366 Songs 335: Lazy Line Painter Jane

In a strange way, this song reminds me of McAlmont & Butler’s “Yes” – It’s the jangly guitar and the fact that this song just builds, just grows into an epic that’s irresistible and so exuberant and filled with a particular joy. I love the way it becomes so repetitive, the organ becoming a spiral of riff until it falls into the final notes and everything ends. This is one of those songs that never fails to make me happy, and make me want to dance, as silly as that may sound. This is the sound of the best of Scotland in my head, in many ways; I was never a massive Belle & Sebastian fan, but I shall always, always love them for this.

Journalist as Human

Working between the crowd and the algorithm in the information ecosystem is where a journalist is able to have most effect, by serving as an investigator, a translator, a storyteller. Without leveraging the possibilities of either the crowd or the algorithm, some kinds of journalism become unsustainable, falling behind the real-time world of data and networks available to audiences through everything from the sensor on their waste bin to the trending list on their Twitter stream. The journalism layer within the ecosystem thus becomes about humanizing the data and not about the mechanizing process.

From here, which is just the introduction to a much larger report.

Putting this here as much as a reminder for me to dig through the whole thing as soon as possible as anything else. I feel like I’m nearing another of my “This is what I should be doing with my time!” brain dumps.

366 Songs 334: Yes

The song that returned the concept of the Wall of Sound to pop music in Britain in the mid-90s, McAlmont and Butler’s “Yes” was a glorious rejection of the jangly-guitar, Smiths and Beatles-obsessed aesthetic at the core of Britpop right as the country was at the peak of its Oasis adoration. Unlike the Gallagher Bros’ output, this is a wonderfully camp, layered song that updates “I Will Survive” for a generation that wished that Phil Spector had produced Gloria Gaynor’s classic.

Bernard Butler’s over-the-top production aesthetic, honed on Suede’s Dog Man Star, went into overdrive with this song; listen to how his traditionally dominant guitar gets lost amongst the strings and the drums, and David McAlmont’s luscious voice, milking the song for everything that it’s worth (The outro, with repeated “I feel well enough to tell ya/What you can/Do/With what you got”s is just epic, an exhausting, rapturous thing to listen to as it keeps building and building). It’s a breathless song that sounded out of time upon its first appearance, more ornate and intentional and grandiose than what we’d become used to, but all the more magical for that. Even seventeen years later, it still has a spectacular majesty to it.

The Ethics of Nostalgia

The way we represent history on screen and on blogs has very little to do with the way ‘it really was’, but with the way we want it, and need it, to be. A few months ago, a new television drama called Puberty Blues, set in a 1970s Australia, was shown on Australian television. It was extremely popular and very similar to the American Mad Men series in its exploration of the sexist culture of the past. For me, Puberty Blues had little to do with sentimentalising or aestheticising the past. Yet, like Mad Men, it was sold as a nostalgic trip into a ‘better’ and ‘simpler’ time, and was used as an avenue to regurgitate 1970s fashion and sell vintage wares to modern audiences. I don’t doubt there are many people who viewed the series as just that: an aesthetic nostalgia. But there were probably also viewers who saw it for what it was: an exploration of the cultural context of sexism that has little to do with buying vintage jeans from the 1970s, or reviving fondue parties.

It all depends on how you look at things. And I guess that’s the point that moves things beyond a purely postmodernist engagement with the past, into a metamodern one. Because as much as we may still love to superficially aestheticise history as a ‘style’ and a consumer ‘product’, we are also witnessing an engagement with nostalgia that is about ethics rather than simply style. Like postmodernism in the 1980s and 1990s, our current engagement with the past is consciously aware of what Fredric Jameson has termed its own “random cannibalization of all the styles of the past”, yet nevertheless seeks to say something beyond style in the process. [2] We will always return to the past, and perhaps less energy needs to be spent thinking about whether this is a ‘new’ phenomenon, and more on how we choose to see, represent and interpret the past as producers, consumers and viewers, moving towards a more balanced love of aesthetics coupled with an increasingly conscious understanding of history and the present.

From here.

