Cave

panorama

Reed Flute Cave, China

Here’s a Track of the Week by Future Islands, a band whose music I’ve been meaning to explore for a while. It’s called Cave and it comes from their latest album, The Far Field, which was released in April.

The official YouTube clip for Cave shows a nearly monochrome video of a bearded, jacketed man signing the lyrics for deaf people, which for those of us who can’t read sign language is neither thrilling nor informative. And the sound is strangely distant, too. So, instead, I’m giving you this video of a live performance on the BBC TV show Later … with Jools Holland broadcast in May.

Future Islands is a curious band. The three permanent members met at art college and in 2003, together with Adam Beeby (a “local record shop personality”) and fellow art student Kymia Nawabi, formed a band called Art Lord and the Self Portraits. As far as I can tell that band was only intended to be a vehicle for a piece of performance art, a temporary connivance for a college project. Sam Herring, as vocalist and front man, took on the persona of an arrogant, narcissistic artist called Locke Ernst-Frost, while Gerrit Welmers provided Kraftwerk-style keyboards and William Cashion played bass. Nawabi left after a few months to complete her studies, Beeby departed in 2005 and at that point the band was unceremoniously dissolved.

But there were still some loose ends to tie up. Art Lord had agreed to tour with an alt-country band, The Texas Governor, so Herring, Welmers and Cashion got back together to fulfil that commitment. By this time the novelty aspect of the college band was wearing thin so the trio decided to cultivate a more serious image and, to reflect that, they also changed the band’s name, settling on Future Islands as a mash-up of two other names on their shortlist: Already Islands and Future Shoes. That was in 2006.

the band

Future Islands – Gerrit Welmers, William Cashion, Sam Herring

Since then Future Islands have toured extensively and produced five studio albums. Their songs are usually labelled as synthpop but the guys dislike that term – they prefer to be called post-wave, emphasising their post-punk and new wave influences. I like that – it describes their material very well. The songs roll along, Herring’s distinctive, almost growling voice making them instantly recognisable. And, as you can see in the video, the performance element of the band’s work is still there in the theatrical antics of the man with the mic.

Although all their songs are very welcome in my ear, I do have one criticism: they all sound much the same. Originally, the track on my shortlist for this week’s post was Shadows, also from the Far Field album. That one features Debbie Harry, which is just about the only distinguishing feature among all the Future Island songs I’ve heard. But, listening again before writing this post, it struck me as perhaps the weakest track on the album. So, in the end I chose the title that suggested a nice photo for the header. That cave in China is quite spectacular, isn’t it? And how could I resist a picture with the caption “Reed Flute Cave”?

Where’s the Revolution?

flower bomb

There has been a sea-change in politics recently: Britain is leaving the EU, right-wing ‘populist’ parties have been gaining support across Europe and America has an inward-looking, protectionist president. All the economics experts said Britain will be worse off if it leaves the EU but the people feared immigrants were stealing their jobs and destroying the British way of life. Similar sentiments have boosted the profiles of far right politicians such as Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. And, as for Trump, he only has to tweet the blame on Muslims, Mexicans or spy agencies to bolster support for his conservative administration; no evidence, it seems, is required to back up his claims.

This seismic shift to the right doesn’t please everyone. It doesn’t please Crotchety Man and it doesn’t please Depeche Mode if their current single, Where’s the Revolution, is anything to go by. Why are we so ready to blame the other guy for our problems? Are ‘they’ really at fault? Wouldn’t we do the same in their situation? Sometimes I want to stand up and shout to the electorate, “No, you fools, you’re wrong”. I hope that many others share my frustration and despair. I hope that together we will soon rise up and drown out the voices of ignorance and hatred. I dream of an unstoppable tide of inclusiveness and friendship that will sweep away the selfishness that I see all around me. But the revolution doesn’t come.

Come on, people, you’re letting me down.

Martin Gore’s lyrics express my feelings perfectly. The sombre tones of Dave Gahan’s voice put the message across with a reflective Angostura bitterness. The dual keyboards of Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore pulse threateningly, driving the point home beat by electronic beat. Those three preachers are tapping into an underground well of opposition to the new world order. And the waters are rising fast.

Depeche Mode were one of the defining bands of the synth pop and new wave era in the eighties. But their star did not fade when the music-buying public moved on to rap and house music. The band released 13 studio albums between 1981 and 2013, all of them reaching the top 10 in the UK album chart. Where’s the Revolution is a single taken from their fourteenth album, Spirit, which was released just two days ago. The album as a whole is quite dark – positively gloomy in places – but there are plenty of bright sparks to keep the listener interested and the single has made an immediate impact on the radio over here in the UK. There’s a full review of the album here on Pitchfork.

