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lundi 13 mars 2006

The cat dived for cover the minute Camille entered the room.
She's getting on in years, Kytie. She has well-established routines for most hours of day and night, dislikes big bags for fear of being in put in one and carted off on a trip, and runs for a well-protected corner if spontaneous youngsters drop in.
The Kid's a long-standing exception, but Kytie's wary even around her. Marianne's unpredictable sometimes and like Camille she has a clear, natural voice when she sings, a fiery will and a powerful physical presence.

While she was here at the weekend, we talked more music than usual, I gave her some new stuff I knew she would like, and after she left, I got on with overdue software updates, still reluctant to sit down and write any more.
But I did.
It's been months since I promised the Kid to introduce Camille, but now's the time because of software I sit on whenever a new version comes out from Apple, the mysterious Mac security update. It's fast enough to install, but once you have the computer automatically kicks into a routine known as "optimising system performance".
You don't want to do a new security update should you have any plans to use your Mac for anything else soon. It takes forever, hogging so much processor power on most machines almost nothing else works.
That's when you've got lots of time to listen to Camille again, so I did.

What happened to Camille Dalmais -- who adores wordplay herself -- between 2002 and last year I don't know, but it most certainly optimised her system performance. The spontaneous young Parisian sold 130,000 copies of 'Le Fil' within the first half of 2005.

CamilleShe's also just won a prize she never expected, being considered "the artistic revelation of the year" in the Victoires de la Musique (Fr).
She deserved it, but what gets her a column is just a foretaste of a quality that turns Camille red with embarrassment when she's told she got that too. The woman is a great healer.
This isn't just my word. I've heard it from many people, indirectly or straight, over the time it's taken me to begin to want to approach last year's release in words. To describe it as an album of voice and musical drones is to risk yawns all round, but I'm going to do Camille real justice ... just not tonight.

It's too soon.
Camille's weekend gift to me was a big one.
She lifted what was left of a writer's block and took her place in the company of women, including others who remain temporarily vanished since what's proved to be a fortuitous accident, and set me well on the road to further exploration of music and sexuality.
It's a difficult topic to tackle, but rewarding and with such a healing potential it should be done and the best way to do it will be to tell stories. I found that difficult on first spilling a few beans with no idea what people would make of them. Not any more.
Camille marked herself out in 2002 when she emptied her bulging handbag: that's what upset the cat. It's not that she's badly behaved or distressingly noisy -- if you discount a moment when the crockery flies.

It's that presence of hers.
She reminds me of the Kid. She reminds me of other smart, funny and outgoing young Parisians with eyes and ears that miss almost nothing. She reminds me of arriving here in 1980 and realising what I had taken for French would need plenty of forgetting and learning anew if I was to make sense of anyone.
This unfortunately means she's not for everyone.
There's so much inside 'Le Sac des Filles', her first album, that what fell out when she turned it upside down and went on to do the same with the contents, you know she must have been stuffing her handbag for years and watching what her friends shoved into their own. She sings about those on the title track.

Like many a newcomer on the scene, she opted for autobiography. Camille, an art student, took a political science degree pretty much for the sake of sticking it under her belt, little else. She said in some interview (I forget where) she was cut out to be a singer and musician from the age of eight. So she's got a studious side, but you can bet she debunks French intellectuals, notorious for claptrap, like everyone else who pays them scant attention.
She's a rebellious and sensitive woman with time for the shaky old man on a park bench, the 30s and 40s music her parents like, the ageing movies for which Paris is still a cinema paradise, and a characteristically Parisian approach to those steps in Montmartre that get tourists so excited in summer. In winter, they're wet, slippery, steep and a pain.
That's all in the handbag, her 'Paris', along with cabaret music and the first hints of a new spin on la chanson française to which she does lasting damage for the greater good of all, on Le Fil.'
Autobiographical though the earlier mish-mash might be, it makes a change when the focus isn't Camille. It's what she's seen and heard and what her friends get up to, the kind of kids you see every day. When it comes to sex, she can be joyously unsympathetic. I won't translate the lyrics. The result would fall as flat as the former boyfriends she tells a moping girl to lay off in 'Ex', but I hope you get the drift:

"Les ex c'est comme les expresso
Ca se boit vite ça se boit chaud
C'est pas comme l'amour impossible
Les ex c'est toujours accessible
Ca laisse penser d'un coup de latex
Un coup de fil et un duplex
Et plus besoin d'un mode d'emploi
On a déjà fait ça X fois
Many French country people flinch at the sight of a incoming Parisian licence plate, knowing that what will spill out of the car is likely to be impatient, arrogant, nosy, snobbish and bad-mannered. "Paris is not France," they like to remind you.
This is true. I love it when they empty the place in summer. However, they have their qualities and that kind of exasperated wit, delivered as fast as the traffic on the Place de la Concorde, is just one of them. Even Kytie came out of hiding in the end once she realised Camille is a very nice girl.
That's where she started, cheerful, kind, insightful and uninhibited. I'm not sure I want -- and certainly don't need -- to know what really brought her into her own, because that's her business.
I've not done with Camille since she and some others aren't through with me. Last year, she told 'Les Inrocks'*:
"For me, music is inevitably learned, since it's something precise. But at the same time, if any music is going to move me, it has to grab me physically."
Mmm. That's, maybe, half the story...


