Monday, 20 July 2020

Lovesong: God Only Knows: Brian Wilson:

A while back I was involved in an interesting discussion with a mate (Tim Patrick) regarding Brian Wilson. Tim recently reminded me of the conversation and pointed me towards the unadorned but beautiful version of 'God Only Knows' that that's hosted at the base of this post. So, Tim's question was: has Brian Wilson's mental state cut short his creativity?

It's that eccentricity that led him to the outlandish notions, melodies, arrangements that others could never conceive. It was Brian's brain, the one that created 'Surf's Up', that also put him in the sandpit. There's a childlike, manic naivety that marks many a creative 'genius'. Mozart anyone? Those ecstatic demons surely take fated talents to different places than the rest of us. Our demons have hiding places, or at least boxes that we create for their storage. Even if Brian could banish his demons they still continue to send postcards. Our angels and demons often wear the same shoes; shoes that make us dance or hobble us horribly; dependent upon... God only knows. Imagine the frustration of soaring, elevated, only to find yourself earthbound the next moment. It's a fascinating subject: The Muse. It inevitably takes as much as it gives; often breaks what it builds; reducing building blocks to... sand. And, from my experience, there are a limited number of bricks; only so much water in the well. 

Lucky for us that Wilson was able to capture his best juice as elixir rater than the diluted stuff that most of us muster. Interesting that genius is often associated with youth. Could it be that as we get older we learn how to control and suppress the demons/angels that previously caused havoc, but were an essential element of our creativity? Perhaps experience teaches us to rein in our creativity because the very randomness of the muse's visitations might render us unstable and vulnerable? Perhaps Wilson has disassociated himself from the challenges of creativity with the simple recognition, and acceptance, that he just wasn't made for these times. Maybe that explains the weeping middle aged men at his concerts: a gaggle of gurning geezers recognizing their under-achievements; all to the glorious soundtrack of the ultimate underachiever. So many questions that, for most of us, will remain unanswered. Brian knows there's an answer, one that's seemingly, frustratingly only just out of his reach. However, if the question is: "What could a 'sane' Brian Wilson have achieved?" there is only one answer...

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Lovesong: Sufjan Stevens: America

Sufjan Stevens makes brave and challenging music. 'America' is no exception. No easy listen: it's one for you to decipher yourself. For me it is not dissimilar in intent to Dylan’s recent ‘Murder Most Foul’. Another sprawling montage: another bold auteur in despair at America’s political and cultural decline. This is less specific, more notional than Dylan’s ribald diatribe. It is similarly ambitious and no less lofty. Clocking in at 12 minutes plus you might wonder at the wonder boy’s focus but, after a few listens, the penny drops. I reckon that, after the personal angst that informed his last album, 2017s ‘Carrie and Lowell’, he is now addressing his nation’s mass misery. That is too broad a subject to go into here. Suffice to say that, after the initial hushed hymnal reverence, the beauty and discord that informs the final third of this prolonged piece surely exemplifies the dissonance and distress that I know most of my American friends feel at the disintegration of their country. Their horror and embarrassment often renders them muted. You can’t speak for others, let alone a nation, but Sufjan does his best: “I’m ashamed to admit I no longer believe,” he confesses. “Don’t do to me what you did to America.”
Given the impressionistic vibe what are the abiding impressions? Image is everything but meaning is lost: ‘truth’ rendered spectral. The colour’s turned up but the sound is turned down: we risk becoming detached, disinterested, deafened: immune to the contradictions and deceit that currently colour the ‘everyday’. The message will remain unclear but the revolution will, most certainly, be televised.

In the spirit of the folk singer, Stevens once set out to release an album as a signifier for each State of his nation. He gave up after two ('Illinois' and 'Michigan'), daunted at the prospect. Ironic then that he has released a single to detail the state of his nation. It seems as much informed by uncertainty as certainty. Ain’t that a sign of the times? And the times they are a changing.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Lovesong: False Native: Satan Salad

A few years back, when Di and I were involved in the Arizona music scene, we encountered a willowy young man, Daniel Vildosola. Dan, a Tucson native, was living in London, looking for some kind of angle. When we were introduced one Soho summer evening, he held a charming, angelic girlfriend and a beautiful blue guitar. He was in town to play at the legendary, but now defunct 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street. His gig: to accompany fellow Tusconian Brian Lopez, who was hustling for a solo career. Dan’s semi-acoustic jazz chordings and smart musicality seemed slightly out of kilter with the sawdust setting into which he’d been thrust. His sweet, callow nature, courtly manners and cherubic features set him apart from the regular shuffle. Here was a fledgling talent in search of a loftier stage.

Fast forward to last week: I got a call from Daniel. He had been playing guitar in HÆLOS, a 4 piece band, but wondered if I’d take a listen to a new musical project that he was working on with his cousin Aris Schwabe. ‘False Native’ was their moniker, ‘Satan Salad’ the beguiling title of their first single. The press release warned that we’d be “transported to a bad dream brimming with all that is sinister in the human condition”. I looked at the accompanying photo to see that Daniel’s wide-eyed gaze had been finessed to a steely stare. Seemed that he’d found his attitude. I wondered if a Giant Sand/Calexico hybrid was inevitable. I was promised “Tom Waits caught in a Mexican standoff with Nick Cave deep in the Sonoran Desert” and considered hiding under the bed, but instead fronted up the speakers and pressed ‘play’. I expected darkness but got light. No gothic rumble, but a light acoustic shuffle, the sweet, ghostly shimmer of pedal steel, sound-tracks a half-spoken vocal detailing the “anti-conformist ways of a troubled man”. What could have been sardonic is rendered satirical by the oblique lyric’s smart, crooked smile. They are detailing a rocky road but their hands are firmly on the wheel. The deftness of touch initially belies the subject matter, but there is a controlled knowingness that renders that dark tale authentic and alluring. ‘False Native’ suggests displacement, but they surely inhabit their world. Their idiosyncratic narratives and nimble arrangements, married to a parochial sense of place, reminds me more of fellow southerner Jim White than the more worldly Waits or Cave.

I’m intrigued to hear how this musical landscape will be developed into the promised ‘Rodeo Nights’ album. I suspect a rough concept will dovetail more dark tales. I’m in though: this is a beguiling debut that offers more light than darkness. Skillfully sourced, beautifully produced and perfectly rendered, ‘Satan Salad’ is sure to whet the appetite: focussed and succinct: perhaps promising more than it delivers but, in doing so, leaving us wanting more. This salad the perfect entrée then.