Myxomatosis #14: Your Chariot Awaits

*Pokes head around corner*  Hello there!  It’s me, Laura: FAHH’s resident delinquent and all around hooky player!  I do feel quite self-conscious about being MIA from High Horse land for so much of the summer, but hopefully that will now change as the days are getting shorter and cooler and the weather is less conducive to lying on blankets in parks.

This car-themed mixtape is meant as a sort of sequel to my mixtape for summer road trips: said road trips generally don’t happen without them.  Of course, there’s also the freedom that cars represent that makes them such a frequent source of inspiration to artists of all kinds, not just songwriters.  They’re as much a symbol of American nationalism and capitalism as they are symbols of restless wanderlust the world over.  Seeing as how this is a mix by me, though, the songs here don’t focus on cars in their American, cross-country road trip and representation of freedom sense of the word.  Instead, they’re often potentially dangerous status symbols, symbolic of 20th century advances in technology, or metaphors for the loose, nomadic lifestyles favoured by countercultural heroes.  As much as the possession of a vehicle adds another level of staid reliability to mainstream living, cars can serve as little mobile homes, making touring and adventure possible for bands with very few resources to otherwise get out on the road.

Download Myxomatosis #14

Arcade Fire – Keep the Car Running

Associates – White Car in Germany

Beat Happening – Drive Car, Girl

Big Star – Big Black Car

Black Tambourine – Black Car

Buzzcocks – Fast Cars

Captain Beefheart – Dali’s Car

Dalis Car – Dalis Car

Desperate Bicycles – Cars

Eugene McGuinness – Japanese Cars

Gary Numan – Cars

Keith Levene – Very Fast Cars

Kenickie – In Your Car

L’Trimm – Cars That Go Boom

M83 – Car Chase Terror

Neon Neon – Dream Cars

Paul Weller – Fast Car, Slow Traffic

Queen – I’m in Love With My Car

The Cure – Mint Car

The Dirtbombs – Cosmic Cars

The Divine Comedy – Your Daddy’s Car

The Raveonettes – Breaking Into Cars

The Wave Pictures – Long Black Cars

UK Subs – I Live in a Car

Violent Femmes – Gimme the Car

 

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FAHH Dream Theatre Episode 1: David Bowie in the Library with a Cookie

From a High Horse Dream Theatre

I’ve had quite a few strange dreams involving famous musicians, with or without consuming cheese before bedtime. I’ve decided to start documenting them in comic strip format.

If I’m Dreaming My Life – David Bowie

The Last Thing You Should Do (featuring Robert Smith and performed live at Bowie’s 50th birthday) – David Bowie

Dream StaticDavid Bowie Panel 2David Bowie Panel 3David Bowie Panel 4David Bowie Panel 5David Bowie Panel 6David Bowie Panel 7David Bowie Panel 8David Bowie Panel 9David Bowie Panel 10Daivd Bowie Panel 11David Bowie Panel 12David Bowie Panel 13David Bowie Panel 14David Bowie Panel 15David Bowie Panel 16Colour Bars

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Myxomatosis #13: Home of the Brash, Outrageous and Free

I’m not much of an Olympics spectator. As someone with an aversion to sport and to grand displays of nationhood, I’m not primed to be an audience for them. My parents enjoy them. They are also retired and might otherwise not know which day of the week it was. As Canadians, we tend to pay considerably more attention to the Winter Olympics, regarding it as a chance to alleviate our country’s inferiority complex for a few weeks. No one knows who our prime minister is, but we own hockey. Because this past summer’s Olympic Games were in London, I became marginally more interested. At the very least, I was getting to gaze longingly at shots of London cityscapes and busy streets during primetime television. The BBC also added more London-specific documentaries and “cultural Olympiad” programming to their schedule, including more than I ever needed to know about Shakespeare. Admittedly, I’m nerd enough to have enjoyed the documentary on London’s bridges.

Being the anglophile that I am, I took more than a passing interest in the controversy over Olympic construction in the East End, the mounting costs in the face of a double-dip recession, the kinks of the lottery ticket system, and the security debacle. And I was mildly curious about what Danny Boyle would come up with for the kick-off. I can’t remember if I have ever watched a full opening ceremony before, including that of my home country for the last Winter Olympics; however, this time I was actually sat at home during the live broadcast, which aired in the mid-afternoon where I live, because I was off my head on painkillers two days after my bottom wisdom teeth were extracted. I couldn’t be bothered to move, nor focus on anything more stimulating, so I had time to watch and then think drug-addled thoughts about national identity over the course of the three-hour global show.

