from taikoo (Um fall am #5)

Following an afternoon of photography at Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen in Wong Tai Sin and the iconic Yick Cheong Building(s) around Taikoo Place (more on this later), we took the tram back to Causeway Bay, filming with the GoPro along the way. That then became this, a music video for the extratalented Um fall am:

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Procrasticus Autisticus

My entire summer has been exhausted by the writing of a prospective first or early chapter of my millstone thesis on the decreasingly fascinating and increasingly complex logic of my newbestfriend the portmanteau-word, and as a result I have spent a great deal of time staring blankly at Word, playing guitar, and contriving doomed pursuits (playwriting, story-writing, song-writing, this-writing) to keep my mind off-track at all costs. Of course the grinding guilt of Not Working On My Project ensures that any such distractions only prove distracting fleetingly, which in turn ensures that no progress is made in anything more interesting than my thesis, which then sends me back to my aborted side-projects, which … (repeat agonizingly).

All this means that my prospective play has no name or subject-matter; my story-writing has reached three paragraphs; I am still naff at playing the guitar; my song has three verses but no chorus, structure, rhythm, etc.; and this bit of stuff here may well never make it onto my blog.

I have, however, become absolutely masterful at staring blankly at Word, and my growing thesis chapter now contains a definition of a portmanteau-word which is so full of academic horseshit that I can be nothing but inestimably proud of it. What’s a portmanteau-word? Well … It is that movement beyond language through language that cleaves open an unknowable semantic space (in the area beyond sense) which both invites, through excess, and functionally negates, through excess, elements of control and interpretation which seek to delimit or ‘know’ its contents—a process which remains ongoing (or at least open to change) in perpetuity, although in different (and very often diminishing) degrees … Of course. I hope now that anyone doubting the applicability or usefulness of a doctoral degree in English literature feels suitably ashamed of themselves.

I perhaps peaked in the procrastination stakes yesterday, though—until now, that is—when I decided to compile a list of thirteen songs with such wondrous opening notes that they encompass the remaining composition so completely I don’t even need to listen on (weird, no?) … I can retrospectively rationalize this clear evidence of mental illness with the fact that, with time tight and a deadline fast approaching, I have worked subconsciously to develop nothing less than a brilliant time-saving device for the busy urban professional or feckless postgraduate. But I can barely even convince myself of this.

Here it stupid-well is. The songs are great even if the reasoning and motives aren’t.

‘Family Portrait’
Rachel’s (Music for Egon Schiele)

‘Untitled 1’
Sigur Ros (Brackets)

‘Broken Chord Can Sing a Little’
Silver Mt. Zion (He Has Left Us Alone)

‘Black Eyed Dog’
Nick Drake (Made to Love Magic)

‘Into my Arms’
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Boatman’s Call)

‘You Ain’t Grieving’
Madelaine Hart (L.A.A)

‘Point of Disgust’ 
Low (Trust)

‘Who by Fire’
Leonard Cohen (New Skin for the Old Ceremony)

‘Only Skin’
Joanna Newsom (Ys)

‘Freibad’
Hauschka (Ferndorf)

‘As Serious As Your Life’
Fourtet (Rounds)

‘Troubled Waters’
Cat Power  (The Covers Record)

‘In McDonalds’
Burial (Untrue)

And now: back to the essay …

Groovesharked

When you have the temerity to live in Hong Kong (or some other place situated stubbornly outside of the UK), trying to listen to free music online—via things like Spotify—has always been a ball-ache par excellence (i.e. impossible). And now that Last.fm has decided to start charging its users (or perhaps that should be ‘customers’) to use its service, the opportunity to spaff away great chunks of the working day to music has been limited to YouTube, which, when it comes to things like playlists, albums or sound quality, is about as useful as a marzipan dildo (to borrow a simile from Malcolm Tucker).

Enter the terribly named (but wonderful) Grooveshark.

Like all these things, I’m way behind the curve: it’s been going since 2009, has 400,000 users a month, and has already been involved in several high-profile copyright infringement cases (don’t go there looking for Pink Floyd, for instance). But working on the basis that there are probably (or possibly) people less clued-up than me, I thought it was worth a quick mention.

This is why I like it: it has an impressive catalogue of songs (see, for example, this and this), you can queue stuff up for weeks on end, and—if you use Firefox and download the Adblock Plus add-on—hardly any advertisements to contend with. (There aren’t any of those right-into-your-bloody-ear adverts in-between tracks either, which, from memory, there are on Spotify.)

With all these advantages to be had, I’m sure that somebody, somewhere is being totally screwed by Grooveshark, and like usual, it’s probably the smallest artists who take the biggest hit, but (I think, at least) it has to be better than raiding Pirate Bay or Mediafire. Hardly a ringing endorsement, I realise, but you can make up your own stupid minds.

Euphonic memory glitch (with soundtrack)

I’ve been in Hong Kong nearly two years now, which means it’s about four years since I left London for Brighton, and a full seven years since I left Suffolk to begin my university career at Queen Mary in the badlands of Mile End. Seven years. Seven dirty great hunks of calendrical time spaffed up the wall of memory, some fragments sticking, others coalescing, some not really making the journey at all. Odds and ends splishing and splash-slapping all up my brain, making me me, for better or worse.

