Chad Parkhill

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Killings

“Meet Me on the Desertshore”

X-TG’s Desertshore

Published by Killings, 11 December 2012. Original post. X-TG by Chris Carter (Creative Commons).

It’s easy, and inaccurate, to reduce Throbbing Gristle to a band obsessed equally with sex and death; but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t obsessed with those very topics. Take the cover of their seminal 1979 album 20 Jazz Funk Greats: a lovely shot of the four members of the band on the heath at Beachy Head, Britain’s foremost suicide location. As for sex, that album includes the proto-techno track ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’, where Cosey Fanni Tutti pushes the human/machine coupling of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ and pushes them further into the cybernetic field—where Summer’s vocalisations sound like a performance of sex, Tutti’s insouciant moans sound, more shockingly, like sex itself. But their true obsession was the infinite, the inconceivable beyond to which both sex and death continually point.

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Claustrophobic and Bittersweet

Tristesse Contemporaine’s Tristesse Contemporaine and Dirty Sound System’s The Music From the Balconies Nearby Was Overlaid by the Noise of Sporadic Acts of Violence

Published by Killings, 17 October 2012. Original post. Tristesse Contemporaine by Erick Beckman.

The Parisian DJ-collective-cum-record label Dirty Sound System—DJs Guillaume Sorge and Clovis Goux, alongside a roster of associated producers and curators—have always been somewhat out of sync with their contemporaries, and this characteristic has usually served them well. In 2003, at the fag end of the ‘French touch’ scene—the filter-heavy, dynamically compressed style of house music epitomised by Daft Punk and Cassius—they released their first compilation, Dirty Diamonds, on Stardust vocalist Benjamin Diamond’s label Diamond Traxx. In a French music scene that was floundering for a new direction, their recondite track selections were completely unexpected: the disco samples and slick synthesisers of the ‘French touch’ were eschewed in favour of grittier, more textured material. The compilation has a unified aesthetic, but one expansive enough for New York proto-punk oddities Suicide to rub shoulders with faux-naïf pop star Claudine Longet. These startling juxtapositions not only create a frisson of musical pleasure, but also recast history and allow listeners to discover new connections between various figures, both niche and mainstream, of twentieth-century music.

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Rendering unto Caesar

Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan

Published by Killings, 10 July 2012. Original post. Dirty Projectors by Roger Braunstein (Creative Commons).

Until recently, Dirty Projectors traded in a highly idiosyncratic and instantly identifiable form of indie rock. The band’s sole songwriter and explicit leader, Dave Longstreth, is a Yale-trained musician whose songs contain passages as fiendishly convoluted and baroquely formalist as anything in the classical music canon. At the same time, there’s a looseness and spontaneity to Dirty Projectors’ previous albums that suggests Longstreth is ambivalent about the notion of technical perfection, if not about diligence—the recorded versions of his songs sound as though they are the product of sifting through hundreds of takes, painstakingly searching for the most exquisitely imperfect components for his songs. These songs also draw from a wide array of musical sources, most prominently West African highlife, punk rock, rhythm and blues, and the vocal gymnastics of madrigals. (It’s worth mentioning here that Dirty Projectors really began to shine after Longstreth introduced his now-trademark use of multiple female singers playing off each other through point and counterpoint.) Dirty Projectors’ music is thus a uniquely rich stew of high and low art from around the globe, both thrillingly original and uncannily familiar—a quality that has drawn other syncretist oddballs such as Talking Heads’ David Byrne and Björk to Longstreth’s work as both fans and collaborators.

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“It’s a Natural Fact That It’s Good To Be Gay!”

Chapter Music’s Strong Love: Songs of Gay Liberation 1972–1981

Published by Killings, 7 June 2012. Original post. The Stonewall Inn by yosoynuts (Creative Commons).

The digitisation of vast back catalogues of music has made music historians of all of us. Consumers can now access nearly any recorded music they want, and are thus encouraged to explore their favourite genres of music in great depth. Paradoxically, this also encourages a kind of dilettantism. When Duncan Brooker released his Afro-Rock Volume One compilation in 2001, West African pop music of the 1970s (with the notable exception of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti) was practically unknown in the developed world; now there are dozens of blogs dedicated to digitising whole tranches of this music, and an aspiring Jùjú music aficionado can download in a single afternoon what might originally have taken Brooker over a decade to track down.

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Unreal Love

The Magnetic Fields’ Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Published by Killings, 21 March 2012. Original post. Detail from cover, Love at the Bottom of the Sea (2012).

Stephin Merritt, the musical arch-contrarian behind American pop fabulists The Magnetic Fields, knows a thing or two about artifice. More specifically he understands that, at its most fundamental level, all music is artifice—what separates music (even musique concrète, music created from recordings of natural noise) from mere noise is the fact that it has been manipulated to some extent by human beings. Despite this, Western culture in general continues to discuss music as though some forms of it are more ‘real’ than others. By consensus, we proclaim that a man with dreadlocks strumming a guitar is more ‘real’ than a woman in lycra singing along to a backing track. Often what counts as ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ intersects with race, gender and sexuality in depressingly predictable ways: punk and rock, largely the domain of straight white guys, are ‘real’ in a way that disco (too gay), pop (too girly), and rap (too black) could never be.

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