Archive for February, 2009

15 Films – #2 ‘Good Christian/Bad Christian’

February 28, 2009

After a short delay caused by the Internet. Here is this week’s video. The aim is going to be to get them online each friday to get you in the weekend mood.

This one was made by Cardiff’s bienjamu – a shadowy figure sometimes seen fronting Hornby Pylons and playing stylophone in Little My.

Vimeo link (better quality)

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In other news very sad to hear that the Point – Cardiff’s beautiful converted church venue down the bay has had to close down. Apparently financial reasons brought about by all the money they were forced to spend soundproofing are to blame. I think ultimately the blame lies with Cardiff council’s decision to green light yet more new flats by greedy property developers – despite half the flats down the bay being empty.

Surely it would’ve made sense to have an office building instead? No one’s going to be bothered by bands playing when they’ve gone home at 5.30. You can’t really blame the people who lived there. Although it was pretty stoopid to move into a flat next door to a live music venue then complain about it. I used to live opposite the Castle pub in Aberystwyth. Now that was loud. No soundproofing there let me tell you.

In the same flat I lived next door to a man who sat up all night with Ceefax on and the test tone/light jazz playing at full volume. That was annoying too.

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MiniOrgan [gawp of the week]

February 24, 2009

I’ve spent the day green-eyed with envy, swimming in a puddle of my own nostalgic drool after discovering MiniOrgan.com. It’s an awesome site full of one enthusiastic German’s geeky gushings about his collection of obscure toy instruments. He should open a museum.

I was searching for a Suzuki Tronichord – an early precursor to the Omnichord – and it was the first site that came up.

Tell me that doesn’t look amazing. Sadly I can’t find any for sale. So if you see one and fancy getting me a present…

On ‘Anvil!’, Stray Borders, and (post-) rock n roll dreams…

February 23, 2009

I spent Sunday pottering around Cardiff and the day seemed to develop a specific theme. First off I went to see ‘Anvil – The Story of Anvil’ then later I went to see the last ever gig by Stray Borders.

‘Anvil!’ is a documentary about a once promising canadian heavy metal band who ended up being mostly forgotten. However the two main members of the band have been beavering away tirelessly for 30 years, releasing records, touring, working in school canteens…

It’s kind of a character study in the main. Their frontman ‘Lips’ is in love with the Rock ‘n Roll dream. It’s very poignant in parts as you see how much the guy’s given up, not least the ability to make any money, in pursuit of his dream. His wide-eyed childish dedication to his craft is infectious and you can’t help but root for him. Personally I think heavy metal’s silly rubbish but I admire the devotion it seems to inspire.

Then the final gig by a band I’ve never heard before – Stray Borders. Apparently they’re finding it impossible to get together and practice because of work committments and the like so whilst they don’t want to stop playing they’ve no choice.

They are (I should say ‘were’) a post-rock band in the shimmering, reverb-drenched ‘mogwai fear satan’ tradition, and a pretty good one at that. Even though mogwai-ish stuff isn’t something I listen to any more – it really does all sound the same – I did enjoy the gig.

The crowd was full of friends and fans determined to give them a good send-off, and the emotion was contagious. At one point their singer said “This is probably the last time we’ll do this for a while… so forgive us if we break into a smile now and then”, and their bassist announced that she nearly cried during their penultimate song.

At the end they stood in a row with their arms around each other’s shoulders and took a little bow. At which point I think I got a speck of dust in my eye, which quickly developed into a lump in my throat. So I bought their cd – a lovingly presented EP with consumately post-rock over-long song titles.

[After that the headline act (who I won’t name but I’m sure you can google the information somehow) carried all the emotional subtlety of a newfound lover ejaculating on your face then dancing around in their pants and applauding, but that’s another story…]

stray-borders

So that was twice in one day I found myself getting emotional over the plight of a band I’d never heard and wouldn’t normally care about. Am I turning into an old softy?

I posted a video last week for ‘Stop Traveller! Stop and Read!’ which is quite an old song. I don’t often dwell on my lyrics once they’re written. So when I had lots of comments saying ‘keep chasing your dream, Andy!’ and other nice things, I had a sort of ‘oh yeah’ moment as I remembered what the song was actually about.

