The luck of the draw
So, the fine annual institution that is the Shuffleathon. The concept, as dreamt up and coordinated by Swiss Toni: willing participants' names are put into a hat and each participant is assigned someone for whom they must make a mix CD. They in turn will have a mix CD made for them. Their mission - should they choose to accept it (and they have already by joining in) - is then to digest what they've been sent and post a review.
Two years ago I was the beneficiary of a compilation from Mandy of I Have Ordinary Addictions which, Belle & Sebastian aside, was a real hit.
Last year, confronted with a collection of drippy, bland, preachy folk leavened only by the presence of Nina Simone and Joan Jett, I found it much harder to get excited or even be charitable, though I did try.
So, what would this year bring?
Joy, broadly speaking.
Whereas I hadn't read Mandy or Spinsterwitch's blogs and had no idea of their tastes beforehand, I was already well aware of what floats RussL's boat, musically speaking: metal, some hip-hop and a whole lot of stuff in between (he contributed Barbara Streisand's 'Queen Bee' to the Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music CD, for instance). More to the point, as a regular reader of Silent Words Speak Loudest he knew what I liked, and so (I think I'm right in saying, Russ?) has tailored the compilation accordingly.
A quick glance at the tracklisting and the first thing I realise is that I can't honestly recall ever having heard any of the songs before - so it's going to be a learning curve, which is great and exactly what (for me) the Shuffleathon should be all about.
Anyway, without further ado, here we go...
'Movement' - Angels Of Light + Akron/Family
Here we go indeed, headlong into a thicket of mangling, mashed guitars and clattering drums. Of the two bands involved in the collaboration, a little bit of research reveals it's a no-brainer as to who might be responsible for this section: that'd be Angels Of Light, who include among their number Michael Gira - a man whose previous outfit, no wave legends Swans, are reputed to have been so loud they regularly induced vomiting among gig-goers.
'Moment' is actually an Akron/Family song, though (the second track on the bands' 2005 joint release on Gira's Young God label), and while Angels Of Light do bring the noise at various intervals throughout, it mutates into something that, in flying the freak folk flag with pride, could easily come from Animal Collective's equally baffling and bewitching Strawberry Jam.
In case you're in any doubt, all of this is a very, very good thing.
'Cypress Grove' - Clutch
Hard rock? 'Cypress Grove' features a riff that sounds as though it was chiselled out of pure granite by James Hetfield. You wouldn't expect anything too complicated from a band who once released an album called Pure Rock Fury, and they don't disappoint (even if the percussion at the beginning hints misleadingly at Missy Elliott).
I'd hazard a guess that vocalist/guitarist Neil Fallon is about as in touch with his feminine side as Mariah Carey is with reality. Clutchville is populated by women with wide-brimmed hats, shotguns and black plastic bags in the back of jacked-up Fords. Kid Rock would be right at home, basically, so it's not somewhere I'll be moving to any time soon.
'Waiting For A Destiny' - Destiny's Child vs Thin Lizzy
Ah, the mash-up.
Time was when they were all the rage - about 2002, to be precise. 'A Stroke Of Genius', the inspired controlled collision of Christina Aguilera's 'Genie In A Bottle' with The Strokes' 'Someday', was the track that ensured 2 Many DJs came to overshadow Soulwax, the band from which they'd originally been a side project. Their Prodigy-meets-Beck effort 'Smack My Sexx Laws' was superb too.
This particular cut-and-shut, which also works very well indeed, is the brainchild of one Mark Vidler aka Go Home Productions, and dates from August 2003. Several of his other efforts sound worthy of investigation: 'Bring The Television' (Public Enemy's 'Bring The Noise' vs Television's 'Marquee Moon'), 'Gay House' (Electric Six's 'Gay Bar' vs Blur's 'Country House') and especially 'Don't Stop Changing' (Paul Weller's 'The Changing Man' and S Club 7's 'Don't Stop Moving')...
'Do The Hospital' - Copter
"Baby, do the hospital", Brum quartet Copter ask. And later "Baby, do the broken spine", "Baby, do the broken neck" and "Baby, do the broken foot". Which is all very well, but it would be better to be COMMANDED to do so, rather than politely requested, and it would also be better if it really were Jon Spencer doing the commanding. I can't argue with garage punk for long, though, and this is certainly not that far off winning me round.
