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.

19
Feb 21

Omargeddon #18: Un Corazón de Nadie

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To suggest that delivering three albums over a twelve-month period indicates a slow year would normally be ridiculous, but for Omar Rodríguez-López fans, 2012 probably felt a bit like an old-timey cowboy actor (i.e. Slim Pickens). To give this a bit more context, 2009 saw six releases and 2010 seven, which in turn now appears positively tame compared to the glorious twenty-three-record bounty of 2016/17 as part of Ipecac Recordings’ back catalogue clearout bonanza. According to the liner notes, Un Corazón De Nadie (“Nobody’s Heart”) “was completed in November of 2010, and then sat in the wild strawberries vault until its release in May of 2012.” For material to sit around brewing for a couple years before becoming available isn’t unusual for ORL records, but for all of the releases in a given year to have a unifying genre, in this case electronica, certainly is.

Both Wikipedia and contemporaneous reviews refer to Un Corazón De Nadie as the first in a trilogy of electronica-influenced albums, followed by Saber, Querer, Osar y Callar and Octopus Kool Aid. The production is coarse, rather than the cotton-wool fuzziness present on other effects-laden, synthy, mid-era ORL records. It too is drenched with effects but is comparatively more polished – somewhere between Tychozorente and Unicorn Skeleton Mask. Songs are a lyrical mix of Spanish and English, interspersed with instrumental segues as is usual for his electronic music. This collage-y nature is also reflected in the cover art, a photo composition done by his mother (and possibly featuring her holding baby Omar), who passed away the year of this release.

4
Dec 20

The Christmas We Get We Deserve

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It was sometime this Summer that I decided to do a Christmas poll in December, which later expanded to include other Winter festivals.

I didn’t think the idea through because it was a long way off – and I also felt there was a real chance I wouldn’t run it:

  • Everyone would be sick of the polls by then.
  • My business would have collapsed thanks to Covid and I’d be desperately looking for work.
  • Trump would have won the US election and everyone would feel too miserable.

None of these things have happened, so I had to think about how the Christmas event would work.

In doing so I realised there was a possible fourth reason.

  • A Christmas poll wouldn’t, in fact, work.

There are two big problems with a Christmas song tournament, even before you get to the fact that a lot of people really hate Christmas music,

The first is that it feels like almost every act has at some point recorded at least one Christmas song. It’s a fun songwriting challenge! (Maybe). It also might make you some money! (More doubtful). This means the scope for obscurities is truly vast, which in turn means quality control might be a problem.

The second is that the stuff that is popular is some of the most over-familiar music on Earth, and I’d be asking people to think about it right at the point at which it’s almost inescapable anyway.

So a tournament which unfolded like the year polls – with a broad mix of novel and familiar songs gradually tapering to the familiar – wouldn’t be as fun. Too much weird stuff early on, too much boring familiarity at the end.

What I decided to do is make the split (which happens in the year polls anyway) between more obscure and more familiar a formal reality. Instead of letting them gradually converge, I’d run two separate polls in parallel – one which would centre on the Christmas canon, and one which would be a lucky dip of the small, the forgotten, the weird and the tenuous.

THE TREE – Richly decorated and on public display, with the well known songs.

THE STOCKING – A rummage in a sack of cheerful novelties and surprises.

While the early rounds will see some all-Tree and all-Stocking days, by the time we get near the end the two events will be finishing together, balancing the familiar and the far-out. Two winners – one the People’s Pop Christmas favourite, and the other a hopefully enticing alternative discovery.

So that’s what I’m doing. Both the polls are small, and the whole thing runs from the 7th to the 24th, with a pause somewhere in the middle to do some nominations for the 2020 poll (which has its own set of planning issues!)

(For those of you deep into poll minutiae, only the four semi finalists in each tournament will make it into Pollhalla)

As usual, I’m going to post day-by-day playlists on the Patreon with some kind of preview-ish content. And we are doing a small fundraiser alongside it.

The main playlists are here –

THE TREE:

THE STOCKING:

1
Dec 20

WESTLIFE – “Mandy”

Popular11 comments • 2,482 views

#965, 26th November 2003

The tears are on their mind and nothing is rhyming. Sometime between previous single “Hey Whatever!” – a very non-Imperial number 4 – and this cover version, Brian McFadden decided it was time for the dream to end and handed in his notice. Sometimes when boys quit a band it’s a shock – a profitable enterprise cut cruelly short. But Westlife shedding a member felt like part of an ongoing process, a group winding gently down.