The idea that having to have a job might one day get in the way of making music is hugely depressing to me, and I felt sad to see Stray Borders coming to an end for that reason. ‘Stop Traveller!’ isn’t quite about that, but all those comments coming the same day as Anvil etc struck a chord. Renewed my focus…

Why is it that music can mean so much to someone, like ‘Lips’ from Anvil, that they can put the entire rest of their life on hold for it? It’s a balancing act which I’ve struggled with for years (and I won’t bore you with it).

Kurt Vonnegut once said that music was the only evidence he needed that there was a God. As a fellow atheist I can see what he means. I’ve said before that I’m inclined to believe the theory that we evolved the ability to sing before we could speak. How many times have you heard some terrible lyrics transformed into transcendental poetry by a really amazing singer?

I was once doing a crappy telesales job, and they taught us that when you talk to a ‘customer’ the actual words you use only account for 14% of their attention, the rest is all about tone – so you should sound confident and they’ll be confident in you. Which is clearly horlicks from a scientific point of view. 14%!? – how the hell do you measure something like that? BUT the point remains that words alone don’t really cut it emotionally.

Music bypasses the part of your brain that over-thinks things (which for me is about 99%). It gets straight to the ineffable mystery of what it is to be human. It says it all without explaining anything. It can help you understand what it feels like to be in love, when you’re too young to have ever been in love.

What is this stuff? I can’t explain it. And anyone who thinks they can is an idiot. But I can understand why it’s so hard to give it up. Especially for something as banal as real life.

2.0-xplosion – 15 films in 15 weeks

February 21, 2009

So the internet is the future, right? No. Actually the internet is the present, and exciting though it is, it’s pretty much part of the furniture now. The only people who think it’s the future are the people who never really got it to start with. People like me.

Anyway as an attempt to make peace with the omniscient spiderweb of doom, as its fractal tentacles tighten their grip around our very perception of reality, I’ve decided to make a video to go with every song on my album. I’ll upload them one per week for the next 15 weeks. These aren’t going to be ‘proper’ videos as such, just something to point your eyes at whilst you listen to the songs. Seeing as I’ve never made a video before in my life I might get some people to help me. You might even like to make one? Why not e-mail me?

I’ve spent most of this morning making an hilariously bad attempt at a ‘real’ video in iMovie (surely the Songsmith of video editing software). I’ll upload that at some point but for now here’s the first one…


Vimeo link (better quality)

It’s a live in the studio acoustic version of ‘Stop Traveller! Stop and Read!’.

The inimitable John Brainlove has made a web page Fight My Battles For Me – 15 Films which will host them all. There’ll also be other bits of trivia and at the moment there are some nice drawings up there to gawp at.

Twitter

I’ve also started a Twitter account. So if you want to be privy to every inane thought which goes through my head for the rest of my life feel free to sign up.
http://twitter.com/paganwandererlu

while you’re at it why not join the newly-renamed Facebook Group, join my mailing list, or have a look at my bank account?

BeardAid

In other news Bearded Magazine’s excellent ‘BeardAid‘ subscription service is going to be releasing an 8-track download only EP of early Pagan Wanderer Lu stuff in March. You’ll have to sign up for £2 a month for which you get a copy of each new edition of the magazine and a monthly exclusive download record from a band who’ve you’ve never heard but are probably awesome. It’s like one of those things where you give a man a fish and he milks it every day for life, but for indie music…

Mine will be out on the 14th March so make sure you sign up by then or you’ll have missed it. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you.

Numerology and Pop Records

February 14, 2009

I have this pet theory about the number of albums a band should release. I’m strangely attached to it and would like to share it with you.

I myself have released three albums ‘Restless Revolution Day By Day’ in 2004, ‘Build Library Here (or else!)’ in 2005 and ‘Fight My Battles For Me’ this year. Here they are:

numerology-albums2

This is satisfactory. If I never do another album then, numerologically, I’ll be happy. Here’s my theory:

The first album should be filled with mistakes which become endearing when seen retrospectively. These very mistakes should be what leads hardcore fans to proclaim it your best. To claim that your subsequent albums, whilst more proficient, lack soul. An example would be ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ by Pavement.

Your second album should refine the tricks of your first, whilst containing better songs. It should represent you honing your craft. Those who get into you when you release your third album should retrospectively view it as a transitional work between the two. Even though this is stupid as all artists (except me) always view their latest work as the definitive and few would actively release something they considered a transition from one thing to another. For writers the transition has already occurred, all there is is now.

