Archive for December 2010
When I first heard this song, back in 2001, it made me intensely nostalgic for my teenagehood in the 1980s. There was the beginning line, “a curse for this town”—I had grown up in a small suburb, and the Shins captured the feeling of wanting to live a different life somewhere else, but also being hopelessly attached to the place where you were from. Doesn’t the music remind you a little bit of biking around leaf-shaded streets?
But then what else punched my ’80s buttons? Something about the lyrics, which seem to be the words of a guy addressing someone he loved in the past who didn’t love him back? (“I was happier then … If you’d took to me …” etc.) Except that I didn’t have any particular situation like that in my life to look back upon and feel sorry about. Something about the poky, lo-fi acoustics? “New Slang” first reminded me of the Rain Parade, an underground band I liked a lot in the mid-’80s who, upon revisiting them later in life, I found to be crushingly boring. Except I don’t find the Shins boring at all—in fact, I love them—and comparing the two, the Shins don’t really sound anything like the Rain Parade. This video would seal the deal. The band members very cleverly reenact the covers of famous American albums from the ’80s, by underground groups by Slint, the Minutemen, Squirrel Bait, and Husker Du. Except I only listened to two of these records, The Replacements’ “Let it Be” and Cat Power’s “Moon Pix,” neither of which are among my favorite records of all time or anything. So the song and video make me feel nostalgic for an experience I didn’t have, and the covers of albums I mostly didn’t own, by evoking music that wasn’t so good anyway. But there’s no denying that minor key melody, that sad whistling.
Earworms is now just about one year old. Thanks, readers, for following this blog, and making the process of sharing my music-related thoughts so rewarding.
More late ’80s: Danielle Dax was a singer in the Siouxsie Sioux vein, and was genuinely interesting as a music-maker and songwriter, although she was too poppy to be underground and too unusual to be very popular, and maybe she wore just a bit too much finery—it was almost hard to tell what she looked like underneath all that hair and makeup and frills. Also, busy videos like this one probably didn’t help. Sadly, I think she recorded very little after the early ’90s. The Guardian recently called her the forerunner of Florence and the Machine and its ilk.
This is another video of a song that I liked from the jumble sale of the late ’80s. It was trashy, and I knew it, but I liked it anyway. It couldn’t have sounded more like New Order if it tried.
There’s a period of pop music history that I secretly love, even though no one talks about it much and I imagine music historians might think of it as a great big mess. In the late ’80s, everything got all mixed up—the alternative bands were putting out big, splashy, radio-ready albums; hip-hop was having its poppy moment; rock, indie gothy stuff, was enhanced by a dance beat and plinky-plonky noises. Thus, everything started to sound a little trashy. I bought a handful of crazy, slick singles and one-off albums by artists who had relatively short careers. No single one of these musicians really gained much traction in my life or in my record collection, but I think of the entire period as nevertheless being a whole lot of fun. I’ve been bookmarking some videos from this period as I come across them, and I’ll post them over the next few days.
This was a single I bought by a pair of sisters who were kind of like a British Salt ‘N’ Pepa. “Heat it Up” sounds like a lot of songs from this period—actually, it sounds a lot like “Pump Up the Volume,” with its spoken-word samples and chunka-chunka beat. The video, set against a big Twister board, is pretty typical too, with a total of three costume changes (one outfit for nightlife, one for painting the house, and one for traveling through Russia).
This is a historic day for Earworms! I’ve just come across the music video I’ve been waiting to see for the last twenty-three years. Though that’s not entirely correct: So rare is this video that I only had confirmation that it existed earlier this year. Since then I’ve been hoping that someone would post it to YouTube, and now someone has.
Miaow is the subject of an essay I wrote for an anthology I edited last year called Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums That Changed Their Lives. (Today I also discovered, to my chagrin, that the book has been remaindered. But the good news is that you can now buy it for $5.70 at Amazon.) “When It All Comes Down” is one of the three singles the band released during the short time that it was around, from 1984 to 1987. My essay is about how Miaow’s quiet career took on huge proportions in my life, and about my long-held wish to hear the demo tapes for the album the band never recorded—a wish that was eventually gratified.
In my essay, I wrote that “When It All Comes Down” is “the apotheosis of Miaow’s art, three and a half mountain-high minutes of yodels and handclaps that made my heart want to burst.” It still does. I’ve watched this video three times now, and each time I’m more delighted—it’s as charming and exuberant as the song. (It looks like the video was transferred from a videocassette of Factory Records promotional clips, which explains the weird William S. Burroughs thingy at the very end. Also, the sound reproduction could be a tad clearer—the production on the actual recording, which you can find on iTunes, really sparkles.) Hearing the song again has also allowed me to discover something new about it—I caught the reference to the Beatles on my 150th-or-so listen, but it crosses my mind now that maybe the whole thing is an homage to “And Your Bird Can Sing,” twisty guitar lines, kiss-off lyrics and all?
I have a policy against posting those YouTube videos where someone attaches an audio recording to a picture of an album cover or something, but since there’s only one official Miaow video, and since I’d like you to enjoy a few more Miaow songs, I’m making a few exceptions. This is the great “Sport Most Royal,” which appeared on the legendary C86 compilation and is an ode to the Hampstead women’s bathing ponds:
Here’s “Belle Vue,” Miaow’s first single:
Finally, “Angel’s Spit,” below, is a demo from the unrecorded album Priceless Innuendo: