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I’ve spent the last week painting my bedroom, which makes it sound huge when in actual fact it’s just slightly bigger than a postage stamp but I make a lot of clumsy mistakes necessitating many do-overs and clean-ups. In the process I’ve been listening to way more music than usual, caning much beloved old albums and buying newer stuff.
One of the new tunes on rotation is Kim Gordon’s very first solo single ‘Murdered Out’. It’s droney, discordant, distorted, and I love it! It harkens back to Gordon’s post-punk roots but the crisp production lends it a more modern feel.
Can you believe that it’s Gordon’s first solo release? I couldn’t. She’s a founding member of Sonic Youth, a songwriter, musician and singer, a fashion designer and visual artist. Now sixty-three years old she’s a rock icon and a revered trailblazer, with artists like Roisin Murphy, Karen O, and Kathleen Hanna claiming her as an influence. A solo release seems WAY overdue. Here’s to a lot more.
The world of manufactured pop has been begging for a mockumentary for a long time and in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping it finally gets the parody it deserves. Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) forms a band called Style Boyz with his childhood friends and they become popular due to their good looks and dance gimmick, the ‘Donkey Roll’. When they inevitably break up under the pressures of fame, Conner goes solo, with bandmate Kid Contact (Jorma Taccone) relegated to hitting play on an iPod under the guise of beat-maker and DJ.
Conner is propelled to superstardom with his catchphrase verse on ‘Turn Up The Beef’ by Claudia Cantrell (Emma Stone), and it seems he can do no wrong until he makes a deal to automatically upload his newest album to household appliances via WIFI (shades of Ireland’s original boyband?) leading to a backlash and Conner’s fall from grace.
Never Stop Never Stopping has its roots in the carefully controlled promotional films of pop stars since the genre began, from The Beatles to Madonna to Katy Perry. Justin Beiber‘s ‘Believe’ seems to be a direct inspiration – just check out this trailer which might seem like a parody if you didn’t know any better. Writers Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer have hit every recognisable plot point: a mother who gave up her own dreams of stardom and now parties with the kids (Joan Cusack), a faux relationship with a fame hungry singer (Imogen Poots), and a support act in the tradition of ‘All About Eve’. Sarah Silverman as Conner’s publicist delivers some gems in her trademark deadpan: ‘I’d like to get Conner to the point where he’s everywhere, like oxygen or gravity or clinical depression.’
The cameos are a who’s who of the Billboard charts: Ringo Starr, Questlove, Pink, 50 Cent, Carrie Underwood and RZA are among many recognisable faces. Mariah Carey in particular is worth watching out for, brilliantly sending herself up in just a couple of lines of dialogue. And Andy Samberg is perfect as Conner: handsome enough to be believable, a better than decent dancer and singer, and so committed to the role that you can’t help but be on his side even though he’s eye-rollingly stupid.
Never Stop Never Stopping is cleverly written and its Spinal Tap style satire delivers proper laughs. If you haven’t seen it, it’s one to put on your list for an afternoon watch this weekend.
Last week I DJed for the Louise Kennedy AW16 fashion show in her stunning atelier on Merrion Square. When compiling the playlist I rediscovered some overlooked gems in my music collection and found some new ones on iTunes. ‘Feel Like I Do’ by Disclosure fell into the former category – it was first released in June and I bought it when it came out. It didn’t make the cut for the show but I’ve been playing it at home for the last few days. It’s perfect for the end of our Indian summer; laid back, with a feel-good groove and gorgeous vocals.
The vocal is sampled from an Al Green song, ‘I’m Still In Love With You’. Disclosure asked permission to use it and when Al Green heard the track he gave them the original vocal recordings to use, a stamp of approval if ever there was one!
De La Soul released their first album in eleven years last Friday, De La Soul and the Anonymous Nobody. The first single from the album dropped in June, a collaboration with Snoop Dogg called ‘Pain’.
There are a lot of guest stars including Jill Scott, Estelle, Little Dragon and Damon Albarn. The album sounds fairly eclectic ranging from straight up R&B (Usher) to gangsta rap (2Chainz) and chilled out 90s throwback vibes (Snoop Dogg). I personally love the new wave collaboration with David Byrne, ‘Snoopies’.
The band also released a half hour long documentary about the album detailing the Kickstarter funding for the project. They had set a goal for themselves of $110,000 but the fans were so excited that just 11,000 people raised $600,000 in a few hours. Not many bands can retain a fan base so rabid that they would fund an album after eleven years of silence but De La Soul have a very special place in hip hop.
Chances are that even if you’re not a jazz fan you’ll have heard the above song, ‘My Funny Valentine’ as sung by Chet Baker. He’s the subject of a new biopic Born to be Blue starring Ethan Hawke which I saw in The Lighthouse last weekend. I read Deep In A Dream by James Gavin years ago so I was familiar with Baker’s story: a trumpet player who exemplified West Coast cool jazz as opposed to the harder, more experimental East Coast players like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, a guy with James Dean good looks that he famously ruined with hard living, and who died when he was just fifty-eight, falling out of a hotel window high on coke and heroin.
