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Well, yesterday’s little walk on the ad hoc chide side seems to have gone down well. No writs at the foot of my bed, anyway.

NEXT Week in the PILL BOX Compound. . .

The shiny-domed ever-snarling face of “everybody’s friend, everybody's enemy!”, ex-goalkeeper and ‘I'M NOT IRA’s LoopWhisk™ MAN!’ (for two weeks in 2001). . .
H.B.D Presents . . . his annual ANTI-Hootenanny, the equinoctal Shootanonentity! (EXTRA points for Rowland Rivron...)

Traumatised Doves! Massacred Showtunes! Leave the kids with the Camp (and, on request, camp) babysitter and sample the light entertainment stylings of the man the late Guy Debord called ... the police on, when a "great, great art terrorism ‘prank’" involving a unicycle, a fake ‘big cheque’, a fake Kalashnikov AND two real Czech transexuals turned into a “terrible, terrible misunderstanding". Just goes to show you how far hermeneutics will get you (or maybe not) on two thirds of a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and some mis-labelled leapers.

For the over-40s: Stretchmarkersize™ to the Old Skool Soundz of Rockin Keith & tha Sweat Box. Momma gon’ knock you AH-T! if you don’t TOUCH those toes. . .

TV {2 The} QUICK

The Politics Desk has just handed me this late addition for U.K. viewers:
Two MUST-SEE progs, to-nite SUNDAY 18

BBC2 7.15 Correspondent War Spin
'The media at war, examining the truth behind the mission to save Private Jessica Lynch and the roots of embedding cameras and reporters in military units in Iraq.'
{IF BBC2 don't shunt it to a slot after midnight on Tuesday and put on some urgent programme about a Doily Museum in North Hants instead, as has been their recent wont. [See recent Pill Boxes, passim]

CHANNEL 4 9.00 The Killing Zone
An undercover report from the Gaza Strip. . .

And I will be asking questions, you know I will, so I'll be expecting bullet-point reaction sheets through my mail slot tomorrow a.m.

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I’ve realised a lot of the music I most enjoy – and listen to the most, as opposed to venerating somebody but never actually playing them much – seems to fall between the reviewerly classifications. Not because it’s so weird (and is floating around without a ‘puncept’ all its own) but probably rather the opposite. . .

Voices, as some of you already know, are really my thing.
And there are certain voices I adore who colleagues at my main mag The Wire, say, might find dolorously unadventurous, fit only for a guest spot on Jools Belgium’s World of Plain.
Something like Gillian Welch’s "Elvis Presley Blues", say, reduces (or, should I say, elevates) me to tears; and Lucinda Williams "Lonely Girls" likewise just spirits me away. . .

But this is the sort of music most likely to receive only a cursory four-star 150 word ‘review’ in Mojo or the spectacularly mis-named Uncut. What is the point of such reviews - unless they’re in Greil Marcus Real Life Top Ten? (What next – reviews which merely say: BUY / DON’T BUY, like WALK / DONT WALK signs?) There are people – Blue Nile, Rickie Lee Jones, David Baerwald, Jane Siberry – who skirt the boundary lines of AOR; but they have something, some ‘x’ factor, which makes them so much more: more difficult or diffuse or dream-struck. They don’t necessarily proffer the sort of lyrics that someone from School of Marcus could use to write about the early settlers in Pennsylvania; and often times they’re not even spectacularly good or especially so-different as singers. (Arto Lindsay, e.g., is never going to be carried shoulder-high to the front of a convention celebrating thunderously resonant voices.)

But you don’t need me to tell you how this works.
In art, as in life: we FALL helplessly for some murmurous voice whose barely-there ‘Hey…’ sends us spinning out of orbit.

How one voice transfixes you, seems lazily guilelessly to strip you down to your marrow, while more celebrated or rarified others leave you completely indifferent or irritated. . .who knows? who can tell?
(See below, and my almost pathological reaction to yer man Bono – and you leave him alone, now, de ye hear, ye big bully ye, he’s a wee angel so he is what did that wee lad ever do to you ye miserable auld goat that ye are?)

