Current Writing Music: The Deep Ark

The soundtrack to my writing at the moment is being absolutely dominated by this expertly curated, diligently mixed (and in some cases re-mixed), eight-hour session called The Deep Ark. It’s a selection of pastoral British electronica that absolutely hits the spot if you came of age in the English countryside in the 1990s. It features ?-Ziq, Autechre, Future Sound of London, Sabres of Paradise, an amazing Funkstörung remix of Björk, and some really tripped-out deconstructions of Saint Etienne. Oh, and of course a number of tracks from Aphex Twin (and his various aliases) and Brian Eno. The digital liner notes are exhaustive, and include a justification for each individual track along with a lot of history of the scene that produced these sounds. It is clearly an absolute labour of love for mysterious DJ The Arkitekt, who assembled the whole thing, commissioned photos, and even published a book about the mix with Broken Sleep Press.

New Pye Corner Audio

I’ve been so busy that I didn’t notice one of my favourite hauntological synth musicians released a new album. Pye Corner Audio’s fifth album, The Endless Echo has been out since 5th April.

As per usual, it’s a miasma of unheimlich cinematic analogue synths floating over a bed of satisfyingly crunchy beats. Absolutely the score for the subterranean Middle English hauntological dystopia film I yearn to make.

MiniDisc Rediscovery

I just dug out my venerable MiniDisc player out and hooked it up to my amp to play some tunes that I don’t have on MP3 or CD. I love MiniDiscs – they never went mainstream, so there’s something about them that just feels sci-fi, which probably explains why they appear in The Matrix and Strange Days.

One day I will own a LaserDisc player, which I will only be able to use to play Bladerunner, and it will be absolutely worth it.


Palmer asked me if I could help him with a documentary project he’s working on, so this Sunday we went to Sacramento to interview locally-based outsider musician Lenny G. Blat. Something about him reminds me of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.

Palmer’s started editing already, and a couple of clips are up on YouTube.

When the camera’s off Lenny is surprisingly warm, and unpredictable. He sings almost constantly, as if he has a musical variant of tourette’s syndrome.

80’s Flashback


For no particular reason, other than I’m in the mood and some of this stuff is classic, here are a bunch of songs (with videos) from early eighties Britain which prove the first seven years of my life weren’t all bad make-up, pixie boots and synthesizers (not that there’s anything wrong with a good Moog or an ARP).

1: The Clash – Rock the Casbah
To break everyone in nice and gently and to set the tone.

An Indian Summer

I was going to call this my Summer compilation, but I’m not sure how much summer is left in the UK, where I guess most listeners will be, so here’s the hypothesis: it’s early September, and an Indian Summer has arrived. A warm afternoon mellows into a balmy evening. This is what plays on your stereo as you enjoy a few drinks in the garden. Of course, these tunes work just as well for an ordinary summer day. It starts with some storming afro-beat, sashays into some latin grooves, takes an electronic turn and turns folksy at the end.

Click here to listen to my Indian summer compilation (61.5mb quicktime file). I’ll remove it after two weeks, just in case someone takes issue with me putting tunes here.

The link has been removed.


Victory for the Comic Muse album cover

There are few things that make me dance around the living room singing when I’m not already drunk, but I confess the arrival of a new Divine Comedy album is one of those things. I realise I’m a little behind, and that everyone back home is about three single releases ahead of me, but I’m surrounded by the uninitiated here in California. The album’s not even released in the USA, so last week I ordered it from a company based in Hong Kong.

So far it sounds like Neil Hannon’s most consistent piece since 1999’s Fin de Siècle but I’m only six songs in. It definitely starts strongly; I’m going to have to keep myself from singing "I don’t want to die a virgin!" in front of my staff at the cinema.

So far my favourite lyric is from Diva Lady

She’s got a famous boyfriend
They go out in style
She makes him look hetero
He helps her profile


Once in a while I discover a song which sounds like the inside of my head. The latest of these discoveries is from the Talking Heads 1979 album Fear of Music. Mind sounds much like a superior version of one of the tunes that my head creates but never expresses.

