Sunday, April 03, 2011

Three Records of Strange Music

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Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age
Bo Hansson Lord of the Rings
The Flaming Lips Embryonic

I went music mad a while ago and brought these three records of weirdo music together on the one day (but not at the same tyme – last two were in Tower, but I could only find the first in HMV). The Broadcast and Focus Group album I of course acquired not long after hearing of Trish Keenan's death. It is an odd record, being in some respects a remixing of new Broadcast work by Mr Focus Group, while in other ways it seems like a record the Broadcasters made in direct collaboration with him. Some of it is song-based, in so far as the more recent music of Broadcast ever sounds like songs, while a lot of it seems like typical Focus Group sound-collage, albeit with a lot of the fragments seeming to have been culled from Broadcast's studio endeavours. It is meant to sound like the title suggests – calling to mind an occult investigation of the contemporary world.

I like it, but I must make certain warnings to the unwary who are thinking of approaching it. The record works best altogether, and not as separate tracks. One of the more song-based pieces is 'The Be Colony', featuring a delightfully narcotic vocal from Trish Keenan. I had previously heard it on the Rough Trade Counter Culture album for 2009, where it does not really make much impact. Listened to here, however, it seems like one of the best things ever.

Bo Hansson also died surprisingly recently. He was some old Swedish hippy who made records that maybe were not big sellers although they did have a considerable afterlife as cult artefacts. His Lord of the Rings album is, obviously, inspired by the Tolkien classic. Keyboard-heavy, it is more like a soundtrack to an imaginary film than a musical dramatisation of the book. Without any of the electronic trickery available to Broadcast (or the Focus Group) it manages to have a similarly occult feel to it. This is a record I have heard before, but the most striking part of it for me is the intro to 'The Black Riders (Flight to the Ford)'. And why? Well, this is used to soundtrack one of the pivotal scenes in Lukas Moodysson's film Together (the one about the Swedish hippies living in a commune in the 1970s, featuring loads of Swedish music from that era). The whole album is great and would work as a great soundtrack to sitting around in a relaxed frame of mind discussing important issues in the great book of the 20th century (like… what do people in Mordor eat? I mean, if the whole place is basically a volcanic slag heap, yet is full of the huge hosts of Sauron, what does he feed them on?)

And then to Embryonic. I had rather lost touch with The Flaming Lips. It seemed a bit like they had lost touch with their wayward art-nutter sides in favour of courting bland mainstream success with easily approached ballads like that one about someone called Yoshimi and her struggle against pink robots. But then I started hearing that they had gone all weird again. Doing a track-for-track cover of The Dark Side of the Moon suggested a certain return to odd form (or a certain desire to cover one of the most successful albums of all time, for cash), and then this album came out. You may have seen the cover – it's the one with Wayne Coyne looking like he is being born out of some lady's vagina. The music is from the more dense side of the Flaming Lips oeuvre, featuring not so much of the crooning ballads but a lot of funny noises and tracks that chug along in a distorted big rock kind of way. I am becoming quite fond of this record and so I am excited that the band are going to be playing in Dublin this summer, as the Flaming Lips have acquired the reputation as one of the great live bands of our times and I reckon these tracks would sound great live.

My favourite track on Embryonic of course is 'I Can Be A Frog', in which the lyrics go "She said* I can be a X", where X is the name of (usually) an animal, and they have Karen O on guest vocals doing noises over the phone for the appropriate animal. Rarrrr!

*I think it was Freaky Trigger's Tom Ewing who pointed out what a great idea it is to include the words "She said" in songs you write, as it suggests to your listeners that you might actually know some women.

Broadcast & Focus Group image source

Lord of the Rings image source

Embryonic image source

An inuit panda production

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