Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Song: "Contract of the Heart" (1985 radio edit)
Artist: Spelt Like This
Search Term: "Spelt"

In the early '90s, I used to listen to the radio a lot because the Windsor, Ontario-based station 89X behaved like a college radio station with a 100,000-watt broadcast tower. For a few years, their programming was fairly unpredictable within the bounds of an "alternative" station: Though any given music block would contain a few obligatory heavy-hitters like R.E.M. and Soundgarden (and popular singles from the likes of Veruca Salt and Porno for Pyros), it was also commonplace for the DJ to drop in unexpected chestnuts by less mainstream acts like the Archers of Loaf and Sloan as well as relatively older songs by, say, Elvis Costello or Love and Rockets. It was hardly the most eclectic radio station that ever existed, but at a time when the other radio stations in Detroit seemed to be playing "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" on an endless loop, 89X's 120 Minutes-style variety seemed positively transgressive.

Of course, this didn't last, and 89X's broadcast day disappointingly became more and more repetitive and corporate bandwagon-centric. In about 1995, shortly before I gave up listening to any commercial radio station with any regularity, I finally decided it was no longer worth my while to keep track of which songs were attributed to which artists on 89X's playlist. Since it was all the same sludgy, midtempo post-grunge filling time between commercials, mentally filing them as Seven Mary Three, Silverchair, or Sponge would have been a distinction without a difference.

None of that has anything to do with Spelt Like This's "Contract of the Heart" except that, while listening to its new romantic earnestness, it occurred to me that I might have had the same experience of bored resignation in 1985 if I had been born a decade sooner, because this really does sound exactly like every other new wave ballad released in John Hughes's heyday. It's not at all bad--melodically, I actually like it better than any Culture Club song I've ever heard save "Karma Chameleon"--but you're still not going to get anything from this song you haven't already gotten from Tears for Fears, Spandau Ballet, OMD, A Flock of Seagulls, et al. It's all homogenized synths, rinky-dink guitar, and oversensitive love poetry moaned FROM THE HEART. I know there will always be musical trends, and within those trends there will be hop-ons who don't even bother to attempt anything running even slightly counter to the established components of the genre, but, like the "alt-rock" of 1995, new romantic balladry strikes me as such an exhausting style of music to be subjected to at any length that I cannot imagine how the '80s rolled to a close without every radio in the nation having been thrown disgustedly out of a window.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Song: "Le Parvenu"
Artist: Leo Ferre & Jean Gabin
Search Term: "Parvenu"

Less a song than a dreary French poem with a watery musical refrain, "Le Parvenu" is a rumination on the isolation and moral decline that accompanies a sudden and significant boost in one's socioeconomic class. Now, I don't speak any French beyond the occasional term that has made its way into common American parlance (and I'm not sure how far I could get in Quebec on the phrases "carte blanche" and "menage a trois"--as far as the nearest jail, most likely), so I have to assume that Google's translation tool is giving me an accurate picture of what the speakers are ruefully muttering here. That said, I really like some of the turns of phrase such as, "And in these sheets of adultery ... I will be sad litter," and, "When I sink in glory in my cozy apartment, lots of unexpected friends will bite at my crib," to describe the empty social calls and inadequate approximations of human connection that descend upon our newly moneyed narrators.

The refrain, in which a women's chorus screechily laments the absence of the narrators' former friends, could fairly be called overwrought, but it may not have seemed that way in 1951, when it was recorded. Overall, it's an effectively downbeat, anti-bourgeoisie character piece. If any reader would care to add a zero or two to the end of my annual income, I would gladly confirm or debunk firsthand this piece's moral, but I do think it's engaging in spite of its mostly unmusical heavy-handedness.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Song: "Twitch"
Artist: Idiot Flesh
Search Term: "Twitch"

If a sullen teenager got caught vandalizing his school and was sentenced to record a funk song as some sort of odd Montessori community service, it would sound like "Twitch": It's an angry funk burlesque that finds this crew of anti-rockers joylessly jocking Prince's style and then just bellowing things while an ugly bass thwomps away on top of a rhythm that is both reasonably danceable and dripping with audible resentment. This sort of aggressively snide hard rock always makes me think of Mike Patton, one of the most restless smartasses of all and someone whose work I respect without ever getting the urge to sit through, but I think the stuff Patton did with Faith No More and Mr. Bungle tended to be more tuneful than this, didn't it? (For all I know, of course, Idiot Flesh themselves tended to be more tuneful than this.) I get the sense that Idiot Flesh is trying to be somehow subversive, but "Twitch" is all attitude and no smarts. Who needs it?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Song: "Shubunkin"
Artist: Tractor
Search Term: "Shubunkin"

Another John Peel discovery, "Shubunkin" is a lovely psychedelic instrumental that was released in 1972 on Peel's Dandelion Records label. After a slow, channel-bouncing build-up of detuned fluttering, a bouncy acoustic guitar arrives and life gets sunny and colorful for a few fleeting minutes. Drummer Steve Clayton seems like he's trying not to let any opportunity to sensibly hit something pass him by, and his energy provides a nice contrast to the more laid-back, multitracked guitar playing of Jim Milne, whose reverbed lead guitar keens a heady, victorious melody. It's uncommonly comforting in a way that indie-rock nostalgia-pickers like Bill Doss (of the Olivia Tremor Control and the Sunshine Fix) have devoted their careers to chasing.

