Tag Archives: talking heads

Best albums of 2008: TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

My other contribution to The Skinny‘s top ten albums of 2008. This made #3 in the collective poll.

The title of TV On The Radio’s third album offers a small insight into the kind of intellectual japes behind their creative process. Dear Science, (the comma is intended, punctuation fans) was the opening gambit of a letter written by guitarist Dave Sitek that he posted on the wall of his Brooklyn studio during recording. It demanded of science itself that it “fix all the things you’re talking about” or shut up. Although playful, it demonstrates the band’s artistic integrity: they may ply their trade on the creative side of the fence, but they’re still looking over to the other side expectantly.

But what of all this talk that TVotR have mellowed since Return to Cookie Mountain? Remnants of that album’s worldly frustration can still be heard on the incendiary Dancing Choose or in the existential numbness of Red Dress:

Hey jackboot, fuck your war / ‘Cause I’m fat and in love And no bombs are fallin’ on me for sure / But I’m scared to death that I’m livin’ a life not worth dyin’ for.”

For the most part Dear Science, loosens the coils of angst and sonic density the band once wound so tight; like Talking Heads before them, TVotR realise that funk stylings don’t necessarily entail dumb fun music. Crying finds Tunde Adebimpe trying on his best Prince falsetto, while Golden Age employs a catchy off-beat guitar hook. This new-found peppiness doesn’t always work – Stork And Owl and Shout Me Out are the only fillers – but this enormously talented quintet have still delivered on the daunting expectation they set themselves in 2006. Dear Indie Rock, you’ve got some catching up to do.

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Interview: Yeasayer’s Chris Keating on Beck, Barack Obama and the second album

Yeasayer, with Chris Keating far right

Yeasayer have been touring their debut album All Hour Cymbals relentlessly for the past year, so have Brooklyn’s finest experimentalists had time to even contemplate the follow-up? I tracked down singer Chris Keating to find out the latest for The Skinny.

It’s not long since you returned from your European tour. Did you enjoy that?

It was great!

You supported Beck recently too, good times?

It was definitely a dream come true. When I was 12 I really loved him, from the ages 12 to 18 I bought all his records.

Did you hang out much?

Yeah, we did actually. I wasn’t sure if we were gonna get to see him, or if he was gonna be a dick, but he was really nice, like extremely nice, a really cool guy to hang out with.

A bunch of us half drunken Skinny writers saw you at T in the Park, one of our highlights of the weekend. Did you enjoy playing the gig? People didn’t really come out in full force for that one did they?

It was probably just the competition in the line-up. That’s why I don’t really like going to those festivals. There’s too much going on.

So you prefer your own tours?

Definitely, I think everyone does. Maybe the headliner wouldn’t, but everyone else only gets to play for half an hour.

And you have another string of shows lined up?

Yeah, definitely. I’m not really sure about Europe because we’ve already played so many shows there. We’re looking to wind it down a little bit because we want to start working on some new stuff. [Yeasayer are ‘winding down’ with a 25-date tour of Australia, New Zealand and America from October to December]

Have you had any time to work on the first stages of the follow-up to All Hour Cymbals?

Absolutely. We’re fortunate that we recorded the entire first record by ourselves with very little outside help. We spent a couple of days in a studio where we mixed it but other than that we did everything ourselves. So every time I’m home I’m working on something, and I have a laptop that I take on the road. We have a lot of ideas.

How do you see it shaping up?

It’s gonna be a lot more realised than the last record.

Will it be a move forward? Your first record was already very ambitious, so do you think it will be hard to follow?

No, I don’t think so. I think it will give us a chance to push any tendencies we had on the first record even further. We’re a lot more comfortable now, sonically and as songwriters. On the last record I feel like we made a lot of mistakes, but I’m happy with the way it came out. There are a lot of different sounds we want to explore. We don’t want to remake that record, but we don’t want to start from scratch either.

Are you conscious of your niche fanbase, and would you like to open it out a bit more?

I would like to open up and appeal to as many people as possible, but at the same time I’m not willing to compromise in any way to do that. To reach more people I wouldn’t want to sign to a much larger label and compromise what we do. People who have supported us so far will like the next record better.

I read that you’re Cyndi Lauper fans, so you do have that pop sensibility…

Yeah I love Cyndi Lauper. I knew her records obviously, but we put it on one time on tour and we kept listening to it over and over again. It’s the way the songs are put together, and the textures of all the synthesizers and her voice. Money Changes Everything is an amazing song.

And as well as pop, the more credible music from that early 80s era is coming full circle again. Would you see yourselves as part of that?

