Monthly Archives: May 2012

(How) Is Paul’s Boutique Psychedelic?

psy·che·del·ic (sīkədelik/)
adj.
Of, characterized by, or generating hallucinations, distortions of perception, altered states of awareness, and occasionally states resembling psychosis.
n.
A drug, such as LSD or mescaline, which produces such effects.

The term psychedelic is derived from the Ancient Greek words psuchē (ψυχή – psyche, “soul”) and dēlōsē (δήλωση – “manifest”), translating to “soul-manifesting”.

“any music that evokes, documents or intends to accompany psychedelic drug experience. and it could be anything that descends or borrows from any of the above. big tent.” Contenderizer, posting on ILX.

Bizarrely it was Danny from Embrace, who doesn’t have a reputation for being psychedelic (though I have seen him in some altered states, to be fair), who first expressed the notion to me that Beastie Boys were psychedelic. Way back in the mists of 1997, when I first met him and interviewed Embrace for my old fanzine, I asked if they still intended their second album (the first one was still seven months from release at this point!) to be ‘psychedelic’, which they’d suggested in an interview with Melody Maker a few months before. “Yes” he and his brother Richard both said. I asked them to elaborate: “Beastie Boys psychedelic” said one; “Sly & The Family Stone mad” said the other.

I’m not sure I quite understood how either artist (the former of whom I was pretty well familiar with, the latter I was just getting to know) fitted in with Eight Miles High or Sgt Pepper, but I’d come to the conclusion that Orbital made the most psychedelic music I’d ever heard, so I was intrigued by the notion.

I should express at this juncture that I’ve never taken a hallucinogenic drug in my life; someone older and wiser than me who I was at university with suggested that I was already psychedelic enough, and didn’t need to; I trusted his judgement. A lecturer, in my first term or two, also suggested that I came across as the type of person who “took a lot of drugs”, even though I wasn’t (unless one counts Guinness as a drug). Throughout my life I’ve consistently been described as “weird” or “odd” or “strange”, most usually by people who I’ve considered to be far weirder, odder, or stranger than myself. (I harbour a strong suspicion that I’m actually pretty boring.)

Certainly there’s a lineage from the psychedelic soul of Sly & The Family Stone to Beastie Boys, and Paul’s Boutique is littered with samples of psychedelic music from Hendrix and (most notably) The Beatles, but when people describe Paul’s Boutique as being psychedelic the understanding I have is that it’s not just about sampling psychedelic music; it’s about the effect that Paul’s Boutique itself has when you listen to it.

There’s debate over what the first psychedelic song was in the mid-60s; Eight Miles High by The Byrds, Happenings Ten Years Time Ago by The Yardbirds, Rain (first backwards tapes) and Norwegian Wood (first sitar use) by The Beatles (with Tomorrow Never Knows being some kind of apotheosis, and the first-guitar-feedback opening of I Feel Fine being some kind of latent origin), with Hendrix, Traffic, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, and even Mellow Yellow by Donovan all furthering what people understood by the word.

Certainly there’s a direct lineage from the kind of San Franciscan hippy-psychedelia that emerged at that time to the “Daisy Age” “sampledelia” of De La Soul, which wasn’t a million miles away from what Beastie Boys were doing on Paul’s Boutique (even if it was a million miles away from License To Ill). By Check Your Head, of course, Beastie Boys are starting to flirt with the connection between consciousness-expanding drugs and Indian music and mysticism in a manner not dissimilar to George Harrison 25-odd years earlier, ideas which were fully embedded by Ill Communication tracks like Bodhisattva Vow and Shambala.

The kind of transcendence and interconnectivity espoused within certain strains of Buddhism and Hinduism – achieved through meditation, yoga, and sometimes imbibement of specific substances – seems pretty analogous to the acid experience; music that attempts to transport you or free your mind / soul / spirit. Add a civil rights slant and concern about freeing physical individuals rather than nebulous spiritual cncepts, and you get Sly & The Family Stone. Possibly.

