Life On Other Planets
“We are young, we run green/Keep our teeth nice and clean/See our friends, see the sights, feel alright...”
These are the immortal words of Supergrass, from their mid-’90s hit “Alright,” from their stunning debut I Should Coco. You remember the video (and if you don’t, rent the movie Clueless and sit through the final credits to see it): three goofy looking Brits being pulled on a bed through a park, lip-synching, bouncing to the tune for which they scored big-time chart success in the U.K. Even Steven Spielberg approached the band to do a Monkees-style TV show, only to be turned down. Then they fell down the rabbit hole. Not really, though—Supergrass made an excellent follow up with In It For The Money, toning down their former gee-whiz pop with a more serious approach to songwriting. Their eponymous third (and darkest) release went unnoticed stateside, and it looked like the band had been given up by its loyal U.K. crowd. Blame it on growing up and tugging at the hem of your muse for deeper meaning.
But now the time has come to reassess your priorities and hop your ass back on the wagon, because there’s no sense in missing out on the most exciting Supergrass release since Coco. The lads have really pulled something together this time with Life On Other Planets, and it’s put them back in the long running. There’s something about Supergrass that even bands like Oasis or Coldplay can’t touch. Dr. John complimented them by saying they were “funky as dog shit.” He’s right. It’s their ability to ride the music and give it a soul-shaking—something to move to without needing to get lost on X. Just think of it as The Beatles influenced by Memphis soul instead of Little Richard.
Supergrass is smart with its influences, and doesn’t rewrite songbooks like it’s going out of style (consider all the shameless Brian Wilson rip-offs pop has seen). They present their songwriting more as an overview of an influential time rather than weeding out just the best bits. T. Rex is one example—it’s not the riffs that Supergrass are borrowing, but an entire Bolan understanding. But oh, do they ever have the hooks pouring out of the speakers. In typical Supergrass fashion, it’s about Gaz Coombes getting that guitar hook solidified and then letting the other boys shape it up to something memorable. Eleven tunes roll evenly and easier than their last release, with enough punch and groove to renew your faith in how to feel good through pure sound and, while most releases have one solid hit, there’s at least four here (“Za,” “Can’t Get Up,” “Grace,” “Rush Hour Soul”). This isn’t merely more slop from the hit machine, packaged as some stupid, cheap comparison (their old record company tried to lump them in with Green Day). It’s killer, driving pop music with enough gusto and overall good vibe to provide a great soundtrack for the spring to come.Keiji Haino
To Start, Let’s Remove the Colour
Guitarist Keiji Haino recently reached the 30-year mark in his career and I can’t recall seeing a single mention of any celebration. Which is most likely the preference of this elusive artist. Haino’s 1971 project, Lost Aaraaff, is rarely mentioned in any music circle. His monumental band Fushitsusha is equally legendary and still makes rare appearances every few years. I just found out (as I write this) about two other projects: Nijiumu and Vajra. Did I say elusive? Haino comes off as a difficult artist; you need the right interviewer to capture his essence. Accordingly, his image has remained the same throughout these years, as if he found some loophole in time. He releases many solo discs, some that sound as if he’s playing through ten-story-tall amplifiers, others of him walking around a room, kicking things and grunting for 45 minutes.
Pretentious? Stop reading if that’s what you think. It’s amazing how a little chaos can short-circuit the average music listener, when in fact just about anybody could “get it.” I won’t go on record to say Haino’s music is “conceptual,” because in my mind that’s a cop-out. I will say his music is of tormented beauty. In terms of the avant garde, his new disc just might be the most accessible he’s made to date. After listening to To Start, Let’s Remove The Colour, I’m firmly convinced that Haino does not write and perform music for mortal humans; he writes and performs for spirits and ghosts. His prime weapon always being his guitar, this time around he weaves gentle tones of noteless symphony, his voice quivering as though he were whispering in your ear as you slept. I wouldn’t omit nature from the mix of influences, but I wouldn’t say that this is music for a beautiful day either. I’m talking strange Wiccan alchemy here; music to turn stone into gold, music to re-route winds. Confusion is part of his concoction and as we should all know, confusion is bliss. Haino has tapped into a deep and spiritual source of the transcendental sound needed for higher awareness and provides a perfect balance. You can zone out to this stuff and clear a packed room.
Let us be thankful that Keiji Haino remains the uncompromising artist that he is, always against the grain and forever nearly invisible to the layman’s eye. He is the true Prince of Darkness without a stitch of evil. If you’re finally sick of normative music and ready to take a plunge into the unidentifiable, good for you and go for it. This disc is a piece of stellar beauty and a good place to start down many avenues of avant music. Treat yourself and get bent.