All Static and Dust

I watched a documentary on the history of the vinyl album last night.  It set me thinking… how different times were back then.  I remember when CDs became mainstream, I, along with everyone else, rushed to replace my favourite tapes and records with their CD equivalents.  For years I was happy and that seemed the right thing to have done.  Now I’m not so sure.

Watching that documentary made me realise the great thing about the vinyl album.  For starters, the physical item was a solid slab of nondescript black plastic.  Every album – once stripped of its sleeve artwork – looked exactly the same.  A circle of black.  A circle of black that could only hold a certain length of sound.  Every band, no matter how lowly or how grande, had to make music to the constraints of that black circle.  Every band, whether an obscure entity or the most popular group of the day, had to construct their music to fit two discrete sides of plastic.  Two sides of a coin.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I like the fact that bands had to create their worlds within a set of rules that every other band also had to follow.  Two sides of round, black vinyl.

… and the album artwork.  Those gatefold sleeves.  I know it’s comforting to be nostalgic… but are we losing a little of the magic in this internet age?  A time of bands producing 24 hour-long songs.  A time of a billion hits on YouTube for fad music.  A time when anyone can bypass the record company and release whatever they want, whenever they want.

Nostalgia.  I am well renowned for basking in its warm glow.  Nostalgia and red wine.  I thank you.



Album Review: Liars – ‘WIXIW’

The most beautiful day of the year so far.  Straight blue skies.  No clouds.  No breeze.  Still.  Sitting on a bench and reading a book.  Drinking Amstel.  Felt the need to enter my studio and listen to a record… just for a bit… to get out of the rays.  The vinyl is spinning the perfect album for this day.  I even have the window open – a very rare occurrence in a room that is all about keeping sound in!

So I listen to WIXIW by LIARS.  A very strange album title… apparently pronounced ‘Wish You’.  Hmmmmm… not sure which world you’d have to inhabit to pronounce such a collection of letters in that manner.  Anyway… the album starts with a delightful song.  The Exact Color of Doubt.  This song sounds like I imagine sunshine tastes.  Perfick.  Another swig of Amstel.  This bottle is a little warm now.  Luckily I have another to follow… although I opened the other a few minutes ago in preemptive preparation.  Everything’s warming.  I shouldn’t complain.

I’ve loved Liars since their first album.  I had that album going round and round in my car for a long time.  I remember it had a kind of ‘looped’ final track that lasted longer than the whole rest of the album combined.  A journey?  Art rock?  They Threw Us All in a Trench was captivating.  It was different in the extreme.  If I were to listen to it now it would probably sound ‘normal’… but at the time it sounded like half a band.  Slightly dislocated from what everyone else was doing.  Not the greatest album… but far from the worst.  A slightly twilight zone-like middle ground.  The kind of middle ground that is nowhere near the centre of anywhere!

Then came everything that was right… They Were Wrong, So We Drowned.  An album that changed the game.  And yet received review scores so low they could be found providing foundations for foundations.  You have to question reviews.  You have to question their purpose.  Are they a means to turn you onto good music?… or are they a means to give an individual a sense of lofty self-worth?!?  I was never quite the same after They Were Wrong.  My music felt ‘narrow’, ‘restricted’… average.  Yet everyone was out there listening to Coldplay and the Kaiser Chiefs.   Narrow and restricted was selling.  Narrow and restricted will always sell.  Since I formed COTWS I have made a point of expanding everything.  For this reason it’s nice to check back with Liars and see what they’ve been up to.  I didn’t really enjoy the albums after They Were Wrong… even the critically acclaimed Drums Not Dead.  So it is with relish that I proclaim WIXIW as containing moments of God-like genius.  Ha ha!  My album of the year so far.

I’ve lived with this album a fair while now.  I’ve always found the idea of commenting on an album immediately somewhat mystifying.  Initial opinions are historically inaccurate!  Remember Be Here Now?  Ha ha!

WIXIW works as a unified set of songs.  An album… in an albumless age.  I can’t fault the opening track.  Beautiful, swamping layers padding the exterior of your brain.  Then singing!  Actual proper singing.  Not screaming.  Really sweet singing.  This takes a little mind shift to adjust.  Realigning perceptions of what’s to come.   You expect an ordeal from Liars.   Are they growing up?  Are they getting old?  Are they relaxing?  Let’s see.

Octagon drags us back into more familiar territory.  Slightly drawled vocals across a bed of repetitive rhythms.  Distorted string sounds and (slight) abuse.  As part of the tapestry it works.

No.1 Against the Rush is the ‘hit’ on an album with no hits.  This song is the filling of the sandwich, the bread being everything else.  Although the song wouldn’t be totally out-of-place on an ’80s electro compilation album it feels new.  What’s more it feels human.  It sounds like a song Rutger Hauer would play to Harrison Ford to prove that humanity is more than simply being human.  This song is a revelation.  In an age where every mainstream band feels the urge to turn Dubstep and ‘get down’ with the kids here’s a song that forges a new path without taking a sideways glance.  Tunnel vision with a purpose.  Narrow and restricted like narrow and restricted has never been. /swigs Amstel.