Big areas of modern popular music (and I’m sure big swathes of pre-1950s music too) has always been concerned with expanding mental and spiritual horizons, obviously; from dance music (acid house, techno, a million splinters thereof), precursors to dance like Kosmische music (Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, CAN, Cluster, Harmonia, etc etc), to jazz (John Coltrane’s exploratory interstellar jazz; Miles Davis’ evocative, formless, transportative In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew), the “dreampop” of My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3 (plus proto-postrock relatives like Talk Talk, Bark Psychosis, and the synaesthetic sound-concrete experiments of Disco Inferno), the woozy, dope-derived soundscapes of dub; even Eno’s ambient music was (allegedly) conceived whilst he was in an altered, drug-induced state (lying in a hospital bed, full of painkillers, radio loud enough to perceive but not enough to listen to). The colourful textures and woozy soundscapes of Another Green World (hell, even the song titles) could very easily be taken as psychedelic. Lately the likes of Four Tet and Caribou have mashed together most of the above to create some new kind of psychedelic music. All of these things seem keen on stretching your brain and your soul out into new shapes whilst simultaneously soothing (either through beatific pastures or scorching noise). They’re all, also, obviously, my favourite things in music, and I appreciate them sans substances because, when music’s good enough, it does what drugs do but better, all on its own.

(Another favourite psychedelic tool? High-fidelity sound; woozy, unreal recorded music played back with truly immersive clarity and volume [hell, even plain old acoustic, there-in-the-room-with-you music] is some kind of weird magical voodoo trick that I’ll always be fascinated with.)

The crazy things is that Paul’s Boutique does pretty much all of the above things, from woozy organ licks to disorienting ping pong balls to the head-snapping stereophonic soundstage trickery that opens Hey Ladies, hallucinogenic juxtapositions of samples of recognisable tunes completely recontextualised, lyrics explicitly about “expanding the horizons / expanding the parameters”, dream-like segues and asides that make no linear sense but have some definite twisted logic to them, the absorbing, immersive density. It’s also, at heart, an attempt to evoke a specific place and time through sound (i.e. a lovesong to their estranged home of NYC, made from exile in LA). It’s about the most freewheeling, kaleidoscopic record I own; it may not be that abstract (although some of the lyrics certainly are; and thinking about it, so are many of the samples and the ways the two interact), and it may not sound like clichéd ‘psyche’ rock, but I think it’s more genuinely psychedelic in effect than most other records I’ve heard.

Plus, you know, the band photo in the sleeve is non-more-psychedelic…

Sunday’s listening

Went out for a bike ride pretty much first thing, and when I got home and showered I had some time to kill before Emma was up and ready to go shopping. So I listened to The Milk Of Human Kindness by Caribou while I typed up the Mass Observation Archive diary entry that I posted earlier today. It took pretty much exactly as long to type as the album lasted – about 40 minutes. This is, as everyone knows, the best approximate length for an album.

On the way to Sainsbury’s we listened to Japandroids in the car, at Emma’s request – we’re going to see them in just over a week. When we got back from shopping, while we unpacked and ate some lunch, I put on Koushik’s Out My Window, to vaguely continue the vibe of Caribou (and make the most of the sunshine).

After lunch we went to the allotment for a couple of hours. When we got back I put on Kaputt by Destroyer, which was followed by Wonky by Orbital.

And that’s it; my week’s listening is done.

Mass observation diary – 12.05.2012

Yesterday, rather than just make a note of all the music I listened to, I diarised everything, in order to help out some researchers. As I was diarising my listening already, it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to record everything else as well. And I love helping out researchers.

5:45am
Awoken by Cosmo the cat, who wanted to snuggle in by my elbow. Read The Guardian, Twitter, and ilXor, and checked blog stats on my iPhone. Tried to get back to sleep, without much success, because our bedroom faces the morning sun, which was bright even at this time in the morning.

6:30am
Got up and went to the loo. Went back to bed.

