It’s all a blur.
All I know is this: I was here at the GritFX offices late one night when I (typically) got the hankering for some Lionel Richie. The last thing I remember is reaching up to the crammed top shelf of my vinyl collection trying to slide out the Endless Love soundtrack (if Lionel isn’t Top Shelf then, hey, I don’t know what is, right?) and it’s protective plastic sleeve, being wedged so tightly in my extensive soundtrack section, had gotten stuck (no doubt catching on the soundtracks to Eating Raoul or Every Which Way But Loose). So I heaved with all my might, ‘Come on, Lionel, you fu…’
Then everything got very small and very dark.
Now, there may have been some strange hallucinatory dream-sequences in there somewhere, a surreal set of passages and visions which the doctors tell me may (or may not) return in time. I don’t know. But the next thing I recall is a numb darkness and Dave and Amanda calling my name.
‘Decoy!…Holy shit!…Decoy!…are you in there?’
I couldn’t respond. Not verbally, anyway. Dave told me later that he heard some kind of muffled sound, but I have no recollection and we do have a rodent problem in the office. (Plus we’ve discovered Max conducting so many spooky rituals here that we’re quite certain the office is haunted.)
I was buried under a large wooden wall unit and a tonne of vinyl. Lionel had locked arms with Mary Woronov on one side and Clint Eastwood on the other, then holding tight, brought the entire weight of my musical obsession crashing down on top of me.
Pinned by the collective grooves of Pink Floyd, The Pointer Sisters, James Bond Soundtracks, Hall & Oates, Talking Heads, Billy Joel, The Style Council, Donna Summer, Randy Newman, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Tony Bennett, The Beatles, Meatloaf, Julie London, Roxy Music, Bob Dylan, Tangerine Dream, Paul Williams, ELO, Dave Brubeck, The Bangles, Devo, The Carpenters, Millie Jackson, The Human League, Nancy Sinatra, The Church, Willie Nelson, Japan, Bill Evans, Ratcat, Abba, The Cocteau Twins…you name it. If it was put down on wax, it was crushing me.
I’m not sure how long I was trapped there. Dave and Amanda were busy moving house and frenetically running the whole show from home. Wadrick was probably at the cinema or harassing publicists or abusing celebrities or nodding off at home, drooling into his popcorn. Max was probably sailing a crystal ship through the Pillars of Hercules, or swindling himself a fake passport. Who knows?
‘Hey, relax guys, this is me you’re talking to.’ That’s what I’d told Dave and Amanda when they entrusted me with the office keys. They’d gone over everything twice and written me a to-do list. I nodded absentmindedly, already planning my workplace sabbatical. Sure I’d get some work done. I would answer the phones, take out the garbage, but not before I danced around the office Tom Cruise-in-his-undies style. This was gonna be grand. The place to myself. Just me and my music. DJ Decoy spins the hits. Then I’d wind down and order in pizza and watch some episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. (Sometimes I’d order pizza in my best Buck Rogers/Elvis voice and when they said: ‘Your pizza should be there in half an hour’, I’d say: ‘’anks Twiki…‘ank you very much’)
That was the plan. But the fates had other ideas.
Hours…days…weeks seemed to pass by in this stateless state. One thing haunted me. It was Lionel, falling and swooping from a great height, the same frozen mid-jump image in the gatefold cover of the Can’t Slow Down album. He holds onto the pole, but seems to be descending on me, the enormous smiling moustache closing in. But under that vinyl mountain it was mostly just blackness.
‘Hold on, Decoy, we’ll get you out!’ The voices were faint but reassuring. I didn’t know what was going on exactly, but instinct told me that whatever was wrong was being put right. So I let these disembodied voices do their thing.
As the stacks of wax were lifted, strange colours exploded in the corners of the dark. Light poured in and seemed alien. It took me a few minutes to adjust and recognise the concerned faces of Dave and Amanda looking down with shock.
‘Can’t slow down’, I said.
‘Its okay, Decoy, just take long deep breaths,’ Amanda reassured me.
‘No, I mean the Lionel Richie album, Can’t Slow Down, it fell on me.’
Dave patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘Decoy, your whole collection fell on you, mate.’
‘Lionel’s moustache pinned me down like a rock and roll wrestler.’
This comment must have troubled them because Amanda said, ‘Dave, call an ambulance.’
