sandinistaThe album sounds incredible. It has a cool, glassy, smooth aesthetic, like expensive vodka. The reality that it’s just The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” repeated thirty six times takes a while to sink in.

The songs mostly suck – puffy, wearisome tracks that make you think one minute in “very good, boys. I’ve gotten the point”…and they continue for another four minutes. Then the next song starts, and it’s exactly the same thing. The whole enterprise drips with pretension. “Mensforth Hill” is literally just another song played backwards, and I think if you listen closely you can hear evil Satanic messages (“we used to play punk rock…“).

What’s the point of this? Was the goal to write so much bad reggae that there would be no more bad reggae left to write? And why is it so long? In order to win a dick measuring contest with Bruce Springsteen, they fluffed Sandinista! out into a monstrous triple album that runs longer than every previous Clash LP combined. It would have been better at just forty minutes, but then I probably would have forgotten about it completely by now.

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Web-Clifton-Mill-013“Did you ever notice, the only one in A Christmas Carol with any character is Scrooge? Marley is a whiner who fucked over the world and then hadn’t the spine to pay his dues quietly; Belle, Scrooge’s ex-girlfriend, deserted him when he needed her most; Bob Cratchit is a gutless toady without enough get-up-and-go to assert himself; and the less said about that little treacle-mouth, Tiny Tim, the better.” – Harlan Ellison

“Always winter but never Christmas.” – CS Lewis, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe

“Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it. For them there is no winter food problem. They have fires and warm clothes. The winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security. For birds and animals, as for poor men, winter is another matter.” – Richard Adams, Watership Down

“The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.” – Jay Leno

“Dear Winter Man, I hope this Chrimbus is a better Chrimbus for me than last Chrimbus” – Steve Brule, Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job!

“No matter how much falls on us, we keep plowing ahead. That’s the only way to keep the roads clear.” – Greg Kincaid

“The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.” – George Carlin

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lyreTurn down for this: the oldest surviving piece of music ever found, played on lyre. It’s called the Hurrian Hymn no.6, and it was composed by an unknown Amorite musician in approximately 1500BC.

Check it out, it’s the sound of the summer (or the Sumer?). But you can’t actually listen to it. You can only listen to your brain’s interpretation of it.

One of the world’s less discussed weird facts is that people perceive sensory input differently, hence there’s no one version of “Who Let the Dogs Out”, there’s seven billion versions, all of them slightly different. Yet we all talk as if we experienced the same song.

You are not hearing Hurrian Hymn no.6 as you were supposed to hear it. None of us are. Play it as accurately as possible. Rebuild the exact instrument. Clone the long-dead musician, and have him play it for us. We’re still lacking Amorite ears, and that’s critical.

This music was meant to be heard by people 3500 years ago who were immersed in the sounds of the Levant. We’re comparing it to the soundscape of the 21st century. When the melodies enter your ear, they’re not striking a blank canvas – they’re striking a canvas that’s polluted and stained by years or decades of various sounds. And the canvas was probably different for all of us to start with.

It’s not all cultural. Dogma says that the hearing range of humans is 200Hz to 20kHz, but that’s just a “hook to hang your hat on”. There is lots of variation, both between individuals and between population groups. It seems that blacks hear better than whites. Who knows what other differences are out there? Do Danes have a higher noise floor than Xhosa? Do East Asians hear the third harmonic better than Pacific Islanders? And these are populations that exist together in the same time period – what can we say about Amorites living 3500 years ago?

In the movie Back to the Future, there’s a scene where Marty McFly (a kid from 1985 who’s been transported to 1955) plays “Johnny B Goode” with a distorted electric guitar, and for some reason his predates-Leave it to Beaver audience is really getting into it, instead of going “what is that godawful racket?”

Guitar distortion came of age by things literally breaking – first The Kings of Rhythm’s legendary malfunctioning amp on “Rocket 88”, then Link Wray poking holes in speaker cones to create a buzzing effect. I doubt it sounded nice the first time people heard it. Maybe the second or third time. But the first time, it would have provoked a “what the fuck” reaction.

Marty McFly thought he was back in the past, but really he was still in the future. It’s not enough for his guitar to have an anachronistic Bigsby tremolo. He had an audience with 1980s musical tastes, too. It seems absurd to make a mistake like that, but we do it all the time. My advice: stop asking people for advice. Stop asking them to recommend books and movies, too. Other people hear with different ears and see with different eyes than you do.

If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s ten people around, does it make a sound?

Answer: no. It makes ten sounds. And no two are the same.

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