Listen to this track by Australian thrift shop denizens and razor-sharp sampling jesters The Avalanches. It’s their 2000 hit “Frontier Psychiatrist”, as taken from their (to date) sole full length record Since I Left You. The song would place on UK and US charts by 2001, providing critical and commercial success.
It’s difficult to broadly apply the term “songwriting” to this track in the traditional sense, just because it is made up entirely of found recordings from across a variety of recorded music streams. This includes comedy recordings, with the central one being Canadian comedy team Wayne & Shuster’s titular sketch which is heavily quoted, along with sound effects records, instructional recordings, Mariachi music, film scores, movie dialogue (John Waters’ Polyester to be exact), and sixties Enoch Light Orchestra flourishes all mixed in to make a glorious whole. How this was not a complete mess is a tribute to how deftly arranged the samples actually are. Sampling nay-sayers take note: not everyone can do this well.
I think another aspect of this song that is worth noting is that it helpfully undercuts what electronica and dance music had come to mean by the beginning of the century. A big part of that has to do with its varied and often unexpected source material, of course. But, another aspect of what makes this tune stand out is simply this: it’s hilarious! Read more
Listen to this track by turntablist poster boy and instrumental hip hop auteur DJ Shadow. It’s “Midnight In A Perfect World”, a single as taken from the seminal record released in the fall of 1996 that kicked off a genre, Endtroducing. That record garnered near universal praise across the critical spectrum at the time, noted as much for its technical achievements as it was for the eerie and evocative atmospheres for which it is now known.
The album was created solely by its author, fuelled by raiding a local record store, Rare Records in Sacramento, in between work on the tracks, including this one. The cover of the album is pretty true to how it was made, searching the racks for grooves and textures, and then carrying them by the armful back home to be repositioned and transformed into a work that would establish a career and reputation for DJ Shadow, born Joshua Evans. The tools he had to hand to create this song were a sampler, a turntable, and a tape recorder. They were enough to garner not only rave reviews and sales, but also a Guinness World Book of Records entry for first album to be comprised solely of samples.
In an age before Garage Band, this was a neat trick. But, this song and the rest of the album is far, far more than an amazing technical feat, although it certainly is that. It was the beginning of a new paradigm that generated all kinds of discussions about something in pop music that is rarely considered; context and how it relates to the way we hear the music within one, as well as the nature of what it is to “write” a song in the first place. Read more
Listen to this track by Anglo-Scot folktronica collagists The Beta Band. It’s “Human Being”, the second single from their second album, Hot Shots II, released in the summer of 2001.
This record was the follow-up to their first full-length and self-titled debut, a record that felt like a false start to the band themselves, who called it “shit” in interviews. That’s a little strong. But, it is an unfocused work, albeit with some great tracks on it (my favourite: “It’s Not Too Beautiful”, with its kind of a wonky nu-psych quality).
I personally think that the lukewarm reaction to their debut was because the compilation Three EPs had done so well, featuring a bona fide hit in “Dry The Rain”, a song that would go in my own top 100 of songs I could play over and over and never get tired of. Needless to say, expectations for their first album were very high when it came down to full-length records.
So how did they do one better with this one, after the lacklustre results of the first? Well, they revealed something about themselves as a band which had been a little lost on that debut record that is noted for its ecleticism, and not much for focus. I’m talking about songwriting.
Listen to this track by London pop musical era cross-polinator duo Groove Armada. It’s “At The River”, a single from 1997 that was re-released two years later as a part of their Vertigo album.
The album was released during a period when chillout and downtempo beats were becoming equally celebrated in clubs and on the radio as pop songs in Britain. As such, both contexts and audiences are served here, with pop hooks and beats intertwining to make one of the most appealing confections of a genre that marked the times before the 20th century became the early 21st.
The central hook here comes from tin pan alley pop singer Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod”, a single from 1957 that came in turn out of a poem as written by one Claire Rothrock who’d fallen in love with the titular destination. The song was a hit, salty air and quaint little villages and all, and Patti Page would be celebrated by the region of Cape Cod for many years after for being a cultural ambassador because of her hit with this earlier pop single.
But, what’s it doing being referenced on a late-20th century dance record made in rainy London? Read more
Listen to this track by British mixologist duo and sampling enthusiasts Lemon Jelly. It’s “Nervous Tension”, a gem taken from their 1998 EP The Bath, and later to appear on 2000’s full-length KY, which brought three of their EPs together.
The track is the result of a combination of disparate ingredients, including the main “voice” of a hypnotist using his powers to irradicate the negative effects of the titular condition. This is the voice of a real practicioner of hypnosis, one Peter Reveen, originally from Australia, but having built his name right here in Canada.
In addition to performing at live events, Raveen also cut records to help people relax, to quit smoking, and anything else that might affect a positive change through the power of suggestion – Relax With Raveen*.
Lemon Jelly (Fred Deakin and Nick Franglen) took Raveen’s voice and created a little alchemy, and with a goal perhaps not a million miles removed from that of the original source material.