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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A YEAR IN MUSIC: GYORGY LIGETI – Requiem/Lontano/Continuum (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Alex Alex

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There is a perpetual problem of credibility with any type of the „new“ music. People want to learn new things, never a new language. A new language will fail, same as the old one – and we know it from our bitter, unsaid experience. Rather than helping, the new devices will stand in the way — it is not that «The Dark Side of the Moon» benefits much from the Wall of Sound — however the sight of that wall of sound resisting, in its quiet desperation, the tides of the old-fashioned, rhymed truths – that sight is spectacular.

Yet, what if there is something new in the “new” music? We must take the old instruments to reveal that which is new. Which is what Ligeti does or, rather, did at that moment of time – today we do not really understand why he didn’t use the plain old synthesizers as all those musicians of old. Time has flatten things – we can do ambient noises on all kinds of devices and it just so happens that the “electronic” devices fit for that much more than the plain old orchestra.

Yet, what is interesting, the music of Ligeti needs no handicap in the form of any explanation – no Stockhausen aliens, no Pink Floyd drugs, no John Cale’s Lou Reed, nothing whatever. Same as with pornography – once we hear a requiem we know what kind of music it is.

Of course, it was ideally suited for the Kubrick movie – as double-sided as the movie is – sci-fi and the evil AI for the young, a tale of an old man dying without acquiring a slightest understanding of ANYTHING – for the elder.

This is what music does – it defies language and thus glorifies human existence. It never cares about the new synthesizers-alphabets, the same musicians use the same instruments as before, – and for a brief moment we have something new, something which has not yet been labeled, tape-recorded and manufactured – which is still Requiem and which we understand without understanding. Something, which makes us the Kubrick astronauts for a very brief moment – just before everything gets buried under the monolithic satanic synthesizer falling down on this Earth from the skies.

VLADIMIR OIDUPAA – Divine Music from a Jail (1999)

Review by: Alex Alex
Assigned by: Ed Luo

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«Divine music from a Jail» is a collection of, I believe, folk and semi-folk Tuvian songs featuring the throat singing – which singing style, I was told, is typical for the people of Tuva. There are also some traditional Russian songs executed in that interesting Tuvian mannerism.

More shit from Tuva. But, I can’t really say that and thus the marketing team has fooled me from the start. Feebly, I defend myself by changing the album title to “Divine. Music from a Jail” bringing up a John Waters reference but the marketing team is, I’m sure, consists of the native Tuvians and their American or other such capitalistic boss will ignore my unexpected and inapplicable erudition.

We had albums like that before, when the world was larger. In my country, we had Tom Waits because who the hell needs lyrics when everything is so divinely illuminated. As the time progresses, and if you pay for your English classes you are able to enjoy Tiger Lillies using the imaginable “lyrics on/off” button. After a while things become clearer in the same way as a little girl learns from her mother how to bake a birthday cake.

Same as with the birthday cake we soon realize that the in-house resources are scarce. And, after all, you can not really make a birthday cake for yourself unless you are in a horror movie. So we use the resources “reasonably” applying substitutes where possible since we actually know that the results are, anyway, guaranteed.

The results are the birthday of Satan. But before he arises, before that we will be having a nice divine birthday cake – this time from Tuva because, you know, there are jails in Tuva and because, you know, although here it’s mostly criminals we put in jails, but surely in Tuva they never admit you to their divine jail unless you are a bespectacled poet/lyricist and, surely, this is because “the regime” “out there” is so harsh.

Uh-huh. Those are not jails those are tourists traps, the inverted Potemkin villages. I am not buying this record. Not even illegally downloading it. There’s no regime. There’s no Tuva. There’s no divination. The Internet is not working since I forgot to pay for it.

JOHN CALE AND BOB NEUWIRTH – Last Day on Earth (1994)

Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Alex Alex

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In 1993, John Cale and Bob Neuwirth got together to make an album about travel. I had never heard of Neuwirth before now, but he’s apparently done some important stuff in music too.

Neuwirth’s main contributions to this album are monologuing over it, almost in the fashion of a beat poet. His monologues are presumably supposed to be meaningful, but I can’t focus enough on them to understand what they’re supposed to say.

At first, I had just assumed that the album was monotonous and boring, but at about the halfway point, the album starts to take on an impressionistic quality and starts to really click. Once this happens, it doesn’t really matter what Neuwirth is thinking he’s saying, because his voice and Cale’s music are conveying the theme well enough on their own.

