Thursday, 12 December 2013

Eireeindiana's Top 5 Albums of 2013

In a blaze of complete critical yuletide indulgence, a debased spectacle of unadulterated personal taste, hence accordingly follows a shameless top 5 rundown of eireeindiana’s favourite album releases of 2013. In no particular order because of reasons pertaining to ‘who cares’. In all seriousness, 2013 has seen some strong releases, a lot of them from some familiar names staking out new territory and some fresh newcomers to complement. A major trend throughout the list seems to be that of evolution and renewal. Most, if not all of my choices seem to be influenced by those artists with a specific unfolding of artistic creative trajectory, those that take left turns when the next step seems obvious. What follows can perhaps more accurately be described as a scruffy love letter to those elusive moments in popular music where you open the box expecting to find one thing and end up with something else entirely. Perhaps you'll find something here you weren't looking for like I did.

Mark Kozelek and Jimmy Lavalle – Perils from the Sea

The foremost track of the record is titled ‘What Happened to my Brother’ but a more pressing question is exactly what happened to Mark Kozelek in 2013?? Aside from emerging from a relative period of dormancy for two years he followed up the palette cleansing Among the Leaves in 2012 with a patchy but quirky enough to be interesting covers record Like Rats, a collaboration with Desertshore that achieved minor infamy through its lyrical trolling of the guitarist’s guitarist Niles Kline and several live albums too exhaustive to list here. By any rights you’d expect such output to be beholden to the law of diminishing return but the joint effort with Jimmy Lavalle was much better than it really had any right to be.  Perhaps anxious that he might be in danger of stagnating through his decades spanning role as angst ridden troubadour, Perils from the Sea finds Kozelek jumping on some ascetically stripped back electronica beats courtesy of Lavalle and abandoning romantic yearnings that characterised Red House Painter and Sun Kil Moon records in favour of an austere lyrical realism more akin to the meandering and disenganged prose of David Foster Wallace. Grappling with the painful minutiae of his day to day existence, whether it be about the mental deteration of a relative as outlined in the aforementioned opening track, a frustrated retelling of Kozelek's hiring illegal migrant workers to fix up his house and it all very predictably going to shit, or even just a wandering narration on hanging out with his girlfriend that lapses into a breakdown of all his favourite hotels to stay in on tour. Perils from the Sea is not quite so much a welcome return to form for Kozelek but rather a remarkable overhaul of an entire modus operandi.

Factory Floor - Factory Floor

The trio of Gabriel Gurnsey, Dominic Butler and Nik Void, otherwise known as Factory Floor have been savagely metering out face melting performances of their unique industrial/hacienda/minimal/whatever brand of digital clusterfuck for a minute or two now (since 2005, according to Wikipedia), with recorded material so far being few and far between. It seems fundamentally necessary therefore that their eponymous debut would finally materialise under a heavyweight label such as James Murphy's DFA records. A criticism occasionally levelled at electronic live performances is a lack of visual presence, often presenting an uncanny point of departure between a visceral and totalising sound that feels desynchronised with the spectacle of what is often essentially reducible to ‘guy on his laptop’. Factory Floor seem to be totally analogue to that notion - the arrangement of bodies onstage is coordinated as if an attacking football formation - all three members ordered into a robust triangular configuration, concentrating forward energies in a seemingly indefatigable and relentless assault on the neural engine. The resulting record Factory Floor does little to shy away from the attack and sustain mechanism of live performance, as it builds and produces intensity over all of 10 tracks with little let up. Though bearing many of the hallmark traces, to confine Factory Floor to being a dance act seems crude, as evidenced by electronic noise pioneers Chris & Cosey of Throbbing Gristle eagerly showcasing them a few years ago in a series of ICA shows and collaborations. Factory Floor finds the group as eager to exert their transgressive punk credentials as much as their overtures towards the hedonism of rave and acid house.

