As I was driving home from visiting my Mum (still feels weird that it’s just her, that my Dad isn’t there), Japan’s ‘Quiet Life’ came on in my car.
It was the long, 4.52 version, not the single edit. It’s a perfect pop single. The introductory arpeggiator over the drone note is lovely and spooky. Then the drums come in and they move and groove along with the bass and guitar chord strums.
Yes, the bass. Mick Karn’s fantastically ornate bass playing is the foundation of Japan. They’re all brilliant musicans and Sylvian was (and is) a truly gifted singer but as soon as you hear Karn, sliding all over the shop, then you know Japan is here. I can’t believe it’s already five years since he died.
Maybe I connected with this track tonight driving home because of my Dad’s death in April. I’ve been going back to a lot of music I loved as a kid, trying, I guess, to work out who I am as much as how I am.
Then, in the middle drop down, the bass goes. It’s just drums, synths and Sylvian. The sense of space here is enormous and when the bass comes back in, it’s such a rush, we’ve been in withdrawal.
The song ends as it starts, stark drums and synths with a sense of something fading into the distance. Like when you’re on a train and, for a while, a car matches speed alongside before a turn of the road takes it away from you and you’ll never see it again.
I’m enormously lucky in that I’ve had one hit record. 99.999% of musicians work their entire lives for zero reward or recognition. Then we have the bands that come and go and are then marginalised in the re-written histories of decades. Bands like Japan.
In our social media version of the ‘80s, mostly promoted by people who weren’t born until the ‘90s, I feel that Japan are unjustly forgotten. When I first saw ‘Quiet Life’ on TOTP, it was shocking, I was absolutely riveted to the telly. Obviously, I was only a kid so I was so in awe of these men, so elegant, so effortlessly fucking cool. The opposite of teenage me, so blubberous and unfuckingcool. As I grew older and delved into their catalogue, I found so much more than yet-another throwaway New Romantic band.
If you’re unaware of Japan, please take the time to check out all their albums, to see how they progressed from their punk roots into something wildly experimental, unafraid to lose any fanbase they’d built up in previous incarnations. Yes, that’s hard to believe now when every band’s “new” album is carefully vetted to be not too challenging, not too different to the previous ones. Let’s give the punters more of the same!
Japan didn’t do that. They carved their own giddy, joyous path through pop music, going where they wanted stealing and inventing what they needed as and when they needed it.
I haven’t posted any Voix Bulgares for a while. And I do love them so! Their harmonies, their crazy interval leaping. The way the major sections break out like sunshine through clouds.
My parents always say they sound Indian but the truth is they sound Indo-European, which is hardly surprising considering they way language and culture ebbs and flows across Asia and Europe (or, as I call it, West Asia). The rhythmic bit at the end sounds so Indian my Dad always starts clapping along, bless him.
This next track is probably my favourite ever female lead vocal:
If I ever find a woman who loves this music as much as I do, I will propose. If they get it. If it makes their soul ache like mine does.
And now, I can’t leave this without the closest Brit equivalent I’ve ever heard:
4AD label-mates to Voix Bulgares, This Mortal Coil (which was basically a 4AD supergroup). Of course, SCOTTISH.
And now we’re back to TMC, we’re in firm goth territory and possible soundtrack music for your upcoming spoopy Halloween.
And I thought I’d be okay, that it’d be a standard-issue ‘origin/clip/weren’t they great’ cheesy doc. In some ways it is. But the last part of the show, where they show the post-Monkees careers and then talk about Davy passing away… man, that killed me.
I think it’s because I don’t remember a time not knowing The Monkees. I was a little kid when I first saw re-runs and I didn’t actually realise it wasn’t real. I thought that they were just a band!
Then, when I was a teen, I was embarrassed for liking them because they were officially uncool. It was only when I’d grown out of teenage conformity that I went mental on Nesmith and tracked down everything of his on original vinyl.
So many of my songs are Monkees / Nesmith rip-offs it’s incredible people haven’t said it before. I mostly get ‘sounds like Depeche Mode’ which is fair enough as I rip them off too. But, c’mon, I nicked the descending chord intro lick from Listen To Band exactly. And the melody line from As We Go Alongwas a… heavy inspiration *cough* to the first White Town song. And I nicked the bassline from Circle Sky pretty much note for note.
If you’re into music, I think everyone has an artist or band who they’ve grown up with, who will always be there and has become something more than art in their lives, they’re more like family.
For me, that’s what The Monkees are. Yeah, I love a lot of other ‘60s bands as well, Beatles, Stones, loads of Merseybeat and Stax and Motown. But because of that wild TV show, I kind of felt like I had four crazy older brothers who were immeasurably cool and handsome and talented.
Yet another clip from Headand also some groundbreaking visuals for 1968. I particularly love the solarised and coloured sequences where they freeze-frame it on beat with the guitar break. I have tried so many times to rip-off the style of this sequence and never managed it yet: the editing is exquisite.
It’s also a wonderful history of how people danced back then. There are obviously professional dancers heavily featured but some of the party crowd look more casual and are just going for it. I love the bit where Davy shimmys across to the cute girl doing classic ‘60s arm moves / fingerclicks.
