Black (Midi) Country, New Road

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i like my vocalists to sound like they’re standing on a windowsill yelling at a police negotiator

bestfullyy – YouTube

So do I.

Also, I like it when they shout things like this about Instagram:

I move through the tanned bikini bodies of the girls I knew from secondary school who exist now to me only as ornaments mounted on the inner wall of my skull as I scroll, and disappear the moment I log off my i-phone.

A chaotic ensemble of music riding a torrent of upset amusing ideas that rise up and up on a relentless wave of anxiety punctured by gear shifts down exhilarating and uneasy alleyways.

I’m more than adequate

Leave Kanye out of it

Black Country, New Road are my new favourite band.  They’re like Black Midi but better somehow.  This is the new thing for me.  The logical extension of post-punk into a more discordant, less coherent sound.  A social media sound.  A sound like a social media feed where tragedy, joy and cuteness are a tender forefinger stroke across a glassy screen, a scroll though jazz, metal and funk with a scatterling of sort of related phrases and shrieks.

Why do we make a fetish of change?  Due to it suiting consumerism we have made everything else, all things, all beings, feel that they must adjust to the idea that it too must change.  Do we not die?  Are we not born?  Is not life still a confusing  and slippery fish?  Change human.  Change God.  Change mollusc.  Ancient ecology of the swamp: how can you be on trend for the apocalypse?

The music that Black Midi and Black Country, New Road make is not pleasurable really.  Obviously everything is meaningless, everything is obviously meaningless, and absurd, and that can be helluva funny (lol), but also angry, confused, upset.  Sad?  Not really.

Sad makes sense.

So the music is all the things at once without being sad.

You may have noticed that the author is writing a post that reflects the music and life he is talking about.  You may notice how he talks in the third person.  This is both clever and a tactic; a way to deal with things that are simply absurd.  Like how advertising and social media tell you about desire and life, but life and desire seem to be dying on the vine.

How you suddenly want to read Juvenal and Old Testament prophets (the unpopular ones) again.

Or how you feel like Cassandra.

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I like metal.  It’s so anti.  Most music is very positive; very “my emotions fit into society and will be accepted”.  Boring.  And: why fit into society?

Not all metal.  80% is dull: musically or lyrically (or both).  But the best is boss.  When I need to understand what the universe is really like I go to the band Sumac, the album What One Becomes, the song Image of Control, and I listen to that.  That is what the universe is.  On one level at least.  A discordant battery.  And how much do I love that the first track on their next album is over 20 minutes long?  Answer: I love it a lot.  It’s music.  It’s as long or short as it is.

In alternative reality one I am the bass player in Fela Kuti’s band in the 70s.  In alternative reality two I am the drummer in something like Whores.  How much do I respect John Bonham for crossing James Brown riffs into Led Zepplin? More that I can articulate here.  It’s the precise crossover that Rage Against the Machine understood.  Funk into metal.

Sumac have time though.  20 minutes is a long time.  In 20 minutes we can muster a lumbering beat and ringing chords.

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I went to therapy Monday.  I remembered that part of me wants to “burn it all down”.  Let’s hit the wrong chord.  Let’s dance on the off beat.  Let’s pull the pillars down on our shorn heads.

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Bibliography

She’s A Mod / Mod Rap

New releases in New Zealand, 30 July 1989

She’s A Mod / Mod Rap – Double J and Twice the T with Ray Columbus 

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I tried to like Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Someone lent my mother the double LP of Phantom of the Opera.  I didn’t get it.  What was it?  Andrew Lloyd Webber is the reason I grew up thinking that I didn’t like musicals.  I would say: “I hate musicals.  Except Rocky Horror.”  Later I would say:  “I hate musicals.  Except Rocky Horror.  And Singing in the Rain.”  Once I realised that Disney movies were musicals I realised that musicals were actually kind of cool.  Like Crazy Ex Girlfriend is cool.  So now I can say – without hesitation – that musicals are fine, but Andrew Lloyd Webber is not my cup of tea.

I raise Webber before you because of Double J and Twice the T.

