Albums of 2012 pt. 4 - Pernice Chyche - A

If Pernice Chyche got a lot of stick for her self-titled debut album, her fans seemed to take the brunt of the scorn. Here we had a phenomenally successful album of beautifully sung and meticulously arranged torch songs, and the critics couldn't stand it. But, having laid her soul bare for all to see on her songs, the worst they could do was simply repeat her words. So instead, they attacked her fans with gleeful and upsetting fury.

One particularly hateful publication insisted that it was less shameful to admit to being a paedophile than it was to admit to being a Pernice Chyche fan. The snide didn't get much worse than that, but the rest was just as upsetting in its mindless uniformity. Time and again it was insisted that there's no real substance to Chyche's music. Across the the reviews, the words “emperor's new clothes” appeared more than the words “Pernice” and “Chyche” combined.

Others conceded that, if there was substance to her music, then those who called themselves fans were shallow perverts only really interested in her appearance. The defining argument, though, was that Chyche's voice is so perfect it's bland. A soothing, shallow, insipid balm for the masses, one bloated cultural commentator insisted that Chyche could sing the phone book and still sell millions of albums.

Unable to accept that something popular can be excellent, Pernice Chyche was proclaimed far and wide to be a walking example of everything that's wrong with music. Her pristine sound was declared to be the death of vibrancy and relevancy, and as a result it was decided that she was a terrible human being for daring to unleash her “beige blanket” upon the world.

Well. I don't think anybody was expecting what came next.

A ten-disc album with a plain yellow cover simply called A was released without any fanfare or press-releases (and at a budget price).

All who heard A in its first week of release were amongst the first people to hear it. Nobody had heard any advanced tracks, nobody had read any pre-release material. Everybody approached A with fresh ears – if not necessarily with open minds. The critics, of course, sharpened their knives and looked forward to the feast.

And what they got was Pernice Chyche singing the phonebook. At least, chanting all entries under the first letter of it, with no musical backing save for a single, violently bowed violin halfway through disc six and four successive beats of a snare towards the end of disc nine.

Pernice Chyche has since come forward. She didn't accept any interviews and she didn't perform any shows. The extent of her public interaction didn't stretch beyond three words: “Expect 25 more.”

So it seems that, either over the next 25 months or the next 25 years, Pernice Chyche really does intend to sing the phonebook cover to cover.

Of course, the critics were baffled. Cornered, they just upped the severity of their attacks: “Bloated”; “Pretentious”; “Stupid”; “Asinine” and, bizarrely, the old “emperor's new clothes” cliché was trotted out once more.

But how did the public react? Negatively and, if possible, with even more vitriol than the critics.

So Pernice Chyche may have sabotaged her own career, but it's deliciously satisfying that she so brutally proved the critics wrong.

And, as far as I'm concerned, by transforming into the kind of artist who could curate Meltdown rather than play at the Brits, she'll always have the last laugh.

I do wonder, though, what she'll call volume two of her phonebook opus. Her debut album's b-side and rarities collection was already called B.


Albums of 2012 pt. 3 - Pulse Wrist - Majestic Cocktail

Majestic Cocktail struck such a chord with me that, since its release, I think I've read absolutely every existing review that happened to have been written in English. Frequently, this was an act of masochism on my part, as many of the reviews didn't have a single good thing to say about the album. But it's funny. Those who poured scorn upon the album highlighted exactly the same things as those who praised it. Horses for courses: for some “ironic detachment” is to be praised; for others it's unforgivable. Some people seem to really dig retro-revivalism, whilst others choose to view it as shameful weakness.

All reviews, though, be they positive or negative, were ultimately frustrating for exactly the same reason. Every single one of them missed the point, proving that good copy is no substitute for good research; and that critics will write furiously in the face of fact if it will make them appear discerning.

When presented with an album called Majestic Cocktail by a band called Pulse Wrist – an album full of tinny gated drums, trebly guitar solos, barely audible bass and screamed vocals – it seems that everyone immediately decided that this was an exercise in “irony” by a bunch of “hipsters”. The images of the band – all leather straps, studs and perms – and the fact that they didn't even get their own name right on the cover - only served to confirm this notion. For some this was manna, for others it was a red rag. Pulse Wrist stepped  into the daylight in the dual roles of lambs to the slaughter and flavour of the week. Never have the words “emperor's new clothes” been written with more frequency and with more wilful ignorance.

For the truth is, Pulse Wrist don't purport to be a band from the 80s, they are a band from the 80s,  trimmings and all.