John Barleycorn Must Die!

Cover art for John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic

Today I picked up the appropriate soundtrack for the fast-approaching long weekend of drinking in the Catskill mountains with Courtney’s family. John Barleycorn Must Die is an ancient song which has a number of well-established interpretations. Most obviously, though, it’s a song about barley and the drinks one can make from it – beer and whisky.

Traffic’s 1970 version is highly regarded. I think it was in an issue of Mojo that I read Steve Winwood was reincarnated was Paul Weller without actually dying. The comparison is particularly relevant when you compare John Barleycorn… to Weller’s Wildwood. There’s a similar pastoral tinge, and Weller’s instrumentation is almost a direct lift – with bluesy piano, gutsy hammond organ and fluttering flute augmenting guitar, bass and drums.

Lyrics for John Barleycorn Must Die are the other side of the link below.


There’s an awful lot of pollen in Davis. The air is disgustingly fecund right now, and my hayfever is the worst it’s ever been. Clarityn, my antihistamine of choice, is unable to stem the flow of phlegm. I can actually feel the sting of the pollen as it blows into my engorged eyeballs.

Now I have health insurance I can go to the doctor and get a prescription for something stronger then Clarityn, but it’s not at all obvious which doctors participate in my health insurance scheme. If I go to one that’s not on the list I have to pay in full for my consultation. Whatever its faults, I’ll take the NHS any day.

I’ve been spending quite a few hours lying in my darkened bedroom with wet paper towels over my eyes, which has one advantage. This enforced rest has given me time to listen to some new music.

Cover of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Remastered) by Brian Eno and David Byrne

First, there’s the fairly recent re-release of a record I first heard in Israel in 1999, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by David Byrne and Brian Eno. In the process of making the record they experimented with new ways to make music from tape loops, trying to “[find] music where music wasn’t supposed to have been,” they invented what later became known as sampling. They took snippets of from late night talk show conversations, radio evangelist sermons and arabic pop records. To create the backing for their samples they drew on an astonishing range of music including, of most interest to me right now, the work of Miles Davis and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The album they made sounded like nothing else in 1980, and it sounds unique even now. This re-release features excellent liner notes written by David Byrne that give a fascinating insight into the work without explaining it away.

The first time I heard the hysterical evangelist railing against MTV on Mylo’s Destroy Rock & Roll I thought of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Contemporary electronic musicians are still drawing from the well sunk by Eno and Byrne.

Cover art for Fab Four Suture by Stereolab

Second, I picked up Stereolab’s latest full-length CD, Fab Four Suture. It’s a collection of EPs released in the last year that you can find in the kind of bleeding edge ultra-cool record shops that don’t exist in Davis. Stylistically it’s trademark Stereolab, but I have a great appetite for complex arrangements of vintage synths, muted trumpets and jangly guitars and songs sung in French about the principles of Mutualism. There are some wonderful grooves on it, too. Particularly in the middle of Get a Shot of the Refrigerator.

I’m still getting round to devoting the right amount of time to the Cinematic Orchestra’s first album, Motion, which I downloaded from and Belle and Sebastian’s latest, The Life Pursuit, on loan from Rev Rehash. There’s a song on it, Sukie in the Graveyard, that reminds me of Lloyd Cole & the Commotions. It’s in the vocal delivery, the hammond organ and the tone of the lyrics – so pretty much the whole song.

When I’m forced to rest my eyes I can still exercise my ears. Every cloud of powdery plant jizz has a silver lining.

Music from Norfolk and Belgium

Beth Orton - Comfort of Strangers album cover

I wasn’t a huge fan of Beth Orton’s previous album, Daybreaker, but I’m back in love with her thanks to the new one, Comfort of Strangers. Produced by Jim O’Rourke, who’s been working with Wilco recently, it’s pure Beth stripped of the lavish arrangements that characterised Daybreaker. Consequently her voice returns to the fore, complete with its endearing quirks and occasional flashes of Naarfolk accent. Folksy.

