Well, someone had to mark his passing by posting this…
Moonshake have featured here before, with their first EP. Today, their last proper single.
I say “their”, but by the time “Cranes” came out in 1996, Moonshake were down to only one original member, David Callahan. Original co-leader Margaret Fiedler and bassist John Frennett had gone off to form Laika, taking producer and unofficial fifth Moonshaker Guy Fixsen with them. And drummer Mig Moreland had jumped ship to join original shoegazers Moose.
“Cranes” was the first and only single from the album Dirty & Divine, which pulled back from the jazzier stylings of previous post-Fiedler LP The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow. Actually, it pulled back from complex arrangements in general, sticking largely to percussion (live and sampled), bass, saxophone and of course Callahan’s vocals. It works surprisingly well.
B sides are another album track “Gambler’s Blues” and a mostly instrumental remix of “Cranes”, re-titled “Night Tripper 2”. There was a previous “Night Tripper” (it was on a bonus 7″ accompanying an Indie Top 20 compilation) but as far as I remember, it was an unrelated track.
Moonshake – Cranes (UK CD single, 1996)
A bunch of blogs on the blogroll to the right of this post (and down a bit) did a Coldplay theme yesterday, which has prompted me to (at last!) get around to writing something I’ve been toying with for ages.
I’ll get to the Coldplay link in a bit, but the first thing you need to know is that I’m a qualified Exercise To Music instructor, and back in the day I used to teach my own classes. When you’re picking music for exercise classes, you have a few options. If you’re a hack, you can buy not just the music but your whole class from a soulless international corporation like Les Mills® or Zumba®. Alternatively, you can buy pre-mixed, PRS-cleared compilations of workout music. There are masses of these compilations marketed specifically to exercise instructors. People who aren’t in the business would probably be surprised at what a huge market this is.
The third option is to pick your own music. MCPS’s introduction of the Pro Dub licence helped a lot here, as for a couple of quid a week you can make your own compilations for use in exercise classes. Unsurprisingly, this is the route I chose.
And my playlist was… eclectic. At one stage I was making a point of featuring music from as many different countries as I could. At the peak, I think I had eleven different countries represented in the space of about 13 songs, which is pretty impressive. I also tried to get different styles in. Some Mexican banda next to Kaiser Chiefs and Verdi‘s Anvil Chorus. Basically, I put together the sort of exercise class I would like to go. It was great. Well, it was great for me, anyway.
Using music professionally does entail a slightly different perspective to listening as a fan, though. There is an element of music having to be useful. There was no onus on me to use songs I didn’t enjoy, but I suppose I do enjoy a lot of these more than I otherwise would, because I had good routines to go with them.
So anyway, here are some classics from the classes…
Firstly, a really good song to open with, from electropopster Little Boots. Steady 120bpm, nice long intro to say hello and open the class, good clear sections of regular length. For listening pleasure, it doesn’t displace the Dimitri From Paris remix in my affections, but it’s perfect for the job.
“Headphones” would typically lead into this, raising the tempo a bit. I named one of my classes “Got To Move!” after this song, and having done that, I felt I had to include it. I found this on a compilation, and know nothing of the band. If anyone can provide any details, please do. For those wanting some movement pointers for this song, I have one word for you. Grapevine! Actually, I think this one suffers most from not having any choreography with it. If you’re not dancing, it’s probably a bit irritating. Sorry.
It’s been a few years since I taught these classes and I thought I would have forgotten the choreography, but actually it’s (almost) all coming back to me as I revisit the tracks. This retro V V Brown number was always a lot of fun and going through the dance now (though this office isn’t really big enough to do all the kicks in), I kind of wish I was still teaching. One thing that did annoy me a bit about this song was that I choreographed a routine which involved rotating 360 degrees during each verse, but there are three verses, so I ended up going clockwise twice and anticlockwise once, or vice versa, instead of the same number of times each way. Most people wouldn’t think about this, but it bothered me quite a bit, because when you’re teaching exercise, you should always do the same repetitions to each side. So yeah, I broke the rules a bit for this one.
Link: V V Brown – L.O.V.E.
Thalia is a huge star in Latin America, apparently she’s the Latin Madonna. Though I think of her more as the Mexican Kylie. I used a few of her songs, usually upbeat dancey ones, but this was a good slow one to give everyone a breather, and I gave it some simple choreography too, basically just walking to three points of a triangle and shaking your hips at each one. Man, that sounds awful, doesn’t it? It was a bit of a respite for everyone including me, though.
