Sunday, 17 April 2016

THE FIRST QUARTER: 2016'S TOP SONGS IN MID-APRIL

MUSIC MAKES THE WHEELS TURN
2016 has already been noted as a bit of a Shit Show, in terms of the many beloved musical geniuses who have upped and died. In that way, the year has posted a glum moratorium on joyful appreciation of its bounty. However, every wicked year yields great art and entertainment - the depths of WWII giving us Citizen Kane and Casablanca, for instance, as well as The Four Quartets. It is not obscene to note beauty, skill and accomplishment even amidst the rubble and collapse; it may even be important to do so - to dance during the Blitz. The human spirit needs its creative outlets to seek humanity in the inhumanity and the loss, which is legion.

Looked at this way, 2016 is a great year, for music, so far.  In an astonishing array, the year's releases so far include career bests from PJ Harvey, David Bowie, Kanye West, and noteworthy new songs from Turin Brakes, DIIV, The Pet Shop Boys, Weezer, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Primal Scream, Suede, Kylie, The Crookes, Tindersticks, Gwen Stefani, to name just a few that we played a lot of, and enjoyed. Even Kendrick Lamar's demos were a revelation a few weeks ago.

Given how years alternate appearances of artists (not everyone can drop a new record every year) we can still acknowledge that with 75% of the year still to come this is amazing. Wading through Eyewear's constantly shifting list of required listening, the earworms that keep on giving, we provide 16 songs that we can only assume will still be vital to our souls and hearts and minds at year's end:

1. David Bowie - 'Blackstar'
Had Bowie not died soon after release, this would still be a track of the year, but the uncanny timing and purposeful shaping of this near-posthumous artwork makes it of culturally-historic value, as well. At the centre of it all, then, is this canonical single, haunting, weird, and scary.

2. PJ Harvey - 'The Wheel'
PJ Harvey is now at near-Bowie status in our books. Artful, supremely questing, intelligent, morally indignant, and matching her vision with integrity of sound and purpose, her new protest album has about six songs as good as any ever written by a British musician. It is an astonishing LP, and this single, while tied with a few others in our affections, perfectly captures the intent of the whole: a collage of reporter's quotes and info-bytes, the contrast between the jaunty soul rock and the awful cruelty of the imagery establishes a rupture in our ability to comprehend the world picture being presented, and subverted.  The song drips with an irony as strong as that of Kubrick's - man is insane and murderous, but art can be moral.

3. Violent Femmes - 'Holy Ghost'
The Femmes were last at their disruptive, skittering, ramshackle, disruptive best about 30 years ago, which is why this fun, angry, spiritual anthem about loss of God and finding something else, maybe, in the search, smashes it.  Wonderful return.

4. Yeasayer - 'I Am Chemistry'
Not since OMD crafted a pop song out of the atomic destruction of Japanese cities has an indie band so cleverly fused toxicity with lyric charms. Singing as if Sarin and other nerve gasses and chemical weapons were the source of the song is bizarre, but somehow becomes deeply moving, and beautiful, as if Sir George Martin had stumbled across an anarchist's cookbook while high on LSD.

5. Paul Simon - 'Wristband'
No one needs another Simon song as catchy as 'You Can Call Me Al' and the odds one would appear at this stage of his career, clearly in gentle decline, is astonishing. So, here it is, as witty, political, light of feet, and upbeat as anything from Graceland - a late grace note from a genius.

6. Hannah Lou Clark - 'It's Your Love'
Who is she? Who cares? She has emerged with a driving pop song of such lo-fi cheek and quality, it soars above any playlist with thrumming excitement. Stage-fright, depression, angst, all defeated by, yes, love. Delightful epiphany of bubble-gum joy.

7. Kanye West - 'Ultralight Beam'
As ambitious as The Beatles and The Beach Boys, as much an artist as any of the Hip Hop giants have been, West is loved and hated as only leading figures in their art forms tend to be. This, his 'God dream' - is a weird soundscape becoming a call-and-response classic. The finest deconstructed gospel song ever written?

8. Animal Collective - 'FloriDada'
Capable of creating some of the most vital and sonically complex pop indie music of the new century, here the AC are, at the 100th anniversary of the Dada movement's Zurich inception, comically and zanily singing in quasi-vaudeville form of, yes, Florida, desire, life and art. As if The Marx Brothers had moved to Brooklyn to forge a new kind of musical comedy, this is thrillingly upbeat.  Pure ecstasy of inventive harmonies and nonsense.

