Summer Jamz '08 #4: Paul Scott and Ian Mathers
Summer Jam '08 #4: Paul Scott and Ian Mathers
For our summer mix, Paul Scott and I decided to have a conversation, or maybe an argument, thanks to one inarguable fact: I hate summer. Paul decided to take a stab at changing my mind, and so we volley competing versions of the hottest summer at each other along with the songs. We also got started a bit late, and after jokingly discussing which one of us would get to including a Los Campesinos! track first, I got the ball rolling by declaring “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” the opener. Events preceded, or degenerated, from there. --Ian Mathers
01. Los Campesinos! – “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” (4:29)
02. Ola Podrida – “Jordanna” (4:50)
Okay, so, the thing is, I'm a little drunk, but we have to get moving on this; in addition that particular Los Campesinos! track (*key lyric: "When the small picture's the same as the bigger picture, you know that you're fucked" - which is pretty much the way I feel whenever the heat sets in, sadly), I mostly tend to retreat to slow, draggy, oppressive music this time of year. My bedroom doesn't have a window and as a result the heat in here is brutal - something like Ola Podrida's self titled debut suits me best right now because on the one hand it doesn't require any real heat on my part in loving it, and partly because it sounds like it was recorded in an oppressively hot room. So I would kind of like to lead off with “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” and its desperation (that’s me when we get our first intolerable days every year!), and then go from there. Here's "Jordanna", by Ola Podrida – definitely the next track I'd think of putting on the mix. He sounds pretty exhausted, really.
03. Saint Etienne – “London Belongs to Me” (3:58)
This Ola fellow, he sounds pretty beat. Is this fear of summer a Canadian thing or just a you thing? Over here in England the summer is a weird, unpredictable thing. May was gorgeous but now halfway through June the sky seems to be permanently grey. It's funny you say you have a bedroom with no windows. Mine has, let me count them, four. The next song for the mix is a counterpoint to the heavy, heavy sounds of Ola Podrida. Saint Etienne's "London Belongs to Me" sounds so light that on a couple of occasions it almost floats away. It captures the feeling of getting the tube on a warm summer night and being hit by a blast of cool air rushing its way up from somewhere deep underground. It feels like coming up without touching any kind of chemicals. It feels like someone has opened a window, let the light in, let some cool air in. In its own blissed out way – even as London skies, in their usual way, turn to granite – says "this is gonna be the best summer ever".
04. Spacemen 3 – “So Hot (Wash Away All of My Tears)” (2:39)
Fear is the wrong word – that implies some level of the unknown. I know what summer here in Guelph is, and I fucking hate it. It is indeed unpredictable – it was cold enough here last night that I needed a hoodie! – but we can look forward to (and have already experienced one of) these periods of just blastingly intense heat and humidity. I forget if you guys use proper temperatures or what, but with humidity it can hit 45 degrees or more here, outside (to say nothing of my room – that's around 115 for the Americans, by the way), and given that we're also used to seeing temperatures dip into the -40s with wind chill in the winter (which works out to around -40, funnily enough), suddenly having that amount of heat trapped between the blue-but-solid sky and the fucking pavement is just ridiculous. It also doesn't help matters that I am, as John Cunningham once told me, a pale, easily burned motherfucker. Standing in the direct sun for even a minute makes me feel like my skin is being cooked off, it's ridiculous. I liked that St. Etienne track, but it's like you say – because it summons up not summer for me but that blast of cool air that means a fan, air conditioning, a cold snap. The other solution, of course, is to go swimming – as Jason Pierce sings in my next pick "I just want a river, just want the ocean." And it's called "So Hot (Wash Away All of My Tears)," which is thematically appropriate at least. The slow motion crawl of the track makes me think of summer, Pierce sounds pretty oppressed, and while he may be talking about heartbreak, when they sigh out "so hot...." I can easily turn the song into a lament for a Guelph summer, at least in my head.