Kanye West - Yeezus

On the subject of transgressive music, it was pretty fucking peculiar that 2013’s most transgressive record would come not only from the quarter of rap but also perhaps the biggest marquee name in the rap world right now. But this is Kanye West we are talking about right now, an extravagant public personality that I really want to believe is some Andy Kaufman-esque meta joke that keeps surpassing itself right when you think the punchline is about to be delivered. Yeezus is a remarkable exercise not really seen elsewhere in hip hop, an uncomfortably close confrontation of pure masochism and narcissism. The aural claustrophobia permeating through much of the record feels like a monolithic zeitgeist of current sonic trends - enveloping industrial, minimal, juke and punk like some kind of pulsating mutant parasite arbitrarily ingesting mp3 blogs, attaching the viscous remains to itself as crude new limbs as it swells in terrible mass. Kanye’s delivery is as unrelenting as the soundtrack, using an excessive economy of misogynistic rap tropes alongside afro-centric social anxiety (will never be able look at a civil rights sign in the same way again) to the extent that Yeezus begins to more closely resemble the through sexual excess of a Bataille novel rather than any other of his hip hop contemporaries. It was pretty telling to see Jay-Z, the other self-appointed ascendant to the rap game throne, clamour in 2013 to appropriate big names in the contemporary arts world and coming off more insecurely as a vain Roman Abramovich big money collector than actual innovator for his Magna Carta effort. Yeezus didn’t need a bigger name other than Kanye himself (and it really did sell itself, reaching number 1 like, everywhere), and here we found Kanye’s ego in plentiful supply. Not so much laid bare as in tedious rock star confessional but gushing forth like a nefarious and pestilent stream of tainted acid water.

These New Puritans - Field of Reeds

Much of the narrative of noughties indie music seems to one of regression, void ambitions and active withdrawal from public relevancy. These New Puritans, were fermented in these conditions and are indeed of them to an extent, beginning as a fairly typical rock band of the period drawing upon a prehistory of post-punk. They weren’t bad at it; probably the best of the crop in fact, but they weren’t breaking radical new ground either. They had already begun shedding their juvenile skins by sophomore release Hidden in 2010, a concept album about the knights Templar and numerology or something like that with orchestras and tectonic dancehall beats that sounded sort of like MIA when she was still OK. For all the world it sounds unlistenable on paper - and frankly a little fucking nuts, but it really did work! Honest! This year’s follow up Field of Reeds made even further excursions into undiscovered countries, this time around based around a meditation on walking the length of the Thames river from the mouth to city. If the concept is more lucid this time around, the musical arrangement provides greater degrees of nuanced complexity, departing from the relatively more conservative song structures of previous records for an amorphous multi-instrumental wanderings punctuated by the occasional electronic shifts that externalise the psycho-geographical intensity of the subject matter. Field of Reeds is seems to find its greatest success in its relation to the rest of These New Puritans career trajectory, introducing more expressive and mosaic elements to the body of work whilst remaining sonically true to what has already been disclosed. Also more importantly, I totally swear that arch toss rag NME published a blog post earlier this year along the lines ‘Have These New Puritans Completely Disappeared up their Own Arse?’ (seemingly and perhaps tellingly all blog posts not published by Lucy Jones seem to have completely disappeared themselves so I cannot verify this), which makes the whole thing so much more credible and brilliant and would probably put an extra notch on the review score if I actually did that sort of thing.

