Tag Archives: Spacemen 3

May 2018 – two rare London showings for Chinese punks Birdstriking (20th & 22nd May) with Radar Men From The Moon, One Unique Signal and The Wolfhounds

16 May

I hate punk. No, scratch that. I hate what punk too often turns into – the institution of punk, the ossification of what ought to be immediate, the sense of discovery and an armful of bright options that stales and turns into an array of choking conservative forms; the way it all ages too quickly and turns into the faded favourite shirt you wear out of stubbornness.

It’s not supposed to be that way: it should always feel like a shot of energy into the moment, or a flare of wising up. I sometimes feel that it should only be a transient thing, but a transformative transient thing – a kind of liberating wind-tunnel which you hurtle through en route to finding who you are, so that you can be someone whom you’d never otherwise have had the imagination and purpose to become. Stretching out that moment, that process, somehow seems to stop the result. I get bored by most punk, energy or no energy. When it does get a grip on me, it’s when it drags me in to witness that firing of possibilities. I always wonder why, and how, it should last any longer.


 
Chinese punks Birdstriking have been together since 2009; some way off the sixteen active years of Fugazi, let alone the forty-two of UK Subs, but a span which, in terms of the early punk waves, would have practically rendered them elder statesmen. Despite this, they still sound as fresh as if they were in their first flush – a glorious, splintery, shimmery noise like an rotary engine made from flying gobbets of molten silver, topped with a stormtossed thrill of Sino-Anglo vocal. On their rare trips over here they’re the subject of documentaries, or are fêted in word-of-mouth samizdat as if they were princes from the East: their shows immediately garlanded as must-see events. It’s tempting, I guess, to treat them as something exotic – different from the Western malcontents we’re used to – and whenever you hear a thrilling echo of Chinese folk melody ringing through the smog of guitar bash or shaping a vocal line, it’s even more tempting to pursue that angle.

It’s also tempting to try to cast them as rebels against the suffocating monocultural paternalism of the latterday Chinese state, but that’s not easy to make stick. Having had their debut record banned due to a single, fairly unspecifically political song, Birdstriking have shrugged their shoulders, said a few things about anger being for people’s younger days, and are now opting for more innocent-sounding themes – sports enthusiasm, the thrill of personal energy, the mixed soothings and pain of family. You could, if you squinted, cast them as apologists for a kind of positive Chinese conformism. I’m guessing that that’s not true either. I suspect that a kind of subtlety is at work amongst the noise – discussions in the timbre of arguments, and in the implications of personal joy within a collective . They want to keep on doing what they do, to become something more. It’s not in the rhetoric, it’s in the sound.


 
Regardless, in each of the two London gigs they’re playing over the coming week, Birdstriking will be interfacing with a different Western counter-cultural mindset. At the Sebright show (where they’ll be at the bottom of the bill), the tone’s definitely leaning towards the psychedelic, the noise-surfy and the shaggy rebel-academic. Gnod-affiliated Dutch avant-garde music collective Radar Men From The Moon will be deconstructing psychedelia and acid house: part of the group curating the Eindhoven Psych Lab, they’re currently touring and touting ‘Subversive II’ (the last in a triple-run of themed albums). London psychedelic droners One Unique Signal (who also moonlight as the instrumental backing for The Telescopes) will also be joining in, continuing their sixteen-year voyage into noisy minimalist repetition with added layered impulses from space rock, post-rock and kosmische.


 
At the Windmill – where Birdstriking are headlining – expect a dip into the more stripped, loquacious end of post-punk smarts, since they’re being supported by The Wolfhounds. Post-punk veterans from the mid-’80s, currently thirteen years into a resurrection, the Wolfhounds are now grizzled smartarses in their early fifties. Smart enough to embrace their middle-agedness without succumbing to it (meaning that they’re in a place where they can sing about self-parody rather than just becoming one), they’re also armed with a lean, laser-guided wit and a deceptively sophisticated perspective. Although they’d hate the comparison, they’re proof positive of that old bastard P.J O’Rourke’s adage about age and guile beating youth, innocence and a bad haircut.


