Childless pop: the lost voice of mothers and fathers

I recently watched a more or less lackluster documentary on Kate Bush which had the usual weirdly unconnected star-interviews, no interviews with the featured artist herself and probably a lot of footage from previous documentaries. However, one description by one of her closer musician-friends about Kate’s voice in a lot of her songs got me thinking. He said, how maternal songs like “Army Dreamer” or “Breathing” are and I had this sudden realization that the paternal/maternal voice in music is rarely visible.

This song is about a mother’s worries to send her kid (back then only the boys) into war at an age when no one should hold a gun. The beauty lies in the lack of “war is bad”-aggression. It is about a mother who wonders what her son could have been if he would have had more chances in life to avoid the army (a way out for many boys who didn’t finish school or had otherwise trouble to find a proper job).

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it is not there, because I guess we all can cite songs like “Tears in Heaven” (sadly misappropriated for soggy background music) or the conflated “Glory” by Jay-Z that probably was a sign of love – but also a well-timed cash-cow if you ask me.

But if we look at the bigger picture, the pop stars that have kids (did you know that they do have kids? Crazy!), then hardly any one of them sings about them, at least not in single+music video-format and rather in the last-song-of-the-album-format that no one listens to anyway.

We have tons of songs about love and lost love and unrequited love and ex-boy/girlfriends and sexy time but those songs about being a parent, of having to care for a human being that is tiny and breaks easily (believe me, drop a mug and no one bats an eye but drop a baby and all hell breaks loose) – those songs are strangely absent.

Written for Shara’s son. It is about her always being there even when she one day will die. It’s a lovely, darkly humorous and heart-wrenching song. Could you imagine Beyoncé singing it?

This could have several reasons. Continue reading

Favourite Song: Julia Hülsmann Trio with Rebbekka Bakken ‘Anyone’ (E.E. Cummings)

I am a little odd when it comes to poetry as I love to read it but often find that it loses something when read out loud. I blame a rather horrible experience at a poetry-contest where everyone had those poetry-slam-like monsters and I sighed (with shaking voice) my petite little words into the uncomfortably positioned microphone.

Old traumas aside, the kind of poetry I prefer also has a very strong visual component which usually gets lost whenever someone picks all the neatly placed letters and throws them over their tongue into a room. So to think that there is a successful album inspired mainly by E.E. Cummings-poetry – which I only recently discovered and carefully picked up like a delicate flower – seems impossible. Because he plays with words, word order, letters, sound (but also the sound your mind conjures when you read those words), it seems hard to translate this into music that is as fluid and layered as his poetry but still keeps the usually very strong point of view centered.

But jazz musician Julia Hülsmann and singer Rebekka Bakken (together with Julia’s trio of dudes) have compiled an interesting and sometimes even outright beautiful collection. Not every song works (and I dare say that “love is more thicker than forget” probably never will work with anything else but these words because in a way, love is also sounder than song (pardon the pun)).

But Cummings’ “Anyone“, a tale of the love of two and the end of both of them (but not their love) – in its trickling words and playful rhythm – lends itself to a waterfallen piano and a narrator to take Cummings’ role, to tell how we would love to love like these creatures in his poem (how we sometimes look at someone else and would love to love him or her that way, that sun moon stars rain).

My big post-apocalyptic song list

Oh, those pesky apocalypses, they always happen unannounced and whilst fighting zombies, rogue street gangs and mutated monster-animals, you never have the time to pick the right playlist for your iPocalypse. But fret no more because I assembled a nice and atmospheric list of songs that conjure up the doom and dust and weariness that quite possibly soon will be our constant companion.

By the way, most of these songs will lean more towards metal/rock because you need the muscular kicks of a rocksong to gather up your strength for the hordes of alien creatures that have destroyed the earth. Oh, and these choices will be super subjective and sometimes even random, so don’t even bother to complain about lack of congruence both in song choices and text.

