Usually, and certainly of late, I find it a struggle to find that elusive interesting “in” to a record, that unique moment that allows me to begin a train of thought to wherever. The most difficult thing for me with this particular one is that it was all to easy to do and I remain unsure about if I want to go down that track. But here I am and there I go, and as nobody reads this anymore anyway I can relax a bit more and head off to wherever this is going to take me. It’s that sort of an album, and a fitting end to this brief jaunt around Pennsylvania’s gritty musical output.
Onto the second part of this visit to the State of Pennsylvania, which I now discover is more of a Commonwealth anyway. No idea what that means, but there you go. And after having my hearing and nerves shattered by 4 and 5am fire alarms here, I am in no state (or commonwealth?) to find out properly. Little Big League are a band from Philadelphia, Tropical Jinx is their second album and their debut struck such a chord with me last year (it was a well-deserved favourite) that it feels like they’ve been around for a lot longer, something reinforced by the progression and feel of this new one. October’s been a good month.
At work, I am involved in the office Fantasy Football League. I’m not doing very well if truth be told, but that isn’t the cause of my despair as far as this little competition is concerned. My consternation lies firmly in the fact that I am incessantly finding my team name to an ever-expanding group of people who go “I don’t get it” whenever I extol the etymological origins of the mighty mid-table Half Man Half Busquets. I’m generally happier when explaining who Busquets (Carles or Sergio, it matters not) is. Half Man Half Biscuit shouldn’t really be hidden away just out of sight of the mainstream consciousness, although I suspect that this is where they like to hang out – their fans are loyal and well-rewarded, modern culture provides a well-ordered line of targets for lyrical disdain, and they remain at the forefront of a punk movement casting a disappointed spotlight on life’s many vagaries; mostly by virtue of the fact that nobody else has really bothered to join in.
It’s rare that I do posts of a personal nature these days. Partly because I’ve become a little bit more guarded over the past couple of years anyway due to this & that, but I suppose it’s mostly because I’ve been so busy trying to listen to so much new stuff that I’ve not been looking backwards so often anymore. Which is probably why it came as a genuine shock to me when I read a message from a friend of mine today stating that this record is ten years old today. Conversations that have sprung from this revelation have seemed to have the same effect on several other of my friends today, and then the floodgates opened – a whole decade of memories, communities and even enmities all springing from the collective coming-together over one record. Happy Birthday, Bubblegum.
Somewhere in the lower reaches of my pile of DVDs are a small group of imported Hong Kong editions of films by Miike Takashi, because they were impossible to get over here at the time (and they were also very cheap). The Japanese director is well-known for being a bit multicultural with his cast who generally spoke their own language in conversation with others speaking a different one. An interesting challenge for the Chinese subtitling department, who had to transcribe all of these into their own language and then into English for the benefit of the likes of me. A favourite of mine is Dead Or Alive: Final (brilliant intro, very weird ending, so-so middle bits) as one of the main characters speaks English – which was then translated into Cantonese by one translator and then back into English by another one doing the subs, with rather strange linguistic consequences as what is said and what appears on the bottom of the screen rarely match. There’s method to this laboured intro, as Manchester’s Horsebeach take a sound familiar round these here parts but rather than riff on the original, it’s something partially retranslated from another interpretation.
It always seems a bit strange when a band goes eponymous some way into a career. The usual way about things is to self-titlingly announce yourselves right at the start and then take it from there, wherever “it” takes you. When it does happen though, it’s an eyebrow-raiser. Why now? Why this?
It does all become rather apparent once attention is paid to what the Smoke Fairies have achieved with this record, that both expands their musical palette and brings an intangible feeling of a closer bond, which is rather nicely illustrated by the image on the cover – it takes two wings for one to fly, after all…
I have no idea if it was a collective act or sheer coincidence, but somewhere along the line a switch was closed and we all became earnest, miserable sods. Or at the very least I did and presumed that everyone else did too. Thankfully, we have Sweet Apple here to decide that not only is it perfectly OK to be fun and bright and occasionally silly, but it’s also possible to look over one’s shoulder at the past and mark all the colourful spots without getting all maudlin about it. And of course it’s even better to do so when you get to include Mike Watt in a canoe.
There’s nothing quite like a band who choose their name wisely. The two times I’ve seen Italian band Afterhours perform, it’s been a rather late affair. Which turned out to be a bit of a bugger as both of these times were in places 200 miles from where I lived and on one occasion (a February!) I ended up trying to sleep on a bench outside Euston Station as I’d missed my train. Whoops.
Another thing about Afterhours is that they’ve never been afraid to experiment, and as such spent much of their time several years ahead of their peers. This is a rather handy aspect, as this re-released (with surprises!) album from 1997 seems as fresh as if it had appeared just last week.
This is a record that makes the notion of being a Record Collector a bit of a strange one. Our various and varied collections are not passive artifacts for us to hoard and catalogue (none of mine are, anyway – which is probably why I can’t find anything), they exist as a series of buttons and triggers to be pressed, pulled and even provoked in order to bring forth memories, feelings and sometimes tears. They remind us of times that are better off forgotten, but still we prod the hornet’s nest whenever we want to reminisce about something wonderful or even terrible. We can be so stupid.
So while Lepidopterists don’t rifle through their hoard to find a particular moth pinned to a piece of plywood that reminds them of an ex-girlfriend, and Philatelists don’t spend hours gazing at a stamp from a far-off country they’ve yet to visit because they miss their Dad, some of us (most of us?) find ways to feel alive in whatever way we can by listening to other people’s joy and pain. Benji is a prime example of this.
The year’s early months lend themselves to a certain sort of patience not found elsewhere. The dark, cold days allow for a gentler pace of everything, because once the stress of the year-end is out-of-the-way and the warmth and sunshine still seem an age away (despite the TV’s best efforts to lead us to believe that it’s almost Easter already), what’s the point in being in any sort of a hurry to do anything? January is a good time to take stock of what’s here rather than panic about getting the Now out-of-the-way as soon as possible to make room for the Next, so this is the best time of year for the Growers. Instead of putting a record or single song on and moving straight on to the next one, this is the time for sitting back and gently soaking in every line, unhurried and calm. The timing of this release then couldn’t be better.