volunteering for the Seattle International Film Festival. Gradually, I started to miss writing about music, so I looked into contributing to the All Music Guide, as it was a resource I used often. I would write for the AMG from 2001 to 2003. So now, I was writing about music and film. Things were starting to come together. I had retired from radio, but was making plans to do the writing thing full-time.

In 2002, I went to see a couple of films which featured the same Eno track. I don't mean to make too much of the coincidence, just that it reminded me how much I love his music, which I hadn't been listening to for awhile. I was spending a lot of time in the cinema and reading a lot of books on the subject, but I wasn't buying music as often as I used to. I was, of course, still listening to the radio (KCMU had recovered from its early-1990s nadir). First, there was Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También, which I loved. A great soundtrack, including Eno's "By This River" (Before and After Science), didn't hurt, although I can no longer remember the context in which it was used.

[Four months after I wrote this piece, I watched Y Tu Mamá on DVD. The song materializes just after Luisa has told Julio and Tenoch how her first boyfriend died--killed in a car accident at 17. Shortly after it begins, the track sputters to an end. "Don't! This song rules!" Tenoch (Diego Luna) protests. "The batteries are dead," Julio (Gael García Bernal) sadly explains.]

Then there was Nanni Moretti's Palme d'Or winner, The Son's Room (La stanza del figlio), which I had seen just a few weeks before. In all honesty, it didn't knock my socks off, but it's a respectable effort that, at the very least, takes a more introspective approach than that year's other big "dead son" movie, In the Bedroom. There's a particularly memorable point in the film in which Moretti's grieving Giovanni walks into a record store and ends up holding a pair of headphones to his ears as "By This River" swirls around him. For a moment, he is comforted. According to Moretti ("Three Colours Italian," Sight and Sound, January 2002), "When I thought of the scene of myself giving my dead son a record as a present I immediately decided the song had to be Brian Eno's 'By This River,' and that it also had to be included in the last scene." It's a lovely song and a lovely sequence. One film was from Mexico, the other from Italy. Suddenly, Eno was everywhere. I could be wrong, but I swear I heard "By This River" in yet another film that year. Or maybe I'm just imagining it.

By This River

Here we are
Stuck by this river,
You and I
Underneath a sky that's ever falling down, down, down
Ever falling down.

Through the day
As if on an ocean
Waiting here,
Always failing to remember why we came, came, came:
I wonder why we came.

You talk to me as if from a distance
And I reply
With impressions chosen from another time, time, time,
From another time.

Let's move ahead a year. I'm listening to KEXP when an astonishing version of "King's Lead Hat" (Before and After Science) comes crashing out of my speakers. I'd never noticed this lyric before: "Four darkies in a big black car," but Mick Collins, the African American vocalist, clearly enunciates them as such. Caught my attention for sure. Did Eno really say "darkies"--or did he say "turkeys" (see below)? No one seems to know, but Collins had taken a stand on the issue. In any case, the song was from the new Dirtbombs CD, Dangerous Magical Noise, their third full-length. The Eno cover was a limited edition bonus track (along with Robyn Hitchcock's "Executioner of Love"), so I placed my order for the disc forthwith. I had heard of Collins before as I was a Gories fan from way back, but hadn't really followed his career since the Detroit trio split in the 1990s...right around the time I was exiting Cellophane Square and KCMU, and just wasn't keeping up with new music the way I used to (not counting that burn-out factor). Well, I loved the album so much it ended up as my favorite CD of the year. I would go on to add other Collins-related projects, like Blacktop's great I've Got a Baaad Feeling About This, to my collection. The Dirtbombs are now one of my all-time favorite bands. All because of Brian Eno. Unfortunately, that was the last time I heard their version of the song on KEXP.

King's Lead Hat

Dark alley (dark alley) black star
Four turkeys in a big black car
The road is shiny (bright shine) the wheels slide
Four turkeys going for a dangerous ride
The lacquer crackles (black tar) the engines roar
A ship was turning broadside to the shore
Splish splash,
I was raking in the cash
The biology of purpose keeps my nose above the surface (Ooh)
King's lead hat put the innocence inside her
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat was a mother to desire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come.

In New Delhi (smelly Delhi) and Hong Kong

They all know that it won't be long
I count my fingers (digit counter) as night falls
And draw bananas on the bathroom walls
The killer cycles (humdrum), the killer hurts
The passage of my life is measured out in shirts
Time and motion (motion carried) time and tide
All I know and all I have is time
And time and tide is on my side
King's lead hat put the poker in the fire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat was a mother to desire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come.

The weapon's ready (ready Freddy) the guns purr
The satellite distorts his voice to a slur
He gives orders (finger pie) which no-one hears
The king's hat fits over their ears
He takes his mannequin (tram line) cold turpentine
He tries to dial out 999999999
He dials reception (moving finger): he's all alone
He's just a figment on the telephone!
King's lead hat made the Amazon much wider
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat was the poker in the fire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat was a mother to desire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat put the innocence inside her
It will come, it will come, it will surely come.

In 2004, Astralwerks began to issue remasters of all the Eno titles on Editions EG. Since then, I've been trading out my old discs . Along the way, I picked up 1975's Another Green World. It's always been my least favorite of the first four vocal recordings and I still the feel the same way. It's a fine album in and of itself, but it also marks the transition between the avant-rock stuff I love so much and the ambient stuff I don't. But the other three sound as fresh as ever. Also that year I interviewed Spoon's Jim Eno for Tablet (only my second musician interview, after Sondre Lerche, since leaving KCMU). And how did that Austin-based band get their name? Why, from the wondrous track of the same name off Can's Ege Bamyasi (1972). And what does any of this have to do with Brian Eno? Well, nothing really...except for that Eno part.

Note: Part three of four. Lyrics and cover image from enoweb.