Just watch me now

This week (if you’ll excuse the steal) I’ve mostly been listening to the Dandy Warhols’ 2008 album Earth to the Dandy Warhols.

By way of an introduction:

Turn that way up.

There are three things I like about this album. Firstly, the drug thing. When I was a regular gig-goer, I used to start with a can of Red Stripe and follow it with a can of Special Brew. The main point of the exercise was the enveloping alcoholic hit of the first swallow of Special Brew: an almost physical sense of falling backwards, sinking into an alcoholic haze. Some kinds of music conjure precisely this kind of befuddling onslaught – and I don’t just mean ‘psychedelia’. (“I wouldn’t say Doll by Doll are a psychedelic band,” Jackie Leven once corrected an interviewer. “We’re an acid band.”) Take the Beta Band, for instance. Some of their songs had a distinct acid edge to them, but this strikes me very much as cannabis music – in its soft quietness and its insistent precision, and in the way the track seems to take itself apart, come to a halt and then reassemble itself:

The Dandys are no strangers to mood-altering substances. As an album, Welcome to the Monkeyhouse had a distinctly speed-y sound to it. By contrast, Earth to… has a fairly intense downer-ish quality (and let’s face it, calling a song “Valerie Yum” is a bit of a clue). Full-on would be one word for it: a sound that leaves you feeling crushed, enveloped, sated. Intense but not unenjoyable, if you’re in the mood.

The second thing about the Dandy Warhols is that they’re very rock’n’roll; you could almost say they are rock’n’roll. In terms of musicianship and originality they’re pretty ordinary, but that’s part of the point – they’re what a pretty ordinary band would sound like if they were convinced they were the coolest band in the world. As I said about their previous album (which is a bit hard going, I have to admit) what they do isn’t so much rock’n’roll as the sound of what rock’n’roll sounds like – the sound of the process of the form being realised. Very arty…

…and then again (back with the Dandys) not arty at all, because the sound of the process ect ect is, fundamentally, the sound of three chords being cranked out. And that is, let’s face it, a fantastic sound. Lou Reed said somewhere that he’d never had any desire to go beyond rock’n’roll, because he still felt there was a lot to be done with those basic rock chord changes. Listening to the next song, you feel he’s proved himself wrong (sorry, Lou, you’d nailed it for all time by 0:22) but at the same time right (that’s a seam that will take plenty of digging).

Back at the Dandys album, the track after “Wasp in the Lotus” proves it all over again: a perfect three-chord trick, utterly simple and predictable, utterly beautiful.

I like the stunned, languid quality that song has, and the way it just keeps on going; it makes me imagine watching the sky start to lighten, too tired to go to sleep. I particularly like the way the horns come in towards the end, and the raw, unpolished, “just slap it down” sound they have – very rock’n’roll. Ed Kuepper would probably have a fit if you called Laughing Clowns a rock’n’roll band, but what I’m talking about here is very like the immediate, noisy production the horns used to get on Laughing Clowns albums. Laughing Clowns reformed last year; it’s a trumpetless lineup, but Louise Elliott’s sax here has the same raw, punkish quality I hear in the Dandys’ brass.

The third thing, finally, is related to the dogged endlessness of that last track, and the three-chord trick generally: minimalism. Three chords, did I say? The Dandys aren’t the first band to see what happens if you hit one chord and stick to it…

…nor were Stereolab, come to that…

…but I don’t think you’ll hear it done better than here, in a track which originally bore the marvellous (and very Dandy Warhols) title “The World The People Together Come On”. Listen out for the chord change – it’s at 2:13 (at the end of the second verse).

Nice video – especially the first minute or so. I could just fancy a can of Special Brew now…

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4 Comments

  1. Posted 20 March 2010 at 10:34 | Permalink | Reply

    Well I like it anyway!

  2. Posted 26 March 2010 at 23:17 | Permalink | Reply

    I quite enjoy a bit of Dandy Warhols myself now and then, but their greatest contribution to my personal musical world is actually the fact that they introduced me to The Brian Jonestown Massacre… to my ears a far superior band despite their paltry commercial success. If you haven’t already seen DiG! (a film about both bands) then I urge you to do so.

    • Phil
      Posted 27 March 2010 at 23:33 | Permalink | Reply

      I’ve seen it, but didn’t like it much. The film seemed to work by setting up the Dandys as having a charmed life and the BJM as perpetually going from bad to worse, despite the balance of talent being much more in the BJM’s favour. Which was where it fell down for me – I could see that Anton Newcombe had had a horrible life & that he was very productive, but overall he struck me as a megalomaniac screw-up rather than a creative genius. (And Joel Gion irritated the hell out of me.)

      • Posted 12 April 2010 at 22:32 | Permalink

        Ah well. ‘Different folks…’ and all that. What I like about the BJM is the fact that I see Newcombe as both megalomaniac screw-up and creative genius. And perhaps the fact that I know a couple of people who share that same “genuinely very talented but way too messed up to project that talent to a large audience”-quality makes me especially sympathetic. Also, I think he rocks.

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