Obsessions, Not Beats

So instead of fixed beats, we structure our newsroom around an ever-evolving collection of phenomena—the patterns, trends and seismic shifts that are shaping the world our readers live in. “Financial markets” is a beat, but “the financial crisis” is a phenomenon. “The environment” is a beat, but “climate change” is a phenomenon. “Energy” is a beat, but “the global surge of energy abundance” is a phenomenon. “China” is a beat, but “Chinese investment in Africa” is a phenomenon. We call these phenomena our “obsessions”.

That’s Gideon Lichfield, editor of an about-t0-launch business news site Quartz, writing about what’ll make the site different. I like it a lot as a model – The idea that writers don’t have particular “beats” or areas they have to follow, but will instead follow particular stories wherever. It strikes me as a smart reaction to the decentralization of media thanks to the Internet (Now people want to follow stories and ideas, not particular areas, as readers, I think, a lesson they’ve learned from reading bloggers go wherever they want), and I’m curious to see how it works out.

Sleeping In

You know it’s not going to be a good day when you wake up late, from weird (but not especially bad, per se) dreams in which you get lost in a foreign city without your glasses, but manage to find refuge from the rain in a workshop that backs onto multiple different locations all around the world (It was a specific type of location, but frustratingly, I can’t remember what type). There’s a lot to be done this week in general, and sleeping in and having odd dreams distract you afterwards isn’t what I need right now, thankyouverymuch, brain.

366 Songs 268: Bring The Light

The law of diminishing returns – Not to mention pop music logic – would suggest that the first single by Beady Eye (Essentially, Oasis except without Noel Gallagher, who left in a strop one night) would be terrible. After all, the band had been on a slow downward spiral for years, and Gallagher was always the musical heart of the band and the lead songwriter. How could anything from Beady Eye sound like anything more than an okay performance of shitty music?

To be fair, that’s a pretty apt description of everything off their first album with the exception of that first single, “Bring The Light.” Because, while it’s not pretty, “Bring The Light” is a song that I find myself weirdly adoring. Maybe it’s the unexpectedness – Here’s a song that’s driven by an unstoppable piano, female backing vocals and handclaps, three things that seem amazingly anti-Oasis. They’re definitely the hooks for what is otherwise a fairly ugly, misshapen song (Really, it just doesn’t work, structurally), but what hooks. They driving the song forward and pull you (me) along with it, even though part of you (me) is still thinking “Wait, is there actually a song here at all?”

Everytime I listen to this, I end up thinking that the backing vocalists and pianist should go off and form their own band, and be more interesting elsewhere. It’s a better fate.

366 Songs 267: Darklands

One of those occasions where a cover version is so amazingly superior to the original where it’s almost embarrassing, Primal Scream’s mellow, backwards-adoration version of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Darklands” is a triumph of performance and, far moreso, production over original source material. Almost everything that makes the dark, sleepy and just-a-little unsettling Scream take on the material so compelling despite its apathy is original to their version, and when you listen to the original afterwards – as I did; I didn’t even know there was a Jesus and Mary Chain song of this name at all until the Scream’s cover – it just sounds kind of weak and shy in comparison.

The Primal Scream version was from the Vanishing Point/XTRMNTR period where the band could do no wrong, and you can tell. It’s just a beautiful take on what is, let’s be honest, not an especially wonderful original. Do do do, do do do.

366 Songs 266: Black Nite Crash

Seeing as I was somewhat dismissive about Ride’s version of “How Does It Feel To Feel” yesterday, it seemed only fair to share what I remain convinced was their one shining moment of greatness: The loud, sloppy, grinding “Black Nite Crash,” released after the band had split and pretty much ignored by most of the world. It’s never going to win any awards for originality or poise, but there’s something enjoyably grimy about this song, the way it sounds as if everyone involved was pissing off as they recorded it and just put their heads down until it was done. For once in their entire career, even though they still sound out of it, at least this was out of it on the right drugs for rock and roll noise.

366 Songs 265: How Does It Feel To Feel

One of the classic ’60s garage songs, there’s something so magnificently sludgy about “How Does It Feel,” in either of its versions (There are two, the UK and US mixes; I’m not entirely sure how that happened, nor why the US mix is the more feedback-laden and psych-rocky of the two). Of the two, I by far prefer the UK version – the one above – which is more tuneful, for me at least; there’s a strange focus on monotone in the American version that I can’t quite get my head around, even though I love the feedback and distortion on the lead guitar.

Lyric-wise, this is a mess of a song, the kind of sloppy psychedelia that people make fun of, but to complain about the words feels like missing the point. As the title suggests, this is a song that you feel; it’s the entire thing that you have to experience in one, and then make decisions based on that – the sludge, the simple “Woah, man, like the world” of the lyrics, the thuggish harmonies. It’s a song that literally asks you to not separate it into component parts, but let the whole just wash over you.

(Worth remembering: 1990s shoegazing band Ride did a cover of this, and managed to make the whole thing sound depressingly bland:

It’s so close, and yet so far…)

366 Songs 264: Good Intentions Paving Company

The title took me some time to get, I shamefully admit.

Perhaps I was confused by the sprawling epicness of the song, which spirals all over the place both aurally and emotionally, which is one of the things I kind of love about it. When I first heard the song, I was put off by Joanna Newsom’s nasal vocals, which sounded to me like someone doing a weird, cruel impression of Joni Mitchell, but was compelled by the song nonetheless; even if I didn’t like the vocals, I liked everything else, I thought. And yet, the more I listened to the song – I found myself playing it over and over again – the more the vocals grew on me, and the more I realized that I just liked everything about it. This sounds like something very much out of time, and yet timeless, something that should’ve been released decades earlier when its shapechanging and sense of humor would’ve been more in tune with the times but influential and adored ever since. And then I kept on listening.

I’m Back On Top And I’m Missing You, Baby Baby Where’d You Go?

Just the other day, I was thinking to myself, I haven’t had a popular article on Time’s Entertainment Blog for awhile. Have I lost “it”? and then, today, I look and see this:

So, here’s the funny thing: The #1 story? That’s mine. The #10 story? That’s a story from a year ago that I linked to in my story that apparently resonated with people. Look at me, resurrecting traffic for long-forgotten material! I feel inordinately smug about that.

In any case, here’s this week’s Time story, about the Moonlighting Curse and why it’s a myth. And, because I was out of town last week when it went live, here’s last week’s story, too.