This post will (hopefully) be a bit shorter than usual as I’ve actually fixed my sleep schedule but I decided to listen to that 100 gecs remix album on the train last weekend and that lead to me overthinking a little. It’s been around a year since I first stumbled upon 1000 gecs and that means I’m now able to get vaguely nostalgic about it – that album essentially just melted the brains of the extremely-online people I spend a decent chunk of my time texting and there’s something about the way it spread that I found exciting. Friends would eventually give in and watch the Money Machine video after getting hounded about the record for ages, get mad at how shite the song seemed, but then within a few days they’d start talking to me about constantly looping the album and how it was their favorite release of the year – I remember joking at the time about how 100 gecs was essentially a pandemic within my friend group, a joke which doesn’t really land anymore. The reasons behind this virality are extremely simple – this album was ironic enough to the point where it could serve as an easy punchline but genuine enough to the point where you could actually listen to it more than once. Dylan Brady and Laura Les are extremely skilled producers and songwriters and they genuinely set out to make catchy music, even if they dressed it up behind countless layers of irony and tacky MIDI soundfonts. Every single pretentious Autechre fan likes to pretend that with more “out there” music you just have to listen to it a few times until it reveals itself and suddenly feels poppy – 1000 Gecs is an album that actually does reveal itself once you get over the fact it sounds like Nightcore and that’s exactly what made it so memetic this time last year.
Alex G decided to remove the (Sandy) from his name a few weeks back and now my last.fm will feel slightly more inaccurate. Around this time three years ago I was the number one (Sandy) Alex G listener on last.fm (as I tagged all his records under his new name), giving me the lamest possible bragging rights when talking to disinterested Radiohead fans on the other side of the planet. That summer was a weird era of my life in hindsight – I’d stay up all night talking about menial things with someone who would later go on to soupify my brain, walk around Laois Shopping Centre in an insomnia-ridden haze in the hopes of staying awake, and then go home a few hours later and blare the same three or four albums until I eventually passed out. I think I’ve been listening to more music under lockdown than I did that summer but it just doesn’t feel as such – the words just seemed to mean more back then, even if that was just the result of solely using them as some weird method of escapism. I don’t remember exactly what spurred me on to actually listen to Alex Giannscoli’s discography that summer but I very quickly became obsessed with it, making up for lost time by looping tracks over and over until I went mental.
I assumed that moving this week’s post back to Friday would lead to me actually discovering new music to write about but all I’ve done this week is listen to Amnesia Scanner, which makes writing this post significantly harder. I’m not particularly sure as to when (or even how) I first stumbled upon their work but I’ve been constantly looping it for the past forty-eight hours, presumably as I’m too lethargic to seek out anything else. Amnesia Scanner are a Berlin-based Finnish electronic music duo who make tracks that sound like drowning in a bathtub filled with Diet Coke – I’ve seen their work described online as being UK Bass or Deconstructed Club but neither label really seems to fit their creative output, they seem to live in their own sickly-sweet world that eludes clear description and I find it enthralling. The duo’s production is nearly solely based around their approach to vocal processing – samples are essentially tortured through post-processing, pitched up, and detuned to the point of sounding actively sinister. Amnesia Scanner essentially use the human voice in the same way that Aphex Twin modifies his drum machines – the original sound is contorted and mangled to the point where only hints of it remain, creating something uniquely tormented in the process. American jazz musician Ornette Coleman once stated that “jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night, but differently each time”, utilizing cheap plastic saxophones to contribute to the harsh, wailing quality of his performances. Amnesia Scanner are great as they take this approach and apply it to the human voice, artificially channeling the same atonal intensity that made stuck-up jazz critics despise “The Shape of Jazz to Come” in a way that feels simultaneously refreshing yet languid. It sounds vaguely like a summer spent wearing face masks in the heat, but perhaps that’s just me projecting a bit.