Clutch – The Regulator

I still don’t know why rap and metal was such a big deal in the 90s and early 2000s (and I rode that wave as well…) whilst the much more beautiful combination of blues and metal never gained that much momentum. Well, gladly, that didn’t keep awesome bands from keeping true to it and gladly so, because otherwise we wouldn’t have this insanely fitting song by the alt-beasts Clutch who not only provide a good soundtrack but also look like the bunch of people you want in your gang when you face herds of the undead.

Continue reading

Cover me badly: Spirit ‘Taurus’

Disclaimer to my mom: Sorry, but a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

Spirit are one of those lost and forgotten prog rock bands from the late 60s, early 70s who have a beautiful orchestral and quite aloof sound (so no King Crimson madness and instead the roots of art rock that sometimes even hint at what Ween might have listened to before they came to be Ween). Their song “Taurus” – coincidentally my favourite zodiac sign if I had to choose – is a lovely relaxed guitar piece backed up by a luscious orchestra and even a cheeky cembalo. It’s one of those slightly humorous ventures into anachronistic sounds of the courtyards of yesteryear because despite its sometimes gaudy reputation (thanks to the gaudy leanings by the late 70s early 80s), early prog rock was quite smart and witty.

The song was on Spirit’s self-titled debut album which was released 1968 and toured heavily. One of the supporting acts, Led Zeppelin, apparently liked the song so much that they did their own cover version. However, they failed to grasp the concept of a cover song and kind of renamed the whole song and left out the original credits and added a bunch of stuff so their guitar player could noodle along for a while.

(sorry; I could not properly embed the video)

Now, the cover “Stairway to Heaven” is hailed as one of the greatest rock songs of all times and – as with quite a few cover songs – the original got shoved a little into obscurity.

Unrightly so, because “Taurus” is a great song, a little pretty ditty gently placed in the middle of an album that is overall a very impressive debut, especially given that these guys didn’t rip off a whole catalog of blues musicians of that time like some other bands might have done (or would do a little later).

Besides, the weird thing about “Stairway to Heaven” – but this is solely subjective – is the fact that I personally think that the way that “Taurus” was implemented into the intro is not very delicate. The real strength of “Stairway to Heaven” doesn’t lie in the watered down original melody, it lies more in Robert Plant’s climactic vocal delivery (and the noodling, I guess), so the rip-off is pretty much wasted (again, in my humble opinion). Additionally, the lyrics provided by Led Zeppelin really don’t do the song a favour because they are…not very good (as many lyrics are that try to be a lot more philosophical than they actually are – crying spirits and random ladies and pipers usually don’t make for good song lyrics in my experience).

So, to get that sub-par cover out of your heads, here’s “Fresh Garbage” by Spirit. A pretty fun song.

Lazy Sunday: Even Cthulhu has to shop for groceries

cthulhus shopping cart

I wonder if you can get canned human souls at Edeka…

Celebration ‘Albumin’: The kind of art rock your blood needs

Celebration deliver every single time. There’s no way around it, this band has such a strong vision whenever they record an album that the end result always is a dense, dangerous and strikingly beautiful sculpture of whirring, eclectic sounds crowned by Katrina Ford’s mystical voice.

“Albumin” took quite some time (as did the previous album) but it’s worth every single second that we stood at the windows, watching planes fly across the sky in the night and being sad for the fact that you hardly ever see stars in the city.

The album starts with the looming “Razor’s Edge”, a song quite upfront in its title about its nature. There are some electronic bits in this new offering but it always sneaks along David Lynch-shadows of uneasiness and so do the particularly dissonant 50s elements – it’s like Carrie’s prom with the exception of the marvelous and probably poppiest song Celebration ever created. “Walk On” is outright absurd within all these shadowy prog-tunes but it feels right and it’s quite beautiful especially when the “And the colored girls sing”-choir sets in and you just want to choreograph a little dance and get a cane and a top hat to dance along some stairs.