Everything happened far away; an emergency call, glasses of water, a jacket propped under my head. My breathing was shallow due to the enormous phantom weight of Lionel’s moustache. I was light-headed and my thoughts raced and skipped like a dirty CD.
‘What year is it?’ I asked.
‘Really? It’s two thousand and twelve.’
‘Why, what did you think it was?’
‘I don’t know…maybe April.’
When I was finally lifted and carried out on a stretcher, I saw the state of my office. My records had crashed down and slit my office like a gutted Tauntaun, and its vinyl innards had cocooned me and shielded me from the elements. The Star Wars reference gave way to another: Seeing the cavity where I lay crushed, it occurred to me, maybe I was more like Han frozen in carbonite and Dave and Amanda were more like Chewie and Princess Leia in Boussh disguise.
Crumpled under the mass of records, was a print out of my ‘Albums I listened to in 2011’ piece. And as long overdue as it is, I thought I’d post it anyway.
So, six months after the fact and in no particular order, I present:
My Sonic Highlights of 2011
Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer (2011)
This was the cool underground pop album that snuck past and nutmegged the goalie last year. Eleanor has been one half of The Fiery Furnaces engine with her brother Matthew for about ten years now. I fell in love with her (ahem, I mean them) from word go. They were like a strange updated hybrid of 60s psych-rock, 70s prog and The Rolling Thunder Revue. But amid this skewed aesthetic they always managed some top-notch melodies and some of the juiciest (and memorable) lyrics this side of Dylan or Sparks. When Matt released his own (double alb) solo effort Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language School in 2006, I think a lot of fans assumed that the Furnaces were his musical baby, or that he was at least the mad scientist behind the crazy genius of their albums. And there’s no doubt that he is a major part of that unique Fiery identity. (His current vinyl-only solo project came in at eight albums in one year!) But Last Summer proves that Eleanor is the yin to Matt’s yang. This album will continue to grow, perhaps sneaky and unseen, and in 10 to 20 years time it’ll be written about as a lost classic, and hundreds of ageing rock critters will say: ‘Ah, yes, I knew this would eventually get the recognition it so obviously deserves.’
EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (2011)
When I first heard the song “California” I stared out my window and the sky began to occupy that territory between blue and grey, between clear and cloudy. It was a just another day of murk that has haunted the mountains for about a year now. It’s hard to keep track of time. The seasons merge. Summer was cold. Autumn warmed up for a week. Then winter came, and never ended. Each night when the winds start blowing, I walk outside to see if any stars are visible. I never see any, and as my breath becomes fog, and even though I’m over 12,000 kilometres from California, in the darkest moments when I can easily imagine the world ending beyond the few streetlights I see, that song somehow seems like the final collapsing stages set to music. Somewhere between hope and regret. The faithful soul says a prayer, the lost soul pities itself, and the damaged soul spits in Armageddon’s face. (Expect to hear it on a promo for The Walking Dead.)
Washed Out – Within and Without (2011)
‘There won’t be no busy signals coz busy signals don’t exist anymore.’ So sings disgruntled indie band The Nap on Portlandia. ‘I just think the thing is, there’s too many bands now, I mean, that’s the bottom line, I go to a record store, I haven’t heard of half the bands, we need something that sets us apart[…]we don’t have a thing, we don’t have a gimmick.’ For my money, the next couple of minutes are some of the best comedy and/or rock criticism in years. I’m biased, I love the show. But the evolution of Cat Nap illustrates perfectly the post-info-age crisis. The oppressing everything’s-been-done consciousness of the internet… the hyper-awareness of viral video… shameless self-promotion… the social-media plague… the perennial irony… the enshrining of gimmick… the exaltation of celebrity… texting… tweets… likes and dislikes. This is the new synergy. We should all be issued with t-shirts announcing: Stalker, Suckerfish, Curator, Conduit, Filter, Flunkey. Alas, even they would probably sell. Irony can de-fang just about anything these days. Anyway, if you ever wondered what that cool ambient electronic music is on the Portlandia intro, it’s from Washed Out’s 2009 Life of Leisure EP. There seems to be a whole swag of US bands plumbing this territory these days, Memory Tapes, Warm Ghost, Neon Indian, come to mind. And it’s getting called Chillwave. As if Warp label never existed. But really, who cares I suppose, if it’s good. And I guess it’s all a little more ‘pop’ than Boards of Canada or Autechre. And Washed Out is good. Very good.