Depeche Mode Press Event In Milan

Depeche Mode, 2016

So, readers, are you with us? Shall we answer the question that Depeche Mode have posed? I say the revolution is just around the corner and it lies in the hearts and minds of all who think for themselves and love humanity. Its soldiers are those who get their news from reliable sources and reject ‘alternative facts’. Its armies are those who see all nations as our brothers, sisters and friends, not our enemies. Its impetus comes from those who keep pushing on the revolving door of political opinion. It just needs to turn one more revolution. Words are our only weapons; it’s time to speak up and be counted.

Come on, people, we can do better than this. Stop letting me down; join the liberal revolution. Together we can turn the tide again.

‘Cause I’m A Man

'Cause I'm A Man - video still

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

John Gray

Sometimes it seems that men and women come from different planets. Men are tough and strong; women are comparatively fragile and weak, both physically and mentally. Men are insensitive; women are warm and caring. When they are angry men are physically aggressive whereas women are devious and unforgiving. These differences are often exaggerated but there is at least a grain of truth in them. The stereotypes are not completely wrong.

Human personality traits are thought to arise from a mixture of genetics and upbringing in proportions that are difficult to pin down. But, whatever the cause, being male makes you manly in a way you can not control. Tame Impala‘s song ‘Cause I’m A Man recognises the failings of the male gender and offers them as part of an apology for unintentionally hurting his girl.

Saying sorry ain’t as good as saying why
. . .
I have a conscience and it’s never fooled
But it’s prone to be overruled
. . .
Cause I’m a man, woman
Don’t always think before I do

The lyrics are unusually clear and penetrating for a pop/rock song but it’s the music that tickles the ears. ‘Cause I’m A Man is a slow electronic dance track with a deep bass and a dreamy vocal line. It’s getting late, the wedding disco DJ has taken the tempo right down, the multi-coloured lights are sweeping lazily across the floor and a few couples are swaying to their own private rhythm, drifting in and out of sync with the music. The effect is quite hypnotic.

'Cause I'm A Man - band

Tame Impala

‘Cause I’m A Man is a single taken from Tame Impala‘s latest album, Currents. Tame Impala is almost synonymous with Kevin Parker, an Australian musician and producer. Although there are five guys in the band it is exclusively a vehicle for presenting Kevin’s compositions in live settings. The studio albums, including Currents, are written, performed and produced by Kevin himself using guitars, synthesisers and drum machines.

Crotchety Man has always liked Tame Impala tracks when they come on the radio but, strangely, I find their songs soon grow stale when I listen to an album. Perhaps the radio picked the best bits. Or perhaps Tame Impala needs to be taken in small doses. I don’t know. In any case, with that caveat, I am happy to make ‘Cause I’m A Man my latest Track of the Week.

Landscape

In my first chemistry practical at school we explored the difference between mixtures and compounds. Most metallic elements, we were told, have certain properties in common: they are hard and shiny; they conduct heat and electricity well; they ring when you strike them. Non-metals, like sulphur, are usually soft and powdery, are insulators and scrunch quietly if you hit them. Bearing this in mind we did the following experiment.

Pour some iron filings and some powdered yellow sulphur into a crucible. Mix it well and heat it with a bunsen burner. Both the sulphur and the iron will change. When you can no longer see any iron filings or sulphur powder remove the burner, allow everything to cool and examine the contents of the crucible.

If you do this you will get a grey/black solid mass that can be crumbled fairly easily. It doesn’t look like iron and it doesn’t look like sulphur, either. In fact, it doesn’t share any obvious properties with either of the original ingredients. You have made iron (II) sulphide, chemical formula FeS.

Landscape - Bar

Now take some synthpop and a generous spoonful of jazz. Bring them together in a recording studio and generate a spark of creativity by supplying the musicians with beer, burgers or promises of untold fame. Both the pop and the jazz will change. The result will be neither pop nor jazz; it will be the Landscape album.

Landscape was a group of five musicians about which the Net has very little to say. They were formed in 1974 and released three albums: Landscape (1979), From the Tea-Rooms of Mars … to the Hell-Holes of Uranus (1981) and Manhattan Boogie-Woogie (1982). In their early years they experimented with a variety of electronic instruments, including synthesisers, electronic drums, electric trombone and the lyricon, all of which feature prominently in their records.
Landscape - Album
That first self-titled album is a collection of instrumental pieces featuring keyboard, bass, drums and two brass/woodwind players. It’s the lineup of a jazz band, the sound of electronics and the tunes of the charts fused into something unlike any of those elements. Of the three albums only Landscape manages to get the chemistry right and create something genuinely new. (From the Tea-Rooms is pure electronic pop, Manhattan Boogie is full of dance tracks and both feature vocals that subtract more than they add.)

For me, Landscape (the album) is Landscape (the band) and it’s my overdue Album of the Month for June.