The thing about music is that you’re not really supposed to be writing about it. Music is fundamentally subjective – your review scores will never be right, your readers will just get bored if you just list whatever instruments were played on each track, and your personal emotions do more to shape your opinion on a record than any objective qualification. You’ll never actually be able to translate the experience of listening to a song into words, at best you can just distill the intensity into something that spurs others to seek it out, and at worst you can just sound like you really want to be an academic. I don’t think I’m personally capable of writing objectively about music and that freaks me out a little, mainly just as I’m running out of phases of my life to condense down into paragraph segments. There’s only so much you can say about listening to Sam Ray records on trains and you can only make so many vague references to records being intense until your reader (let’s be optimistic and assume we even have one) gives up and returns to their really intense Geoguessr session. Whenever a record doesn’t fully click I often find myself scrolling through its RateYourMusic reviews in the vain hope that by reading about another person’s strong emotions I’ll suddenly gain an appreciation by proxy – I don’t particularly care about what some random person thought about the drum machine used on a certain track but I find myself obsessed with the feelings said drum machine surrounded. Writing is arguably at its best when it focuses on translating an unattainable intensity – a gig on the other side of the country, an emotion you’re yet to feel, or the experience of actually understanding the appeal of metal. What that looks during a time where a decent chunk of everything recorded is available on Soulseek is really beyond me however.
It feels concerningly good to get properly obsessed with an album again, especially when you consider how many hours I spend each Monday choosing what records to write about. I’ve basically done feck all but listen to music since lockdown started but none of it seems to register – albums end up blending into one another, my last.fm charts all seem suspiciously similar, and revisiting an album from 2018 feels easier than pretending to follow whatever gets released. New albums take at least two or three listens for me to fully appreciate – this is a bit of a problem when I’m barely arsed to listen to something the whole way through once. It feels nearly exciting to find something that warrants the three repeat listens it takes me to understand it – I’m still in some state of stasis but at least it’s morphing in some way (and at least a new album cover will stare me down each time I open Spotify). I have something new to repeat over and over again – a new way to look back on and define this era of my life nostalgically once I’ve forgotten all the details that aren’t related to music. My lockdown has been defined through getting some minor excitement out of the utterly banal – whatever dopamine I do come across arrives from pretentious electronic music, the idea of having endless football highlight shows to catch up on, and getting more than two likes on a tweet. The other day I joked on Twitter about how lockdown killed any ambition I had towards life – my only real power fantasy at the moment is just driving to some random leisure centre while listening to an Oli Xl mix and I feel as if these rapidly lowering expectations help shape my relationship with music in a minor way. I’ve stopped wanting music to offer me some form of escape but to instead capture my full attention for more than five minutes – even if I only want that full attention solely so it’s slightly easier to write these music posts.
Each day I edge closer to seeming like the world’s most pretentious wannabe English major and there’s feck all I can do to stop it – or at least it seemed that way when I overslept on Saturday and missed out on a Trotskyist Zoom reading group session as a result. Actually leaving the house and interacting with real people who don’t know (or particularly care) about whatever three topics I’m obsessed with arguably grounds me a fair bit – I have to translate my Paul Durcan jokes into a language that normally-adjusted people can pick up on and that prevents me from reverting into utter pretension, presumably saving my soul in the process. As all people who write about music on a regular basis should, I often feel a lot of shame and I think that this is why my obsessions eventually diffuse – my friends can only pretend to understand who Eoghan Harris is for a certain amount of time and that means that I’ll eventually give up on mentioning him, even if I do so solely out of a misplaced (yet well-deserved) sense of embarrassment. Like all the sporting events that I pretend to follow on Twitter, lockdown has put a temporary halt on this external shame mechanism – I’ve been free to stew around in my minute fascinations non-stop for what feels like ages and it turns out that perhaps the shame served some form of purpose, even if said purpose was just ensuring that the one person made to read this blog post doesn’t actually realize how much of an arse I am. My life feels like it’s entering some minor form of stasis – my sole aim now seems to just be annoying the arrangements of pixels on my phone screen that serve as my sole connection with the outside world, something I’m excelling at solely through my inability to start writing about actual music.
I set up Google Analytics for this site the other night and that feels like a bad omen. Everything I do feels terminally short-lived – I always know I’m going to eventually return to lying on top of my bed refreshing the same three websites at some stage, so it often seems as if I either milk whatever productivity bursts I have to all hell or just count down the days until everything falls apart. Without fail each time I write something for this blog I become genuinely convinced that I’ll lose the ability to put words together for a few months and I’m half-convinced that this fear is exactly why this blog has been consistently updated since mid-April – if I think too much this will all fall apart, which is ironic since my whole personality is based around constantly overthinking. This heavily applies to the music I cover on here, I often find myself picking albums to cover five minutes before starting a draft and I will usually start off aiming to cover two artists but then waste too many words on the first to warrant another ham-fisted paragraph where I cry about how an album sounds like the Internet – I have genuinely no idea as to what I’m doing each week and I jokingly admit as such to make incompetence seem like self-awareness, hence why these posts all have the same opening where I half-jokingly apologize for being incapable of using words properly, give a vague update as to how much writer’s block I’m currently feeling, and spend as much time as possible dodging the actual topic. Now that I’ve actually pointed this out (ignore that I do as such every single week) I guess this means I have to actually start writing about music now, something which I actively dread (or at least it seems as such based on all these blog posts).