Harold Budd – In the Mist (2011)
If Harold Budd puts out an album, I’ll get it, no question. It’s a done deal. The man is a genius in my book, and one of the true unsung legends of not only ambient music, but music period. Last year saw not only this album, but also collaborations with Robin Guthrie and Eraldo Bernocchi titled Bordeaux and Winter Garden. (There was also a reissue of “Translucence/Drift Music”, his brilliant double album with John Foxx which was packaged with Nighthawks [featuring Ruben Garcia].) The music is (of course) light and minimal and exquisitely beautiful. A natural soundtrack to the vast ecology of rhythms that our collective lives add to each day by simply breathing and blinking as the sun sets and the moon rises and the tides lap toward us and drift away. Yet it’s a music that highlights the inadequacy of words and descriptions (especially mine). There is a song on the album called “The Art of Mirrors (After Derek Jarman)”, and when I saw that I was reminded of Jarman’s final film, Blue; a single 80 minute shot of Yves Klein-blue set to minimal music and moving poetic voice overs. The final words of the film are: ‘Our name will be forgotten in time. No one will remember our work. Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun. For our time is the passing of a shadow. And our lives will run like sparks through the stubble. I place a delphinium, blue, upon your grave.’ His music sounds a bit like that.
Destroyer – Kaputt (2011)
They’re a prolific lot those New Canadian Pornographers. How many other bands are they all in? Musician Dan Bejar has been helming Destroyer now for over 15 years and this is their (his) ninth album. This has a great catchy vibe. I sometimes think I smell some irony on these grooves, but the melodies and sounds are just so good that either way, I go with it. I really enjoy listening to this album, coz it just sounds so good. It’s been put together well. Beautifully produced. Snappy lyrics. And I find it suits warms afternoons when I fancy a drink. Good cocktail soul pop music. Some nice lengthy numbers. Some real surprising atmospheres. Saxophones and flutes and little windows cut into this diorama with little dramas playing out inside these rooms and streets that are framed and lit and shot quite skilfully. Very noir. Each time I listen to this, I like it more. It’s like a fresh new blend of adult contemporary FM radio west-coast soft-rock. Like Pet Shop Boys jamming with Sade on “New Kid in Town”. The songs “Chinatown”, “Blue Eyes”, “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker”, “Kaputt” and “Bay of Pigs” are particular standouts. …What am I saying? They’re all good.
Austra – Feel it Break (2011)
There are certain artists, in any field, whose work has such an impact that it becomes a trope or an archetype, almost creating a genre unto itself. In the fairly recent female underground scene, I think Cat Power and Karen O are good examples (Feist too). We’re still feeling the effects of their influence. Their vocal styles have given rise to many imitators. And it seems since Bat For Lashes came on the scene we’ve seen a bunch of witchy women take the stage and try to channel Kate Bush. (Some more successfully than others.) On the less interesting end we get Florence and the Machine. On the more interesting end we get School of Seven Bells. Austra seems like the new addition to this group. These Toronto natives have produced a really strong debut. It’s slightly more electronic than what you might expect (from my poor set-up). Somehow these Toronto natives manage to conjure a thick atmosphere that’s kinda distant and spooky, and kinda Celtic, but contemporary too. Imagine Loreena McKennitt or Enya being put out on the Italians Do It Better label.
Brian Eno – Drums Between the Bells (2011)
The man. He just keeps going. He just keeps ‘pouring it out in new ways.’ Slap this on and things change. All the new bands that people tell you about seem to be just a bunch of kids growing beards and jamming in the garage. Which I know sounds cynical. But when I hear music like this, it makes me realise that perhaps age, and experience, and artistry, and restraint, and subtlety still matter. There are still things left to express in the human heart. There are spheres beyond the reach of media. There are ways to make music that can still excite and refresh the modes. This is encouraging music. This is good aural karma. This is smiling music. This is transformative. This will help adjust your vision. Watch slower. Think slower. Be still. Let the world hurtle by. Refuse the race. This album will make you feel better.
dEUS – Keep You Close (2011)
Another one from mighty dEUS. Another damn good one too. There is so much atmosphere in Tom Barman’s voice, and I think the band are just getting more masterful at conjuring the right dramatic context for it to stalk like some ancient ghost-ship on dark seas. The torches shine faintly through the fog, and there’ll be some stories to tell after this voyage. Then it seems to shift landscapes mid-song and the scene is more dark-mountain-road than ocean. But the night is always the same. Some of your senses are marginalised. Be careful.