*Credit for the scanned photo: Philippe Garcia

10:13:33 PM  link   your views? []

vendredi 10 mars 2006

Oh yes, Dot Allison.
The missing notebook mildly bothered me because listening to more musicians than you can hope to mention swiftly at busy times, your memory can play tricks on you.
Dot, a Scot, has got me wondering what she's doing musically today.
She was full of love's unknowns -- and its inevitable polar opposites in 'Message Personnel', which is lyrically stronger sung than in the sketchy refrain you'll find written down anywhere -- on 'Afterglow', but that was in 1999.
Hers is among entrancing voices of the years when there could be almost no music in my life and thus a real pleasure to discover by trusting to the odd ways of the iPod finger, which is equally unerring at finding just the right woman on some shelf.
It wasn't the CD cover, just a name, a title and a blonde with a downcast gaze and long straight hair who might have been one of many women sampled on the Net but lacking the something special that stops me.

What reminded me of stopping and much enjoying a taste was a fleeting reference to birds; "Oh yes, Dot Allison" (at a Chemical Sister home) and friends once raving about the "acid house" band she was in, One Dove, and with that she was back, a songwriter for busy days full of dreams.
The emphasis for now is on the feelings Dot expresses in songs like 'Did I Imagine You?', her little touches like

"I, I wanna hear the sound
I only dream of
And I, I wanna feel the chill
of summer love" ('I Wanna Feel the Chill')
and recurrent contradictions throughout the album's words that could easily pass for coldness and distance if Allison had failed in conveying the 'Afterglow' taken for the title for this set of songs but given none of them. Musically, she mixes so much chorally, electronically and instrumentally that listening to this again was a natural follow-up to some other Scots, the Cocteau Twins, with Dot's lyrics easier to grasp, more shoegazing and a head and voice above the clouds.

Dot AllisonBeing unfamiliar what she achieved between then and 2003, I'll omit biographical details easy to find elsewhere. This is an uncredited photo of the Dot Allison of more recent days, attractively older than the pretty lass on 'Afterglow'.
But just what afterglow?
The album captures it far better than I can in ending a week much as it began, attentive to music from women who approach something maybe impossible to say in words alone. Love (that Big L beyond any powers of definition I've got when it acts through us and shapes what we do with others), particularly if we're "in" it or steeped in memories of being in it, can have strange effects I don't like to cogitate since doing so gets us nowhere.
Allison's seven-year-old CD includes a kind of "break-up, make-up" song ('Tomorrow Never Comes') and a gorgeous opener, 'Colour Me,' the way a lover can, which is music for where what you've got with a partner is very real, colouring everything, yet

"... it's intriguing (this is heaven now)
So young yet too old to learn
That summer is the thirst
The river always runs dry first".
She goes on to sing about the times when you know you're in the afterglow and it's sure and very uncertain both at once, but quoting lyrics isn't much good without the music. If what I'm trying to say means anything to you, however, then it'll be clearer if you remember: "Oh yes, Dot Allison."

'Clever clogs' and the blog rolls

I've done it again.
I don't mind if you don't, but more and more often there are times I tell myself, "No log tonight; you've got nothing to say and you fancy a break." But some musician's come along with an album that homes right in on what I've been slowly meditating, usually still am, and out they carefully come: the words for a bit of it.
I do fancy a break, without bothering to go into changes you may have noticed, just a smile for a person who remarked that the Blogrolling service a lot of us use offers up to 10 blogrolls, "but Nick, you've only got nine on your site and that's not like you." That was smart and very true. For now, there are nine.
I'm going meditate some more on a theme that has got me kind of pregnant. I've found the notebook again and now have to decipher it. It was buried under Garbage: 'Beautiful' (2003)!
I kid you not ... but synchronicity only bothers me any more when it's absent.
I wrote about later Garbage last May, suggesting "'Bleed Like Me' is a good dose of mental hygiene about messes between the rest of us." So it is, but having taken up meditation again, a practice some people regard as a kind of "mental hygiene", I don't believe it's just the "thought that counts".
Dot Allison caught how it's what lies beyond the thought that makes for music.

11:52:49 PM  link   your views? []

You may add "ambient" to the painful genre list. Some twit did on hearing what's coming.
Was he driven out of his senses as well?
It's mad, it's March and I'd be misbehaving minus a couple of decades to make sure she knows I'm listening ... if age matters since she says she's 102. Ms Pappademas looks every peachy day of it and has the wits to tell us what we wanted to know of the music. It

"sounds like:
"The far away details and patterns and other things you see from planes including skateboard shaped clouds and swimming pools. Hitting an air pocket and losing level flight. End of your life guilt. Loneliness paired with a weird love for everyone around you and all your past loves. The cold sweat recovery. Landing at home."
Liz, the whole world knows I adore flying, am rid of life guilt and know about loneliness paired with a weird love for (almost) everyone around me and all my past loves. I've had more cold sweat recoveries every day than you've even begun to digest that multitude of influences.
Hurts to PurrI'm not put off by this brawny pair of heavies ... or gentle giants. And what on earth could you want with 605 -- and still counting -- "friends"? I mean you like Gershwin and it'll be springtime in Paris, even for Californians like Liz of Hurts to Purr (My Space), someday in the next seven months?
So would you...?