05. Lindstrom – “Music in My Mind” (4:51)
I think, in a sense, I agree with you. Summer, as an idea, sometimes seems oppressive. The feeling that just because of a metrological shift one should suddenly be happy. I like the Spacemen 3 song, did J Spaceman use that tune again on a Spiritualized album? I certainly know a version of it. Yes, it's track 4 on Pure Phase, that's one hell of an album. Opiated, beautifully sad summer jamz from a parallel universe. Enough of this heartbreak! Let's have some disco. Yet even here, amongst the flashlight and explosions, we can't quite let go. Lindstrom's "Music In My Mind" is certainly a lot more lithe and – let’s be honest – sexier than J Spaceman's blues. But, it's fueled by the same fever. It's there, just under the surface, somewhere between the beat and bass. The vocalist, she sounds cool but listen closer: "your eyes kill me": she seems to be surrendering. There is no cold snap here, no summer breeze: the beat goes on. You can't argue with caprice of metrology. Here, as oppression and exultation entwine - much as it did for J Spaceman - we see, sometimes, summer makes masochists of us all.
06. Scannerfunk – “Cosy Veneer” (6:39)
Well shit, don't let me convert you or anything... and yeah, I forgot Jason recycled that one, but he did. I think I prefer this version, actually, and it does make a surprisingly good segue into the slinky as hell "Music in My Mind." Damn, that tracks burns – but in a way that makes me think of summer nights, which I much prefer to summer days. It's a bit cooler, the sun can't burn you – but some nights it's still sticky and close and you just want to jump out of your skin. Or at least I do. But you can't always manage that, so the night just goes a bit hazy instead, everything slides, indistinct, you wake up the next morning not quite sure where the hours went. That's the kind of night where I pull out the Scannerfunk record, precisely because of tracks like "Cosy Veneer." Fuzzy, shifting, low key - it makes a decent afterparty for the Lindstrom track, but it also takes us deeper into the muggy night, away from all that inconvenient solar radiation. You can still feel that heat, though, and it even sounds a bit mournful in places.
07. Air France – “Collapsing at Your Doorstep” (4:34)
Through the night and out the other side. I've been working night-shifts. The sun starts to rise between four and five: if you're in a negative frame of mind Radiohead's "Lucky" sort of captures it. That guitar part mimicking the first oppressive break of the horizon, the histrionic proclamation of "it's going to be a glorious day", lacquered with bile: it's almost apocalyptic in its portent, a summer morning recast as the rapture. But, I'm younger than that now. Yes, the sun is rising, yes it may be oppressively hot later in the day, but for now it's perfect. It's not too hot yet, the sky is turning from grey to deep blue and the cynics have yet to get out of bed. "Collapsing at Your Doorstep" by Air France captures this feeling exquisitely. "It's all like dream" a little looped voice chirps and it is. It's indistinct yet somehow lucid, there is a certain clarity you just don't get at any other time of day. Then the main theme swoops in, the curtains are flung open, the horizon breaks: "this place is amazing". You can say "it's going to be a glorious day" and mean it. You can go to bed now safe in the knowledge you've seen the best part of the day.
08. Stina Nordenstam – “Crime” (5:41)
Yeah, Air France captures that poignant clarity of the early morning quite well, I'd say - but I tend to see that time of day because of insomnia, not the night shift (you're making it harder and harder for me to play the curmudgeon, but I'll do my best). "Collapsing at Your Doorstep" works perfect for going to sleep that night, but what about when you get woken up an hour later and have to go to work? Strangely, it's the kind of precisely placed minimalism you find in Stina Nordenstam's "Crime" that most sums up how my head feels at those times, waiting for the sun to hit (hmm... some Slowdive later, maybe?). Except for the opening "Whatever made me cold, it's gone now" nothing in "Crime" speaks directly to the summer, but there's this desire, the obverse of Thom Yorke's plea for invisibility in "How to Disappear Completely": "You know it wasn't really me, you know I wasn't really there" – please, just forget that you saw me. Let me stay down here, out of the sun. The necessary, for me, postscript to "this place is amazing," at least when it's muggy out.