To be fair, organizing the opening ceremony is an unenviable position; you have to take account of what the rest of world knows of your country, what you think the rest of the world knows of your country, and what people of your country know and/or believe of themselves. And somehow you have to make that into a spectacular, positive experience for all of them. Spectaculars don’t really tend to work in more than one dimension. Bearing that in mind, I think Boyle was pretty ambitious, and he did make some interesting choices, showcasing a film director’s sense of storytelling alongside the various facets of the English national myth, and to some degree, London mythology itself. The manic film presentation that raced from the arcane source of the Thames to the cheeky aerial view referencing East Enders was an apt introduction to the themes that followed. Through a series of vignettes, Boyle took in aspects of national identity, high and low, serious and ridiculous. You got choreographed entertainment that had a go at synthesizing an overwhelming amount of ideas about England: the island mentality confronted with immigration; the dichotomy of arcadia and industrialization; blitz-proof stoicism; the inexplicably resilient, nostalgic token that is the monarchy; the hardy pliability of the English language, made richer by The Bard; the significance of cultural exports, including England’s pop music legacy; and the swinging 60s, that urban utopia that just won’t die. Even the fairly weak attempt to include all countries of the realm via choir ensembles said something quite telling about margins and centres, and British identity and its fraught relationship with the power of the capital. I could have done without Mr. Bean (where’s Blackadder when you need him?), and the James Bond/Queen scenario, the latter evoking an awkward drama exercise with an octogenarian android. The reveal of Tim Berners-Lee from beneath that house was somehow even weirder.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and noted events of the opening ceremony was the celebration of the National Health Service, which featured a dancing number of actual NHS employees and hospital beds full of children. The conflation of children and the fantasy stories written for them with the socialist ideal of universal healthcare was actually quite savvy. With the army of Mary Poppins swooping in to save the children representing Great Ormond Street Hospital from the fantastical villains of English kiddie lit, I can’t help but see the satirizing of the conservative disdain for a “nanny state.” As other lefties have argued, this gesture isn’t actually going to produce a revolution on its own, but as a bit of subversion in front of a massive audience, it was at least as good as some political sentiment slipped into a pop chart hit. In equating the vulnerability intrinsic to the Victorian conception of “the child” with the more recent vulnerability of the NHS under the coalition government, Boyle made a connection that also seemed to echo even larger themes of English identity. The cultural invention of what childhood should be—Edenic, thus natural, innocent, and good—is a trope found throughout English culture since the threat of industrialization. It is manifest in the children’s literature, including the likes of The Wind in the Willows and Peter Pan, sometimes descending into downright barmy and creepy regression; it is present in the antiquarian fetish for collecting and recording the past; it runs all the way through the tradition of folk, pastoral, and psychedelic music and their outdoor festivals (read Rob Young’s beautifully researched Electric Eden for more information about this last point). As an ancient nation, England appears to rely on heritage both to relive past imagined glories and to stay forever young through rebirth, or more cynically, regeneration.

Turning to a truly younger nation like Canada, we don’t really have the same mentality of child-like arcadia. Perhaps because we still essentially live in the garden of vast wildernesses and seemingly endless space. That’s one of our own myths, mind. The ancient history that we truly have is often ignored because it wasn’t written down and because colonialism tried to destroy it at every turn. We don’t have a lot of broken down abbeys and castles; our ruins are in the people. The difficult, ongoing truth and reconciliation with First Nations peoples is already greatly misunderstood or ignored within our own country, so I suppose I shouldn’t find it surprising that other countries don’t have an inkling of the context. I find myself physically flinching when Stephen Fry off-handedly refers to aboriginal peoples as “Red Indians” on QI. Thankfully, the Vancouver Olympics opening ceremony did, at the very least, acknowledge the First Nations people of the region in a rather respectful way.

