Women Singing

Basia Bulat

Basia Bulat

Here’s some good tunes written and sung by women that I’ve come across recently.


Weekend Fun

Space Wale

Space Whale

The past two weekends were a lot of fun.

  • The Royal Technical College’s orchestra and several combined student choirs from Sweden and Finland performed Giuseppe Verdi’s 1874 Requiem, an intricate and operatic farewell to fellow composer Gioachino Rossini and poet Alessandro Manzoni.

    Hallwyl House: carving in the doorway between the ladies' drawing room and the Golden Salon.

    Hallwyl House: carving in the doorway between the ladies’ drawing room and the Golden Salon.

  • Gig with King Khan and the Shrines. Imagine a tall, psychedelic, semi-nude, portly, Canadian Wilson Pickett of Indian extraction belting out soul rock with a band consisting of extremely enthusiastic Germans. First time I’ve seen a horn section playing to a microphone stuck down the front of the lead singer’s hot pants.
  • Played Elfenland and Plato 3000.
  • Watched the 1955 Brando-Simmons-Sinatra-Blaine movie version of the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls. Impressed by Brando, didn’t know he could sing. Ugly sets and boring dialogue though. The reason that we watched it was that Jrette is playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in an upcoming school production. Made me want to read some Damon Runyon.
  • Gig organised by Undergången with three unsigned Swedish psych acts. Space Whale are four very young and very strong musicians with excellent songs. They really blew me away! Besvärjelsen are a heavier and more metal-oriented quintet that I would really like to hear studio work from. And the Magic Jove trio are basically Cream. Extremely proficient musicians!
  • Hallwyl House: Swedish logging magnate’s daughter marries Swiss count and has some of 1890s Stockholm’s best architects and artists build them a town palace, no expenses spared, which she proceeds to fill with Early Modern art and craft objects. All of this remains in place and is now a museum, large parts of which is free of charge, and which is located a short walk from the Central Station.
King Khan

King Khan

Weekend Fun

One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says "possibly a kitchen mortar". Neither function seems likely.

One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says “possibly a kitchen mortar”. Neither function seems likely.

Had some quality fun this past weekend.

  • Dinner at Tbilisis Hörna, a Georgian + Greek + Italian restaurant. Service was slow and unsynched but the food was great. The deep green tarragon soda in a bottle with almost exclusively Georgian script on the labels added to the sense of not being anywhere near Stockholm.
  • Gig at the Globe Arena’s annexe with psychedelic Australian genius Kevin Parker and his band Tame Impala.
  • Chinese banquet cooked by my wife and sis-in-law, to celebrate the end of the Year of the Wooden Goat and the beginning of the Year of the Fire Monkey. I got out my old mini steam engine and oversaw Jrette operating it with her cousins.
  • Visited the museum in the basement of the northern wing of Stockholm’s Royal Castle, to learn more about its Medieval predecessor that was torn down after a major fire in 1697. Not very informative, mainly a lot of 17th century sculpture fragments. A few Medieval coins were in a tiny, poorly lit glass-topped depression in the floor where you could barely make them out. But one wall of the basement is the castle’s 13th century perimeter and the other is 15th century building fronts, so that’s something. This level was the ground floor at the time: the closest you can get to visiting the Medieval castle.
  • First semla of 2016. Mmm…
  • Bach’s Mass in B minor at Nacka Church, the last major work he completed, played on period-style instruments by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble. Silver trumpets!

Dear Reader, what did you do for fun over the weekend? It’s an important issue: fun is after all the meaning of life.

Seven Decades, Seven Songs

A buddy of mine tagged me on Facebook to post a good song every day for a week. Here’s what I came up with.