This record has an outstanding A-side.  Such momentum that you wonder how the B-side will compete.  Twists and turns of rhythms.  Liars have always been a band more about rhythms and soundscapes than they have about songs.  At least on the albums that I have loved.  “You’re no better than you were”  loops on A Ring on Every Finger.  The past glitters in the new-found darkness.  This is Liars experimenting with electronics, soley, for the first time… however to my ears sonically we’re in very much the same ball park as always.  Maybe it’s like when they say that no matter which guitar you give Brian May, he sounds like Brian May.  You don’t have to chisel your mantlepiece like a genius musical butcher.  Liars can hack at sound and they hack with a clever head.  A little nod to Radiohead here and there.  Ill Valley Prodigies is in danger of a bow to the floor.  But who isn’t influenced by at least a breath of a Radiohead era?

/swigs beer, flips record.

Come on then side B.  Show us what ya got.  WIXIW comes in with hints of a Jeff Buckley 4-track demo.  Loops and singing.  Identifiable song structures… just. Perhaps this is an album for people who have previously dismissed the band as noise-merchants.  If you were of wicked mind you could hazard a suggestion that this record is tame.  However, you’d be wrong.  Maturing is becoming more at one with your goals and gaining intelligence and the ability to use that intelligence intelligently.  This record goes to those places.  For me anyway.  WIWIW is pleading exasperation over a train track rhythm.  It’s that determination again.  Purpose of spirit.  And as Lars said in “Some Kind of Monster“… “When is a song done?”.   Every artist faces that dilemma.  When do you stop layering?  When is a song finished?  Liars seem to stop one brush stroke short.  On their first album I felt they’d stopped a whole paint box short.  Here they are nearing a perfect balance.  I have in the past been obsessed with ‘Wall of Sound’tm.  To the point where I’m taking a step back with my current project and trying to create a sense of space.  Gaps don’t necessarily have to be filled.   Liars aren’t about leaving gaps.  It’s not the old Eric Clapton adage about what you don’t play being what’s important.  It’s more about knowing when to stop.  And knowing why.  That important, eternal query.  “Why?”

The B Side is flying by whilst I type.  A side of rhythms.  Reminds me of  ’60s Alice Cooper.  Like it’s testing you.  Beautiful programming, intricate tapestries, audible vocals.  Messages.  And real instruments – that’s a description of this album by the way… not ’60s Alice Cooper!!!  For what was purported to be a wholly electronic album I’m a little confused.  In a good way.  But confused all the same.  Nothing wrong with being confused.

Who is the Hunter is the lynchpin of side B.  I can feel Jim Morrison.  Then a driving bass drum enters.  Then a massive ’80s arpeggiated synth.  Empty and full.  This album quietly blows me away.  It has bombast without ramming it in your face.  Can you even have quiet bombast?  I’m not sure… but listen to this album to experience.  Experience.  Now strings.  Strings can be conventional.  But they can also be timeless.  I love strings and I’ll always use them.  Nice to hear such an awkward band make such unawkward use of them.

Brats is a bit of a head turner.  It sounds like a Madchester song.  Honestly… you could be listening to the Happy Mondays.  Not sure it fits the ‘spirit’ of the album.  Luckily there are some really cool Faithless-style keys that lift the song.  I would personally knock Brats off the album.  But perhaps that’s simply because it followed such an awe-inspiring song.

And so… before you know it we’re at the end of side B.  The end of the album.  So… what have they got for me?  How are we going to end this partnership?  Annual Moon Words sounds a little Madchester/Trip Hoppy again (with the tiniest hint of Dirty Diana by Michael Jackson?!?).  Not negatively this time.  Comes across as a genuine goodbye.  Goodbye Liars.  Perfect last note.

If I was forced at gun-point (dangerous place.. gun point) to compare WIXIW to one of my albums I would probably say The Galton Detail.  That same kind of aloofness but still keeping an eye on the concept of ‘the song’.  I suggest booking your place on a sunny bench and listening to WIXIW.  Or just drink a few beers in the sun.  Cheers.

Open Vs Closed

Beautiful weather today.  Strange how I live in a country where April is declared the wettest on record and yet we are in a drought.  Hmmmm.  Something not right there.

I have been working on my websites… giving them a bit of a tidy up.  If you take a glance at the top menu you’ll see TEHI.  Just a reminder that this is a link to the Eleventh Hour Initiative (TEHI) site.  TEHI is a band I formed with Bill Ryan from the US of A.  In my re-jigging of that site I had cause to listen to our album, Escapism, with fresh ears.  My verdict is that it is an immense album.  We created an intelligent, yet populist album full of potential hits.    I am proud all over again with the project.

