Monday, May 31, 2010

Marco: The Mix Tape (Tracks 6 & 7)

7. Spiritualized-Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

8. Wilco-I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

I consider myself a serious student of rock and pop music and my favourite kind of study involves individual artists or groups. When I reached university, I finally dropped my somewhat rigid “all music made after 1975 sucks” stance and got really into these two bands.

First of all, let me explain that they’re not really bands: Spiritualized is Jason Pierce, who goes by the stage name J Spaceman, and Wilco is Jeff Tweedy, who goes by the stage name Jeff Tweedy. I have listened to every record Spaceman and Tweedy have ever officially released, including their solo projects and work with the bands Spacemen 3 and Uncle Tupelo. I’ve also listened to a ton of bootlegs by both men. I’ve read interviews, biographies, and reviews of each artist. I’ve watched their videos (official and non) on DVD and on YouTube. I’ve even written essays (see below) and numerous blog posts and columns about them.

When I get into a band or an artist, I want to learn everything there is know about them. I want to understand their methods, their backgrounds, their strengths and flaws. I am, in short, intensely curious. And it’s this kind of intense curiosity, not just about art, but about life in general, that I want to pass on to my students when I become a teacher.

Here's a longer, kinda humourless piece I wrote on J Spaceman, for those who might be interested:

There’s a genre they call “blue-eyed soul.” It refers to white artists who play and sing music that sounds like black music. Think of Dusty Springfield, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Hall & Oates, etc.

There’s a genre they call “psychedelic soul.” It generally refers to black artists that incorporated elements of sixties psychedelic rock into their R&B and soul sounds. Think of The Temptations under Norman Whitfield, Sly & the Family Stone, Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, etc.

Though his eyes are blue and his music draws much of its inspiration from gospel, blues and soul, J Spaceman, founder and auteur of Spiritualized, is not a blue-eyed soul artist. His rhythms are never syncopated, his singing is never gritty and his songs are never danceable.
Consider this quote from a 2003 article in Playlouder magazine, referring to Spiritualized’s most acclaimed record, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space: “For all the horns and gospel choirs and Dr John piano licks, it's a fundamentally classical, funk-free sound: one need only compare

Spiritualized's Stay With Me to the shuddering Lorraine Ellison classic on which it's loosely based to gauge the difference between Pierce's white light/white heat ‘Spiritualization' and the choked agony of black soul.”

To call Spaceman a psychedelic-soul artist would be stretching the definition of the label. His use of the wah-wah pedal, for example, shares nothing in common with the Hendrix-ian style that all the acts mentioned above borrowed from.

Instead, Spaceman has turned that definition of psychedelic soul on its head and created something we might call space-soul.

Spacemen first recorded “Shine a Light” for Spiritualized’s 1992 debut, Laser Guided Melodies, but that version is rather limp and tepid. Over the years, though, Spaceman has transformed the song in live performances and on his most recent tour, in 2008, he performed the definitive arrangement, that seamlessly blends the power and majesty of the best gospel music with the transcendental noise and feedback first pioneered by The Velvet Underground. Here it is, from the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, from 1997, saw Spaceman take his earlier experiments with soul and gospel to their logical extent. Speaking about his writing, producing, and recording method, he told The Varsity newspaper, “But it's normal for pop music to have backing singers, strings, a horn section and then a rock n' roll band—it's like Elvis In Memphis, it's Captain Beefheart on Clear Spot, it's Sly and the Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On. But we didn't want to do a regular session. We wanted to make something that was as unique as those records, but I didn't want to make the same records.”

On the album’s second track, “Come Together,” Spacemen mashes the dirty, explosive rock of Detroit’s MC5 (who, not coincidentally, recorded a song with the same title on their famous debut) with Phil Spector’s classic Wall of Sound production style. The effect, seen here on the Live with Jools Holland show, is mind-blowing.

Lastly, we end with “Lay Back In the Sun,” possibly the finest song in the Spiritualized catalogue. Spaceman has recorded at least four complete versions of the track but this version—accompanied by a decent mash-up of other Spiritualized videos—is by far the best, giving great prominence to the blowing Stax horns and the deeply soulful backing vocals.

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