Thursday, May 23, 2024

retro and proud of it

 The Retro Critique refuted, by a Melody Maker reader, November 2 1996

Well, it's a point of view, and on its own terms, watertight. 

And as for us elitist-miserabilist-obscurists... I feel seen. 

Although I had stopped writing for MM by this point, it feels like this piece from several months earlier might have contributed to the Britpop-lover's backlash - in it I start to describe Tribal Gathering as a kind of anti-Britpop convergence, then correct myself: actually the Tribal Gathered are blissfully unconcerned with Oasis-at-Knebworth etc, and it's actually Britpop that is the anti-formation - anti faceless techno bollocks etc etc

Also letters like this might have goaded Joe Handy to the rescue of his fellow ladrock-lovers

Monday, May 13, 2024

Totally Frye-d (You Got To Slow Down)

The first chapter of the book, called “City of the End of Things,” describes “the alienation of progress,” one of the elements which constitute the modern mythology. Modern consciousness, in this reading, ends in despair because of its obsessive need to “keep up” with an impossibly fast stream of events. Its mythical analogue is the medieval legend of the Wild Hunt, “in which souls of the dead had to keep marching to nowhere all day and all night at top speed.” In modern times, the conception of alienation has become psychological, and its “central symbol” is “the overkill bomb".

...  It is also Frye's contention that modern technology has created a new sense of time. Technology involves “the continued sacrificing of a visible present to an invisible future”:

. . . progress is a social projection of the individual's sense of the passing of time. But the individual, as such, is not progressing to anything except his own death. Hence the collapse of belief in progress reinforces the sense of anxiety which is rooted in the consciousness of death. Alienation and anxiety become the same thing. . . .

- David Schiller, reviewing Northrop Frye's The Modern Century, for Commentary, 1968

All great but this next one is subliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Hinterlands of Memory


Here's an interesting book - a specifically Canadian perspective on hauntology, exploring the nexus of  nationality, landscape and memory in the 1970s. 

As you can imagine the National Film Board and Glenn Gould's radiodoc The Idea of North come up,  but most of what's discussed by Andrew Burke in Hinterland Remixed: Media, Memory, and the Canadian 1970s is new to me. 

Including this extraordinary experimental film by Michael Snow, La Région Centrale

Release rationale: 

Like the flute melody from Hinterland Who's Who, the 1970s haunt Canadian cultural memory. Though the decade often feels lost to history, Hinterland Remixed focuses on boldly innovative works as well as popular film, television, and music to show that Canada never fully left the 1970s behind.

Andrew Burke reveals how contemporary artists and filmmakers have revisited the era's cinematic and televisual residues to uncover what has been lost over the years. Investigating how the traces of an analogue past circulate in a digital age, Burke digs through the remnants of 1970s Canadiana and examines key audiovisual works from this overlooked decade, uncovering the period's aspirations, desires, fears, and anxieties. He then looks to contemporary projects that remix, remediate, and reanimate the period. Exploring an idiosyncratic selection of works - from Michael Snow's experimental landscape film La Région Centrale, to SCTV's satirical skewering of network television, to L'Atelier national du Manitoba's video lament for the Winnipeg Jets - this book asks key questions about nation, nostalgia, media, and memory.

A timely intervention, Hinterland Remixed demands we recognize the ways in which the unrealized cultural ambitions and unresolved anxieties of a previous decade continue to resonate in our current lives. 

Buy it here

Here's Andrew Burke discussing Hinterland Who's Who, the NFB film series about wildlife that inspired the title of his book.

"The first series was in 1963 — the Silent Spring, Rachel Carson era. The glimmerings of a modern environmental movement are relatively simultaneous to the development of the Hinterlands ... By the time you get to the 1970s, the decade is fraught with environmental anxieties and even deep fears of ecological catastrophe. There's a strange way in which the Hinterland shorts are in deep dialogue with those fears and anxieties that people had about pollution, the degradation of the environment, the loss of natural habitat and even the extinction of species. That comes out at least a little bit in the melancholic, elegiac tone that the Hinterland shorts have.... 

"Harnessing the power of television as a kind of educational medium for the nation... completely mesmerizing in their slow, deliberateness of the delivery of information about these animals... they were a bit unusual and unsettling, even though they had a positive political message behind them...  There was still a kind of menace behind them, an anxiety that we might not be able to do this. It might already be too late.... So it had this combination of educational programming with a hint of the atmosphere of '70s sci-fi."

