Friday, July 24, 2015

IT'S ELEMENTAL



At first I had a silly and somewhat vainglorious notion of posting a song relating to each and every element. That would get the posts up, I thought, failing to recall quite how many of the buggers there were. After a quick chat with my friend wiki I realised/remembered  there were 118 of them, meaning a minimum of 14 posts a day, given I have already left this so late. And then, as I perused the list, I saw that few are exactly household names, sufficiently known as to be stimulating the pens of even the most scholarly lyricist. But these ideas are hard to shake off, and so, like a grass seed in the ear of a dog, here’s a germinated selection of some of the less likely. (None of your oxygens or lithiums, mind, that would be too easy.)

So, here’s to part 1, hoping I won’t be stepping on the shoes of too many colleagues, themselves eagerly pursuing these very titles for more complete discussion and discourse.

HELIUM: The Plain White Ts are what I would call inoffensive. Easily digestible, processed and slightly punky pop, with melodies and purpose to satisfy the easily pleased. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike them, I just don’t sort of need them. This track, written by their main songwriter, Tom Higgenson, comes from 2013’s ‘Should’ve Gone to Bed’, and is typically catchy, tho’ I fear I may have forgotten it by tomorrow.


Buy Helium

NITROGEN PINK: Polly Scattergood sounds as if she ought to be good, if not better than this song, her debut single in 2007. Sadly, the vocals are too knowingly off-kilter. The construction behind it is OK, but, tellingly, 2009 was her last release. And WTF is Nitrogen Pink anyway? (Possibly something Bjork inhales?)

Buy Nitrogen

NEON MOON: At last, one for the old folks, it’s that nice Brooks and Dunn, mega-sellers from Linedancing Land. Can you take it away now? Please.

Buy Neon

SODIUM LIGHT BABY: Matt Johnson, aka The The, produced a flurry of dance influenced records from the mid 80s until, after a gap, 2000, this song coming from his 6th, ‘Dusk’, in 1993. With the move towards a more guitar based sound, courtesy Johnny Marr, I hear a tinge, appropriately perhaps, of the ‘Mad’chester Happy Mondays sound, but with better vocals.

Buy Sodium

MAGNESIUM NIGHT LIGHT: Actually this is a pair of tracks, being a composite of Infrared Roses and the aforementioned. I’d tell you where the join is, but, to be fair, despite listening, I have no way of knowing. It’s an instrumental and I’m guessing it’s live. No doubt, because it is the Grateful Dead, you had to be there, but I never thought I would be missing Jerry’s vocal ‘strengths’. Can I be the first to go on record and say I prefer their studio stuff.

Don't buy Magnesium; you can't. (But it does have a touch of grey about it.)

ALUMINUM: Or Aluminium, as we charmingly call it over here. The White Stripes or, massively overated as, likewise, we call them over here. I like the Jack White/Brendan Benson ‘Raconteurs’ stuff, largely, I suspect, as Benson has the discipline to rein in White’s more, um, experimental side. Pleasantly short.

Buy Aluminum

SILICON JESUS: I had never heard this or of Psykosonik, making my aimless wittering of worth, if only to me, ‘cos I rather like it’s somewhat generic and derivative take on techno. If Plain White Ts went electronic with a few sequencers I think they would sound like this.  (How many different Jesus’s can you think of in popular music?)

Buy Silicon

SULFUR: The temptation to belittle and deride Slipknot with more ribtickling mirth around the spelling of Sulphur is actually dissipated by a gallingly shocking fact. This is quite good. OK, get rid of the vocals and it’s very good. Who knew? Having never knowingly allowed myself to listen to them, should I now be exploring their back catalogue? This is from 2008s ‘All Hope is Gone’ and it is almost fusion in its frantic pace. Mind you, I’m not that keen on fusion either.

Buy Sulfur

CHLORINE: From 2014, a group called Title Fight about whom I know next to nothing. The youtube metacritics argue about how or not hardcore they are, and AMG says nothing. ‘Pitchfork’ told me more, without, true to form, actually telling me anything. It’s their second LP, if that helps.