Braids – Flourish/Perish

Flourish/Perish is one of those records that makes so much more sense when considered in relation to its live counterpart. When I saw Braids earlier this year at End of the Road festival earlier this year, due to late arrival, could only manage a half an hour set - but that was all that was apparently necessary for them to get underneath my skin. Icy rhythms borrowed from minimal soundscapes weave in and out of perception, fluctuating outwards before enclosing back on itself to create a neat kind of intimacy, like all that exists right now is you and this sound. Seeing them earlier this month at XOYO I can safely concur that not since Liars have I seen a group make a performance feel so fluid and adept, producing an undertow of sound that lapses through to an audience universally engrossed in this snug shell of aural space – a location that’s sometimes eerie, sometimes beautiful, but always totally sensory and engaging. Frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston deserves special mention as the pivot upon which the rest of the outfit rotates. Her personality asserts an unusual kind of incandescent charm, consummated in alluring vocal flourishes that conjure forth a haunting presence from within the ornately arranged electronic textures. As a companion to the live perforances, Flourish/Perish is overwhelmingly successful in translating this uniquely rigid intensity throughout its 10 something tracks, perhaps waning momentarily in the median parts before mobilizing itself towards a convincingly strong finish that adroitly showcases the seductive tensions that Braids bring so well to the live stage.

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Depravity of the Delicacy: uncovering Hannibal's language of carnivorous culturalism

As a curious post-millennial phenomena, a new arms race of sorts, television channels seem to have become saturated with a coordinated stream of new transatlantic dramas beholden to rich production values, ‘intelligent’ writing and increasingly bigger marquee names to star in central roles. Storylines arch over entire seasons, some 13 episodes or so, compared to the brevity of episodic pre-Sopranos fare which would perhaps devote a two episode finale at best to satisfy trainspotters within the audience. Characters often are presented as being ‘complex’, with arguably the plot device of a disintegrating moral compass being used in increasing excess. See Walter White as good dad gone mad in Breaking Bad, Omar’s Robin Hood turn in The Wire, Frank Underwood channeling Richard III in House of Cards and so forth.  Sadly, the mould through which these archetypes were set this past week was lost this week when James Gandolfini aka Tony Soprano, passed away. I think Soprano is still the most provocative, nuanced and engaging embodiment of this alluring alpha male archetype thus far. In any case, any emerging show that lays claim to being a part of this new class of televisual social realism has at least one as its linchpin. Whilst Hollywood increasingly disappears into the libertarian wet dream of the superhero, TV is off searching the weathered terrains of moral ambiguity, to varying degrees of success.

In the present, I feel an increasing amount of conversations with friends and family seem to revolve more around discussing such transatlantic dramas. I suppose it’s a very accessible common denominator, and realistically, a lot of these shows are quite watchable, if occasionally derivative. The easiest going relationship I've ever had with a hairdresser revolves around geeking out over our viewing habits, excited when we both like the same ones, swapping tips for newies, etc. On my most recent visit after a discussion on the nuances of The Walking Dead finale, she laid down her most recent new televisual exploits, one of which was NBC’s brand new Hannibal series.

As earnestly described to me, Hannibal revolves around the adventures of a pre-incarceration Hannibal Lector, as he routinely perhaps his own unique act of psychology savant/eating people’s faces off/enjoying a dash of opera. On paper I wasn't so sure. After Silence of the Lambs, the Hannibal Lector character increasingly retreated into a camp approximation of the former's earlier menace. If the eponymous film by Ridley Scott would turn Hopkin's Lector into a globe trobbing, punchline dealing cliche of an antishero, I shuddered to think what the format of episodic television drama could do to such a character. I envisaged a Dexter type affair - a bit grisly but light-hearted enough to allow the cast to develop into to a gang of trope laden adventure hounds. Suffice to say I didn't plan on viewing Hannibal until I managed to catch a broadcast late at night. Turns out I was a bit wrong. Hannibal is one the most quietly subversive texts to emerge this side of the ever mounting cascade of new transatlantic TV drama.

From the jump, the quality of the cast is surprising. Hannibal himself is played by Mads Mikkelson, better known for an agreeable turn as bond villain in Casino Royale, and further well acclaimed appearances in Danish cinema. Mikkelson’s icy and opaque presence is ideal for the role of savant killer. A lot of the psychoanalytic platitudes revolve around the somewhat cliched notion of masks being and their useage throughout daily life. Even if this trope rubs off as a little reductive, Mikkelson is a graceful enough player to allow Lector to lift his veil, affording the character with an even more austere and chilling charisma than Hopkins could ever bear to cloak. The greatly underused Lawrence Fishburne makes a welcome appearance as a paternal yet authoritative FBI chief Jack Crawford, competing with Hannibal to provide tutelage to the gifted and unusual talents of Will Grant (Hugh Dancy).

