This 25 tracks album is all based on Indian/Bollywood samples from vinyls The Guadaloop bought back in 2007. Back then, after being inspired by his good friend Plusga, Guada(Loop) went to the nearest record store and got all the Indian records he could find. Soon Guada linked up with a big vinyl dealer and brought dozens of Indian\African records to the studio.
It's a "chunky monster" indeed. Packed to the seams with everything you need to know about mid-90s British downtempo music, massive basslines in golden age hip-hop, the relationship between funky jazz fusion and World War II bomber aircraft, and hundreds of other topics central to the proper functioning of your life.
I'm thrilled that it's publishing next to Aaron Cohen's book on Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace. That'll be a must-read.
"O Children" -- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. From The Lyre of Orpheus. Nobody does violence and grace as artfully as Nick Cave. Elegiac. Thrilling. The song seems to be contingent (what are those strange reversed sounds at the back? is the song falling apart?) even as it gathers itself into a hymn. One of the best moments of the Harry Potter movies -- intimate and expansive at the same time. How is it done.
"My Body is a Cage" -- Peter Gabriel. If the John Carter of Mars movie is good (it's Andrew Stanton, people) it'll still have to go some distance to outpace this cover of an Arcade Fire song which builds to a thunderous climax. Again and again. The god of war.
"O Mary Don't You Weep" -- Bruce. From We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. First heard this over the closing credits somewhere in the third season of Deadwood, this rambunctious spiritual somehow serving as a response to David Milch's excoriating portrait of capitalist rapacity in George Hearst. It's all muscle and throat.
"Dolphins" -- Beth Orton featuring Terry Callier. Why don't more people know this song? From an EP that came out in 1997 and was one of the best things she's ever done. It's a Tim Buckley song. Terry Callier's voice is like an ocean liner.
"Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime" -- Beck. From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
"Just Like a Woman" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" -- Joe Cocker. Both from 1969's With a Little Help From My Friends. One of the warmest, most soulful albums ever recorded. Up there with Lewis Taylor's debut and Dusty in Memphis and McKay as one of the great, great British R&B albums.
"Loved Boy" featuring Lou Rawls, and "The Little Children" featuring Ras Kass, by David Axelrod, from 2001's Mo'Wax album David Axelrod. I should write something longer about this album, it's been haunting my collection for years. One of those great projects that Mo'Wax kicked out. I still remember hearing "The Little Children" in a bar in Oxford on Little Clarendon Street in 2001. Who the hell would play this in a bar? It's like a symphony with a brawl in the middle of it. In "Loved Boy" Rawls is all stately and measured above drunken trumpets.
"This Strange Affair" -- The Peddlers, from 1972's Suite London. I write about this album in the book, a distinct influence on Dummy. I can't improve much on what Tim Saul told me about it: "a very strange kind of mixture of almost working man's club crooning over really interesting arrangements with the London Philharmonic."
Some Tom Waits, obviously. I can't decide. "Way Down in the Hole," but it's a bit over-familiar because of The Wire. Maybe "Cold Cold Ground": very accessible but still somehow unstable. Or "Clap Hands": an arrangement that seems to float a few feet off the ground and drag you through the song even while Waits follows just behind your ear. Bizarre. I must pick up David Smay's book again.
Terfry’s various story-telling influences—including Waits, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Jack Kerouac—have by now been so thoroughly absorbed into a developed and individual style that it is next to impossible to pick them out... There’s a perfect confidence to his writing, a confidence that allows a song as personal as “Roses and Bluejays”—about his relationship with his father since his mother’s death—to be conducted entirely at the level of surface observations. The details themselves, and their juxtaposition, perfectly conjure a sense of drift and directionlessness, and, somehow, a deep-rooted belonging. The image of his father clearing snow with a flamethrower encapsulates a moment of rage, loneliness, of silent futility.
A few of these would fit on a Suttree playlist. To follow.
Couldn't find YouTube links to the Axelrod or Peddlers -- apologies. Trust me, they're good. Please buy the music if you like it. Musicians need to eat too.
I had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Tim Saul for the Dummy book. Saul is a long-time collaborator of Portishead producer Geoff Barrow (with whom he co-produced 2003's outstanding McKay) and he was involved in pre-production sessions for Dummy. His insights into the production of that album were invaluable.