Wow, I would have loved this series when I was 9, 10...  for a while there, my ambition was to be a naturalist and I was obsessed with Canada. It seemed like the ultimate expanse of unspoiled Nature, densely forested and full of cool critters (teeming in particular with my favorite mammal, the marten).  At the peak of my interest in wildlife, I bought a thick textbook-style guide to Canadian mammals, with lots of incredibly detailed hand-drawn illustrations. I found it at Dillons, the academic book store in London. But this was a step too far. I didn't derive much use or pleasure from this bulky tome (I can still picture the dour green covers). It was designed for serious zoologists, which - I realised suddenly - I wasn't ever going to be. Plus it had zero practical use, given that I was thousands of miles from the forests of British Columbia and not likely to be spotting flying squirrels  or fishers any time soon.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

the honest epigone

Further to this earlier post on Robyn Hitchcock and the wonderful tribute he wrote to Syd Barrett (albeit on an odd-numbered commemorative date, his 77th birthday).... perhaps there is a kind of honour - even an authenticity - in deciding that this is where you belong - your historical heartspot - and just setting up shop there in perpetuity. 

More about 1967: How I Got There and Why I Never Left here 

Press release:

 “1967 is the point when I and the world went through the change. It was all just blissful synchronicity as I grew nine inches in 15 months, just as Dylan was electrified and pop groups turned into rock bands. Arguably as much was lost as was gained, but at the same time, you had Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd and others producing music that couldn’t have even been described three years earlier. You had the Beatles wearing suits and ties producing inaudible shows with tiny amplifiers, in many ways playing to the old rules of showbiz, and then suddenly up came Dylan with his thousand-watt PA and Jimi Hendrix with his Marshall stacks, and the whole thing erupted” - Robyn Hitchcock

Friday, April 19, 2024

rehaunted graffiti (the hypnagogic revival)

Even before I heard a note of the Cindy Lee album, the aroma I'd picked up was that it was like a flashback to the late 2000s - the peak of hipster vintage aesthetics and revenant pastiche. 

Looking at the comments below a YouTube posting of the full double album, this resemblance is noted quite often:

"This shit is taking me back to the late 00's".

" A masterpiece of Hypnagogic pop"

 "Hypnagogic pop, with hints of 60's girl bands. It makes me imagine that The Velvet Underground released their "White Album"

"13th Floor Elevators, King Khan and Ariel Pink vibes. Glad to see people still making vintage sounding throwback stuff in 2024. 

Also some plain mystifying comments: 

"Feel like Bataille would vibe with this one"

But yeah neo-chillwave, hypnagogic pt 2... and just hark at the set-up to the already famous 9.1 graded review in Pitchfork, by Andy Cush:  

"This may be the greatest radio station you’ve ever come across. Unless it’s multiple stations talking over each other, in and out of range. Sounds arrive in strange combinations; nothing is quite exactly the way you remember. Did that classic rock band really have a synth player, and why did they pick a patch that sounds like a mosquito buzzing through a cheap distortion pedal? And those eerie harmonies swirling at the outskirts of that last-dance ballad by some 1960s girl group whose name ends in -elles or -ettes. Did they hire a few heartbroken ghosts who were hanging around the studio as backing vocalists? Or are these fragments of other songs, other signals, surfacing like distant headlights over a hill, then disappearing once more? .... Two hours, 32 songs, each one like a foggy transmission from a rock’n’roll netherworld with its own ghostly canon of beloved hits." 

That's like a flashback to the radio station signal drifting in and out of focus metaphor that nearly everyone who reviewed Ariel P's The Doldrums seemed to come up with independently. 

Listening to the double album finally...  it seemed to sit sonically somewhere between Ariel (albeit without the no-fi hiss) and early '90s melancholy slowcore (Galaxie, Mazzy Star) with maybe some Giant Sand in there....   and, less sonically than vibe-spiritually,  a hint perhaps of Chris Isaak, Lana Del Rey.... 

After two listens to the entire thing - four hours of my life, I gave it a good go - I still couldn't say I love it. The crinkly goldenhaze guitar sound is attractive..  but there's something muffled, indistinct, recessed, about it emotionally. 