The psychology angle is not really the most compelling dimension of Hannibal, as is perhaps too dependent upon the practises more obvious public tropes such as the afore-mentioned masquerade cliché that is laid on a little thick at times. This does not exactly make for an exact representation of the ethics and nuance that forms the basis of contemporary therapeutic practice. More often than not it is merely a device for Lector to duplicitously manipulate other characters towards his own sociopathic ends, of which seem to be simultaneously abundant, enigmatic and outright malcontent. If anything the relationship with psychotherapy is far more cynical, recalling the scathing condemnations of Deleuze of Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, whereby the doctor-patient relationship is more based on enabling, encouraging and misdirecting the neuroses of the patient as opposed to a realistically nurturing intervention. Series creator Brian Fuller offers us a pretty nice summary of the character and Mikkelson’s own unique contribution to its reification:

What I love about Mads's approach to the character is that, in our first meeting, he was adamant that he didn't want to do Hopkins or Cox. He talked about the character not so much as 'Hannibal Lecter the cannibal psychiatrist', but as Satan – this fallen angel who's enamoured with mankind and had an affinity for who we are as people, but was definitely not among us – he was other.

It his outward daily appearance, Lector flatters himself as the apotheosis of brilliant psychiatrist balanced with the refinement of a well-bred gentlemen, given the finer things in cultural life. When the viewer is momentarily afforded a glimpse into Hannibal’s simulation of social life, it is  in the public engagement of some well appointed indulgence of sophisticated cultural activity. Aside from being one of popular cultures most infamous serial killers, a deeper inspection of a pre-incarceration lifestyle allows us to confirm Lector as perhaps its most redeemed bourgeoisie fictional aesthete. Hannibal loves to cook for his colleagues and friends, constantly is on hand to lightly drop obscure knowing references as if a walking wikipedia - and he adores a good piece of classical music. But whenever Hannibal is presenting his odecadent banquets, there is always another level of consumption stirring in the gut. The main dish at Hannibal’s exquisitely ornate dinner parties is more often than not the shorn flesh of a recently butchered victim, something he clearly takes delight at as he delivers a knowing pun about the procurement of the chow whilst his guests lavish him with praise. The middle class dinner party, ultimate symbol of civility and virtuous sophistication becomes supplanted with new insidious meaning.

As if the bare bones become illuminated for a split second, the depravity of the dinner party, a feast of civility and enlightened exchanges, reframed as barbaric excess, digestion of weaker beings, the ones who couldnt get away. Each new entrée obscures dimensions of removed suffering at the hands of parties unable to make it the table. Hannibal’s dinner parties are sick, but so is the gentility that devours the body and soul of creatures low enough on the scale to be considered expendable. Hannibal knows that the cost of his cultural elegance is a pound of flesh, be it figurative or literal, even if his guests haven't quite come to acknowledge this fact. A later episode features fellow a miscreant vying for Lector's attentions, a musician in the orchestra who fashions his violin strings out of the vocal chords of his victims, a monstrous act no doubt, but as several characters helpfully point out, the real string is quite often farmed from the guts of cat. Whatever makes your instrument ‘sing’ I suppose.

