Où sont tes héros aux corps d’athlètes?

I’ve been listening to Air over the past few days…the band just popped into my head unbidden, and I’ve been searching for a good, laid-back soundtrack for my extended editing sessions lately, so it was a perfect fit.  Their debut Moon Safari was released on this day back in 1998 (which puts it right in the middle of my HMV years), but it’s so retro in its sound that you swear it came out in 1972 on some budget label and got played at K-Mart when you were a kid.  It of course ended up on heavy rotation during my writing sessions down in the basement.

In 2000 they released the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, based on the Jeffrey Eugenides book.  That too got heavy rotation for me, with its spooky, dark passages.  [Trivia: I didn’t know this until many years later that the singer for “Playground Love” is none other than the singer for Phoenix, going under the name Gordon Tracks.]  It kind of fit the mood I was in at the time as well, considering I’d just been shuffled out of the HMV job and wasn’t exactly sure where my next step was going to be.

They may have lost me a bit on album two (three?), 10,000 Hz Legend, but I think that’s because they’d chosen to update their sound a bit, bring the melodies forward a decade or two.  It took me a few years to get used to this one, and it’s got some great tracks on it, including a cameo vocal from Beck on “The Vagabond”.

Now the next album, Talkie Walkie, is probably my favorite of theirs, even over Moon Safari.  They hit their stride here, balancing their retro-synth sound perfectly with some lovely modern melodies.  They also provided an absolutely gorgeous track called “Alone in Kyoto” for Sofia Coppola’s next film Lost in Translation:

I’m still trying to get used to the next couple of albums (2007’s Pocket Symphony and 2009’s Love 2), most likely because my mind was elsewhere at the time, adjusting to our lives here in SF.  Eventually they’ll come to me.  Their most recent album, Le Voyage Dans la Lune from 2012, is fascinating in that it’s a soundtrack for Georges Méliès’ 1902 film of the same name.  And Nicolas Godin (the fair-haired one of the duo) just released a solo album of Bach-inspired songs called Contrepoint, which I’m hoping will eventually see release stateside sometime this year.

Fly-By: Slow music week

Yeah, as always, the first couple of weeks of the new year are always scant when it comes to new releases.  I’ve been busy doing a lot of book editing, so instead I’ve been listening to random things here and there.   Not much to report on, sadly.

However, I did notice that my birthday (next Friday) will contain releases by Chairlift, Savages, Shearwater, Steven Wilson, Suede, Tortoise and Tricky, so there may be a bit of mp3 purchasing and stream listening going on this coming week.

Hopefully I shall have more to report by then!

I should, however, share this absoutely darling three-piece that I found on NoiseTrade the other week called (appropriately) The Feels:

Until next time!


[Of course, I could comment on the passing of Lemmy and David Bowie.  I sort of knew about Motorhead, and that they appeared on a quite hilarious episode of The Young Ones singing “Ace of Spades”, and I have all kinds of fond memories watching David Bowie’s videos back in the day.  I was actually quite a passive fan, liking many of his singles but never quite getting around to buying the albums until 1997’s Earthling.  (For a while I also had a lingering dislike of Hunky Dory due to my freshman year roommate in college listening to it on endless repeat, much to my severe annoyance.)  Still, I definitely appreciate all that both men have given to the music field.  They will be sadly missed.]

Lush: Chorus

I’d been a fan of the 4AD label since probably 1986 when I first heard This Mortal Coil’s cover of Bill Ogan’s “I Want to Live” (from the Filigree and Shadow album) on WMUA one dark night.  I’d fallen in love with the dark moods the label’s bands evoked; not the dark of violence or depression, but the dark as in the absence of light.  To me, the sound of Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance always made the most sense to me at one in the morning, when the rest of the world was asleep.  Yes, even the stark punk crunch of Pixies in 1988 evoked darkness for me; their music sounded like a band that had just gotten into the studio at 2am after playing a blistering show and channeling that chaotic energy into the wee hours.