Often there seems to be an attempt to boogie, a sort of snake-hipped bluesy shuffle feel.... but it doesn't quite come off.  It's no Royal Trux circa Cats and Dogs, let's put it like that.

This not-quite-integrated quality reminds me of certain things I've heard that involve AI. 

And I'm not alone here - among all the YouTube commenters talking about being in tears, spellbound, AOTY, etc etc...  one doughty doubter piped up:

"It sounds like someone had AI make a  T. Rex, Velvet Underground, and Beach Boys mashup.

So I decided to get ChatGPT to write a review of Diamond Jubilee in the style of Simon Reynolds if he'd unreservedly loved the album:

In a startling deviation from her previous ventures, Cindy Lee’s latest opus, "Diamond Jubilee," emerges as a haunting and enigmatic exploration of the spectral hinterlands of pop. Shedding the skin of her previous guitar-driven persona, Lee navigates through a dreamscape of gossamer synths and ethereal melodies, beckoning the listener into an otherworldly realm of melancholic beauty.

"Diamond Jubilee" is an album that thrives on its contradictions. At once, it evokes a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era while simultaneously defying any easy categorization within the confines of time or genre. Lee's vocals, bathed in reverb and distortion, float delicately above the shimmering sonic tapestry, imbuing each track with an eerie, almost otherworldly quality.

Thematically, "Diamond Jubilee" is a meditation on loss and longing, its lyrics oscillating between moments of tender vulnerability and cryptic ambiguity. Tracks like "Bonsai Garden" and "Heavy Metal" drip with a sense of bittersweet longing, while "Plastic Raincoat" and "Stairway to the Plaza" offer glimpses into a world both familiar and alien.

Yet, for all its spectral beauty, "Diamond Jubilee" is not without its moments of dissonance and unease. Lee's penchant for juxtaposing saccharine melodies with dissonant harmonies creates a sense of tension that lingers beneath the surface, unsettling yet alluring in its ambiguity.

In the grand tradition of avant-pop auteurs, Cindy Lee's "Diamond Jubilee" is a testament to the power of music to transcend boundaries and defy expectations. With its ethereal soundscapes and enigmatic lyricism, it stands as a haunting testament to the enduring power of the human spirit in the face of life's inevitable trials and tribulations.

That's not a bad effort from the chatbot, compared with the previous occasion I tried this exercise. 

Certainly there's some words in there - "spectral", "hinterlands", "ethereal" - that I might resort to if actually officially tasked with reviewing Diamond Jubilee.   

When I tried to enlist the pseudo-ghost of Mark Fisher, however, the review came out rather similar: 

Cindy Lee's "Diamond Jubilee" unfurls like a spectral transmission from a parallel dimension, where the ghosts of pop's past converge with an eerie futurism. Departing from her previous sonic incarnations, Lee ventures into uncharted territory, crafting an album that defies easy categorization and demands attentive engagement.

"Diamond Jubilee" operates on the fringes of consciousness, its ethereal melodies and distorted vocals conjuring a sense of dislocation and unease. Tracks like "Plastic Raincoat" and "Bonsai Garden" shimmer with an otherworldly beauty, while Lee's haunting vocals float amidst a haze of reverb and distortion, evoking a sense of longing and detachment.

Thematically, "Diamond Jubilee" is a meditation on the uncanny, its lyrics oscillating between moments of poignant introspection and surreal abstraction. Lee's cryptic verses invite interpretation, hinting at a narrative that remains tantalizingly out of reach.

Yet, for all its enigmatic allure, "Diamond Jubilee" is not without its moments of dissonance and discord. Lee's penchant for juxtaposing saccharine melodies with jarring harmonies creates a sense of tension that lingers beneath the surface, unsettling yet strangely captivating in its unpredictability.

In the tradition of cultural provocateurs, Cindy Lee's "Diamond Jubilee" challenges listeners to confront the liminal spaces between past and present, reality and illusion. It is an album that rewards repeated listens, its haunting melodies and cryptic lyricism revealing new depths with each subsequent spin. In an era defined by uncertainty and upheaval, "Diamond Jubilee" stands as a testament to the transformative power of music to disrupt the status quo and beckon us into the unknown.

The Fisher factor here must be "liminal" and "uncanny"

Clearly it's got a ways to go before it can truly impersonate a writer. 