Saul is also, with rapper Mau, half of Earthling, whose 1995 Radar remains representative of the best of the downtempo genre before if became stylistically flattened by its own commercial viability. Seven years after the release of their second album, their third -- Insomniac's Ball -- is out and available via Bandcamp. My review is up on PopMatters this morning:
There are some stunning moments of beatcraft. The opening of “Bobby X” is as meticulous a piece of loop production as you might hear this side of hip-hop’s Golden Age. It opens with a shuddering, withdrawing, pugnacious sample: a back-drawn snare like a rasp of drawn breath, piano from the bottom and top of the register clasping the song in iron gloves. Shards of sound seem to slide past one another, assembling a beat out of near-collisions. Yet somehow Mau’s boastful lyrics—“gonna let the whole world know I’m here”—are tempered by his thrillingly idiosyncratic delivery. They are less a compilation of braggadocio and instead—“so don’t ask me about philosophies of Archimedes, my education was beat-street and graffiti”—an eminently quotable coalition of nimble charm and cheeky grace.
This was always the magic in Saul and Mau’s collaboration. Much like Barrow and Beth Gibbons in Portishead, or Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird, the finest moments in downtempo were not the smooth congregation of like minds, but a rich and intoxicating marriage of contrasts.
Be sure to check out at least "Bobby X" and the gorgeous "Fly Away".
One of several great discoveries in the course of writing the 33 1/3 book on Portishead's Dummy was Jay Hodgson's wonderful Understanding Records: A Field Guide to Recording Practice. Hodgson has a talent for demystifying modern recorded sound, without ever detracting from the thrilling qualities of the music. As an example, as part of a discussion of distortion:
Reinforcement distortion does not necessarily require signal processing. Jimmy Miller, for instance, often reinforced Mick Jagger's vocals on the more energetic numbers he produced for the Rolling Stones by having Jagger or Keith Richards shout a second take, which he then buried deep in the mix. "Sympathy For The Devil," for instance, features a shouted double in the right channel throughout, though the track is faded so that it only sporadically breaches the threshold of audibility; "Street Fighting Man" offers another obvious example. "Let It Bleed" provides another example of shouted (manual) reinforcement distortion, though Miller buried the shouted reinforcement track so far back in the mix that it takes headphones and an entirely unhealthy playback volume to clearly hear. By the time Miller produced the shambolic Exile On Main Street, however, he had dispensed with such preciousness altogether: the producer regularly pumps Jagger's and Richards' shouted reinforcement tracks to an equal level with the lead-vocals on the album.
Hodgson is every bit as insightful and enthusiastic in person as he is in text. He was incredibly generous with his time and, over the course of a couple of conversations and email exchanges, helped me hear Dummy from the perspective of an audio professional, which was invaluable as I prepared to speak to Dummy and Portishead sound engineer Dave McDonald and mastering engineer Miles Showell. There are passages of my book -- particularly around the recording techniques for the album's vocals and its drum sounds -- that are informed by his insights and coloured by the questions that I only knew to ask after he had helped trained my ears.
While certainly intended for a professional audience, Understanding Records is a great read for the music enthusiast: Hodgson's writing is clear and alight with anecdotes and examples that illuminate music that you may only think you know. I'll never hear recorded music quite the same way again.
Isolation. Desire. Narcotic. Memory. Shock. Intimacy. Imagination. Solitude. Alienation. Consolation. Truth. Loss. Siren. Lullaby. Nostalgia. Grief. Companion. Lust. Lubricant. Hallucinogen. Essence. Temptress. Perfection. Loneliness. Seduction. Vindication. Depression. Distance. Reconciliation.
Portishead's 1994 album Dummy reassembles itself with every listen and with each listener. It becomes, cumulatively and collectively, a sequence of perfect meditations on loneliness and solitude; it carries promises of the narcotizing power of love; it serenades the anonymous consolations of the night; it rhapsodizes the unmooring influence upon the soul of unrequited and obsessive desire.
Dummy is irresistibly intimate, stylistically eclectic. A mixture of influences drawn from hip-hop, rock, jazz, folk, soul, funk, blues, and elsewhere, the album is a sparsely woven tapestry of sounds striped from their origins -- shards of lyrics, samples, gestures, surfaces, textures. It is held together only by inertia and by the force of the memories, impressions, and perceptions it provokes in the listener -- only to fall away undone and unresolved into darkness.
An entry in Continuum's 33 1/3 series, Portishead's Dummy will be published in 2011.
I'm looking for stories about this music. What were you doing when you first heard it? How did it change your life? How has listening to it changed the way that you thought about what music could do?
We live in a world where music is infinitely distributable, ubiquitous in its presence, contextless in conception and reception. Music lives and dies in a place of continuous reinterpretation by its listeners.
What does Dummy mean to you?