Month: April 2010

30 Days of Music is Over!

That’s it then folks … Show’s over. Wait, what’s that? There’s a bit more yet? Because Alex is too lazy to produce new content? Welcome to the afterparty. Tomorrow, I’ll be throwing up a guest-blog by one of my eloquent comrades every couple of hours. And, no doubt, mercilessly promoting it. Facebook, be ready. I also thought I’d just throw up a complete song-choices and links post, for completeness’ sake. I’m aware that no-one ever comments, but I implore you (not just for my ego, mostly for my ego) to give some feedback. Favourite post? Worst choice? Best type of post (I worked out the other day they split into about the song / mini-essay on related topic / autobiographical)? You don’t have to sign up or nuthin’ and it would help me know my strengths. Without further ado, the countdown…. day 30 – your favorite song at this time last year Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights day 29 – a song from your childhood Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – December, 1963 day 28 – a song that makes you feel guilty The Long Blondes – Only Lovers Left Alive day 27 – a song that you wish you could play Tenacious D – Hug Her Gently* day 26 – a song that you can play on an instrument John Cage – 4’33” day 25 – a song that makes you laugh Ludacris – Cry Babies (Oh No) day 24 – a song that you want to play at your funeral Radiohead – Videotape day 23 – a song that you want to play at your wedding Pulp – Common People day 22 – a song that you listen to when you’re sad The Smiths – I Know It’s Over day 21 – a song that you listen to when you’re happy Kenickie – Classy day 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angry Los Campesinos! – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed day 19 – a song from your favorite album Radiohead – Idioteque day 18 – a song that you wish you heard on the radio Emmy the Great – Canopies & Grapes day 17 – a song that you hear often on the radio Big Boi – Shutterbugg**day 16 – a song that you used to love but now hate Maximo Park – Apply Some Pressure day 15 – a song that describes you Britney Spears – Circus day 14 – a song that no one would expect you to love Gallows – Orchestra of Wolves day 13 – a song that is a guilty pleasure My Chemical Romance – Welcome To The Black Parade day 12 – a song from a band you hate Death in Vegas – Scorpio Rising (feat. Liam Gallagher) day 11 – a song from your favorite band Pixies – Gigantic day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep The Postal Service – Sleeping In day 09 – a song that you can dance to The Libertines – What Became of The Likely Lads day 08 – a song that you know all the words to The Streets – The Irony of it All day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event Hole – Celebrity Skin day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere Radiohead – Fitter Happier day 05 – a song that reminds you of someone Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights (by Imogen Dale) day 04 – a song that makes you sad REM – Nightswimming day 03 – a song that makes you happy Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position day 02 – your least favourite song The Fratellis – Chelsea Dagger day 01 – your favourite song Bang Bang Machine – Geek Love *Which, Imi has since pointed out, should have actually been Tenacious D’s Double Team.**I haven’t actually heard this on the radio since. My hit-predicting skills are spot on as ever…

30 Days of Music: #001

day 01 – your favourite song The big one. The reason I did this whole 30 Days fiasco backwards in the first place. What we’ve been counting down to… Bang Bang Machine – Geek Love …And you’re probably thinking: what? I don’t normally go in for obscurity for obscurity’s sake. But my favourite song is one I’ve never heard, anywhere, except through my own speakers and headphones. It’s not on Spotify, I didn’t know there was a video until today (and even that’s half the full length), the self-proclaimed “only site dedicated to Bang Bang Machine” on the internet is a relic, a hangover from the pre-56k days…. Geek Love could almost not exist outside of this lone mp3 on my hard-drive. Some days, I can almost believe it doesn’t. And, despite the song sounding like a broken half-transmission from an alternative reality (in which, perhaps, Geek Love was a #1 hit) that’s silly, really. Apart from the obvious fact that my mind has the musical creativity and ability of a beached manatee mid-labour, it was a #1. Sort of. It topped John Peel’s annual Festive 50, in 1992. Which, incidentally, is where my copy was ripped from: for a year or so, before I discovered Audacity, the song was bookended by Peel talking, every single time I listened to it. Which added to the feel of it being a broken transmission, from a time and place that could have been. Where post-rock took over and became, merely, rock. Where instead of Britpop, something entirely different was built out of Saint Etienne’s legacy as eyes were lifted from shoes (and navels), guitars and alternative dance music holding hands and walking into the 20th Century’s sunset, burning brighter than in our own world… I’m getting carried away, but it’s that kind of song. The kind that carries you away with it. A looping 9 minute monster of a song, with barely-decipherable vocals. I’ve sang along to the lyrics dozens of times, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you a single line from it, even as I’m listening to it now. It could be about first contact with the other gender, or living alone with only a set of headphones for company… it’s actually, according to Wikipedia, about a travelling family of circus freaks. It even incorporates noises from controversial film-classic Freaks. That simultaenously surprises me and explains everything. You might notice I’m using italics a lot. It’s that kind of song, written in the elegant looping language of italics. The kind of song that wraps thick arms around you and whispers: calm. safe. shhhhhh. The kind of song that inspires in me what could, no doubt, be labelled pretentiousness. Except, obviously, I mean it. I mean all of it.

