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I have already blogged about my Halloween DJ playlist but one of the creepiest tunes I’ve ever heard is not a tune anyone is ever going to play at a Halloween gig in Whelan’s! It comes from jazz legend Charles Mingus, a double-bass player, composer and bandleader who combined elements of be-bop, gospel and blues to create an influential sound.
The track is called ‘Don’t Be Afraid, The Clown’s Afraid Too’ and it comes from the album Let My Children Hear Music. The beginning of the track contains weird soundtrack effects, discords and a wailing trumpet and then heads into more familiar swinging big band territory before giving in a chaotic horn section that sometimes reprises a vaudevillian circus theme and then descends into madness. It’s both disquieting and hilarious.
Of course there’s no video for the track as it was released in 1972 but here’s the original tune and if you’re creative you can make your own visuals to accompany it!
Love & Mercy, released in 2014, depicts the life of Brian Wilson, best known as a founding member of the Beach Boys, but now recognised as a musical icon in his own right. It was released in 2014, and stars Paul Dano and John Cusack as the younger and older Wilsons respectively, and includes Elizabeth Banks as Wilson’s second wife, Melinda Ledbetter, and Paul Giamatti as Dr. Eugene Landy in the supporting cast.
The movie skips over Wilson’s childhood, during which he endured trauma and violence at the hands of his abusive father, and instead the opening credits play over scenes showing Wilson’s early success with the Beach Boys, with hits such as ‘Surfin’ USA’ and ‘Fun Fun Fun’. On first listen they are happy pop songs, emblematic of the sun-drenched Californian teenage lifestyle, but on dissection you can hear how innovative the layered harmonies and complex arrangements are.
Wilson found the life of the touring chart-topping musician difficult and he suggested to the band that he stay at home and focus on songwriting. The other members reluctantly agreed so while they were on tour Wilson began working on what would become Pet Sounds. The seasoned session musicians who worked with him on the original recordings were blown away by his inventiveness, his vision and boundless enthusiasm, but the rest of the Beach Boys, especially Mike Love, hated the record, thinking the lyrics were too dark. The fans agreed and it was the worst selling record of the Beach Boys’ career at that point, but the critics lauded it and for once they were right; Pet Sounds is now recognised as one of the landmark albums of the sixties and a work of genius.
Wilson became addicted to drugs and alcohol, perhaps in an attempt to self-medicate the mental illness which has dogged him throughout his life. He has suffered many nervous breakdowns and been diagnosed as suffering from both bi-polar and schizoaffective disorders, with auditory hallucinations. These episodes are brilliantly depicted in the film, in particular a dinner party scene where a stressed and fragile Brian is overwhelmed by the ambient sounds of cutlery knocking against plates.
Love & Mercy alternates between scenes of the young Brian at the height of his success and the older Brian, who was controlled, manipulated and over-medicated by Doctor Eugene Landy, a immoral psychologist who was bleeding Brian dry financially. Melinda Ledbetter, Brian’s second wife (played by Elizabeth Banks) meets Brian during this period and is mainly responsible for freeing him from Landy’s malign influence. (Landy was later discredited and had his license revoked based on his treatment of Wilson.) I read Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story which was co-authored by Landy and has since been disowned by Wilson. It certainly paints Landy in a favourable light and given the subsequent revelations is not to be taken seriously.
Dano and Cusack are both wonderful in the dual lead roles, and their versions of Wilson are sympathetic and moving. But the stand-out for me was Elizabeth Banks whose portrayal of Ledbetter is understated and empathetic. It’s a less showy role but she gives it huge depth.
Being asked to contribute the soundtrack for a biopic about a musical genius must have been both exciting and vaguely terrifying, but Atticus Ross hits it out of the park. He has worked with Trent Reznor on The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on electronic influenced scores. In Love & Mercy he creates a more traditional orchestral score, but with cacophonous, distorted and disorientating elements which serve to convey Brian’s mental state.
People often talk about the fine line between genius and madness, which is an idea I don’t believe in as it glamorises mental illness and it also disenfranchises those who suffer but who are not creatively gifted. However I have often wondered why mental illness has persisted throughout human history despite natural selection. I think perhaps one of the many reasons is that some people who are psychiatrically atypical (perhaps as a result of autism, schizoprenia, bi-polar, or depression) can create beauty in our world, they can elevate ordinary life into something magical. If anyone is an example of this it is Brian Wilson and this film is a masterful tribute to one of the greatest popular composers of the last century.
I squealed a bit when I found out that Hot 8 Brass Band are playing in The Sugar Club on October 25th. For those who haven’t heard of them, they’re a brass band formed in 1995 and based in New Orleans. They play a mix of marching music, hip-hop and R&B in a traditional New Orleans style. The band came to wider prominence when they were featured in Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. They’ve gigged all over the world and in fact played in Ireland on Paddy’s Day 2013.
For a taste of what you expect, here they are doing one of my favourite tracks. I’d say the gig will be a party and a half! You can buy tickets here.
One of the things I like about festivals is researching all the bands I want to see when I get there. It’s a great way to discover new music. Before I went to Longitude I went through the bands and ended up discovering Purity Ring, a Canadian electropop two-piece who’ve been around for about five years. They’ve released two albums, Shrines in 2012 and Another Eternity in February of this year.
The second album is leaning more towards pop rather than electro, and while it has nice tunes I kinda prefer the first album. I’ve linked to two songs from it below: ‘Lofticries’ which has a Sneaker Pimps-esque vibe, and ‘Obedear’.