I think that the Vancouver Olympics had another particular challenge for their ceremonies because we tend to deny nation and patriotism most of the time. Canadians are hyper-conscious of multiple cultures and identities, an attitude grounded in the complicated, contested concept of multiculturalism; we are everything to everyone and thus a less straightforward spectacle. Between an obnoxious faith in hockey and a brainwashed necessity for Tim Hortons, we’ve developed some sort of innocuous, plastic patina of nationalism. In some ways, I feel safer knowing that. In other ways, it makes for the abysmal segment of the Vancouver closing ceremony that included giant Mounties, beavers, maple leaves, voyageurs, and hockey players. Then again, London’s closing ceremony was also a broader caricature than the opening one.

My own experience of London is still as very much an anglophilic outsider. Last summer I stayed in the capital for an entire week in addition to one day on the way back home, and I feel like I needed another fifty years, if only to feel completely nonchalant on the bus system. Unlike the previous six trips I took to London, I visited a bit longer, and tried to pack in as much as possible this time. Whilst I loved the Tate Britain, Tate Modern, and The British Museum (though the latter also made me feel mortified and uncomfortable to around that much cultural theft), unsurprisingly, I found some of the more valuable, fascinating moments to be outside of the tourist stops. Granted, Laura and I aren’t the type of tourists to zip in and out of cultural institutions to say we’ve seen them; we quite methodically take an entire day to explore any one gallery or museum. However, the flaneur in me got more out of wandering through Hackney, Highgate, Camden Town, Islington, and Vauxhall, most of which I’ve never had the time to get to before. I find myself missing details like the particular sound of the subway trains clacking over the tracks, indie disco nights, Gloucester Old Spot sausages, purchasing my weight in used vinyl at the Music Video Exchange, and marveling at the sheer chaos of the A to Z map book whilst getting repeatedly lost.

It’s that overwhelming unknowability of London that captures my imagination. There are just too many possible routes and too many secret places. I suppose these qualities are what make London a particularly peculiar psychogeographic space, spanning the mysterious occult vibes along the Hawksmoorian ley lines of Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, and Alan Moore, and the equally dark, but surreal urban wastes tread by Will Self and J.G. Ballard. The parochial past haunts even as it is transformed by dreams of sprawling cosmopolitanism.

There are particular songs referencing London that come to mind quite easily and quickly, some of which were used in the Olympic ceremonies: The Clash’s “London Calling,” The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset,” The Smiths’ “London,” Blur’s “London Loves,” The Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” and The Pogues’ “London Lullaby.” I chose to make a compilation for which I had to work a little harder. I hope it’s a little more nuanced than it might have been. Kind of like the London Olympics opening ceremony.

For more London-based songs, visit the comprehensive The London Nobody Sings. If you want slightly different kind of music, visit the London Sound Survey site. Lastly, for a previous mix about London, see my old blog. Of course, it was more of a mix about London-based bands rather than songs about the city specifically.

Download Myxotmatosis #13 here.

Euston Station – Betty and the Werewolves

London My Town – Anthony Adverse

Up to London – Phil Wilson

Holloway Aviator – Animals That Swim

Up the Junction – Squeeze

Harrow Road – Big Audio

Towers of London – XTC

London Bunker – Simon Bookish

Klub Londinium 20-30 – Sudden Sway

The Aspidistra House – Band of Holy Joy

Berwick Street – Loaded Knife

St. Paul’s Cathedral at Night – Trembling Blue Stars

All the Umbrellas in London – The Magnetic Fields

I Love Lambeth – The Monochrome Set

Love Letter to London – Luke Haines

London’s Brilliant Parade – Elvis Costello

Crossing Newbury Street – Roddy Frame

Trams of Old London – Robyn Hitchcock

Hymn to London – Bishi

London Belongs to Me – Saint Etienne

Emptily Through Holloway – The Clientele

Highgate Cemetery – Roy Harper

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Stepping Out of Timelines: The Melting Ice Caps’ Permissible Permutations Reviewed

