Friday, 9 February 2018

LINER NOTES: THE STATE I AM IN [2009/10]





1.     In the Mirror – Field Music
2.     The State I am In – Belle and Sebastian
3.     Inimigo – Mercenarias
4.     Rock Europeu – Fellini
5.     Ilha Urbana - Muzak
6.     Sin in My Heart – Siouxsie and the Banshees
7.     Wax and Wane – Cocteau Twins
8.     Poptones – Public Image Ltd.
9.     Jack Kerouac – Gang 90
10.   Leave Me Alone – New Order
11.   Vitamin C – Can
12.   Antenna – Sonic Youth
13.   51st Anniversary – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
14.   Harvest Moon – Neil Young
15.   Effortlessly – Field Music
16.   Constellations – Darwin Deez
17.   Chemistry – Semisonic
18.   Intentions – The Whitest Boy Alive
19.   Ivy & Gold – Bombay Bicycle Club
20.   Many of Horror – Biffy Clyro
21.   Whitechapel – The Vaselines
22.   Down from Dover – Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra
23.   There’s a Ghost in My House – R. Dean Taylor


It was around this period that I came to realise that a spade was no longer called a spade but more likely referred to as a soil redistribution enabler. I knew this because I was now working as a freelance transcript writer/audio typist, which involved the production and delivery of customised transcripts, presentations and summary documents for a broad range of clients. I was assigned jobs at the Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Inland Revenue, Ofcom, what was then known as the Competition Commission, the Financial Times, Social Services, the Performing Rights Society (PRS), Stringfellows (staff disciplinary hearings), the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), at various banks (Deutsche Bank, Citibank, UBS, Credit Suisse, etc.) and private investment firms. It was fascinating work but badly paid and quite pressurised, although for someone adverse to stress I cope quite well when put under it. I could handle the short notice, the tight deadlines and meticulous nature of the business, but certain jobs – normally the financially orientated ones – brought me into contact with some real burks. You know, the sort who use the verb ‘disconnect’ as a noun to describe nothing more technical than a difference of opinion. More to the point, when you’re being paid by the minute to transcribe the unintelligible rantings of a banker who’s just been told they aren’t getting paid their yearly bonus – a dividend that would often amount to more than double my yearly salary – it can do things to your morale.
Some people see no harm in the ‘branding of language’, of jargon, discussing top-down strategies, taking helicopter views, of obfuscation. It saves them the trouble of having to construct sentences that actually mean anything, or communicate something approaching an actual idea. I doubt these are the sort of people who listen to Field Music. If that sounds tenuous then consider that Duffy won Best British Album of the Year at the 2009 Brit Awards, Florence and The Machine the same in 2010, Lily Allen was given an Ivor Novello Award, and Robbie Williams was honoured for his ‘outstanding contribution to music’.
I’m tempted to consider this to be one of the bleakest periods of my life, reflected in the title I gave the compilation, The State I Am In, which was supposed to be indicative of my predicament. At least I wasn’t stuck in an office, obliged to sit down for most of the day, having my lunch at a proscribed hour, whether I was hungry or not. Either I was taking notes and audio recordings on site or was at home writing them up. Or I was in limbo, on a train, a bus, even an airplane, where I took to reading books. It may have been because of this newfound enthusiasm for literature that putting together a compilation wasn’t a high priority in 2009. I didn’t have the money to spend on records anyway, and books were mostly borrowed. The odd focus-group relieved the pressure, but they were few and far between. Although only in my mid-thirties, I had become part of a different demographic whose opinions, apparently, are worth less than those aged between 25 and 34 years.


Richmond Hill looking bleak.

In the Mirror derives from Field Music’s third album, ostensibly known as Measure, released early in 2010. A slow burner, it begins with a portentous prelude played out on the guitar: then drums, piano, guitar again, this time playing a more ‘measured’ riff, followed by bass, vocals, harmonies. Was this the moment Field Music’s reviews began alluding to Steely Dan? It has something of that about it.
Push Barman to Open Old Wounds is a two-disc compilation by Belle and Sebastian that gathers together their early EPs and singles. As far as I’m concerned you can do away with disc two: the first four tracks are alright, but if that’s what you’re after you may as well buy the original EP, This Is Just a Modern Rock Song. As for The State I Am In, it’s taken from Belle and Sebastian’s first EP, Dog on Wheels, part of a trio released over the course of 2007. I had Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light but not Dog on Wheels, and so The State I Am In was absent from my collection. It’s a great tune and a reminder of a time when Belle and Sebastian stood outside of the mainstream.
I assume that my Cornish friend wanted his CD back. Why else would I have included Inimigo by Mercenarias, Rock Europeu by Fellini and Ilha Urbana by Muzak lined up in a row. The disc in question is of course The Sexual Life of the Savages, a compendium of São Paulo post-punk I’d borrowed a year earlier. These three tracks are distinct enough – Inimigo echoes The Slits, Rock Europeu brings to mind The Stranglers, while Ilha Urbana sounds like Magazine jamming with Joy Division – but obviously they’re all sung in Portuguese. I’ve tried to mitigate this disparity by following up with something in the same vein, but sung in English.
I think it was the girl who tenuously resembles Emily the Strange who played me Siouxsie and the Banshees – Happy House, Israel, Spellbound. I’m guessing she had The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees. It was one of those moments when you realise you quite like an artist without really knowing much about them or the names of their songs or whether there’s a particular record you’re supposed to own. I don’t know why I took a chance on the album Juju, but I’m glad I did. Sin in my Heart is the standout track. The tempo slowly increases throughout the duration the song, Siouxsie Sioux plays a simple guitar part, which is the tune’s signature, freeing up John McGeoch to add Adrian Belew-style licks over the top.
I wanted to revisit the Cocteau Twins’ record I’d flirted with in my youth, provided by the guy who’d go on to introduce me to Portishead. The album was Garlands, and the tracks that had taken my fancy back then were Wax and Wane, Blind Dumb Deaf and Shallow Then Halo. I suppose we have YouTube to thanks for all this retrospective knowledge. I certainly wasn’t going to buy a copy of Garlands to find out – not now, in my financially stretched state – and ended up downloading Wax and Wane after concluding that it was probably my favourite of the three tunes that were the favourite of the eight on the original record.
Post punk… it was something that I hadn’t really given much thought. Wasn’t it just another word for new wave? No, new wave was poppier and took itself less seriously. Blondie were new wave. The Ramones, Talking Heads, Devo were associated with new wave. In the UK, maybe Buzccocks and The Undertones. You could dance to new wave. You might be able to dance to post punk too, but there was something of the ‘black mass’ about it, a more earnest, avantgarde, and occasionally political, preoccupation. [Incidentally, I once transcribed an event for the PRS where Feargal Sharkey, formerly of The Undertones, was one of the speakers. Would you believe he opened his panegyric on copyright by quoting the first four lines of Teenage Kicks? To be fair, Feargal didn’t write the song, John O’Neill did, but who in attendance knew.]
I can’t remember where I first heard Poptones by Public Image Ltd. It took a while for Keith Levene’s repetitious groove and Jah Wobble’s undulating bass to persuade me that the song would be worth putting up with Lydon’s howl for, which might be why I don’t recall its origins; normally I’ve a good memory for such things. On listening more closely to the lyrics – again, more than likely by way of found footage on YouTube, possibly the Old Grey Whistle – I was quite taken aback.

Drive to the forest in a Japanese car,
The smell of rubber on country tar.
Hindsight done me no good,
Standing naked in this back of the woods.
The cassette played pop tones.

It’s a song about abduction and sexual assault, told from the perspective of the victim, inspired by a news' article Lydon had come across in a national newspaper. A girl was bundled into the back of a car and driven out to the woods, violated, and left for dead. All the while the perpetrators played the same tune over and over on the car's cassette player, providing a monotonous and surreal backdrop to the girl’s savage ordeal.
Jack Kerouac by Gang 90 is another track taken from The Sexual Life of the Savages, but not quite as punk as three that featured earlier – more like Talking Heads – so I pushed it back. I’m not sure how much I like this tune but I deemed it worthy back in 2010, and so it remains. Maybe I thought it worked as an introduction to New Order? Leave Me Alone is taken from their second album Power, Corruption & Lies and has little in common with the post punk of Joy Division. Again, no idea what inspired me to include this track, but I find Bernard Sumner’s guitar work to be evocative of Bobby Wratten’s with The Field Mice.


Sofia

A lot of this probably had to do with working in London. When I started this racket, the company who employed me would mostly sent me to places like Deutsche Bank in Liverpool Street or Citibank in Canary Wharf, to transcribe redundancy meetings and disciplinary investigations. Occasionally I might be assigned something a little more glamorous: a round table seminar at the Home Office, hosted by the then Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander; a Barclays’ AGM, chaired by Andrew Neil; a symposium at the Financial Times.
I used to like freelancing at the Competition Commission on Southampton Row in Holborn until some old boy gave me a telling off for being late back from lunch. The buffoon had read the clock wrong, and I received a panicked phone call from my employer asking where I’d got to – what a waste of a cup of coffee. Companies wishing to effect takeovers would plead their case to a panel of adjudicators, very often chaired by someone with the word ‘sir’ before his name. These guys would barely look me in the eye; as a transcriber, I must have been beneath them. I asked to be assigned work at the Health and Care Professions Council instead, where you could help yourself to sandwiches and the red-faced legal assessors were more than happy to talk with you, and would make eye contact whilst doing so.
But the Competition Commission was very well placed and if I felt I had the time I would make a detour through Covent Garden or Soho, maybe to browse through records I could ill afford, or to look for second hand clothes. This may be how I came across Vitamin C by Can, although I can’t be sure. Can had been on my radar for a while on account of the supposed influence on groups like Stereolab and The Fall. I couldn’t really see it. Perhaps I needed to listen to an album other than Ege Bamyasi, which I procured from the Richmond Library.
I don’t think this was how I came by Antenna by Sonic Youth – that was more likely by way of The Wilkinsons. I’ll concede to enjoying Sonic Youth’s more tuneful elements, and Antenna is no exception to this. The stuff that sounds like the free-form breakout in Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive I’m not so keen on.
51st Anniversary by Jimi Hendrix was certainly a London discovery – in one of the bookshops on Charing Cross Road (not Foyles, possibly Borders). 51st Anniversary was the B-side to Purple Haze and only appears on the CD re-issue of the album Are You Experienced as a bonus track. I’ve never owned any Jimi Hendrix, but during my first year at university the guy who used to room next to me played him all the time. 51st Anniversary possess a keener melody and groove than a lot of Hendrix’s work, freed from the psychedelic diversions that normally predominate.
Harvest Moon was almost certainly a Wilkinson intervention. We’d been on a camping trip to Wales, intent on walking up Pen Y Fan, and we shared a car (refer back to the introduction of Old Man by Neil Young whilst driving down to the New Forest in 2003). Harvest Moon, and the album of the same name, was recorded in 1992 as a kind of sequel to Neil Young’s Harvest recorded 20 years prior, to the extent that many of the same musicians appear on both and it was recorded on analogue devices to create the same sort of sound.


Pen Y Fan, Wales

One of things I really like about Field Music is that they don’t dress much different now to when I first saw them play live in October 2004. They obviously don’t give a flying one about the vagaries of fashion, which is the best way to be. I picture them cogitating on whose turn it is to wear a shirt. They don’t really do colour: navy blue, light blue, grey, olive drab, brown, khaki, black, white. A shirt may be accompanied by a suit jacket, a T-shirt with a cardigan. Press shots rarely reveal their feet, but they must surely wear shoes. Haircuts remain the same.
My job required a level of smartness. This didn’t bother me too much for I had enough shirts to be getting on with, wasn’t much into trainers anyway, and my hair was getting progressively shorter. On my days off, I’d walk to Richmond and look in Gap and Limited Offer for cheap clobber that could double up as work wear. ‘Limited Offer’ isn’t really called that: most people know it as Uniqlo. If you pay full price for anything in Gap or Uniqlo then you’re a mug. The French have laws against this sort of thing, but in the UK life is one perpetual sale, and because everyone loves a bargain we‘re constantly buying things we don’t need. The people who run the shops know this and budget accordingly. They know that light jacket isn’t worth £60, but if they pretend to us it is then we’ll snap it up it when they cut the price in half, sometimes after only a matter of weeks.
Despite the cynical marketing ploys and the mediocre merchandise, I did used to like gliding around the aisles of Limited Offer. I don’t so much now but the branch they had in Richmond felt quite industrial, like a low-rent version of Muji. They would also play good music. I’d listen carefully and try and identify what might be a song’s title, or a phrase distinctive enough that it might bear results if I typed it into a search engine proceeded with the word ‘lyrics’ – the same as if I heard a song playing in Beyond Retro in Soho or Borders on Charing Cross Road.
I have Uniqlo’s music policy to thank for Constellations by Darwin Deez and Intentions by The Whitest Boy Alive. They occupy the same ground, a buoyant sort of easy-listening indie with congenial vocals, conducive to shopping for rudimentary clothes in primary colours. I decided to separate these two tracks with Chemistry by Semisonic. Although it dates back to 2001, it makes the same sort of impression. It’s not my intention to make any of these songs sound ‘unhip’ by association. If anything, somebody at Uniqlo was doing a pretty good job.
It’s by no means improbable, but I did not discover either Ivy & Gold by Bombay Bicycle Club or Many of Horror by Biffy Clyro whilst shopping in Uniqlo or Gap. The more I think about, it was probably from the radio that I was drawing much of my inspiration – in the car on the way to and from shopping for victuals. My lady friend mocked me for liking Many of Horror – Biffy Clyro was what moody teenage boys listened too, she said. I knew nothing about them so couldn’t really say anything other than I thought it was good tune. I haven’t liked any song of theirs since but stand by Many of Horror.
Conversely, my lady friend quite liked Bombay Bicycle Club. I wasn’t aware of this at the time but it turned out that their latest material represented something of a departure. Their first album had been comprised of standard indie fare in the vein of, say, The Mystery Jets or Vampire Weekend. In 2010, they released Flaws, which appeared to be inspired by the burgeoning indie folk scene and groups like Fleet Foxes, Great Lake Swimmers, Beirut. Not that this would have made much difference to me either, because the flip side of all of that was Mumford & Sons, and I had no time for Mumford & Sons. And for the first 53 seconds, I didn’t have much time for Ivy & Gold. Then the chorus arrives, shifting abruptly, and only momentarily, from G to D minor. Normal service resumes and then there it is again, that brief shift to D minor, before the verse carries on as if nothing had ever happened.

The Vaselines were a Scottish alternative band, vaguely popular in the second half of the 1980s, much beloved by a certain Kurt Cobain. They had only ever released one album, but in 2010 they reformed and put out another. Guess what: I came across it in a record shop in central London, propped up on the counter behind a sign saying ‘Now Playing’. I Hate The 80s caught my ear, but I hung around long enough to hear Whitechapel, which is reminiscent of their song Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam, which Kurt Cobain performed in tribute for the album MTV Unplugged in New York. I think the chap who got me into Sarah Records might have been into The Vaselines. It would certainly be consistent with a lot of other things he listened to, like The Pastels and some of the bands signed to Sarah Records.
I doubt very much it was the same day, but I discovered Down from Dover playing in Beyond Retro in Soho whilst looking for checked shirts. It’s a Dolly Parton number, but the version playing was by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. The song tells the sad story of a girl that gets knocked up by a guy from Dover who promises to return for the birth of their child. He doesn’t, and the baby’s stillborn anyhow, almost as is if, ‘she knew she'd never have a father's arms to hold her.’ Lee Hazlewood’s baritone seems especially deep, and Sinatra’s voice trembles with emotion. It’s incredible.
Down from Dover featured on the 1972 album Nancy & Lee Again and allows me to reach further back in time to finish off with the Motown soul of There’s a Ghost in My House by R. Dean Taylor. I’d long known about this tune by way of The Fall. I have no idea why I chose now to incorporate it, but like many of these odds-and-sods, I downloaded it from iTunes.


Gulf of Thailand

The State I Am In works as a compilation, but I find it very difficult to connect it to anything that happened during the two years it derives from. This could be put down to a number of things. For one, I’d been living at my current residence for more than five years, which was by far the longest I’d spent in any one place since leaving my family home in 1993. As a consequence, this compendium must vie for association with the numerous other playlists that I’ve made whilst living in the same place.
Then there’s the fact that it was compiled over a two year period, in dribs and drabs, without any coherent strategy (although I do think it’s a perfectly coherent playlist). But then, so were many other of my compilations that manage more successfully to align themselves with certain memories, so why should this one be any different? The answer, I believe, lies in the manner by which I appropriated the material.
In 2009, my lady friend and I managed a trip to Athens. In early 2010, we ventured to Sofia (a very cheap holiday). Later that year, I secured future employment working for a small engineering firm in Brentford. It provided the time, and afforded me the money, to attend a friend's wedding in Thailand in August, before starting employment in October. It snowed heavily for the first time in years. My brother got married (the one who recorded Orbital for me, not the Beastie Boys). A Fullers' pub crawl, trip to Brighton, camping in Wales, the ‘12 Pubs of Christmas’. What does The State I Am In bring to mind? Bloody shopping.


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