I guess it’s pointless feeling gloomy about the passing of time—you may as well worry about rain or beards or bears or somesuch—especially if you’re happy with how the time’s been spent. Nostalgia always has a whiff of the weep about it, sure, but as long as you can lid it up all tight with the rest of your suppressed anxieties, then no harm done. And there’s always high-speed international air-travel—one more log for the anxiety pyre—to bring you closer to that homeland feeling, in map-wise terms at least. Feeling geographically proximate to old, sepia imprints of yourself or selves as you popped about from place to place—from pub to house to beach to school, from shop to car to park to pool—is always pleasant.

In a similar vein, I was listening to music just now and my voice blared out of the past and right into my ears: waves crashing in from over nine years ago, dashing out memories of hospitals, Avent, gig seating and Steve in Witham. Sprigs of time mashed up in binary, careening down my ear-holes, slipping and skidding about, trying to take hold in some adequately remembered narrative of my past. Our music was misguided, perhaps, and very often artless, but so well-recalled that all inequities of style and substance melt into warm goo. Sepia-folks now in Southampton, London, Weston-super-Mare, Bury St Edmunds, Seoul and Hong Kong, teaching, managing, studying and practising, and all held hard like Ambered insects in some memory-sense past just waiting to crack out and start moving to music.

Dogs playing snooker

I guess the threat of obsolescence hangs over each and every one of us—we will all be sloughed of relevance eventually. My last post, for example, made the journey in about thirty minutes. No sooner had I posted my dimly negative spiel ‘pon the (dis)merits of Joanna’s latest preview track that the folks at Drag City—prompted, no doubt, by a teary and embarrassed Joanna—replaced ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ with yet another aural freebie, ‘Kingfisher’.

It’s another interesting development. Faintly mediaeval in tone, the track combines stripped-down harping with strings, percussion and various wind instruments to create an unusual sonic backdrop to Joanna’s ever-original lyrics. The result is quaint, pleasing and oddly unsettling, like those pictures of dogs playing snooker you sometimes see. I can’t quite explain why, but listening to the track brings to mind that lunar gadabout Moonface from The Faraway Tree books. He’s not doing anything special, mind. Just standing there.

Anyway, time is clearly very short. I can feel these words erasing themselves as I type. Enough prattling.

Be relevant.

Have One (more) On Me

Another preview track from Joanna Newsom’s new album Have One On Me is available on the Drag City website. The track, which replaces the brilliant ”81′ (fortunately already stolen using Audio Hijack), is called ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’, and displays yet again Joanna’s penchant for serving up stylistic anomalies.

You only need to listen to the grog-swilling sea-shanty ‘Inflammatory Writ’ on Milk Eyed Mender or, perhaps to a lesser extent, the Disney™-influenced ‘Monkey and Bear’ on Ys, to realise just how mercurial a Joanna Newsom record can at times be. Naturally (and evasively) I like to think of these incongruities as carefully orchestrated clashes twixt dissonance and consonance—moments of artistic delicacy designed to shock us from our weary assumptions, shake us free of expectations.

Whatever the tinpot theory though, I do so very hope that this track—which I should add is not entirely without charm—proves only to be the ‘sore thumb’ on Have One On Me, and that the rest of the album is made up of wondrously elegant, pendular digits. [End terrible metaphor.]

Cue much rapturous excitement

Both Joanna Newsom and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Band have announced new albums to be released in February, and as a result, my brain—struggling under the sheer weight of joy, impatience and trepidation—has regressed into a brown swamp of synaptic dhal. My central executive, such as it is, has literally mulched into Bovril.

The trouble is, as much as I’m overjoyed about the impending release of these albums, I’m also concerned. I mean, what if they’re shit? What if they go the way of Belle and Sebastian and start prattling inanely? Or follow Modest Mouse into money-grubbing nothingness? Or even join Fourtet in his unending quest for mediocrity? I’m not sure I could take it from anyone else—it’d be like having my favourite arm broken off at the shoulder.

Fortunately both Efrim and Joanna have seen fit to release preview tracks on the internet, which has gone some way to allaying my skittish fear of dismemberment. You can listen to Silver Mt. Zion’s ‘Bury 3 Dynamos’ ‘pon this link here, and Joanna Newsom’s ’81’ right ‘pon this one.

For what it’s worth, I think both tracks are wonderful, but particularly Joanna’s, which combines the effortlessly pure vocals of Ys with the stripped-down, laid-bare accompaniment of Milk Eyed Mender—it really is an absolute joy, and so, so addictive. Silver Mt. Zion’s offering is, of course, as intrepid as ever, and confirms yet again that of all the post-GY!BE bands currently signed to Constellation Records, they’re the folks to follow.

Between now and their respective release dates, I’ll just have to occupy myself with Rachel Grimes’ not-so-new-anymore solo album Book Of Leaves, safe in the knowledge that there are plenty of artists out there who care enough about the integrity of my appendages to keep the standard up.