9. All Saints - 'One Strike'
Who knew All Saints would one day sound classic? This machine-tooled resurrection of a style and POV about two decades from its first moment, arrives with such state-of-the-art expertise, it is marvellous to experience.  A pure pop hit of the first rank, with effective lyrics and gorgeous vocals. A palpable hit.

10. Rick Astley - 'Keep Singing'
Once a figure-of-fun meme, and before that an impossibly-gifted cute young man who in the late 80s was a world star for a few hits before suddenly retiring at 27, Astley is an icon the years had dusted over. Incredibly, he now returns, at 50, with a soaring Northern Soul style gospel song of such unabashed sentiment, it seems hard to swallow. This will either be a huge hit or a kitsch damp squib. Either way only a hard heart can ignore the power of this inspiring return.

11. Sia - 'Cheap Thrills'
The shy hit-maker has a chilling skill to establish instantly engaging dance moments, again and again. We could not resist, and were once again won over.  Thrilled, as always.

12. The Jezabels - 'Pleasure Drive'
The most clever song title ever? A song about the pleasure of pleasure, this usually-soaring-shimmer U2-meets-Simple Minds Oz-outfit headed by a woman with a voice as close to Karen O as law allows, have gone in a new direction, to shock just a bit, before retracting their nympho intent with the usual stadium high. It is still potent enticement.

13. M. Ward - 'Confession'
Droll, power pop Americana with a warped soul and a steadfast guitar does not have many finer progenitors than West Coast bard M. Ward - and here comes the man with his catchiest, cleverest song ever, sounding as if The Go-Betweens, Gene Pitney, and Lloyd Cole had merged in a sultry retro Twin Peaks episode never filmed; twang bam thank you, M.

14. Sunflower Bean - 'Easier Said'
Speaking of jangling guitars and indie nous, here comes highly-touted Sunflower Bean, with a song The Smiths could have killed for. Well, maybe not, but The Cranberries could probably sue. Great sunlit summer indie dream pop.

15. DMA's - 'Too Soon'
Talking of retro lawsuits, I am sure the Oasis brothers are lawyering up. This lad-sound so uncannily conjures the 90s of Britpop's heyday I half-expected T. Blair to appear contra D. Cameron at PM's Questions after hearing this time-warp bombastic number. Thing is, they are as good as Oasis, guys, and House of Love, the whole bunch of baggy wide-boys from 20 years ago. Half Mad-chester, half mad as a fox, they are surely the new group of the summer in the UK.

16. Postiljonen - 'Go!'
Imagine synth pop at its giddiest, imagine Madonna at her most upbeat, imagine dream pop at its most swooning, imagine a Nordic sheen to rival Robyn, imagine a song so up it is like injecting sugar while kissing Britney, and you have some idea of what this is like, complete with 'Purple Rain' noodlings - the quintessence of the 80s, the apogee of the retro-vibe currently sweeping the dance-floors. 'Remember our souls are burning too'.

So, the top 16 of 2016, so far.  But we loved more new tracks, from Savages, MOTHXR, Hinds, Mystery Jets, RAT BOY, Wild Belle, Wild Nothing, VANT, Eagulls, Matt Corby, Fat White Family, and love them still. Enjoy these - all on Spotify.
























Friday, 1 April 2016

EYEWEAR WILL BE GREAT AGAIN


OUR FOUNDER IS A VERY LIKEABLE AND SMART GUY WHO IS VERY RICH

Eyewear Publishing Ltd is excited TO ANNOUNCE that we love literary genius and  money-making potential, in authors. Not just in that order. Not just eyeglass-wearing panty-waist liberal progressive poet types from Chicago either.

WE DO BIG BOOKS FOR PEOPLE THAT LIKE SUCCESS. BOTTOM LINE.

We are ethical, ALSO. We do good in books, we are GOOD BOOK DOERS.

PLUS, we plan to MAKE BOOKS GREAT AGAIN IN 2016!

EVEN ON THE ROAD WE ARE CAPABLE OF MAKING DEALS THAT MAKE MONEY, FAST!
 
 We plan to roll out a money-making literary work of genius weekly this year and next, in MODEL T FORD fashion, and will sell millions of books, because we have read THE ART OF THE DEAL.

We are not bespectacled dummies. We are bespectacled smart people.

BOOKS ARE THE NEW GUNS. Everyone should carry one.
 
EYEWEAR WILL BE GREATER THAN LONDON SOON.

LOOK OUT WORLD, HERE EYEWEAR COMES!