7:45am
Got up properly. Ate a slice of granary toast and drank a glass of orange juice. Listened to Endless Summer by Fennesz. Tweeted my music choice. Got Emma’s breakfast stuff ready, as she was going to work in the shoe shop today for her dad. Did yesterday’s washing-up.

Because Emma is working (every other Saturday or so, to help out her dad over the summer) I have alternate Saturdays pretty much entirely to myself, which is strange, because we’ve spent practically every Saturday together for the last ten years. It does mean that I can go on guilt-free bike rides without having to leave at 7am so I’m back before she’s awake, though.

8:10am
Sat down at the dining table with the laptop and typed up yesterday’s listening diary. Spoke with Em about my plans for the day; explained the diary research. Fought with Bob the cat half-heartedly because he’d rather I stroke him than type on the laptop.

9:00am
Went down to the yard and flipped my bike stem to make the handlebars a bit racier. I’ve been pondering a new stem for ages; it took Pete getting a new bike and being told that he could flip his stem over to make it more aggressive for me to realize that I didn’t need to spend any money, just undo some bolts and then do them back up again.

9:20am
Went for a bike ride, only my second in two weeks since damaging my knee again (the first was the night before, with Peter). It seems counter-intuitive to some people, but cycling is actually quite therapeutic for your knees if you used clipped-in pedals; the motion is entirely linear (it’s lateral movements and twists that cause my knee to give way) and with clipped-in pedals you’re not putting as much force through the knee on the downstroke. I took a few photos on the way and tweeted them, because it was a beautiful, sunny morning. I thought about the nature of psychedelic music whilst cycling up a sizable hill, and how Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys is psychedelic, and vaguely planned to write a blog post about it. Had Ill Communication lyrics in my head for whole ride in a bizarre internal medley. It’s amazing how your brain works to distract you from the hill you’re cycling up; I’m pretty sure I’m only concentrating on the road and my speed when I’m descending quickly. I cycled 21 miles altogether, on top of 32 the previous evening. Near the end I picked up my t-shirt from Rick’s house, which I’d left in his car after playing football last week.

11:00am
Stopped off to water the allotment on the way home.

11:25am
Got home, showered, got dressed, and went out to get lunch. It was the first day this year that I’ve put shorts on apart from to cycle or play football – normally I live in shorts, when I’m not at work, from about April to October. My mum rang, to ask what we’re doing on my birthday, which is next Tuesday. She offered to buy us a Chinese takeaway if we went down to see them after work.

12:00pm
Bought a slice of pizza and a brownie from my favourite delicatessen. Whilst out and about I met our old neighbours, who have moved because they had a baby. I also met Tony the sociology professor from work, and we discussed knee injuries – he damaged his whilst skiing. Met Rob from work and his wife and baby on the cathedral green, where I ate my lunch. Heard a man playing Spanish-style acoustic guitar on one side of the cathedral green, near Abode, possibly heard a trumpet on other the other side. The combination of the two reminded me of Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis. Bought a ginger beer in M&S. Browsed HMV for a few minutes, and heard Let Forever Be by The Chemical Brothers for the second time in two days, which felt like an odd coincidence as I’ve not heard it in probably years. I started to feel very tired after two bike rides sandwiched around not much sleep, so I walked home.

1:15pm
Got home, and lolled on the sofa listening to Truelove’s Gutter by Richard Hawley, which was excellent.

2pm
Went down to the yard to clean my bike, listening to the ‘I need this song on my iPhone’ playlist on my phone, via my Koss Portapro headphones. I took the wheels off, gave the gears and chain a damn good clean, and changed the tyres to my slick summer pair.

3:30pm
Finished cleaning my bike, came back inside, and jumped in the shower to wash the grease and dirt off my hands and feet because they were filthy.

3:40pm
Lolled on sofa whilst listening to Giant Steps by The Boo Radleys. Ate an apple; it was straight from the fridge, so I peeled it first. For the record, it was a Pink Lady, which I feel guilty about because of the air miles, but we had a voucher, and I love them.