30 Days of Music: #02

day 02 – your least favourite song It’d be easy to just name the name, refuse to link to the video and leave it there. But, instead, I’m going to brave my least favourite song and pick it apart: all for your benefit. I’m selfless that way. Fratellis – Chelsea Dagger Well, duh. I’ve walked out of innumerable clubs to this particular soundtrack. My hatred is well-known enough that people will play it just to get a rise out of me. I will actually put my hands over my ears and shout LALALALALALAAAA to block it out. But the truth is… Once upon a time, I sort of liked the Fratellis. Once upon a time, I was your average NME-reading teenager: with, I like to think, a better record collection than most, but still clueless to new stuff, and so I read the NME and they’d tell me this or that was worth a look, and a lot of the time I would, and sometimes it would be worthwhile, and sometimes it wouldn’t. For all that people bash the NME, myself included, it was a good system. One coverdisc, I think, came with a Fratellis song on. Creeping Up The Backstairs, I think. It was jaunty enough, and when the band came on MTV2 I wouldn’t turn the channel over. I can still stand to listen to it, even, though I’d never choose to. It’s an alright song. So it’s possible – I don’t ever remember it, but it’s possible – that I once liked this song, too. And it is at this point in the blog which I start exposing myself to Chelsea Dagger. The here-it-comes drums. Those opening jabs at my spine. The yell, expressing nothing. And we’re into come-on-lads-chant-along territory. It’s so … obvious. At this point, I’d normally be on my way out the door. Lyrically, the opening gambit says it all. Well you must be a girl with shoes like that,She said you know me well. I’m genuinely unsure if the lyrics are intentionally banal. It’s possible, just possible, that The Fratellis might be geniuses. This song could not be better designed to irritate me. It’s weaponised Oasis, more toxic than their worst and more, at least here in the 21st Century, widely played. The real kicker, the thing that makes it so evil, is that it’s an earworm. Fragments of the song will be stuck in my brain for hours now. As its half-life ticks down, my brain, still shell-shocked, won’t be able to work out quite what it’s dealing with, won’t realise what chemical waste it is dealing with, won’t be able to stop itself. It might, even, start humming along… Chelsea Dagger is a musical Chernobyl. And I was born, stunted, into the world after its release. What’s done is done. And that inescapable fact, and the inescapibility of the song itself, is why it is my least favourite song. Now excuse me while I throw everything on Spotify at it in an attempt at decontamination.

30 Days of Music: #003

day 03 – a song that makes you happy Yesterday I talked about how little music makes me sad. Joyful, though? Oh, I can do joyful. Right now I’m hungover without having touched alcohol for days, had a half-hour fight with a printer to produce a contents page… And then, I put this song on and I’m bobbing and …oh, a little smile there. Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position My attachment to art, of any kind, is pretty simple. I’m looking for one of two things: either an intellectual tickling of my lobes, or involuntary smiling. You could probably distil my primary-colours attitude to my entire life into this simple philosophy. The Magic Position is just the song I have the most memories of smiling to, at immediate mental reach. Parties where the music is controlled by people I trust**, going a bit mental at Latitude festival, looking out over the entirety of my Uni laid out below me as the sun went down and the climactic “it’s you” kicks in. The song is simple enough*, just love-fuelled happiness stripped down to its core: I like you, and it makes me happy. I’m a simple man: Hi, I’m Alex. I like you and it makes me happy. *i.e., me.**Pending anything like yesterday’s AIDS debacle

