Damon Albarn can write a song about a baby elephant if he wants to. There, I said it: Weirdly it’s a controversial opinion round these parts. We’re talking –of course- about ‘Mr Tembo,’ the lightest moment on Albarn’s Mercury-nominated “debut solo album” (two of those three words are debatable, but we’ll come to that later) Everyday Robots, dubbed by one DiS boarder as “that appalling elephant song”, and “the worst, most cringe-worthily embarrassing song ever recorded by anyone ever.” It seems a bit unfair- it’s not even the most cringe-worthily embarrassing thing Damon Albarn has recorded (Blur’s version of ‘Oliver’s Army’ is so bad Alex James, of all people, actually refused to play on it. And he wrote that Wigwam song.) This is a man that spent a decade pretending to be four cartoon characters (and then he formed Gorrilaz. AM I RIGHT GUYS…guys? Is this thing on?) and whose best song is about a handkerchief: on the Albarn-scale of ridiculous ‘Mr Tembo’ barely scratches the surface. And you know what? It’s completely charming, a moment of genuine lightness on a record that spends a lot of its time in a fairly dark place, dwelling on past regrets while simultaneously mourning a Britain/life/man that is receding into the distant past, replaced by world of mobile phones, second-hand contact and apparent soulessness.
At its heart it’s an examination of the receding of nature of both community and hairlines; a record only a man in his 40s can make, about detachment and despair. So if he wants to write a song about a baby elephant struggling to get up a hill in order to lighten the mood let’s bloody well let him.
It’s Wednesday the 11th September 2013. The Mercury Music Prize nominations have just been announced – Bowie and the Arctic Monkeys are the early favourites, and there’s surprise and bafflement that guitar music, particularly that of Jake Bugg, features so prominently – but William Doyle is not paying attention. Instead, he’s hard at work planning the campaign for debut album Total Strife Forever, and storyboarding the video for lead single, ‘Looking For Someone’. “The wheels were just starting to get into motion,” he tells me. “It was quite exciting really, that period.”
The video, in which he ascends and descends London’s Heron Tower, the camera tightly framing his face, and the song itself, encapsulate everything that makes TSF such an arresting listen. Deeply personal, the music sounds like it’s come into being through its own sheer will, forcing itself to the front of Doyle’s consciousness, and lays bare a man wrestling with the disappointment and heartache that life routinely throws at us. “Looking for someone / I don’t know who they are” he laments, before optimistically adding “Hope they aren’t very far”. Even the album cover itself, a stark, rough portrait of Doyle staring forlornly to the viewers right, leaves you in no doubt as to the turmoil that provided inspiration.
But where other artists slip into maudlin sentimentality, there’s a defiance about Doyle’s writing, and an assuredness about his fuzzed-out techno and crisp electronica. On ‘Dripping Down Your Soul’, earnest pleas burst into multi-coloured euphoria while the album’s centrepiece, ‘Heaven How Long’, is a glorious, choral number that as majestic as it is uplifting. Now, four years after starting work on what would become one of 2014’s most acclaimed albums, and one year on from “not giving a shit to be honest” about the announcement from Covent Garden’s Hospital Club, he stands as one of the 12 nominees, on the cusp of wider recognition. With a new album recorded and big plans for 2015, it looks like he’ll be leaving at least some of that strife behind.
Over the past 5 years or so I’ve been putting together concentration-friendly playlists featuring Max Richter, Jon Hopkins, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, School of Seven Bells, Nico Muhly, Eluvium, Efterklang, Fka Twigs, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, M83, and a host of other wordless/instrumental or gentle or lightly uplifting tracks. All of this ambient/drone/electronic/post-rock music is compiled in a way that is aimed to help me (and you) focus, but they’re also quite good for putting on when you want to drift off on a train, plane or when insomnia gets the better of you.
They’re called Music for Office Workers (yes, that’s a gentle nod toward Eno’s incredible Music for Airports) and they now have a Tumblr blog so you can easily find all 7 of them in one place. If you’ve appreciated any of them, please pass the blog link on.
It’s quite easy for people to sit back and look at Adele or Emeli Sande or Beyonce or Miley Cyrus who are all massive pop divas making shitloads of money - and making statements in their own way - and not see a problem. Or for the industry to slap themselves on the back and go; “Look how many great women have been nominated for Brit Awards!”. But the Brits aren’t real music, it’s just the entertainment industry. You might as well just tell me to look at how many great singers there are on the X-Factor. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m interested in women who are coming up at a grass roots level and may yet make an impact. The kind of mid-rump of the industry. It’s important that women coming through at that level are supported, because that’s where it’s difficult, that’s where the hard work gets done. When you look at the explosion of really exciting female artists and bands in the ’90s or even in the early ’00s there was still money to put behind them and give them a leg up. But A&R men are so cynical now, they won’t take a punt on anything a little outlandish. An older artist perhaps? I mean they’re not going to take a second fucking look at someone who’s 45 are they?
Been thinking a lot about how music discovery has evolved and pondering about how I got into some of my favourite acts when I was younger versus now. It’s “interesting” (read: sort of frustrating) how I still use some of the same tried and tested methods of exploring, except they’re just a little more sophisticated online.
For all the millions poured into music discovery technology, I haven’t really evolved, it would seem, partly because I’ve always been a big fan of compilations. Be it cassettes mounted on the cover of magazines, CDR compilations from friends, movie soundtracks or label samplers, I like that curated browsing experience, which is why I’m a big fan of playlists and browsing a labels’ catalogue on Soundcloud. I mean, is browsing the Hyperdub, Kompakt and Erased Tapes soundcloud pages that much different to buying one of those Punk-o-Rama compilations? Is a Pitchfork year-end playlist on Spotify or YouTube that different to an NME cover CD?