I nearly forgot the Coldplay connection, didn’t I? This cover of “Viva La Vida” by Swedish Idol alumnus Darin (Sweden’s equivalent of Will Young, essentially) is a solid mid-tempo track to which I set a bunch of standard old-school aerobics moves. And for anyone who thought the orchestration on Coldplay’s original was masking a weak song… well, there’s no orchestra here, and I think this completely different treatment supports my assertion that it’s simply a bloody good song.
Link: Darin – Viva La Vida
Back to the latin pop, and a song that is frankly bonkers, and which accordingly was blessed/cursed with an energetic and tricky combination of hand and feet movements. Also, from an aerobic dance perspective, the sections of this one are really in the wrong order, which always confused people, including me sometimes. It all adds to the fun, though.
And one more for today. As Earth, Wind and Fire nearly sang, do you remember / the two-hit career of September? She did the “Smalltown Boy”-sampling “Cry For You” and… that other one, whatever it was. It wasn’t this, which I don’t think was ever officially released in the UK. Oh how fickle the British marketplace is. Anyway, after beginning with Little Boots, I don’t suppose anyone ever noticed my subtle bookending of the aerobic dance section with two songs on the same theme. I thought that was quite clever. Key choreography pointer in this one… from 3.20 to the end, FREESTYLE! Oh man, I miss doing that stuff.
More tunes from my aerobics career some other time, probably…
The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu formed on 1 January 1987, and by 1990 they’d put out two albums under that name, had a number one hit as The Timelords, published a book about it, adopted the even more mysterious moniker The KLF, attempted a road movie, recorded and scrapped a Pet Shop Boys-inspired soundtrack album for said movie, released the minimalist original versions of what would, a remix or twelve later, become their global megahits “3 AM Eternal”, “What Time Is Love” and “Last Train To Trancentral”, and completely failed to meet Abba.
Two things had been clearly established. Firstly, at any given moment, there was no telling what they might do next. And secondly, whatever it was, it was going to be interesting.
At that particular point in time, what they did next was release Chill Out, an “ambient” album supposedly depicting a journey up the US Gulf coast, although apparently that concept was imposed on it after they’d recorded it. It’s rather lovely, and it’s definitely not dance music. It’s… well, chill out music.
Chill Out was supposedly divided into 14 tracks (tracklisting on Discogs), though it was conceived and originally released as a single continuous piece. I’m giving you the album split into the two vinyl sides:
The album has been a popular target for bedroom remixers over the years, and here are two. Firstly, this from someone calling himself Bovine Boy, who apparently didn’t use any of Chill Out itself, but instead tracked down the original samples and recombined them to make his own version…
And here’s a full track-by-track remix that did the rounds a few years ago. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know who did this, and I don’t have the track titles. I do remember the titles were twisted versions of the original titles, stuff like “I Once Heard Witchita Lineman Was A Song”. Also, it’s (1) a zip file, because my efforts at recombining the tracks into a continuous sequence didn’t work very well, and I thought it was a bit much to have to download 14 tracks individually, and (2) only in 128 kbps quality because that’s all I have. I normally prefer to share at 192 or above but this one still sounds OK. I suspect it was only ever shared in 128 in the first place.
Prolapse are a hard band to describe. According to Wikipedia, they played “a mixture of punk rock, krautrock and shoegazing styles”, which I suppose is as good a description as any. Certainly as good as any you’ll get from me. Although they would sometimes go off into an ambient instrumental, their main selling point was the interplay between vocalists “Scottish Mick” Derrick and Linda Steelyard. Singing at cross purposes, in fact often appearing to be performing two different songs, their double act gave Prolapse at their best a menacing intensity.
At times they could also be funny, as on this magnificent rant about how everything in the 1980s was crap. I don’t think it was, but Scottish Mick delivers his put downs with such brio that it would be rude to argue. And possibly inadvisable.
Also, for the third track on this CD, they cover Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, so, y’know, respect.
Prolapse – Deanshanger (CD single, 1998)
Deanshanger, incidentally, is a place. Printed in the tiny circle in the middle of the CD tray on the digipack it says, “it’s near Milton Keynes”. I don’t think it has much to do with the song, since very few of Prolapse’s titles ever did.