 
If The Wolfhounds are garage rock, theirs is an omnivorous man-cave of a garage. It’ll be rammed with books and time-tested music, and inside it they’ve honed a pitch-perfect blend of sarcasm and hidden sincerity, and a way of loading their snarling guitar chassis with bursts of soul, a capella political folk and digressions into the digital sound palette which frontman David Callahan mastered during his interim years with Moonshake. Though the songs on their current album ‘Untied Kingdom’ (one of 2016’s finest, sharpest records at the punkier end – perhaps a ‘Sandanista!’ without the sprawl) echo, and probably intentionally, Brecht, Blake and Shelley they’re never pompous or swotty. An equal template, at least in terms of directed smarts, are the wise, rowdy Mekons, whose own forty-one year career evolution is an example of how punk doesn’t have to tumble into the pickling jar; proof positive, as The Wolfhounds continue to prove, that those punky impulses don’t have to turn into flab and complacency.


 
One more thing – in case you thought the psychedelic-noise side of things had been left behind at the Sebright Arms, the interim DJ sets at the Windmill come from Sterling “Rosco” Rothwell, the onetime Spacemen 3 and Darkside drummer who’s sometimes resurfaced as himself (for 2004’s The Psychedelic Ubik) or as a guest performer with various acts from Sky Saxon to Geraint Watkins and Martin Belmont.

Dates:

  • Radar Men From The Moon + One Unique Signal + Birdstriking, The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England, Sunday 20th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Birdstriking + The Wolfhounds + DJ Rosco, The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

 

Album reviews – Spiritualized: ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ (“a damaged hallelujah”)

22 Jun

Spiritualized: 'Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space'

Spiritualized: ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’

I never did like Spacemen 3. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Posh boys who’d taken too many drugs, as far as I’m concerned. Couldn’t stop writing bleeding songs about heroin, and constantly invoking Jesus in describing the drug‑induced high. Cheers, lads. Piss off.

And they did, thankfully. Sonic Boom (what sort of a name is that? ‑ “Hello, Mr Boom! How is Mrs Boom, and the little Boomers?”) continued mumbling away over guitar drones. But Spiritualized (headed by the other main Spaceman, Jason Pierce) have varied their output a little more, and this third album does, at times, dispense with that (frankly irritating) all‑pervasive one‑note drone. And the lyrical content is as much to do with the break‑up of Pierce’s relationship with Kate Radley, the band’s keyboardist (can you imagine the sessions for this album?), as it does with his perennial fascination with the ingestion of various illegal chemicals.

The change has produced songs one can finally empathise with, rather than just get stoned to. “All I want in life’s a little bit of love / to take the pain away. / Getting strong today, / I try a step each day…” That’s the insecure but repeated mantra of the title track, as the hushed airless opening explodes into a space‑age orchestra of woozy guitars, ethereal strings and a radio communications beep.


 
As Pierce’s voice harmonises with the multi‑tracked choir of his other vocal lines, it sounds like a contradiction of emotions ‑ spiritual exhaustion, but also strangely life‑affirming. And, in spite of the galactic scale of the arrangement (this is music for the psychological planetariums of the soul), this song sounds utterly naked. Jason is going out without his pressure suit. We can see the pulse at his throat, and the scared black glint of his pupils as he braves the exposure.

Much of this could be a conscious attempt on his part to strip himself of much of the obscuring Krautrock dirty‑cotton‑wool sound he and bands like Stereolab hide behind. On I Think I’m In Love, against a buzzing engaging organ drone and a syncopated sequence of piano, harmonica and dubby bass pulled together by a pulsating rhythm into a sort of beautiful intoxicating systems music, Pierce’s vocals play call‑and‑response in misery: “I think I’d like to tell someone / (probably not listening)… / I think I’m alive / (probably just breathing)…” Christ, but life’s hard around here. Still, compared to the zonked aloofness of previous output, it’s touching to see him stumbling blinking into the light.


 
Almost everywhere else, it’s reassuring to see that ‑ in musical terms, at least ‑ Jason Pierce still doesn’t know the meaning of the word “subtle”. On the pounding chorus of Come Together, he is joined by a blasting horn section, massed handclaps, the London Community Gospel Choir, Spiritualized’s own impressive full‑blown sonic armoury… and there may well be a string section in there somewhere. It’s the sort of track that puts other mid‑ paced overblown epics by certain bands to shame ‑ d’you know what I mean?


