Monday, March 28, 2005

Drowning in the sea of love, where everyone would love to drown

"['No One Will Ever Love You'] is an attempt to be Fleetwood Mac's Tusk rolled into one song, concentrating on the Stevie Nicks theme in the lyrics. It's all oblique lyrics. All of Tusk is oblique lyrics referring to unexplained romantic situations."

So says Merritt in an interview with Daniel Handler, documented in the 69 Love Songs booklet. Although not nearly as popular as its predecessor, the gazillion-selling Rumours, Tusk is gradually being recognized as the gently outstretched masterpiece it is. Camper Van Beethoven covered the album in its entirety, the band Ida performed most of it for an amazing show last May, and other notables have declared their admiration for it. It's an odd album, with some wandering, laid-back Californian tunes, punctuated with curious (sometimes markedly lo-fi) Buckingham moments and Stevie Nicks's long hair/long dress earthy mysticism.

"No One Will Ever Love You" isn't exactly the whole album rolled into one song (I hear no marching band or cardboard box being beaten), but it certainly does capture the wistful, mellow tone of roughly half of its songs. The Magnetic Fields' distillation of Fleetwood Mac has the trademark metronomic drumming, the milky guitar flourishes, and the forementioned ambiguously romantic lyrics. (Though, perhaps, the line "When things go wrong, I sing along; it is the nature of the business" is a clever nod to Fleetwood Mac's intra-band relationship turmoil that was reflected in the album Rumours.)

Regarding Mick Fleetwood's drumming, Stephin said, in a semi-contentious interview with Salon:

"One of my favorite drummers is Mick Fleetwood, who keeps incredible time, but is always doing interesting variations on the beat, and in the most repetitive songs, he never seems to play exactly the same thing twice, and yet he sounds very simple, so I think he's a genius..."

Earlier, Merritt tore the interviewer apart for claiming that Björk was innovative because of her use of non-rhyming lyrics and unusual phrase structures. After Stephin recalled Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," the interviewer wrote:

Then, with deep sarcasm and great pleasure, [Merritt said] "I would say that Stevie Nicks is an important precursor to Björk, perhaps surpassing her in artistry."

I didn't want to leave anyone out, so this week I have posted three songs from Tusk: one by Christine McVie, one by Lindsey Buckingham, and one by Stevie Nicks, in that order.

Monday, March 21, 2005

I love you...neither do I.

The liner notes to Pop Romantique, a collection of French covers and originals by (mostly) indie popsters, begin with a quote by Djuna Barnes: "There are moments in the lives of all of us, or shall I say some of us, that must be lived in French." So true. There are also many musical moments that only really make sense in French, and a comprehension of the language isn't at all necessary to enjoy them. For example, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg would be pointless and possibly unbearable in another language. In addition to the French geographical and historical references (Paris, the Champs-Elysées, Napoléon and Joséphine, etc.), for a few choice moments, Merritt's lyrics appropriately slide into French: the chorus of "Underwear" and the spoken word section of "Smoke and Mirrors."

For the forementioned Pop Romantique compilation, the Magnetic Fields breezed through "Le Tourbillon," with the magnificent Dudley Klute (formely of Kid Montana) singing lead vocals. This track was originally featured in the French new wave film Jules and Jim in a scene with Jeanne Moreau singing the song, accompanied by Bassiak, for friends in a country shack. Movie buffs will be pleased to know that the film, directed by François Truffaut, will get a Criterion Collection release this May.

The irresistibly and ridiculously steamy "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus" from the perverted mind of Serge Gainsbourg was Stephin's selection for the best recording of 1969. It's really quite a brilliant tune, disguised as a novelty song, with Jane Birkin's unforgettable...uh, well, just listen for yourself. I'm not sure that I can think of a way this song has influenced Stephin directly, but who knows - maybe a future Magnetic Fields track will feature fake orgasmic gasping. We can only hope.