Hannibals allegorical transgressions are visualised within aesthetic language of affect. The often overbearing atmosphere deliberates like a character itself, furnishing proceedings with an intensive noir tonality that offers little in the way of relief to the audience. Enclosed within a unforgiving vignette that produces sensations of tunnel vision, tense synths and discombobulated instrumental stabs overdubbing a very raw muted colour scheme - most obbviously evoking the uncanny ambience of Twin Peaks, The X-files and more recently The Killing. Location seems to be critical here, with Hannibal taking place across several what could be termed ‘zones’. Hannibal’s office and treatment room is deceptively ornate and genteel as his exterior personality, baroque and exploding with cultural reference, yet ultimately as hollow and unforgiving as the Lector's undisclosed ego. The blood red red walls and furnishings scream at you, an abrasive affect serving as a loud register of the very real danger within the fallen angel’s lair. As the series unfolds it becomes ever apparent than more than one soul has met their maker in this troubled place. The scene is immaculately framed, almost to the point of obsession and revulsion, a disturbing tableau vivant that further underlines the ancient Lucifierian evil of Hannibal’s malevolence. Such notions would probably flatter the urbane sensibilities of such a creature, whom values the maintenance of an outward veneer of bourgeois excellence far greater than human life itself.

This is contrasted with the relative safe zone of the FBI headquarters. This interior space feels like an impenetrable bunker, all concrete, steel and reflective surfaces - a kind of tough neo-brutalism. This place is cold and sterile, nor is there any natural daylight to soften the atmospherics. It does however provide the viewer a haven of sorts, weird as that sounds. Lector’s as yet unknowing nemesis Jack Crawford rules the roost here, and though his methods fluctuate between overbearing sincerity and shortsighted dismissal, he’s essentially the binary towards the former’s duplicitous deceits. If Hannibal Lector posits an disavowal of society by enacting its barbarity to excess, Jack Crawford is the unwitting gatekeeper of a submerged territory not yet lucid to the threat that walks amongst it. More an advocate of tough love to achieve a greater moral good, Jack Crawford seems to function as a surrogate for a kind of necessary but essentially benevolent paternalism to counteract the destructive chaos that Hannibal gleefully seeks to interject. The cold modernism of the FBI headquarters may produce an alienating affect upon initial encounters, but comes to offer merciful relief to the baroque madness of Hannibal’s interior and exterior playgrounds.

As the first series draws to its bleak finish, Hannibal is by no means a perfect text. It is sometimes clumsy and prone to gratuitous pomp. Most central characters are beholden to some kind of narcissistic flaw, in varying degrees of severity, making it sometimes painful to sit through for the wrong reasons. Also the episodic demands of the 13 episode series format force some extraneous material to seep through, causing deviations that seem to be more to stall for time rather than progress the narrative. However in spite of this, Hannibal has emerged as a mischievous and quietly subversive abberation to emerge from a mode of production fast becoming saturated in the same televisual tropes that it sought to distinguish itself from in the first instance. Where The Wire beats viewers over the head with literal manifestations of urban realism, and Breaking Bad takes the crime drama perhaps a little too far into the realm of hyperreal, Hannibal subtly insinuates through a language of affective modulation, preferring the abstract and allegorical to formal representation of its demons. One senses that the next series will be more decisive is establishing Hannibal as a serious cultural contender, but until then…bon appétit.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Akira's Armonica: A futurist odyssey through London's Docklands.

Perhaps an experience more particular to London dwellers, taking a journey on the cursory DLR train come nightfall. An autonomous, unmanned beast that adroitly glides through the crash points of the all-powerful, all seeing financial district of the capital. No human operator to call its own, the DLR automaton transports its fleshy cargo across the hypnotic neon cityscape that imparts a luminous presence on the soul of spectators held within. The former docklands now reconstituted as a swell of cubic structures that ordinates a new architectural grid over a formerly archaic chaos is unlike any other domain of the city. This strange new non-place, a ghost town yet teeming with bodies and marked with the name of Canary Wharf, should not be mistaken for a reification of tomorrow’s mass utopia as promised by the modernist project. This icy clash of unrelenting construction is a future for only the select few.