However, I’ve also been thinking about how some of my favourite acts I wasn’t totally enamoured with at first, and people said, ‘oh, but…’ and explained why they loved something, and why, from what I already like, I’d love it too (Bright Eyes being a prime example… I just couldn’t hear beyond that cartoon-y voice, that I’ve grown to love). Thinking back to the first time I heard The National, even, I remember being a bit “meh…” and moved along with my day - thankfully I came to my senses eventually. With Weezer I remember loving ‘Buddy Holly’ on Mtv2, and then being so confused by Pinkerton’s production that it excited me.
I definitely have a lot of music in my life that I was first exposed to when I wasn’t looking for music. Movie soundtracks are great for that, and I remember there was a definite moment when the Trainspotting soundtrack was one of the few things I owned, and how much I listened to it, and how that got my young teenage mind excited about music. Similarly, in recent years, Clint Mansell’s soundtrack to Moon and Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ soundtrack to The Road have sent me on a voyage to discover far more “modern classical”.
I’m struggling to think of many acts (apart from maybe Muse, tho whether I’d class them as a “favourite” is increasingly challenging) that are still in my almost daily life that I “discovered” in their embryonic stages or even when their first album came out (Deftones were two albums in, Tom Waits was about 10, Antlers two or three…), which got me thinking, why does the media dedicate so much time to brand new music or am I alone or far too set in my ways?
Look forward to hearing how you discovered some of your favourite acts “then”, and now. Respond on the Drowned in Sound forum, Facebook, or @drownedinsound on Twitter, or here on Tumblr. If the first few replies are anything to go by, keep an eye out for some useful tips from our community and some destinations to bookmark.
DiS: A lot of people have been touched so personally and emotionally by your music. How does that make you feel?
Perfume Genius: If I let myself think about it, it’s very moving and it’s cheesy but it is the most important part of everything I’m doing. I think people connect with music because they simply need to. That’s why I’m very serious when I listen to music or watch movies, it’s what I want - to really be deeply moved or to really relate to something. I think I try to make music that would have that same quality. A lot of the time when I’m writing, I’ll write things that would - if I had heard them now or earlier in my life - would be a comfort to me or would sound like someone saying what I’m thinking that I’m maybe ashamed of or scared of and just hearing someone else say it. It’s a very moving thing. It’s weird to talk about because I feel like actresses when they’re always [puts both hands on cheeks and gushing] going like that, y’know? [laughs] I’ve had a lot of times where I’m just like, hugging people and we say ‘I love you’ to each other - like, I’m saying this to people I’ve just met. I’m also overly emotional, so sometimes I’m not as good at responding as I wish I would be just because it’s almost too much. In person I’m better but if something overwhelms me, I have a tendency of just closing off.
I was in a band called mclusky. It was a pretty good band. We were together for a few years and made three records, the second two of which were proper records that we were, in turn, properly proud of. The second, ‘mclusky do dallas’, was our best known record. Germans liked it (and that is no comment on Germans - they mostly(↓2) hated the third record and developed this hatred into a huge indifference for Future of the Left, my/our next band) because it basically Motorheaded the Pixies. The French didn’t like it (and that is no comment on the French - they mostly(↓3) liked the third record and developed this into what seems to be a genuine passion for Future of the Left) for what seemed to be the exact same reasons. The Dutch didn’t notice (see (↓2) and (↓3)). Australians fucking loved it. They called us cunts, but that was okay, because cunts turned out to be great(↓4). Americans stood still but said they enjoyed it and interacted with us on stage the best, probably because our accents seemed a bit fruity to them and made us appear 18 per cent funnier than we actually were (which was quite funny). We went all over the (gig-going) world, apart from Japan. We didn’t sell that many records but then again didn’t expect to. It is my sincerest belief, however, that if we’d been an American rock band with the attendant coverage from the music weeklies who, at the time, still bore some relevance(↓5), then we’d have sold four or five times fuck all and played some bigger shows but then again, really, who gives a fuck? Me. This guy. I give a fuck, only not quite as much as I used to.
About thirty seven per cent less, by recent estimates.
It wasn’t the happiest band in the world. Which one is? Counting Crows? We were poor. Poor-poor. Like with a lot of bands at that cursed nearly-perhaps-level, it was fine but it was no money, living off hope and experience and eating a lot of bread sandwiches (↓6). Following the classical model we toured too much to hold down jobs and earned too little to do anything else. One band member ‘accidentally’ stole some money he didn’t think the others knew about like a low-budget pre-Libertine without a set of step-ladders but other than that there was nothing particularly dramatic to help hasten the end, just a gradual erosion of feeling over a number of years coupled with the slow, silent sadness of something inevitably dying. I spent the last US tour that we undertook with our original drummer (who I won’t name, for fear of making him happy(↓7)) wandering between the two cliques which had developed in our touring party, one a tortured, scatological bromance and the other more awkwardly heterosexual until the point where it was all I could do to sleep in the van or the corridor, alone in the band I had created. Hardly anybody was at the shows. So far so fucking Trent Reznor (↓8). Luckily, I then met Jack (Egglestone) who became our (and then Future of the Left’s) drummer, somebody who may be the sweetest man in rock (unless you have a particularly strong aversion to simulated trumpet noises or public belly-scratching) and things got significantly better. We did one more album and it was fun, even if the record in question didn’t sound it. READ ON…
They… were… ParaMORE! And they were undeniably amazing at Reading festival.
As a super-professional and yet still endearing arena band, as a giving-it-everything festival headline band, as a new-sort-of-pop band, as heroes of young girls (and young boys) (and older folks too), as a GreenDay for 2014, as Nirvana to Katy Perry’s Hanson…. this is as good as it gets.