EYEWEAR MAKES BIG SMART DEALS EVERYWHERE


Saturday, 26 March 2016

POEM BY TODD SWIFT, EASTER SATURDAY

MYSTERIUM PASCHALE

It happens like this
in writing, a man
is brought to a hill to be raised
to die in spring

so that God's will
be done. Never kill alone,
use Romans when you can,
and let care down by a kiss.

I am born in words
and reborn reading; when the ink
from the black well spills.
These trees here are torn

between bliss and dismay, it is confusing
how the world is making progress
even as it staggers back
on one bleakest Saturday;

a chasm opens like a speech
the monster of all creation makes
but that is a volcanic belch
instead; God is dead to live,

the twisting snakery of organised
deception at the tricked hinge
of Easter, where the magic
is love's risk of everything.

But fixed. Stacked. A house
that knows its odds. I never complain
that Christ rises on the Sunday,
it is good theatre and good news.

It is truce with warring nature;
why spar with Caesar forever?
The people who said no
become those who say yes, later.

The mob is just indifferent
ignorance; it gets confused,
as I say, when sung or spoken;
it is a story, not a truth.

It is Truth, happening all at once
and everywhere like a storm
so big it lifts a hemisphere.
I forgive those who hissed and nailed.

Our God was impaled, he suffered
so that God knows what we do
when we die.  We are the pain
he endured, unified in injustice.

You ask why discomforts must occur
to be experienced even by God?
A child without water, a desert hot
as coals and no wheat or river there:

the world was made in confusion,
this is certain, it is particularly
creative and dense, and packed
with motion and processions;

never reverses; flows, and alters,
as do minds, and souls. It occurs,
the world, as does a work of art;
it has, even, a sort of heart.

And so, this cannot be stopped,
as one stops a clock to change time.
That would not be freedom, only artifice;
we would be golden statues

in a pearl garden under a jade sky.
No movement and no chance to change
or learn. Dying here is what change
makes happen as its form.

The wind dices for the skein of things
that cannot be rent apart, whole;
Ice in the heart of the law
did not even thaw for Jesus.

We have one weather for our God,
one sky, one cruel domain,
it is the same, it is the one that saw
our tender Lord both fall and fly.

BY TODD SWIFT
EASTER SATURDAY, 2016

Thursday, 17 March 2016

POEM FOR ST PATRICK'S DAY BY COLIN DARDIS


Eyewear, the blog  is pleased to feature a new poem by Irish poet Colin Dardis, who appears in the Best New British and Irish Poets 2016 anthology. The poem was commissioned for, and broadcast on, Sky One's What's Up TV last month. This is quite the St Patrick's Day today, in terms of its echoes and shadows, as the controiversial (to some) centernary of the Easter Rising approaches.


I Have Looked For Inspiration

I have looked for inspiration
in all these streets:
some now forgotten by man,
only recalled by the dust and the dead;
others set on the possibility

of the here and the now.


I have looked for the unmarked grave
and stood at the memorials,
touched shoulders
with both the grieving and the fallen.
I have observed the minute’s silence
and cried out in celebration
when the guns were laid down.


I have walked the roads of Omagh,
of Kingsmill, Greysteel and Enniskillen,
tramped the dirt down in Belfast,
Derry, Londonderry, Maiden City,
and in everywhere, found a future
that longs to be free of its past.


I have looked to the faces of strangers
claiming one side of the road their own,
then shook hands with those brave enough
to cross over and defy a generation’s fear,
to age together and remove

the mote from each other’s eye,
free to weep and see again

in the new light of forgiveness.


I have seen my people be held back
by the talons of identity,
by labels of name and school and townland
that they could not control,
then be embraced by those

who dared not to care,
who only want to know the person
and not the percentage they fall within.
I have looked over the peace walls
and found the same families
in the same houses,
too busy surviving
to worry about who is on the other side.



I have seen wastelands reclaimed as skate parks,
a sunken ship raised up and made into a conqueror,
the slogans of hate painted over by artists
who only want to tell you how great it is
to be here and alive today.


We have been measured by kerbstone
and telegraph pole for too long now,
pinpoints in our great country of distance,
where a land can be void of landmark,
where there is uncaged air, open billows of peace,

where words may be sifted and stored
and history transformed

in the furnace of tolerance and compassion
to award the outsider

with a tale worth retelling.
 
 
copyright 2016 the author.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

M. WARD - BEST ALBUM OF 2016 SO FAR?


M. Ward is a Portland-based singer-songwriter - a description that will either worry you, or not. Eyewear, the blog thinks he may have just under-the-radar delivered one of the best albums of 2016, already. Ward is known to his fans, and has been making albums like this, more or less, for 15 years; this time, he is accompanied, as all reviews elsewhere also note, with subtle support from Neko Case, Peter Buck and k.d lang - and indeed the overall effect is a bit like a languorous twangy lang album, or the quietest R.E.M. LP ever.