4:20pm
Popped out to B&Q to buy gardening shears so we can cut the grass easily at the allotment tomorrow, and to get onions, ginger, poppadoms, and beer from Sainsbury’s.

5pm
Got home and started cooking a sweet potato and spinach curry, whilst listening to the last seven track of Giant Steps, which I’d paused before popping out.

5:30pm
Got to the end of Giant Steps, so I put on Ill Communication. Still cooking the curry, which wasn’t to a recipe, but off the top of my head. I’ve done this curry before, and just apply various curry-cooking principles I have picked up fro recipe books and websites to the set of ingredients I wanted to use.

6pm
Emma got home from the shoe shop. I was still cooking. We ate bits of poppadoms with lime pickle, mango chutney, and diced onion and coriander. I let the curry simmer gently whilst Emma phoned her mum.

7pm
The curry was finally ready to serve. Put the telebox on; Come Dine With Me was the only thing even vaguely worth watching. I drank a beer (an IPA) and Emma had a glass of white wine.

7:30pm
Finished dinner; Emma washed up and I put portions of leftover curry into Tupperware containers; five in all. Three went in the freezer, and two in the fridge for Monday.

7:45pm
I spotted on Twitter that Japandroids are playing in Bristol in a week and a bit. Told Emma, and she bought tickets.

8:15pm
Sat on the sofa, watching old episodes of Grand Designs (and then a new episode of Casualty) and typing up this diary, which I’d been keeping in the Notes app on my phone, and then transferred to Word on the laptop so I can flesh it out and make it into a full blog post. Drank a second beer.

9:30pm
Switched to Channel 5 to watch CSI:NY. Drank a glass of white wine. Exchanged tweets with various people. Noticed two Massive Attack songs (both from Mezzanine; Angel and then Risingson) on the CSI soundtrack.

10:40pm
Went upstairs, cleaned teeth, and went to bed.

Fascinating, n’est pas?

Legal disclaimer – I have to include this bit so that the researchers can use this diary.
“I donate my 12th May diary to the Mass Observation Archive. I consent to it being made publicly available as part of the Archive and assign my copyright in the diary to the Mass Observation Archive Trustees so that it can be reproduced in full or in part on websites, in publications and in broadcasts as approved by the Trustees.”

Friday’s listening

Not much music was listened to yesterday. Over breakfast and pre-work potterings I put on An Album By Korallreven, by Korallreven, a Swedish techno thing that I picked up earlier in the year. I’d got hold of files of it towards the end of last year and enjoyed it, and, feeling a little flush before we started the moving-house-process, I’d picked up a real copy. Three months later, I’m not sure why – it’s alright, especially the opening track, but the rest of it is a bit anonymous.

With a big house move on the horizon I’m mindful of the record collection becoming too large – I’m weeding bits that will never get listened to – because even though we’ll have more space (by quite some way) individual rooms will be smaller. Plus, we’ll be spending all available spare cash on paint, and new furniture like proper dining tables, and a proper spare bed, and it seems frivolous to have unlistened-to and unloved CDs on the shelves.

I worked in the large office in the morning, with half a dozen colleagues. Initially James was playing Radio 2 when I settled there after a couple of meetings first thing, and I protested, as usual. De La Soul’s 3 Is The Magic Number was a pleasant surprise, and there was a song by Japan. There was also some awful county thing, which made me want to close the garage door and leave the car engine running.

