Tag Archives: albums

Panda Bear – Tomboy

Imagine if you will, just for a moment, a strawman music fan who likes “real” music, played on “real” instruments by “real” people. I come across this kind of person less and less these days, but I used to encounter them all the time. My counter to their insistence on “real” music was always that it sounded boring, and that I preferred the idea of “unreal” music, which surely must be more exciting.

Panda Bear makes “unreal” music, both with Animal Collective and on his own. Music that doesn’t sound real, music that floats, that can’t be touched, that doesn’t seem to stem from anything physical. It’s a remarkable trick; one that has actually, despite my pining for “unreal” music, given me many problems over the years.

Tomboy is not so much drenched in reverb as dissolved in it. Listening to it is like trying to watch a 3D film without the polarising glasses required to bring the two images into alignment and thus (pseudo) reality; so many repetitions of the same sonic image are presented that your brain can’t quite follow them. Because of this, no matter the identifiable human elements (voices, emotions), it remains unreal, strange, other.

This shouldn’t be a surprise; Person Pitch is similarly untouchable through the echo. Some people have complained at the replacement of the bizarre sample-bed of Panda’s last solo outing with a more prosaic soil of guitars and drums, but really both albums are so defined by the reverb, by the haziness, by the repetition (be it the instant persistence of sound reverberating, or the prolonged repetition of a beat, or a vocal), that it’s often difficult to identify the sound sources anyway. The strummed acoustic guitars and 4/4 beats that make up swathes of Tomboy’s sonic architecture might as well be layered, looped collages of samples, because they feel the same.

Even the sleeve art, which appears to have been originally drawn on tracing paper, and might have been recreated similarly, like the sleeve of Lambchop’s What Another Spills (i.e. In tracing paper), is instead printed onto card, giving the illusion of another texture and making the actual texture seem unreal, untouchable, defying expectations. Likewise the words; once again I have no idea what Panda is singing, even when it’s obvious; is he being duplicitous on the opening track? Is he singing “know you can count on me” or “no you can’t count on me”? I know it’s the former, but I hear the latter as much, if not more; yet more obfuscation, more unreality.

As such, Tomboy really isn’t a million miles away from Person Pitch, though I’ve seen some suggest it might be. I don’t think of its precursor as being the unadulterated classic that so many claim; I love the moments of beatific, Gregorian-chant-Beach-Boys mantra, like the second half of Take Pills or the first half of Bros, which attain a state of euphoric tedium. But then so much of Person Pitch also becomes simply tedious, without the euphoria. Tomboy is equally touched with moments of blissful repetition (the title track’s close), and moments of boring repetition too (Drone). This is fine. So is life.

There are more songs here than on Person Pitch, and shorter on average, with only two stretching beyond five minutes and most done in around four. This means there’s no 10-minute centerpiece, but also that nothing outstays its welcome too long. This doesn’t necessarily make Tomboy easier to digest or poppier; thus far I’d say that nothing quite achieves the highest peaks mentioned as existing in Take Pills, but it might just be that Slow Motion and Last Night At The Jetty will take some time to settle in. Already, though, I prefer the tedium of Afterburner’s delicious exit groove to Good Girl/Carrots.

Noah Lennox and I are similar ages, and we’re both married. I don’t have a child but I imagine our wants are similar; two walls and adobe slabs, for our girls. Very real things, in which to keep safe our emotional lives. But sometimes emotions are best expressed through unreality. Even at his most ostensibly organic, acoustic, and “real” on AC’s Sung Tongs, Panda Bear managed to turn the same trick, to sound unreal. Sometimes the buzzing, reverberating unreality of it all gives me a headache; but mostly nowadays it makes me smile.

Sunday’s listening

Not a great deal to report today: I listened to Magical Mystery Tour twice while writing (once in the morning, and again in the afternoon), and All Eternals Deck once again, while finishing off a review of it for The Quietus. In the car I listened to Monkey Wrench by Foo Fighters and The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret by Queens Of The Stone Age; these played off my iPod Shuffle, which I made a 130-song playlist for this afternoon, and intend to keep in the car from now on (the new car has an aux-in socket).

And that was it. #musicdiaryproject is over for me. Well, sort of. There is still the survey for people to take, and my conclusions from it, and my thoughts about the week as a whole, to ponder on and write up, but the actual listening is all over.

Thank you to everyone who’s been involved; as mentioned, over 10 blogs, Tumblrs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds have been involved, and it’s been fascinating watching it happen.

Edit. Then I got hold of the new Battles album and listened to Ice Cream for the first time, via headphones. And that really was it.