As lockdown drags on I’m slowly just zoning out into my own little mundane space and perhaps that’s optimal for me. Life has taken on its own odd rhythm – day melts into night (and into the next morning), weeks are now defined by the time wedged between blog post deadlines and reading group sessions, and I’ve spent a concerning amount of time reading outside (or just thinking about reading outside, basically the same thing). I’m gradually just disconnecting from the wider world (to the point where my anxiety now mainly flares up during Zoom meetings, presumably just to remind me that it still exists) and I’ve begun to embrace being totally out of touch – I’m probably a boomer and I don’t particularly care anymore. Now this’d be great if I didn’t base my personality around listening to a lot of “new” (read: barely underground and covered on hundreds of better blogs) music yet it feels as if I’ve just regressed into rediscovery – why bother listening to something new when you can just listen to something you thought was cool for a total of five minutes two years ago? Whenever I do end up drinking (usually whenever lockdown dread seeps in and I have more than twenty negative thoughts in an hour) I become obsessed with this idea of revisiting certain albums and artists – it feels as if I just pencil in appointments every three-to-four days to shout about albums I haven’t heard in ages and my friends just have to sit there and pretend to hold an active interest (or any idea as to what I’m on about). Unsurprisingly, this brings us to the first record I’m going to talk about this week – this time last night I was shouting about this record and I hope that I’m able to explain as to why that was the case. It turns out if I put a little sentence at the end of each introduction where I point out how formulaic my work is getting that suddenly makes it endearing and humorous – at least for the first month anyway.
I think that I’m a masochist for choosing to write about music each week – I find it hard to come up with interesting sentences about the albums and artists I get obsessed with and instead often end up opting to write about the experience of listening to said records in an extremely sappy fashion – presumably to the detriment of whatever poor soul ends up clicking on the URL for this blog post. This is especially the case when it comes to the musicians that have defined my life in some way – bringing me to Sam Ray, the topic of the first half of this post. Sam Ray is a scarily prolific musician (to the point where back in the day I genuinely did not realize that some of my favourite bands were just his side-projects for an embarrassingly long amount of time) mainly known for his work with Teen Suicide, one of the most unfortunately named bands of all time. Sam has practically disowned his earlier material with the band, describing their early career as just “play-acting the punk and garage rock singers that we grew up listening to” – I feel as if this description downplays the significance of this band to all three of us who leaf through our last.fm profiles as a personality trait. Sam later went on to mention how he felt as if he had a knack for “knowing how [to] reshape […] songs from shambling, juvenile indie-rock to fully arranged anthems, adding harmonies and backing vocals, layers of guitars, piano, keyboard, drum machines and strings” yet how he still felt insecure about his work, hiding his writing “behind distortion, heavy reverb, and a half-serious aesthetic, always able to dismiss […] criticism […] by saying ‘You can’t tell this is just a joke? We’re called Teen Suicide.'”.
cw: some references to mental health stuff
One of the worst things about writing about music once a week is quickly realizing how little new music you actually listen to. For the last year or so I’ve always been slightly out of touch, discovering groups and genres two years too late yet still basing my personality around them (moment of silence for every friend who had to listen to me talk about WIXAPOL) – presumably to the detriment of whoever gets stuck listening to my internet rambles. My only real talent seems to be just taking a group of semi-popular musicians and shouting about them (first ironically and then in earnest) to my friends until they associate them with me – this point was illustrated perfectly both when my friend Oisín joked that he was happy to “have a vague clue” of what I was on about when I started gushing about Oli XL’s last NTS show and when my friend Jack ironically referred to Fleure by Autechre as “ill music” (which I’d like to imagine as a more depressing version of penis music). I take the same four albums and repeat them ad-infinitum for a week or two, repeating the same three or four conversation fragments to whoever’s floated into my life at that current moment – which may help me construct an online personality that conceals the fact that I’m actually an uncool, constantly anxious bastard but it really does not help me construct these blog posts.