So when I first heard Lush in late 1989 via their first EP, Scar, and soon after with their follow-up EP Mad Love (both timed perfectly with my entry into college), I was completely taken in by how bright their music was.  The same amount of reverb was there, but it was all made of sparkling beads of light and autumn afternoon breezes.  The rainy excitement of “Scarlet” and the tripping evolution of “De-Luxe” were my entryway into the brighter realm of Britpop, at a time when the American alternative sound was veering into the metallic sludge of northwestern grunge.  When Lush released the stunning “Sweetness and Light” single in late 1990, I was completely hooked.  Its freeing energy and gorgeous simplicity created, to me, a perfect pop song.  To this day it’s extremely high on my list of absolute favorite songs.

Their first album proper, Spooky, came out just days after my 21st birthday, and I remember going to Tower with what little money I had at the time to buy it.  I didn’t embrace it right away, but that was more due to some personal issues I was having at the time than the music.  By that summer I had it on repeat on my Walkman, especially the single “Nothing Natural”.  I loved Steve Rippon’s off-kilter, questioning bass line, and especially loved the back end of the song where it completely drops away, leaving the rest of the song soaring for a good few moments before crashing back down for its final measures before finally fading out.

I equally loved Split, even though it felt like a much darker affair (again, I think this was more due to my personal mindset at the time), but after years of listening to Lush, it’s become my favorite album of theirs.  I feel it’s where they hit their peak musically, even despite the producing issues they had at the time.  It contains my other favorite song of theirs, “Desire Lines”.  It’s a slow, plodding song, but deliberately so (and an extremely courageous choice for a single), and it’s probably the first song where I finally grokked to the mathematics of song construction.  One can sense its novel-like format, coming in unobtrusive and steady, ebbing and flowing with increasing energy until it finally builds to its middle eight, hitting a shimmering climactic peak before dropping back down to the denouement.

Their next album, Lovelife from early 1996, was a bit of a leftfield surprise for me, as I hadn’t expected a more economic and poppier sound from them, but it was yet another album that got quite a bit of play for me, thanks to it being released just months before I started my job at HMV (I would often play this one and the Gala in the back room while prepping stock for the floor).  The track “Ladykillers” was on heavy rotation on WFNX at the time, so I’d hear it almost every day on the way to and from work.  And the goofy definitely-not-a-love song “Ciao!” — a brilliant duet with Miki Berenyi and Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, and probably the best British musical odd couple since Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl.

I would return to Lush’s catalogue over the years, especially during certain writing sessions for the trilogy where I needed some kind of music that was ambient and dreamlike but also upbeat (otherwise I’d have gone for my regular go-to of Global Communication’s 76:14).  Their Ciao! Best of Lush album came out in early 2001 and I’m pretty sure it was in my writing soundtrack bin well until 2003 or so.  And now they’ve just released a lovely box set called Chorus, of nearly everything they recorded (it’s currently quite hard to find, but you might want to check their official online store here, that’s where I got it).

I remember Lush being hard to pin down for a lot of alt.rock listeners in the 90s in the northeastern US…they were either too dreampoppy for grunge tastes, or they were too noisy for the fans of the classic chamberpop 4AD sound, but they seemed to fit right in with those other stunning (in sound and in volume) shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver and Ride.  It’s been years since they broke up in the late 90s, but thanks to reunions of bands like MBV and Ride, brilliant music documentaries like Beautiful Noise and Live Forever, as especially new noisepop bands like WarpaintTamaryn and Wolf Alice carrying the torch, Lush is now fondly remembered as one of the best bands of their time and highly influential.


Lush has recently reunited and are playing a few gigs in the UK soon; they may also be releasing an EP of new songs later this year.

Let’s Play This One for Laughs

As mentioned in my year-end overview, I was particularly enamored of the recent reissue of some early titles from The Comsat Angels.  I hadn’t listened to them in ages (I used to have a few of their albums on vinyl oh so long ago) and was surprised at how well they’ve held up.  Their first album, Waiting for a Miracle, was released in 1980, and it sounds fantastic.  At this point they’re kind of a cross between 154-era Wire, a bit of Unknown Pleasures Joy Division, with a pinch of Chameleons and Abecedarians thrown in.

The above song, “Home Is the Range”, which wasn’t on the first album (it’s on the reissue) but a pre-album EP, has been stuck in my head for the past week and a half, and I can’t seem to get it to leave.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  It’s a hell of a great track.