Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (pt. 9)


Orange Juice, …coals to newcastle

124 songs, nearly 7 hours of music, and if you think that’s overkill you should get a load of the music. Featuring vocals from a swooning fop no less original for echoing Bowie and anticipating Morrissey, the complete (and long unavailable) works herein trace a weird journey from shambolic pop to Talking Heads-style white funk. Embracing kitsch rather than ennui, they kickstarted a Scottish revolution that enriches pop to this day.

Terakaft, Aratan N Azawad

As one piece of an expanding puzzle of nomadic Saharan musicians wrestling the concept of “desert rock” away from the likes of Kyuss, Terakaft exemplify what is remarkable about the bluesy guitar music emanating from the Tuareg. Boasting melodies exotic enough to fascinate world music virgins, they concurrently embrace hooks and western-derived guitar leads. It’s enough to awaken nostalgia even in those who left classic rock behind years ago.


Kendrick Lamar, Section.80

Can’t get behind everything this Compton rapper does – schmaltzy ballad here, preachy interludes there, folks “actin’ like hoes”. But elsewhere on this loosely conceptual album, a young man confident enough to use his real name wonders aloud if hitting on a stewardess would flag him as a terrorist and calls out Ronald Reagan’s inner-city legacy before going out spitting political over a flurry of jazz beats. The dude’s 23 years old. 

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

The either/or love/hate directed at this mild-mannered folkie has never made much sense, and whatever formal limitations are embodied in his garbled verse and pretty melodies certainly aren’t offensive. Here he wards off the sophomore slump by embracing busied arrangements, sometimes bombastically so. Intentions re: the schlocky finale are less obvious – perhaps a litmus test on the perimeters of cool, or just basking in non-ironic banality.


Brilliant Colors, Again And Again

Maybe this kind of deliberately amateurish twaddle was endearing back in the early days of C86 and twee-pop. But I suspect if The Wedding Present or The Shop Assistants had highlighted vocals this desultory, lifeless, and pitch-challenged, there wouldn’t have been a movement worth referencing. In literature, this kind of thing is called a genre exercise, although even there you need to put all the commas in the right place. 

James Pants, James Pants

Archaic synths and muffled vocals of no consequence, assembled by a fella hailing from “an American backwater called Spokane,” last seen hawking a concept album “made while reading mystical books”. Like his many chillwave contemporaries, he suspects Atarai graphics represent the height of Western art. Unlike them, he claims to represent a movement he’s dubbed “freshbeat”. There certainly are a few beats.