James suggested I should play songs off my iPhone for an hour before I headed off to work on the other campus at an event for the afternoon, so I did. Once again I just let the ‘Songs I need on mu iPhone’ playlist randomly meander. It gifted us with the following:

Caetano Veloso – Tropicalia

Jimi Hendrix – Little Wing

Grizzly Bear – Southern Point

Yo La Tengo – Beanbag Chair

Aphex Twin – Come To Daddy

The Byrds – Feel A Whole Lot Better

Outkast – Synthesizer

Acoustic Ladyland – The Room

Four Tet – Slow Jam

Blur – Battle

Supper Furry Animals – The Piccolo Snare

Delakota – The Rock

Spoon – I Turn My Camera On

Blur – Song 2

Super Furry Animas – Play It Cool

Sugababes – Overload

The Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun

REM – Electrolyte

I then heard a snatch of Let Forever Be by The Chemical Brothers in Charley’s office, presumably coming from 6music. I had a bit of cognitive dissonance recognizing it as The Chemical Brothers, despite knowing that it was and the prominence of Noel Gallagher’s vocals. Maybe it was having heard Setting Sun so soon before, or the strong visual memory of Gondry’s music video for it, but something in my head said it was Daft Punk. Strange.

And that was it – after work I went for a 32-mile bike ride, and then I made tea and watched Taken and part of 40-Year-Old Virgin while I waited for Emma to come home from a meal out with colleagues.

Thursday’s listening

I loaded the music I bought on Monday (MBV remasters and the new Richard Hawley album) onto my iPhone before going to work, vaguely anticipating that Charley, who I share an office with, might want to listen to the Richard Hawley album.

Sure enough, I’d barely got through the door when she asked if it was on my phone; prescient or what? So we put it on via the little speakers on the windowsill, and played it through twice, front-to-back.

There’s lots of really amazing guitar playing on the album; it’s definitely his most rocking record, and pretty sprawling and psychedelic and heavy – the 9 tracks last just over 50 minutes. There are a couple of lovely, quieter moments amongst the maelstrom, too, but some of his lead playing, riffing, and solos are scintillating. It’s really nice to hear a proper guitarist go for it, rather than play this plinky plinky post-Edge infantilism-with-some-echo that passes for lead playing with the likes of Coldplay.

Afterwards we reverted to type and put 6music on; I recall hearing the Richard Hawley single a couple of times, and Red Sails by David Bowie, but the only other track I recall was by Grimes, which prompted Charley to ask if Visions was on my iPhone too; it was, so we listened to that from start to finish. Afterwards it was nearly 4pm, so I stuck all the Beastie Boys tracks on my phone on shuffle for the last hour in the office.

We talked, tidied, and watched TV when I got home, so there was no more music yesterday.

#musicdiary2012

Wednesday’s listening

I listened to nothing this morning bar about two minutes of Loveless, chopped and screwed, to try and ascertain if the CDs were, indeed, mislabeled. At work I was in a different office to usual, and on my own for the morning. Sans headphones, which I hadn’t taken, I had no way to hear music other than through a laptops internal speaker. So I worked in musical silence.

Kitchens of Distinction – The Death of Cool
I had a doctor’s appointment at 2pm, so worked from home after that, which marked the first time I could properly put some music on today. I fired up the laptop and opened a web browser, and was greeted with Amazon open in the top tab, and a recommendation that I might want to buy Capsule, the best of Kitchens of Distinction. Rob had chosen Strange Free World at a recent record club meeting, and I must’ve looked them up at Amazon afterwards, hence the recommendation. Not having Capsule, I reached for The Death of Cool, which I could pretty much manage without leaving my chair. It was, as usual, terrific.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything

Afterwards it made logical sense to carry on with strafing guitars and songs about sex, and crack out the new My Bloody Valentine remasters, especially after all the fuss about mislabeled discs and weird glitches in What You Want.

I stuck Loveless on first, the disc labeled as CD1 but which I strongly suspect is actually CD2, the new master from original ½ inch analogue tape. But who knows which version it really is?!

I still haven’t A-B tested it with the original CD, but might do at the weekend (Em’s working on Saturday so I’ll have time for that kind of indulgent geekery), but, playing it pretty loud, I definitely got what Shields described as “more physical, like you’re conscious that some people did this”, I felt like I took on more detail, like there was more of a spread of sound than I’m used to. I certainly air-drummed along with Colm in a way that’s not my typical response to Loveless, which I think of as being a balm, a head-trip, rather than a seismic experience.