But how about a more mundane assignment? Like: What are the parallels and affinities between Cindy Lee's Diamond Jubilee and the Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's The Doldrums

Both Cindy Lee's "Diamond Jubilee" and Ariel Pink's "The Doldrums" inhabit a similar sonic and thematic landscape, forging a connection through their exploration of lo-fi aesthetics, dreamlike atmospheres, and unconventional song structures. Here are some parallels and affinities between the two albums:

Lo-fi Production: Both albums embrace lo-fi production techniques, utilizing tape distortion, reverb, and other effects to create a hazy, nostalgic atmosphere. This lo-fi aesthetic lends a sense of intimacy and authenticity to the music, inviting listeners into a world that feels raw and unfiltered.

Dreamlike Atmosphere: Both albums evoke a dreamlike atmosphere, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Cindy Lee's "Diamond Jubilee" envelops listeners in ethereal melodies and haunting vocals, while Ariel Pink's "The Doldrums" transports them to a surreal realm populated by quirky characters and psychedelic imagery. This dreamlike quality imbues both albums with a sense of escapism and introspection.

Eclectic Influences: Both Cindy Lee and Ariel Pink draw from a wide range of musical influences, resulting in albums that defy easy categorization. "Diamond Jubilee" incorporates elements of shoegaze, dream pop, and experimental music, while "The Doldrums" blends lo-fi indie rock with elements of psychedelia, glam rock, and pop. This eclecticism adds depth and complexity to their respective sounds, keeping listeners on their toes with unexpected twists and turns.

Cryptic Lyricism: Both albums feature cryptic lyricism that invites interpretation and speculation. Cindy Lee's lyrics on "Diamond Jubilee" oscillate between moments of tender vulnerability and surreal abstraction, while Ariel Pink's lyrics on "The Doldrums" are filled with enigmatic imagery and wordplay. This ambiguity allows listeners to project their own meanings onto the songs, deepening their emotional resonance and staying power.

Cult Followings: Both Cindy Lee and Ariel Pink have garnered cult followings for their idiosyncratic approaches to music-making. Their willingness to embrace unconventional sounds and defy industry norms has earned them devoted fanbases who appreciate their boundary-pushing creativity and uncompromising vision.

Overall, Cindy Lee's "Diamond Jubilee" and Ariel Pink's "The Doldrums" share a kinship in their exploration of lo-fi aesthetics, dreamlike atmospheres, and eclectic influences. While each album possesses its own unique charm and character, they both stand as testaments to the transformative power of music to transport listeners to otherworldly realms and challenge their perceptions of reality.

Another pass at the same idea: Does Cindy Lee's album Diamond Jubilee represent a renaissance of hypnagogic pop ideas? 

Cindy Lee's album "Diamond Jubilee" certainly resonates with elements of the hypnagogic pop aesthetic, a genre characterized by its dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere and its exploration of memory and imagination. While it may not necessarily represent a revival of hypnagogic pop ideas in the strictest sense, it does align closely with many of the themes and sonic qualities associated with the genre.

"Hypnagogic pop" as a term was coined by music critic David Keenan to describe a style of music that blurs the boundaries between reality and dream, often drawing heavily from pop culture artifacts of the past. Artists associated with this movement, such as Ariel Pink (as previously mentioned) and James Ferraro, incorporate lo-fi production techniques, retro synths, and warped samples to create a surreal sonic landscape that feels both familiar and uncanny.

In a similar vein, Cindy Lee's "Diamond Jubilee" embraces a dreamlike aesthetic, with its ethereal melodies, distorted vocals, and lo-fi production evoking a sense of nostalgia and introspection. The album's exploration of themes like loss, longing, and dislocation also align with the hypnagogic pop ethos, inviting listeners to immerse themselves in a world that feels simultaneously timeless and ephemeral.

While "Diamond Jubilee" may not adhere strictly to the conventions of hypnagogic pop, it certainly shares a spiritual affinity with the genre, tapping into its dreamy, surreal qualities to create an immersive listening experience that transports listeners to the liminal spaces between waking and dreaming. In this sense, Cindy Lee's album can be seen as a continuation of the hypnagogic pop tradition, offering a contemporary reimagining of its themes and aesthetics for a new generation of listeners.

The album is buyable here