I spent yesterday on the train to London, in a darkened room in London with lots of strangers, looking for a record shop in London, and then on a train back from London, so regular listening patterns, whatever they are, were out of the window.
Unsurprisingly it wasn’t an ad hoc trip, so I had some time for planning. Consequently, fearing 3G eating my iPhone’s battery life as I tweeted through the day (I can’t help it, it’s like crack to me), I loaded some music onto the iPad, which has never really been used as a music-playing-device before (more often it facilitates listening via bigger, better devices, by allowing us to multi-task while on the sofa in front of the proper hi-fi). I just dumped the most recently added albums in our iTunes library on their, which are all 2011 releases – Tomboy, Mountain Goats, PJ Harvey, Nicolas Jaar, Juliana Barwick, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins, Radiohead, and an Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All playlist someone sent me, plus the two recent Patrick Wolf singles.
My train didn’t leave till 10am, so I put Tomboy on via the iPod and Zeppelin dock while I pottered around, made breakfast, updated the list of people taking part in this week, made sandwiches for my wife and myself for lunch, packed my back, checked my itinerary, updated our Oyster Card, etc etc. I wasn’t exactly paying attention – in fact I was wandering from room-to-room – but I doubt Panda Bear would mind; there’s so much reverb on Tomboy, so much repetition, that it’s difficult to touch, to focus on. This is no bad thing; in fact it’s lovely.
Once ensconced on the train I read Mark Richardson’s book on Zaireeka. Mark and I know each other very vaguely via the web; we’ve got roughly similar taste and hang out in some of the same spaces. He saw me tweet about Devon Record Club the other week, and replied saying it sounded like great fun, and could he send me a copy of his book to read. Who turns down a free book?
I’ve got Zaireeka and have organized playbacks of it on about three occasions, but I’m not an enormous Flaming Lips fan (even though they provided a couple of the best live music experiences of my life), so hadn’t really been interested in reading the book. I actually read very little music writing as a general rule, as very little of it speaks to me. I’d rather write/communicate about music, via forums, via Twitter, via this blog, than read Lester Bangs or Robert Christgau or Paul Morley (though I do own books by the first and last of those people, and the middle one put something I wrote in a book he edited once).
Mark’s book isn’t just about the Flaming Lips, though; the nature of Zaireeka, and Mark’s sensibilities regarding music, mean that a big chunk of the book is really about how we listen, and the history of communal listening, and individual listening, and headphones, and the Sony Walkman, and public transport, and how format and technology influences consumption. The first six weeks of my degree, way back when, were very heavy on the Marxist cultural theory, and I’d chosen my degree, as I said to someone the other day, at least in (subconscious) part, because I hoped it would make me a better music writer. I don’t know whether those six weeks shaped my current sensibilities or whether my sensibilities at that time matched what we were being taught and consequently grew together, but consumption, technology, production, base and superstructure, the economics of culture influencing the form of culture, the practicalities and utilities of listening, of living, are all things that fascinate me. I’ve never wanted to be in a band or make music (aside from one 2-hour stretch the other evening when I downloaded GarageBand onto the iPad, which quickly faded); I’ve always just wanted to understand better what music is for, and how it does what it does, and how and why we use it, and love it so much.
Mark’s book on Zaireeka is one of only three books about music that have ever made me feel elated to identify with the thoughts within. The other two are The Manual by The KLF, and Music: A Very Short Introduction by Nicholas Cook. Lester Bangs, Paul Morley, etc etc, all that romantic stuff, that postmodern stuff, it can go to hell. These three books, exploding, in simple terms and brief formats, how music works (Cook), how the music business works (or worked: The KLF), and how we use music (Richardson), moved me emotionally far more than reams of emotive prose about The Velvet Underground. All three of them made my eyes well up a little. Maybe that’s weird.
So what did I actually listen to? On the journey to London I listened to the Panda Bear album again, as I read, and then the Nicolas Jaar, still reading. On the way back I listened to Panda Bear for a third time of the day, and then All Eternals Deck by The Mountain Goats, which I’ve been asked to review for someone, and then I listened to the first 6 tracks of Let England Shake. It struck me during the PJ Harvey record that the three albums I listened to yesterday were on a continuum; at one end is John Darnielle, organic instruments and voices, drums, guitars, bass, piano, clear songs, clear melodies, words and emotions, a band-playing-live-in-a-room sound. At the other end is Panda Bear, floating in a reverberating haze, repeating beatifically, semi-incoherent, intangible. And in the middle is PJ, her songs as direct as John’s but hidden behind mist.
On the way home I tried to write about Source Code on the iPad, but found the train’s motion too much to overcome, and ceased. I typed the following over the course of listening to Tomboy:
“Sod writing. Let’s just listen and watch the world go by as dusk encroaches.
Can’t leave my bloody phone alone. Reminded of baudrillard thing about a life of screens. Screens screens everywhere.
Scheherazade made me think of infinite expanding shared subconsciousness. Because that’s what pop music is for.”
I got home circa 10pm and watched some TV before I went to bed.