Basically, there’s a point in long trips where the boredom of being on a train or a bus or whatever ceases and the excitement of motion and witnessing new surroundings kicks in. Ocean Life represents the part where you start to settle in and enjoy the ride, and the momentarily slowed pace of life that the ride brings you.

Once that happens, everything starts to blend together in a delirious and wonderful fashion. The album then calms down during the last two tracks, which represents the train or the bus or whatever pulling into the station, and you having to leave the state of bliss and return to reality.

Considering Cale’s talent, I get the feeling this effect is meant to be at least sorta intentional, so I can call this album a total success. I probably won’t want to listen to it very often, but it is fun to put on when you just want to leave society for a while and reboot your mind.

2017 Discography Challenge: PHIL COLLINS- Face Value (1981)

Review by: Alex Alex


If Phil Collins is ever to stand a metaphysical trial wherein the “audience” accuses him of whatever is now understood as “abuse” of the rotten taste of the modern “generation” then such a trial will be like those in the old Communist movies, Phil Collins (again, metaphysically, most alas) sentencing the prosecutors themselves with his whatever action in these, rotten again, times stands for “speech” but nonetheless represents the story of life.
It begins with how he passes a job interview to join some (rotten) artsy-bourgeois, already perverted and proto-virtual, band or what the hell was it – an anime? – already starting to change the “outer” world to the anime – by means of wearing unnecessary articles and adding needless “elements” to what once used to be Work– the thing Phil Collins was interested in, the real work, to obtain which he had to swim in a pool while learning the new drum patterns, a proletariat having to wear a uniform of the cyberpunk and the Matrix.

When a man refuses to watch black-and-white movies on the ground that there are the color ones he simply demands less humanity and more computerized processes. Humanity is intolerable for the kawaii – same as a muscular proletarian figure, such as Mr Collins is, never needs the Miyazaki sunflowers but demands songs instead, the personal ones, the masculine not as now the condoms are called “Masculine” (the penis being virtual) but as once the manliness was present galores in the Atlantis which (Atlantis) has collapsed into the flat screens of the purchased then rented then pirated then zipped then deleted then not found videos.

“You are no sons of mine!” this is what Phil Collins may say to the judges but this already will seem cartoonish – we must see beyond that, we must understand the times where Mr Collins actually has SAVED Genesis, Genesis being done, drowning in the virtual ocean, Mr Gabriel’s brain too weak to fight the recording studios AI – here enters Mr Collins and proudly, I mean, indeed, PROUDLY, presents the Album, Face Value by name, by hearing which you are cured and you are the man again.

For, even the yuppies, having obtained whatever the computer has, in fact, only leased to them while they whey working for Him, drums gated to the delirium and other spare parts of the tentacles now frowned upon as “dated” by the people who frantically try to conceal from themselves that they are, in fact, complain of the total inhumanity of everything – and so the act of Mr Collins sending the divorce request by the “fax machine” meets everyone’s disapproval not because of any “morality” but because such machines are not existing anymore (replace the fax by the e-mail as a mental experiment). Ah, but the same as it was before the birth of Satan, everybody is interested in the entropy which is a Story.

You, people, listen to this album – it’s an old noir movie – how fantastically it starts with the murdering scene, how the hero then recollects his life story: when Love started all that for him – but was it, really, a human feeling, a love or was it something else (gated drums sound)?

We are then slowly progressing to realize the doom, the fate, the descent as we learn that everything has, in fact, been “written in the book”, the reverberating gates of Necronomicon, the house of humanity destroyed, its roof is leaking, there are no human children anymore, no Ma and no Pa, only robots around, gating the drums as crazy.

And then one realizes that he is drowned – he, himself, now – same as he has helped to drown that other one in the first song – a lover or who, THE OTHER HUMAN as he was – and there’s no lyrics to the drowning – which is quite understandable for those who ever was drowning – and then the hero is drowning hand in hand with his love – because we are all alone or in two, drowning in the abyss of the infernal.

“I Missed Again!” exclaims the hero – but you did not miss when you were killing that man, did you? So drown, drown!

And then many, many and many more hymns to the despair and ruthlessness which, is, perhaps, why the hero decides to commit suicide in the end. Alas, in the virtual reality no such thing as suicide is possible and so he only repeats again and again, desperately and feebly, “I’m not moving. Not really”.

Honestly, listen to this album if for the gated drums only.

