Blood Bands

There have always been trends in band names. In the 80s, it was “The $single_syllable(s*)”, such as The Cure, The Smiths and The Clash, which obviously led to apotheosis in The The (and there could barely be a more 80s video than that, except possibly this).

Anyway, that was then, when you didn’t need to apear in search results in order to get anyone to listen to your music.

Now, though… One approach is the I, Clavdivs Gambit, qv Chrvches, Wavves and Alvvays. Which is a good one, although it might be a bit old.

Another one is to just add the word “Blood” next to another word. And so I present the top Blood Bands…

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Music: What Happened? – Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a man who has been in bands. He has made music recordings and released them and people have bought them. And he has played live “gigs” and people went along and listened to them.

He has a website. And on this website he writes things. I know! I can’t prove it yet, but I’m pretty sure he stole the idea for that off me. Anyway, so one of the things he started writing was a little list of all the best songs that came out in a single year, enough to fill a mixtape. And he put these in order from the least best to the very very best. He also imposed a limit on himself that he was only allowed to pick one song per artist per year. Otherwise, you know, he’d just end up putting a whole album on and then there’d be no room for Agadoo by Black Lace and that would obviously be wrong.

SPOILER: Agadoo by Black Lace does not feature in this book.

He does make an exception for The Beatles, and he is allowed one song per Beatle per year. (Ringo’s songs don’t appear either. I know!)

Anyway, this pretty much won me over in the introduction, with “Eighties nostalgia has lowered my opinion of nostalgia” and it’s full of great little phrases like that which sum up songs, sounds, bands and musical trends. It’s a really fun read and has lots of inside information about music production and ideas for what to listen to from the last 55 years. I don’t know if anyone has actually compiled the mixtapes, but that would certainly be a worthwhile project.

See also: Perfecting Sound Forever

Listen To This – Alex Ross

More music writing from the music writing man in New York. This book is made up of a lot of his columns, some of them updated because they were written quite a long time ago (like the Radiohead one, which confused me to begin with because I hadn’t realised how old the original column was) and others mushed together into longer pieces.

And, like all of his writing, he makes you want to go and listen to all of the music as much as possible. I guess that’s quite an achievement. He even nearly made me want to listen to Bjork. For the record, I find Bjork annoying.

See also: Music: What happened?

Perfecting Sound Forever – Greg Milner

Right on the front Jarvis Cocker is quoted as saying “very very few books will change the way you listen to music. This is one such book. Read it.” So I did. I mean, you can’t argue with a man who waved his bum at Michael Jackson.

Yes, it’s part 43 in my series of books about music. This one is about the history of recorded sound, which only goes back about 100 years and starts with Edison shouting into a horn and ends with people routinely carrying their entire music collection everywhere they go. It covers format wars, the loudness wars, tricks of the recording trade, the rise and fall of various different styles of music and what seems like just about everything else.

It’s packed full of interesting facts, history repeating itself (Edison promoted his “diamond discs” by demonstrating the impossibility of telling the difference between a live performance and the record, a trick re-invented or re-hashed for just about every subsequent technological development) arguments between various factions, some who insist on the highest possible quality sound reproduction and those who want convenience (convenience generally proves much more popular, to the eternal surprise and disappointment of those with golden ears) and anecdotes and interviews with the people who made the recordings and/or the tools that they used.

It’s fascinating, exceptionally well-written, and it really has changed the way I listen to music (so far). Jarvis Cocker was right. And not just about Michael Jackson.

See also:

Jazz by Ken Burns – The 4-DVD history of America’s only native art form contains a lot of early recordings, and covers some of the same ground, especially the 20s and 30s

Post scriptum: there is a debate to be had about what it means for music to be recorded versus experienced live and how it will be possible to make a living from music now the recording industry is dead and no one buys records any more and so forth, but this book doesn’t really go into it, and I’m not going to here either

The Music Instinct – Philip Ball

It says it’s going to say how music works and why we can’t do without it. And it doesn’t.

Well, it does the first one pretty competently. I’ve read a few books that contain a basic introduction to music theory (cycle of fifths, Pythagorean comma, modes, equal temperament, diatonic this, chromatic that etc.) and this does it as well as any of them, ie I got bored and realised I hadn’t really read it when he started referring back to it. Not that that matters much, because it’s all the same stuff.

Then he goes on to discuss the bits of the brain that we use to listen to music (all of them, in various orders; don’t think this was a strong point, although This is Your Brain on Music was written by a neurologist, so understandable that that would be better) and then the better bits: how does music elicit emotion, what are musical styles, is music a language and what does music mean?

Although there’s not a lot of conclusion to those chapters – probably summed up best by a Beethoven anecdote: when asked what his third symphony meant, he sat down at a piano and started playing it. Music doesn’t really translate into written language, even if it does share some of the features (syntax/semantics; although generally speaking you can only say “this is a syntactically correct piece of music”) so…

EDIT: I meant to add a little bit about prescriptivist vs descriptivist grammar here, because I got to thinking about it where Ball quotes some dude called Tagg says that some of the phrases in “Fernando” by Abba have a “meaning” that belies the lyrical intent. It’s like when someone says “I don’t think that words means what I think you think it means” and someone else says “je suis francais, it means what it means”: it’s just not the same language.

