Tag Archives: E.E. Cummings

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Colin Moulding’s ‘The Hardest Battle’; ZOLA’s ‘Glitter and the Gold’; Filed Fangs’ ‘Conduit’

2 Jul

Inspired by an e.e. cummings line about the struggle for selfhood, Colin Moulding‘s new solo single turns out to be a song about solidarity. Sort of. While XTC’s impish streak means that they were wilful and rarely that straightforward – and while their former bassist and part-time hitmaker was a big part of this – he was also the warmer side of the partnership. Much of this comes through in ‘The Hardest Battle’: an encouragement to personal integrity, sheathing warnings and assertions in a gently pounding cream-tea arrangement of English brass and Beatles piano. “The hardest battle you can fight / is just to be yourself – / face the dragon on a hilltop shelf. / But you’ll see – /  yeah. that’s a lonely place to be.”

The lyrics might be English underdog poetry writ cosy (there’s a touch of children’s story to Colin’s choices of maxim and metaphor) but the music belies it. This is a confident summery thumpalong, like a march to a rural fete, anchored firmly back in the Ray Davies Anglo-pop tradition but with lashings of organ and doo-wop overdubs, and confident shifts of rhythm and arrangement. It’s pretty trad, pretty veteran in its tradition and indeed much of its execution, but it also gives the feeling of shaking out fine old linen and finding it as good as new.

Ultimately it’s a reassurance, and a heartening one in every respects. A little conservative, perhaps, at a time when that concept’s being tied ever more closely to intolerance and narrow-mindedness; but in this case never reductive, never exclusive, and flipping underdoggery away from sourness. “My guardian angel said to me, / ‘whether a magpie or whether a crow, / whether your plumage might spoil the show – / but you’ll do. / Yeah, there’s room in the world for you… / To thine own self be true, / so let’s stick like glue to our true colours now.”

There are plenty of differences between ‘The Hardest Battle’ and ZOLA‘s ‘Glitter and the Gold’. In contrast to the former’s brassy, ’60s-pop strut and bounce, the latter’s R&B beats cradle gently tinkling arrangements in a slow-dreaming groove (as if ZOLA were lazily rolling a set of jingle toys across the floor) and chopscrews a stray vocal phrase into a muted jazz trumpet line. There’s also a considerable gap between Colin’s endearing, avuncular bloke-singing and ZOLA’s own cautious, conversational soul-girl tones; and while Colin keeps his subject matter wrapped up in a package of universal maxims, ZOLA’s are more explicitly tied to one field, one situation. Nonetheless, this is another integrity piece.  

Colin’s a multi-decade veteran of pop music, but ZOLA’s a relatively fresh starter, still preoccupied with its behind-the-scenes demands and its public masks, still fending off dubious wheedlings from starry-eyed friends and potential managers. “If I don’t move to southern California, / smoke weed on your couch or write a song for Coca-Cola, / if I’m not there when you have people over, / will I miss something big?” she asks, “I asked you what you thought about the words I sew together. / You say I missed the chance to meet this famous rapper…” Swimming uneasily through the glad-handing and the game-playing, she’s unsure of whether resisting it will stunt her (“if I remain somewhere that fits my nature / will there be inwards and upgrowth?”) or whether she just doesn’t have it in her to make the compromises. (“Sometimes I’m not social and I’m shy… / and I don’t like being asked to talk about myself. / Some might think that’s humble but you might think it’s weak. / If I want to make it somewhere, gotta learn to sell my art – / but my art is me…”)

In spite of her trepidations and her skepticism, there’s enough spine in ZOLA to resist; there’s enough perspective for her to establish where her music needs to fall into place; and she can find the right words to describe her own value. “You follow me on Instagram and comment on my pictures,” she comments, pointedly, “but you’ve never seen me spill my heart to a room full of strangers. / Maybe, just to start, we can have a conversation?” By the end, she’s cut it down to the core  – “so maybe, maybe get to know me?” – and corralled the key point of singing, of communicating, of being original enough in yourself to be worth listening to in the first place 

Taking an altogether more abrasive approach, Filed Fangs return with ‘Conduit’. Their glassy squall of post-punk guitar and their dance culture tussles of blipping sequencer and romantic synth are now applied to cognitive behavioural therapy and with routes out of disillusionment. “I was once an enthusiast – it didn’t last,” Paul Morley observes, tartly, over the colourfully melancholy motorik riffs and the drum-machine whack.  

This is a Covid lockdown anthem, of sorts. It’s also another solidarity piece, this one aimed at those whose mental health has swayed or bent during the quarantines (or whose existing problems have been exacerbated). Bits of programmatic psychological jargon are buried, violently echoing, within the mix, but Paul and Boz seem keen to bring out something hopeful. Offering a childlike freshening to (or a highlighted road map out of) trouble, the conduit they’re talking about leads “back to the electricity that is denied us… depression extinguishes that spark.”