That they released a string of albums between 1981 and 1985 seems to have escaped everyone. Of course, by no means were these albums well-received by press or public, but still, they existed. And with such names as Viking Metalstorm, Pendle Bitch Trials, Spitfire Love Throttle and Hammer Be Thy Name, I'm genuinely shocked that not one person seems to remember their existence. Seriously, not a single review so much as alludes in passing to their 80s heyday. Surely the names alone should have rung a bell somewhere? And does nobody remember ever having seen Pulse Wrist live?

The truth is, in 1985, just as they were about to embark upon their first ever US tour, under mysterious circumstances all five members of Pulse Wrist – along with their producer – suddenly and simultaneously entered a comatose state. It's not clear as to why this happened; the liner notes don't reveal much. Perhaps their tour bus overturned, or maybe a shared experiment in chemical mind expansion went awry. In any case, they collectively regained consciousness late last year, and it's my understanding that they headed into the studio the second they'd coaxed their limbs from atrophy with the intention of rocking out like it's 1985.

So if Majestic Cocktail sounds like it's made by people who haven't heard any music since 1985, that's because it is made by people who haven't heard any music since 1985. None of what you hear is at all contrived. This is genuinely how they think music should sound. This is music made by ardent devotees to the church of rock who have never heard Metallica, Nirvana, Radiohead, Pearl Jam or The White Stripes. As a result, despite being some 25 years out of date, there's a strange and unique freshness to Majestic Cocktail.

Which is why, despite the fact that 80s hair metal does basically nothing for me, I can't help but love Majestic Cocktail. I hear it and I wince; but I also hear a sincere innocent passion that's all but lacking in the vast majority of modern music. In a world where the default stance is ironic detachment, Pulse Wrist could be a genuine force for good – a reminder that there's more to life than sneering cynicism.

And that they were either ripped to shreds or praised for all the wrong reasons I think says it all.


Albums of 2012 pt. 2 - Dirk Brick - Music Is Better One Note

Few genres seem to attract a greater number of purists than the One Note Music scene, and Dirk Brick has always been a dark horse amongst their midst. The consensus seems to be that, if the song contains anything beyond a single sustained note coupled, at a push, with monotonous singing, then it just ain't ONM. It's drone.

Indeed, there are some who insist that even vocals are taboo. The really hardcore purists, though, are those who insist that true ONM contains but one note per album. I can see the logic behind that approach, but its lead to the likes of The Filing Cabinets and James James James Jeans James; both of whom have utterly impenetrable back catalogues comprised of hundreds upon hundreds of albums, often recorded and released at a staggering rate of up to ten a day. With no vocals or variation, approaching their work is a truly daunting task for a newcomer to the scene. Where to begin?

Dirk Brick has long been ostracised by the ONM community. He's never used vocals, but even more controversially, he's used instruments that lack a keyboard interface and a digital soundboard. Strings, woodwind, brass – the idea that tonal variation might result as a consequence of human infallibility is too much for the more hardline members of the ONM scene to take. His iconoclastic approach has resulted in him being labelled as the purveyor of “ONM music for people who don't like ONM music.”

But I've never seen that as a bad thing. Why shouldn't there be a warm and friendly entry-point into a genre whose deep, meditative rewards are hidden behind an impenetrable veil of cold mechanical alienation?

His latest album, though, will doubtlessly lose Brick what few supporters he had remaining within the OMN scene. However, it may also be his masterpiece.

For Music Is Better One Note, Brick spent a few years walking the earth with a tape recorder on a global search for monotonous drones. By the roll of dice he settled on a key – E – before obsessively collecting and compiling a deep sound collage of flushing toilets, distant traffic, lowing cattle, humming machinery and Schyyvyetchyan chanting.

The objections from the ONM scene were predictable. Up to 72 instances of notational variation were highlighted by one particularly obsessive critic; but the bulk of the criticism was directed at Brick's tendency to allow for layering of sounds. It was pointed out that, at some points, Music Is Better One Note even comes close to forming chords.

So whilst what little respect he might have once harboured amongst the ONM scene is now effectively destroyed, Brick need not worry. True, his peers will no longer give him the time of day, but it's their loss. The rest of us have this beautifully sustained piece of tonally rich drone which creates a listening experience akin to ambling through a benevolent Experience Machine.

Newcomers to the ONM scene would do well to lose themselves in these sounds before attempting such harsh epics as The Filing Cabinets' Morse Code Sounds. And for providing a gateway for the curious drone-enthusiast who feels that Oren Ambarchi has become too maximalist, the ONM community should be eternally grateful to Dirk Brick.