Elvis Costello said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but it is possible to write fascinatingly and well about the experience of music (Alex Ross), just not so much about how it works. I think the only solution is to listen with guidance to a lot more stuff.

See also: This is your brain on music – self-link! I feel dirty!

BBC’s coverage of The Proms – intelligent and passionate people talking about what’s in the music. Although, of course, they might be wrong…

Marmaduke @ B&H

Where B&H stands for Bourne & Hollingsworth, a basement bar on Rathbone Place, not Benson & Hedges. Obviously. I’m told B&H used to be an S&M restaurant/bar – where S&M is sado-masochism, not Sales and Marketing. Obviously.

Cute little venue now, with teacups with tealights in, floral wallpaper and a pretty tasty sound system that was clean and sharp all night. Also, lots of books in the lav – nice touch, except they were all above the urinal, which isn’t reading territory. Anyway, I was there on the 17th for a night of live musics.

First act was a special performance – booked for the same eveing but a week earlier, or something, was Tom Dibb ( [flash only]) who was accompanied by a wicked bassist and irritated by a pair of idiots sitting right in front of the “stage” – microphones – shouting over the music. It was some pretty good acoustic guitarmanship, with decent songs, especially felt the last one about slogging around shitty venues, dedicated to Mrs. Loud. Recording an album this week, apparently, could be worth checking out.

After Tom was Naomi Hates Humans (myspace) who was apparently described by one reviewer, somewhat unkindly, as sounding like KT Tunstall with a broken hand. Whatever. I think Naomi actually sounds like a female, acoustic Radiohead, only with a belting set of lungs and growly voice to scare your parents with. She also has a lot of badges to sell, two albums, and a loud and a quiet set. This was the quiet set, because of the shouty people who just got louder when the music went up, but it was still quite loud from time to time. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then Marmaduke (myspace) was on. Due to circumstances, his band, who used to be called the Mooche, but now apparently aren’t, was reduced to Pete (drummer) and (by coincidence) Naomi on violin, with the Duke playing his own guitar, as King John was busy attending to royal duties elsewhere. I haven’t seen Marm with Naomi since she joined, and I have to say I was pretty much blown away by the violin sound – top quality. The set was a mix of some older songs plus a few new ones, including one about being lazy which was pretty good, although I am rubbish at listening to lyrics. Must be getting on towards having a full albums-worth of tunes now…

Penultimate act of the night were Kitchen – possibly. I’d had a few extortionate Peronis by this stage, and I’m not sure they actually introduced themselves. Anyway, lead singer in a hat was Simon. On bass was Tim “Omar” Daze plus a drummer who probably had a name. Simon Kitchen has a lively stage presence – he was barely contained in the tny area set aside for the performers, jerking around like some kind of epileptic’s marionette, but also playing some pretty rocky acoustic guitar. I was plannig to leave about halfway through, but my toes were too busy tapping to get out of my chair and head up the stairs. I would definitely check them out again if I knew who they were.
edit: Kitchener. (myspace)

This Is Your Brain On Music

I was surprised! This is as much about neuroscience as it is about music theory. Which is a good thing. I learned many things about both areas. Like lefties (like me) have more symmetrical brains. And that most cultures around the world don’t have separate words for “sing” and “dance” which is fantastic. And that someone has programmed a neural network that can tap its foot to music, only it sometimes gets it wrong and taps twice as fast as it should – I do that!

And how many neuroscientists would be able to drop a sentence like “I was chatting to Joni Mitchell about her bassists.” (In a former life, Daniel Levitin was a moderately successful rock guitarist and a very successful music producer). He also drops bombs on all kinds of subjects: expertise – you can apparently become an expert at pretty much anything, so long as you put 10,000 hours of practice into it. That’s 2 hours a day for 10 years. With extra at the weekends. So maybe I’ll never be an expert guitarist (I skipped practising tonight to watch the football). But the way he explains music theory – without ever getting weirdly technical – makes it easy to see how music works on your head, why it makes you feel the way it does (some bits tap into your reptilian cerebellum, changes in chords that we don’t expect thrill us, even when we don’t realise what we were expecting, familiar songs burn neural pathways so strong that we can recognise them played backwards, or at different speeds, or on different instruments or all of them at once…).

The most important thing I think I will take from this book, after I’ve forgotten what it says about the various functions of the amygdala (mostly emotional response, I think), is that we are all experts at music listening (I must have racked up several sets of 10,000 hours by now) even if we can’t describe precisely what we’re listening for and that the distinction between expert musicians and everyone else is a relatively recent, and probably false divide. So I might as well keep banging on my guitar.

See also:
Bloomsbury Book of The Mind – Levitin is a neurologist who doesn’t much care for the interior physics of the brain when he could be describing mind functions.

How to be free – Tom Hodgkinson also preaches on the subject of music creation for everyone.