Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Belong - October Music

Belong - October Music

My father once had a job whacking rust off the inside of a ship’s hull with a large metal hammer. The rust matted his hair, stuck to his skin and coated his tongue. Each swing of the hammer was followed by huge dank reverberations and further showers of rust. The sound was amplified in the cavernous darkness of the ship’s depths. It seemed to feed on itself. Each return was heavier and more saturated. The ungodly sound freaked him out so much that he didn’t go back after lunch. It haunted his nightmares for weeks. If I played him October Music I am sure it would unearth the memories of that morning and return him to his misspent youth in London.

The soundtrack of my father’s nightmare is bliss to me. October Music is full of static despair, vapour trails of twilight, ghosts of some forgotten form of sleep. This is music as fractured drift; melting icecaps, frost bitten gold. The music is a slow revel, creeping like ivy over an abandoned house. Snatches of iridescent harmony collide with disintegrating chords. The music swirls, repeats and dissolves in a luminous blanket of fuzz and distortion. Imagine William Basinski remixed by My Bloody Valentine or Pluramon scored by Morton Feldman.

New Orleans duo Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones recorded October Music in Dietrich's bedroom studio. The lush textures and sly chromatic shifts belie such humble origins. Sounds are processed and warped, morphed into new tones and timbres. The tracks swim in gentle waves of noise. This is Post Rock atom splitting. The tried and tiresome tension and release, anti-climax and crescendo of much of the genre has been fractured and dispersed here. Melodies are disrupted, classical progressions rupture and split open, spilling out shards of retracted noise.

Dividing the LP into tracks seems perverse, as it should be heard as a single movement. There is drama here but it’s found in the Pinter like pauses, the sudden volume losses, the U-turns and disintegration.

The gentle sound of organ washes ushers in the Never Lost Never Really, the organ tones hang suspended before being slowly and beautifully engulfed in swarms of guitar. The processed signals die away before resurfacing in a series of complex reverberations. It’s the sound of Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room rewired through a guitar and a series of broken effects pedals.

The beauty of the title track resides in the repeating of a buried and blurred motif that could be a guitar, a string section or the sigh of an angel. The track uncoils from skeletal electric hum, through the echoing of single notes to silence and back again. It’s the sounds of the slow insatiable decay of metal by time. Rust never sleeps, time never ceases, corrosion is endemic.

October Music unfurls like a winter morning, the details hidden beneath fog. The tiny sonic details appear only on closer listening. When you lose yourself inside it you can hear the sine waves that shimmer through All Equal Now, the strung out bass notes that sound like a burnt out star on I’m Too Sleepy, Shall We Swim. The epic The Door Opens Another Way is like heartbreak dropped into a Dichroic prism. Refracted melancholy and white noise heaven.

It is a while since I have been so bewitched by a piece of music. This cleanses the soul. Allow yourself to bathe in its liberating phosphorescent light. Disappear for forty minutes inside Belong’s shattered world. This is perfect.

Tony Heywood (C) March 2006

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Chart Hype - The Modern Way!

Crushed by the wheels of industry. The Modern and chart hype.

UK retro glamsters The Modern have been unceremoniously thrown out of the singles chart. They have been found guilty of attempting to fix their chart position by bulk buying both CD’s and downloads. The band crash landed in the chart last week at number 13. I don’t think it would have been the sales patterns that alerted the OCC to the fix but the simple fact that a record so shockingly awful could have entered the chart that high.

Chart rigging is an art form that has been perfected by record companies over the years. As an ex record shop employee I have been known to not scan certain records through the reader in a vain hope of lowering chart positions and scan a few sly ones for my favourite artists. Working for what was one of the big chains at the time I never got offered bribes but friends who worked in local independent shops did. Free t-shirts, cd’s or gig tickets where offered in exchange for a few extra swipes of the light pen. This was in the age before electronic tills, yes I am that old.

Payola Scandals (paying for airplay) are as old as rock n’ roll itself. In 1959 the first major investigation in payola began and it quickly gathered evidence that resulted in 25 DJ’s being charged. The highest profile casualties of the scandal where Dick Clark and Alan Freed. Freed the John the Baptist of rock n roll refused to accept or deny the claims had it ruined his career.

Payola is not consigned to history. In 2000 a Texas Radio station was fined $2,000 for being paid to play Bryan Adams records. Its likely that the fine would not have even been the cost of a single play that the station charged. In July 2005 Song/BMG settled with the New York attorney general Elliott Spitzer to the tune of $10 million. According to some unnamed sources, the pay-for-play was quite overt with one Sony executive saying that "Please be advised that in this week's Jennifer Lopez Top 40 Spin Increase of 236 we bought 63 spins at a cost of $3,600.

The UK market in the 80’s used the mass marketing of singles in order to promote/force records further up the charts. Singles released in a varity of format, single, picture disc, coloured vinyl, poster pack, double 7” single the list was almost endless.

The result was that the chart company now restricts formats to only three styles of release. One of these must still be a physical format such as CD, vinyl or cassette. The Gorllias reportedly released just 300 copies of the single "Feel Good Inc." in a 7" vinyl format only in order to get the single into the lower reaches of the chart three before the download became available. It was a kind of promo release with chart in its sights.

The Official Chart Company issued the following statement regarding the modern;

During the course of last week OCC's market research agency identified unusual sales patterns related to the physical formats of this release. Further security checks revealed that significant bulk purchases had been made on this single through one online retailer.

Many of the bulk sales identified were traced to persons and/or organisations seemingly connected to the band. For this reason OCC took the decision to disqualify the record from the chart published on Sunday (March 12) as the vast majority of sales could not be verified as genuine purchases by music buyers.

The OCC added that while they make small allowances for keen fans trying to improve their favourite band's chart placings, in this instance "standard data checks revealed hundreds of copies being purchased by a handful of individuals. Under these circumstances to preserve the integrity of the Official Top 40 the action was taken to remove the single from the chart

So the Modern’s problem seems to be the stupidity of the method that they used and not the fact that they where cheating the system.

Mind the records are so poor that they where bound to get caught.

For reviews of the last two Modern singles go here:

  • Industry

  • Jane Falls Down

  • Tony Heywood 2006 ©