Family Fodder – “Philosophy” (1980)
Family Fodder are the lens through which I view post-punk, my personal central nexus for the whole movement and creators of some of my very favorite albums and EPs of the era. For me, they’re the un-U2, the un-Joy Division, the antidote to the absurdly huge shadow cast by the Big Few Names that color the genre as a dead-end of gloom ‘n politics. Family Fodder instead pick up, run with and expand all of the best attributes of the Canterbury Scene (Caravan, Soft Machine, Wyatt, Ayers), the Texas Weirdos (Red Krayolas, 13th Floor Elevators), the Ohio Freaks (Pere Ubu, Devo, David Thomas) and even the Rough Trade/RIO Artsters (Henry Cow, Raincoats, This Heat), stir in a little French chanson and Jamaican dub magic, and infuse it all with their unmatched playfulness.
For a band whose modus operandi is fun first, a philosophical manifesto might seem counter-productive. But “Philosophy” is a manifesto-of-fun, cleverly communicating an intellectual commitment to remembering not to get too damned grown up about it all. That’s not to say they’re joking–the song expresses a sincere and pithy philosophy to live by while delivering a pointed critique of a zero-sum, lock-step, religious-minded “adulthood”. They don’t get self-serious about it either, setting it all to clomping drunk-tap-dancer drums, warbling organ, and snake-charmer reeds. They ultimately appeal to music geeks like us who see the beauty of humanity in music, and sum it all up: “when you make music, you play“. Which is to say, you live.
[Family Fodder are featured on ‘1981‘ mixes here and here, as part of the ‘Young Lady’s Post-Punk Handbook,’ and on a volume of post-punk ‘Miniatures‘ at Musicophilia. And coming at the end of this week, they’ll be featured in a guest-post by me (with a mini-essay) at the indispensable Post-Punk Tumblr blog as part of the “Top 35 Or So Songs of the 80s” project.]
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – “Affection” (1979)
In honor of Fathers’ Day, today I’m sharing one of my Dad’s favorite songs (at least of those I’ve shared with him over the years). It’s one my faves, too. I’ve known Dad to play this song several times in a row–and it deserves it. Jonathan Richman is one of the few people I’ve ever seen who seems genuinely imbued with real, unadulterated kindness and an openness to the goodness of the people around him; and in that way he’s a lot like my Dad, one of the world’s true idealists, who makes it his business create the good he knows we’re all capable of achieving. “Affection” is sweet, silly, and as a bonus it has that musical spookiness and energy we all love from the early Modern Lovers. Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad!
Crash Course In Science – “Flying Turns” (1981)
Crash Course In Science made homemade music from a basement in the distant future, in 1981. And it still sounds like the future in 2009. The ingredients are not dissimilar from much that we recognise as DNW, but what often feels amateurish and even cute from Germany is, perhaps counter-intuitively, more menacing, hard-edged, and cool-as-hell from a boy-girl-vocals group from Philadelphia. I can’t think of a single post-punk act more desperately in need of a full-on reissue treatment (outside of the full works as originally created of Family Fodder).
Gang of Four – “I Love A Man In Uniform” (1982)
Gang of Four’s transition into slinky-sexy New Pop is certainly not as deftly graceful as that of, say, Scritti Politti. And they’re not quite reaching Fela-like sublimity in their “move their asses and sneak in a message” approach–they wield their politics as forcefully as ever to really give your ass equal consideration. But I suspect there’s a reasonable sense of humor at work here not so evident in earlier work; the music is servicable, and the satire of Thatcherite machismo and gun-as-“self-respect”-as-sex-organ psychology is pretty fun. I mean, “the girls, they love to see you shoot,” “I need an order,” and “to have ambition was my ambition” are pretty succinct and biting. The vocal crooning style du jour–well, again, not graceful, but enjoyable in its campy employment.
Jane Birkin – “Kawasaki” (1973)
Birkin’s work here is indelibly imprinted with the signatures of Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier in top-flight ‘Melody Nelson’ mode, and that’s hardly a bad thing: those whirling strings, spare funky drums and bass, weeping guitar, and balanced temperaments of dynamism and melancholy are effective as ever. But Birkin’s half-sung, half-breathed vocals add a nice counterpoint to Gainsbourg’s more earthy speak-sing. The coy, coquettish album cover doesn’t hurt.
The Carter Family – “Wildwood Flower” (1935)
Music so sturdy, simple, direct, and affecting is rarely achieved, especially that stands the test of so many decades. The clean melodies of the Carter Family are clearly from another time, virtually another world, yet they call forth an elemental, essential musical understanding in any American. And perhaps they tap into the foundational strains of “folk musics” everywhere, and speak universally.
The Shaggs – “I’m So Happy When You’re Near” (1969)
Most people would hear The Shaggs and think, “that’s just wrong,” but for some of us, it’s just so damned right it simply had to be. The musical expression of “sticktoitiveness” at its best, the young Wiggin sisters may have been coerced into making music in a way that might require a call to CPS today (being taken out of school on the basis of their father’s premonitions and delusions of grandeur). But from the sound of things, once they got going, nothing was going to stop them. And so the seemingly avant-garde clashing of tempo, melody, alternate-tuning, and deconstructed pop forms and subject matter flows forth as though it were the most natural thing in the world–for these girls, it seems to have been, and there is indeed a logic to it all, once the listener acclimates. Many never will, but for those who do, The Shaggs scratch an itch that more considered un-pop music (Captain Beefheart, LAFMS et al) can’t even reach. Just don’t dare call it kitsch–we love this music wholly on its own terms. [The Shaggs are featured on two Miniatures mixes at Musicophilia, including work from their lovable but more “normal” later recordings.]