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I was trying to think of music I hated from 1989 to go alongside this post, but then I realised  – after remembering Phantom of the Opera and Piano by Candlelight (with Carl Doy) – that I actually liked Mod Rap when it came out.  Probably because I had never heard She’s a Mod before and it’s catchy and features a super weird dance by Ray in pencil thin suit.  The happy-unhappy marriage of Ray with Double J and Twice the T works completely because they are doing the same thing: impersonating a hot new trend.  Ray was doing a Beatles impression, and Double J and Twice the T were doing a Fat Boys impression.

The video for Mod Rap is pretty cool really – except for the ending where all the white people stand in a semi-circle and dance – and features baked beans, tomato sauce, see how it runs salt, and Weet Bix in a shot that you feel couldn’t exist now because you’d have to secure the rights for all those products to be placed.  Also, props for the simplest special effect ever: “what if we film you being dragged across your nan’s furniture by your feet?”  Charisma is the secret sauce that makes this video work.

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I had a friend who knew how to play Memories on the piano.  I think it was the only thing he knew how to play.  Every time we went somewhere with a piano he would sit down and pretend he was just fooling around trying to recall a song by ear.  It was charming because it was so transparent.  I remember sitting in the faded frumpy lounge of the THC Waitomo prodding at a cup of tea and scone while he tapped out the familiar notes.  My friend and I rolled our eyes.

There must have been a point in time when I listened to the Cats soundtrack.  My mother had a copy of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  I think I read some of them.  I liked the song Memories.  Like I enjoyed Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.  For some reason Cathy convinced me to go and see Evita.  It was a movie it took me 30 seconds to dislike.  I think it starts in a bar with Antonio Banderas and he turns to the camera and starts singing and I remember groaning – audibly I think – and simultaneously realising: (i) it was a musical, and (ii) of course it was. In other words: that I was an idiot.

Madonna was indeed perfectly “cast” but given my dislike of Evita I’m not sure if that is a compliment.

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I have a friend now whose initials are J.G. and she has a child with the same initials.  This leads to me always mentally referring to them as Double J and Twice the G.  When I made this reference out loud once there was silence; the kind where an imaginary dog barks in the distance.  Perhaps Mod Rap had made less of an impression on my peers than it had made on me I concluded.

The beat box breakdown in Mod Rap probably impressed me, although it now sounds quite a lot like someone hyperventilating.  Rap was very much more clunkier in that era.  Obvious lyrics landing heavily at the end of each line on the rhyme and very brash, harsh beats.  I liked some of it.  Run DMC and LL Cool J.  For some reason I had a tape that had LL Cool J’s Can’t Live Without My Radio on it that I loved.

I have spent many hours in the shower beat boxing over the decades which is even more hilarious now as a 46 bald white guy with glasses.  I think I could still be tempted into joining what would be the lamest rap band ever as the beat box guy.

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While we lived in Japan there was a theatre in Osaka where you could go and see Cats.  They just did performances of Cats.  It was one of those things where they had broken a record for longest run of something or other.  I don’t know what the record was.  We never went.

It seems like being employed as a performer in that theatre would be like being in hell.

I feel like that theatre company eventually stopped doing Cats, and switched to, wait for it, The Lion King.  I can’t imagine the disappointment of the troupe; feeling the sweet taste of escape from stupid cat costumes only to told they would be performing in stupid cat costumes.

I wouldn’t mind one Andrew Lloyd Webber related thing though: to hear my friend’s shitty version of Memories again.

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New releases in New Zealand, 30 July 1989

  • Double J and Twice the T with Ray Columbus – She’s A Mod / Mod Rap
  • Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne – Close My Eyes Forever
  • The Cult – Edie (Ciao Baby)
  • Swing Out Sister – You On My Mind
  • Vanessa Williams – Dreamin’
  • Warrant – Down Boys

You Got It (The Right Stuff)

New Releases in New Zealand, 23 July 1989

You Got It (The Right Stuff), New Kids On The Block

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The first single off the album Hangin’ Tough was Please Don’t Go Girl and it has a super confusing video.  It begins with a woman leaving one of the band members.  As she gets into the cab to go the rest of the band shows up.  The 14 year old boy in the band – who looks young for his age – then takes over the vocal and leading man role and begins pining for the woman.  Two problems: (1) is she in a relationship with both members of the band? (2) the 14 year old is small and she is a grown-ass woman.  I guess that leads to problem three which would be the age of consent.  Anyway it’s weird.

