The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, September 03, 2002
It's easier to tell your secrets to someone that you can't see...

...especially when you are not fully conscious. You have no time to put your thoughts into order so you have to speak your soul, have to articulate your heart. A late night/early morning conversation which I am likely to remember for the rest of my life. Three days ago I didn't want to live. I was staring my past life in the face. I felt alone, divorced from music, people, the world, life. And yet I walked back to life. Because I want to get in touch with life again. Because music has to touch you, whatever the artist's original intention, however it was displayed before a public audience; it has to penetrate you in a completely individual way which only you can understand. Is that tautology? Hang me, then. It's what I feel.

I worry when I imagine in my silly paranoia that people for whom I care and who care for me are slipping away - but of course they're not, they have to cope with their lives as best they can, too. My friends are the most important thing to me in my life. My friends keep me alive. And true friends will always find their highway back to me, and me to them.


posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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EARTHLING

I really have to remind you what a brilliant record Earthling’s sole (soul?) album, 1995’s Radar, is…even though, as with too many other records discussed in CoM, it is currently unavailable, doubtless cursed by the completely misplaced “trip hop also rans” banner, especially with Geoff Barrow guesting on “cuts” throughout. This music is radically spacious in a way which is not necessarily lacking today, but is merely better hidden.

Listening to the stately, submerged grind of track 1 “1st Transmission,” its introductory vibraphone tolling the Dies Placidae, I was reminded of nothing so much as “An Even Whiter Car,” the 16 rpm instrumental revisit of the Associates’ “White Car In Germany” from 1981 which more or less templated trip hop. Deliberately pedestrian beats, slowed down and gaining in depth, as though the pedestrian were walking in a dream with an anvil attached to its shins. “I know who I am, I’m not who you think I am” intones vocalist Mau in a Peter Lorre drone (echoes of Mongezi Feza’s “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me”) before launching into a typical freeform word association rap about identity. He’s Nat King Cole, Shostakovich drowning in a goldfish bowl, the ghost of the dog chasing Edie Brickell, McLaren (“indeed I killed sid”). Gosh gosh he’s Juliette Binoche. He is a visionary tethered to a banal world (“Jesus Christ Superstar driving around in an old yellow car”) and perhaps tired of the world (“driver take me to the other side”) but not enough to exit it (“I jumped off the balcony/landed on a bigger man”). He is simultaneously alone but has a girlfriend who’s “a simple schizophrenic/but we get along fine.” He bridges two cultures – “Michelangelo working on a totem pole.” The track eventually stutters to a halt (Nabucco’s anvil chorus?), Mau having giggled “It ain’t easy” – or is he crying?

The same vibraphone, now playing a lugubrious refrain, powers track 2 “Ananda’s Theme,” a context-drained reshaping of the pointless ambition of Ice-T’s “New Jack Hustler.” Here Mau simply “pretend(s) to be a misfit” and he’s “a plastic thief with no belief in what I steal.” Again the track strolls to a pregnant halt as if unsure where to go next, as if having reached a dead end, as if dreading beyond comprehension what it is about to give birth to.

Next it’s “Nefisa.” “Franz Fanon – yeah yeah I get it!” versus “prostitutes in Ilford Lane.” Mau has written books in 710 and 1969. “If you find ‘em you can burn ‘em/if you burn ‘em you can keep warm.” Geoff Barrow is very much in evidence on this track, but the performance uncannily anticipates Roots Manuva – that same nervy-meets-confident baritone voice, those wavering synth minor chords (which surely owed more than a little to MBV’s Loveless) charting precisely the vertiginous descent into despair which one can view from the top of Chingford Hill – the City a mere blue haze, the Lea reservoir its custom post; the wordplay which would not be unworthy of Basil Bunting (“Bearing in mind my mind’s Aquarian/Bearing in mind m y mind’s mine”). He has Panasonic headphones “but nothin’s on ‘em.”

“I Still Love Albert Einstein” is the nearest this album gets to Portishead-land. Inspired by a barely recognisable Athletico Spizz 80 (!) sample, the curves make this a real Jeanne Moreau of a backing track. Alas it is spoiled by the same dessicated sub-Gibbons vocal (here by someone called Moni) which has ruined so much otherwise visionary post-whatever music this last decade.

