Genius on the Edge

I worry about of Montreal’s musical motor, pop genius Kevin Barnes. He first got records out in 1997-98, when he was an elegantly naivistic singer of sad love songs. Then he shot like a lysergic rocket straight into Pepperland with four beatlesque albums in 1999-2004. On his 2005 album he suddenly said goodbye to his old band members, returned to confessional mode and sang the praises of married life and parenthood in Norway of all places. And two other new themes appeared: 80s-style electronica and deep depression. That’s where he still is.

With his recent album, Skeletal Lamping, Barnes has turned into a open-heartedly suicidal incarnation of early Prince. Yes he is extremely lewd, yes he is psychedelic, yes he has a plastic synth sound, and dammit I’m afraid the man’s gonna kill himself. I mean, look at this:

“… the hope of another wet nightmare is all we have to live for …”

“Why am I so damaged girl
Why am I such poisoned goods
I don’t know how long I can hold on
If it’s gonna be like this forever

Why am I so damaged
Why am I so troubled girl
I don’t know how long I can hold on
If it’s gonna be like this forever”

“Don’t be afraid lille ven of violence
I’m only poisoning you, not gonna stab you.
Don’t be afraid lille ven of my troubled mind
I’m just poisoning you a little
With my gloom”

There’s some early Bowie and late Lennon in the mix too, and everything’s overlaid with Barnes’s inimitable multitracked vocal harmony. The sunny Brian Wilson influences and Pepperisms are no more. And there’s no getting around it: we’re dealing with a severely depressed musician who somehow manages to release one brilliant album a year and go on tour regularly.

Barnes and his new (-ish) band are playing in Stockholm on Monday, and I’ll be there. He has recorded his latest few albums alone at home, producing reams of highly intricate studio pop. I look forward to hearing live versions of the songs! And I really hope it won’t turn out to be Last Chance To See.

Check out Rolling Stone’s recent interview with Kevin Barnes.

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Astronomy Nerds In Love

Two of my favourite song writers have revealed themselves as astronomy nerds in love songs.

Frank Black in “Sir Rockaby” (1994):

How many stars girl
Can you both count
And then classify?
I’m standing here in this big swirl
Singing this lullaby

Robert Schneider of the Apples in Stereo in “7 Stars” (2007):

Seven stars in the sky
You’re feeling sociable
Silver stars in your eyes
You feel emotional
And you don’t even know my name
And I know every constellation

Search Term Poetry

Extreme Tracking keeps a list of the most popular search terms that direct readers to this blog. Read in order from the most popular one down, they form the following quatrains.

Aardvarchaeology nudity the Martin Rundkvist
Chinese lyrics, molluscum and incest
Sweden archaeology Blidmo Roger
Lamprey contagiosum — what pop, Swedish emo

Nude scintillating scotoma metal
Old humans are naked girls
For child circumcision blog review
Viking Scandinavian Mucha Medieval

Notice Board Screed

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For decades, Stockholm has been the turf of photocopy artist Renate Bauer. She paints too, but her main mode of expression is hand-written prose-poetic screeds covering every square centimeter of the paper. These she photocopies and fixes with sticky tape to notice boards, bus stops and other convenient surfaces all around the Swedish capital, as a kind of analog local blog. I pocketed an entry dated Friday near the NW corner of the Humlegården park yesterday. Here are two excerpts, translated by yours truly.

“26/9 ’08. You can really tell that the Minister of Culture in Sweden is a talent-challenged untalented person, a Narnia witch incompetent blind in the head genetically congenital unschooled insensitive. Yes, you know she ran around in galleries with her old man Ulf Adelssohn has run around like that been in like that places and probably also abroad at museums and certainly at the Munch museum in Oslo the bitch the freak judging from senses gene-doubled talented over-talented well-made in the head DNA unit of measurement measuring-rod viewed.”

“I hate the ill-defined not getting things into order and be grumpy puzzled about what the fuck that was. About myself and irritated that I said artist for real. About if somebody who isn’t really an artist but just a fence painter theatre-scenery painter for real. I got into order clarity what I had done and why and how. When Ingvar V.M. talks to me. At the place of a mutual acquaintance a hair dresser Marie L.A. in a hair salon my sister and I. Ingvar was the DNA I had seen and his name is Ingvar V.M. and not Jan H. Then I realised all of what I had seen and done. How and why I always say to mention artists by name for real and the pigs, so that others in their turn can go and check it out and see the DNA and make it out puzzle pieces biology machinery machine to make out nuances a bit like in a car computer hi-tech so and avoid getting fooled by the freaks witches trolls Jew Judas and avoid fooling themselves.”

600 Hidden Plastic Jars

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Logged my 600th geocache this bright May morning, took a picture of a treehouse ruin near the cache, then drove home listening to the Nashville Pussy. After lunch, me and the Rundkvist ladies took part in the annual street cleaning & planting day. I headed the cleaning of two sandboxes, cleared shrubbery that was engulfing one of the boxes and collected trash in the parking lot and front door bays. Unlike Blaine Cartwright, I am not lazy.