'Traitor's Gate' - Gallon Drunk
Now this really IS bizarre.
On the one hand, there's an unmistakable air of louche depravity about this, and as a result it's no surprise whatsoever to discover that main man James Johnston has been a member (albeit one of the less celebrated ones) of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds since 1993.
But on the other hand, the guitar line of 'Traitor's Gate' is reminiscent of The Stone Roses. As a regular reader of this 'ere blog, Russ no doubt knows my feelings about both - and I'm afraid to say that the latter impression proves insurmountable and I just can't get anywhere close to enjoying the song.
'Avalanche' - Leonard Cohen
If Russ's objective was to flush out shameful confessions, then he's succeeded. Not only do I not own any Leonard Cohen, I've barely heard anything by him (even less, if you discount that bloody annoying Jeff Buckley cover of 'Hallelujah' that I get played every time I say I've never "got" Buckley...).
But he was a revelation at this year's Glastonbury, and so this track could hardly have been better chosen. 'Avalanche' is awesome: dramatic, compelling, brooding, menacing. "It is your turn, beloved, it is your flesh I wear" - ooh, you old romantic, you!
'Paris' - Carina Round
Precisely the sort of choice that marks the compilation out as bespoke and its creator as a thoughtful chappy. He's a big Carina Round fan, you see, and having never clapped eyes on her during my time living in their native Birmingham, I caught her rather unexpectedly opening up for The Gutter Twins in Oxford in August.
So it pains me to say that 'Paris', from 2004 album The Disconnection, is a real disappointment, devoid of the idiosyncrasy that made her such a magnetic performer on the Zodiac stage. The intrusion of some chirpy horns with the shift to an upbeat, choppy chorus is nice enough, but the overall impression is of Alanis Morissette or Natalie Imbruglia.
'Nasty Right Wing Campaign' - The Destroyers
Ah, here be idiosyncrasy. Especially with a song title like this, you could be forgiven for imagining that The Destroyers might be mohicaned anarcho-punks spraying out attitude and spit in equal volumes and intent on smashing the system and your face too, if it gets in the way.
That couldn't be much further from the truth.
The Destroyers are actually a fifteen-strong collective many of whom played at the Birmingham Conservatoire and whose speciality (most likely a novelty in Brum and the Black Country) is reeling Eastern European folk and traditional Klezmer.
'Nasty Right Wing Campaign' has to be heard to be believed (and I didn't quite believe it first time through even then). Beginning with regular guest vocalist Paul Murphy intoning about presidential motorcades and satellites tracking numberplates in an ominous voice that's part Tom Waits and part horror movie trailer, it whips itself up into a frenzied melee, an oompah band gone skiffle conjuring up the feeling of being six years old and lost in the noise and chaos of a carnival amidst rearing dragons, laughing faces and flashing knifeblades.
And to think, Russ could have just plumped for good old Razorlight...
'Artificial' - Martha Tilston
Sorry, Martha, but as someone who does actually spend the hours between 9 and 5 of each weekday in an office (and, yes, is well accustomed to the concepts of "sleeprising", "sleepgliding" and all the others you've cleverly created using the word "sleep"), I'm going to take exception to the sentiments of your song.
Fair enough, you might think an office job limits you to being "this artificial me", but at least it's risk-free and gives you your evenings and weekends free - and those are the best parts of the week, surely. Rather be a nurse, would you? Or a soldier? Not me, no sirree. And in any case, what good is being free between 9 and 5 unless you've got an unnatural desire to watch Jeremy Kyle?
I'm not sure you've thought your chorus through properly, either - let's take a look: "I'd like to run across the office tables singing 'No, no, you won't have me' and I'll keep running until I reach the sea". Note that you haven't specified where you are, or the direction you'll be running in. Isn't it perfectly possible that you could end up running until you reach the sea at Grimsby, for instance? Frankly, I'd rather stay sat at my desk being limited, thankyouverymuch.
Facetiousness aside, 'Artificial' is all right in a decidedly-dull-next-to-The-Destroyers-but-then-most-things-are kind of way, but given the non-specific sales job described there's a definite irony that the opening verse in particular has ad soundtrack written all over it.
