15
Nov 21

Omargeddon #27: Birth of a Ghost

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On 5 May 2017, I took another step into my fifth decade. The celebrations began with a massive brunch, the centrepiece of which was a ridiculous freakshake, because 2017. Then I met some of my chums in the pub and then had another restaurant meal for dinner. It was great, and I enjoyed myself hugely, but at the time it didn’t feel like a spectacular birthday. 

I’ve now massively revised my opinion, especially compared to this year, when the thrilling festivities consisted of a flat viewing that was eventually cancelled, eating a snack in the West Norwood Crematorium gardens before torrential rain started, and playing Animal Crossing for the rest of my life. Still, that day was itself a considerable improvement on 2020’s birthday, which was dedicated to a job interview followed by a counselling session. I did get the job, but you don’t hear me not complaining. 

To return to the memory of funner birthdays: 2017’s birthday was a corker to be sure, aptly soundtracked by the first At the Drive-in album in 17 years. I missed out on the 2012 reunion tour, but to be honest, I don’t especially regret that, since it was reportedly fraught with tension and ended with another acrimonious split. So the do-over of the do-over tour was itself astonishing, but the accompanying release of Inter Alia felt like some kind of a miracle.

Unsurprisingly, Birth of a Ghost, released the same day, was eclipsed by this news. I felt extremely privileged to get two ORL presents for my birthday and gave this one a metaphorical spin first, since the title reminded me of my favourite Wilco album A Ghost is Born. On the surface, this classical album is a fairly left-field offering, but upon reflection there are lots of orchestral influences across the ORL oeuvre, most notably in the Morricone-influenced movements of Frances the Mute and, tangentially, some of his electronic music. 

26
Sep 21

Omargeddon #24-26: Omar Rodríguez-López Group (live albums)

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During the acute phase of the pandemic last year, I noticed quite a few demo albums were dropping into my Spotify feed. As much as I enjoy partaking in a kind of VH1 Behind the Music-style history lesson, I’m sure it was a direct result of musicians desperately scrambling to raise enough coin to maintain an existence in the absence of touring. This year, my feed has increasingly nudged me towards a plethora of live albums; it seems like every week there’s a new Pixies show available. Now that going to gigs is viable again, I find that I’m still a little leery of the thought – all that singing and close proximity, plus being forced to actually shower, leave the house, and speak to other humans. It’s all much of a muchness.

My last taste of live music was early last February, when I got to see Algiers at the Village Underground. And it was hard to actually shower, leave the house and speak to other humans back then too, because it was cold and dark, the venue was more than ten minutes away, and I was deep into month four of redundancy-induced unemployment. In a sense, I’d been prepped for the alienation and income-reduction caused by Covid for nearly half a year by the time all the restrictions came into force. That didn’t make it any less difficult or unpleasant, but at least I had had a bit of practice. 

Since I probably won’t be booking gig tickets anytime soon, recorded live music will have to do. Nothing will truly mimic the ritual of ticket booking anxiety / excitement and all the anticipatory build-up of waiting to see your favourite band with friends, but something has to stand in. Live albums suffice to provide a brief respite, like when for a few golden moments during a Zoom pub-at-home no one is talking over each other and things seem almost normal. Nothing can stand in for seeing the Mars Volta live, but although I’ve had that privilege three times, I’ve not yet seen the Omar Rodríguez-López Group. Luckily, there are three live albums that open a window to that experience.

7
Sep 21

GARY JULES ft MICHAEL ANDREWS – “Mad World”

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#968, 27th December 2003

Mental illness and pop music are hardly strangers, but few bands made it as central to their work as Tears For Fears, named after a concept minted by experimental psychiatrist Arthur Janov, whose ideas ripple and echo throughout the group’s first two records. Tears For Fears were an unusually earnest band, and suffered for it critically, but their self-seriousness has worn well.

From another group the lyric of “Mad World” might land as just another glib dig at the squares; Curt Smith, though, sounds honestly perturbed. Madness, for TFF, is the primal topic – their songs are often an account of working through their own neuroses and buried pain. But that childhood pain isn’t unique to sensitive young synthpoppers – it infects the whole of society, contorting it into patterns of repression, routine and self-denial. Mad world isn’t just a description; it’s a diagnosis.

24
Aug 21

Omargeddon #23: The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange

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I’ve been especially drawn to instrumentals of late; I’m certain that this is because I haven’t worked in an open-plan office for well over a year and can easily listen to music uninterrupted for nearly the whole of my working day. Lyrics mean way too much to me to ditch them entirely from the hours of 9-5, but I have found that it’s often easier to concentrate with instrumental music in the background, because I’m not being distracted by poetics. 

The key to an optimal WFH soundtrack is a very specific kind of aural wallpaper. Too minimal gets lost among the near constant lawn-mowing, leaf-blowing and hedge-trimming present on my street. Anything intensely vociferous negatively affects my attention span. What I require is the perfect William Morris print that balances variety with repetitious symmetry.

My search for the ideal ORL instrumental album led me to The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange. It’s the only one credited to the Omar Rodríguez-López Quintet –  basically a severely cut-back Mars Volta lineup sans Cedric Bixler-Zavala and with the addition of Money Mark on keyboards. It’s the third instalment of the Amsterdam series of albums written and recorded in 2005 when ORL lived in that city, an interesting collection that includes his first-ever solo record, Omar Rodriguez, and Despair, among others.

