ALEX ALEX’S COLUMN: MATT ELLIOTT – Failing Songs (2007)

Review by: Alex Alex

The modern music industry, a hardest and a cruelest competition, much resembling the modern sports is not, however, openly presented as such. Had it been, then Matt Elliott, an English musician, singer-songwriter, and whatever else those sportsmen in disguise are labeled, could well have been questioned by some music anti-doping agency on the ways he obtains his astonishingly depressing, as well as suspiciously crazy, results.

Music business still masking itself as a creative activity, the sportsmen-artists are allowed any legal technique as long as it’s masked as illegal. Nick Cave used to come to the arena in a black suite and a white shirt, the raven wing color hair being all natural and the stories about his past as a punk or who those guys are – all very strange but absolutely comprehensible narrative. Hell, one could even present the proof of rationality post factum – surely Joy Division had some rights to do what they did – in cinemas and theaters you pay before you see the show but, well, there are many business places where you are supposed to pay after.

So, the anti-doping committee would then proceed with checking the rationale behind the Matt Eliott album “Failing Songs” (which has come immediately after his previous one called “Drinking Songs” on the record label “Ici d’Ailleurs”). Immediately the suspicions would arise. “Drinking Songs”, “Failing Songs” – those titles seem to be almost mirror opposites to, say, “Murder Ballads” or all those freaky titles of the black metal albums – surely there must be some drugs hidden in the sugarcubes? And what the hell does “Ici d’Ailleurs” mean if it doesn’t hint that these songs are not really that suitable for drinking?

But then, surely, “Failing Songs” is a collection of protest songs inspired by “the current political climate in Great Britain” as Wikipedia says? Surely “we’re free to do exactly what we’re told, we’re free to buy what we’re sold” is that type of lyrics which would allow “the times they are a-changing” chorus? Can the album be allowed to participate in the competition then?

Oh, wait there’s another song which starts with “When people ask me I always say/The targeted assassination is the only way”.. The protest seems now to be not that constructive – people can become worried a bit. Ah, wait! It must be a loud aggressive song because, of course, the political climate in Great Britain is that of the Queen being the head of the fascist regime a scientist turning into a fly – and all this will eventually be revealed in the happy-ending kawaii KISS masks kabuki show and the kids leaving the circus happily?

Hell, no. The “Planting Seeds” song is a very sad, very melancholy and there’s not a hint of that shameful positivity of the artistic protest in it. “Assassinate a corporate billionaire or their heirs” does not sound satirically (neither self-satirically) nor punkish – it does not even sound decadent, Lou Reedish or how – it sounds tired. And when the singing is over there’s the music and it’s very calm and it sounds crazy.

So what if the spectre of Communism, haunting Europe – is first and foremost a spectre? What if the spectral nature of it is much more important than the Communist programme the spectre happens to read. After all, The Third Eye Foundation, the previous project of Matt Elliott, does have an album named “Ghost” – of course, it’s very different from “Failing Songs”, purely instrumental, much less listenable but all the craziness is in there. In what sense does the spectre of Communism haunt Europe then? Surely we know what we protest for when but do we know what we protest against? Is our dissatisfaction with the existing conditions, in fact, a dissatisfaction with the existence itself? Are we protesting or are we just crazy? In that sense are we not always Ici d’ailleurs?

Well, anyway, for the anti-doping committee it will be absolutely clear that Mat Elliott shall not be allowed to participate in the competition. Indeed, no one can run so fast that “the future that we had is now the past” – this would mean exceeding the speed of light. No human artist, no matter what the circumstances are, can do that and what kind of formula should one discover to achieve that?

I think this is exactly the question we should ask ousrselves when listening to any of Matt Elliott works.

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2017 Discography Review Challenge: BJÖRK GUÐMUNDSDÓTTIR & TRÍÓ GUÐMUNDAR INGÓLFSSONAR – Gling-Gló (1990)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

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Ah, the 1990s! The decade that would bring our heroine worldwide fame and glory! But at the very beginning of this decade she was still just a young promising vocalist in a European alt rock band barely known outside Iceland.

At the end of my review of Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week I said that The Sugarcubes went on a hiatus after that album, and it looks like Björk saw it as a chance of trying something new, at the same time taking a rest from all the post-punky experimentalism she engaged in with her three previous bands. And Björk, as you’d imagine, isn’t someone to settle for just ONE new thing to try, so here’s a list of all the new stuff she tried during that hiatus:

  • She played some clarinet in a big-band called Hljómsveit Kondráds;
  • She recorded backing vocals for an album named Gums by a band named Bless;
  • She recorded a lounge jazz album, and this latter one actually became her best-selling record in her home country FOR YEARS TO COME! Imagine that!

This latter effort is also the one I am reviewing today, since it feels significant enough for Björk’s subsequent career. So, Björk joins a fairly successful Icelandic trio of pianist Guðmundur Ingólfsson, drummer Guðmundur Steingrímsson and bassist Þórður Högnason and they create this little almost-forgotten gem.

