Cut-and-paste pop theorists, Waler are like a musical Venn diagram of the latter half of the twentieth century, finding common ground between genres as diverse as hip-hop, punk, disco and folk, all weaved together by intelligent insights into modern life and knowing observations about the current state of pop music and culture.
After centuries of striving purposefully towards some utopian vision of the future, mankind now abruptly find themselves at the edge of an abyss of meaning. We've been thinking about the future for so long, now that its finally here, what are we supposed to do with it?
One of the most fascinating things about The Beatles is that they somehow managed to capture the zeitgeist of the 60s whilst in many ways representing its very antithesis. Their music and image weren't very sexually sugestive, they didn't have a particularly raucous sound or political message and they didn't really exude an image of recklessness, unlike many of the other iconic bands of that era such as The Rolling Stones, The Doors or Jimi Hendrix. Even during their later years, in their more 'far-out' period, they maintained a love for a kind of twee-ness that seemed at odds with the music that many of their 'credible' contemporaries were making. Its strange to think that songs like Tomorrow Never Knows and When I'm Sixty Four existed side by side on the same album.
Digital mediums and user-generated content have reversed the traditional power balance between artist and audience. The artist used to have the power but now that has been passed to us, the audience.
The internet is like a medieval court with every youtube viewer cast as the all-powerful king and all artists are like the peasant Jesters desperate to please them.
The artists put everything into their performance, desperate for validation but if they are not to our particular tastes or if they misjudge our mood or simply make the slightest mistake then they are instantly shuffled off, never to be heard again, and the king roars "next!" and some other poor fool steps up.
Among the few critics of Web 2.0 is author Nicholas G. Carr. In his book "The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains" he argues that the internet, with its constant bombardment of information is reducing our abilities, young and old, to think more contemplatively and with greater concentration.
In the brilliant documentary, Press Pause Play, Anne Hilde Neset from the Wire magazine had this to say:
"People don't really sit at home and listen to a record from track one through to track 15... I remember when I was a kid and went out and bought a record and it was this moment of pure concentration and joy of listening to every little bit."
I remember being able to just sit and listen to a record and CD but nowadays it feels like too much concentration, an album seems like too much hard work. Have I been de-skilled by the internet? Have I lost the ability to concentrate?
Even whilst writing this there are four other tabs open on my browser and I'm constantly tempted to check them for email or facebook updates or follow different links on youtube.
Is the internet training us all to be shallow thinkers?
Supposedly part of his less interesting period, Shiny beast actually represents Beefheart at his peak. All of his albums live in the shadow of the impenetrable Trout Mask Replica, which Beefheart himself admitted went too far. This penultimate album shows him at his most accesible, and arguably displays the perfect balance of pop and avant garde weirdness.
2. Bob Dylan - Shot of Love
The 80s meet Bob Dylan’s critically reviled Christian era. Chronologically, Shot of Love suffers from coming after some real stinkers (ie Saved) and has been subjected to the same vitriol. But in fact Shot is a fine album, signalling a return to form for His Bobness, including as it does such gems as Every Grain of Sand, In the Summertime and the anthemic Property of Jesus.
3. Cat Stevens - Teaser and the Firecat
Proof that good songwriting can transcend twee production. Cat Stevens will never be regarded in such high regard as earnest songwriters such as Leonard Cohen or Kurt Cobain but his songs are simple, sweet and consistently good.
4. Adam Green - Friends of Mine
Disappointed a lot of Green’s fans as it was a bit of a tangent from the Anti-folk sound he’d helped to pioneer. Gone were the hissing Lo-fi recordings and in with lush, though simple, strings and crystal clear guitars and vocals swathed in reverb. Some argued that he’d sold out, I just feel that he’d identified a different problem with modern music, that of the gushingly ernest sickly indie anthems by the likes of Coldplay, Snow Patrol and The Killers, and decided to make a very restrained, almost twee, sounding album.
5. Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow
A personal favourite, this is Blackalicious’ finest hour. They pulled out all the stops to create an album that gives hiphop’s boundaries a final push, just before the genre began its decent into irrelevance. On the wrong side of 2000, it did not acheive the fame it deserves. Featuring Gil Scott Heron and Ben Harper and introducing Lyrics Born to a wider audience. Just when you think it can’t get any better, Saul Williams pops up!
Its a very musical record for a hip hop LP and all the interludes are well integrated so they don’t get annoying.
6. Bran Van 300 - Glee
Everyone knows their song Drinkin in LA. It became quite a big hit after it was used on an advert for Rolling Rock beer in the late 90s. Its a crying shame that most people’s knowledge of this band does not extend beyond that point. The album it came from, Glee, is wildly experimental, varied and colourful. This album has probably influenced the sounds of Waler more than anything else.
7. The Beatles - Magical Mystery tour.
Not as well-regarded as say Sgt Peppers or Abbey Road but this one’s got all the best songs: I Am The Walrus, Blue Jay Way, Hello Goodbye... I could go on. I also toyed with listing Yellow Submarine. Far from just a novelty album, it contains some moments of genuine progressive psychedlia that, as usual, were decades ahead of their time. Just listen to It’s All Too Much.
8. Public Enemy - Apocalypse ’91
Perhaps they were repeating themselves by this point. It is a very similar sounding album to its predecessor - Fear Of A Black Planet - but tunes like Nighttrain and the alternative version of Bring The Noize with metal band Anthrax are just completely explosive.
9. Material - Temporary Music
This debut album by ZE Records (Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Was (Not Was) and John Cale) group, Material, sounds a bit weird when you first hear it but its one of the best creepy no wave disco albums I can think of (and there were quite a few!). I think perhaps their lack of popularity, even today, could be attributed to their roving palette of sounds. To me this is a bonus, but it does make them harder to define. Bands like ESG and Was (Not Was) fair much better because, although they’re just as avant-garde, their aesthetic is fairly consistent.
Bang! Bang!, an art party-cum-club-night concieved and curated by artist Trevor Pitt happened last Saturday at Vivid Art Gallery and we were very excited to be a part of it. We both contributed work as solo artists along with fellow artists Joey Vivo and Roseanna Velin.
"Pop Is Dead" by Vincent Gould was a makeshift funeral for pop music, complete with candles, a book of condolence, an urn and an order of service. Viewers were encouraged to light a candle and wear a black poppy to commemorate the death of pop.
"99 Red Balloons" by John Napier
I wanted to bring musical legends down a peg or two and remind us all that they are not divine beings whose work is unnatainable for us mere mortals. With this in mind I wrote some of pop history's most iconic and respected bands on loads of balloons, filled them with helium and slipped a tiny strip of paper inside each one with a specific criticism of that band or artist. At 11:30 I then went around popping each balloon to reveal the secret inside...