A shubunkin, by the way, is a type of goldfish. I don't think I'd ever heard the breed name before it was used in an educational video I was transcribing last week, and then two days later it came up again on Petkeeping with Marc Morrone. So look out: Shubunkins are going to be 2011's Hot Fish!

Would it be helpful for you if every entry started including these little asides in which I talk about the daily search term? No? Suit yourself!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Song: "Swiffer"
Artist: Hardfloor
Search Term: "Swiffer"

I am quickly coming to realize that one of the obstacles I will encounter by adhering to this blog's mandate (read: gimmick) is the superabundance of unremarkable techno lying in wait around every corner for he who attempts to explore the music available on Soulseek with no map or compass. Hardfloor's microhouse thumpery is certainly less silly--to 2011 ears, anyway--than the shrill trance of Convert's "Workstation," which I posted a week or two ago, but it's no less generic and forgettable. If you like microhouse's inoffensive beats and synth parts so much that you're perfectly happy to consume an utterly nondescript track that could have been assembled on anyone's laptop in any coffeehouse in the land (and there's no shame if you do, of course; we all have our own tastes), well, here is that track. I really don't know what else to tell you about this.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Song: "Food Combination Chart"
Artist: AGF
Search Term: "Chart"

At first, this percussion-based electronic track sounds like AGF (German artist Antye Greie) is making a halfhearted foray into Einsturzende Neubauten-style aural battery, with a beat comprised of what sounds like a kitchen range hood being whipped with a chain and dozens of cymbals rolling end over end toward the listener. Greie doesn't really throw much conviction behind the idea of creating music so relentlessly punishing that it achieves something beyond making a racket, though, and makes the smart decision to let friendlier, glitchier burbles and clicks take over the track before it becomes a pointless migraine. From that point, it's a very pleasant, deceptively complex bit of ... ambient dub, I guess you'd call it. Whatever it is, it does make a neat counterpoint to the crude clanging of the opening. I actually like "Food Combination Chart" on balance, but my suspicion is that it works better in the context of the album Words Are Missing than it does as a standalone piece, and it's a theory I will happily investigate.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Song: "Menial Tasks"
Artist: Plain Characters
Search Term: "Characters"

Apparently a single recorded during a 1981 Peel session, "Menial Tasks" is a totally boss post-punk ditty whose sharp guitars and angular hooks rest in a (fairly popular, granted) niche between Gang of Four's jagged intensity and the more playful disruptiveness of XTC. Beyond those influences, singer Colin Lloyd Tucker is clearly plenty fond of John Lydon's operatic snarl and the befuddled asides that David Byrne would drop into Talking Heads songs. So this track should hold plenty of appeal for fans of those late '70s/early '80s mileposts--or anyone who hasn't grown out of the teenage mindset where all they want to do is complain about how bored and put-upon they are by the demands of daily living. (As my friends and loved ones will wearily confirm, I count myself among their ranks.) Plain Characters have apparently been largely forgotten--they don't even rate an AllMusic entry--and on his website, Tucker sniffs, "I can't listen to those records now." But there's no reason this snarky shard of snottiness should escape your attention.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Song: "The Color of Her Hair"
Procer Veneficus
Search Term:
"Procer" [I didn't know it was actually a word in any language. Seems it's Latin?]

I enjoy a lot of ambient music, but honestly now: There's minimal and then there's flat-out underdeveloped. Of course, the line is often thin regardless of musical style. For instance, Wire's punk classic Pink Flag sounded effortless in the sense that songs like "Three Girl Rhumba" and "1 2 X U" seemed to have sprung into being fully formed from the minds of a restless band that had such a surfeit of ideas that they were loath to spend any more time than absolutely necessary spitting an idea across. Wire's new album, Red Barked Tree, sounds effortless in the sense that the band now seems largely uninterested in devoting any energy to the songwriting process, and it's mostly a bummer. Ambient music, though, is more forgiving than most other musical forms when it comes to its creators' ambition or lack thereof, since atmosphere trumps everything else when you're on its turf. But still, even given the slow-motion requirements of ambient, it seems like there should be something to it; otherwise can a given piece be said to be any more artistic than, say, that Justin Bieber song that someone slowed down by 800%? On the other other hand, does "artistry" even matter if the music successfully creates the mood it's aiming for?