Lazy White Boy
By Blaine Cartwright of the Nashville Pussy

Got rhythm, just too cool to show it
Got a future, can’t wait to blow it
Sit around getting high all day
Don’t let work get in my way
Ain’t no doubt, my mama raised

A lazy white boy
A lazy white boy

Went broke growing tobacco
I’m a juiced-up hillbilly
Not some dried-up cracker
A bag of weed, a six-pack of Bud
I’m like a pig in my own mud
Hey there man, it’s in my blood

I’m a lazy white boy
Lazy white boy

If things don’t turn my way
I’ll sit and think of ways to make y’all pay
I’ll smack the world’s mouth
If I ever get off this couch

Got rhythm, just too cool to show it
Got a future, can’t wait to blow it
Sit around getting high all day
Don’t let work get in my way
Ain’t no doubt, my mama raised

A lazy white boy
A lazy white boy

Ain’t got the energy to even spit
Too tired to butter my own grits
Here’s a song for us who don’t do shit

I’m a lazy white boy
Lazy white boy

All Her Favourite Fruit

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Here’s a particularly fine song lyric from Californian 80s indie band Camper Van Beethoven, off of their 1989 disc Key Lime Pie. The song is a folky number in march time with violin, and David Lowery’s singing is exquisitely pained and raw. Following this, they released no new material until 2004.

All Her Favorite Fruit

By David Lowery

I drive alone, home from work
And I always think of her
Well late at night I call her
But I never say a word

And I can see her squeeze the phone
between her chin and shoulder
And I can almost smell her breath
faint with a sweet scent of decay

She serves him mashed potatoes
And she serves him peppered steak, with corn
Pulls her dress up over her head
Lets it fall to the floor

And does she ever whisper in his ear
all her favorite fruit?
And all the most exotic
places they are cultivated?

And I’d like to take her there,
rather than this train
And if I were a civil servant,
I’d have a place in the colonies

We’d play croquet behind white-washed walls
and drink our tea at four
Within interventions
distance of the embassy

The midday air grows thicker with the heat
And drifts towards the line of trees
Where negroes blink their eyes,
they sink into siesta

And we are rotting like a fruit
underneath a rusting roof
We dream our dreams
and sing our songs of love, fecundity

Of life and love
Of life and love
Of life and love

Update 25 April ’08: I really like the way he reverses “sweet with a faint scent” and gets “her breath, faint with a sweet scent of decay”.

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Kurt Cobain and the Umbilical Noose

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The past week I’ve twice heard Nirvana’s 1993 song “Heart Shaped Box” on the radio. I realised that its lyrics have a number of remarkably powerful lines. Kurt Cobain was a talented man. Here are the song’s two verses.

She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak
I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks
I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black

Meat-eating orchids forgive no one just yet
Cut myself on angel hair and baby’s breath
Broken hymen of your highness, I’m left black
Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back

On the cover of the band’s 1992 singles collection Incesticide is the above painting of Cobain’s, speaking chillingly of a broken mother-son relationship. The song lyrics reinforce my impression that the man had serious mother/women issues, and was well aware of them. “Heart Shaped Box” is on an album named In Utero

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Whose House Are You Haunting Tonight?

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An album I can really recommend is LA quartet OK Go‘s 2005 disc Oh No. It’s catchy, glammy rock with swagger and brains and decadence, recorded in Sweden and beautifully produced by Tore Johansson and the mighty Lindgård/Mopeds brothers. In addition to them kicking ass musically, the band’s lyrics (by Damian Kulash) are unusually poetic and literate. Dear Reader, I bring you the lyrics to the delicious “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet”, which are sung in a bedroom falsetto by the hugely talented Mr Kulash.

Oh Lately It’s So Quiet
By Damian Kulash of OK Go

Oh, lately it’s so quiet in this place
You’re not ’round every corner
Oh, lately it’s so quiet in this place
So darling if you’re not here haunting me
I’m wondering

Whose house are you haunting tonight?
Whose sheets you twist,
Whose face you kiss?
Whose house are you haunting tonight?

I don’t think much about you anymore
You’re not on every whisper
I don’t think much about you
But if you’re not lurking behind every curtain
I’m wondering

Whose house are you haunting tonight?
Whose name you hiss,
Who’s clenching fists?
Whose house are you haunting tonight?

Now whose house are you haunting tonight?
Who can’t resist,
Who’s crying,
“Whose house are you haunting tonight?”
Whose name you hiss,
Whose sheets you twist?
Whose house are you haunting tonight?

Update 12 December: I suddenly realised that this OK Go song is an obvious response, musically and lyrically, to the Cars’ 1984 hit “Drive”. “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?” OK Go cite the Cars as a major influence alongside the Pixies.

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Lucifer Over London

i-19aaa168a72796b846ffce341654bbde-current9308020312.jpgDear Reader, have you lately heard much merry folk rock with apocalyptic lyrics about the coming of the Antichrist over London?