30 Days of Music: #004

day 04 – a song that makes you sad And we’re inside the last 5, and hopefully tonight’s is the last one that’ll sneak in right before that 00:00 deadline, as I wave goodbye to the deadlines of academia. R.E.M. – Nightswimming It seems weird, given how attached I am to pop music, but there’s very little that can make me sad, that can bring that lump to the throat like, say, cinema. I might use music when I’m sad, but it’s unusual that an emotion will just hit me out of nowhere. I think that’s an immersion thing. I talked, with Fitter Happier, about an experience that led to the purist values where I think music should be dipped into, in isolation. But I rarely do it, and when an album holds you for 40 minutes, the end is rarely suddenly an emotional kicker. There’s something more like release, for me, at the end of most albums. I’ve been writing a lot, in my academic career, about narrative recently, but I think I really do need that for the emotional kick. If I hadn’t already written about them, this could have easily been about The Libertines: I find the narrative of Carl and Pete heart-rending, and it was always central to my enjoyment of their work. The lyrical meaning I grab onto in Nightswimming* isn’t anything particularly sad. I’m a simple man, and I just get: it’s about skinny-dipping. But then it pulls that trick that pop music does so well, and in just its presentation, through the sounds of the instruments and the way Michael Stipe’s voice strains**, it sounds nostalgic and tired and scared, and it makes me go … if not throat-lumpy, then just quiet. Like most music that’s considered sad, it’s also beautiful (see: The Arcade Fire, who this post was very nearly about). I find it incredibly calming, which I know sadness rarely is. My memories of the song – in bed with Imi, drunkenly trying to sleep in a friend’s too-small car – are happy. But, if it hits me just right, Nightswimming can manages to do this thing, that music so rarely does for me. Why, after a day of banging my head against my choices, I came up with this, is one of the mysteries of music. And that just starts making me joyful again… *Though Miles informs me it might actually be about AIDS. That is quite sad, isn’t it? Oops.

30 Days of Music: #005

day 05 – a song that reminds you of someone TODAY: A guest blog from Imogen ‘lovely girlfriend’ Dale. Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights Alex is addicted to this song*. It’s been sung, listened to, and craved for by him more times than I can count. I think (my embarassing lack of music knowledge exposed) this was the first time I’d even heard of Kate Bush, and the first time I heard it was indeed sung by the lovely Alex Spencer. As his singing doesn’t quite compare to hers**, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this seemingly screechy and dull song. But I did! And I have continued to enjoy it every time I have heard it. In fact, I think I’ve even been known to sing it to him myself, and to myself, on my own, while procrastinating. What can I say, it’s catchy! *It has, after all, already been a star in this 30 Days of Music extravaganza!**The opinions expressed by Imogen Dale do not necessarily reflect those of Alex-Spencer.co.uk. Thankyou, Imogen! This short entry (costing me only £17.53) courtesy of Imogen having an exam tomorrow, and Alex having somewhere in the region of 15,000 words due over the next couple of days, and Alex pansying about when he writes anything.

30 Days Of Music: #006

day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere I have to admit: I’ve been agonising over these ‘reminds you’ song choices. It’s no coincidence they’ve both been written uncharacteristically late. But once I’d thought of this one, it seemed obvious. Radiohead – Fitter Happier* See, I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I have this totally pretentious formative moment from when I was like 16. I’d recently bought The Bends and OK Computer, slapped the two CDs, a walkman, and a load of batteries in a coat pocket, and went-a-walking. I ended up climbing to one of the higher points on Cannock Chase in search of a radio mast I’d been able to see on the horizon, and looking down over my hometown. I’ve never been one for sights: touristed to a load of famous things, not impressed. But it was a bit breathtaking. It was all about the atmosphere, of course. Back to back, on your own, two albums of Radiohead throws an inevitable … fog over you. The stuff I’d seen helped: it had briefly snowed, and some deer darted out in front of me while I was walking through the forest. It was one of those experiences that was almost self-consciously defining. It was the start of thinking in albums as the primary unit of music; it led to my habit of chasing big filmic Moments; I’d gone out with the aim to write a short story, and came back with one in my head, which I knocked out to more Radiohead**. It was so neat I could’ve planned it, almost. But, no, I was just standing there, kicking big old rocks around and looking out over my hometown to these weird, alien noises. …Almost immediately afterwards, my batteries died and I was left to walk home, as it got darker, in silence. *Amusingly, listening to this song on Spotify, it came immediately and inexplicably followed by Would I Lie To You? by Charles & Eddie. A slight shift in tone there…**For a few years, I wrote exclusively to OK Computer. I tried it the other day and it didn’t work.