All this is a fancy way of saying I don't know what I think about this dark ambient track by Derek W. Schultz (who records as Procer Veneficus, which translates to "gimme that ficus"), which consists of nothing more than a basic acoustic arpeggio that's frozen in time by an overzealous delay pedal, eventually giving way to a pointless reading of some goth kid's diary. I find it perfectly pleasant because I generally respond positively to drawn-out echoes and rumbling undertones like this, and it does nail the dreary, misty tone it's going for. Toward the end of "The Color of Her Hair," however, when the delay effect slowly falls away from the guitar and the true elementariness of the arrangement is revealed (the song's one clever trick), I can't help but feel like a bit of a sucker. Particularly since I've just spent about four times as long thinking about this creation than I expect Schultz himself has.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Song: "Donque Donque Kjang"
Artist: Ululating Mummies
Search Term: "Ululating"

Though I suspect the Ululating Mummies are, at heart, a goofy jam band (their MySpace page is topped with a photo of their bandoneonist wearing a leopard-print pope hat on stage), this natty instrumental cruises along with the disciplined precision of Soul Coughing or Morphine at their slickest. The upright bass and percussionist(s?) provide a jazzy chase theme, and they're soon aided by a bassoon playing an infectious counterpoint to the bassline. Another counterpoint--this time inspired by the music of Eastern Europe--is then stacked on top by a saxophone and bandoneon, and all the pieces are in place for what becomes a breathlessly cool and addictive piece of genre-mixing giddiness. Even the trio of solos in the song's middle section doesn't feel like padding or wankery, but supports the tune's galvanic momentum because these guys clearly know what they're doing. If The Amazing Race felt like getting particularly cinematic during one of the show's journeys to St. Petersburg or the Ukraine, "Donque Donque Kjang" would make a dandy soundtrack to a rapidly-cut montage of teams speeding between destinations. I really, really like this one.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Song: "The Horn, the Tortoise, the Bow, the Flintstone"
Artist: Walter Maioli and Luce Maioli
Search Term: "Paleolithic" [This song is from the album Art of Primitive Sound--Musical Instruments from Prehistory: The Paleolithic]

From what I can gather, Walter Maioli is an Italian researcher who specializes in the history of music and musical instruments, and who occasionally produces audio works using these ancient instruments. Along with Luce Maioli (whose relation to Walter is a mystery to me), he has brought together four instruments that were developed at some point during the Paleolithic Era, and captured their noises for our edification. I picture it as a historically accurate re-creation of that old Far Side panel where there's an orchestra full of Gary Larson's slope-browed cavemen, each readying a rock to bang on another rock, and the conductor's podium holds a piece of sheet music that consists of a single, giant note.

The result isn't particularly musical by modern standards: We hear what sounds like someone violently scraping the teeth of a comb in a misguided firemaking effort, then a few wooden strikes against some hollow implement (the titular tortoise shell?), and finally some rhythmic twanging that sounds like a giant rubber band or mouth harp, accompanied by proto-maracas. Without any liner notes to provide some context for this piece, I can only guess that the Maiolis are trying to approximate what music would have sounded like to the creators of these instruments hundreds of thousands of years ago--pure sound for the sake of sound, with no structure to it more complex than a rudimentary beat. It's very intriguing, and I'm sure any number of electronic artists would get a kick out of sampling these noises, but it's more an academic exercise than a composition.

Of course, I consider something like the Urinals' (almost literally) one-note punk blast "Ack Ack Ack Ack" a composition, and it's only slightly less primitive than this track, so I don't know that I could logically defend the place where I've drawn that line...

Friday, February 4, 2011


Song: "Brawny Says"
Artist: Pretendo
Search Term: "Brawny"

... And here's a song whose effectiveness is severely diminished because it runs twice as long as necessary! Symmetry!

There's a lot that's reasonably enjoyable about "Brawny Says," particularly if you're a fan of the Pernice Brothers or the Glands or other indie acts that draw on a rich knowledge of classic pop without trying to actually re-create the sounds of the '60s. The song's intro, with its falsetto voices "ooh"ing their way through a downcast hook, could be the centerpiece of a great song in its own right. The song's immediate lurch into a smug bossa nova rhythm is uncomfortable, but it brings with it some memorable vocal parts (traded among at least two singers) that are clearly a nod to Brian Wilson's childlike simplicity, but with the bonus of some politely distorted guitars. It's not going to be anyone's summer soundtrack, but it's a perfectly respectable tune.

