A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Monday, October 31, 2011

One Week / One Band: Portishead

R. J. Wheaton, author of the 33 1/3 on Dummy, will be talking about Portishead this week over at One Week / One Band.

(By the way, it's worth checking out the backlog at One Week / One Band as well. Good stuff.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

The joys of indexing

A nice snapshot from the index of the upcoming PB edition of Gavin Hopps' book about Morrissey.

I particularly like the juxtapositions of Kajagoogoo with Kant, of Melville with George Michael, and of Laurel and Hardy with Philip Larkin.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Austin, TX and Early 70s Radio

If you're in Austin, Texas next week, check out Kim Simpson at KUT's Views and Brews series.
On Monday, 10/24, at 6 PM at Austin's Cactus Cafe, Early '70s Radio will be featured as part of KUT-FM's "Views and Brews" series. I'll be there to talk about the book, answer questions, and will perform a special acoustic medley of '70s radio hits, including "Rubber Duckie," "(You're) Having My Baby," "School's Out" and more.
Kim also has some blog posts well worth reading over at www.early70sradio.com.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Forthcoming Titles

In response to a question left in the Comments section by John, here's where the series currently stands regarding upcoming titles:

Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace - just published
Portishead's Dummy - just published
Talking Heads' Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem - this will publish in March/April 2012
Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville by Gina Arnold - we don't yet quite have the final manuscript, but fully expect to publish this in May/June 2012

Weezer's Pinkerton - this project has been cancelled
Wu Tang Clan's Enter the Wu Tang - this project has been cancelled
Tori Amos' Boys for Pele - this project has been cancelled
Funkadelic's Maggot Brain - this project is still alive, and partially written, but I wouldn't hold your breath...
Outkast's Aquemini - this project has been cancelled
The Clash's London Calling - this book is deeply, profoundly cursed. If you pre-ordered it in 2004 when it was first announced, I can only apologise...
Lucinda Williams' Self-Titled LP - 90% written, but cannot be confident of a publication date
Kate Bush's The Dreaming - unlikely this will ever happen, but not yet officially cancelled

And that's it, for the moment! Apologies for the messiness and frustration caused by late and cancelled titles, but that's part of the fabric of the series. It's more difficult than it seems, to write 30,000 original and insightful words about a favourite record...

Were you aware of it?

I recently came across NYCtaper.com, which, in their own words "is a live music blog that offers a new paradigm of music distribution on the web. The recordings are offered for free on this site as are the music posts, reviews and links to artist sites. All recordings are posted with artist permission or artists with an existing pro-taping policy."

But that's putting it very modestly. The recordings are all very high quality, and they have archives going back to 2007. Here is Earth from All Tomorrow's Parties on October 2nd, and here's Megafaun (currently on heavy rotation in my ipod) at the Mercury Lounge on September 24th.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Amazing Grace goings on in October-November

First, I would like to direct your attention to this interview with Aaron Cohen about his 33 1/3 on Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace from the always excellent Soul Sides blog. If you are familiar with Soul Sides, you already know that it's top notch. Do check it out.

Aaron is also going to be busy throughout October and November...particularly in Chicago, but there is one Brooklyn date in there as well. See below for the details:

October 16—Chicago
Book launch at the Chicago Cultural Center at 2:00pm
78 E. Washington, Chicago
Along with a short multimedia presentation on Aretha and this crucial recording, the author will host a roundtable/performance with some of Chicago’s gospel royalty whose legacy shaped this album. Honored guests will include members of the Gay Family (Franklin covered the Gay Sisters' 1950 hit "God Will Take Care Of You" on "Amazing Grace") and Inez Andrews from The Caravans (Franklin's rendition of Andrews' version of "Mary, Don't You Weep" was so close to hers, that Inez received songwriting credit on "Amazing Grace").

October 20—Chicago
DJ set at Maria's Bar
960 W. 31st, Chicago
Set list including The Queen, her own sisters (Erma and Carolyn) and a host of stellar women from the great era of r&b and funk---Ruby Andrews, Bettye LaVette, Tammi Terrell, Betty Wright, Little Ann, Vicki Anderson, Loleatta Holloway, and so many more...

October 27—Brooklyn
Reading/signing at Barbes
376 9th Street, Brooklyn
Featuring Amanda Petrusich, author of the 33 1/3 on Nick Drake’s Pink Moon.

November 3—Chicago
Ethnoise Ethnomusicology Workshop
University of Chicago in Goodspeed Hall at 4:30pm

November 16—Chicago
Reading/signing at Book Cellar
4736 N. Lincoln, Chicago

Monday, October 10, 2011

Terry's Madness Podcast

Our friends over at The Quietus have kindly posted Terry Edwards' 50-minute podcast about the Madness album One Step Beyond, about which Terry wrote for the series a couple of years back.