09. Christopher Cross – “Sailing” (4:17)
That song is cold. Really cold. There's a motif at the beginning that reminds me, somewhat, of Christopher Cross's "Sailing", albeit with all the blood, all the warmth drained out. So, lets put some colour back in. It's cool but it's not cold. It's a groovy kind of melancholy; this man is, as someone once said, swimming in sadness. He's alone out on that endless ocean with nothing but his memories and the breeze. Where Stina shuts the curtains across and hides from the heat, Christopher – the not-so-rugged-individualist – slips on a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of loafers and sets sail. Perhaps, instead of curling up and hiding from those rays, the trick is to face them head on, curls those fingers into a fist of pure emotion, pour a margarita and man up. In the smoothest possible way, of course.
NB: Please see the following video for more on the creation of this piece of music.
10. Steely Dan – “Time Out of Mind” (4:13)
Using Christopher friggin' Cross to chide me in terms of 'manning up' is a bold move indeed, and if "Sailing" wasn't so smooth I might even take offense. Of course, as the supplementary material shows, even that song isn't all sunshine and puppies. It did make me think of Michael McDonald, though, and Michael McDonald and summer make me think of one thing: Steely Dan. Especially Gaucho, their most "summery" album (because it's their LA album, and I've never been there so in my mind it's always summer down there). McDonald only provided backing vocals on one track there, the heroin ode "Time Out of Mind," but what backing vocals! Becker and Fagen's evident relish at making the smoothest possible backing for what are fetid, misanthropic tales of human folly and suffering is kinda funny - at least if you're still drawing those curtains, like I am. Perfect for air conditioned night clubs where everyone disappears to the bathroom twice an hour.
11. Bill Bragg – “Lovers Town Revisited” (1:18)
It's getting so smooth here, it's almost decadent. I never suggested "Sailing" was "all sunshine and puppies", it's about dealing with the pains of summer not denying them. Now, another coping strategy. We're still in the club, or perhaps outside, but we're a hell of a long way from L.A. Billy Bragg's "Lovers Town Revisited" crackles with a parched, nervous energy. The shards of solo electric guitar sound like the tense heat of a summer Saturday night in some provincial British town centre. This is not the Dan's world of coke and hipcats, it's ale and skinheads. And, there in the centre of it all, the young William Bragg. He's weighing up his chances, just before he makes the great leap. He really is looking for a new England, but the savagery of a Summer night – "boys outside preaching genocide" indeed – is almost enough to make him just forget it, just turn and run away from it all. It's the antithesis of The Smiths "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others", yeh it's the same shitty provincial Britain but Bragg wants, though he knows it is perhaps impossible, to "save the world". Unlike moz though, he is unwilling to just give up, but at this moment he could just give in. It's a sublime moment of faith in doubt. These things, Ian, are sent to try us.
12. Jason Molina – “Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go” (6:40)
Really? Christopher Cross is sailing into some sort of yacht rock fantasyland, not sure how he's dealing with the pains of summer! Bragg definitely is, though. Such a sublime depth of effort and pain packed into less than 90 seconds. But if I think of a man and an electric guitar, standing outside of a bar after a fruitless night with a stifling, moist heat in the air, I'm more likely to turn to Jason Molina and his claustrophobic solo album Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go. It was recorded by dint of the man hiding himself away in a small studio for three days, and you can tell; the subtly cataclysmic title track alone makes it feel like it's at least thirty degrees in the room. It's actually a little less sparse than the rest of the album, what with the muted drum machine in the background. For about a week here, between the punishing heat and the way rapidly rising gas prices made our broke asses unable to travel anywhere (oh, for a mass transit system like the UK's!), this summer felt like the end of our comfortable way of life, in a small, overly dramatic way. Which is exactly what this song feels like.