However, the halfway point of the song arrives at the very moment you think, "All right! Job well done! Guess we're gonna wrap things up now, eh, guys? Guys?" And it ambles on nearly to the six-minute mark without introducing any new ideas or variations on what's happened previously, while the whole endeavor begins to sag like an elongated sawhorse. By the end, you will not only have forgotten what you liked about the song in the first place, but you will have been reminiscing fondly about old toothpaste jingles for a solid two minutes, because it is impossible to pay attention through this entire thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Song: "The Soul of Man Under Socialism"
Artist: Ashtray Navigations
Search Term: "Socialism"

With a gaggle of guitars each emitting hollow, unrelenting feedback for eleven and a half minutes straight, the bed of this song sounds like "free grinding" time in a high school metal shop class. No drums kick in, no vocals arrive to guide you through the morass; it's a humming, screeching pile of sound whose only concession to traditional song structure is a barely perceptible harmonic figure that repeats itself for a few minutes and then swims away. After the harmonic theme fades, it's replaced in the mix with a shehnai or something, whose reedy squiggling nicely pulls the listener's ear above the gnashing din even if it doesn't do anything especially melodic. After a while, even that disappears and you're left with a well-balanced set of yawning feedback drones.

This description might make "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" sound thoroughly appalling, and it's certainly not going to be to everyone's taste, but bandleader Phil Todd controls the cacophony with a confident deliberateness that respects the listener's need to submerge herself into the track very slowly, while making sure there's enough song left to fully mesmerize once the listener feels acclimated. It's a fine example of an epic-length composition in which nothing much happens, but whose effectiveness would be severely diminished at half its running time. I feel like investigating Todd's discography further (though not completely, as he has released at least 36 albums) will be rewarding, and look forward to hearing what other curious places he's gone.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Song: "Workstation"
Artist: Convert
Search Term: "Workstation"

I realize that hard trance techno like this is not intended for me to casually listen to on my laptop headphones while I drink coffee and read the morning updates on Wonkette; it's made for aggressive rave settings where steady, sustained 4/4 rhythms matter more than musical cleverness. (Or at least it was in 1991, when this track was released. This sort of thing can't possibly still be popular in anything approximating an "underground club scene," can it?) But even granting its utility as something propulsive and noisy for kids to dance to, "Workstation" doesn't even attempt to work on an artistic level. It's flecked with detuned doorbell noises and what appear to be the sounds of rankled parakeets, which I guess are Convert's halfhearted attempts at interesting timbres, but mostly what you're going to notice are the abrasive synths and a drum machine that's content to dispense the same factory preset beats as have appeared in every trance track you've ever heard.

This song did make me remember someone I hadn't thought about in years: This guy Mike, who looked like Dana Carvey and who worked with me in the receiving room at Barnes & Noble about ten years ago. He would play rubbish like this constantly and tell me about how the government was encoding subliminal messages into club music--a theory he claimed to have developed after he leapt through a window while listening to trance music on ecstasy. When he left Barnes & Noble, Mike asked for my phone number so we could get together and hang out. I was pretty proud of the scrap of paper I gave him, because every single character was written so illegibly that it could convincingly represent three or four different numbers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Song: "Paniek in de Confettiabriek"
Artist: Coole Piet
Search Term: "Sinterklaas" [This is from the soundtrack of a Dutch TV series called De Club van Sinterklaas]

Imagine a Disney Channel movie in which the members of a youth sports team, each with one stereotypical personality trait to his name (or her name, in the case of the sole girl on the team--whose personality trait, incidentally, is being a girl), learn the value of teamwork after they put aside their mutual antagonism and submit to an evening of team bonding at the sort of dancefloor-equipped pizza parlor that exists only in films where the main characters are too young to go clubbing. Now imagine that this scene of the kids merrily waving their hands in the air and bopping around on the dancefloor was already shot and edited to the tune of Arrow's "Hot Hot Hot," but a week before the movie was to be broadcast, it was discovered that there was a misunderstanding and the producers did not actually have permission to use "Hot Hot Hot" in the film.

The producers' clear course of action is to swap in this song from a Dutch kids' miniseries, whose title most likely translates to "We Cannot Afford 'Hot Hot Hot.'"

(It actually translates to "Panic in the Confetti Factory." I haven't bothered to locate and translate the lyrics, but let's assume it's a cautionary tale about the importance of thorough psychological screening when hiring employees for high-stress positions in the go-go world of confetti production.)

With a harmless house beat, chintzy synths, and a chorus that teeters on the line between catchy and punishingly irksome, "Paniek in de Confettiabriek" is really just a disposable children's product. I do appreciate the weirdly sinister hip-hop breakdown in the middle, which at least adds a contrasting flavor to the song's otherwise overbearing bounciness, but it's not enough to make this song any less forgettably dumb. My Dutch friend Anne, who has introduced me to a wealth of truly great music from the Netherlands, is sure to shake her head in a "Where have I gone wrong?" manner upon discovering I downloaded this thing.