Lately, a number of CDs have gravely disappointed: Arto Lindsay, Nick Cave, Bonnie Prince Billy, Kristin Hersh, even the new Tindersticks. Usually because they sound trapped in an idea of themselves; have tried so piece-by-piece in-place hard that things just sound overwrought or overdone: like they were giving A Masterclass In My Music…; or too ‘professional’ of a sudden, miserly, mono-dimensional, the Song's ‘loneliness’ way too facile - at 50 or 70 minutes - to break against our shores with due, expected force.

Leaving just the odd track, here and there.
Which is, anyway, the way I prefer things: odd tracks, like little dreams.
Or twin stars.

I would never make an archivist – except maybe of my own highs & lows.
And this isn't that sort of weblog. . .

So: the tracks to follow aren’t monolithic signifiers of cross cultural import. They're just . . .some voices I liked recently. (With maybe a few things going on between the indices of that tongue and this ear that maybe only the analyst should ever really hear about.)

But this is not nothing: sometimes it’s these nearly-overlooked tracks, these brief flashes or flickers, that do the hardest, dirtiest work on your spirit, when all else (all that is acclaimed, and fanfared, and over sold) has failed.

So herewith the first in an Occasional Series of Songs From Under The Snail Tracks, little big melodies that slipped thru the cracks . . .

+ ----- -


Astonishing duet, cette chanson pour cette renne: fatalistic melancholy male voice, airing his plaint in an Other tongue; his female partner – embedded in another culture, abed in another timezone, so faraway, so close – seems more stoic, resolved, accepting. Eastern strings, indefinable tone. Call and response. What else is there, finally, but our Call, and the ever-present longing for an uncannily fitting re-ponse?

He: “Touts du les femmes sont des rennes –” She: “– but some are more regal than others.” Oh, my: shiver, pause, shiver. Strings like a sunset going down over a distant city … or dawn coming up over another. He: “This song is for my queen…” She: “I am gone. Gone with the wind. I am gone: in search of a new king…

And there it might unfurl, stately, simple, beautiful enough.
But in the middle of its bi-coastal night, a sudden, joyously savage irruption, like Bataillean lightning. (In her youth, Faithfull played Desdemona… now, in regal middle age, she here essays a kind of bitterly wise female Lear, or Duchess of malficience, malfeasance, surveying a second rate kingdom, whether it’s personal or political not important with words as cuttingly & cunningly economical as this, spilling out glorious rage at the world’s refusal to meet her standards or dreams, its wars, its suicides, its cowardly and evasive would-be suitors who say one thing and do another, its plummet, her protest, her MAGNIFICENT example:

Burn the town, burn the backstreet bars, burn your boardwalk basement trade! / Feel the flame, feel the curve of the sword! / Your living flesh reeks of compromise, babe. / And in the face of barbarian hordes - an honest defeat is your only reward.

Oh, my.

Somehow the talk here of kings and queens doesn’t embarrass, the opposite, it seems plainly right, no other words will do. The most natural address in the world: we are or should be Kings and Queens to one another, this we know. You touch my hand and it a ruler's gesture. You only have to say my original name for the sovereignty in me to come. . .

Yet the most killing line is still to be aired, as she takes her partner’s line, his declaration of avowed and avowedly eternal devotion (knowing as he does how no other can ever take her place, no one can simply ‘be’ a ‘new’ Queen for him, it is once and once only, she is this Other he dreamed of and the dreamer awoke… into her Dream of him), and turns it back round against him, like a graceful dagger of loving surrender; or, perhaps, surrender as loving misdirection:

All women are queens. Tell this to the woman who loves you. You may not live up to her dreams, which even a king can not always do.


And then they finally join, or seem to, in some other aether, some atopian weather, in that uncertain aether which is Song, and which is hope, which is dawn, return, embrace, home, home at last, and … totally estranged, in the final pulse of the song’s heartbreaking chorus, its heartbreaking knowledge, the line, addressed by each to the other, sung together: “You cannot be friend now with tears in your eyes.