The third album, then, should be the perfect one. Whatever the loyalties of hardcore fans it should be the one where whatever made you stand out on your first one is refined and those mistakes, blatant borrows from your influences, and youthful misfires are reigned in and you nail it. You release a pop record which is unique that only you could have made.

What happens next is the real point. The fourth album. Fourth albums have no defined qualities. Maybe you continue to improve? Maybe you go shit? Maybe your band disintegrates? Or maybe you get overexcited by the attention your successful meshing of your quirks and pop instincts has brought you and mistakenly attritbute it to the increase in pop ratio. So you go all out trying to make a straight pop record. Shed all the quirks and edges that made it special and assume that, because of your inherent talent a straight pop record from you will be good because of your magic touch.

This is a kind of ‘homeopathic’ approach to songwriting. You dilute the active ingredient to the point where there isn’t any left but assume some sort of magical ‘memory’ in the end product will mean it still works.

this image proves absolutely nothing

Anyway the content of the fourth album is irrelevant. The point I feel stongly about – for no rational reason – is that bands should never ever stop after four albums. It leaves things hanging. A book with no final chapter. I’d rather a band I liked released a piece of shit fifth album than only did four. At least that would be a fitting testament to human fallibility.

Four feels unfinished. Phantom limb. It’s wrong.

Two albums is not quite as bad. But still wrong. Two albums suggests it wasn’t your fault. Most bands will only manage one. I doubt many set out to do that. Most will imagine a long career filled with stylistic twists and turns and constant artistic reinvention. Two albums suggests there was probably a boring reason to stop – the label dropped you, you split up, someone died.

So doing one album is fine. Doing three albums is perfect. Doing five should be the aim. Doing four is right out. Never ever do four albums. Two albums can be forgiven. Anything more than five is A-okay.

Case studies:

Neutral Milk Hotel – did one lo-fi album then one utterly perfect second album. Split due to songwriter having a breakdown. This affront to numerology is mitigated by all the self-released tapes they did. 7/10

My Bloody Valentine – Sort of did three albums if you count ‘Ecstacy and Wine’. Follow the proposed trajectory perfectly. Third album was the best, then they split. So far 10/10. However rumours of a planned fourth album are worrying – it will definitely be awful. This should not happen. Hear me Kevin Shields!

Pavement – Five albums and split. Top marks. Didn’t quite follow the trajectory. First two albums fit the template but third album was a misstep in that it was a revert to weirdness and is probably their worst one. ‘Brighten the Corners’ should’ve been the third one. Then that’d be fine. 8/10

The Knife – Three albums then hiatus. Third album a major move into the leftfield do doesn’t quite follow the rules but still definitely the best one. If they never come back then that’ll be fine. 9/10

Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Four albums! Aargh! No I don’t count a cassette limited to 33 copies. That’s silly that. First album, beautiful awkward mess. Hardcore fans (me) consider it the best. Second album refines ideas. Third realises those and brings them their widest audience. Textbook. HOWEVER then they release ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ their fourth and likely final album. And not only do they stop there it’s also rubbish. Not quite homeopathy but certainly a tired retread of past glories. 4/10

Echo & the Bunnymen – Five albums in their original lineup. Not counting the late 90s stuff which was of varying quality but was essentially an extension of Ian McCulloch’s solo career. Fifth album basically shit but at least they released one. Peaked on the fourth though the third was pretty fine so a slight misstep there. Otherwise fairly respectable 8/10.

And so on… As I said this opinion is based on absolutely nothing but is still ineffably true. So there. What have learned? Everything and nothing. Amen.

Interview with Ragged Words

February 4, 2009

dirty-keyboard

I’ve been interviewed yet again. This time a quick e-mail Q&A with Ragged Words. I’ve done my usual thing and gone into far too much detail.

“I predict that ‘a bit like Muse with some drum loops and a synth’ will be the sound of 2010”

Read it here

Incidentally the photo above which was used by both Ragged Words and Bearded is by Kirsten McTernan who’s done lots of wonderful photos for me, and also designed my album artwork. She’s an ace photographer and every time someone uses one of her shots of me they fail to credit her, which makes me sad. So consider this a vague attempt to redress the balance.