I’m not a massive Loveless ‘stan’, like some people I know. I don’t remember where or when I bought it. I guess I must’ve been about 16 or 17. I always liked Only Shallow and Soon most, and the segues between tracks. I probably would say I love it (as much as one loves records), but, if forced at gunpoint to pick a top ten, I doubt it would quite figure in there. I find the way a lot of people talk about it can often become cloying; Taylor Parkes gets close to nailing it here for The Quietus. He veers close to getting overly flowery, but brings it back with sense – “Constant glare tires the ear” – and perspective. Loveless is great, but it’s not infallible. If I’m not in the mood for it, it can seem like pure and pointless obfuscation. But if I’m not in the mood for it, I simply don’t play it. And when I am in the mood for it, and I play it, especially from now on, what a rush…

Sometimes I want to say that Isn’t Anything is better than Loveless. It’s certainly more dynamic, more varied, more physical, more rhythmic. The opening three tracks are amazing: the bass runs in Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside); the irresistible tumescence of Cupid Come’s denouement. Feed Me With Your Kiss might be the most relentless, powerful, physically noisy thing they ever did (more so than You Made Me Realise, even).

I think really that I just want to shed some of the shade that Loveless casts over Isn’t Anything. It’s not that Isn’t Anything is better (though it is very, very good indeed); it’s that Loveless maybe isn’t quite the godhead that some have exulted it as. Hold them together.

Cornelius – Point
After that I decided to listen to Point by Cornelius, which I mentioned last night as an example of music made at a cultural remove from the source inspirations. I can’t remember how the conversation got there. Point doesn’t ‘move’ me in an overtly emotional sense like some music I love, doesn’t establish new aesthetic worlds like Loveless might do if you’re in the mood, but it is an incredibly well-crafted and pleasurable listen.

#musicdiary2012

Devon Record Club listening last night #musicdiary2012

First up was Bodhisattva Vow by Beastie Boys, which we played in tribute to Adam Yauch. I’d brought along the Beastie’s anthology, and chose this track as it’s just MCA doing vocals on it, and it’s kind of the embodiment of the Tibetan-inflected sound and Buddhism-influenced lyrics that he brought to the band on Ill Communication (there are tiny hints on Check Your Head, too). Bodhisattva Vow has some of the maddest drum sounds I’ve ever heard; I assume they’re those massive Tibetan drums.

We’ve got into the habit of playing a tribute song at our meetings whenever a significant musician dies, but this affected me far more than previous choices in memory of Whitney Houston or Clarence Clemons.

Rob’s choices
Okkervil River – The John Allyn Smith Sails
The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America

I don’t think we own the Okkervil River album that this song is from. We’ve got Black Sheep Boy. It was alright.

The Hold Steady I like in concept but not in execution; their sound is pretty prototypically mid-00s, very thick and dense and compressed in the mix and master, which really bugs me and, I think, really plays against their strengths – I’d like them to sound ragged and edgy and dynamic and like a proper live bar band. I’d like them to sound like Cure For Pain by Morphine, actually.

Graham’s choices
The Wonderstuff – The Eight Legged Groove Machine

I’d never heard this all the way through before; I know (and love) the singles, though. Big discussion about “massive w@nk3rs” in rock and pop music, inspired by anecdotes about Miles Hunt.

Tom’s choice
The Bhundu Boys – Shabini

Really enjoyed this, even though it made me get angry at indie bands being satisfied to let their thick mate play bass guitar because they don’t understand how important it is and awesome it can be. Mention of Alex James, another massive w@nk3r but an excellent bassist.

My choices
Beastie Boys – Skills To Pay The Bills
Field Music – Plumb

If I get to play a stand-alone track (because my album is 45 minutes or less in length) I’ve resolved to play a b-side. I couldn’t have chosen anything but Skills To Pay The Bills, really.

Field Music I chose because I know Tom wanted to hear it, it’s my favourite record of 2012 thus far, and, being short, it meant I could play a track, too.