I dunno, I find myself really enjoying a lot of that music, for nostalgia’s sake, and also I think it was a great era when people were really figuring out sequencers, when they were really figuring out the electronics behind rock bands. It was experimental in the 70s and then more realised in a pop way, and it’s really appealing music. And culturally I think music is cyclical, it goes through 15 or 20 year cycles, especially at this point, this confluating point. And bands today are referencing music from the past 40 years, from all of it.

And the internet has played a part in this?

That’s what we think. That’s the kinda postmodern idea. I’ve had to grapple with the music I’ve been exposed to, which is five generations of pop music, so I don’t really know where to start.

Are you familiar with the video for Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, with the dancing?

Oh the Toni Basil thing. Yeah I have seen that.

The reason I ask is that I saw your performance on the Jools Holland show and it reminded me of David Byrne in that video.

People have said that. Maybe it’s this awkward white guy style of dancing. I’m trying to picture David Byrne dancing. I imagine him being more stoic, but there’s maybe something to the wanky white man thing!

Someone else who has already finished his European tour is Barack Obama. As a band you’ve come out in support of him, right?

Yeah.

Do you think he can live up to all the hope that’s been placed upon his shoulders?

No, I don’t think he can. But at the same time, no-one could. He’s not going to completely turn around all the problems of this country, but as far as I’m concerned we’re standing at a complete zero point, getting rid of this corrupt, backward-thinking government. He’d be the ideal guy to come in and try to change that. At least we’ll get him in there and then I can be disappointed. I don’t actually agree with some of his politics, and I’m looking forward to him getting to a point where he can actually talk about issues.

In the run-up to the election will you do anything else to aid his cause?

We’re gonna do a voter registration thing on our US tour. It’s the most important election of the last 50 years, so I don’t have a problem with coming out in support of Obama, or more importantly, against McCain.

Songs like 2080 are projecting a future that’s gone beyond the reach of politics, like a rejection of what politics has inflicted on the world. Do you see yourselves as a political band?

I’m not sure, but I don’t know how someone could write about what they see around them and not reference politics. I’ve always been interested in politics, but I’m not in a band to be political, I’m not Black Flag. But at the same time, in this day and age, how can you not be affected by the issues around you? As an American, I have higher hopes of what an American Government could be, and what an American culture could be, and that’s reflected in the music. Sometimes. Sometimes I write songs about love and flowers!

And have you started writing songs for the next album?

Yeah, a little bit here and there. We have a lot of demos we need to work on. But, seriously, I think we’ll be working in winter – fall or winter.

For a spring release?

It really depends on what happens. We’re not really sure what label to put it out with. It might be more of a summer thing.

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Fujiya & Miyagi – Light Bulbs

Fujiya & Miyagi - Light Bulbs

Rating: 4/5

A gastronomic interest is introduced in the first seconds of Fujiya & Miyagi‘s third album, with David Best’s repetitive whisper of “vanilla, strawberry, knickerbockerglory”. Best later makes reference to “Stella Artois mixed with beefburger” in that distinctive hushed tone that recalls Massive Attack’s Daddy G. But delving into the lyrical meaning is pointless: this Brighton group use words purely for rhythmic effect. In fact, arguably every noise F&M make is for rhythmic effect, whether it’s the layered groove on ‘Rook to Queen’s Pawn Six’, to which Brian Eno would surely nod his baldie heid, or – since we’re in that ballpark – the updated Talking Heads afro-funk of ‘Sore Thumb’, complete with retro synth gurgles. 

The irrepressible heartbeat pumps on through the spidery riff on ‘Pterodactyls’, the motorik muscle of ‘Hundreds & Thousands’ and the breathy vocals on ‘Pussyfooting’, where Best eventually gives up on proper words, resorting to lots of taka-taka-uh’s. Judged against Transparent Things, the 2006 record that launched their career, Light Bulbs is no radical overhaul. But when the original model was so effective, it’s probably better that they’ve tightened their sound on Light Bulbs, rather than ripping out the wiring and heading for Homebase. 

Light Bulbs is out now on Full Time Hobby

Fujiya & Miyagi play Stereo, Glasgow on 27 Sep

(Album review for The Skinny)

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And the Bowie/Bing award for most unlikely collaboration goes to… David Byrne and Dizzee Rascal

Yep, that’s right. The silver-haired Talking Heads legend and the East London merchant of grime both – inexplicably – contribute vocals to ‘Toe Jam’, a single from Brighton Port Authority, Fatboy Slim’s new ‘secret’ alter-ego.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, there’s nakedness too:

Expect future contrubutions from Iggy Pop, Martha Wainwright and Jamie T.

Mr Zoe Ball clearly has some clout in the music biz.