The mood, by the way, despite all the Celebration-isms, is heavily uplifting in contrast to the previous album which – according to some interviews of yesteryear – was a sort of cathartic exercise to get over the frustration of major labels being horrible and maybe also some other things, who knows, life can be quite dark at times. But “Albumin” seems to have overcome the darkness and revels in the eerie glee of the 50s, some 60s Ike & Tina-Blues and of course the brilliance of using prog-features to transform the songs within themselves so you feel like you stepped into a hurricane in Kansas only to wake up right on a dead witch.

The last songs then…oh, the last songs. “Only the Wicked” channels “Cabaret” and even though Katrina’s voice is often part of the instruments on this album, it shines in this song and leads you through this rag tag group of shady performers (who all know their stuff and probably already played King Crimson in their cribs). And the final song, “Don’t stop dreaming” starts with a certain nautical vibe but doesn’t lose the theater-quality of its predecessor therefore reminding of those last songs in front of the curtain, in the spotlight by an artist whose make up has been dripping in the heat of the lights and who is tired and just sitting there on a bar stool, singing into the air as if someone would listen. Maybe it is us, after all, this album occasionally does sound like a dream.

Cover me badly: The Ronettes ‘Be my Baby’

It’s no coincidence that motown (-ish) songs of the 60s are amongst the most covered songs in history and yet, the originals (or the endless cover-versions in that time-frame) hardly ever pale in comparison to the endless strain of interpretations by the most known and skilled of modern artists. It was a different time and there was a clarity to the music and execution that a lot of the cover versions unfortunately don’t share (even though there was often the pomp of orchestral background, the vocal delivery was precise and far from the pretentious exercises that artists like Mariah Carey introduced to the music scene).

That’s why they are so great – there’s a great melody that is not buried under vocal trailings, there are very strong voices (so incredibly strong that modern RnB – especially by male artists – for a very long time suffered from whistly breaths instead of the self-assured voices of Sam Cooke and Co) and there is a way of orchestrating that is pretty grand but hardly ever over the top (that, most RnB producers left to the less skilled producers who copied this style for the segregation-loving audience).

“Be my Baby” was originally performed by the Ronettes and written by the infamous Phil Spector along with songwriter duo Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry (you’ll find that quite a few of your favourite songs of that time were usually written by a female/male-songwriter duo). This song is layered like a wedding cake and I guess that the production team and especially the sound editor went crazy over it but it’s not overlayered (like, for example, Meat Loaf’s early 90s phase of cheesing all hell out of Rock and Roll). It’s a lovely song, especially if you can exclude all pop-cultural associations* and lo and behold, Darlene Love and Sonny & Cher provided background vocals for the original recording (mind = blown).

Now, I won’t get into the hundreds of cover versions of the song, in fact, I am only writing this because only recently I heard a version that is the perfect example of what’s wrong with a lot of modern cover versions (I actually wrote about it before but let me drive this point home again).

People, this is not how you do a cover song. You don’t spit in the face of the songwriters by transforming the melody so much that only the lyrics hint at the original. You just don’t. And there is so much of this going on nowadays, it makes me mad. Sure, a playful cover version that rearranges this and that is amazing and that even a highly altered interpretation can add to the original songwriting has been proven over and over again but this is just butchering a great tune, meandering along and turning a very clear song into bedspreads of sadness that go nowhere. And you can add the fact that way too many great peppy RnB-songs get turned into sad little puddles of misery by indie-bands. Why are you so miserable, indie-bands? What is wrong with you that you can’t feel joy when you listen to Ronnie Spector (aka Veronica Bennett) and instead want to channel funeral marches in your cover version? What went wrong in your life?

*Full disclosure: I hate “Dirty Dancing”. I watched the movie as a teenager and even though I loved the music (and back then, I could fall in love with movies solely for their soundtrack-choices), the movie itself held no appeal for me and the older I got, the worse the movie transformed (I experienced the same with “Pretty Woman”, by the way). It’s not even just a single thing that bothers me, it’s the whole movie, all character motivations, all character backgrounds, the actual lack of a proper story (there is none, there really is none), the very sad attempts at forced romantic moments and the fact that the female teenage character who falls for a much older guy is called – of all names in the world – “Baby”.