- Good evening, all.
It 'Hurts to Purr' at home on your own when you're too decent to keep a find like this trio to yourself, have been good-natured since a woman said "you're weird. Truly weird, but that's okay," and at last discover a band knows right from its sparkling first album where to shove the odious "sounds like" stuff.
Since Melanie Haupt is a local writer and says nice things with justified pride in home fare, I suppose she's off the hook for declaring:

"Hurts to Purr is the brainchild of singer Liz Pappademas, Austin's answer to Fiona Apple without the drama-queen histrionics" (Austin Chronicle).
My taste includes the self-dramatising New Yorker's albums and I've shown surprise ar Apple's attitude to boyfriends; if there's no smoke without fire we only hear Fiona's side of the story. Hurts to Purr can conjure with the confessional too.
Let's never confuse ambient with easy listening.
Hurts to Purr are a delight on the ear, Pappademas' fine voice is one of the reasons, her lyrics and the surprises the band has up its sleeve are compelling and smart. I snapped this up on the strength of sound-bites at the iTMS (you won't find their self-titled album at Amazon), spurred by an instinct for great attitude.
One bite was bright jazz, another 30 seconds of crystalline Pappademas piano and lovesick song with words all the "sillier" for being so true, and a third had an irresistibly catchy bass line (Tom Benton) -- all different. Kevin Ryan's the third purrer, producer and performer who knows a thing or two about Fiona Apple.

This sufficed to sway a guy in a mood to find life quirky, surreal and often magical on hearing the detail in the seemingly mundane. Since I want to give you as much new stuff as possible, despite my views on the elasticity of time and a tight budget that's proving a good thing, the synching feeling here was irresistible.
If I got it right Liz originally comes from San Francisco, one of the few places in the United States on my fantasy destination list. They're rebuilding New Orleans and what I hear from musicians has allayed some of my fears more soulless people will turn it into a Disneyland parody of itself. San Francisco's on a fault line, so ... fingers crossed.
Hurts to Purr, however, is a pretty flawless first. Don't ask me for more when you know my mood? Pappademas and the guys have a perfectly nice way of introducing themselves (CD Baby, for instance). As for the future, ask Liz.
And remind me to write up musicians and the My Space phenomenon -- I even had to get one of my own. Now that's all about ambience, what you put in it.
Hers really is a gem.

12:01:47 AM  link   your views? []

mercredi 8 mars 2006

Deirdre DuboisToday it could be 'Client' (2003) by Client or P.J. Harvey's 'Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea' (2000) or her newer releases.
I'm also getting into Anna Oxygen's latest album.
Deirdre Dubois (right) and the men in Ekova sample so much on 'Soft Breezes and Tsunami Breaks' (2000) it can sound like the world heard from space; a notion the trio embrace on another album.
I'm far from through with Collide. A list of names, a couple of pics (the one of Collide's kaRIN is by Dan Santori, Dierdre came uncredited) and a selection of styles so varied that if more were added to it is simply a way of bucking the trend this International Women's Day.

Most news to mark the event so far this year seems to have struck people with its focus on women the oppressed and women as victims, an outpouring of rape and crime statistics, stories focussing on their struggle to feed families in poor countries and the other hardships of tough times. A surrealistic flourish was added by a friend from America, where less is made of the occasion, who was gently amused when somebody on a Paris street tried to give her a "communist plastic rose".

One theme of entries on current listening and mystifying industry descriptions has the great merit of grouping women such as these as achievers, creators and occasionally initiators. They are people who take the best of what they find to build their own music and lay sonic foundations for others to come.
Since they lack pretension, they might find these words overblown, pointing out that what they do is just pick up on what they like, work that raw material rather hard and make music that's sometimes of an especially deceptive simplicity, which is what happens where modern technology gets involved.

'This is an Exercise,' Anna Oxygen calls her new album in the electronic arena. So is what I begun in 'Chasing the Ghost' with Collide, swiftly to realise the ghost is where you might expect to find it when people are involved: deep in the machine.
Going to the Wikipedia proved a good idea. When you're foxed, the place has grown better at clarifying the meanings of 'music genre. Thanks to a constant flow of contributions, that page is well worth anybody's bookmarks if you're also working from the familiar ground most people know, which are listed on it, to the terms you see in the music media and especially in the stores.

There's more listening to do and when it's gone far enough, then like the frequently direct and blunt lyrics of the women listed above, I want to explore the fresh perspectives each brings to the universal themes of song.
It would be overstatement to say that machines in hands like these -- when P.J. Harvey, the Client duo, Anna Oxygen and the others don't always use them to do much more than explore a potential today's technology can bring to instruments whose origins date back centuries if not millennia -- is helping make 21st-century women and men radically new in outlook. The "modern" in any culture is overrated when it happens.
kaRINLast night's trip to Africa brought reminders that however removed the 'City' lives Client delivered in a later album may be from those of some sub-Sahel village, musicians are at a loss if they're uprooted.
The ghost worth chasing, before anyone's hasty to write off newer noises (or what kaRIN said the other day of a haunting we can't quite put our fingers on) as "decent music" the way people in each generation can tend to do with that of the next, wouldn't be there if it failed to echo what's in the people who made and use the technology.

Thus, in short, it's no phantom at all. The interplay of voice, hand and tool is often taken up in literature, then a century punctuated by occasionally great movies about what might happen to us when the machine gets the upper hand or the more powerful mind, and constantly, from times long before anyone bothered to speculate about it, in music.
The women of this international day column and the men they play with are on top of the technology, there's no doubt, and they buck that downtrodden trend with an assertiveness and self-assurance I'll celebrate any day.

This doesn't mean we're in for a completely sunny spell. Electronic music, synth-pop and the very dreamy stuff I often really like isn't inevitably upbeat, any more than you and me are.
What's new, then, is the means of saying the same old things. That may sound potentially dull, but I bet you really enjoy the most perennial experiences life has to offer once you've taken a liking to the people with whom you share them.
I like these women.

