Obit: David Foster Wallace

Writer, novelist, teacher. 21 02 1962 – 12 09 2008

Contributing author: Adam Rivett

1. Writing/Ethics

Please bear in mind this is a delayed and indirect response to DFW’s dying; that I wanted to write something critical/writerly as opposed to the usual obit-minded gush and hyperbole; neither some sarcastically styled imitation by way of excessively footnoted ramble, nor a personal-reflective fan-letter with woodwinds and strings. Continue reading “Obit: David Foster Wallace”

Robert Wyatt ― Maryan

One of Robert’s great, subtle, riverine songs.

There is a special, resonant magic that happens when a song’s lyrics and melody mingle and merge. Take the gently meandering poetry of “Maryan” off the Shleep album. The lyrics unroll and bend with the melody like a river unrolling to its delta. There’s a tonal consistency to the song, a timelessness like a drone with downstream force ― addressing only its own flow (cue Wagner’s Rheingold prelude). It’s a beguilingly complex-as-simple song structure that comprises a long melodic verse, and some equally long instrumentals over basic but unexpected chord changes. There is no chorus, and then the verse is repeated ― the last word ‘Maryan’ stretching and rising in extended harmony. But it’s one of the longest verse-melodies in the business ― I think only Prince’s “7” comes close in duration ― and there too a distinct chorus is lacking, unnecessary. The lyrics and words pitch and bend to conform with the colourful melody just as the sound and vibe of the song remain harmonious with the natural setting.  Continue reading “Robert Wyatt ― Maryan”

Prince ― Diamonds and Pearls

I miss P so much… we all have to be a little extra funky now – to pick up the slack.

I can say, without equivocation or pimply hyperbole or puffed-up superlative, that “Diamonds and Pearls” is one of the greatest pop songs of all time. No question. It’s got it all: funky tight rhythms, catchy melodies, affecting and natural choruses, light but definitive hooks and the surest pop touch (the kind of pop mastery that Prince would barely shrug his shoulders at). Chintzy synth lines, call and response harmonies, soul-pop vibes and trademark Prince guitar licks. Add the supremely tight & varied changes ― indeed, about four times the amount of changes you’d expect in a regular hit, including a major key change and turnaround. And it never seems to waver for a second, every part interlocks and leads to the next, every drum fill & lick sits tight in the groove ― it’s perfectly crafted and flowing. It’s an ecstasy of tight song arrangement… with slick and layered production values and ferocious bottom and snare attack. I remember an interview with Michael B saying they nailed it in a single take in Japan or someplace; which, considering how long it’s taken me to get the bass part down, is testament to superior musicianship. Listen to the subtle bass-behind-the beats play from Sonny T at 1:20 (‘Which one of us is right…’) to about 1:40 ― supremely funky and deep in the pocket. The pompous key change to D# at 2:06 leads to tight funk at 2:24, repeating the opening bass riff. Sonny’s work is amazingly nuanced at every point; it’s not until you play along that his pacing and emphasis come out clearest. Compared to the rather straight-ahead “Cream”, “Diamonds and Pearls” has all the intricacy of a Swiss timepiece. Pure pop with deep grooves and soul stacked on top. Catchy as all hell. Saccharine and sincere. Bright and sassy with a silken trim: pure Prince.

What makes Elvis great?

Notes on the Big E with a focus on the 68 Comeback Special.

The question is heavily rhetorical ― to me it’s self-evident, redundant. But for my many colleagues past who’ve heard me warbling about Charlie Hodge and Cadillacs and blue Christmases, or who think he’s a kitsch joke in a gawky suit, I always like to run through a little pop-list of angles on the Big E.  Continue reading “What makes Elvis great?”

Beethoven — Symphony #9, 3rd movement

A genial plateau of near-religious, sublime music melding lightness with gravity. Sublime is the operative word ― I don’t generally go for Hegelian definitions of The Sublime, but if I was pressured to analogise the cool, abstracted air of Sublimity and had sufficient leeway of criteria, I’d tick the box marked Beethoven and lock in this Adagio (molto e cantabile). Continue reading “Beethoven — Symphony #9, 3rd movement”

Radiohead — In Rainbows

Wonderfully coherent, thoroughly of our time, strictly Radiohead and yet gilded with a strange and subtle beauty ― a really great album of non-pop at last.

This is an essay in two parts. I want to discuss the download issue separately from the musical content of the album, because in too many articles the latter is dismissed to focus on the former. If you don’t want to hear any more about online distribution, then flick straight to part II. Continue reading “Radiohead — In Rainbows”