The new Beck single ‘Dreams’ is his first release since Morning Phase last year. Morning Phase was critically lauded and won three Grammys. Although I liked it, it was folksy and a wee bit morose, and there were certainly no tunes that an indie DJ could use in a set.
‘Dreams’ is a different ballgame altogether; a stompy, jangly, dance floor friendly, slice of summer cheer. (Apparently he wrote it so he would have something upbeat to play on tour!) ‘Dreams’ is the first single to be taken from Beck’s upcoming thirteenth studio album, although a release date has yet to be confirmed.
I’ve been bopping around to this at home and playing it at gigs. It’s a great summer rock tune. Check it out.
The coolest woman in rock and roll today celebrates her 70th birthday. Happy Birthday Debbie Harry! She’s a music icon, an actress, a stunning beauty, a champion of LGBT causes, a philanthropist, a long-time resident of NYC, and according to a mate of mine who worked with her, one of the nicest and funniest women you could ever meet.
I’ve loved Debbie Harry since I was a teenager and she remains a huge inspiration for me. Debbie has always chosen to live life in her own way and that includes how she ages. Although she’s in her seventh decade, she’s still performing, still doing charity work and still dresses like a rock star. Just check her out at Glastonbury last year and imagine being that cool at sixtyeffingnine years of age! Whatta woman!
Dan Deacon’s last album Gliss Riffer has been played in my gaff a lot over the last while. Deacon is an American composer, musician and producer based in Baltimore, Maryland, who has been pretty prolific since he released his first album in 2003. Deacon has dabbled in many genres, from contemporary classical to film scoring, and his live shows are apparently amazing. He played last weekend at Body and Soul in Ireland and the reports are great. (And kudos for his brilliant Twitter username.)
Shades of the Beta Band and Boards of Canada are evident in Gliss Riffer. ‘When I Was Done Dying’ is my favourite track so far. In March of this year ‘Off the Air’, a programme broadcast on Adult Swim, asked nine of their favorite animators to each animate one section of ‘When I Was Done Dying’, a premise which sounds like it has the potential for a ‘too many cooks’ type disaster!
The end result is one of the most interesting and perfectly expressive music videos I’ve seen for a long time. The artists obviously worked together closely and each section is sympathetic to the one that went before, building on colour and theme while still retaining individuality. It starts with a black and white hand drawn illustration and ends with a blur of neon and digital trickery and it’s just wonderful.
On Saturday last I went out to Dalkey to see Paul McGuinness, ex-manager of U2, interviewed as part of the Book Festival. The talk was titled ‘The Business of Music’ and obviously McGuinness, having managed one of the biggest bands in the world since its infancy, had a lot to talk about.
The talk mostly centered on U2 and his experiences working at the top level of the international music industry. There were a lot of fun anecdotes and little-known facts. For example, one audience member asked why U2 had never played in China, a question that had been put to McGuinness years before by the Chinese Ambassador to the UK. The answer was that they are banned from China as a result of doing a Free Tibet concert years ago. So there’s a bit of music trivia for your next pub quiz!
McGuinness also gave sharp insights into the future of the music industry and problems facing artists now. He made a great point regarding the proliferation of music festivals in recent years and the impact they are having on stadium tours. He says that most artists don’t get the chance to craft a huge stage show these days, in the way that U2 did with their Zoo TV and PopMart tours. Instead they play a series of festival gigs in Europe and North America which has its drawbacks. The band don’t connect solely with their own audience and they’re expected to play a festival-friendly set, i.e, one that is mostly comprised of their greatest hits to satisfy the masses. In addition they are limited in terms of the creativity they can bring to the production; huge props and intricate lighting displays just aren’t feasible when you’re doing an hour at a festival. McGuinness reckons that when the current rock acts like Springsteen, Rolling Stones, and U2 (whose 360 tour was the highest grossing concert tour of all time) aren’t on the road anymore, stadium tours will be a thing of the past. A great observation.
There were a lot of music talks at the festival including Viv Albertine of The Slits whose memoir was published last year. It’s a great festival set in a gorgeous part of Dublin and well worth checking out next year.
I have a confession to make. Up until yesterday I was a DJ without a decent sound system at home and without a set of decks, and a writer without a printer. But now part of that problem has been solved because a bunch of my amazing friends got together and bought me some bluetooth speakers for my birthday.
Last night I tested the speakers fairly comprehensively and listened to a lot of stuff, including albums I’ve neglected for a long time mostly because my shitty laptop speakers were completely busted and distorted the bass horribly. In the process I came across this tune by Cagedbaby, a favourite of mine for a long time.
I first heard Cagedbaby ten years ago when I was living in London and working on a music conference called Encompass. I caned the album in the office in the months leading up to the event and then saw the band play live in a small venue in Shoreditch during the festival in April 2005. The gig was electric, the band were so powerful live. This tune in particular reminds me of that time in my life, living in London, immersed in music, looking forward to the summer and having a lot of fun.
On 5th June Muse release their seventh studio album Drones and ‘Dead Inside’ is the first single taken from the album. I was very excited to hear it as Muse are one of my favourite rock bands; I adore Matt Bellamy’s operatic vocals and Queen-influenced harmonies.
‘Dead Inside’ sounds more stripped back than previous albums, less orchestral and not so electronic. It sounds more like three guys returning to their rock and roll roots having experimented for a long time. ‘Psycho’ is the B side, which is based on a guitar riff that the band have been working on for years. I actually prefer ‘Psycho’ to the single so I’ve linked to it below. Enjoy!