The Melting Ice Caps - Permissible Permutations

I’ve been writing about David Shah’s post-Luxembourg project, The Melting Ice Caps, since 2008, and after a couple of reviews of singles/EPs, I have the opportunity to review a full debut album, Permissible Permutations, which released digitally via Corporate Records in June. The Melting Ice Caps fall somewhere between John Howard, The Divine Comedy, The Magnetic Fields, Morrissey, Noel Coward, and a more understated Scott Walker; Shah has a genteel, wry style that ruminates on London melancholia and epitomizes the intelligent, outsider observer. His emotive vocals are allowed a generous space, as the music never intrudes on the thoughtful lyrics, which are full of pathos and humour. In this particular collection of songs, there’s a fair bit more contentment and pay-off for romantic yearnings than in earlier material. Of course, even this complacency is complicated and tempered by an overactive mind and a stiff upper lip often set over an uncertain, quivering bottom lip. Shah crafts a musical and lyrical identity that is part careful pose and part bleeding vulnerability, the stance of those who are painfully aware of their own difference. This album is an articulate exploration of how we try to resist time and defy the randomness of our lives even if we have to bend over backwards to match perspectives to objectives. It is also an album about love.

The album begins with the titular track, which is a brief piano ballad with the forsaken quality of “Shipbuilding.” It sets up a manifesto of sorts, in which Shah delicately maneuvers through his upper register to eschew a life within acceptable parameters. The following track, “In Bloom,” is slightly more strident as it recounts a south London spring that defies rebirth and new beginnings by dwelling on loss and regret leftover from the summer before. With the addition of guitars, it reels a bit like a pub shanty but keeps it reined in for a statelier turn on the dance floor. The first chorus asks the question “how could a mind be quite so unlike the body in which it resides?” whilst the second chorus muses, “how could a moment be quite so unlike the life in which it resides?” Together, they are eloquent expressions of disappointment. Amidst the otherwise romantic connotations of the blossoming wisteria, the narrator’s mood is an exhausted, bittersweet one, which is beautifully rendered in the metaphor near the end of the song: “I’m the bicycle left on the end of the pavement at the end of a perfect day.” Shah returns to London spring for “A Week of Warmth,” providing a counterpoint to, or perhaps an alternate reality for, the self-deprecating circumstances of “In Bloom.” Shah’s fluttering vocals bask in the comfort of prosaic, domestic bliss, whether found in ivy cutting or gutter cleaning. Rather than a straightforward sentimental ballad, it sets up the sweet contentment as a solipsistic, knowingly ignorant fortress against the incendiary violence and dissatisfaction of the outside world; Shah half-heartedly chides himself: “Let the scope of my cares expand a little.” He wonders at his own happiness “while Britain is rashly burned.” I can’t help but hear the oscillated synth noises licking up the sides of the soft piano ripples and languid drums as a reference to the relatively recent unrest of English riots encroaching on a lovers’ refuge.

The fear of the fragility of a relationship that seemed to linger at the edges of “A Week of Warmth” reemerges in “Umbrellas,” a track which features droplets of piano and synthesizer, fingers falling on the keys in gentle hesitance. Between the airy cadences of Shah’s voice, the narrator worries his new-found love will blow away just as he has found it. “Umbrellas” is followed by the warm bath that is “Join the Dots,” which seems to continue the story into a brighter, golden tomorrow that is still tinged with self-doubt. Shah sings of his lover sleeping in his arms during a lovely idiosyncratic “Sunday afternoon, as Jarvis plays Doris Day, and a hundred grown men swoon.” You can feel the glowing relaxation in imagining Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service as a soundtrack to the rather heavenly mise-en-scène. The music also takes on a softly triumphant tone as Shah’s vocals rise and fall in harmonious breaths, delicately keeping the embers going. The plea for the amnesty of ambiguity is aptly put in the chorus’s lyrics: “love is here/where the lines fall/let the dots disappear.” The narrator pursues this dot metaphor to a delightful, heart-rushing build in the closing lines, “there’s nothing to see here/just photographic dots/but if you don’t stand too near/you might see a portrait/there’s nothing much to fear/just stories to be told/and if you don’t look too hard/then I don’t look too bad.” We leave this hovering, ephemeral moment as it dissolves into “Indian Summer,” another appeal for more time and a desperate desire to keep reality from intruding. A pervading buzz of synths envelop the piano line in an amber-like aura as the narrator hopes to preserve the moment and declares “we won’t be disturbed.” There’s a heady energy to this track, and as the narrator’s lover pulls back the curtain to let the outside in, the music becomes wobbly with bass and sharp cymbals, briefly destabilizing the cozy picture.

