Pet Sounds: April 22

Weird month. Almost too much going on and, at times, it been difficult to know what to think about it all. There are so many voices out there and they all talk as though they are definitively right. I confess I’ve kept out of it all by writing fiction and concentrating on my first novel, ‘The Noise of Gods’ which is nearly done thanks to some fantastic work by my Beta reader! I wanted to explore the rise of populism and extremism in England and try to examine how easily these two forces can corrupt and I’ve tried to do this by juxtaposing ancient, pagan England with the more morally complex 21st Century country. Which basically means, a punk rocker thinks he’s becoming King Arthur and it all goes very wrong… I hope I can get it published one way or another quite soon. Watch this space!

I also posted my first short story over the Easter break, a folk horror tale of witches, hares and femininity. You can find that here:

Meanwhile, musically, here’s some stuff that’s been on repeat for me this month:

  1. Il Re Del Mondo: Franco Battiato
Il Re Del Mondo: Battiato

I love the soft interplay between the two chords that form the central motif for this song, and the ascending guitar and piano scales which float over them. Afraid I have no idea what the song is about, except that the album’s title translates as ‘The Era of the White Boar’ which is fantastically evocative. Battiato was a genuine renaissance man, having turned his hand to painting, film-making and a vast range of musical genres. A real creative powerhouse, and for that alone, in this day and age, he should be championed. He died almost exactly a year ago as I post this, so it’s a fitting time to acquaint yourself to his world…

2. This Is A Photograph: Kevin Morby

This Is A Photograph: This is a video…

Photos are powerful things. Memories captured frozen, time stopped… No less a writer than Ray Davies was fascinated by them, to the extent that he wrote not one but two songs on ‘We Are The Village Green Preservation Society’, that most reflective of Kinks albums, all about photographs. In ‘People Take Pictures of Each Other’ he writes: ‘People take pictures of each other / Just to prove that they really existed.’ Kevin Morby has picked up on a similar idea here, that photographs suggest an immortality that time exposes as a fraud. He describes a photograph of his father with his shirt off ‘ready to take the world on.’ But he is looking at the photograph after his father collapsed in front of him at a family dinner. It’s a powerful idea and the music seems to reflect the relentless passage of time in the way that it builds. Morby came to my attention in 2019 after he wrote the superb ‘Beautiful Strangers’ in response to the Bataclan shootings in Paris. This is another great song.

3. What It Comes Down To: The Isley Brothers

What It Comes Down To: The Isley Brothers

I was lucky enough to get hold of an original vinyl copy of the Isley’s ‘3+3’ album from a record fair recently and was surprised by the consistent quality of the songs. Obviously, ‘That Lady’, ‘Summer Breeze,’ ‘Listen To The Music’ et al should be enough to mark it as a classic but there really is no filler on it. This is a groovy ‘Sly’ flavoured tune which showcases brother Ernie’s guitar playing at the end.

4. Jim Cain: Bill Callahan

Jim Cain: A beautiful ode to self doubt

Bill Callahan was starting over after the lo-fi rock of his band Smog. He was looking for something different, something more polished, maybe something more personal. This album was, to me, a revelation. Painstakingly careful in arrangement and lyric, it was the work of a true artist, which is ironic because Callahan admitted in contemporary interviews that he did not believe he was any more. Written partially in character as author of pot-boilers such as ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice,’ and ‘Mildred Pierce’ James M Cain, this song seems to be a reflection on exactly the doubt that pursues all creative people: is this stuff any good? Does it have any value? Well, Bill, it does for me at least.

5. New Ways/Train Train: The Jeff Beck Group

Jeff Needs Some New Ways – bored of blues rock, then Jeff?

There’s nothing worse, in my view, than boring blues rock, played by boring white men. But, I like to think that Jeff Beck feels exactly the same. His career could so easily have been the same as Clapton and his ilk but he seemed to be genuinely searching for a new way to play. He abandoned blues quite early on to explore jazz and funk rock and this song appears to be him openly stating his intention. Ok, so it’s hardly Roxy Music in its innovation, but it at least showed a willing to do something different. Besides, it grooves…

6. The Two Magicians: Pauline Scanlon

A new take on a very, very old song…

I found this whilst doing some research for my Easter folk horror short story, ‘Pink Moon’ (see top of post for link). This song has existed in one form or another for centuries; the earliest printed version is from the 1820s. It encapsulates for me the aggressive entitlement that (some) men display towards women. In the song, a woman is trying to defend her maidenhead from a ‘lusty blacksmith.’ She says that she will change into a variety of things in order to escape him, but each time, the man changes himself into something that would dominate her in a kind of sexual ‘rock, paper, scissors’. In some versions the woman escapes the clutches of the ‘lusty blacksmith’ in others, she doesn’t. I wont give away my ending but you can listen here for Pauline Scanlon’s take on it.

Here’s the whole April playlist, which has more Fleet Foxes, a crazy prog-funk extravaganza from Magma and some Herbie Hancock. Enjoy…

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