11:12:54 PM  link   your views? []

mardi 7 mars 2006

Ali Farka TouréOnce upon a time, when tomorrow they lay Ali Farka Touré in the ground, it will be in a big village not far from Timbuktu, a desert town whose name had a poetic, legendary resonance long before most of the world could locate it on a map.
With time, he became an electric griot and an electrifying one in whom to find soul-food energy. Sometimes he told visitors to the community to which he returned and farmed, in semi-retirement, that he likened the power he believed in to the Niger.
One of his continent's greatest, that river's antique western name has been given to two countries. It flows through his own and has its divinities.

Blues 'griot' as oral guardian

In west Africa, griots are the elders of the community who preserve its history and traditions in their heads. They teach them to each new generation, which finds its initiates with remarkable memories and reverence for the stories. In Mali and its largely desert neighbours, griots safeguard much of a community's shared knowledge in music.
The survival of a culture, often oral, depends on those who uphold its heritage and practice its rites. Today there are computer archives in Bamako. Telecom satellites over Africa let us know in Paris when Ali Farka died, aged 67, in a country he loved so much that though he toured the world, he said he was much happier at home.

One tribute to a musician who twice shared the annual Grammy award for the best traditional world music music album, first in 1995 and then this year, will tell you on the Internet and in newspapers that he was, for some, "Africa's John Lee Hooker."
True, Touré's got the blues, so to pass on such a description is a kind of compromise. It is arguable many more people will know who the American bluesman was than those who have heard of Ali Farka Touré when you give them the news, and it is confusing to contend that John Lee Hooker was in fact a trans-Atlantic Touré who tuned back in.
A news agency obituary, already long at 650 words, might raise eyebrows, if not in west Africa, if it waffled about matters of the spirit* and articles of faith.
In the Heart of the MoonTouré himself wouldn't mind.
I talk of him as a man still very much alive though bone cancer on Tuesday morning killed the body they will bury in Niafunké, where he was mayor. So does Toumani Diabate, who shared the 2006 Grammy award for 'In The Heart of the Moon' and said on learning the news that from his elder, he had learned more than a broader approach to making music.
"He was modest and shared all he had. He helped everyone," Diabate says of a man he considered a kind father and teacher of spiritual values.
To know more of the bluesman, who won the first Grammy with the American Ry Cooder, helped make "world music", see the Wikipedia on Ali Farka Touré, the links at the bottom there and some in the blogroll here.
And listen.

Change by cautious choice

Listen to his music and you'll very likely hear why I'd turn the Touré-Hooker kinship round and what I hear in his young compatriot, Rokia Traoré, who sings:

"I still remember my sadness
When I observed couples
Crushed by the weight of their bond.
Men and women for whom
Union becomes a yoke.

'Solitude would be a guarantee of a more agreeable life,'
I told myself.
I would not have to deal with the sweet bitterness
Which pervades couples with the passage of time.
This way I would enjoy only love unions,
Never bitter unions."
Mali is a nation of gentle, giving and extremely poor people. Touré was around 30 when he could afford his first electric guitar. But the poverty that has in recent years worsened dire famines in the region, is the material reflection of the ways of the world. The generosity and a strength of soul found in Mali and other places today known as sub-Sahel territory is, I believe and have been told by those who live there, a response to living with the Sahara.
Rokia Traoré The desert has a big impact on character. Resources are so scarce, you treasure them profoundly. The experience and wisdom of those who lived to bring your generation into existence are considered of equal value.
Touré died just before the world marks International Women's Day. Traoré might consider herself in some sense his musical "daughter", but in those lines from 'M'Bifo', the first track on 'Bowmboï', she sings, "I would not have my love life ruined by family tradition when it's wrong."
Today's young generation in Mali, speaking well over half a dozen languages of their own (that song is translated from Bamanan) as well as French and English, are members of the notorious "global village", learning from the practices of others to protest what they dislike in the ways of their elders. While most sub-Sahel people are Muslims, they weren't always.

Seasoned by the sands

What has changed even more slowly for centuries than cultural values, until global warming and imported and imposed agricultural practices began to contribute to its recession, is the Sahara. Though ignored in the news except when it's nasty, the people of Mali are victims and beneficiaries of modernisation like the rest of us, but the hardships and rewards of the desert have taught them to treat tradition and their elders with high regard. Rokia Traoré will go on fighting for women's rights. She will also go on playing traditional music in her own way, like Ali Farka Touré, and press the case in interviews for the wisdom of the griots.

Any harsh environment causes people who live in it to weigh the sustenance of the body and the values of the soul very carefully. Touré did, always knowing where his roots were. His music and teaching brought people from Mississippi to Mali, not the other way round. Before the culture ministry announced his death, we learned of it from a foundation he established in Niafunké that will always bear his name and pass on the finest traditions to the young, as griots do.
Touré had an unshakeable faith in the power of music to resource people as surely as an oasis. If you search the Net, you'll find tales he tells that some would call supernatural. For him it was natural -- and memorable and magical -- when the sand sung and a snake spoke to him, each in their way, teaching him his own.