Saturday’s listening

0645: Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
I haven’t listened to this properly in a long time. Whenever I’m picking music to write or work to, and I think of ambient sounds, I reach for Stars Of The Lid, or The Necks, or The Field, as evidenced by Thursday’s listening. But arguably the two absolute kings of ambience, Eno and Aphex, seem to be forgotten.

So I put this on while I wrote Friday’s entry, and it’s on still as I write this part of this entry, immediately afterwards, although it will be published much later. It reminds me of university, of Northampton, of Oliver and James and Ben, of 6-year-old Asian kids throwing fireworks at the old man next door who tried to run them over. It is a disconcerting record, and that is probably why I overlook it as a writing or working aid; it isn’t ambience. It’s dark. It’s unpleasant. But only in parts. Other parts are absolutely beatific.

It’s now Sunday morning (I know; who’d have thought a paragraph break could take so much time?) and I’m finishing this post with the rest of yesterday’s listening. After Aphex Twin I listened to The Field’s second album again, while I prepared the survey for the project. I finished sorting the survey with five minutes left to go of the album; the last five minutes are my favourite, but I wanted to get away from the computer, so I turned it off and left the room.

Then I listened to All Eternals Deck by The Mountain Goats while playing a video game on an ancient, borrowed PS2. I only ever play one ancient football game, and with increasing rarity; it’s fair to say I have little interest in video games. This one game, however, I have played for so long (over a decade in different iterations) that I now play it almost unconsciously; thus it affords me the opportunity to soak in music in a much more attentive way than I usually can while writing / browsing / working, etc. I’ve been asked to review the Mountain Goats album for someone, so I took occasional notes on the iPad while I listened from the comfort of the sofa.

Later on in the afternoon, after lunch and a walk along the river, I listened to All Eternals Deck again, and then the new Bill Callahan that I’d taken to Devon Record Club, and then the last Bill Callahan, because mentioning Eid Ma Clack Shaw in yesterday’s post, and listening to Apocalypse!, had given me impetus.

And that was it. We went out for dinner with Emma’s family, came home, and I fell asleep during CSI: New York.

Thursday’s listening

What a day.

Once again I worked from home, which despite the evidence of this week isn’t actually usual at all. This time, unlike Monday, I was prepared though, and could set-up my work laptop in the front room where the “big” stereo is (although the one in the backroom is bigger than most regular people’s, I suspect), which meant I could play music from in front of myself all day long (in the backroom, when at the computer, the speakers are behind you), choosing what I wanted of the shelves next to me rather than having to wander to the next room.

So that’s what I did, all day. Almost.

0730: Juliana Barwick – The Magic Place
The first time I’d played it, via the iPod and the Zeppelin dock whilst I made breakfast, pottered from room-to-room, etc etc. I only got through the first 7 tracks though. Very pretty, much more ambient than I expected (I think my mind was saying “Juliana Hatfield” at me), but not overwhelming.

0810: The Necks – Chemist
The first CD of the day was actually spun in the backroom while I wrote Wednesday’s entry. If you don’t know about The Necks, you should; an Australian (post)jazz trio who play elongated, hypnotic grooves of the highest order. Perfect for working to, and doing a lot of other things to, too.

0940: Primal Scream – Screamadelica (Remastered)
I worked for about half an hour in silence, and then the bright sunshine and clear blue skies demanded that I celebrate them with something suitable. I’ve not really opened this up since I got the remaster the other week, and it seemed like a great opportunity to open the windows and let the street hear it too. So I did, while spending an hour going through the previous day’s emails and editing photos.

1055: Various Artists – Impressed (with Gilles Peterson)
A thread slagging off Gilles Peterson got revived on ILM for seemingly no reason, and it inspired me to dig out this awesome compilation of 60s British jazz, which was recommended to me by a colleague when I worked in the library, many years ago.

1210: Boards of Canada – In A Beautiful Place In The Country
Em had arranged to work from home in the afternoon too, and would be back at 1230 when we had to pop to the post office, so I decided to put on an ambient-ish EP to fill the 20 minutes. This suited.

1230-1320: Buskers
In town we heard two sets of buskers; the first pair were playing Take Five by Dave Brubeck on a couple of acoustic guitars, the second was a lone beatboxer making a weird digderidoo sound. I preferred the former; who likes digeridoos? Everybody else does: he had a far larger crowd.

1345: The Field – From Here We Go Sublime, Yesterday and Today
Emma prefers the repetitive beats and droning synth textures of The Field as “music to work to” than the more ambient likes of, say, Stars Of The Lid, so I put both Field albums on, one after the other. I still adore Sequenced as much as I did two years ago. Emma prefers the debut, I think.

1600: The Necks – Hanging Garden
More Necks.