18
Aug 21

The World Cup Of Four Letter Words*

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*Four Letter Word Song Titles, that is.

As you all know I spend a lot of my pop time these days running elaborate Twitter tournaments.  These have a lot of matches and it can be tricky keeping track of what’s going on, so this is an experiment whereby I’ll link to all the polls that are running currently.

QUALIFYING ROUND:

YouTube playlist (now complete)

Qualifying Round Leaderboard (most votes)

  1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps” (353)
  2. Gary Numan – “Cars” (337)
  3. Gorillaz – “DARE” (328)
  4. The Commodores – “Easy” (248)
  5. The B-52s – “Roam” (237)
  6. Portishead – “Numb” (232)
  7. Radiohead – “Just” (231)
  8. Joni Mitchell – “Blue” (225)
  9. The Beatles – “Help” (218)
  10. The National – “Abel” (214) / The Kinks – “Lola” (214)

Results / Completed Matches

Artists in bold have definitely qualified for Round 1. (3rd place artists will go into a Repechage Round between the Qualifiers and R1)

26
Jul 21

OZZY AND KELLY OSBOURNE – “Changes”

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#967, 20th December 2003

From one reality TV hit to another – “Changes” wouldn’t have existed without The Osbournes, an everyday story of a loveably decayed rock star and his no-bullshit manager-wife. The show’s surface dynamics played into some hoary old stereotypes of calamitous husbands and hypercompetent wives, but it was still far more watchable than most celebrity vehicles.

28
Jun 21

Omargeddon #22: Gorilla Preacher Cartel

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Omar Rodríguez-López song and album titles are some of the very best in existence, and it really doesn’t get much better than Gorilla Preacher Cartel. According to an early release schedule*, this was revised from the originally proposed Scrapyard Handshakes. Both are excellent appellations, and though I’m glad they went with the former, the latter would have been apt – APT!

If Weekly Mansions and A Lovejoy are like chronologies of ORL’s electronic music, Gorilla Preacher Cartel is like a cut-up method album featuring elements from no fewer than six albums, covering De-loused in the Comatorium, Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fungus, Minor Cuts and Scrapes in the Bushes Ahead, Roman Lips, Solar Gambling, and the aforementioned Weekly Mansions (by way of Tychozorente). As on most of his other composite albums, ORL is credited with vocals and all instruments apart from the drums. The musicians featured here run the gamut of the Mars Volta’s lineup, including Jon Theodore, Thomas Pridgen, Dave Elitch, and Deantoni Parks, with only Blake Fleming absent.

23
May 21

Omargeddon #20 / #21: ¿Sólo Extraño? / Nom de Guerre Cabal

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Since the beginning of his solo career, song reworkings and rearrangements have appeared frequently across Omar Rodríguez-López’s oeuvre. Samples and sequences recur on most of his electronic music, and many of the spacey instrumentals that featured on his earliest albums eventually became Mars Volta tracks. 

So it wasn’t a surprise that much of the material released in 2016/17 by Ipecac Recordings contained quite a few new interpretations. Nom de Guerre Cabal revisits ¿Sólo Extraño? in its entirety, although the song order has been shuffled around, and three of the songs have added lyrics where their counterparts don’t. As with other albums in this series, the remade songs on NDGC have simplified titles taken from the lyrics, apart from “Common Condescend” / “Nom de Guerre”, where the title is from lyrics from the original song rather than the remake. ¿Sólo Extraño? itself is heavily influenced by Unicorn Skeleton Mask, a record whose influence habitually pops up like a bad penny, if bad pennies actually increased in value the longer they remained in circulation.

24
Mar 21

WILL YOUNG – “Leave Right Now”

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#966, 6th December 2003

Eg White, the songwriter on “Leave Right Now”, had an intriguing half-career out in the far suburbs of British pop. His album as part of Eg And Alice, 24 Years Of Hunger, has quietly acquired cult status; it’s sophisticated but erratic. Like Daniel Bedingfield, White was a young songwriter trying on his inspirations for size (at one point there’s an unexpected but exciting stab at Remain In Light era David Byrne). Released into a world too earthy and raucous for it, it made no impression – I remember the cassette of it in Our Price sale after sale, forever ignored.

17
Mar 21

Omargeddon #19: Blind Worms, Pious Swine

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Lately, the weather has been seesawing wildly through various meteorological events over the course of any given day, as is oft springtime’s wont. These icy, azure early mornings remind me of the Blind Worms, Pious Swine cover. Of course, the buds bursting into bloom on the trees will produce only boring-ass leaves rather than animal / human heads, like whatever this feather-becapped person is studying quizzically. Are they thinking, “Hey, I think I know that dude!” or “Do donkeys normally grow on trees?” It’s a dilly of a pickle!

The cover also challenges my sporadic synaesthesia in that although the cover feels cold, the actual music sounds warm. The first half is made up of punchy, indie-pop songs that all clock in at under four minutes; the second half is an instrumental prog-lite piece spanning four songs. The two genres might seem like an odd juxtaposition, but the two halves blend together via a gradually intensifying bassline which builds up to a crescendo set up by the magic of Omar Rodríguez-López and Teri Gender Bender’s shared vocals.