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Liquid Liquid – Slip In And Out of Phenomenon

Liquid Liquid - Slip In And Out of Phenomenon

Rating: *****

Despite only releasing three EPs in their brief existence during the first years of the 1980s, the influence of New York’s Liquid Liquid has proven surprisingly pervasive with the passing of a quarter century. Google them and the most common piece of trivia you’ll find is that they supplied the music to one of the seminal tracks of early hip-hop. The story goes that when pioneering DJ Afrika Bambaataa played their song Cavern at the Roxy nightspot in Manhattan, a certain Grandmaster Flash was within earshot. Liking what he heard,  Flash got the Sugarhill band to re-record the now famous bassline for White Lines (Don’t Do It), one of the first socially conscious rap hits.

But, as befits their name, Liquid Liquid’s cultural legacy was far more fluid than a single donation to the early history of rap. Their deeply rhythmic, primordial funk style – coloured by their exposure to the latino and black conga buskers of the Bronx – seeped into the New York art-rock scene, at a time when Talking Heads, its most popular group, were embracing the tight beats and polyrhythms of black music. More recently, LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy has forged a percussion-heavy aesthetic that owes much to Liquid Liquid, and is most obviously heard in the shrieking vocals and cowbell clatter of other bands on the NY scene like The Rapture and !!!.

So it’s fitting that such an influential but largely forgotten group can now be fully appreciated in this retrospective release, which takes in the best of the EPs, seven live recordings and nine previously unreleased tracks. The album begins with Groupmegroup (imagine an African tribe beating their drumskins in a vaulted cathedral), which shows Liquid Liquid were as much at home in the barren sonic terrain of post-punk as they were in the vibrant jungle of funk. As self-regarded experimentalists, the band could certainly veer towards the abstruse, as on the plain weird Lub Dupe; but following track Bellhead finds them doing what they do best: instrumental funk that is somehow both energising and unnerving. Slip In and Out of Phenomenon really hits its stride halfway though, with the monolithic triad of Optimo (the latin groove from which the Scottish club takes its name), the aforementioned Cavern, and Scraper: a rumbling bass hook under marimba improv, interspersed with Sal Princiapato’s incantatory vocals – all set to maximally primal effect.

The album loses some of its inherent mojo in the grainy live recordings of the final third, but, to be fair, these are listed as bonus tracks. The meat of the album proper is itself a work of extraordinary creative and rhythmic force that far exceeds the tired predictability of most retro compendiums. This is certainly no dusty relic for the hyper-serious historiographer; it is music of the soul and of the body, and it sounds as urgently progressive and low-down dirty now as it must have done to the Flash all those years ago.

Slip In And Out of Phenomenon is out now on Domino Records.

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Classic album: Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues

Talking Heads pictured in the early Eighties

Twenty-five years have elaspsed since Speaking In Tongues gave Talking Heads their biggest commercial success, but the passage of time hasn’t diminished the influence or freshness of the New York band’s first post-Brian Eno record…

It’s 1981. Talking Heads have just released the wildly ambitious Remain In Light, but the band’s future is far from assured. How could they possibly follow such an album? Where next? Bassist Tina Weymouth said at the time: “We spent so many years trying to be original that we don’t know how to be original any more.”

So Talking Heads did what any highly creative band on the verge of splitting up should do: the quartet went on hiatus to distract themselves with side projects. David Byrne made The Catherine Wheel, a soundtrack for a ballet by his choreographer girlfriend Twyla Tharp. Weymouth and husband/drummer Chris Frantz cut their first album as Tom Tom Club, a pop-by-numbers moneyspinner. And guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison, not to be outdone, released his first solo album, The Red And the Black, which satisfied Jerry Harrison, if no-one else.

When they regrouped, the niggling jealousies within this famously dysfunctional band had not disappeared, but they had receded sufficiently. In his seminal Heads biography This Must Be the Place, David Bowman writes: “They still appeared more Addams family than Brady Bunch, but they no longer seemed to be embittered.” The new congenial atmosphere allowed them to make their fifth great album, Speaking in Tongues, released in late May, 1983.

For three reasons, Speaking in Tongues was a departure from the norm for Talking Heads. Firstly, all four core members had now proved they could work independently of the band. Secondly, it was the first album to benefit from the interracial ‘Expanded Heads’ group that appear in the Stop Making Sense concert film. Thirdly – and most importantly – it was Talking Heads’ first post-Brian Eno release.