Beneath 'world music', the way beyond

This is his column and his country's music's column.
I'd like to add a word regarding those "industrial" musicians and people cast in similar moulds I'm listening to this week, though with time set aside for 'Talking Timbuktu,' the 1994 album that won Touré and Ry Cooder his other Grammy award. In the usually much more manufactured, synthesised sounds to be described later, you can often hear Africa. You can hear Arab influences and others to be mentioned.
The musicians draw from a source whose name won't last nearly as long as Timbuktu. It is fitting that Touré shared both his Grammies. Desert peoples generally do share their wealth with strangers, however little it is, if their guests behave in a fitting fashion. He and the people with whom he shared music made the well called "world music".

I don't believe that term will last much longer. The days of "world music", measured carefully in the time span of music from its origins like they weigh things in Mali, are numbered like those of a traveller in the Sahara without a compass.
Toure's foundation and similar institutions in other spots around the globe remind us what to make of that all-embracing virtual village when weighed against the strength of wise traditions. "World music" has been a fashionable fad, a phase of a passing generation. It's not over yet, but it means very little to most musicians.
Those who survive, the ones we'll long remember, are stubborn. They'll take what they enjoy from elsewhere and like to play with others who share their sense of harmony, but they aren't set to last long unless, like Touré did and Traoré does, they know and love their roots.


*An inhabitual practice, linking like that, but there was a minor material consideration: had I delved deep into Touré's magico-musical beliefs in the first music piece it befell me to edit into shape for AFP after their proposal when it comes to women, they could retract the offer!
You see, I really do have a "day" job.

10:23:56 PM  link   your views? []

In Darren Aronofsky's mathematical thriller 'Pi', Max the brain is prone to migraine bouts so vile he moans, sobs and smashes his long, high cranium against hard surfaces. You'd wonder how much worse he could make it for himself, unless you've ever been there. Stark black and white imagery and strong shadows heighten the impact of cult material in every sense.
I've had some migraines. This year a new round began, infrequent but enough last week for serious talk and planning a scan. An episode over the weekend put a stop to any talk or thought. Once it eased, the hour was black and claustrophobic and I began making notes. Between bouts of head-banging and pressing my face into a wall, on a certified overdose of pain-killers, I scribbled on when it was possible.
This tricky time had much to do with women and with music.

I want to beat the migraines.
You know the feeling you're close to grasping something and it's maddening, you can't quite get it; and you perhaps knowdreams where you were very near, it seemed important, then whatever it was evaporated. But I ended the notes, found words. Then I trashed them because I never wanted to go back, just feeling a wash of relief that a physical connection suddenly seemed so apparent between life events and the onset of those blinding headaches.
After some short but decent sleep, I realised how idiotic that wiping was and luckily know how to retrieve freshly erased data. Medically, it would have been unsound to keep it to myself. I choose the word "unsound" advisedly. The log records musical tales and related personal ones. Columns on sexuality and harmony are part of it. What I learned over the weekend makes some sense of those nauseous headaches and I've some interesting notes to compare now, drawing on experience. Migraines may have many causes; I really began to feel better on agreeing with what my own body tells me instead of things I used to be told by others and must have taken too much to heart.

Writing intimately about non-public people has become a "no-no", though I did once and enjoy reading some who still do. But direct discussion of people's sexual outlook and behaviour with some I know are fairly frequent in view of connections I make, if they know why and that I won't write about individuals.
I want to be able, in the months to come, to answer questions often raised about female and male sexuality, the differences and commonalities in the depth you can when you take sex for a part of people's "music". Doing so changes attitudes when I ask questions of my own. It's more intriguing and fun for everyone than asking me, "Why women musicians?"

Loud and exuberant, a couple of Russians fell into a pair of hands still slightly shaky from a migraine weekend that I hope was the last. Let's get it straight. Lena Katina and Julia Volkova, who say their second favourite country is France, are on front pages of glossy magazines. They're sexually provocative, enjoy wild times and are far too young for the sometimes disturbed thinking and reappraisal of self that can overwhelm -- like it or not -- women in the age group I know best, early to mid-40s, having grown up and shared a life with some of them.
t.a.T.u.'s feckless frolicking is only a part of their ongoing story. They're far from insouciant and the cover-girl caresses of their albums and the 'Screaming for More' DVD -- disappointing on quantity and range of content, better on most of the quality -- is partly for real, part invention. You hear it among some of those who like "the Russian lesbians" but don't know about the boyfriends.
Julia and Lena play with sexual preferences. They were being tossed around 'Le Bouquet' on the corner, since somebody had brought in a yellow rag, everyone was laughing over it and I politely snatched it from the woman next to me so I could read the wretched interview instead of just making fun of pictures. It didn't say much because the pair ran rings round the journalist, as he merited for asking questions as dumb as he did. He fell for the image and the girls teased him for it, making the most of their "closeness".
They are very close, physically and in music, which makes for success, but the best way to know more is to go to the sort of source suggested last November 20. You find a poetry and life insights that come with light and dark sides they attribute to being Russian and they can pack a tough emotional punch into their videos.

What may become of t.a.T.u. as their reputation spreads? They directly address their own age group. The consumption can be conspicuous, they're Moscow's "material girls". The sex is controversial in some eyes and the rocker chick sound hard on some ears. The message is a broader "love and let live". It's quite hard to guess what they will become, but Russians have a long-established reputation for staying power and the fierce independence that marks out this pair.