As I submit myself to the spectacle of the city, blinded by the light unfolding from the multiple portholes, amplified by the intensity and volume of sources, I choose to defer the sonic rumblings of the DLR beast for the soundtrack of my integrated personal music device (an mp3 player by any other name). Darkstar’s News from Nowhere seems to be the perfect accompaniment for this Futurist odyssey. Released within the past month or so, the London based trio have touched upon an essence of the time we occupy, a time that is also the same as one that has yet come to pass. The circular rhythms and harmonies of The Beach Boys are filtered through an as undiscovered computer machine, fracturing the voice into the one that constantly leaves and returns to the source, as if breaking away from confines of binary code and into the space of the tangibly real, only to once again return. The graceful drift of standout track Armonica being a key manifestation. Electronic textures meet with more organic piano driven ones, whilst the voice is artificially shifted in and out of stages of coherency as if by some unknown digital other. A clash of idiosyncratic materials is not produced here but rather a unification of them, as if to echo the continual evolution of symbiosis between man and machine.

Darkstar manufacture a futurism that speaks of a science fiction tomorrow that is already occurring within the present. A great deal of News from Nowhere recalls the visions and sounds of the monumental Akira anime, to me at least. If some parts are not actually sampled from the soundtrack, then they are likely based in part upon them at the very least, borrowing the electronically mastered xylophone effect and quirky vocal abstractions scattered throughout. Canary Wharf is similarly not so far removed from the hyper urbanism of Akira’s Neo-Tokyo cityscape. Buildings seemingly stretch into the sun, overpowering the sky with light pollution and sheer scale. As a visual, Neo-Tokyo reduces the human body to a miniscule presence, overpowering every inhabitant with awe at its trance inducing neon tableau. Though designed for the express purpose of habitation, these spaces look so wildly uninhabitable…how could a body actually live in spaces so determinably inhuman? The DLR journey produces a sensation not so far removed (In an uncanny twist, Both Neo-Tokyo and Canary Wharf share an Olympic stadium as a visible monument and symbol) perhaps only missing some cyberpunk biker gangs and a few odd looking telepath kids.

News from Nowhere and Akira both produce a document of futurism that describes an infinitude of lives being lived out in technological isolation. Futurist in the way they elaborate on the sensual properties of the present by aesthetically embodying possible outcomes of the contemporary timeline.  In this version of the present, a hundred apparatuses close at hand, devices to master and control the imminent  atmosphere of your pod space, but no tools however to remove this sense of alienation and estrangement from the million other bodies executing their lives in a fashion not too dissimilar. If one needed to find proof within that statement, the linear journey the DLR coerces the body through is an ample explication of the emerging dystopia. Darkstar and Akira merely provide visual and aural companions to the sights this burgeoning future has to offer. A spectacle to behold, a thousand rooms gaze at you from a thousand buildings, yet you’ll be hard pressed to really (and I mean really) find a place you’d want to actually ideally exist in throughout the entire thing.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

In Another Way: Some of the stranger cultural reverberations effected by the release of a new My Bloody Valentine record

Just over two weeks ago My Bloody Valentine would release M B V, the much awaited follow up to Loveless, some 20 years in the making. The actual content of the music has by now been discussed and dissected ad nauseum, and though a suitably sensual yet caustic follow up to what has gone before, I feel something else has also been produced outside of the record in the process of its inception towards the public, something also worthy of consideration. From fan to critic, M B V seems to constitute a moment of cultural significance, at least within a certain domain, producing reactions as intriguing as the exotic sounds of the record itself. Opinion and conjecture seems to swarm to and from this M B V, fluctuations and reverberations discharged into a digital public sphere that mirrors the very spectrum of sounds that are endlessly deferred by the unlocatable, enshrouded core of My Bloody Valentine’s infamously obtuse sonic space.

