Saturday, 12 February 2011

Downbeats: Visions of Trees live (from Loud And Quiet)

Visions of Trees at XOYO, 6th December 2010

'Tropical pop' is a neat – if kind of crude – tag for those sun-drenched songs built on rippling textures, polyphonic rhythms and 'primitive' percussion (as if played by whooping loin-clothed islanders, maybe – told you it was crude). But over on the shady side of the island, where the vegetation lies in damp tangles rarely brushed by the equatorial sun, a cooler, dreamier kind of 'tropical pop' germinates.

Visions of Trees add a dose of minor-chord industrialism to this darker side of trop-pop, like the twisted steel of a burnt-out propellor plane rusting in the jungle. Without labouring the metaphor any further, the duo carve a downbeat niche from Joni's mournful beats and Sara's R&B-inflected vocals, like the sadface rave of The Knife or Crystal Castles.

Annoyingly, all that ethereal dreaminess falls pancake-flat on stage at XOYO, with the untreated vocals too plain and too high in the mix to chime with the lazy Liz Fraser comparison I'd heard. While the beats are interesting enough, if nowhere near ground-breaking, the show would be more captivating if VoT fucked with the good-girl vocals. There's no denying the potential, but maybe they can't visualise the wood for the – nah, I won't say it...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Charting the Unlistenable, pt. I: Albert Ayler

As someone who writes about music, getting tangled up in genre is an obvious occupational hazard (although tell that to the musicians - for some reason genre is a dirty word even for those who blatantly use it to sell their product).

One common reductive argument when faced with the fragmented multiverses of musical styles, rhythms and subcultures is to say that there are two types of music: good music, and bad music. Those who invoke this argument tend to fall into two camps. First, you have the genuinely disinterested muso who will give anything a listen in the hope that it might stimulate his or her sonic receptacles. Second, you have man-on-street who believes his attitude to be very much like that of the muso, but who actually equates 'good' with a sort of layman's canon of historically approved bands: Beatles, Stones, Clash, Joy Division, Smiths, White Stripes and, oddly enough, Daft Punk.

If we want to make an already reductionist argument even more reductive, we could say that the former is the Wire, and the second is Q (in which case we can add Lily Allen to the approved canon).

So I'd like to propose my own answer to a question that has plagued man from ancient times: WAT MUSIC IS GD???

Under the header 'Charting the Unlistenable', I'm gonna post some tracks old and new that occupy the blurred region that you know your parents would call 'unlistenable rubbish', but that you may well call 'genius', or at least, 'unlistenable genius'. I welcome comments and suggestions on this topic.

My first choice is perhaps an obvious one, but it should get the ball rolling nicely: free jazz pioneer, avant garde psychonaut, cosmic voyager and all-round certifiable nutbar Albert Ayler.

This track is taken from Spiritual Unity, the record which brought Ayler to the attention of the variously horrified, bemused and enchanted jazz world. The 30 minutes of crazed free improvisation, where timbre and texture took centre stage in place of melody, harmony or modality, set a new standard for the free jazz school influenced by Ornette Coleman.

How listenable is it on an everyday basis? I think the ideal setting for Ayler is while doing nothing else, preferably in a darkened room for maximum cosmic vibes. Although I have been known to listen to Music Is The Healing Force of the Universe while walking to work on a Sunday morning...

Ayler's take on free jazz was also a huge influence on one Jim Osterberg of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Stooges of course also took their fair share of criticism for being unlistenable trash: squealing guitars recorded in the red, the bark of a tenor sax and Iggy Pop's double-sided voice, leaping from smooth baritone to primal yelps. All I hear is bonafide genius, naturally...