'I Forgot To Be Your Lover' - William Bell
One glance at the title and I'm intrigued - how did he forget, exactly? It doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that might slip your mind, like picking up a pint of milk when you're in the supermarket. Perhaps he just had his mind on other things - after all, another of Bell's releases was called 'Tryin' To Love Two'. Is the full title 'I Forgot To Be Your Lover Today (But Don't Worry Honey, It's Your Turn Tomorrow)'?
Whatever, it's a very good thing he took time out of his busy schedule of loving (though, at under two and a half minutes, not enough for my liking) to record this smooth soul single, resplendent with rich late 60s instrumentation that has me woozily drifting off, back into dreaming of Bell sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night and exclaiming: "Dang! I knew there was SOMETHIN' I was supposed to do today!"
'Devil's Pie' - D'Angelo
Now I may be doing Russ a disservice (or maybe alternatively reading too much into his choice), but what I suspect he's done here is to decide that someone whose major reason for disliking much rap is its celebration of money and commodity would be most effectively confronted by a rap song that does the exact opposite. 'Devil's Pie' is a cautionary tale, a "Just Say No".
Not a 100% successful one, though, it has to be said - I mean if, as D'Angelo claims, women are selling their bodies on the street and niggers are killing each other for a slice of the devil's pie (note: not even a whole devil's pie), then that pie must be pretty damn tasty, right? I wonder if it's a new flavour down at Pieminister?
Musically it doesn't quite find favour either - I enjoy the scratching and the rolling bassline that's so low in the mix it's positively underground, but the annoying high-pitched bleeping jabs at my ears like an overexcited woodpecker and the overall impression isn't particularly good.
'Electric Seance' - Pram
Suddenly it's all gone a bit spooky. From a song that was released as a single on Halloween and subsequently appeared on an album called Voodoo to a song that references a seance it its title. Apparently, it was "inspired by the discovery that many early pioneers and inventors of electrical apparatus and radiophonic equipment believed that they could use their inventions to contact ‘the other side’".
Certainly, the sounds the Brum outfit (yes, they're from Birmingham too - do I detect a smidgen of civic pride coming through here, Russ?) coax their instruments into creating are suggestive of a thousand PCs trying to commune with a central server via a dodgy dial-up modem - so job done.
'The Mask' - Danger Doom feat. Ghostface
Stupid little skit at the end aside, this is great - partly for the tune (you can't go wrong with that crackly record effect and I love the horns that make this what I believe might be referred to as a "party banger"), but mainly for the lyrics.
Dangermouse's characterisation of himself as being at times "like a handkerchief on a skanky fatter dude" is bizarre but certainly banishes any thought that hip-hop is always all about self-aggrandisement, while guest rapper Ghostface makes the equally odd claim "My nickname was celery" before describing his brain as "all numb like I ate a thousand ices and frozen Pepsis". Or is this just their superhero characters - the figures behind the masks - talking?
'Just In Case (Dub-A-Holics 2nd Mix)' - Jaheim
The first thing that strikes me is that naggingly familiar piano line. The mystery's soon solved: it's from 'Rhythm Is A Dancer' by Snap. Dear God, this is not going to be good.
The next thing are the opening lines. "Baby, how we made love almost anywhere" - OK, feeling a little uncomfortable at the direct address, but OK. "Haven't I almost taken you almost anywhere?" - yes, all right, I get the picture, don't start listing the places you've successfully copulated, or worse still the (by the sounds of it) very few places you haven't yet managed to christen.
Then in comes the blooping synth and the faster beat and suddenly we're wallowing deep in Craig David territory (that figures, with the lyrical content and all). And then here's the chorus, the crux of the argument: "Just in case I don't make it home tonight, let me make love to you for the last time baby". Excuse me? Excuse me?!! Is that REALLY your best line, Mr Jaheim? If I get you right, you're suggesting that because there's a chance you might not get back to your crib tonight, the lady in question should drop her drawers? Of course it's perfectly true that you might not make it home (I guess the implication is that, as someone whose three albums all include the word "ghetto" in the title, you might be shot, rather than that you might get die in a freak gardening accident), but that's just pathetic. On a par with sly old Johnny Donne's attempts at seduction, that one.
Sorry Russ, but there's over six minutes of this and the last three ain't ever going to get played. Although if you were to introduce a slice of the devil's pie into the equation...
(Incidentally, I see one of the charges of which Jaheim was found guilty in 2005 was "the use of an unapproved tinted window". What a bad-ass mo-fo.)