You cannot be my friend, now, as long as you still have the infection of hope, the suspended tear of lost and future love, hanging fire in your mind’s eye. We cannot be ‘friends’ now, not after the storm's rearrangement.
And maybe this is apt.
A love you would not defend with your life (?) Your living flesh reeks of compromise, babe (?)”
A knowledge this deposed king will have to carry around as long as he (bitterly, ruefully self-reproachingly) lives on and resumes battle with the Real (am I alone in hearing, between the lines here, some sort of terrible allegory of real-time Civil War or revolution gone tragically wrong?), and so prepares this song, from within the unclosed circle of his ruins, his ruined kingdom.
After such knowledge, what (self) forgiveness?

TANAKH “Gently Johnny”

After feeling let-down by new releases from Will Oldham, Nick Cave and Kristin Hersh (such willed starkness can be just a tad too airless for me over 50 minutes), where to turn for a melancholy soundtrack washed with/in wider reliefs of spectral color?

This strange record (with a cast of dozens, including a Dirty Three or one) seems to be the grand coup of one Jesse W. Poe, and is as good as anything on (say) The Boatman's Call, maybe better.

Like Lo/Faithfull it here and there explores the intimate drama of male/female partnership; e.g., “Prayers In The Pavillions”, where the female vox is like a warm abstract wind of nominal encouragement around the broody male in his perplexity: “It comes and goes but I don’t know / How it is, when / My love still grows.

Male vox takes the air alone for this traditional ballad.
Traditional, but not Puritan: “I put my hands on / her hair. She says: I like it there / I put my hands on / her lips. She says: tell me this…” Sublime astral guitar fillips like embodied shiver. “I put my hands on / her belly. She says: do you want to fill me?” Gently, gently, trumpet, violin, flute, strings, choral guitars & string bass coil vinuously around this plainsong stake: something simple gone eerie, aswirl, luxuriant. Strange clouds, empty lowlands. I have my magic dagger but is it for scission or union? I have my wand but no cup to touch. I have in fact forgotten how or who or when to touch. Touch is the thing, here, in both song and worn on its sleeve(s). A lovely outward skein all alchemical gold crimson orange peach. The CD itself then slips out in its own squared glove, tactile black, a black sun, black for a sweet white (k)night, like it has been gifted its own special CD lingerie for the night, this suddenly noiseless night, night’s loom after sun's set in the horizon's sieve, saying: Gently, gently join me. Do you want to . . . hear me?


Lovely band name, album title, song. To be honest, like the Kristin Hersh cd, I found this a bit relentlessly lo(w) a-c-h-ed out over 50 mins; but sometimes it happens that a cd which otherwise leaves you unmoved will reserve & bequeath one track of sheer dazzle, and such is the case here.

"Twin Stars" is a sheerly gorgeous plaint; coming on something like an ambisexual Tindersticks, this lilting six minute tango is as slow as a foolish boy’s dawning, perhaps slower, as slow as such a delicately heady feeling can be without stopping to look at the evening skies. Dana Schechter {leader, writer, singer} has a voice that sounds like something you once dreamed, an essence of all (y)our favourite dusty voices, a feathery girl voice which also manages to sound like Clark Gable’s face looks in The Misfits.

Lovely violin-led melody stops and goes. Sighs. Hiccoughs. Smooths back out again. (If I put a ‘/’ in, the way Schechter sings, it’d be between nearly every word. But so –)
Twin little stars, they come out over us / And their light will shine, upon our lips / All for NOTHING.

Fatalism as jouissance, then, and an absolutely heartbreaking final chorus:
You make me FEEL-like I’m alive! Well it’s alright… yeah its ALLright. It’s alright. Yeah yeah yeah yeah YEAH…

Yeah: it’s alright. Right.

And just as you think you may sink below where you know you can still afford to swim, keeping that daily smile over your hurting places, she breaks out in a . . .jaunty whistle! A lovely leaping lariat whistle, which like to says: “Oh look: here I am again. It’s … alright.” Yeah. It is. It's ALRIGHT. For now. . .

· from The Balladeer: The Best of Ismael Lo [WRASSE CD]
· from Villa Claustrophobia [alien8 CD ALIENCD33]
· from what’s mine is yours [NEUROT CD NR024]

posted by Ian 5/18/2003 02:17:00 PM

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