1715: The Beta Band – Los Amigos Del Beta Bandidos EP
Slightly disappointed at not finishing this whole EP the other day, I clocked off from work and played it again, in full, in the backroom, while updating this blog re; #musicdiaryproject activity.

And then I went to Devon Record Club.

In the car on the way (to Ipplepen and Tom’s house, via Sainsbury’s car park and Rob’s car) I listened to about 8 tracks from The Very Best of The Stone Roses, inspired in an absent-minded way by the rumours (and rapid refutation) of a reconciliation and reformation. I’m very glad they’re not reforming; it would be horrific. Please, Stone Roses, stay dead. It struck me that the vocals on Love Spreads were in a much better… safe range… for Ian Brown to stay in than those on Ten Storey Love Song.

In Rob’s car on the way to Tom’s house, I announced my intention to play Zaireeka the next time I hosted, and take advantage of my surfeit of stereo equipment. I joked to Rob, who’s my direct boss at work, that I’d need the afternoon off to move and cable everything.

Devon Record Club
Tom, as host, had stipulated that we had to bring a record we’d not heard before. He went first, and played the new Kurt Vile album, which was much more mellow than I expected.

I went second, and played the new Bill Callahan album, which I had bought the previous day in London and left shrink-wrapped until it was time to put it in the CD drawer. We all seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

And then it was Rob’s go, and he said he’d brought a record that he purchased 14 years ago but had never played. And he got Zaireeka out, and revealed that he’d also brought a boombox and a pair of speakers and his laptop so that we could play all four CDs at once. So we did: with Tom’s hi-fi, the boombox, Rob’s laptop hooked up to ancient computer speakers, and Tom’s iMac brought in from the other room and perched on a chair, pausing, synching, starting again for each track, trying to keep Marge, Rob’s dog, who was also in attendance, from being freaked-out, talking, smiling, being completely wide-eyed in bemusement and wonderment.

I’ve heard Zaireeka several times before; a couple of times at university, when we pointed each bedroom-stereo towards the landing, and once at home, with Emma, a similar array of motley sound-emitting-devices scattered about my parents’ home and us brandishing two remote controls each… I’ve also heard a stereo mixdown of it a couple of times, burnt to CD and given to me by a friend who is a ravenous Flaming Lips fan. Of course, I discarded the mixdown hastily, because it is as pointless as looking at a Kandinsky on a postage stamp. Once upon a time I was pretty much reduced to tears by seeing a Kandinsky exhibition at the V&A. On a stamp… “that’s pretty”. On a wall… sublime.

Zaireeka is, obviously, a phenomenon, and I use that word after some consideration, unlike any other musical experience you will ever encounter. It is overwhelming, and loud, and intense, and at the same time it is communal, and physical, and joyous, and dark, and mystifying, and magical. Tom kept saying “it’s not music, is it? It’s something else” and maybe he’s right; it’s sound-art, or interactive aural theatre, or participatory sonic sculpture. I don’t know. But it’s fantastic.

I got home just before midnight, and fell asleep happy, thoughts gently buzzing around my head.

Wednesday’s listening

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.

Tuesday’s listening

A cup of sugary Lady Grey half-quaffed and finally I can sit down and write. It’s been a long day; my first back at work since being unwell over the weekend, and I spent much of it coordinating a photoshoot. This is usually a pleasure, as the guy we use is great and a pleasure to work with, and his capable assistant today was equally good to talk to, but, frankly, my arse hurts and I get tired easily. Though nowhere near as much as was the case on Saturday.

So, music. Working in the office this morning, and out and about across campus this afternoon, I listened to nothing but the songs that flitted through my brain until 6:30pm. The songs that ran through my brain were, if you’re interested, the second track (and first song) from the King Creosote and Jon Hopkins record, and Perfect Day by Lou Reed. The former was in my head for no discernable reason other than the fact that I’ve played the album a lot lately. The latter is in my head because, when I picked the iPod off its dock this morning in order to stuff it full of Nicolas Jaar and Panda Bear and Mountain Goats, the algorithm that chooses the random cover art on the display had chosen Transformer. And thus a synapse was fired, and pretty much the whole damn song had swung through my head without me thinking about. Annoyingly it was a hybridised version which included the woman from M People hollering.

The first thing I chose to listen to myself was Nicolas Jaar, once again, via my iPhone as I walked the final stretch home from work; I only got to listen to about ten minutes, so only got to about the start of track four.

The second thing I listened to was the first six tracks of Kill The Moonlight by Spoon, which I stuck in the car CD player as I drove out to Sainsbury’s to buy tomatoes and fruit and bread rolls. Yes, I know tomatoes are fruit, which makes the first part of that last sentence tautological, but you know what I mean. I had half a dozen tomatoes, roasted with a sniff of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and salt & pepper, for my tea.