I also treated myself to a long-overdue Django Reinhardt album, 1949’s Djangology, recorded in Rome with Stephane Grappelli. I’ve been using a version of Django’s Minor Swing to time my editing of the Varsity Documentary opening sequence. I’m not going to be able to use it in the final film for copyright reasons, so I hope the musician who’s helping me out will be able to deliver something with a similar feel and exactly the same timing!

Django Reinhardt - Djangology album cover

I’ve been into Django since I was a little ‘un, thanks to Mum and David-Dad taking me to the Upton Jazz Festival every year. The event is always overburdened with mediocre old white beardy trad players, but there is always one stage dedicated to Hot Club style gypsy jazz, and that’s where we’d hang out. Over the years I’ve seen many, many excellent Djangologists, including Manouche gypsy Fapy Lafertin, but all of them had the use of all the fingers on their left hands (the tendons of Django’s pinkie and ring fingers were damaged in a caravan fire when he was eighteen). A couple of days ago I came across a video file of Django complete with a close-up on his two-fingered fretboard style. It was a pretty wonderful thing to behold.

Click here to see the movie, and click here to see where I got it from. The WFMU page also has a link to France Gall performing dirty old Serge Gainsbourg’s Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son. Cracking.

Accentuate the Positive

Big Chill soon! Many of the acts I want to see normally draw blanks with everyone, and not just Courtney. So, in preparation for the festivities, here’s my list of must-sees and reasons for seeing.

1) The Fatback Band
The only reason these rhythm and blues masters are on my radar is for their groovy tune “Bus Stop.” It’s not even mentioned on the Big Chill website, so I can only assume the tunes that are must be even better. They’ve done everything from r’n’b to soul to disco to hip-hop, and are guaranteed to be as polished as brand new bling. They’ve been sampled to death, too, so there’s a good chance we’ll all know bits of their set. My early favourite for most danceable grooves of the weekend.

2) Roisin Murphy
Also known as the voice of Moloko. She’s probably getting a lot more exposure back home than here, so apologies if everyone’s excited about seeing her. What’s even more exciting, for me at least, is that Matthew Herbert is producing her new stuff. The Matthew Herbert big band was my highlight of 2003’s Chill, and his Bodily Functions album is one of my favourite albums. She played Glasto, and the bit of her gig I saw online was great. As well as being pleasing to the ear, she’s easy on the eye. Mmm. Redheads.

3) Kate Rusby
Over the last couple of years I’ve started to really appreciate English folk music, and during that time I’ve consistently heard good things Kate Rusby, but somehow I’ve not heard any of her stuff. Everyone who tells me about her says how great she is live, and what a good voice she has. I hope she’s got a nice chill afternoon slot. Perferably just before the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. I’m really looking forward to hearing the recommendations justified.

4) A Certain Ratio
The punk-funk sound seems to be re-emerging with bands like !!!, and even Franz Ferdinand, but it was A Certain Ratio who first made it popular in the late seventies/early eighties. I heard their stuff on a reissue when visiting Courtney in Norwich in 2002, and it stuck in my head. Danceable and spiky, they should be worth watching. I just hope they’re not a washout like the under-rehearsed Durutti Column were last year.

5) Horace Andy
A legendary roots reggae singer, he’s best known to my generation for his work with Massive Attack. Can’t wait.

It’ll be interesting to see St. Etienne, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will be good fun once more, and Nouvelle Vague promise to be entertaining. Their version of Love Will Tear Us Apart is great. Even better, whilst surfing today in preparation to blog, I came across Yat Kha’s cover of the same song. Yat Kha are a group of Tuvan throat singers. Yes, throat singers. I almost went to see them in Canterbury, and now I wish I had.

Love Will Tear Us Apart – Albert Kuvezin & Yat-Kha

Go one, have a listen. We all need something to smile about today.

Oscillate Artfully

Wow, has so much time already passed since I promised to write more blog posts? Time flies when you’re having visitors. In fact, I’ve over a month’s worth of thought backlog to transcribe and edit into legible form.