Buy Chlorine

POTASSIUM: Bones, another new-to-me, in a broadly electronica beats tonepoem, with a glorious harmonium like intro. Given LastFM tell me there are 5 different groups/individuals called by this name,  it was intriguing as to whether this was/is the same Bones who has an earlier song called, intriguingly for this piece, ‘Calcium’? If so, Bones is a ridiculously prolific individual called Elmo Kennedy O’Connor, and is described as a rapper. (Well, if this is rap, like Slipknot above, or nearly like Slipknot above, count me in for more.)

Download Potassium (for free!)

11 down, including the 2 from Elmo Bones.

To be continued?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's Elemental: Earth Angel


The Penguins: Earth Angel
[purchase]

Change is one of the few things that we can count on. Marriage equality, which not so long ago seemed first impossible, then unlikely, is now the law of the land. Donald Trump has changed from a bufoonish businessman to a bufoonish politician. In my lifetime, we have gone from a world with a handful of TV stations, a music industry dominated by large companies issuing vinyl and computers that filled rooms to virtually unlimited access to all media, including on powerful computers we carry in our pockets.

When Plato and Aristotle passed for scientists, they understood that there were four elements—earth, air, fire and water, and maybe a fifth, “aether.” A similar five element system was posited in Hindu writings, and the Buddha taught about the first four. The Chinese philosophers had five—Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood, while Japanese tradition followed the Hindu system. Or at least, that’s what Wikipedia says. Modern science, however, considers elements to be substances defined by their atomic numbers, with 118 of them currently identified. If anything, the classical elements are now loosely identified with the states of matter—solid, gas, liquid and plasma.

The song, “Earth Angel,” refers to one of the classical elements directly, and even, to some degree, to the aether, because that’s where angels dwell. It was the one and only hit song by the Penguins (penguins, of course, live where Water is often a solid, although the group was from Los Angeles, where Water is now at a premium, the Earth quakes, Fire ravages the countryside and the Air is almost solid). The Penguins, a doo-wop group that morphed from an earlier group, the Hollywood Flames (Fire!!), literally recorded the demo version of the song in a garage in 1954, often having to stop recording when a neighbor’s dog barked.

The music business was so different in those days that the demo, physically carried to a record store as an acetate by producer/label owner Dootsie Williams (who also recorded comedy records by Redd Foxx and violinist Johnny Creach, who years later, as Papa John Creach, played with the Jefferson Airplane/Starship and Hot Tuna), was played on a radio show, requests came in, Williams decided to release it without dubbing any more instrumentation, and a hit was born (despite the fact that Williams insisted on releasing it as the b-side of the now forgotten "Hey Señorita"). The success of the song created a demand that apparently almost bankrupted Williams, who ran out of label paper. Its timelessness and beauty has resulted in sales of millions of copies over the years, numerous cover versions and soundtrack appearances. And not surprisingly, it resulted in years of litigation among Williams, members of the group, putative song writers and Mercury (an Element!) Records, which later signed the Penguins and released a more produced and less successful version of the song.  One of the songwriter claimants, Jesse Belvin actually was required by the judge to stand up and sing his version, which led to his being awarded a portion of the credit.  The Penguins later released a nostalgia novelty song called "Memories of El Monte," based on the "Earth Angel" chord changes, and containing bits of other doo-wop songs, including "Earth Angel," which was written by Frank Zappa and Ray Collins, pre-Mothers of Invention.

I was introduced to this song years ago by my parents, who are high school sweethearts and remembered dancing to the song during their courtship during the 1954-55 era. My parents married in 1959 and are still together. And while that hasn’t changed, like all relationships, theirs has changed over the years, from being young marrieds with small kids, to successful adults who put those kids through college, to amazing grandparents. I’ve seen my parents dance over the years, usually at weddings and bar mitzvahs, and while I’m sure that they dance differently now than they did back when “Earth Angel” was a hit, I know that their love and respect for each other hasn’t changed, and, if anything, has grown stronger.