Bill Callahan – Apocalypse (2011)
Ah, Bill. You’ll always be Smog to me. Almost twenty years of songs now. Wow. Really? Has it been that long? Am I really that old? Damn. Still, I like to think we get better with age. Bill seems to anyway. This is another great album. And my favourite since Supper (2003). From dirge folk singer to Zen cowboy, Bill has travelled some strange roads and brought back songs made of dirt and sky and hide. His songs often require a flexible ear and open spirit in order to sit in the saddle. But the pay-off is endless. And you’ll return to his songs many times over the years. Fred Neil meets Willie Nelson and they sit on some mountain top, playing cards and drinking whiskey and eyeing the horizon like prisoners. They don’t say much, but each time they open their mouths a huge boulder rolls down into the valley. Perhaps they’re slowly building a stone staircase. Clouds pass by overhead, smiling. The sun bakes it all into a fiction that tastes sweet and true to someone like Bill Callahan. Dreams and reality mix and fall apart. Neither are any help. Go on instinct alone. Feel your way.
Wild Flag – Wild Flag (2011)
Now this is my idea of a supergroup. If you’re not hip to the legendary family-tree of this band, then you got some catch up to do. But either way, feel free to wave this wild flag while you go back and listen to some Sleater-Kinney and Helium. When I first heard the single “Romance”, the groove soon got me. But it was during the 2nd or 3rd listen that the genius in the lyrics started to blow me away also. Try this:
‘Hands down we like, we like what we like/ Hands down we like, we love, we choose you/ We’ve got an eye, an eye for what’s romance/ We’ve got our eyes, our eyes trained on you/ You watch us dance, we dance ’til we’re dying/ We dance to free ourselves from the room/ We love the sound, the sound is what found us/ Sound is the blood between me and you.’ Now that’s cool. This is a killer alb of mad skewed punk-rock, delivered how only four cool smart dudes with inventive ears and creative chops could.
Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (2011)
Remember the future? The old future of SF paperbacks with blocky robotic font and sweeping imaginative artworks? It was a future that still seemed like the future. The future was going to be different. Well, now the future is here and most of it looks like a cover version of the past. (Or perhaps that should be ‘an ironic ukulele version of the past’.) Remakes, repackages, reissues and reunions. If the betrayal of that modernist promise could manifest, it would be a guy, Daniel Lopatin, calling himself Oneohtrix Point Never, pushing his vintage Roland Juno synth out into the void, finding tones fit for the reflections and recriminations of past and future. The album would be called Replica, and it would be illustrated with an arresting Virgil Finlay drawing. This is it.
Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow (2011)
What a time its been for Kate fans…two albums in one year! Well, OK, The Director’s Cut was more of a revisiting of sorts, but still, great to hear, and some real nice new versions of Sensual World songs in particular. The new “Deeper Understanding” was brilliant, and our tech-obsessed years between drinks have rendered it all the more poignant now. Still, for as interesting as her George Lucas revisionism was, things were taken to a new level when she released this, 50 Words for Snow. This won the album-of-the-year race easily in my book. Seven songs, an hour of music. This is an epic. Kate has said this is a Christmas themed album. OK, fine. But to leave things there is to let myopic definitions brand a glorious underworld of possible meanings and poetic abstractions that lay beneath the surface, or the snow, as the case may be. This album illuminates more with each listen. And mystifies at the same time. It’s close to perfection. It’s the work of an absolute master. Meet this halfway and it’ll floor you. It’ll sweep you off your feet and leave you in a state, elevated with vision, and in wonder of Kate Bush’s consummate skill. You’ll witness the birth of a snowflake, falling to earth, learning the mortal truths of our brief lives along the way. The small ways in which we try to protect ourselves against the inevitable disintegration of our families, put to song. The ways memory not only documents but invents. The growing importance of mystery and monster. The reassuring futility of tears and silence. The imagination’s power to transform any solid with word and sound. And our simple ability to disconnect from the world and choose our own paths, away from the media deluge and gadgetry. ‘The world is so loud…keep falling…I’ll find you…’ A truly 21st Century record.
by Decoy Spoon