For a song connected to the talking cure, however, it’s surprisingly short of words. Paul’s vocal skims intermittently over the top of the instrumental drive, or diffuses into barely comprehensible splinters. Very Manchester, in a way: there are clear echoes and contemporary reworkings of the city’s post-industrial post-punk and its chattering Madchester vocal licks in what Filed Fangs are doing. Certainly any mushy sentiment is barred from the song, pared back to guarded understatement.

The empathy, the message isn’t in the words; it’s in the instrumental cadences and tones, the glinting light bouncing off the top of those freeze-dried guitars, the rippling ascendance of the electronic sequences, the assertive slam of a riff that’s caught artfully between weightlessness and buttressing strength. The rouse-yourself dance imperative, beside which the blips of laconic Mancunian speech are just seasoning, understatements; a refusal to submit to sentiment when there’s proper work to do. With ‘Conduit’, Filed Fangs have honed the understated pick-me-up to a fine point.

Colin Moulding: ‘The Hardest Battle’
Burning Shed, CMCD01 (5060164400530)
CD-only single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Burning Shed, YouTube

Colin Moulding online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music    


ZOLA: ‘Glitter and the Gold’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify

ZOLA online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music 


Filed Fangs: ‘Conduit’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon Music

Filed Fangs online
Homepage, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music 

 

September 2016 – upcoming London classical gigs – BBC Singers perform Jonathan Harvey tribute, also featuring music by Benjamin Britten and a Wim Henderickx premiere (23rd)

18 Sep

A quick reminder/primer for this week’s London concert paying tribute to the late British composer Jonathan Harvey and concentrating on his love for a cappella choral music:

* * * * * * * * *

BBC Singers: ‘Other Presences: The Music of Jonathan Harvey’
LSO St Luke’s, 161 Old Street, St Luke’s, London, EC1V 9NG, England
Friday 23rd September 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Other Presences - The Music of Jonathan Harvey“Haunting, spiritual, ecstatic: Jonathan Harvey’s music blurs the boundaries between east and west, body and soul. Its lucid, bell-like resonances and pioneering use of electronics will take you on a journey into new and transformative worlds.

“’Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco’ is an electro-acoustic masterpiece. Spinning sonorities ring out as it blends sound samples of a cathedral bell and the voice of a chorister. The looped, harmonised trumpet parts in ‘Other Presences’ weave sounds that echo the music of Tibetan Buddhist purification rituals. ‘Forms Of Emptiness’ sets the vivid flashes of joy in poetry by e.e cummings against a Buddhist Sanskrit chant, creating moments that feel transient and scarcely real.

“Experience Harvey’s compelling music alongside Britten’s virtuosic cantata ‘A.M.D.G.’ and a new work by Wim Henderickx, whose music reflects his fascination for eastern sound-worlds and philosophies.”

Performers:

BBC Singers – choir
Martyn Brabbins – conductor
Marco Blaauw – trumpet
Sound Intermedia – electronics

Programme:

Benjamin Britten – ‘A.M.D.G. Op.17’ (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam)
Jonathan Harvey – ‘Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco’
Jonathan Harvey – ‘I Love The Lord’
Jonathan Harvey – ‘The Annunication’
Jonathan Harvey – ‘Other Presences’
Wim Henderickx – ‘Blossomings’ (world premiere)
Jonathan Harvey – ‘Forms Of Emptiness’
Jonathan Harvey – ‘How Could The Soul Not Take Flight’

There’s more on the Wim Henderickx piece in a post penned by the composer himself at ‘Classical Diary’. In it, Wim discusses the interest in Buddhism and spirituality which he shared with Jonathan Harvey, and which led to his composing ‘Blossomings’ as both a salute to Harvey and a triptych setting of texts from different and parallel religious traditions, starting with eighteenth century Tibetan Buddhism (‘From the blossoming lotus’ by Jigme Lingpa), twelfth century Christianity (Hildegard of Bingen’s ‘Holy Spirit’) and 13th century Islam (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī’s poem ‘O love’ (text by Rumi). As well as going deeper into the significance of the chosen texts, Wim also comments on the musical structure of the piece, with its inspirations of Tibetan open-air ceremonial music, its use of mixed choir performing multiple functions, the double bell trumpet employed by the soloist as commenter and introducer, and the way in which optional electronics “create a sonorous background of the harmonic material sung by the choir (and) give the work a spatial effect.”

Meanwhile, here are versions of some of the other material on the concert programme, drawn from a variety of sources:





 

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