'9-5-ers Anthem' - Aesop Rock
Yet more proof of the forethought that's gone into this CD - here's another take on the anti-office song, but this time from a very different musical perspective to Martha Tilston. '9-5-ers Anthem' finds Def Jux rapper Aesop Rock (aka Ian Matthias Bavitz) taking on the topic with rather less gentle guitar and rather more beats and cuss words, although the plaintive harmonica could have come from a folk song.
The suggestion in the lyrics, sung in a slightly nasal voice reminiscent of Eminem, is pretty much identical: that day jobs are self-suffocating. That much is unmistakeable when the music drops out leaving Rock to speak out his defiance in silence a la Rage Against The Machine: "Now we the American working population hate the fact that eight hours a day is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn't us and we may not hate our jobs but we hate jobs in general that don't have to do with fighting our own causes. We the American working population hate the 9-5 day-in day-out when we'd rather be supporting ourselves by being paid to perfect the pasttimes that we have harbored based solely on the fact that it makes us smile if it sounds dope". Perfecting pasttimes? That all sounds suspiciously quaint and idealistic - quick, someone call the Rap Police, we've got ourselves an undercover hippy!
'Circle Of Shit' - Godflesh
And yet more evidence of forethought: 'Circle Of Shit' is from an album called Songs Of Love And Hate, also of course the name of a Leonard Cohen record. I'm liking this - it's like playing detective to find the connections. Except now I'm paranoid I've missed some really obvious links and I'll end up accusing the wrong person of doing the deed with the lead piping...
When it comes to industrial music, Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails are the poster boys but Godflesh - formed by ex Napalm Death man Justin Broadrick - are arguably the more influential outfit. No wonder they're one of the acts celebrated as part of top-drawer Brummie promoters Capsule's Home Of Metal event.
The lyrics to 'Circle Of Shit' suggest it's not the track to play anyone suffering from self-esteem and self-confidence issues: "Forget yourself, just don't respect yourself / Reject yourself, just don't respect yourself / Feel weak, you just mean nothing / Feel owned, just feel like nothing / Stand down, show you're weak / Stand down, make them smile". But it actually works as a clever bit of reverse psychology, because when you emerge at the end, battered and bruised, what you want to do isn't keep your head down and suffer in silence but bellow "FUCK YOU I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!" at the top of your lungs. Best not to do that if you're listening to it on a bus, though, eh?
'Damaged I' - Black Flag
Shameful confession #2: I really should have heard this before - or indeed anything by Black Flag.
Artist Raymond Pettibon - brother of Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn and creator of the iconic image for the cover of Sonic Youth's Goo album in 1990 - is quoted as having said: "If a white flag means surrender, a black flag represents anarchy". Safe to say that 'Damaged I', which lurches and slouches malevolently along like the sort of dangerous-looking drunk you'd give a wide berth on a nightbus, is rather closer to anarchy than surrender, and also a good distance from their hardcore punk roots.
It's amusing to hear Henry Rollins - now better known as an articulate and witty (if also often vein-bulgingly angry) spoken word artist - formally introducing himself ("My name is Henry"), though without any "And how do you do?", before going on to shred his larynx for the cause.
To be totally truthful, though, listening to this is more hard work than it is actually fun - but then that's kind of beside the point: I needed to hear it, and I now have.
'On Leaving' - Carina Round
Couldn't resist, could you Russ?
And now 'Paris' makes perfect sense. It was included so as to soften me up for this: a rollicking rollercoaster of a song which has precisely the eccentricity and climactic melodrama I'd been expecting from Carina Round all along, and showcases the full versatility of her gymnastic voice - she really busts a gut in veering from gravelly growl to high-pitched shriek via, er, sex noises, but without it ever coming across like some Mariah Carey-esque hit-as-many-notes-as-you-can-within-a-single-word nonsense.
* * * * *
And that's the lot.
Given what I said at the beginning, I'm not tempted to read anything more into this selection of songs than that they're favourites of Russ and that he wanted me to hear them. What I liked most about the compilation was that it neither pandered completely to my tastes nor abandoned me well outside my comfort zone for its entire duration. There's a great deal of thought gone into the choice and tracklisting, and even if not everything met with an ecstatic response (an extremely unlikely scenario in any case), I'm very grateful for that. Cheers Russ!