Following the brief Birtwistle-goes-Bollywood interlude of “Accident at Injured Strings,” there follows a prepared piano (melodic yet pointillistically distended – midway between John Cage and Keith Tippett) which takes us into “Soup or No Soup,” a reproachful Curtis Mayfield sample reproducing very quietly in the background. “Soup or no soup/Sing your own Hallelujah!” There’s a girl telling him “how real life could be” “spinning at 45.” He has “dived out the window/I couldn’t take no more.” This is bookended by the minute-long “God’s Interlude,” credited appropriately to “god.”

Then to the most extraordinary and visionary piece on the album, a trope which has as yet been unrepeated and not taken up – “Echo On My Mind.” Driven by the astonishing simultaneous dual vocals by one Segun (a performance matched only in “pop” by Marc Almond’s similar schizophrenic vocals on Soft Cell’s “Soul Inside”) and a completely unexpected bitonal brass chart, quite reminiscent of that used on Jan Garbarek’s Dis, but with Barrow’s near-demonic turntable screeching always threatening to mutate the music into Peter Maxwell Davies’ Songs For A Mad King (there is a periodic secondary – root - bass line which sounds like a tuba, though none is credited. Another Curtis Mayfield connection here – listen to late ‘60s Impressions tracks such as “We Must Be In Love” where the bass line actually is played by a tuba). Segun’s vocals sound like Johnny Mathis having been pressganged into appearing on Escalator Over The Hill – and indeed, after a pause, the track concludes with a mournful, unresolved brass lament which could have come straight out of Carla Bley’s “Slow Dance (Transductory Music).” To my knowledge, no one (except for Spring Heel Jack in a different context) has EVER followed up or developed this aesthetic strand.

“Infinite M.” is a relatively lighthearted canter – generally Mau reminds me of where somebody like Justin Warfield could have gone had he not decided that rickety prototype nu-metal was the place to be, or even that completely unacknowledged visionary dC Basehead had he kept it up. Though even this is subverted by a sad guitar sample (Bill Frisell?) – credit due to the hitherto unacknowledged other half of Earthling, T Saul, whose programming and arranging throughout are entirely creditable.

“You said it’s easier to tell your secrets to someone that you can’t see” Mau’s alter ego says to him halfway through. A brief Bontempi organ appears then rebounds into nothingness before merging into the album’s one concession to “social realism” “Planet of the Apes” (as in the female protagonist “only wants to watch Planet of the Apes” which one supposes is an advance from Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero”). “The name Ergo makes ‘er go crazy.” A story of someone leaving home and descending into prostitution, and perhaps over-literal, but the necessary anchor for the flights (imagined or otherwise) embarked upon elsewhere in the album (cf., again, “Stay Positive”). The sudden judder into a heartbeat-wrecking bassline at 4:11 articulates the horror which was only previously hinted at.

Moni returns for “By Means Of Beams.” Again the vocal performance is rather ruinous – lyrically this is a UFO romance which vaguely presages the Beta Band’s “Gone,” another song I find too painful to listen to at the present time for personal reasons. The mutated muted trumpet riff – Lorca’s horseman, again, resignedly approaching death in Corboda – would have been enough. But “will you be there in 100 years? Will you be there to tell me that you don’t care?” Couldn’t they have got Beth Gibbons, or even Kristin Hersh, to sing this?

“Freak Freak” is again another socially friendly, Fender Rhodes-driven romp: “Lee Perry-onically driven.” The Spider-Man theme song makes an appearance, only to be concluded by the warning “you can’t see the flies!” (King Lear? – “as flies are to wanton boys” etc. &c.). The groove eventually converges onto one note (the heartbeat on an ECG machine stopping?) and moves into the finale “I Could Just Die,” a return to the graveyard shift of the opening track, a dope-fuelled procession to the grave, a pretence of ecstasy which hides the real nihilism. A Johnny “Guitar” Watson sample tries to lend some humanity but this is denied. “I want to move my head/but I’m too relaxed to try.” At the advice “please control your daughter” the drum track doubles up and Barrow decorates Mau’s suicidal ideations with cumulo-curlicues of scratches. As life, and the album, end, this doesn’t have the shocking immediacy of the ending of Notorious BIG’s Ready To Die, though the crematorium organ takes us out of the front door, so that we don’t have to smell the burning flesh.


posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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