1
Nov 20

BUSTED – “Crashed The Wedding”

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#964, 22nd November 2003

“You Said No” was an uneven mix of Busted’s charms and their weaknesses; “Crashed The Wedding” is all upside. All of Busted’s singles so far have played like episodes in the band’s imaginary TV show – a vaguely naughty comedy story; a goofy sci-fi pastiche; a high school melodrama. “Crashed The Wedding” is more like the climax of the group’s first movie, the riotous denouement of a pop-punk rom-com. Though the ‘punk’ side is getting even more vestigial – this is scruffbag power-pop, and all the better for it.

30
Oct 20

Omargeddon #17: A Lovejoy

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Unlike several other Omar Rodríguez-López albums, the contents of A Lovejoy are accurately reflected by its cover. The bright colours, glitzy lights and disco font signpost a collection of infectiously catchy dance tracks, so despite the name, there are no weird curve balls concept-wise about Ian McShane’s mystery-solving antiques dealer and/or Springfield’s resident pastor.

Spotify has a lot of obvious moral failures, as well as, I’m coming to realise, vexing technical issues. I’ve accepted randomly vanishing tunes, because at least that can be somewhat explained by label interference or artist whimsy. However, I was recently stumped by the realisation that their version of A Lovejoy is both incomplete and inaccurate. The final song is given as “Tlaquepaque”, which is indeed correct, but what you hear is in fact the song “Left For Dead”, which doesn’t appear on the track list, meaning “Tlaquepaque” isn’t there at all. At first, I found this extremely irritating, but I suppose it means that I got a bonus ORL song this year that I wasn’t expecting, and it also prompted me to push the purchase of this album up my current Bandcamp queue. You could argue that I should have bought these albums years ago, but I’m doing it now, so kiss my ass.

24
Oct 20

World Cup of 1980 Preview

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This is the third time I’ve run a poll event based on a single year – 1980 follows 1990 and 2001, and they’ve all presented different challenges in terms of building out brackets that are fun, fair (well, fair-ish) and tell a story about what happened that year.

Go to a site like Rate Your Music and they make sense of 1980 in a familiar way. Their “Top 20 Singles” are entirely white and 95% male: Joy Division, Talking Heads, The Clash, Bowie, and so on.

All these people are represented in our version of 1980 – it’s entirely possible one of them will win the tournament – but to claim they tell the story of the year is nonsense.

21
Sep 20

Omargeddon #16: Cizaña de los Amores

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I joined last.fm in 2007 because I’d seen some of my friends use it to tag their LiveJournal entries with the song they were currently listening to and thought this was a pretty boss idea. But I soon realised that as far as I was concerned, its primary feature was the radio stream (which has since either disappeared or has been made a premium feature). I’d play it solidly as work* background music and appreciated the mix of 95% stuff I knew and liked and 5% random shit. At the time, I couldn’t possibly imagine anyone being interested in viewing my profile and so had no hesitation in publicly sharing my listening data. Then, after many enthusiastic years of scrobbling, I logged out in the summer of 2018 and haven’t been back since. This is largely due to this project, because seeing in black and white how often I listened to the same albums over and over in a short span of time made me cringe.

I had a similar amount of embarrassment at the end of last year when Spotify generated a slideshow of 2019’s top artists/songs, and I genuinely worried that if someone were to analyse that information, they’d conclude that I should be placed in some kind of a home. This weird and pointless self-shaming has certainly motivated me to seek out more new music this year, but in my heart of hearts, I know I’ll always find a lot of comfort in a select playlist of firm favourites played incessantly. I’ve previously likened it to being a small child who wants to hear the same bedtime story for months on end, and now more than ever, I just want to know that the story ends if not happily ever after, then at least how I expect it to.

Cizaña de los Amores (“Love’s Tares” and “Love’s Darnel” have both been offered up by machine translations) was recorded in Clouds Hill Studios, a location much beloved by Omar Rodríguez-López for many years now; his most recent release was also recorded there. With Ximena Sariñana on most lead vocals, an eerie digital collage album cover by artist Sonny Kay, and a psychedelic pop core, the similarities between it and Solar Gambling are fairly obvious. Both feature recurring lyrics and melodies that often blend into a continuous flow, and instrumental or near instrumental songs acting as codas, so the parallels between the two make me regard them together as an unofficial double album.