For the moment, having made note of the direct physical link between my migraines and some sensitive ground that needs shifting fast to get rid of them, I took a double dose of t.a.T.u., then decided it's best simply to chill out until there's a clear way of addressing sexual issues pertinent to older women.
When you're doing a site like this, those are ever-present. Songwriters inevitably delve constantly into love relationships, what goes right, what goes wrong, and every other spin on the subject you can imagine. It's very enjoyable too, but the point's been made I write often about people's "music" even if they don't describe themselves that way. Women musicians and their stories offer a means of approaching this I'd like to reflect on a little further before tackling some forms of harmony or the lack of it.
By way of a break, how about 'Chasing the Ghost' (2003) and more in the same vein? Amazon Fr has put Collide under heavy metal. Hmm... "Driving industrial soundtracks" is one description the band themselves give for what they do. I assure you this is a case of just listen and have a clear notion of what you want to say for the night. Collide are new to me, so we'll have to put what I've just found down what to synchronicity:

"Chasing the Ghost, says kaRIN, is named to capture that feeling of searching for essence ... the feeling of yearning like a space you can't fill, or a haunting you can't quite put your finger on."
No wonder the iPod finger stopped there then, pressed the button, and my soul echoed, "Yup, this is the kind of music for the week."
I've been "chasing the ghost", I'm not sure I've laid it yet, and that label "industrial" crops up often in my music reading, one of the myriad insider terms I don't like very much. STATIK & kaRIN, this duo spells itself, and hey cast a suitable spell already on minimal acquaintance and in light of a desire to head on into more of the ethereal along with a driving physical pulse, and lyrics you're trying to catch. The list of given terms the kind of sound I'm after is about two dozen long so far...
I know what around 10 of those conjure up and guess that short of resorting industriously to the Wikipedia, a lot of people who haven't chosen a path like mine don't know what some of those mean, but find them vaguely alienating. I once did when on seeing them on store shelves, which was a pity.
Had someone said, "You're walking out of the Factory into something 'industrial'," maybe I'd thought twice. So we're going to get into this stuff a rather different way, because the music itself is certainly of a kind I feel a lot of people might find they enjoy. I've had a taster, so have you, and that's it for the night.

12:03:11 AM  link   your views? []

samedi 4 mars 2006

Kami Knake's a slow loader. She takes patience: not as a person and podcaster who has excellent ears and a pleasingly eclectic international taste. It simply takes a while to load the blog she's kept since the start of the year about what she was already doing at Bands Under the Radar because her pages offer sonic intros.

The music week may be over, but I'm not shlepping off to start a 3:00 pm shift at work without a mention of the podcast section added to the blogroll, containing a few of my favourites. People have understood that podcasts, which are often radio programmes you can download as mp3 soundfiles and enjoy on the move, are yet another development that's changing the ways we listen to music -- not just music, but almost anything you can imagine.
The iTunes Music Store offers thousands of them for free, big public broadcasting stations all round the world make them regularly, you don't need iTunes or an iPod to listen to them, but it helps since it's an easy way to subscribe. This got said because not everyone knows what they are.

Laney Goodman, a veteran specialist in Women in Music, is a podcasting pathfinder as an independent. That link takes you to others that also focus on female musicians.
Kami in California, MK in the U.K. (here's another way into NYUB) and TC in the Netherlands with Spacemusic are among my other favourite explorers who embrace men too and try to avoid beaten tracks. NYUB, spelt out in the blogroll, stands for "not your usual bollocks".

I like lots of the usual bollocks, but really enjoy the programmes, generally about an hour long and often monthly, like Kami's, that take an enthusiastic and exciting approach to music these people think are under the radar. At BBC Radio Five Live Up All Night's Kevin Anderson last October chose John Peel Day to blog such people with good reason. Kevin writes of the "tip of an iceberg" in uncovering independent music and new musicians, quite often unsigned. My growing, highly select list went up after diving down around the iceberg.

Kami KnakeThe late Peel -- my tribute was logged as 'The Ringing of Bells' in November 2004 -- is a hard act to follow. Kami does in a relaxed way, regularly presents some very cool music and knows her stuff. She recently came out with episode 15 in a series whose sound quality took a big turn for the better too after the first couple of shows.
She's good company to chill out, like the men mentioned. On first listening, I remembered how simple things used to be back in the days when Peel the pirate broadcaster was snapped up by the Beeb. There were the blues, there was trad jazz, there was modern jazz, folk, country, rock'n'roll, rock ... and more and more "prog rock". "World music" made links, punk came along, but so did a plethora of musical categories we could well do without, useful only in specific contexts.
Kami and her counterparts often deal in what we called progressive rock. It's as simple as KISS without the "stupid".

What Kami and her kind -- let alone all the P2P (peer-to-peer) music file-sharers and today's "pirates" -- are doing to the music industry rolls up against some of it, hefty waves having a bash at eroding the cliffs of legislation. France's parliamentary deputies resume a debate on this tidal topic next Tuesday.
The climate in this country has become surprisingly auspicious and bright since they first had a go at changing copyright law in December. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the future. There's just a chance the French legislators could prove to be progressive people on this front at least.

2:13:07 PM  link   your views? []

vendredi 3 mars 2006

A generous "making of" DVD with Tori Amos' latest sonic journey, 'The Beekeeper' could scarcely be a subtler contrast to the hard-edged, caramel-hearted exuberance and exasperation of some pop divas.
'The Beekeeper' has an ambitious agenda, a mystic message, and bears repeated listening, maybe as the album to win minds and hearts even among people who hold that after Tori Amos came out with life's 'Little Earthquakes' in 1992, she got too weird, pretentious and well-nigh hysterical, wasting one of the greatest gifts in the whole piano-playing songwriter's business.
I wouldn't want to own everything she's done, but enjoy some of the weird paths that landed Amos up in Cornwall, rendered much less self-indulgent by a happy partnership, a strong affinity for natural ways far removed from urban existence and motherhood. Her interest in others and their music wasn't always successful when she took on the fellers with 'Strange Little Girls', a dozen covers of men's songs including an unfortunately prolonged murder of The Beatles' 'Happiness is a Warm Gun' and very successful stabs at Lou Reed and Eminem's '97 Bonnie and Clyde'. Her version of the latter is sinister, scary and astonishing.