My dear friend Asko is, among other things, a war gamer, a geocacher, an antiquarian amateur, a fiction writer and a musician. Hear him play the bass on releases by 90s stoner rock outfit Dear Mutant! (I have heard kickass stuff from the band’s final unreleased album sessions…) Asko recently recommended me a track by Current 93, a band I’d never heard of. Turns out it’s a huge body of recordings from the early 80s onward by occult Englishman David Tibet with various co-musicians. These people link the project to Nurse With Wound, Psychic TV etc.

The song Asko told me to start with is “Lucifer Over London”. I found a live recording from 1994, and as far as I can tell it wasn’t released in any studio version before that. A gothy distorted feedback-laden guitar first plays briefly with the intro to Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, then settles into a folky three-beats-to-the-bar groove, accented by a tambourine. And then David Tibet comes on, a wild-eyed seeker of cosmic truth, not without humorous distance to the dreamy lyrics, yet sounding dangerously prophetic and unhinged. “Current 93” is a concept out of Aleister “Evilest Guy” Crowley’s writings, and Tibet clearly half-believes in it all, Satanism, Christianity or both or none.

Allmusic lists 47 albums by this guy so far, generally giving them very high marks for quality and originality throughout. This is not a musician who bloomed early and then settled into complacency and increasing irrelevance: the reviews imply that he suffered a bit of a quality slump from about ’85 to ’95 (around the age of 30), releasing stellar stuff in great profusion before and after that period. And the excellent “Lucifer Over London” belongs to the slump! Looks well worth delving into, and deliciously underground.

The versions of the lyrics available on the web are much longer than the original and more or less corrupt. They indicate that a 2000 cover version by Greek death metallers Rotting Christ is more popular (or simply more easily available) than the original. I’ve put the lyrics below in line with the Current 93 track. (Isn’t it unbelievably metal for a death guitarist to be named Kostas Vassilakopoulos?)

Lucifer Over London
Lyrics by David Tibet

Twisted wings and clouds unfold
And the great taint of He who fell
Makes darkened shadows
Over pointed spires

Little children point and sing
Little children run and dance
Over there the setting sun
Over there the setting sun
Lucifer over London

Under that the silent stars
Under they the laughing world
Under that the silent skies
Balance sits

In western parts and piles spare spares
In his gabled room
Lucifer over London

All the little Christs I count
Laughing in the green green fields
Some of these angels have the face of Gods
Some of them the face of dogs
Lucifer over London

A golden seabird
Half dead with spray
Evil incense moons
The glint of dead fruits
The shining stars topple

And all this falls
Under his cloak
Lucifer over London

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High Standards in Swedish 70s Reggae

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Peps Persson is both one of Sweden’s heaviest blues men and the single most authoritative reggae artist the country’s produced. The sleeve of his 1975 hit album Hög standard parodies the sleeve from a likewise excellent ABBA album released earlier the same year. Yet the music is intricate studio-built stuff, far from the lo-fi live aesthetic popular with Swedish lefties at the time (who hated ABBA as a matter of political principle).

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The album is sung entirely in a broad Scanian dialect, including a charming cover of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up”. That song’s Scanian lyrics are cheerfully lewd and can’t have been entirely uncontroversial at the time: Styr den opp, min lilla älskling… Kom rör ihop en liten pepparkaka / Jag har en slickepinne som du kan få smaka, “Guide it in, little darling… Come on and mix me a gingerbread cake / I’ve got a lollipop and I might just let you have a taste”.

The title track is an ornate reggae tune with accordion and strings. The lyrics are typically pro-environment and anti-consumeristic, but more enigmatically also reveal a conspiracy theory about the foodstuff industry, livsmedelsmaffian.

Dear Reader, here’s a literal translation of the lyrics to “Hög standard“.

High Standard
By Peps Persson

High standard
What the fuck is a high standard?

Do you trust the myth about the wealthy West?
Are you feeling safe and satisfied, my friend?
Or is doubt gnawing at you like a bad tooth?
Are you feeling tricked somehow?

High standard
What the fuck is a high standard?

What good is your house and car
When what you’re eating and drinking
Is making you feel so sick
That you’d really just like to throw up?

High standard
What the fuck is a high standard?

You don’t need a colour TV
When your brain’s getting filled with PCB
And you’re slowly being poisoned in time with your breath

They’ve dropped starvation and sent it abroad
The foodstuff Mafia are having golden days
They’re stuffing us with every poison they can get their hands on
And make a fine living out of our swollen bellies

High standard
What the fuck is a high standard?

There’s nothing wrong with your appetite
But still you’re feeling like shit
But you keep on chewing and swallow your dose

High standard
What the fuck is a high standard?

Is it connoisseur fois-gras
Created just for you?
To make your chromosomes multiply

Do you believe that happiness fits in a purse of gold
Or that it’s sold in a single-use package?
Do you believe the ads, that they’re gonna make you forever young?
Are you falling for their affluence bullshit?

High standard
What the fuck is a high standard?

Is it buying on credit and signing slavery contracts?
Or competition and chasing status?
Until you’re hunted and stressed out and lonely and scared?

High standard
What the fuck is a high standard?

You’re wasting your energy
Walking around thinking you’re free
Until one day you realise that you’ve been had
Ha ha, you’ve been had

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