Finally, it’s another beautiful Monkees song that I can’t find anything to dislike about. The arrangement, the production, the lyrics ~ it’s perfect. Listen to that bassline from Lance Wakely … the way it interweaves with the electric guitar countermelody / lead break and the chunky, overdriven guitar chords is sublime. And the breaks where it shifts into ¾ but never loses pace: amazing. I always play this song to anyone I hear saying the Monkees didn’t write their songs, particularly as it’s a Tork song and he’s so often overlooked. As far as I can research, Tork plays all the guitar on this track. Can you imagine anyone from a current boyband doing something similar?
I need to watch Head again.
Actually, who are we kidding, I need to watch Head every day.
The song is, as ever, about more than one thing. A lot of it is about my frustration with conventional relationships, both sexual and non-sexual and how annoyed I am by the compartmentalisation of feelings expected therein.
It’s also about kissing. And the memory of wrapping one particular person up in a big fluffy towel as she stood naked, wet and beautiful.
Indietracks 2014 was this weekend and, even though I’m straight edge, I’m still recovering from the mad swirl of it all. Firstly, it was DAMN HOT. GODDAMMNNN HOT. I honestly thought I’d pass out at some points in the shed! A contrast to last year’s downpours.
Then there was the bewildering array of music: too many bands to see! I’ve given up on trying to see bands in the Church now, so I wrote off that stage. But that still left the train shed and outdoor stages as well as surprise jams in the merch tent. As well as the actual music, there was the core Indietracks activity: bumping into people who you haven’t seen since last year’s Indietracks. 🙂
The first band I saw were Spearmint. AND THEY WERE BRILLIANT. I’ve never seen them before and so it’s the first time I’ve heard songs I’ve known for years rocked out live. Apparently, they don’t get asked to gig much which is a fucking shame ~ sort it out, indiepop promoters!
The same with The Chills, never managed to see them live way back when and then, boom, they’re on stage in front of me! I loved the old tracks but I also loved the tracks from the new album. Really, this kind of songwriting genius is rare nowadays. The only thing the set missed is ‘Rain’ which is my fave Chills song and simply one of the best indie songs ever.
I missed the start of ONSIND because of pesky travel shenanigans but the end was brilliant: passionate punk with an actual heart and soul. I hear so much (pop) punk which is utterly meaningless, just some nonsense about invented heartbreak and boohoo my emo life. ONSIND are the antithesis of that drivel.
Joanna Gruesome surmounted some pedal-based killjoyness to play a blazing set, full of excellent shouty bits and wonderfully floaty twee bits. I missed them last year because they were on the Church stage so I’m so glad I caught them this time round. They also had this feller guesting on stage:
That’s right DEAN FUCKING WAREHAM. Who’s actual set afterwards I had to miss because of more transport-based bullshit. ARGH. So annoyed.
Closing the festival on Sunday evening were The Hidden Cameras. Their half-naked stage gear went down very well with a frankly over-randy audience (YOU KNOW WHO I’M TALKING ABOUT) and their set was stuffed full of crowdpleasers. I loved their show, it was warm and human and full of life, humour and strange little hooty bits.
The only criticism I can make is that there wasn’t enough from the wonderful new album, I really wanted to hear ‘Gay Goth Scene’ live, it’s so beautiful. Also, even though they did an encore, the set was still too short. They have too many anthems we need to hear! 🙂
My memories of Indietracks 2014 will be of all the friendly peeps I met, old and new, the frankly overwhelming number of brilliant bands (too many to see them all!) and the whole vibe of the event. Indietrack 2014 was a like the best house party ever! But in a field! With bands! And owls!
Woohoo! Hit The Deck was, once again, lovely fun! I went with my mate Emma:
We caught mostly the same bands but split up for a few – the worst thing about HTD is that there are always gig clashes! BOO!
The first band I saw was Hands Like Houses. Very poppy and confident, the Aussies played a great little set.
Next up were The Charm The Fury who turned out to be my second-favourite band of the whole day. From the first note to the end, they played with passion and energy, owning the room and getting the crowd properly moshing. But more than that, I’d never heard their stuff before and I loved the songs, they’re just so chock-full of killer riffs.
I missed most of Vukovi‘s set due to clashes but caught the end which was soooo much fun! They had a fucking whale of a time and so we did too. Wish I’d got to see a bit more!
Bastions were ferocious and intimate, a weird mixture but they carried it off. There’s something about their music, it’s obviously still rock but there’s something that’s very intensely quiet in the heart of all the glorious noise.
Dead Harts looked pure metal but sounded pure hardcore, slamming away through a set that seemed woefully short. I could have done with at least another two or three songs. They have a glowering presence that crackles and is as seductive as it is unhinged.
Next up were The Front Bottoms who I was so chuffed to be seeing after their album made it into my top albums of 2013. Live, TFB are confessional and transgressional: I love songwriting in which the protagonist is not a hero but an honest, fallible dickhead like, y’know, real human beings are. They got a huge reaction from the crowd and all around me kids were singing their fucking hearts out, completely lost in the lyrics. As they should be!
Now, that isn’t the last band of the day but I’ll save that for the next post… 😀