13. The Jazz Butcher – “Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)” (4:58)
14. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – “Casino Royale Theme (Main Title)” (2:38)
15. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – “Casino Royale Theme (Vocal)” (2:21)
Maybe C. Cross isn't really coping, but he's dealing with it. Perhaps, it's only denial. The Molina track is making the walls close in just listening to it. Heavy, heavy vibes. The skies over London have gone grey and I'm blaming you. If there's one thing that typifies the reality of the English summertime it's afternoons like this, wasted holidays spent indoor looking out as the rain drizzles down. That's probably why our beaches fill on days the average Australian or Californian would describe as "a bit on the chilly side". It's like our national football team (soccer to you guys?); we don't win very often – sometimes we even fail to qualify – so even the smallest victory becomes a momentous triumph. It's that same spirit that fuels The Jazz Butcher's "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)", sure he has no truck with the Hollywood ideal of summer ("Oh, look- in California, everyone's got a swimming pool in their backyard / Well-Me and Max and Davey Jones- we think you ought to get out there and stop it") but he's still hoping, still reaching for something. It's the archetypical eighties indie tune: jangly guitar, proto-shoegaze swirly guitar, organ, bouncy momentum and most of all a lyric that speaks of a desire to connect. It comes from the same place as The Smiths' "Ask". Sure, Mozza may have been "spending warm summer days indoors" but he was still "writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl Luxembourg". In their own wayward ways the OG indie kids were after pretty much the same things as everyone else in the universe: it was just that the thoughtless "fuck you" hedonism of the yuppies and thatcherites was giving contentment a bad name. It's a song about getting out there, a song that put its faith in the theory that thousands of people have got to be O.K. He's thwarted by distance, by reality - but he's putting the words out there, 'cos well someone might just listen. It may be using 7 inches of plastic, fanzines and the letters page of the NME - no internet in those desperate, desperate times- it doesn't matter, it's all communication, just different ways of getting out there. Meeting people can be easy! And hell, if not having to put on three layers makes it easier to get out there, then all the better!
Perhaps I have convinced you summer ain't so bad, perhaps not. Hell, the amount of sunny days I've spent indoors. Doesn't really bear thinking about y'know. Not that you have to go outside to have fun. I mean wasting Bank Holidays watching Bond films you've seen a few hundred times before isn't the worst way to spend time. And, with that rather ungainly bit of shore-horning out of the way, my final song: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass performing Burt Bacharach's "Casino Royale Main Theme". A piece of music that very possibly drove some hepcat to invent the words "groovy" and "swinging" simply to describe the riotous collision of easy listening kitsch and blockbuster bombast. I've included both the instrumental version and the none-more-ridiculous vocal version performed by Mike Redway. After all that heat, angst and indie moping it's only fitting to end with a track that manages to be at once sublime and not in the least bit serious.
James Bond films! Herb Alpert! Herb Alpert doing the theme to a comedy James Bond film! I've tried hard to be the negative one here, but I can't say no to that. Well, your music and the relatively cool weather we've had here recently. I give up, it's not so bad - I'm going to go listen to "Don't Falter" by Mint Royale ("when you're with me, it's always summer") and pet my cat. We should try this again in the winter... assuming you don't like the cold. It'd be nice to be rooting for the season next time.
PS. Is the rest of the Air France album as good as that track? I'm a little in love.
Total running time: 59:53
Summer Jamz '08 #3: Dear Summer... by Jonathan Bradley
"My mix is for the times everything is still and quiet and perfect ... I haven’t included any yacht rock or Eagles tunes, but that’s all I can guarantee."
Summer Jamz '08 #2: State of the Union, Jack by Mike Orme and Nick Southall
"Two former Stylus Magazine compatriots ... celebrate the summer by splitting halves of a mix CD, each trying to fill their side with songs the other writer would put on a summer mix."
Labels: Summer Jamz '08