The Summer Never Ends: Volume Two, Part One: The Voice and Variations Thereof.
This article is the first in a trilogy that intends to briefly explore the relationship between the content and context of the voice and pop music. Looking at The Avalanches’ Since I Left You (2001), Night Ripper and Feed the Animals (2005/2008) by Girl Talk, and Luomo’s Vocalcity (2001), I wish to utilize both personal-subjective criticism and objective-analysis in order to examine how the manipulation of that which is one of the essences of humanity results in sublimely postmodern music.
It was the first week of 2002, I carefully placed my £25 Virgin Megastore vouchers in my mum’s handbag and headed up to Norwich. Having recently acquired a portable cassette player from the local Woolworths, and also having read the best-of 2001 issue of the NME, I thought it was high time to purchase some CDs, in order to tape them and thus have something to listen to on the bus to school. Summoning up my burgeoning indie-credibility, I picked up Is This It by The Strokes (largely because the NME raved about it to the point of combustion, but also because I’d heard and enjoyed ‘Last Nite’) and the aforementioned Avalanches record (on the strength of ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’). I vaguely remember buying Kevin Sampson’s novel Powder, which I think was about a fictional Britpop band, that afternoon too but my mum saw some swearing in it and threw it in her wardrobe, never to be seen again.
Since I Left You is, in effect, a condensation of fifty years of pop music, a history comprised of audibly visible highlights and forgotten snatches of glory. It’s an album that creates narratives within two wider narratives: that of popular music, that largely inclusive, catch-all genre, as a whole, and the narrative structure of SILY as an album. As a record made up entirely from samples, the listener is forced to question the validity of the sample as an art form, asked to contemplate the validity of re-contextualizing the work of another and positioning it as your own. The simple answer here is, yes, sampling can be done effectively and wonderfully and to suggest that it requires little skill is like saying hip hop is just talking over a drum machine or whatever. The thing that strikes this listener about SILY even now is the sense of cohesion that runs through it. After all, this is a record that takes slices from the likes of Madonna, Raekwon, Cerrone, Boney M, The Osmonds, Heatwave, Francoise Hardy, Daft Punk, Rose Royce and a few hundred other people, but never sounds obvious. Each sample is delicately interwoven, the musical-narrative never interrupted by mere show-boating or aural excess.
Having first heard the record nine years ago, at a time when the majority of my listening was informed by clandestine sessions with Steve Lamacq’s Evening Session under the duvet, or the stuttering-streaming of NME Radio on a 56k modem connection, it’s grown with me, revealed itself as my tastes have expanded. The moment I realized that the rambunctious ‘there’s an old ex-con that’s been away/now he’s back, here to stay!’ sample that punctuates the otherwise string led and sensitive ‘Close to You’ came from Kid Creole and the Coconuts’ ‘Stool Pigeon’ led me to literally punch the air in joy. SILY reworks and remodels old voices and sounds into a glorious sonic bowl of tropical punch, one with a limitless depth of flavour. And come on, look at the weather outside. You just know that as soon as those Spanish guitars curlicue their way into the intro of the title track, and that voice asks you to ‘take a seat, grab a drink…welcome to paradise’, you’ll be trapped within its beauty, unwilling to resist.
Next week: Girl Talk and postmodern aesthetics.