I enjoy the duality of Confession of the Whole School (COTWS) and the Eleventh Hour Initiative (TEHI).  I feel like I can create the hits and yet still have an outlet for my more esoteric product.  This site, and indeed COTWS itself, was created as a kind of protest to the typical website, and often, the typical band.  I want to share my thoughts… be completely open.  There is no place to hide here!  When it comes to TEHI I have pulled back slightly.  TEHI is a solid band project.  There is not the same need for being so straight with you.  TEHI is the result of a hive mind – in a way impenetrable.  And perhaps necessarily so…

Anyway, as we’re discussing openness, I would like to remind you of a recent COTWS song…  Sweetheart it’s me.  Quote:

 “I haven’t heard a total loss of self respect like this since Jacques Brel’s ‘ne me quitte pas’. ” – John Hollingum.

Having listened to the song in question… all I can say is that this short review may be the greatest musical compliment I have yet received.


Ad Libitum

I was just checking one of the sites I use to host my music.  Confession of the Whole School songs have been listened to over 14,000 times.  That’s not bad is it? And that’s just the number of ‘streamed’ plays from a single site!  Anyway…  ha ha! … if only I could translate that success into 14,000 album sales!  That would make me a very happy man!  Ha ha!  Anyway… I’m glad people continue to enjoy my music.

The independent release of my music has been quite liberating.  For you see… there was a time when the holy grail was getting signed to a “major label” – that was all you could really strive for.  99.9% of bands would fail.  Now… 100% of bands can get their music to the masses.  And for all the downsides… (a trillion crap bands!), there is now the chance to be true to yourself as a songwriter and just do what you want.  I have only ever done what I want… and in the past that has sometimes got me into trouble.  People would often think I was a control freak.  But I’m not sure that being a control freak is necessarily a bad thing… in fact it’s an attribute that is positively sought after these days!  Anyway… having my own studio has enabled me to be the master – in control of songwriting, performance, production and art direction.  I love it.

The main aim for me is to make sure my music always has something interesting to communicate.  My latest album, ‘The Galton Detail’, was the quickest album I’ve ever recorded.  I abandoned my usual quest for ‘detail’, and just tried to let the songs ‘flow’ out of me.  That sounds sexual… but it isn’t meant in that way.  I just realised that sometimes people don’t necessarily care how long I have taken to write a song.  I can layer all the detail in the world into a song and yet people will only really assess it in one way.  Is it good or bad?  So…  I thought, “what the hell?, why not just bang an album out without dwelling on it?”. And that’s what I did.

… and just to piss on my own fireworks, my most played song at the moment is apparently ‘Dorian Gray’ from my ‘All Monsters and Dust’ album… a song that took years to complete! Ha ha!  Always good when a monologue is destroyed in the final paragraph.  Ha ha!  Anyway… there was no real point to this post.  I just wanted to say thank you all for being involved with my quest to keep thrusting music into the atmosphere.  I feel swamped by the sheer amount of music that is out there and I’m sure some of you do too.  The internet has changed the music industry and the by-product is an awful lot more crap to have to wade through.  I’m just trying to keep the standards up.  And I’m still on a break (WE WERE ON A BREAK!!!… oh, I watch too much Friends! Ha ha!).  No, I’m still on a break.  Watching films and listening to music.  I’m trying to write a few more reviews too.  I just know that a lot of people out there need to have an opinion from someone as opinionated and as amazingly knowledgeable (and humble) as me.  Speak again soon.

The Last to Know

This is the final track from my second album.  Probably the best song on the album.  It was certainly the most important song.  The Last to Know was the first song I wrote for the second Confession album.  Fair enough, Action Hero! is on the album and was technically written first… but in hindsight I feel that I needed to write Action Hero! as a kind of bridge between All Monsters and Dust and whatever the next album would be.  Action Hero! was an attempt to take the concepts I had set on fire with All Monsters and Dust and Escapism… and fling them to an altogether more extreme level.  Once I had proved to myself that I could write a theatrical 10 minute epic I settled down to write The Last to Know.  I wrote The Last to Know in the French countryside.  I literally wrote the song into my Moleskine notepad.  The song was raw, basic.  Just acoustic guitar.  When I eventually recorded it in the studio I embellished it a little… but in essence the song remains an acoustic blues.  I’ve bastardised the ‘typical’ blues form… but the blues it remains.  A new blues.  The Last to Know deserves respect.  It is a song that I am proud of.  Perhaps the best song I have written in years.  And yet it will likely be underestimated, neglected… and, over time, forgotten.  And that leaves me with a wry smile.  Perhaps that’s the way music should be.  I say goodbye to this era of my life.  The current Confession of the Whole School is no more.  Goodbye.