Sleeve Talk (Redux)

As a sequel to last weeks post here’s another great Neville Brody sleeve from the early 1980s, this one featuring his own illustration. Good though it is, the record is even better and I would have bought it even if the sleeve had been covered in sick.

In case you didn’t know, Defunkt were an underground jazz-funk combo from NYC whom the NME once said were “to funk as the Sex Pistols were to rock”, and this extended version of “The Razor’s Edge” from 1982 is a sweaty, funktastic, nine-minute workout for your hips.

Download: The Razor’s Edge (12″ version) – Defunkt (mp3)


I Love Your Live Action

I was in two minds about going to see budding pop princess Charli XCX live at a tiny club in Boston on Saturday night. Not that I think there should be an age limit on enjoying modern pop music, but I did have a nagging doubt that maybe, maybe, someone of my advanced years shouldn’t really be at the concert of a 20-year-old member of the social media generation who makes videos that look like Instagrammed Tumblr blogs and sings lines like “You were old school, I was on the new shit” where “old school” probably means music made in the 1990s. Was I just being some ridiculous oldest swinger in town?

But I love her album so I went anyway and I’m very glad I did because she was tremendous and the crowd, while leaning very young (and gay), had a smattering of more, um, senior folk too, so I wasn’t alone.

The genre of synth-heavy dancepop she works in is more of a studio medium and isn’t exactly noted for live performance, but — damn, girlfriend — Charli didn’t just have the goods vocally but as a performer she was one of the most energetic and feisty I’ve seen in years. With her intensity and wild black hair I kept thinking of a young Siouxsie Sioux singing Britney Spears songs, and the way she was jumping around for the whole show I think she must have injected herself with pure Red Bull before she hit the stage. She really got the sold-out crowd going too and, being right at the front, I found myself in a minor mosh-pit of bouncing, dancing bodies which I think I really was too old for.

I don’t have any decent video of the show I went to but this clip from the night before in Montreal is pretty much the same as the gig I was at.

My only gripe is that her set was really short and she didn’t play an encore either which surprised me considering the wild response she was getting. But then I went outside after and there she was on the street mingling with the crowd and posing for photos. Maybe the encore is too much of a conventional, rockist gesture for der kidz now, and hanging out together after the show and sharing photos is the new thing. How should I know? I’m old.

Sleeve Talk

Before Neville Brody made his name as Art Director of The Face he designed a series of very distinctive sleeves for the left-field indie label Fetish Records. This was at the beginning of the 80s when post-punk was getting in the jungle groove with the likes of A Certain Ratio, Rip Rig & Panic, Pigbag, and the Byrne/Eno album My Life In The Bush of Ghosts making a tribal, rhythmic racket that sounded like funk music being put through a blender.

Fetish act 23 Skidoo were on the extreme cutting edge of that scene, tearing apart funky beats and using the pieces in a abstract collage with electronics, samples, tape loops, white noise, and African percussion. Their sound was like Fela Kuti having a fight with William Burroughs and Brody’s sleeve for their debut album Seven Songs perfectly captured its voodoo stew of the ethnic and industrial with its iconic image of disfigured clay hands playing an African drum against a background of chicken wire. All done with real objects either found or made by hand of course, but I would think that even if Photoshop had existed back in 1982 Brody would still have done it this way because he couldn’t have achieved the same raw, made-by-aborigines feel on a computer.

Fetish had a whole roster of similar arty punk-funkers and No Wave noise merchants on the label, and the rest of Brody’s work for them had an equally ragged, primitive feel, often using his own bold paintings (as did his early work for The Face.) But he evolved out of that style as his design became more formal and clean with the slickness we know as “80s design” in much the same way that the wild post-punk-funk sound evolved into the shiny pop of ABC and Haircut 100.

I bought a lot of weird, out-there records in those days — I was young and adventurous! — but Seven Songs really pushed what was already a very flexible envelope at the time, sounding more like a confrontational art installation than anything resembling “rock and roll” music. Being a designer I’m far more likely to buy a record or book if I like the cover and I probably wouldn’t have taken the risky plunge of buying it unheard — most likely prompted by a rave review in the NME — if I hadn’t liked the sleeve so much. The sleeve is the reason I still have my copy of the record too, because even 30 years later it still sounds like head-fucking music made by aliens and isn’t a album I play a lot (I filed it under “interesting”). But I’m glad I have it as a document of an exciting time when people were making new things out of the rubble left by punk, not just in music but graphic design too.

Download: Kundalini – 23 Skidoo (mp3)
Buy: “Seven Songs (album)

New Monday

The best way I can think of to describe Anna von Hausswolff is a Nordic Kate Bush, but that seems like a too trivial and jokey way of talking about someone who sounds as amazing and unique as she does.

Her latest album Ceremony originally came out in Sweden last year and is being reissued worldwide next month. It’s a suite of songs inspired by the death of her grandfather that she plays on a church organ. Heavy stuff, but beautifully so.

You’re my guitar hero

Can’t quite believe that Hank Marvin was ever a teen pin-up, but apparently ’twas so. But that’s why boys start rock bands, isn’t it? They know that even the dorkiest kid can do well with the girls if he’s in a band.

Though I would imagine that these days a young man would probably choose computers or video games as his route to fame, fortune, and groupies.

Download: Man of Mystery – The Shadows (mp3)