I find myself thinking a lot about nostalgia from a pop culture point of view, and I have to shamefully admit that I’d never really considered it as an ethical (or unethical, really) exercise in flattening the past at all. This piece is food for thought that I’m going to be chewing over for awhile, I suspect.

366 Songs 333: I Don’t Know What’s Happened To The Kids Today

Based on the lyrics alone, I feel like I should hate Labi Siffre’s “I Don’t Know What’s Happened To The Kids Today.” It is, after all, the rantings of a confused and angry old man who doesn’t get the kids today – He even calls them “the kids today”! – and says things like “Didn’t have none of this crazy music/Didn’t have none of these crazy clothes/We didn’t have guys gettin’ high on the doorstep/We didn’t have none of those/No, no, no.” But this is a majestic song, a deconstruction of that attitude in which the music – initially, just Siffre’s repetitive, gentle-yet-insistent acoustic guitar – both softens and ultimately overwhelms the complaints and the bitterness. By the time you reach the strings, Siffre’s narrator has gone from a figure of contempt to a clearly sad, heartbroken man dealing with rejection from his family and unable to deal with it, and as he repeats “I don’t know what’s happened to the kids today” over and over, the music answers him with the sudden appearance of drums and bass, then strings, then horns, building to something that’s just beautiful; the promise of a new beginning that’s bolder than the hate and small-mindedness that’s come before. Like Super Furry Animals’ “No Sympathy,” a song that would come years later but which I’d hear first, this is something that provides its own meta-textual critique, a song that offers a hateful outlook and then emphasizes how small and petty it is without needing to use words at all.

I love this song.

He’s Been Here For Years

This week’s Time piece is something that still feels a little unfinished, as if I’m writing around the subject as opposed to about the subject, if that makes sense? I didn’t quite find the magic bullet that allowed me to put everything together properly in time before the deadline (I am mixing metaphors there, I know), and as a result, I’m somewhat frustrated with myself. Still, the nature of the Internet beast: This time tomorrow, no-one will remember it and I’ll already be at work on the next one…

It’s a piece about the seeming revival for Peanuts and Charlie Brown, and how it’s not exactly what it seems. At least I got to marryPeanuts and LL Cool J in the headline, and create this wonderful piece of Google dissonance:

Platforms Are Important

What the findings suggest, Holton said, is that the news platforms a person is using can play a bigger role in making them feel overwhelmed than the sheer number of news sources being consumed. So even if you read The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, and ESPN in a day, you may not feel as inundated with news if you read on your phone instead of on your desktop (with 40 tabs open, no doubt). The more contained, or even constrained, a platform feels, the more it can contribute to people feeling less overwhelmed, Holton said. A news app or mobile site, for instance, is an isolated experience that emphasizes reading with minimal links or other distractions. Compared with reading on the web at your computer, your options seem smaller.

“There was no connection between the number of news outlets people were using, so it made us think it was the device,” Holton told me. “You see less of a statistically significance between outlets and more between platforms.”

From here.


366 Songs 332: We Are The Pigs

Another song that has emotional sense memories that threaten to overwhelm the actual music, “We Are The Pigs” has two lives for me; the song itself, with Bond theme-esque spider guitar and horns (Not to mention one of my favorite instrumental breaks in pop music – Listen to the way that Bernard Butler manages to up the drama with the rising guitar line from 2:10 through 2:16, and then BAM, it’s as if the lead guitar gets gently brought down again by the acoustic and rhythm guitars working together; I love that) and Brett Anderson being ridiculously camp and threatening (“As the smack cracks at your window/You wake up with a gun in your mouth” indeed, Brett), and the place the song has in specific friendships and the life I had at the time Dog Man Star came out.

I can’t hear this song without remembering Andy Barnett’s flat as he’d listen to the album before we went out on Monday nights to dance our cares away and pretend that we were more glamorous and attractive than we really were at the time (Well, me, anyway; Andy was always pretty fucking glamorous and attractive; suave and elegant, even). My initiation into Suede, and Britpop as a whole, perhaps, happened on those nights and nights like them. It feels like a lifetime ago, these days.