Albums of 2012 pt. 1 - Cassandra “Seismic” Lifestone – Bury Me With Myself: The Internment Project vol. 1

I used to write exhaustive lists of my 20+ favourite albums of the year. I don't do that any more, but last year I quite enjoyed highlighting a few releases that did not appearon a single other end of year list.

So I'll do that again!

You'll have doubtlessly heard each of these albums many times, as generally without exception they've been pretty ubiquitous. It's strange, then, that I haven't seen a single one of them on any “best of 2012” list so far.

I know it's just oversight, but nonetheless, I'm here to redress the balance.

Albums of 2012 pt. 1 - Cassandra “Seismic” Lifestone – Bury Me With Myself: The Internment Project vol. 1

The argument that “guitar music is dead” has been going on for so long that it now appears to be taken as fact. Cassandra “Seismic” Lifestone is, of course, famous for owning the largest collection of guitars in Blakeney. Nobody who's ever heard her Seismic Shift will ever forget the gleeful cacophony unleashed when she allowed 300 children from schools across North Norfolk to go nuts with her collection. In her role as curator, she captured something so atonally chaotic that the results could apparently be heard from as far away as Holt. It was only right that she should hence take on the name of the innocent beast she helped to create. From that day forth until her dying day, she'd be “Seismic” in name and nature.

Despite living on the tough streets of Blakeney, few would have expected her end to come so soon. The only blessing is that Lifestone got to choose the manner of her own demise.

So incensed was she at the news that her precious guitar music had died that Lifestone apparently refused to leave her house for days. When finally she did emerge her first act was to visit a local artisan with a strange commission. He was to melt down her entire guitar collection – all 300 of them – and forge a fully-functional coffin out of the molten remains.

Lifestone had herself buried in that very coffin amongst the bleak marches of Blakeney. Only one person knew of her coffin's location (the same local artisan), and shortly before finally sealing Lifestone in, she handed him an envelope, which he wasn't to open for a month.

A month passed, and the local artisan (who obviously wished to remain nameless) opened Lifestone's envelope to find a very detailed set of instructions. There was a link to an online cloud storage site from which the artisan downloaded a file. The file would become the album (Bury Me With Myself), and the instructions concerned steps the artisan should take in order to distribute her swan song.

Bury Me With Myself: The Internment Project vol. 1 is essentially a set of field recordings from Lifestone's first week of burial. She had her mobile with her down in that coffin, and for about an hour a day, she would record her breathing. This sound file would then be sent to a mysterious contact who would, at the end of a week (when it could be safely assumed that Lifestone had expired), edit her increasingly strained breathings into this: a claustrophobic 30 minute soundscape that is to act as a eulogy for the guitar music she loved so much.

It's not an easy listen, as towards the end we're essentially listening to Lifestone's death rattles. However, the ironic sense of humour she demonstrated on her Upside Down Spit series is very much alive and present. The biggest joke, of course, is the air of finality surrounding a piece so playfully labelled as “vol. 1”. But there are also laughs to be had at the notion that the sonic funeral for guitar music itself should not contain a single guitar sound over the course of its half-hour runtime.

At a push, you might label the rapping sounds that come early on – presumably Lifestone desparately hammering on the coffin surrounding her as she regretted her decision – as “guitar music”, seeing as she's ostensibly pounding on guitars. But at no point is a single string plucked or a single chord strummed. The irony is delicious.

The mysterious producer has not yet come forward and the local artisan remains nameless – and doubtlessly things will always be that way, as both are sort of complicit in manslaughter. But what remains is an uncomfortable and tragic halting dirge which should be of comfort to the cohorts of former guitarists across the world as they lay their instruments to rest for good.

Guitar music is dead. And, thanks to Lifestone, it's now also quite literally buried. There will be no more guitar music. It's fitting, though, that it should have had such a noble and poignant send-off.


The 4 Best Musical Moments From Christmas Films

I love films. I love music. I love Christmas.

When the three come together, nirvana.

Here are my four favourite instances of three-way wish-fulfilment.

4. Christmas Is All Around Us (from Love Actually, 2003)

I know you're not supposed to like this film; and as for the song itself, well. You're supposed to hate it. Even if you love the film, you're specifically instructed to hate the song by the very man who sings it. But I love it. And that's partly because of the very man who sings it. The immortal Bill Nighy plays Billy Mack as an identikit washed-up 80s has-been who's somehow infused with a slurry David Bowie charm, and the results I find irresistible.