30 Days Of Music: #007

day 7 – a song that reminds you of a certain event It’s pathetic, but I can’t think of many pivotal events that are worthy of having songs attached to them. Sonic Youth’s Goo reminds of me of two or three bus journeys to school, but that doesn’t really count, does it? Hole – Celebrity Skin So I end up defined by my lovely girlfriend again. And I’d bet she doesn’t even remember this… It could have been my smug realisation of what Hot Chip’s Over and Over was about, with all its joy of repetition, and monkeys playing miniature cymbals. It could have been Weezer, from the exact same night. But, what I remember is dancing with her to this. And thinking: yeah, this could work. Imi at 15 was probably my exact match.* Sadly, we met at 19, but a girl I could dance with to silly 90s girl-grunge? Hell, that was good enough. And that’s the event that this reminds me of. Dancing together in the undefined early days, without the in-jokes and the keeping each other happy. One day, perhaps it will be a bitter memory. I really hope not, because I quite like Celebrity Skin and I definitely like being quietly nostalgic about it… You need some excuse to listen to Hole, right? *For my 15-year-old self, to be clear for legal reasons.

30 Days of Music: #008

day 8 – a song that you know all the words to Which, I think, is a lot of songs. I’ve never been the greatest at lyric-memorising (well, it’s not the point, is it?) but there’s a lot of songs I know all the way through. Admittedly, these are often songs with 6 or 7 words in them. The question is what song is worth knowing all the words to? The Streets – The Irony Of It All Streets songs are quotable, is the thing. I don’t mean in that sixth-form Facebook status way that Los Campesinos! lyrics excite me in, or the way I occasionally pull out a bit of Morrissey, one eyebrow arched. I mean, around-the-house, casual-conversation, trying-to-express-myself-properly stealing. Original pirate material, if you will. … And I could leave it there (and I probably should, that’s a good finishing line). But, if we’re talking words, you’d best believe there’s going to be a lot of them. I’d heard some Streets stuff before, and liked it well enough. This was in the era between Has It Come To This? and Fit But You Know It. Then, it happened: Dry Your Eyes. Dead-eyed emotional obviousness. Yawn. My interest was killed. A little later, a friend was talking about The Irony of It All. The Streets? I wasn’t interested. But he talked about the song, a split-down-the-middle two-character-driven pre/anti-drugs debate, and convinced me to slip in that one headphone and listen to the mp3. And I’ve still got my reservations (Original Pirate Material is the only album worth bothering with, Fit But You Know It tops my list of songs that will cause me to turn the radio off) but, y’know, I really like The Streets. And it’s the words, really. They sneak, unavoidably, into my speech. The other day, in an attempt to express myself, I wrote a note – “the washing up bowl in my crown” – in a story, and forgot to remove it, thoroughly confusing everyone who I showed it to. It’s just that kind of vocabulary, that sneaks into your forebrain and burrows, biding its time… Yes, yes, oh yay.

30 Days of Music: #009

day 9 – a song that you can dance to Many people would argue that there is no such thing. These are sensible people, of the type that have seen my dancing. The Libertines – What Became Of The Likely Lads This is an example of a song that I can’t not dance to. My love of the Libertines, these days, is extremely circumstantial. As is natural, after years of post-band rubbish, Doherty in the press, and just growing up.* I can’t even bring myself to be that excited for the Reading reunion. But, place me and several units of alcohol in a public place that plays a Libertines song – any Libertines song – and I will dance. If you have the ill fortune of being with me, you will lose me to the press of the crowd, where I will alternately knock drinks out of hands and hug uncomfortable strangers. If I’m not in a club … well, it doesn’t matter, I’ll still shout the lyrics and dance to myself. I don’t know what it is about their music – it’s hardly designed with dancing in mind – but there’s a certain energy there that summons that particular shambolic beast within me. If I was going to Reading this year, I know exactly how I’d behave during their set. Shamefully. That much of the Libertines Magic remains. *Phonogram was, as usual, extremely prescient on this. The Libertines were a key band – “my training bra, intellectually speaking. Supportive to start with, but rapidly outgrown. Soon traded in for something sexier”, to quote the delightful Ms. Aster – to who I became, but ultimately they were fuel. They burnt.