Albums And What They Mean To Me #2

I haven’t really liked too many bands since 2000 or so. I think there’s three reasons for this. In part it’s because I’m happier delving through the past and rooting through the greats, rather than keeping up with what’s new. Another reason is because I’m no longer a youngster and, as wise old E.M. Forster said, there’s a narrowing of the gates necessary after 30 if the mind is to stay creative.  But probably the main reason is that I find a lot of the music unambitious and insipid – suited for these wan unimaginative days. (Let’s face it, we’ll probably never get bands like Throbbing Gristle, MC5, The Stranglers or The Smiths again). I mean, when The Strokes came out with the single “Hard To Explain” I was genuinely excited, but the album contained precisely 1.5 good songs: yet they were absurdly overhyped as somehow restoring the glories of CBGBs and the pre/post-punk New York thing. Anyone who had ever heard The Ramones or Television or Blondie knew what a pale imitation The Strokes were! Same with Interpol – an inferior imitation of Joy Division. Same with stuff like Editors, Spoon, British Seapower, Franz Ferdinand etc: just nothing special. And then there’s music that’s just utterly lacking in testicles, like The xx: weak, pallid, insipid, and utterly lacking in ambition. (I’m not even going to go into bedwetting mortgage rock like Coldplay).

However, one album that really grabbed me was Animal Collective‘s Strawberry Jam. Sometime in 2007, the Guardian did a feature on best albums of the 00s, with commenters adding their own favourites. I downloaded ones which sounded good, with Strawberry Jam swiftly becoming by far my favourite. As often happens when a good album strikes you with some force, it complemented my own mood and circumstances. I had recently arrived in China, teaching English in a small university. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in control of and directing my life, rather than letting things happen: I had taken things by the scruff of the neck and it was fun. China was fascinating, my students were lovely, and I was really enjoying being there, learning so much every day. I loaded the album onto my MP3 player when I first headed to Shanghai for the weekend and savoured it.

While most electronica albums are based on beats and rhythms which sometimes criss-cross but usually cohere, Strawberry Jam is more joyfully psychedelic, based on the idea that more is more. It starts off relatively conventionally with “Peacebone”, where a propulsive rhythm and shimmering blips keep the numerous seemingly-random samples and effects from becoming shapeless, while a lyric of fantastical images (“A jugular vein of a juggler’s girl”) goes nowhere but is striking. “Unsolved Mystery” starts off with a simple repeating two-chord accoustic riff (sampled, to cut out the decay), but discards this metronome as the song proceeds, overtaken by repeated colourful samples and vocal effects. The apotheosis of this approach is the next song, “Chores”. This is just a wonderful gleeful psychedelic maelstrom that is utterly infectious in its deep sense of wonder and joy. It’s kind of like “Tomorrow Never Knows” but REALLY REALLY HAPPY. I love the looped sample (0.56-1.10) – repeated thirty-three times! (I counted). The latter half of the album (after the remarkable “For Reverend Green”) is less euphoric and almost reflective, but follows the same musical approach, as with “Winter Wonderland”, a song which captures a sense of Yuletide magic.

It’s an album which perfectly complements a period of new experiences and heightened vision. It’s also adventurous, colourful and joyous. A wonderful album.

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4 thoughts on “Albums And What They Mean To Me #2

  1. Mike. The Stranglers????? I had the misfortune to see that bunch of tossers, that is until V2 our first local punk sort of did it spitting on their (black belt) bass player Bunuel (sic) and got back handed with a Fender Precision, and my gf and I had to drive Mr V2 to the hospital.

    We didn’t miss anything.

    I’m proud to say I have never heard anything by The Smiths, but I like Throbbing Gristle.

    MC5 were, and are, over- rated. The Stooges – 1969 and Funhouse 1970 – leave them in the shade, and do it with a lot more menace and guitar attack.

    Word to the wise. Never trust a paper which offer lists of the best ………

    Cheers and good to see you on deck again.

  2. I like The Stranglers. You might say they are bullying aggressive misogynists, and you’d be right – thing is, they do bullying aggressive misogyny/misanthropy VERY WELL. Plus there’s a certain deadpan black humour to them. They could get ludicrous (as with “The Gospel According To The Men In Black” or whatever it is), but they had a world-view and convey it with feeling. (Nice anecdote though!)

    I completely agree about The Stooges being far superior: I named MC5 because of their politics. Not much of that about these days: not even anyone like The Prodigy circa “Gilted Generation”.

    You’ve never even listened to The Smiths? If you can get past Morrissey’s affectations, you’ll see why I called Johnny Marr the best British guitarist of the 80s. An amazing range of styles and emotions, from euphoric joy to melancholy to indifference. “Hatful Of Hollow” has Peel etc sessions, where he’s more prominent than the layered guitars on the studio albums.

  3. Pingback: Albums and What They Mean to Me #3 | booksandmusicandstuff

  4. Pingback: Albums and What They Mean To Me #5 | booksandmusicandstuff

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