But even though there is much Billy in Love Actually beyond this song, I still can't help but enjoy his version of Love Is All Around Us. But Billy's cover has a sleazy bar-band drawl to it, a sexy Robert Palmer video and those vocals. Plus, it comes right at the start of a film that commences right at the start of the Christmas season.

As Billy finally gets the line right - “Christmas is all around us”, we're shown a montage of Christmas trees across London with the subtitle “5 Weeks Before Christmas”. That, right there, sends shivers up my spine. I now associate this song with the arrival of my favourite time of year.

3. O Holy Night (from Home Alone, 1990)

Kevin McCallister's been left home alone whilst his family's jetted off to Paris for Christmas! At first he does what anybody in his position would do at the age of eight – he eats ice cream and watches the films he's not usually allowed to watch. But then he – wait, you've seen Home Alone. Of course you have. You know what happens. He learns a few lessons about responsibility, acceptance and the importance of family. And then he repeatedly attempts to murder a couple of petty criminals.

Kevin goes to a church on Christmas Eve, where a choir service is taking place. There he sees the terrifying Old Man Marley, previously assumed to have murdered his family. It soon becomes apparent that Marley is just a sad and lonely old man who's fallen out with his son and misses his granddaughter. She's singing in that very choir, and they're singing O Holy Night. I believe it was the first time I ever heard that most spellbinding of songs. It makes for a beautifully touching, quiet and poignant moment before the onset of the hilarious ultraviolence. And doesn't it just look so much better when filmed with a shaky camcorder on an old television screen?

2. What's This? (from The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)

Jack The Pumpkin king is bored of the same-old Halloween routines, so he goes for a walk. He stumbles across a clearing in the woods, which we're informed is the place where all holidays originate. A circle of trees, each with a symbolic door cut in the front; he falls into Christmas Town.

Up until this point, The Nightmare Before Christmas has been dark, gloomy and monochromatic. But everything in Christmas Town is bright, warming and colourful. It's a trick Tim Burton uses frequently to signify a shift from the normal to the fantastical, but never is it more effective than in The Nightmare Before Christmas – most likely because, in this case, the “normal” is pretty fantastic to begin with.

Jack's childlike wonder at experiencing Christmas for the very first time is utterly enchanting, and his complex feelings are encapsulated perfectly in three exuberant minutes. Jack is overwhelmed. He's confused (“The children are throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads”), but he knows that he likes what he sees. He likes it a lot. It's exactly what he's been looking for. And he wants it for his own.

From here, of course, the film gets better and better, but its central conceit is that you can't bottle or define Christmas. It's a wonderful, wonderful vibrant festival of values, ideas, traditions and ceremony that means vastly different things to everyone. And at no point is that feeling communicated than during Jack's reaction to seeing Christmas for the very first time.

Had you come from a scary land in which life itself revolves around frightening people, just how would you react upon experiencing Christmas for the first time?

It's to Danny Elfman's credit that he manages to explain, in impressive depth, the wave of emotions that would invariably rise in less than three minutes of music. By the end of the song, Jack is so excited that he's almost violently happy.

A hardened cynic who would like to remind themselves of how utterly life-affirmingly brilliant Christmas used to be would do well to take-in this scene once more.

1. Put A Little Love In Your Heart (from Scrooged, 1988)

Is the birth of Christ the Greatest Story Ever Told? Christ, no! I'd argue that Dickens's A Christmas Carol takes that biscuit. It remains one of only three books to ever make me cry, and no matter how many incarnations I see – whether Scrooge is played by Patrick Stewart, Michael Caine, Kelsey Grammar or Scrooge McDuck – the tears of almost unbearable happiness never fail to fight their way from the back of my throat to the corners of my eyes. The idea that it's never to late to start doing good is truly beautiful.

But I doubt that any interpretation of Scrooge packs more of a devastating punch than Bill Murray's turn in Scrooged. As Frank Cross, he is Bill Murray, and he appears to treat the whole thing as a joke. But then comes the denouement – his realisation that it's not to late to change – and his impassioned monologue, clearly delivered straight from the heart, is unbelievably powerful. “It's Christmas Eve!” he cries. “It's... it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we... we... we smile a little easier, we... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”

And what follows is an apparently impromptu rendition of Put A Little Love In Your Heart, which sees Bill breaking the fourth-wall to conduct the audience's singalong.

Some might see this moment as manipulative, cheesy, corny. I don't. During those closing credits, it actually feels as though the world could be a better place.