Whatever's she tried in the past decade, Tori Amos adores concepts. Anyone who delves into arcane practices and "'highbrow" poetic literature to weave albums with them is bound to get stung.
"I liked the America mythology in her last album [Scarlett's Walk]. But is it just me, or is Tori's album concept this time around a little 'forced'," one Ryan asks at Supernova Juice. "In 20 years, I imagine a documentary where she and her friends are sitting around laughing about how 'everybody "bought" that Beekeeper crap.' Admit it: since 'Tales of a Librarian,' her schtick is wearing thin. That's not to say the music isn't good, or the ideas aren't interesting -- it's just that her modus operandi has become transparent."
There's justice in those words, for Amos has never foregone method in her "madness". But with 19 songs arranged on 'The Beekeeper' into musical gardens and her 'Garlands' lushly filmed on the must-have bonus DVD, she offers so much that anyone who approaches it without a jaundiced ear, perhaps knowing nothing of her current agenda, will be won over.

Do I sound defensive? Partly that's my contempt for the odious comparisons in which so many songwriters who have appeared on the scene since she did get written up as her clones, sometimes at their expense, mostly hers ... but enough of that axe.
Tori can defend herself. She does so with a most disarming account of 'The Power of Orange Knickers' and why she wears them sometimes. The actual song, with backing from Damien Rice, is up there with the best of her early work. 'Mother Revolution' -- evident wordplay -- is superb, like 'Original Sinsuality' and 'Goodbye Pisces' has great melodic strength.

The unfolding transparency of the honeycomb design is not a bad thing.
The Beekeeper by Paul EliaThe more 'The Beekeeper' is approached as a whole, the better an album whose strengths outdo its weaknesses hangs together, with mesmerising, delicate ballads that are each an invitation to explore the agenda, which consists of deep spiritual sensibilities dually sources in the little-known ''Gospel According to Mary Magdalene' (The Gnostic Society) and beekeeper shamanism.
Without a sophisticated sense of humour or roots just as deep in motherhood, a recurrent theme, the concept might come straight of the wall. It doesn't. Tori Amos has become a contented woman who rejoices in her life, home, daughter and the wildness that led to her song of tribute to Daphne Du Maurier's 'Jamaica Inn'. When nature can be serene and stunningly beautiful, as well as hostile and barren, to make a change from both lush artwork and deserts, this 'Beekeeper' is by Canadian artist Paul Elia. His Wrecovery site and gallery are a joyous excursion.

The themes of the album are approached sympathetically by Matt Ashare in an essay on 'Tori Amos in Song and Otherwise' (Portland Pheonix). Matt's right in pointing out it "isn't all that difficult". Nobody needs to know anything about the Nag Hammadi writings (Wikipedia) unearthed in 1945 to enjoy very good songs and engrossing lyrics. Tori rarely talks about her music, let alone what's behind it, but never mind a personal mythology with which I find it easy to empathise from my own experience.
On the DVD, the singer's insight into womanhood and having children is completely unforced, moving and so funnily true. Once you've got kids yourself, there's nothing cryptic in Tori Amos's outlook on loving them. There are no earthquakes here, but you'd have to be a real cynic, disabused by some failure of your own dreams to mature, to remain unmoved by what has happened to hers.
Sometimes there's no better remedy for hopelessness than a dose of somebody else's honey when it's hard-earned. Amos can even command the attention of parents who find their buzzing brats too demanding. If you catch her in the right mood, she's acquired the knack of chilling you out sufficiently to be able to appreciate their angelic side.


*The penultimate radical rewrite? So it seemed. Then I slept on it to wake up and find the logjam left by "missing columns" had gone.

12:05:56 AM  link   your views? []

jeudi 2 mars 2006

When rockers switch from acoustic guitar to blasting you with a tight, powerful chorus from one bar to the next, they can shake buildings without disturbing your daydreams until they seem to lose their own.
Both women in this column have talent nurtured by the media and adored by fans. Both stir admiration and unease with what they sing of their lives, which gets pretty personal.

Anouk Teuwe, a wild child turned chart-topping darling of the Netherlands, is known to her fans as "The Voice". It's a big sound, she's a ghetto-blaster when she lets rip.
Anouk's no fabricated monster. She's described on some Dutch sites as the nation's Alanis Morrissette and sings in English with a strong band behind her, but the heart of 'Hotel New York' (from MusicSafe, Nl, or the iTMS), was an agonised cry in 2004 from a rebel hard up against a wall.
AnoukThe album was recently re-released in a double disc package including acoustic versions of her hits, while another new album, 'Update,' is selling well in northern Europe. That's live Anouk, who took to the stage the way she looks in the photo for much of a swift rise to platinum award-collecting status. In an interview that's mostly far less revealing, she complained that being pregnant with her third child was a drag since it got her out of shape.