  • 2000s. Robert Plant’s (once of Led Zep) beautiful 2002 cover of ”Song To The Siren”. The original was first performed by Tim Buckley (Jeff’s dad) in 1968. Pay attention to the lyrics by Larry Beckett. Plant butchers them slightly, singing “unfold” for the actual “enfold”, and obscuring the fact that the lyrics are a dialogue between the poet and the Siren. She’s an unpredictable yes-then-no-then-yes woman who leaves poor 20-y-o Beckett “a foolish ship … broken lovelorn on your rocks”. This is an unabashedly literary piece of pop lyrics, referencing the Odyssey’s song of the Siren. I particularly like the lines “I am puzzled as the newborn child / I am troubled as the tide”. Note also the guitar solo by Porl Thompson, with effects and style straight out of the band he played in from 1983-94, The Cure.
  • 1990s. Here’s a really good & heavy Norwegian metal tune from 1999 in the tradition from Black Sabbath. If you don’t know Scandy, then that’s all the song will mean to you. But if you do, you’ll realise that the lyrics to “Åpent Brev Til Sporveisdirektøren” are a complaint in Bokmål about the time table of a bus service. Apparently the buses don’t synchronise at all with the Vippetangen ferry! The band is named Black Debbath and the song title means “Open Letter To The Director Of Public Transportation”.
  • 1970s. Here’s a psychedelic Turkish rock tune from 1975: “Gönül Sabreyle Sabreyle” (My Heart — Endure, Endure). The band consisted of the three Hürel brothers, who called themselves Üç Hürel, “The Three Hürels”. This is great musicianship: just listen to the darbouka drum fills. Awesome. And youngest brother Feridun Hürel not only sings his heart out, he also plays the fuzz guitar solo and the electrified saz solo on the same two-necked instrument (1975, remember), and wrote the song.
  • 2010s. Here’s some romantic pop from 2014: “Places” by the up-and-coming Atlanta duo The Electric Sons.
  • 1950s. “Rocket 88” from 1951 has often been pointed to as the first rock ‘n’ roll song. It was recorded in Clarksdale, Mississippi by the Delta Cats, a band consisting of black teenagers including Jackie Brenston (who sings), Ike Turner (yes him, playing the piano, and who would later have a baby with Tina Turner) and Raymond Hill (who plays the sax and would also later have a baby with Tina Turner). And it’s got Willie Kizart playing one of the first fuzz guitars ever recorded (here doing rhythm duty), achieved by means of an amplifier broken during touring.
  • 1980s. Here’s “Brick Is Red“, a 1988 tune off of the Pixies’ first full-length album. Two minutes of sheer indie genius!
  • 1960s. Here’s a pretty deep nugget of 1968 folk-psychedelic gold: ”April Grove” by the one-album-only band Chrysalis. They were students at Cornell and their main song writer James Spider Barbour was a member of Zappa’s circle. He can be heard on the latter’s album We’re Only In It For The Money drawling “The way I see it, Barry, this should be a very dynamite show”. And he’s a biologist. So here’s a song of his about insects, sung in inimitable beautiful style by Nancy Nairn.

Young Autists Next Door

My house is near an LSS housing unit. Lagen om stöd och service till vissa funktionshindrade, “The Law of Support and Service for Certain Disabled People”, mainly caters to the needs of people with autism and the like. In 6½ years on Boat Hill, the young people living there have never caused us any trouble at all.

But I still cringe a little when I recall my phone conversation with the man who runs the municipality’s LSS housing units. I called him because I was curious about who the young folks living next door are, what diagnoses they have etc. I made it very clear that I was not afraid of them, I was not hostile to them and I had experienced no trouble with them whatsoever. I just wanted to learn about them, and I didn’t feel it appropriate to ask the kids themselves. “Oi, woss wrong with you then?”

This guy immediately went on the defensive and clearly assumed that I was trouble. He explained what the law does, but refused to say anything specific about what sort of disorders will get you an LSS apartment in my municipality. He retreated into surly monosyllables.

But our conversation ended well after I told him I like prog rock and recognised his name. He’s the bass player of one of Stockholm’s longest-active 70s prog bands.

In My Earbuds Lately

Country Funk -- Country Funk (1970)

Country Funk — Country Funk (1970)

Here are some good albums that I’ve been listening to lately.

  • Country Funk — Country Funk (1970). Not country and not funk: folk psych.
  • GOAT — Commune (2014). Eclectic psychedelia with screamy female vocals and bongos!
  • Opeth — Pale Communion (2014). When black metal ages into virtuoso prog rock.
  • Pixies — Indie Cindy (2014). Eclectic alt-rock, does not look back.
  • Teenage Fanclub — Shadows (2010). Fannies doing what they do best.
  • Wooden Shjips — West (2011). Drony stony spacey.

In My Earbuds Lately

GOAT: the new groovy weirdness from Gothenburg

GOAT: the new groovy weirdness from Gothenburg

Here are some good albums that I’ve been listening to lately.

  • Dowling Poole – Bleak Strategies (2014). For all who miss the later Beatles and the Super Furry Animals.
  • GOAT – World Music (2012). Eclectic psychedelia with screamy female vocals and bongos!
  • GOAT – Commune (2014). Again!
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Inner Mounting Flame (1971). Proggy jazz fusion with violin and odd time signatures.
  • Nashville Pussy – Say Something Nasty (2002). AC/DC rock with dirty funny lyrics.
  • Soundtrack of our Lives – Behind the Music (2001). Classic rock updated.
  • Starlight Mints – Change Remains (2009). Intricate queasy-sounding psychedelic studio pop.
  • Voodoo Trombone Quartet — The Voodoo Trombone Quartet (2005). Brassy loungy ska funk.
  • Voodoo Trombone Quartet — The Voodoo Trombone Quartet… Again (2009). Again!

Arrival Songs

The English language has a rich tradition of songs celebrating the joys of orgasm. Here are just a few examples.

