April 30, 2009
Inhabitatio Dei directed me to an interesting blogpost pinpointing quite precisely the shapeshift that has only just started in American Christianity. Funnily enough despite not being American, there were very few references I did not get – more disturbing was that it was almost as if I had written the piece so closely my tastes mirrored the shopping list of the classical Christian hipster bar with the interest in the Pope.
Ironically he doesn’t mention Sufjan Stevens at all in the article (bar the tags) but he features as an icon watching happily over the article like the patron saint of Christian (or should that be Christ-following?) hipsters.
Talking of Sufjan, my obsession with Illinois (aka Come on Feel the Illinoise) is getting out of hand – I don’t think I have listened to any album as much as this one in my life. Maybe Achtung Baby still has a few odd extra listens on it but that was back in 1990 where I had so little money I probably only had a dozen CDs at best. Illinois on the other hand is an oddity – oblique but universal, catchy but very avantgarde in parts, but fundamentally for me, it grapples with the spirituality of the world like few other albums ever have. From the Seer’s tower, the figure of Christ looks out across with the land – the living dead return to life and the alien spaceship becomes a metaphor for the incarnation of God. Parralels to Dylan’s output would be approrpriate if Dylan’s born-again albums weren’t so rum (though they were a heckofalot better than his 80s output!) – note my words: Sufjan will be the enblematic artist of the next decade.
Here’s a beautiful performance of one of the pivotal tracks on his first US state album – Michigan and a great introduction to his theology-meets-humanity approach to songwriting.
February 9, 2009
There is a certain snobbery against French music but recent years have made it trendier than it used to be with the likes of Air and Daft Punk achieving some crossover appeal. Well one thing you can’t be obsessed with if you like French music is novelty – the output is not as vast as the anglo-saxon world so it’s no surprise that artists such as Brel, Brassens or Gainsbourg (all dead for half a century between them) still remain in most people’s cd collections. Here’s an early 1990s effort from Axel Bauer: lyrically it’s quite clever as tends to be the case with most French lyrics – music often being a pretext for the text – but I still enjoy playing the riff on my guitar years later. Can’t be all bad, can it? (ignore the dreadful velours t-shirt if you can)
May 4, 2008
It’s quite strange that I’ve only just caught up on the news of his passing a month or so late but that just goes to prove how relatively obscure he always was to the mainstream. He still commanded an obituary in The Guardian and The Times this side of the Atlantic.
He described his output as having too much Jesus for the mainstream but too much rock for the church – something he seems to have suffered for throughout his career. The 70s were without doubt his heyday artistically with the trilogy of Only Visiting The Planet, So Long Ago The Garden and In Another Land (aka as Planet, Garden and Land to fans). These albums pushed back the limits as to what could be achieved within the relatively confined realms of Jesus rock – an area that Norman pretty much scooped out himself. In later years, his output became a lot harder to track down but also became a lot less focused with occasional peaks of brilliance such as Stranded in Babylon.
It’s quite sad to see him pass away so young but by all accounts he was more than ready to go so farewell Larry and thanks for the great music, your passion, flair and inimitable delivery style.
You can take your diamonds and lock them in your vault,
And you will lose everything you save,
You can take your flowers and lay them on his tomb,
But I know he rose up from the grave.
(Diamonds, In Another Land, 1976)
August 20, 2007
There’s no denying my love for Pedro The Lion (now disbanded to become just David Bazan) which has been further enhanced a cover he just did of Radiohead’s Let Down for a 10 year anniversary tribute (was it really a decade ago? I can actually remember heading off to Paris to buy the CD on the day of the release and finding that there was no flourish or fanfare for it. Just slung into the racks and abandoned there to fight for itself.)
Bazan himself is possibly my favourite lyricist at the minute. The obliqueness of his style makes the words strangely even more poignant. Moving from the emo-concept albums (is that a first?) that cemented his critical acclaim – such as Control which follows the disintegration of a relationship or Winner Never Quit chartering the rise and fall of a politician – his recent solo work has moved to a more acoustic feel but are still as brilliant.
The internet is full of freebies from him – acoustic performances, youtube videos, etc – and his site is the best place to start.