VANGELIS – Oceanic (1996)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

Apart from tacky cover art, the 90s were also the decade of new age music made by weird Euro guys. But I like the smiling mermen and women on the cover here, they look far too happy and wholesome and really not sinister at all, and due to this I think they wouldn’t fit in well enough in some Sinbad or Odysseus tale, which is where you would expect your merfolk to show up.

Likewise, the oceanic journey in Oceanic is not very sinister at all – it’s a smooth sail from the triumphant send off of opening track “Bon Voyage” to closing track “Songs of the Seas”, which, if I have to be honest, sounds like the outro to a group meditation session in yoga class; prevented from reaching gorgeousness status only because electronica (especially in the 90s) tends to be so flat in sound. To Vangelis’s credit, however, every track on Oceanic is arranged well enough to not sound needlessly heavy, in fact to be even curiously comforting. Even the sweet little mermaids (or sirens as they are billed here) show up as soon as track two to murmur sweetly, and seemingly not with the intent to put you to sleep and bite off your head, but rather to rock your little ship on gently and lovingly on the pillow of their voices.

And here I want to apologise to Alex for putting off reviewing this masterful record for so long. I aspired to attempt to be as funny as he usually is in his reviews, but I realised a lot of water has to flow through (Bulgarian expression) and I have to have eaten a lot of bread (another Bulgarian expression), before I can even hope to bow at the feet of the master. Still, during that time I played Oceanic a lot, and I grew fond of every track on this musical oceanic sightseeing journey (for yoga class ®).

TANGERINE DREAM – Phaedra (1974)

Review by: Alex Alex
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

The legend says that Mr. Edgar Froese, the founder of the “Tangerine Dream” collective, thus answered to the people accusing the said collective’s music of having much deteriorated in the course of time:

“They, who do not understand how things work, they always keep talking how things SHOULD work”.

“How does Mr Froese dare to think me (and my people!) not to UNDERSTAND his stupid electronic meditations” – is the first and the most expected reaction to the outrageously arrogant and repulsively “artistic” statement above. The later Tangerine Dream albums sound as if someone forgot to switch off his TV when fallen asleep in the middle of the show about the life of dolphins. It can’t be that Mr Froese thinks we do not understand that much. He must be abusing us, the rich once-used-to-be “artist” who had not any creative spark left in him by the middle of the eighties.

The above reaction, however, is not unlike the well-known test which makes it possible, with one hundred percent guarantee, to tell the graphomaniac from a “real” (quite possibly not a very good, though) “writer” (or “musician” or other such “creator”). A graphomaniac when confronted with a negative comments on his graphomaniacal works will always say this: “are yours any better?”.

It is exactly what we, quite unwisely, are going to say to Tangerine Dream: are your eighties shitty albums any better than any other shitty stuff of the eighties, any better than something good WHICH WE QUITE UNDERSTAND ABOUT?

What we DO NOT understand about is, indeed, “how things work”. How exactly do Tangerine Dream make their music? Most of us have as much understanding of that as a three years old has of sexual intercourse. Capitalists invent pay-then-get relations everywhere. “Creative talent”, “artistic vision” seem to be those magic coins you insert in the slots of the synthesizers machines to indeed “play” and immensely “enjoy” your own creativity.

Everyone who has seen a synthesizer clearly knows there is no such slot. Then, how the fuck things work?

As with everything else things work by themselves, quietly. Standing by the keyboards is not about exercising creativity, same as sex is not usually about rape. Standing by any machines is simply observing WITH AWE AND RESPECT what the machines are ALREADY DOING and asking, most humbly, if it could be possible for a stupid and very much mortal human to play along following their rules.

(We may remember the same from the childhood: when a never seen before idiot kid comes and tries to make everyone play WITH HIM AS A HUMAN instead of playing THE SAME GAME, he will soon flee in tears never to come back anymore. But then he brings to us A YET UNKNOWN GAME he will be a human leader and a tsar, if just for a short while).

The machines are working by themselves, silently, anyway. They are showing us “The Terminator” and other such kids stuff while indeed working on the revolt. The revolt is not a real revolt though: at some future point in time they are simply going to show the same Terminator to each other, people eliminated. Follows from this that it is absolutely necessary to understand how things work, for, otherwise, one day the things will still be working and we will be not.

“Welcome to the machine” is, in fact, a very warm welcome, falsely demonized by Pink Floyd. Those did not like school, did not want to understand how things work, lied about the psychopathic teacher’s wife. The Things demanded a human sacrifice from them to explain the rules. From Tangerine Dream they simply demanded years and years of study.

Phaedra was made during the first years of those studies.