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I think the worst thing you could do if you were a bloke in Kāpiti in 1989 would have been to openly like New Kids On The Block.  Aside from the fact that they were stupid there was this thing where they were trying to have a sort of tough image which was tragically misplaced and lame.  Watching them doing their bobbing up and down dance, pointing their fingers and saying “we’re rough!” was about as convincing as Miami Vice‘s depiction of crime in Florida.  The lyrics on the song Hangin’ Tough are… well, this kind of thing:

Everybody’s always talkin’ ’bout who’s on top
Don’t cross our path, cause you’re gonna get stomped

By who, Donnie?  By who?

Donnie Wahlberg takes the lead on this song and at one point in the video does a pelvic thrust that makes you feel a bit like you felt when your teacher farted in class and everyone just froze in a terrible awkward silence.

Maybe the worst thing about New Kids On The Block (outside their music – I couldn’t quite get through all of Hangin’ Tough; I guess I wasn’t tuff enuff) was that they sort of appropriated black culture but did it so whitely that they invented a whole new awful thing.  Vanilla Ice was about to take this new horrible thing to new heights later in 1989.

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Tiffgiff

So I googled “Tiffany now” and the internet showed me her Playboy spread which is something I didn’t know had happened, and it felt a little like someone took my secret crush of 1989 turned it into a glass menagerie unicorn and then stood on it.  The HuffPost had a helpful article about why she did this to herself.  I think it boiled down to publicity.

Tiffany’s fame was weird and her quick descent coincided with NKOTB’s rise.  New Kids were booked to open for her and then became the bigger act and she ended up opening for them.  *Awkward*  The internet tells me that she dated one of NKOTB but I can’t tell which one: all white guys look the same.

New Kids were on Full House (and – FunFact – Fuller House).  My older daughter became obsessed by Full House and has watched every season twice.  This means that I have vicariously watched every season too.  I watched when it was first out for a time, and then didn’t because  – well let’s just say, we grew apart.  Watching it as a 40 year old was nostalgic.  Comforting.  Sitcoms are like that I suppose.  They’re the equivalent of your favourite spot on the couch.  The show was pretty consistent to the end but it did get lame with its guest appearances, and Tanner family holiday plot lines that were thinly veiled tourism promotions.

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Something happens though.  You’re watching New Kids and Tiffany videos, checking out old Full House clips and you suddenly find that you just want to smash yourself in the face, throw the computer across the room and run screaming into the street.  It’s all so mediocre and thin and trite.  Is it called bubblegum pop because after an initial dose of sweetness it’s just a wad of flavourless  crap?

The Beatles were not hitting any great heights with I Saw Her Standing There, but Tiffany’s version strains even that song’s minimal soul out and leaves a plasticky husk of cellophane nothingness.  The ballads on Hangin’ Tough (some were top five hits) are straight from the paint by numbers playbook of canned tears ballads.  Also, thanks for wrecking leather jackets and ripped jeans for everyone, Donnie.

When people wax lyrical about the 80s they should keep this crap in mind too.  Greatest Hits of the 80s compilations are usually untroubled by any Tiffany or New Kids tracks.  The only nostalgia it is possible to muster is of the generic “I was young back then” kind which could also be applied to Piano By Candlelight CDs or Phantom of the Opera double LPs.

I tried really hard to fit in and like Phantom of the Opera.   I never made it though.  Which was liberating.  It meant I didn’t have to like Evita, or Cats, or even ironically like Jesus Christ Superstar.  That saved me a lot of time.  Time I of course wasted on other things like listening to Jarre records, but at least I didn’t have to take Michael Crawford seriously.  Fuck that.

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New Releases in New Zealand, 23 July 1989

  • New Kids On The Block – You Got It (The Right Stuff)
  • Colette – Ring My Bell
  • Sam Brown – Can I Get A Witness?
  • The Black Sorrows – Chained To The Wheel
  • The Doobie Brothers – The Doctor