A little gem today from trumpet-enriched, chorus-shy poetic popsters Animals That Swim, a bit of a “critic’s band” much beloved of the music press back in the 90s, but who never really broke through. In fact, this was their biggest hit, and even this only reached #198. I don’t know how many copies you had to sell to reach number 198 back in 1995, but it can’t have been many. The irony is, technically a five-track EP should have been disqualified from the charts anyway…
This EP came out a little while after their debut LP Workshy, and features an un-sweary re-recording of one of the album’s best songs, “Pink Carnations”, alongside four new tracks. “Del Fresco” and “Kandy Kars” are two of Del Crabtree’s synth-and-trumpet instrumental interludes, and are basically filler, but the other songs “Harry Dean” and “New Boots” are absolute corkers.
Workshy was reissued recently, but with the single version of “Pink Carnations” replacing the original album version. I still prefer the album version, so I’m offering it as a bonus track here.
Link: Animals That Swim – Pink Carnations (single version)
Link: Animals That Swim – Kandy Kars
Link: Animals That Swim – New Boots
Link: Animals That Swim – Harry Dean
Link: Animals That Swim – Del Fresco
Link: Animals That Swim – Pink Carnations (album version) (bonus track)
Laurie Anderson has a bit of a reputation – one that she has not exactly discouraged – for making “difficult music”. And considering that her big hit, “O Superman”, was a menacing, eight-minute, mostly a cappella, allegory about US foreign policy, loosely based on an 1885 aria by Jules Massenet, and taken from an eight-hour stage show incorporating music, film and spoken-word musings on everything from the historical reasons for the location of Washington DC to the velocity of sperm… you can see how that reputation arose.
(As an aside, it’s weird to see how many people attribute “O Superman”‘s success to John Peel. OK, he was the first to play it, but when did John Peel ever make anything a hit? Other DJs picked it up and ran with it, that’s what made it a hit…)
However, on the whole, I reckon Anderson’s musical output is not really as difficult as some people, including Anderson herself, would have you believe. For instance, her debut album Big Science – the one including “O Superman” and commissioned off the back of its freak chart success – is distinctive… but it’s pretty accessible. If you like the direction Talking Heads were taking from Fear of Music onwards, then Big Science should hold no fear for you.
My pick-of-the-day is the album’s blackly humorous, Philip Glass-influenced opening song, “From The Air”. (Anderson and Glass go way back – they were friends and collaborators on the New York art scene before either of them became famous.) This particular track was never released as a single (there was a second single from Big Science, but it was an edited version of the title track), so I’ve assembled my own little single-type package for you instead, with a couple of tracks that could have been B-sides at the time. Brooding violin piece “Born, Never Asked” is one of Anderson’s better-known songs (some readers will know it from Spiritualized‘s cover version), and there’s a version on Big Science, but the recording here is from the music-and-poetry collaboration with William S Burroughs and John Giorno, You’re The Guy I Want to Share My Money With, which came out just before Big Science. The other track is from a 1977 collection New Music For Electronic and Recorded Media, an all-female compilation of experimental electronic compositions.
Er… hello. I had intended to post before this, but what with being quite depressed for lots of reasons, and then managing to forget not only my password for this blog, but also my username and the email account it’s attached to, it’s been a while. Heck, when I first thought of posting this, things weren’t even as bad as they are now. They were just really, really bad.
Still, as we wait for WW3 to kick off in earnest, here’s some laughably hollow optimism from 1987 and a photo of the perpetrator for us all to point at and say “what an idiot”. I think that if I’d realised Sterling Void habitually wore a shoebrush on his head, I might have cottoned on sooner to the fact that his pollyanna-ish pronouncements about the future of humanity were not to be trusted.
And here’s the more famous cover version, in its extended Trevor Horn remix form:
New Yorker Elinor Blake started her musical career in new wavers The Pussywillows in the late 80s and early 90s, but since moving to California in 1991 has mainly worked under the nom-de-disque of April March. I don’t know whether she’s still making music – her last album was in 2012 and her website went offline earlier this year – but she’s got an interesting catalogue behind her anyway, ranging from her early ye-ye revivalism (including an LP of anglophone Serge Gainsbourg adaptations) through excursions in garage rock and electronica to… well, this, a spot of seasonal chamber pop taken from a 1998 winter-themed mini-LP she made in collaboration with experimental rock band Los Cincos. Blake has perhaps been guilty of excessive kookiness at times, but I think this song is just charming…