Friday, 1 February 2008

Swell Maps "Steven Does" (Rough Trade, 1979)

OK then, two posts in one day! And this one has an absoulutely crucial USP: it contains the GREATEST GUITAR SOLO OF ALL TIME. This is something I am not prepared to argue about: if you've got a different opinion; I don't want to hear it. For me, the solo in this song encapsulates the majesty, the glory, the romance and the power of Rock'n'Roll, and it does it whilst being quite obviously drunk and out of tune.
This song is one of four that were on a free EP given away with the initial pressings of the Swell Maps debut LP "A Trip To Marineville". For reasons I don't quite understand, some of the other tracks on the EP have appeared on retrospective Maps compilations, but this truly wondrous vignette remains unreleased.
For all of you out there who may not have heard of The Swell Maps, do check out that Wikipedia page, and follow some of the links. Theirs is a story too long for me to rehash here: suffice to say that without their innate knack of mixing noise with melody, post punk would never have happened ( or at least, it would, but it would have been even more po-faced). I knew Jowe Head via the TVP's (we've done this, haven't we?), but was lucky enough to count Nikki Sudden as a friend for a large part of the 90's. He was going out with a friend of mine, and would occasionally turn up, in the dead of night, on my doorstep, armed only with a bottle of vodka, 200 cigarettes, and a desperate need to listen to sleazy rock music until dawn. Believe me, those are the nights that hurt, that wipe years off your life expectancy, yet that make it all worthwhile. I was terribly saddened when he passed away. RIP Nikki.
It's him, incidentally, that provides the guitar genius on this song, and it's Jowe (Steven being Jowe's real name) who provides the vocals. The song itself may, or may not, be an insight into Jowe's upbringing (the sleeve certainly alludes to it), with the oblique nature of the lyrics (trans: what the hell is he going on about?) we may never be sure -and that's just the way I like it.
If you don't own any Swell Maps CD's, now's the time to right that wrong. Do it now.

Swell Maps "Steven Does" (mp3)

Martin "Highschool Massacre" (Highschool Records, 2000)

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Well, here it is then. The song about Columbine I was referring to in my previous post. I know very little about this single, i'm fairly sure I got it whilst working at Xfm, in 2000 (for the love of God, does nobody check their website? I can't believe my page is still there!!). It may well have been posted to me, I can't recall for sure. I've only seen one other copy of it from that day to this, and I bought it on the spot, so I'd have a double. Google searches for info on the record turn up absolutely nothing; and I can't really give you any more details than the name of the artist, a title, and a photo of the label.

But what really counts in this case is what it sounds like. It's a supremely moving piece of drama- no suprise, given it's subject matter- but what elevates this from a simple slice of cut'n'paste collage into something more cerebral, is the sense of connection to the emotional impact of the senselessness of Columbine: this is a record that begs us to think, to question, to try and feel some of the pain. It does it by layering a series of snippets from news reports and general media sources over what sounds suspiciously like a Delfonics backing track (if it is sampled from somewhere, can someone let me know what it is?) The slow, lush, soulful backing track is increasingly unhinged by the stream of voices, as they get ever more hysterical; culminating in, what is for me, the coup-de-grace, as a clearly shocked student wails:

"....and he shot the black kid...because he was black...."

Terror and confusion never sounded quite so stark, so spine-chillingly evil. It's still the moment in the song that brings me out in goosebumps every single time.

Martin "Highschool Massacre" (mp3)