Byrne and Eno - an affinity of music and clothesEno‘s influence on Talking Heads cannot be understated. Band and producer met in London in 1978 when the Heads were supporting the Ramones. Their instant bond was such that Eno would produce their next three albums and loom large over the most fertile phase of the band’s history. Famous for his musical non-ability, Eno described his input as “listening to what they were doing and picking out sounds and making new sounds from them… using delays to create new rhythms within their own.” In the following years Byrne and Eno were almost joined at the hip, hanging out among the Manhattan trendies, collaborating on the leftfield LP My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, even dressing alike; their relationship as fellow artists was intense, but platonic. But within the fragile power structure of Talking Heads, their exclusive cosiness inevitably caused tension. Note that Eno is just one letter from Ono.

The final insult for the other Heads was the biased credit on the sleeve of Remain in Light: ‘All songs written by David Byrne, Brian Eno and Talking Heads’. Byrne sensed that Eno’s ongoing influence would spell the end of the band that had taken him from a skinny young art student in Rhode Island to a skinny rich rock star in New York, and ended the relationship. Eno being Eno would say that it was he who lost interest in such conventional music makers.

Following the ‘Big Suit’ tour with the Expanded Heads, the band flew down to the Bahamas to start work on the as-yet-untitled Speaking in Tongues. But the exotic surroundings weren’t inspiration enough for Byrne, who would fly back to New York to pace around his SoHo loft with a tape recorder, mumbling lyrics to himself day and night – in short, speaking in tongues. Byrne was no Dylan: he didn’t do narrative – his lyrics were disembodied slogans and Dada-like verse. But this time, Bowman reports that “the words weren’t just random. David was actually saying something, it just wasn’t in a linear fashion.”

In fact Byrne was writing his best lyrics yet. On Burning Down the House, David Byrne, certified oddball, sings emphatically: ‘I’m an or-di-na-ry guy!’ On Making Flippy Floppy, he is almost political in the ever-topical line, ‘Our president’s crazy’. Perhaps the best lyric on the album is from This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody): ‘Love me till I’m dead’. The double entendre, in such a sweet song, is perfectly poised.

Musically, Speaking in Tongues takes the Heads’ love affair with funk to its orgasmic conclusion. The rhythms are complex, African, black. The relentless pulse of the music was boosted by the Expanded Heads, especially by the talents of Parliament keyboard legend Bernie Worrell and Wally Badarou, a classically trained funk maestro. That’s not to say the white Heads couldn’t do rhythm of course: Frantz’s drumming, Weymouth’s bass, and Harrison and Byrne’s guitars are all tighter than ever. 

Side one (in vinyl terms) is practically flawless: Burning Down the House, Making Flippy Floppy, Girlfriend is Better, Slippery People, I Get Wild/Wild Gravity. The beats are hypnotic, the synths dark, Byrne’s voice fizzing between paranoia and elation. Side two starts with the electro-blues of Swamp, where Byrne pulls off a convincing Delta growl, before – sadly – two filler tracks, Moon Rocks and Pull Up the Roots. The album ends on This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody), with everyone apart from Frantz playing instruments on which they’re not proficient. The result is aptly naïve but beautifully sincere.

With Speaking in Tongues, Talking Heads sold a million copies for the first time, most in the emerging Japanese format of pre-recorded cassette. The record industry was changing. MTV was dominant. The dollar-eyed Eighties were in full swing. Punk was dead. Post-punk was dead. Talking Heads, now one of the biggest bands in America, would spend three more albums trying to reclaim their former edge. As it turns 25, this landmark work of prog-funk genius is definitely due a reissue.

The album cover, clearly influenced by African artReleased: June 1983
Produced by: Talking Heads

01: ‘Burning Down the House’
02: ‘Making Flippy Floppy’
03: ‘Girlfriend is Better’
04: ‘Slippery People’
05: ‘I Get Wild/Wild Gravity’
06: ‘Swamp’
07: ‘Moon Rocks’
08: ‘Pull Up the Roots’
09: ‘This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)’

Musicians

David Byrne. Vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass, percussion.
Chris Frantz. Drums, backing vocals, synthesizer.
Jerry Harrison. Keyboards, guitar, backing vocals.
Tina Weymouth. Synthesizer and string bass, backing vocals, guitar.

Alex Weir. Guitar.
Wally Badarou. Synthesizer.
Raphael DeJesus. Percussion.
Steve Scales. Percussion.
David Van Tieghem. Percussion
Richard Landry. Saxophone.
Nona Hendryx. Backing vocals.
Dolette MacDonald. Backing vocals.
Bernie Worrell. Synthesizer.
Shankar. Violin.

1983: The Albums

‘Murmur’ REM
‘Synchronicity’ The Police
‘War’ U2
‘She’s So Unusual’ Cindi Lauper
‘Swordfishtrombones’ Tom Waits
‘Madonna’ Madonna

This feature appears in the current edition of Clash magazine

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