As with everything Terry produces, it's highly recommended and well worth a listen. You can do so here.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Why Portishead Still Matters

RJ Wheaton is interviewed by Anupa Mistry in the Toronto Standard about "Why Portishead Still Matters" ahead of their live shows in Toronto this weekend. A sampling:

They combined music in a way everyone is replicating now—without the help of YouTube or FilesTube.com.
Portishead spent years refining their unique combinatory approach to music. “Barrow’s biggest inspiration was hip-hop, and same with Utley although he came from a jazz background,” Wheaton points out. “And Beth doesn’t come from a soul, R&B or jazz background; she did a lot of new wave stuff with a singer-songwriter bent.” This very real mix made Portishead so distinctive. Wheaton feels trip-hop’s packaging forced musicians away from the “fertile ground” of a great moment in experimentation between electronic music and production techniques, with genres like lover’s rock and dub and reggae and hip-hop. Danger Mouse, of Gnarls Barkley fame, has clearly nerded out on Portishead’s production techniques—a casual listener can hear it in his dense atmospherics. It has thinned out traces in James Blake and Toronto’s The Weeknd. More than anything, says Wheaton, it’s licensed people to bring influences together they normally wouldn’t.
Click here to read an excerpt of Wheaton's 33 1/3 on Portishead's Dummy... and here to buy a copy. (or you could go to your friendly neighborhood bookshop!)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

New Release! Portishead's Dummy

We are very please to announce that R. J. Wheaton's 33 1/3 on Portishead's Dummy is on shelves as they hit the US and Canada for a series of concerts throughout the month of October. We've got an excerpt from the book for your reading pleasure below. Feel free to hit up @dummy333 on Twitter as well.

* * * * *

Geoff Barrow recalled in 2010 of Dummy that:
The strangest thing, and the most annoying thing, is that “chill-out” thing, that’s come out of it. For me. Dummy as chill-out, yuppie, shagging music. It wasn’t supposed to be about that. It wasn’t like something to kind of like chill to. It was actually supposed to be quite harsh, and alternative, and noisy.
That potential for easy listening was something that the band had worked against from the outset. Barrow remembered, as the band added the guitar parts to “Glory Box,” “we were like, ‘What are we doing?’ It just seemed so horribly commercial. I hated commercial music.”

The commercial reception troubled Beth Gibbons too:
You write songs and you hope you’re gonna communicate with people — half the reason you write them in the first place is that you’re feeling misunderstood and frustrated with life in general. Then it’s sort of successful and you think you’ve communicated with people, but then you start to think you haven’t communicated with them at all — you’ve turned the whole thing into a product, so then you’re even more lonely than when you started. But when you think about something like the mannekins [sic] in Blade Runner, the only reason they think they’re human is the pictures they hold.
* * *

The band left State of Art at the end of 1993 and moved to Coach House Studios to complete the album. Adrian Utley recalled that “We did go down to a big London studio to mix, but we hated the result because we weren’t used to it. We know that the studios around us have got what we need and we know the sound of them.”

It was not possible to recreate some of the State of Art material with the same character, so the original 16-track demo tracks were laid down to the 24-track at Coach House. Adrian Utley told Sound on Sound that “When you first get that vibe of the moment, it’s a pain in the arse trying to recreate it. Once it’s on tape, as far as I’m concerned, that’s it, even if it’s got little mistakes in it. To us, saying, ‘Okay, let’s go to a real studio now and do it for real’, is a ridiculous concept.”

Tim Saul describes the process as “demo-it is”:
As a producer you’ll go through months of working on a track and in your mind you’ll think, “I’m going to tidy that up later.” In the final mix. And then actually when you get to the final mix you tidy it up and you realize that you’re taking out something which actually gives it its character.
“We were quite commando at that stage,” recalls Dave McDonald. “We knew what we were doing to a degree but we weren’t sort of high-end studio bods. It’s a policy that … it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as it sounds okay.”

No rules. “There’s nothing you can’t do,” Barrow said in 1997. “To achieve a sound on a beat or on a vocal or on a guitar or whatever, there’s nothing that is wrong to achieve that sound.”

There was an aesthetic of imperfection. “I’m not so keen on modern technology,” Geoff Barrow told Spin in February 1995, “that’s why a lot of our stuff sounds rough. If you polish everything up too much, it sounds stale. Like plastic music.” Talking to Michael Goldberg in 1997, Barrow railed against the restrictive production methodology of the ’80s — “everything had to be cleaner, everything had to be tighter. It kind of squashed a lot of the emotion and mistakes and all kinds of things that go to make good music out of the music.”

The band was deliberately trying to produce music that would challenge quick absorption into the culture, a too-easy integration into the collective aural imagination.

Tim Saul remembers that:
Beth would kind of goad Geoff into not making the music sound too — not that he was [inclined to] — too formulaic. I can remember times where she would just say, “That sounds too normal.”
* * *

There are numerous moments on Dummy that confound your first reaction, that present discoveries to additional listening. Moments that defy easy listening. The album’s imperfections. “We’ve put some trapdoors in our music,” Barrow told Jaan Uhelszki in 1995.

Among them the willful detritus of the recording process. Dave McDonald remembers:
We sampled one of Adrian’s guitar loops, and it was picking up the radio. The amp was picking up the radio for some reason, just as we were doing the take on it. It was talking about Roy Orbison … that was the only take which was the perfect take. But it was damaged because it had this vocal sound in it. But we kept it — and that’s on the album somewhere … I always remember that as being very very bizarre.
The opening chords of “Roads,” so smothering, thick, so absolute, are nonetheless occasionally smudged, individual notes landing fractionally out of time with one another. At 1:25 in the same song there is a noise in the background which sounds very much like someone dropping something. It’s perfect.

There are of course the vocal intrusions — Gibbons’ voice captured to a closeness beyond intimacy. The moment, for example, near the end of “Roads” where you can clearly hear her swallowing. There is what sounds like a failed vocal sustain right at the end of the final note of “Pedestal”: a moment of gorgeous fragility. As Adrian Utley told Phil Johnson: “There was an awful lot of time spent on it though there are still things that we didn’t get right, like an out-of-time piano on one track, so there’s still a rough edge to it.”