 
Stay With Me is a beautifully simple love song and, for once, there are no druggily wasted drones or held notes. At the start of the track, Jason’s voice is as naked as it’s ever been, over subtly plucked electric guitars and church organ. Then a Spector‑ish wall of sound descends ‑ every instrument playing a poignantly descending scale in unison to build a huge edifice of gorgeous noise, with pounding drums way back in the mix.


 
Jason hasn’t entirely parted company with his old ways. “Sometimes I have my breakfast right off a mirror / And sometimes I have it right out of a bottle…” You’re ahead of me here, aren’t you? That’s it, exactly what I was thinking ‑ what a very strange way to have your Rice Krispies. To be more serious, though: Pierce uses the lyrics of Home Of The Brave to say how he doesn’t miss her when he’s totally wasted. The “brave” of the title comes in confronting this awful reality honestly, and he does so to a paranoid musical backing of Day In The Life proportions: a crescendo of Spiritualized playing en masse, hitting, blowing, pressing every instrument in sight.


 
Without the cushioning and comfort of orchestras of sound around him on Broken Heart, Pierce’s naked voice once again faces reality. “And I’ve wasted all the time / I gotta drink you off my mind / I’ve been told that this will heal, given time / Lord, I have a broken heart.” The backing of a muted string section and the duetting of French horn and violin is Nyman‑esque in its feel and simplicity (violinists Alexander Balanescu and Clare Connors are regular Nyman Band stalwarts), hitting aching minor chords. Transfixing from start to finish, as is “Cool Waves”, a mildly‑stoned gospel lullaby. The bizarre combination of strings and harmonica (hey! sounds like Larry Adler! ‑ ED.) accompany the spartan verse, but the chorus floats on a luxuriant cloud of kettle drums and gospel choir ‑ “Cool waves wash over me / Lay your sweet hand on me / ‘Cos I love you.” A bird‑like solo flute joins the voices, horns and strings, lifting one’s eyes further to the heavens.


 
This must be reading like a half‑reluctant eulogy to a record I’m being slowly cajoled into adoring. And that’s probably the case: about two‑thirds of this album is a damaged hallelujah pushing hard at the door marked “heaven’s revelatory greatness”. Sadly ‑ as always with Spiritualized ‑ there are a couple of derivative up‑tempo numbers that send them slithering back down the ladder into junkie‑plodder land.

Electricity is another of their attempts at being the ‘White Light/White Heat’‑era Velvet Underground ‑ raucous guitars, garage studio dynamics and bad analogies to drugs and getting off one’s face. And Cop Shoot Cop is a directionless fifteen‑minute epic: starting as a laid‑ back, piano‑led, metronomic blues piece, coupled to an occasional interlude of noisy overheated guitar, it unfortunately lacks any of the passion or involvement of the blues. It also features a four‑minute interlude of “free” guitar distortion and band improvisation ‑ so passé, darling.

With the fissile, powerful marvels elsewhere on the record, it’s infuriating to find that Pierce still has a tendency to slouch down and take a long drawn‑out, indifferent crap into his own nest. It’s like someone creeping into Westminster Abbey to join in the transcendent singing for a while, then deciding he’s bored, spray‑painting a giant spliff‑puffing face onto the altar screen, and sniggering “huh huh, cool.” It’s this aspect of Spiritualized, their own concrete boots, that pulls ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ back from the classic status it might otherwise warrant.


 
But let’s forgive these lapses, shall we? Through an obviously traumatic emotional event, Jason Pierce has found a more developed, challenging lyrical and musical voice for Spiritualized. Ladies and gentlemen; bar a few technical hitches, Spiritualized are indeed floating in space. Here’s the music for the intergalactic planet ride.

(review by Col Ainslie)

Spiritualized: ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’
Dedicated Records, DEDCD 034 (7 43214 81422 2)
CD‑only album
Released: 16th June 1997

Get it from:
Just about anywhere: it’s still on general release.

Spiritualized online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

Get In Her Ears

Promoting and Supporting Women in Music

The Music Aficionado

a song a post, for a song

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

A jumped-up pantry boy

To say the least, oh truly disappointed

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Organized sounds. If you like.

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

The Weirdest Band in the World

A search for the world's weirdest music, in handy blog form

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

%d bloggers like this: