Wednesday, July 18, 2007

If It Doesn’t Come Bursting Out of You

Max Tundra - Gondry

It’s been five years since Max Tundra last released an album, the truly remarkable ‘Mastered by Guy at the Exchange’ that surfaced on Domino back in 2002. Five years is a long time to wait for new material, but after watching a recent interview with Max Tundra’s handler Ben Jacobs, it all starts to fall into place. This five-year hiatus isn’t due to a sudden case of lazyitis, or a drug habit spiralling out of control. It isn’t even down to an elongated case of writer’s block. I recently found a video interview with Ben online, and in it he reveals that he has been trying to come up with something that hasn’t been done before. It is incredibly important to him that he makes music that sounds original. His reasoning is as follows –

"There is music everywhere that is very, very similar to music that already exists… making records and CD's from an environmental perspective, there's all this new plastic in the world, which is so wasteful. That's such a responsibility, that you have to justify the existence of that product in the world. And if it's really similar to something that already exists then you're just messing the world up really, you're polluting it."

These are admirable sentiments, and if you listen to Ben’s previous recorded output, you’d have to agree that there isn’t really anyone else out there quite like him. A while back, when I was uploading his music onto iTunes, I was faced with the dilemma of what genre to log it under. I gave up in the end, and just created a new sub-genre - Tundrastyle. If you still don’t believe me, then listen to ‘Gondry’ from ‘M.B.G.A.T.E.’; a heartfelt plea to the filmmaker Michel Gondry to make a video for him, set to soulful techno with rambling, gorgeous analogue melodies.

When I was at college, I wrote a really bad poem, juxtaposing Sting’s selfless (ha) battle to save the world’s rainforests, against the evils of CD manufacture, detailing all the chemicals present in Compact Discs and the fact that they will never biodegrade, thus making Mr Sting a big, fat hypocrite. I was an opinionated sod back then (and a dreadful poet), but the point I was making wasn’t that far away from what Ben is suggesting in the video interview.

I don’t believe that for many current bands their art is essential to them. It sounds to me like many are just going through the motions, especially the dearth of sound-alike bands out there, who aren’t doing anything new with the gear available to them. I’m talking about Razorlight, the Fratellis, the Kooks, the View – the list is endless – bands that deal in derivative indie rock that doesn’t actually need to exist. To this list, you can add the Rolling Stones, who for some unfathomable reason continue to record and release albums in the mistaken belief that there is a need for new product from them. Their back catalogue may be packed with classics, and I’m sure people still enjoy watching them play the hits live, but can you really tell me even the most dedicated Stones fan would combust if there wasn’t a new album?

There’s a brilliant poem by Charles Bukowski that a friend turned me onto a while back. Entitled, ‘so you want to be a writer?’, the opening lines go:

“if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.”

This is how it should be. Don’t bother if it doesn’t come bursting out of you. Stop going through the motions. I’m talking to you, Paul McCartney. Earlier this year, my Dad was pondering buying the new Macca album, so I went online and grabbed a few songs from ‘Memory Almost Full’ to send him to see if he wanted to make the purchase, and I was thoroughly under whelmed. Considering most reviewers considered it a timely return to form, I found it a lacklustre effort, and hardly a worthy addition to the man’s considerable musical legacy. So why did he bother? Because it’s his job? That’s not good enough. If something you create won’t ever biodegrade and will eventually end up sitting in a landfill until the world explodes, make sure it needed to exist in the first place and wasn’t just a way of killing time.

Max Tundra - Coming Up

I shouldn’t really be picking on Macca, as there are artists far guiltier than he is, even if he did sign to Starbucks. No, I’m singling out Mr Thumbs Aloft because it brings me nicely back to Max Tundra, as I’m concluding by posting his cover version of ‘Coming Up’, from ‘McCartney II’, one of the few McCartney solo efforts worth a purchase. This bonkers slice of glitchy electro jazz pop makes Macca sound essential again. Imagine a world where rampant experimentalism was encouraged rather than marginalised. Uniqueness seems to be an underrated commodity these days. I hate that clichéd phrase, “…in an alternate universe, this would be Number One!”, but I do truly believe that if a few more people thought like Ben Jacobs, the musical landscape would be a much more interesting place.

Max Tundra's third album is due in Spring 2008.

Buy Max Tundra from Boomkat
Max Tundra website
Max Tundra at My Space
Max Tundra at Domino
Watch the video interview with Max Tundra that inspired this post at
Buy 'McCartney II' by Paul McCartney from Amazon
Read the full poem, 'so you want to be a writer?', by Charles Bukowski here

Public Image Limited - Theme

I’ve wanted to post ‘Theme’ by Public Image Limited for a while now, and what I’ve got to say about it follows on from the above post, especially the quote from the Bukowski poem. New bands take note – this is the sound of music bursting out of a band - nine minutes of raw, inventive, thrillingly vital music. Simon Reynolds described the album this was taken from (PiL’s 1978 debut, ‘Public Image’) as the pinnacle of what came after punk. He wasn’t wrong, and ‘Theme’, as the album’s opening track, set the tone. ‘Public Image’ was the sound of a band inventing something completely new. John Lydon described his voice as an ”instrument of torture” and it was; an abstract and frightening caterwauling. Lydon’s demented delivery was married to Keith Levene’s savagely jagged, phasing riffs, Jah Wobble’s fluid, thunderous dub bass, and Jim Walker’s vast, sledgehammer drums, to produce something properly cutting edge. So good in fact, that it was universally panned by the critics of the time! The legendary music writer Lester Bangs said of the album, “PiL’s first was just a big fuck you to all the people who bought the Pistols on sight and never heard a word…” and perhaps there is some truth in this. What a fuck you though!

Buy 'Public Image' by Public Image Limited from Amazon
Public Image Limited website
John Lydon website