You’ve probably already heard this one. A week almost turned into an eternity for many, as Kevin Shields announced onstage that a new My Bloody Valentine record was immanent in a much paraphrased ‘two to three’ days’. In classic Shields fashion that record did not appear in two to three days, leaving a somewhat testy and anxious fan base that took to social media channels to voice their disapproval at a dude not delivering on time, as if this work of art was a courier package gone mysteriously awry and they needed someone at a call centre to throw some complain words at. Shields talents for procrastination are widely documented, so it becomes bemusing that now of all points to find some of his audience tearing the seats out of the auditorium, demanding their aural pound of flesh. My Bloody Valentine has largely been a patient and considered project, see the amount of time it took to produce Loveless, how long it took them to reform and further still the announcement between the M B V album in question (itself largely composed of unfinished material post-Loveless) and its materialisation. Part of the allure of the My Bloody Valentine project is the sincere and painstaking attention to detail, even at the cost of any sort of prolificacy.

This delay has apparently caused a section of the audience to feel like indignant and aggrieved customers, waving receipts in hand as evidence of some material exchange that was due to take place yet did not. My Bloody Valentine, like many other artists before and present, is not a shop. If you’re unhappy with the service then you can’t really go to the customer service desk and ask to see the manager. Undoubtedly, the artist needs to eat, so you should be willing to financially support their work. But the purchase of a few CDs does not entitle a pre-industrial patron/patronage exchange system between artist and audience either, whereby Kevin Shields is on a retainer to consistently produce work, and within the parameters of a certain time frame. It’s great that you brought the Isn’t Anything re-master and a ticket to the reunion show, but what that doesn’t mean My Bloody Valentine are now contractually obliged to deliver a record within the stated 2 – 3 days, lest you take to twitter and vomit an indignancy of 140 characters into the great cultural echo chamber. If the whole thing is that much of a hindrance to people then I suppose the best option is to exercise the most eminent of capital rights and just not buy? Perhaps I have read this all wrong, that all there is here is a few overzealous fans who have waited some 20 years for a record from their favourite band. It just a trend that concerns me whereby fandom feels they can henceforth dictate and/or dismiss the terms of the artists output, as if any other capitalist based material transaction.

The eventual release late on a Saturday night, direct from the recently redesigned-as-storefront My Bloody Valentine official website, saw the whole thing temporarily crash and break down, such was the demand for M B V. Instead of physical copies making their way to record stores in the usual conveyor belt fashion, complete with publicity campaign in full swing, Shields chose to circumvent this for the contentious direct to digital consumer base method. MP3’s were initially offered for download with physical CD and vinyl copies being posted at a later date. The record shop (chain, independent or otherwise) was forgone here in favour of a direct transaction between band and fan. This novel means of commandeering the economic transaction between artist and audience is not particularly new (see Radiohead’s In Rainbows, and more generally the Bandcamp website), but in My Bloody Valentine’s case, was certainly effective. The anxious nashing of teeth but a few days before was metered by people gracious to receive finally receive the work. The more paranoid amongst us might suspect Shield’s infamous ‘two or three days’ was a deliberate ploy to stir up consumer fervour, though I’d personally hope to believe it was more likely due to the methodical ‘when it’s ready’ work ethic he has employed throughout his career, a more consistent feature of his character than his productivity.

Within less than 24 hours, established indie music sites, such as the NME and The Quietus were not only covering the release but posting track-by-track analysis as if unfolding news event. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with the music press supplementing the excitement of the audience, many of them probably being avid My Bloody Valentine fans themselves. The problem is, when the record is already easily available for the audience to listen to, are they going to really want to read someone else’s on the spot immediate determination of it, when they can go and listen to a copy for themselves? I know which option I went for. This must have been a vague source of irritation for the gatekeeping tendencies of the music journalist. Normally the record review is out either before or at the very least the actual day of release, offering a chance for proper critical appraisal before public dissemination.