  • Sumer Is Icumen In (anon., 13th century)
  • Come Again (John Dowland, 1597)
  • Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Charles Wesley, 1745)
  • Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing (Robert Robinson, 1757)
  • Come, Ye Disconsolate (Thomas Moore, 1816)
  • Oh Come, All Ye Faithful (English lyrics Frederick Oakley, 1841)
  • Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel (English lyrics Neale & Coffin mid-1800s)
  • Someday My Prince Will Come (from the 1937 animated Disney feature Snow White)
  • Come Dance With Me (sung by Frank Sinatra, 1959)
  • Come Together (John Lennon, 1969)
  • Here You Come Again (Dolly Parton, 1977)
  • Come Unto Him (Dan Carter, 1996)
  • Come Cover Me (Nightwish, 2000)
  • Don’t Know Why I Didn’t Come (Norah Jones, 2002)

The 1983 Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit ”Relax” must be seen as a reaction to this lyrical consensus, cautioning the listener to ”Relax, don’t do it, when you want to come”. It is perhaps no surprise that it was banned from radio play by the ever orgasm-friendly BBC.

Love’s Kind Of Crazy With A Spooky Little Boy/Girl Like You

The lyrics to Dusty Springfield’s 1970 song ”Spooky” are slightly odd. They have a woman describing her relationship with a fickle, unreliable, flirtatious man. ”Love’s kind of crazy with a spooky little boy like you”. She constantly finds him winking with his “little eye” at other women. “I get confused and I don’t know where I stand / But then you smile and hold my hand.” On the other hand, she won’t give him a straight answer when he tries to ask her out. For the time definitely, and largely to a 2014 audience as well I believe, the gender roles in the lyrics are confusing. This is because what Dusty recorded was a gender-flipped version of the original lyrics.

The tune to “Spooky” was written by Mike Sharpe and Harry Middlebrooks Jr. and released as an instrumental in 1967. Later that year it received lyrics by James Cobb and Buddy Buie and was put out by the Floridian rock quartet the Classics IV. In January 1968 Dusty Springfield recorded her version. The original lyrics are about a spooky little girl behaving exactly like she might be expected to in mid-60s pop lyrics. Also they have a verse that was omitted from Dusty’s version, clearly because it couldn’t be gender-flipped convincingly at the time:

Just like a ghost, you’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams
So I’ll propose… on Halloween

There’s one final wrinkle to this story that makes it even better. Dusty Springfield, being gay, would probably have preferred to record the original lyrics. Love, after all, is kind of crazy with a spooky little girl like you.

Album Review: Astrophobos, Remnants of Forgotten Horrors

Pär Svensson of Kurtz, himself a rock guitarist with unbelievably eclectic musical tastes, pops in with a guest entry.

Hello Cleveland!

Martin asked me to review the debut album of his brother’s death metal outfit (as he put it), citing general unfamiliarity with the genre as a reason. Arguably he’s also lacking somewhat in the objectivity department. Or, he hated the record and wanted someone else to bring the hatchet down. Maybe I’m a pawn being pushed in some family power struggle or blood feud. Give this job to Clemenza.

But I digress. At hand is Remnants of Forgotten Horrors by Stockholm black metal combo Astrophobos, who, consequently, do not play death metal. Whereas death metal is characterised mainly by low-pitched growls, bulldozers, blood, death, and war, black metal tends to be more of high-pitched screams, power drills, jackhammers, satanism, and, well, war. Mythology is another theme common to both genres, and Astrophobos draw heavily on H.P. Lovecraft’s literary universe, from their very band name, through the album title, right down to the lyrics. Browsing the booklet, I expected a good serving of madness, darkness, and lurking horrors, and was not disappointed.

Music-wise, we are dealing with mid- to fast-paced black metal, well-produced and technically proficient, still with a commendable lack of extraneous showings-off. Well-conceived arrangements lend a feeling of natural progression to the songs, as do the tempo changes, which keep the listener’s interest up. Catchy melodic riffing balances the harsh vocals, and gives the songs that hum-along quality you get with any good pop song, regardless of its distortion levels. While this definitely makes the music more accessible, it doesn’t really fall in line with the lyrical themes. Compared to fellow Lovecraftian band Portal, whose static death metal evokes claustrophobia, psychosis and horror, Astrophobos’s upbeat compositions appear more like a celebration of the vast majesty of the universe than an exposé of the unspeakable evil dormant in its deepest recesses. Given this, and accepting that the style is par for the course in black metal, I believe the songs would benefit from a more varied vocal approach, as the one-dimensional delivery rather restrains them.

Bottom line: competent straight-forward black metal, well-crafted songs with melodic qualities. Accessible enough to be recommended to genre neophytes, but harsh vocals will still put a lot of people off.

Highlights: The Dissection-esque “Soul Disruptor“, the Marduk-esque “Of Primal Mystery”, and the Astrophobos-esque “Celestial Calamity”.

Over and out.

Pre-order the CD here.