One of my favourite tracks is the bossa-nova-inflected “Keep Both Hands Behind the Cutting Edge.” A scenario of Tuesday morning shop class and particularly witty bullying unfolds against mechanistic, snare rim ticks and what sounds like a harpsichord. The brilliant chorus sweeps in on the swells of violin and twinkling glockenspiel:

Keep both hands behind the cutting edge
Nobody wants to see your fingertips detached from your piano fingers
Keep your hands gripped tightly on the ledge
Nobody wants to see you splattered on the pavement
At least not yet…

The depth implied by the details dancing across surfaces and insinuations is wonderfully droll. The seemingly backwards individual is even patronized in methods of suicide.

Another one of my favourite songs on this album is “Ghost Writer,” which is the closest to a dance track for The Melting Ice Caps. It begins with a light disco beat as played by a baroque Pet Shop Boys before bursting into a theatrical chorus that wittily offers a way to make more sense of one’s life, ultimately seeking to make more of one’s life. Purpose trumps cause as Shah sweetly croons, “We just need to turn it into a story/Teleology is oh so consoling/Give me three acts/I’ll give you how your life could be.” Mocking the tenuous power of progress through narrative, Shah craftily echoes the opening track’s alphabet analogy (“a-b-c/b-c-a/why/I have no real need to see a world that’s full of these permissible permutations”) by promising a way to order the meandering of life. He demonstrates how we can justify and elevate decisions and events by creatively connecting points “a” to “b.”

The topical song “Young Man in a Hurry” breaks somewhat from the inner commentary and romantic entanglement to cover the political soap opera unfolding in London around Julian Assange’s extradition. The music during the verses is quite dramatic and urgent, detailing Assange’s unique upbringing and his monumental trip-up. The chorus is more tender and melodic as Shah sings “You won’t say you’re sorry/you won’t show you’re scared.” The theme of time running out is carried into this track as well as the narrator compares himself to Assange: “When you break in/you leave things as you find them/but time won’t leave you as you are/When I break in/I leave things as I find them/the time won’t leave me as I am.” Two clever men who can’t outwit or stave off time in refuges-turned-prisons.

The dissolution of a relationship haunts the heartbreaking track “I Go All the Way.” It’s a wistful, yet stately song that seems to place a stoic face over tremble and failure whilst relating a cancelled romantic holiday. The music ducks, stumbles, and weaves the way people do when they force themselves through the unreality of a traumatic situation, shell-shocked and attempting to go through the motions without others’ detection. The crushed loneliness is conveyed so simply and poignantly in the heating of a ready-made meal. Then the bitterness darts out in the lyrics “take to the land/where a daytrip is planned/with no map and no one to please.” The song ends by wading through an undercurrent of brambly guitars, beating a hasty, stinging retreat. The final song on the record, “Medical Advice,” is set to a rather martial drum machine as the narrator finds the strength to fight back. Shah clips his lines in brusque, sarcastic apologies worthy of an angry exchange in a musical: “Sorry/ I’m truly sorry/if you wish that you had never even met me.” Then his vocals unfurl back into fluidity as he once again lets his guard down, leaving unanswered voice mail for an ex who treats him as pathology. In another refreshing analogical turn, Shah uses medicine and illness to critique the deterioration of a love affair. As a banjo plays the record out, it feels like the slightly manic unraveling of stitches in time.

Permissible Permutations is an achingly exquisite love letter to the self-pronounced undeserving, to those who are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Moving gracefully between intricate details and big pictures, it’s about the allure of self-constructed realities and self-fulfilling prophecies. I can’t help wondering if the album can be read as a group of possible permutations, a narrative to be arranged as you choose and read against the rigidity of expectations and cause and effect. There’s no rule saying you have to view this record as a move from love to loss. Conversely, there’s no guarantee that the golden afternoons and rainy trysts aren’t the past perfect moments of the previous Indian summer. All we have is an assemblage of moments. Points to be connected, vectors to move through rhythmically, arhythmically, or even algorithmically. And hanging on when it counts.

Buy Permissible Permutations at Corporate Records.

Ghost Writer – The Melting Ice Caps

Join the Dots – The Melting Ice Caps

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