In the case of M B V, the music press seemed to be one step behind the audience in a bizaaro reversal of role. With the eager public already loaded up on the intricacies of M B V, the actual review becomes somewhat after the fact. The release held a tangible quality of cultural harmony, as no advances were sent out, and the release was presumably straight from Shields to the My Bloody Valentine website (to here knows when?). Everyone got it at exactly the same time. And as actual reviews would start appearing some 48 hours later, it was hard not to be somewhat suspicious as to the critical sincerity of these pieces. God knows Loveless was not a instantly accessible record, its rewards lying in deliberate appreciation of its various components over repeated listens. M B V seems little different from what I have so far digested, composed of the same sonic textures that submerge the inner qualities to be later unlocked in repeated listens. Under these conditions, I find it doubtful that a critical review produced in such immediate amount of time could actually deliver a properly precise opinion, and not some hasty glance over the material in order to keep up with the hyperspeed of internet based cultural consumption. The fragility of the music industry release structure becomes briefly illuminated. What is revealed is not so much an audience looking upon high for a venerated approval of cultural property, but rather an anxious critical base seeking to assert its own authority over a consumer increasingly outrunning the old guard as they travel great distances both vertical and horizontal across cyberspace.

It would be naïve to suggest this situation is either new or the case universally going forward. A great narrative of the 21st century thus far is the challenge of new media to old. How new systems are both circumventing and supplanting the latter to produce new pathways (the dubious neo-liberal properties of this process are perhaps a discussion for another time, though it could equally argued the political terrain in question is still there for the taking). It should not be forgotten that M B V is a record released by an established band under with a huge demand wagered by the temporal distance in between previous releases. Though it has been an unmitigated success by My Bloody Valentine, new bands would not find it so easy to employ similar tactics. Bandcamp exists as a similar self-release model for such acts, though the attention and profit attracted is not nearly so substantiated. The success of M B V in attaining both attention and profit would suggest that the self-release model is perhaps a useful one for consideration as the music industry gradually shifts away from the mechanized industrial one. The biggest obstacle at the present time for such acts yet to blossom is waiting for the damned infrastructure to catch up.

In spite of this criticism, M B V seems significant as an event within contemporary popular music. Outside of the record itself, an arrangement of various actors become drawn towards it as if it were a black hole like vacuum and not a grouping of songs. From the audience claiming their material demands before release, to the critical establishment being undermined by the very act of distribution, we see how an autonomous object with no sentient life to call its own, can still have the power to organise and affect beyond its own intrinsic properties. This is perhaps the most interesting and fundamental thing to have been unconsciously effected by M B V, the overt indication of upheaval underway within the hegemony of the record distribution and consumption structure.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Iceage's punk catharsis

No genre above all else can produce the same simultaneous embodiment of agony and ecstasy quite like an out of nowhere punk record can. Think The Pistol's 'Pretty Vacant', The Ramones 'I Wanna be Sedated' or Black Flag's 'Six Pack', all songs that antagonize and celebrate their crutches rather than wallowing in them.  Copenhagen punks Iceage appropriately titled 'Ecstasy' reverberates along a similar tangent, an aggressive encapsulation of the catharsis that ensues from such tender embrace of one's own suffering.

Torn between a driving disco beat submerged between layers of scum distortion and a more traditional angular hardcore breakdown occurring during parts in between, 'Ecstasy' is one of the most aesthetically intriguing things to emerge during the foremost month of 2013. The loose dance sections are haunted by a melancholy that leaks plaintive lyrics of anguish - "another rock upon my head/each night I lay awake in bed"", supported by the punctuation of deep bass notes that foster a sense of dread only matched by the sense of urgency engendered through raw punk delivery.

The debt to the similar sonic negation of Witch House/Drag contemporaries is both visible and aural. As supported by seedy and sweat filled rave scenes, this existential foreboding gets transferred to the site of communal gathering - the group release. Punk subculture is once again fetishisized heavily, and it looks great. Burning flowers, passionate making out, poorly timed dancing. Iceage clearly have an adept understanding of how punk can be used as expression of some terrible things, ugly things, but with such poetry that a nihilistic reversal occurs whereby the profane becomes profund. Iceage's chaotic disco of misery becomes your site of ecstatic catharsis.  Not quite the release of pressure the song begs for, more rather just writhing in the orgiastic agony of your quagmire.