With effortless charm and aplomb, More Rain manages to capture precisely what made albums by Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, The Blue Nile, and more recently Boy & Bear so impactful - the holy trinity of superb vocals with a hint of doo-wop, expertly deployed Americana melodies just shy of early Smiths (with some country echo-chamber), and whip-smart lyrics easily the equal of prime Elvis Costello.

With simple but effective production that balances a sense of authenticity with stylish panache, the 12 tracks (the opener is mostly rain sounds; there is a Beach Boys cover) establish a likeable, never-too-melancholy slow-paced mood that feels timeless, and could be set on replay for dreamy hours or days, rain or shine.

The standouts are early on: synthy 'Girl From Conejo Valley' and stunner 'Confession' - the first songs I have heard in the past few months that sound like they will be played (without irony) in university dorm rooms in 25 years, with a candle, red wine bottle half-killed, and some weed in the foreground. I love this. Go get it today.

Friday, 11 March 2016

SIR GEORGE MARTIN, AURAL GENIUS: THE MASTER'S CHOICE

THE IDEA OF THE STUDIO AS THE PRODUCER'S INSTRUMENT
50 years ago, in 1966, the most important person in the world of pop culture was 40-year-old, thin, patrician-looking smart-suited George Martin, the Abbey Road, then AIR, music producer who was the Beatles' main ally (the '5th Beatle' of lore) from 1962 to their end; and fifty years later, he still is.

For as The Guardian reports today, in interviews with various pop, alt, indie and rock producers, no one has ever come close to bettering what he first imagined, first achieved - not even the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson (who came close).  Nor were Martin's ideas lofty stale things - but the truly best of British - a working-class London East End* mesh and mash of comedy recordings, sentimental string arrangements, melody, harmony, and virtuosic (and stoic) professionalism - he was Sterling when it was Gold standard. As Stuart Price suggests, Martin took the idea of the studio as instrument and made perfection from it.

Martin's idea of perfection, and the studio as instrument, were in the air - pianist and eccentric genius Glenn Gould, for instance, conceived the same idea for radio and for Bach recordings; Sinatra's Tin Pan Alley arrangers like Nelson Riddle came close to the same notion; and Orson Welles actually did invent the idea of turning recording and radio broadcast and film studios into events - instruments of a group creative dynamic - mirrored in the mad zaniness of The Goons - which brings us full circle to Martin, who worked with them.

POSSIBLY THE MOST BRITISH PICTURE EVER - TEA AND THE BEATLES

Other media heroes might include Delia Derbyshire - curiously advances in radio and sound recording of the past half century have mostly been Anglo-Saxon and Commonwealth touchstones, likely because of the BBC, CBC, and NFB antecedents. We digress.  Welles, for all his greatness, did not invent the producer role to craft rock albums as works of seamless art (Wagner maybe had a hand in that Gesamtkunstwerk approach); and the others were theorists or twiddled knobs in relative obscurity.

Martin had the fortune and nous to meet, transform, guide, and completely redefine, the sound of the four greatest pop songwriter/ stars of the modern era, until the bitter end. Along the way he produced the best Bond themes ever ('Goldfinger' and 'To Live and Let Die'), and Peter Sellers albums - a triumvirate of dapper oddness which sums up the best of the British 60s - still resonant today.

It is impossible to listen to a current R & B, Pop, Rap or Rock track on the hit parade or Spotify and not notice its crafted, creatively produced nature.  Overproduced, arguably - but Martin was there first, leaner, though, as others have said before me - was there ever a quirkier, funnier, more ludic mainstream artist? Hard to think of many.

We recently lost David Bowie - whose very albums were impossible without the Martin catalogue - and we also recently lost Sir Ken Adams, who gave us the look of the filmic 60s, from Kubrick to Bond - but these titans of modern pop culture are not gone; they are pillars of what we have and do now.  Gratefully, yours.

* Martin was born into a working-class East End family, not the aristocracy, as is often assumed, because he looked like a Lord and had bearing; instead his parents were a carpenter and cleaning lady - and he always sought to build carefully and achieve a clean sound.