I will say outright that I have a really soft spot for this record: yes, it is a collection of pretty basic lounge jazz covers of some popular Icelandic and English-language standards instrumentally performed in a pretty generic way. But at the same time the record has two very obvious and pretty undeniable advantages:

  1. It is so unassuming, humble and almost childishly lightweight that it’s literally impossible to criticize these very simple renditions of several jazz tunes, intended to be just that – simple renditions of several jazz tunes and even a couple of silly children’s numbers. Even the album’s title suggests that – it can be literally translated to English as “ding-dong” (i.e. the sound that bells make, not what some of you have just imagined!).
  2. Björk’s singing. OH MY GOD SHE COULD HAVE BEEN A JAZZ QUEEN. Her unique charisma, raw emotionality and fantastic range make these lounge pieces sound so alive, so frantic, so filled with passion and so unique! Listen to stuff like Kata Rokkar and tell me it does not sound absolutely ecstatic while at the same time being so boyishly cute. God, her ability of being so many things within just one song is astounding! All the intricacies of her voice rising, falling, jumping, shrieking, then gently floating and then madly rushing again, while staying so human and relatable at all times, make you completely forget about the generic playing and enjoy the fun ride.

The only thing I dislike about this record, apart from that generic playing, is that alongside great stuff like the aforementioned Kata Rokkar or Pabbi Minn or Litli tónlistarmaðurinn or Tondeleyo or Ruby Baby, there are also subpar songs which Björk still does well, but these songs provide her much less room to really shine, and hence they don’t feel as idiosyncratic. But on the whole this is one enjoyable record if you’re at all into vocal jazz, I promise you that.

Tune in next time, when we are going to follow Björk as she wraps up her band career before completely embarking on her solo musical journey.

2017 Discography Review Challenge: THE SUGARCUBES – Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! (1989)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

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And here we go again! Hope you missed me and my Björkish reviews!

So, the year is 1989, and the followup Sugarcubes album has just been released, a little over a year after the debut. I’ll state right away that it is not nearly as good. The vibe is still there, the jovial energy is also still present, but the songwriting isn’t at all interesting this time around. Another problem is that for some reason they decided that Einar Örn should do as much vocals as Björk. Baaaaad mistake, Sugarcubes. I could actually end my review right here because I honestly think that only hardcore Björk or Sugarcubes fans should bother with this record. But on the other hand that would be doing this album grave  injustice, because it isn’t bad at all! In fact, if Life’s Too Good never existed, I would quite enjoy Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! So, instead of bashing the hell out of it I’ll try to concentrate on the good things:

  1. The bass playing is very consistent throughout the record, kudos to Bragi Ólafsson! Sigtryggur Baldursson’s neat drumming complements it nicely, too.
  2. The songs are mostly short and fast, which makes them enjoyable even if they’re not very memorable.
  3. The guitar licks are very new-wavy which somehow makes this record janglier than its predecessor.
  4. Björk’s singing is great as always (It’s when Einar Örn opens his mouth that problems begin, and BOY does he sing a lot here, unfortunately).
  5. (Have to make them at least five, have to make them at least five) Weeeell… Errrr…. The fifth advantage of this album would be… would be… Well, the album’s title is interesting, I guess? (A piece of trivia: It’s a reference to Wind in the Willows!) Maybe not. Whatever.

So… yeah. That’s it. Overall it’s just an okay album, so if you’re a casual fan, get Life’s Too Good and be happy with it. Cause this one is really basically the same, only worse in several aspects.

The Sugarcubes themselves probably understood that too and went on a hiatus right after finishing their tour to promote this record.

Tune in next time, when we find out what is it exactly that her Björkishness was busy with during said hiatus.

LOS DELINQÜENTES – Recuerdos garrapateros de la flama y el carril (2006)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

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This was a fun album to listen to, although I didn’t have as much time to digest it as I might have liked. This album is a compilation of material from the band’s previous material, put together after the death of one of their key members.  The music was recorded in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Their style is very eclectic, based on flamenco or rumba, and incorporating a mix of international popular music styles, including rock, reggae, and even a bit of rap. These kinds of fusion often turn into a mess, but these guys merge the styles into a cohesive, unique style. There appear  to be two singers, one who has a raspy voice more in line with (my relatively ignorant preconception of) flamenco singers, and another singer who sings in a higher register who reminds me of Manu Chao a bit.

The album title and many of the lyrics make reference to “garrapatas”, or ticks. The reference seems to refer to humble and/or rural origins (I don’t know their biographies). Many of the songs refer to the street, and to life on the margins of society. The tick metaphor seems to be used as a symbol of freedom from the trappings and expectations of society. I do speak Spanish, but a lot of Spanish/Andalusian slang & cultural references went over my head.

Overall quite an enjoyable album. If you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll miss out on the humor, but you’ll still enjoy the music. Fans of the afore-mentioned Manu Chao would probably like this album. Thumbs up.