Though Anouk is renowned for being outspoken, it's rare she is with music journalists. Maybe her hatred of being labelled puts her off. She tells us plenty about who she is in songs where she left her blues roots behind for a while, turning to the ska sound of Jamaica's ghettos and folk.
On hearing people clearly being straight about the trouble they've known, if it's on familiar ground where I've learned something myself with women, I occasionally meditate and then send a brief mail. There's no wish to pry beyond what they sing, which is none of my business, but encouraging musicians and giving my friends "songlines" of the kind of music some say they feel they need certainly are.
Ballads on 'Hotel New York' are about being lost. The word's the title and content of one track, and Anouk's feeling of losing the way recurs in a hit called 'Jerusalem' that has nothing in common with Blake's poem the English have turned into an unofficial anthem, apart from being a visionary goal.

I wrote to a friend of hers, Mir, also a loyal fan who relayed Anouk's wishes to the world for a "bloody fucking great 2006" and is proud that 'Hotel New York' was "the best sold album of 2005 in Holland!" at an enthusiastic site, Noukster. The CD got into my library on the strength of songs on 'Together Alone', a bestseller from 1998 from a woman who first attracted attention with the searing self-diagnosis of Urban Solitude', when she was turning 24.
Anouk may have made her country's most popular album, but at what cost?

"Let's say I'm feeling better
Let's say I'm feeling fine
Let's say I gave you all I had
And now I'm out of time
And my best wasn't good enough
(...) But I'll do it all again" ('My Best Wasn't Good Enough').
When she writes lyrics like those she means them, but for a performer who flirts with burnout, Anouk persists in staying close to the edge and has described the emptiness she feels on coming off the stage. Her songs, she said, are born in that sense of solitude.

I told Mia what I heard in these things and wondered what she made of it.

"I think Anouk is just fine (...) and she's very happy with her three children and husband. She was very bad, had a burnout a few years ago. She still has her depressed moods, but who hasn't?
"I think it's a good thing she's empty coming from stage, because she lets everything go in her performance (which you can see in her performance, [it] makes it better)."
Mia got thanked for that answer and I murmured to myself, "The show must go on!" Anyhow, blogrolled critic Arjan writes:
"'After the release of her album 'Together Alone' in the States in 1998, Anouk realized that making it big in the U.S. meant compromising. Something she refused to do (much to Sony's dismay). Instead, the rock chick built a very successful recording career in The Netherlands that includes many hit singles and albums. Most recently, she won an MTV Award 2005 in the category of Best Act from the Netherlands/Belgium."
The burnout Mia confirmed was presumably what the Dutch Rock and Pop Institute (Holland Rocks) describes as a "throat infection" that laid Anouk out for a whole summer, like others constantly in the public gaze with the same right to privacy as the rest of us and PR people to protect it.
"There are fans who are telling me that I have 'power' and that I am an animal and a horny bitch. Of course, my 'look' is playing a big part too. But I have more to offer. I don't go through too much trouble to dress myself sexy."
She chooses casual. You'll rarely see a belt or any other accessories. That's undated, but the 'Anouk Land' bio it comes from is an old one of a girl who got the blues from her mother's band, fled at 14, wound up in a home for "problem kids", tried college but hated the theory, went into a marriage scarcely out of her teens and ended it with a shotgun divorce and a wild reputation she nurtured.

Across the Atlantic there's a singer who courts the media so much with her own PR it dampened interest until someone suggested I lend the self-titled 'Anastacia' an ear. By then she'd had a tough year in 2003 braving breast cancer and pulled through after successful treatment, set up a foundation to help other women facing this frightening disease. 'Heavy on My Heart', a song she says she never expected to write since it's so personal, straightforwardly concerns how she handled it.
The unease that tempered my admiration for that and one or two other songs grew watching the DVD that came with it! Someone should have reminded her a place she visited in South Africa is called Robben Island. When someone of Anastacia's fame meets a man like Nelson Mandela and gives us video footage of how wonderful it was, she could at least get the name of one of the world's best-known former prisons right.

AnastaciaMaybe Anastacia (home) gushes sincerity, but she's no rebel. I'm reluctant to use the word "bonus" of the DVD, unless you're into a flurry of "amazing" album producers, loads of "love you" kisses for her helpmates, girlie giggles with a co-writer over cat allergies that mean changing recording studios, a multi-suitcase wardrobe to fit an army of one, and the breath-taking business of buying toilet paper for a huge California house apparently fitted with more bathrooms than bedrooms.

Unless you write frequently about living with it at Cancergiggles (blogrolled long ago), there's nothing funny about cancer. Cass Brown spares everyone an Anastacia-sized ego and doesn't make dopey remarks aboard a private jet she uses inadvertently to promote the image of the "Today's Wednesday, so it must be Rome" tourist.
To be fair, Anastacia asserts that what she did and saw during the South African trip put her problems in perspective, but the scale of everything she makes public can be a little overblown. She comes from a huge country, the sound of some of it suits me fine, even a little of Anastacia's music, but has nobody called her "The Voice" too?
The profession the log's mostly about is a perilous one.
All women musicians worth their salt at it know that. But do you wonder I sometimes ask myself what it does to the professionals and just what it is, apart from the obvious, they get out of it?


*The photos came without credits. This is a pity since it's possible whoever should get some for the second was expressing a very dry sense of humour with the prop.
The rewrite combines elements of two entries; the poet who initially sat uneasily with Anastacia will find herself in easier company. Few women remain to reinstate, but the biggest challenge will now be the last such column.

7:19:13 PM  link   your views? []

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