Transvision Vamp

Mix Tape #23 (Modern Troubadours)

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Creatively, my thoughts have been heavily focussed on song in the last couple of months, so i’ve made that the focus of the new 5:4 Mix Tape. Songs as we think of them today more or less conform to a generic, prefabricated mould that’s often at odds with their lyric content. Not all artists are prepared to compromise so readily, though, and the sixteen songs on this Mix Tape represent a rather more rare breed of song. i think of these artists as modern troubadours, for whom the the content of their song is such that it demands a break from convention, and the opportunity for a more experimental type of expression.

These songs, which range in duration between 7 and 17 minutes, encompass a wide variety of approaches to the art of song. Some, such as those by Deerhoof and maudlin of the Well, take experimental and progressive rock as their starting point, while Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Transvision Vamp opt for episodic epics, betraying the legacy of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Janelle Monáe‘s approach is to create what amounts to a 9-minute musical, while Kevin Barnes’ of Montreal beg, borrow and steal from a plethora of pop, dance and rock idioms to convey his typically bizarre narrative. By contrast, Dead Can Dance tell their tale via a hypnotic, circling music that pushes the words firmly into the foreground; despite the complexity of their electronic backdrop, Ulver achieve the same result by speaking their lyrics. Julia Holter makes her words count, summarising them in the first three minutes and allowing them to radiate for another ten; Fovea Hex do something similar in their rethinking of folk music. Others have more to say and take longer to do it; Jenny Hval puts herself on a kind of musical knife-edge, fragile before a pale, sparse backdrop, while David Sylvian surrounds himself with a network of improvised lines and motes that would be impenetrable if they weren’t so scattered. Tori Amos turns to her trusty Bösendorfer in what is still her longest song to date, whereas Joanna Newsom (in her longest song) has her complex harp epicentre heavily enriched by lush orchestrations provided by Van Dyke Parks. Beginning and ending the mix are songs by perhaps the great troubadour of our age, Scott Walker, a pair of songs from his last two albums that explore a depth of lyrical expression that’s pretty much unique in the history of song. Read more

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Mix Tape #13 : Vox Femina

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Today finds me feeling not at all well, so i’ve kept myself occupied making a new mix tape, with a theme i’ve wanted to explore for a while: female vocalists. At a guess, i’d say i listen to more female singers than male, and the content of this mix reflects a combination of artists with whom i’ve become familiar only recently, and others i’ve loved for many years.

The wonderfully-named Scout Niblett (who sounds as though she ought to stand four feet tall) takes a refreshingly sparse approach to her brand of rock; she also plays both drums and guitar, and her songs have a basic, elemental quality to them; that’s certainly the case in “Hot to Death”, a song that moves abruptly from soft fragility to raging fury. Peaches needs no introduction; her hypersexual songs vary wildly in their ratio of credibility to crassness, but 2003’s Fatherfucker is, i think, her best achievement, with the claustrophobic (and, for once, sex-absent) “Operate” its standout track. Better known under her initials AGF, Antye Greie-Fuchs brings a demonstrably poetic sensibility to her electronic experiments; her most recent release, Dance Floor Drachen, available free (link below), contains some of her most rhythmically engaging work to date; “TURN IMPOTENT” is enhanced further with stomach-wobbling bass pulses. “Hyperballad” remains one of Björk’s best songs, as well as one of her most remixed; this version is courageously simple, eschewing almost any kind of rhythmic movement, allowing the powerful words to attain a hypnotic vividness. No less hypnotic is Fovea Hex‘s Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent trilogy, which must rank as one of the most imaginative song-sequences ever made. “We Sleep You Bloom” palpably betrays the handiwork of Hafler Trio’s Andrew M. McKenzie underscoring Clodagh Simonds vocals; it’s simply exquisite at every moment. Occupying slightly darker but equally dreamy territory is Julee Cruise, the singer particularly beloved of David Lynch; her distinctive voice (with barely a trace of vibrato) is as integral to Lynch’s Twin Peaks saga as Badalamenti’s dark string writing. Her first album, Floating into the Night, dates from the same time as Twin Peaks, and could well be thought of as an offshoot from the series; “The Swan” is the album’s most poignant moment, the melancholic harmonies left without resolution. Deeper melancholy still from Daisy Chapman, whose new album, The Green-Eyed, is launched at the end of this week (more about this soon). “Words in Dirt” is one of her most subtly layered songs, the simple piano writing enveloped in floating additional voices, with Daisy’s own powerful vocals at the core. Read more

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Vitrolic, bitter and brilliant: Transvision Vamp – Velveteen

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When i was 16, i bought my first CD player. At the time—and i’m conscious how old i feel saying this—it was still a real novelty for anyone my age to possess their own CD player, and it was one of the (mercifully) few times when i was the centre of attention, everyone wanting to experience the clarity of digital music. At the same time, i bought 4 CDs, the start of a collection that i now have neither the time nor the inclination to count. Among those four was Transvision Vamp‘s second album Velveteen, that had been recently released (also among the four was Martika’s self-titled debut album, but we all make mistakes). My interest in Transvision Vamp began when their first single, “I Want Your Love” was released the previous year. Both the song, and its accompanying video, are breathtaking; it’s one of those amazing moments when you hear a song by an artist you’ve never encountered before, and the experience is totally enthralling. i can’t recall another female vocalist who was quite like Wendy James at that time: she snarled and screeched and screamed, she was the archetypal rock-chick, full of froth and feist, and she oozed sexuality (i admit i had many posters of her on my wall). One of the reasons why their sound was so refreshing, i think, is because it was at a time when the acid-house scene was reaching its peak, and the so-called “Madchester” bands were beginning to become really popular, a style of music that, with a few exceptions, i found bland, generic and—worst of all—eager to please. So Transvision Vamp’s combination of rock with (rather mild) punk was an exciting break from the norm. Read more

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