By request, the Wild Stares track is back up for one more week:

Monday, March 14, 2005

The guns shot above our heads, and we kissed as though nothing could fall

Excerpts from an interview by Monica Lynch, from Index Magazine:

MONICA: Do you dance, Stephin?
STEPHIN: I love to dance. I will dance again when I can find the shoes in which to do it. I am very disappointed with my feet. But I took dance in high school.
MONICA: Really? Did you have to wear leotards?
STEPHIN: I don’t remember what I wore. But I was liable to be wearing leotards in high school anyway. Or jumpsuits. There was one point when my entire wardrobe was jumpsuits.
MONICA: It was interpretive dance that you took in high school, I suppose.
STEPHIN: Yes, we would invent dance routines to various Bowie songs.
MONICA: Like what? "Ashes to Ashes?"
STEPHIN: Oh, no, no, no. "Moss Garden" from "Heroes". We were into "Heroes", and side two of Low.

The albums cited, Low and "Heroes", were two of the three albums (the third being Lodger) on which David Bowie collaborated significantly with Brian Eno, while living in Berlin in the late 70s. Merritt's earlier synth-based recordings sometimes evoke the distinctive atmospherics of those albums - for example, Merritt's effervescent synths in his arrangement of "Babies Falling" are reminiscent of the gentle gurgling sounds at the beginning of "Neuköln" on "Heroes".

The Magnetic Fields covered the track "Heroes" for the Bowie tribute album Crash Course for the Ravers, lovingly compiled by Claudia Gonson's sister, JJ, on her Undercover Records label in 1996. While not as passionate as Bowie's own version, the cover has a soothing yet relentless momentum to it and is easily one of the best interpretations of "Heroes" I've heard. It's a hard song to cover well - there are several really bad covers out there, as evidence of this. The second track this week is a two-in-one bonus of "Moss Garden" and its subsequent track, "Neuköln" (which starts at the 5 minute, 5 second point.)

While listening to "Moss Garden," imagine, if you will, an even smaller version of Stephin bouncing about in an unpredictable, animated fashion, wearing a jumpsuit.

Monday, March 07, 2005

You're haunting me because I let you

In an Onion interview, Merritt refers to Distant Plastic Trees as "...a small record, intentionally small, influenced by the Young Marble Giants, an electro-pop record." Small is exactly how I would also describe the sole (proper) album from the misleadingly-named Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth, made in 1979 by three Cardiffians in the post-punk era. For some reason, I imagine the members huddling around a space heater and a tape recorder in a shed in the woods; then they bury their cassette in a tiny glazed pot in the ground and make a kettle of tea. Colossal Youth employs very sparse instrumentation: a crisp bass, a feeble drum machine, and either a warbly organ or a hand-muted electric guitar. Its simplicity gives it an unplaceable, timeless sound - something unmatched even to this day - and many tracks on Trees indeed take a cue from its basic structures and arrangements, like "Smoke Signals" in particular.

Stephin has mentioned that he admires the way Susan Anway can sound happy, sad, or blank, while he laments that he can only sound sad - and would like to be able to sound blank. The lead singer of Young Marble Giants, Alison Statton, is one probable blueprint for Merritt's desired singing style. In this interview, YMG member Stuart Moxham says:

"It's really weird, because what happens is I write the melody and sing it, and then Alison sings it back. But when I sing it, it tends to be emotional because the lyrics are mine. Alison on the other hand is really laid back and unemotional sounding. It's a strange paradox, a disinterested voice singing about something emotional."

And in this interview with Future Bible Heroes, Claudia Gonson says:

"I try to sing in a way similar to Astrud Gilberto, or Alison Statton of the Young Marble Giants, where you use your voice more as an instrument and it’s less about expression than tone."

The first track is "The Man Amplifier" off Colossal Youth, a song that the Magnetic Fields covered for the b-side of the "Why I Cry" 7 inch single, which was intended for a Young Marble Giants tribute album that never materialized. (In the forementioned interview, Stuart also comments: "Philip [Moxham] wrote ['The Man Amplifier'] after seeing a programme about a robot you strap yourself into and it amplified your movements, so that if you want to pick your nose and it isn't programmed to do it, it'll pull your head off.") The second track is the demo version of "N.I.T.A." from Salad Days, possibly the most hauntingly memorable YMG song of all. I dare say that Salad Days is strictly for fans, but everybody should definitely own Colossal Youth. Also, note that Stuart Moxham sang lead vocals on the 6ths song "Yet Another Girl," which was only included on the Wasps' Nests 6 6/6" boxed set.