The film is factual in some respects. Yes, Baker’s life took a tragic turn at the age of twenty-seven when he discovered heroin. It’s true that his teeth were kicked out in a fight, so he had to learn to play again with dentures, a grisly process depicted in detail in the film. (I went to see this with my Dad who is a sax player and who has had problems with his teeth in the past, so he easily related to Chet. He couldn’t watch the scenes of Chet practising, gums bleeding, obviously in tremendous physical pain, but also desperate to play again.) Yes, Chet was imprisoned for drug use in Italy and America, and he fucked up his romantic relationships due to his addiction, although Jane (played by Carmen Ejogo) is a composite character.
Other elements are clearly fictional. The shots of Baker playing trumpet in the surf, on top of a caravan, resting on the roof of a snow covered shed, in corn fields, on the edge of a cliff, in the bath, struck me as being the kind of romantic notions a director might have about a musician. (What serious trumpet player brings his horn into the sea? Sea salt + brass = disaster!) While the individual shots are beautifully composed, the montage gets a little cheesy.
The film is stylised, with flashbacks in black and white and then returning to colour to show the events of 1966, the year Chet lost his teeth, had to learn to play again and made his comeback playing in Birdland. Ethan Hawke is excellent as Baker, conveying his charm, vulnerability and insecurity. Apparently Hawke was first approached about playing Baker fifteen years ago and he has obviously done his homework since. He learned how to play trumpet for the film and also wore dentures to correctly portray Baker’s mumble.
Fittingly Born to be Blue struck me like a jazz tune, an interpretation of Chet’s life rather than factually rigorous. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Christine and the Queens seem to have come out of nowhere in the last couple of months, generating huge hype with performances on Jools Holland and Graham Norton, some well-received festival gigs and album Chaleur Humaine reaching number one on the Irish album charts in July. In fact Christine released her first EP five years ago and is a well-established star in her native France. Chaleur Humaine was originally released in France in 2014 but has been slightly retweaked for its international release, with some new English language songs and some of the original French lyrics translated.
Christine (real name, Heloïse Letissier) is an interesting pop star. She describes herself as pan-sexual, she is interested in gender identity, dance and performance art, and the ‘queens’ part of her stage name is in tribute to a group of inspirational drag queens she met in London when she lived there in 2010.
When interviewed she is thoughtful and intelligent with a feminist sensibility, telling Dazed Digital that her first song ‘iT’ was about ‘wanting to have a dick in order to have an easier life’, and explaining to TIME magazine that, ‘My songs exist already with the beats and the bass lines, [but] because I’m going into the studio with a sound guy, everything changes for people—they assume the guy did the production… The real fight will be when girls will be able to do what Kanye West does. Kanye West is never questioned as an artist and is working with, like, 10 producers at the same time.’
The album is definitely worth buying, not just for lead single ‘Tilted’ which you’re bound to have heard on radio recently. I also love her live version of ‘Pump Up The Jam’, the classic Technotronic tune. Check it out.
One of the great things about not having a TV is that you don’t get sucked into brain-drain channel surfing and so the only reality show I have ever been fanatical about is RuPaul’s Drag Race. I first discovered it in 2013, reviewed it here, then recommended it to everyone I thought would appreciate it, creating a few new fans in the process.
Drag is an art form, a unique expression of a personal creative vision, and the show has given me a look into a world I knew nothing about before. I am often blown away by the queens’ charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent (for an explanation of this phrase and a general resource for newbies, this is a comprehensive guide).
The Lipsynch For Your Life is the great leveller of Drag Race, the last chance to prove the queen deserves to stay in the competition. Stellar performances have come out of left-field to save the day, and seasoned queens have unexpectedly been sent home.
Having watched all eight seasons of Drag Race more than once, my favourite lipsynch is from season four: Dida Ritz doing ‘This Will Be’ by Natalie Cole. Cole is on the panel and her reaction sums up what the viewer is feeling. Dida lives the joy and energy of the song, and she’s so on point it’s jaw-dropping. As legendary queen Latrice Royale says, ‘that is what a lipsynch for your life is…that is high-drag at its finest.’
After a sixteen year break, Australian band The Avalanches are back with Wildflower. You’ll remember them from their first album Since I Left You, which saturated the airwaves in 2000 and was notable for consisting of almost 3,500 vinyl samples.
‘Frankie Sinatra’ is the first single from Wildflower which will be released in early July. It’s a pleasingly shambolic affair, with boom-parp circus horns in the chorus and guest vocals from Danny Brown and MF Doom. The album has received early rave reviews and although I’m not totally crackers about this single I’ll be interested to hear the rest of it.
There are some songs that transcend genres, decades, and fashions, and end up being an inspiration for the ages. ‘Under Pressure’ is, as the staff in Whelan’s will tell you, one of my favourite songs to end a DJ set, and one of my favourite songs of all time.
Two geniuses on one track is rare. Freddie Mercury ranks among the superlative singers in any genre of the last century, and Bowie’s style and influence is inimitable; together they created magic. ‘Under Pressure’ is twenty-five years old this year but has the true hallmark of a classic: it sounds just as contemporary as the day it was recorded.
And the lyrics are pretty powerful:
‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
This version has been doing the social-media rounds recently, I suppose due to Bowie’s death and a renewed interest in every detail of his career. It’s the vocal track from the song, just Mercury and Bowie, no other instruments, no autotune, no bullshit, just two gifted singers at the top of their game. Do yourself a favour and check it out. It sends shivers up my spine.