Happy New Year! I made this for you (yes you).
Happy New Year! I made this for you (yes you).
I’m not very good at the whole “albums of the year” thing. I only intermittently plug myself into current releases, so always miss a lot of gems and find myself playing catch-up at the end of the year. If there’s one record that grabbed me and kept me coming back for more in 2012, though, it’s Love This Giant by David Byrne and St Vincent. The songs are often as odd and misshapen as the cover art, but the hooks and the great horn arrangements bring me out in a big grin.
It happens that my favourite Christmas present this year was also David Byrne’s book How Music Works. Before I started I didn’t know much about Byrne or his career. I remember hearing his song ‘Like Humans Do’ when it was used as demo music with Windows Media Player, and I’ve always been vaguely aware of Talking Heads as a band I should know more about, but until Love This Giant I’d never really engaged with his work. Still, I found myself constantly nodding in agreement with How Music Works.
Byrne’s main thesis is that music depends on context, a truth often overlooked in favour of the myth of individual, free-floating creativity. The points he makes may not be totally new, but he expresses them extremely well, and always has the perfect illustration on hand. The book is chatty, witty and wise – the result of someone who has thought about the subject his whole life.
So I didn’t have to care about Byrne’s music to enjoy his book, but that’s not to say that the two aren’t linked. The sense of almost alien detachment that makes his explanation of, say, CDs so readable – it’s the same persona that informs ‘Like Humans Do’, as well as ‘I Should Watch TV’ on Love This Giant (Byrne has diagnosed himself with a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome, which may not be irrelevant here).
Not every musician speaks insightfully about music, but it’s a joy to find the ones that do. I love reading the surreally insightful interviews that Tom Waits invariably gives. And I remember reading Elvis Costello on songwriting, asserting that the only subjects for songs were (I’m paraphrasing here, and probably unfairly) “I miss someone, I lost something, someone died.” Sometimes musicians are most comfortable talking about themselves, it seems, when they’re talking about something else.
And by the way, Annie Clark of St Vincent is also a pretty great interviewee. Here she is being asked all the right questions by Jian Ghomeshi and giving all the right answers:
Here’s to another year of hearing, and talking about, great music. Perhaps this time I’ll manage to stay up-to-date. I doubt it.
There will come a time, and it will be soon, when I shall bring forth an almighty brain-dump about the amazing month of travelling and performing I’ve had. Swingles spent three weeks in the US and Canada and, if I’m honest, my overriding thought at the moment is that I’m glad we were there then and not now, with Hurricane Sandy fast approaching landfall. But I have more to say than that rather selfish little nugget, and I must must do it, if only for the pleasure of remembering and re-living.
More pressing, though, is the fact that we have a HUGE MASSIVE EXCITING GIG at Cadogan Hall this Friday. Tickets are here. Best purchase you’ll ever make.
I reflected then that I might, had I been given omnipotence and a free hand, have made a fine world. I might have bethought me of the trees and rivers, of the different keys in music, of friendship, and innocence; but upon my word and honour, I should not have dared to arrange these matters of love and marriage as they are, and my world should have lost sadly thereby. What an overwhelming lesson to all artists! Be not afraid of absurdity; do not shrink from the fantastic. Within a dilemma, choose the most unheard-of, the most dangerous, solution. Be brave, be brave! Ah, Madame, we have got much to learn.
- Karen Blixen, ‘The Deluge at Nordeney’
Which is another way of saying that I’m making lots, reading lots, and entirely failing to blog. Hope you’re all well.
I yelled it from every rooftop and social network but somehow, almost two months after the fact, I haven’t got around to posting about the fact that big things are a-poppin’ in my life, to the tune of a new job and newish life-direction. I’m singing with the Swingle Singers as their new low bass – a dream of mine ever since I got involved with a cappella music at university. So far it’s been hugely musically fulfilling and has brought me into contact with places and people I might never have visited or met. And it has the bonus of making a lot of what I’ve been doing over the last five years look like “relevant experience” rather than “faffing about”.
So, that’s my full-time gig for the foreseeable future. I’ve finished up my journalism MA, though I hope to keep writing intermittently and making use of all that media law. Oh, and as ever, I’m brimful of good intentions to blog more.
As for the rest… musical projects have been multiplying, rabbit-like, in my life over the last year or so. Like rabbits, they’ve been great fun to have around, but there comes a point where they start to nibble away at all the vegetation, and by vegetation I mean time and mental energy. So with a heavy heart I’m having a bit of a cull.
From August fans of Zig Zag Birds will also be able to catch a few new songs and videos on YouTube. We loved dipping our toes into playing live this summer and, though it will probably be a while before our diaries align to let us squeeze in any more gigs, we’re taking this opportunity to get down versions of the unrecorded tunes from our live set.
So. There it is. I’m also reading Moby Dick, which is AWESOME, right?
Nothing worse than people humblebragging about busy they are. But. Not sure I can remember a week as crammed as this one…
Tomorrow (Tuesday), Zig Zag Birds are playing our first ever gig, at the Dublin Castle in Camden:
Wednesday night sees the second ever performance of Backstep, a mad and marvellous piece by composer Chris Lewis, for beatboxer and 8 singers (of which, hooray, I’m one). It’s at 9pm at the Green Carnation in Soho. This was the first performance:
On Thursday, I have an exam on this:
And rehearsals every day, writing, blah blah. Anyway, if you can come to either of the gigs it’d be great to see you. If you can bring me some vitamin supplements, that’d be nice too.
When Dirty Loops put out their Adele cover this week, my Facebook feed was full of it. Actually, my Facebook feed is like a Dirty Loops fan convention. Fair enough, they’re pretty amazing:
But it’s not hard to spot which kinds of people were sharing this video.