I am home alone. My wife is out with some work colleagues at a cocktail making class. As I waited for the tomatoes to cook, and then as I ate them, and browsed the internet for people’s updates about this project, I listened to Tomboy by Panda Bear again, this time via the iPod dock, which is a big Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin, and thus when given some welly, is more like listening via a proper hi-fi than a wee desktop thing. I tweeted about listening to it.

Now, I am in the backroom, where I spent most of Monday and where we have our “second” hi-fi, and I am listening to The Middle of Nowhere by Orbital. I can remember my very first listen to this. I bought it in Woolworths in Teignmouth, which is where I also bought In Sides. I first listened to The Middle of Nowhere at my friend Ben’s house in Teignmouth, on his dad’s “big stereo”, which I know now, some 13 years later, to have been a serious hi-fi with serious, floorstanding speakers. I was… a little seduced… by the thump of the bass drum and the impact of the brass on the opening track the first time I heard it. Recently, I looked at what houses were on the market approximately in a budget we could afford in Teignmouth, and I saw a house on the same road as Ben’s was, and I noticed that there was a serious hi-fi, with serious floorstanding speakers, and I wondered if it was Ben’s house. Ben’s been in Leeds for a decade or more now, and I don’t think I’ve seen him more than once, if at all, in all that time.

But I don’t normally use music as emotional batteries, as a repository, as a reminder.

Or do I?

Which is what this “project” is all about, really. What do we use music for? What does it do to us? There is no right or wrong answer. Dancing, crying, passing the time, distracting, filling space, soundtracking the washing-up, making a journey more bearable or enjoyable, helping us to remember, helping us to forget: these are all valid purposes. I said once (and then twice, and three times, and many, many more times) some time ago that a song doesn’t have to mean something, a song is something. We can and do assign and glean our own meanings, and our own uses.

If i listen to anything else, I’ll edit it into this post later.

Edit. Orbital finished, and I went next door to get the King Creosote and John Hopkins CD, only to realise that it was in the room I’d just left; en route I spied Let England Shake by PJ Harvey, and decided to put that on instead, anyway.

Top ten albums I reviewed for Stylus

To celebrate the fact that the Stylus archive is back in action, meaning that everything I ever wrote there is now visible once more, I’ve decided to do a quick top ten. The title of this post may have been a clue.

Note that these are NOT what I consider to be my “top ten reviews”; they’re just the top ten records, which I reviewed while writing for Stylus, that I still really love, years on.

Flicking through the list of reviews I wrote, I am more than a little perturbed that Derek bloody Miller managed to snag reviews of my favourite records by certain bands. So where I reviewed early records by Manitoba/Caribou and Patrick Wolf, say, Derek reviewed the album by each that I love the most. The bastard.

In no particular order, then…

The Necks – Drive By
Possibly the record from my time at Stylus that I have played the most.

Kate Bush – Aerial
This is coming up for six years old now; as testament to how fast the (music) world moves now, in the internet age, that doesn’t seem like very long – that she may have a new record out later this year is surprisingly quick.

Electrelane – No Shouts No Calls
My favourite individual Electrelane songs exist elsewhere, perhaps (The Valleys, I Want To Be The President), but this album is their strongest set of songs. They’re back together and I’m psyched.

Four Tet – Rounds
I reviewed this and Manitoba’s breakthrough Up In Flames in short order in 2003, dropped lots of cultural studies terminology, and gained a reputation as an intellectual electronic music writer. Which was complete nonsense. I’ve still no idea what I’m talking about.

LCD Soundsystem – The Sound Of Silver
Those two peaks still astound; the whole holds up.

Sly And The Family Stone – Stand!
Cheating perhaps, as this is a remaster of an undisputed classic, but, perusing what I reviewed, I covered very few modern classics – often times I ended up stunt-reviewing things we needed to cover while others got to praise the true gems.

CAN – Monster Movie
Likewise this; I think CAN’s most underrated record, perhaps because, without Damo and with Malcolm, it’s their most atypical. Mary Mary So Contrary, though, is still an absolute dream.

Bark Psychosis – ///Codename:Dustsucker
I should probably stop talking and writing about this. I don’t listen to it anywhere near as often as you might think based on this blog.

Acoustic Ladyland – Skinny Grin
It was surprising how many of the albums I was close to including in this list were jazz records – Polar Bear, e.s.t., Dave Douglas – but this one perhaps, due to its status as, in a few minds, a modern-day, avant-garde fusion masterpiece, just pips it.

Roots Manuva – Awfully Deep
I’ve not listened to this in an age, but on seeing it in the list of my archive I felt compelled to squeeze it in here. I’ll dig it out over the weekend.

And, just for the record, the worst…