About a month ago, James and I were merrily meandering down Haight Street when we came upon what is probably the best record shop in the world. The experience of walking into Amoeba records for the first time is roughly similar to going downstairs in Blackwells in Oxford. You see the lines of shelves running away and converging on the distant horizon and your mind somersaults to think that there’s so much good stuff out there. There can’t be enough hours in a human life to listen to all the CDs in Amoeba, but if the staff would have let me sleep there I’d have been tempted to try.

Cover of Stereolab's

I was good; I limited myself to one purchase – and what a purchase! I shelled out eighteen clams for a little cardboard box titled Oscillons from the Anti-Sun. Said box contains three CDs of tracks from Stereolab’s elusive EPs, a DVD of promo videos and live performances, and little CD sleeve sized stickers of their EP covers. All excellent, but most importantly it has the song Fluorescences, which I heard once in 1996 on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 1 graveyard slot and have wanted ever since. It’s just as good as I remember.

A lot of the early Stereolab stuff I haven’t heard before. Listening to Jenny Ondioline I realised that, odd as it may sound, there are aesthetic similarities between Stereolab and Wilco, especially when you compare the groop’s early stuff to material from Wilco’s latest, A Ghost is Born. There are moments where both bands will build up a tapestry of noise, a repetitive riff, a synthy drone and mechanical percussion, and then they’ll break through this with a pretty melody sung by a modest voice.

And what’s an oscillon? It’s a recent (1996) discovery in the field of physics. Here’s a video of an oscillon in action. Essentially they are surprisingly constant patterns formed by vibrating particles, of great significance to those who study chaos theory.

And who are Stereolab? They’re an oddly retro-futuristic band who often stuff a gamut of musical styles into three-part pop songs. Half of the band are from London, the other half from Paris, and I’m a sucker for their singer, Laetitia Sadier. Imagine Juliette Binoche playing a cooly detatched pop singer and you’re almost there.

Chilled Out

Grrrboooaaaaggghhhh! The Big Chill website is down. We’ve been waiting for it to be back up so we can buy our tickets for about a week. We’ve given up. I’m calling their phone booking line tomorrow morning. Whoop-de-whoop for days off.

Anybody know any more than me about this badness? I hope it doesn’t mean the website collapsed under the weight of demand for tickets, although I doubt that would be the case. It’s not as if it’s as manic as Glastonbury.

Don’t squeeze my udders, smack me up!

Sigur Rós sleepwalker image.I’ve been kind-of a fan for years, ever since I saw them in support of Radiohead in Oxford, but recently I’ve been getting more into Sigur Rós. Yes, yes, I know I’ve come to them fairly late, but I’ve not been buying quite as many CDs for the last couple of years and it’s not as if they get any airplay on US radio.

No, the reason I’m getting into them quite so much besides Jonsi’s voice, the bowed guitar, the lush arrangements and haunting melodies, is because they have a very sensible website. Rather against the norm, it’s extremely informative, doesn’t stream music at you unbidden and, best of all, offers a plethora of free high-quality mp3s for you to download. It’s enough to pique my interest, and it’s in keeping with the band’s ethos that they treat their fans as real human beings rather than cashcows.

I bought ágætis byrjun and thanks to the website I know how to pronounce it too. I expect I’ll be getting hold of () next. Being able to get hold of tunes for free has – shock – made me more likely to buy the band’s music. Big record companies are so not rock’n’roll. If they were they’d know the best business model is the heroin dealer’s: the first couple of fixes are free – after that you pay.

While I’m on the subject of music downloading, the restrictions programmed into files bought from iTunes, Napster, etc. make buying from them a real rip-off. Thankfully there are some sites that sell downloadable music without the DRM. One of them is run by Warp records and through it you can buy music from a cool (if small) selection of labels – including Ninja Tune. Oh yes. It’s called Bleep.

It’s not as good as having a CD with liner notes, but it is cheaper.

Finally, what could be more intriguing than a stone marimba made by a man in a hobbit hole? The story of a man who makes stone marimbas in hobbit holes badly translated from German, perhaps?