Sam Prekop – “Showrooms” (1999)
Prekop’s first solo album winningly calls to mind the bossa-lite cocktails served up by Stan Getz in his collaborations with Charlie Byrd and João Gilberto, with a nice dash of West Coast sunshine pop and chamber pop. Most indie rock absorbs the surface trappings of other forms, but remains at its core unambitious indie rock. Prekop has managed to break free of such shackles, tapping into a timeless feel that is elusive to most of his peers.
Free Design – “Kites Are Fun” (1967)
I can think of very little music that so glowingly and lovingly portrays the innocence and openness of childhood, especially in narrative form, as that of the Free Design. The total absence of any detachment may make the music seem jokey to those accustomed to the usually-useful skepticism of adulthood, but if anything can melt our guarded state of mind, it’s the Design’s perfect-pop three-part harmony. [The Free Design are featured on Musique du Monde mixes of glowing 70s warmth at Musicophilia.]
[Audio] – 1981 ‘Briefcase’ Tracks, Part 4 (Blah Blah Blah, Blancmange, Blondie, Blue Angel, B-Movie)
Various – Tracks from the ‘1981’ Briefcase Disc, Part 4
Five more tracks constitute the 4th installment from the ‘1981’ box set’s ‘Briefcase’ disc, which housed over 250 further bands and tracks not found in the nine themed mixes in the set. You can see previous installments and keep track of new ones with this tag.
Still in the “B”s, again we have a playful grab-bag including the familiar, the not-yet-famous, and the more or less forgotten. Blah Blah Blah and Blancmange are here from the ‘Some Bizzare Album‘ compilation, the former with an oddly entertaining spoken-word ghost story, the latter with a diminutive little organ-beat-and-guitar doodle in the instrumental Young Marble Giants/Essendon Airport mode. Then there’s one that needs little introduction from Blondie (though the “rap” part probably needs an apology, even from the days of fairly stilted flow). You might think the Buddy Holly-inflected music of Blue Angel sounds familiar–and you’re probably right, if you were alive in 1983-1988 or so: it’s Cyndi Lauper’s band, and it’s pretty catchy and cute. Finally there’s B-Movie, with a track that’s for some unknown reason stuck with me more than it probably warrants; but it has an infectiously urgent feeling and a nice full-stop-restart chorus, keyboard hook, and piano accompaniment that makes it remind me a little of the Suburbs, who’re featured a couple times on the main mixes.
Blah Blah Blah – “Central Park”
Blancmange – “Sad Day” (Edit)
Blondie – “Rapture” (Edit)
Blue Angel – “Can’t Blame Me”
B-Movie – “Remembrance Day”
Joni Mitchell – “California” (Live, BBC, 1970)
Singer-songwriter is for me like prog, metal, ska-revival, punk: a whole lot of utter detritus, pierced by moments of absolute brilliance. For me, Joni Mitchell is the absolute pinnacle–‘Blue’ was one of the first albums I ever identified as a “favorite” as a small child (my mother would sing us Joni songs and play her guitar, her hippie youth waning but still vibrant, as lullabies). And it remains a top-10 album, a quarter-century later. Her voice aged well, in my opinion, and at this point I find later albums more “interesting,” and beautiful in their own ways–but ‘Blue’ is a solitary achievement, and it still makes my heart ache in a wonderful way however many hundreds of listens on. Plus, I just love that dulcimer sound.
Telex – “En Route vers de Nouvelles Aventures” (1980)
It’s criminal that basically none of Telex’ work is currently in print–a state that surely can’t continue for long. They’re better (and for my money “more important”) than just about every post-Kraftwerk/Moroder synth-pop band that existed during the post-punk era; their first three albums have the timeless quality we all love from Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World’. This track is a good introduction: warm, bouncing, graceful, sophisticated, fun. Thank goodness for the always-thorough (though currently moribund) Music Blog of Saltyka & His Friends, in the meantime till someone realises they could make bank getting Telex-awareness to a just level in the USA. [Telex are featured along with tons of other fuzzy synth-disco goodness in a four-part megamix at Musicophilia.]
Björk – “Domestica” (2001)
Björk has had innumerable boxes and re-packagings and CD2s, but she’s yet to do the most obvious and essential thing: a b-sides compendium. Which is a shame, because she’s got at least one very strong album’s worth of non-remix b-sides. This is a personal favorite, an ode to the “mundane,” simple things in life, unabashedly celebratory, with some of her warmest production for fans of fuzzy electronics. [Björk is featured here with a lullaby, here with an instrumental percussion piece mixed with Vivaldi, and here with Robert Wyatt in a duet with Indonesian Kecak at Musicophilia.]
His Name Is Alive – “One Year” (2001)
His Name Is Alive is never the same twice, for better or for worse. Starting as 4AD-style acoustic vampire pop (or something) and passing through vibretto-less female-vocal bent Beach Boys deconstructions, I gather His Name Is Alive lost a lot of listeners with this one by doing the only thing that is too left-field for the lifelong left-fielders: making almost-straight-ahead contemporary R&B pop. If you listen a little closer, there’s actually still plenty of weird there; and HNIA hardly set the charts afire with this one. But I love it on its own terms: fun, catchy, sophisticatedly understated, Top 40 one universe over from our own.