Music

Heathen Folklore with Alt/Indie Psych-rock Artist Alvarius B.

Heathen Folklore Vol. 3

"I think it's healthy to have a disdain for mankind and to use a sense of anger and violence and hatred for creative purposes."

Prolific musician Alvarius B. (Alan Bishop) is best known for his work with the avant-garde band The Sun City Girls as well as solo albums released under alter-egos Alvarius B. and Uncle Jim. He's releasing his most ambitious solo project to date. With a Beaker on the Burner and an Otter in the Oven is a triple vinyl/double-CD release of 35 new songs recorded in Cairo and Seattle. This past summer, Bishop discussed the new release, his long songbook project, bi-continental recording techniques, and the dangers of untrained hard-ons. He is the co-founder, with Hisham Mayet, of the Sublime Frequencies record label, which releases esoteric music and videos from the outer margins of global culture. In 2011, Bishop premiered his Cairo-based band The Invisible Hands with Egyptian musicians Adham Zidan, Mohamed Asem, Cherif El Masri and Aya Hemeda. Bishop talks with PopMatters about the power of the negative in the creative process.



With a Beaker on the Burner and An Otter in the Oven

Alvarius B.
(Abduction)
3 Nov 2017

As both a friend and a fan, I've noticed your sound has changed over the last few years. It's getting more traditional, more folksy, less far out.

Actually my sound never changes, it's that people finally get to see some side of me that was never exposed. My music could be unlistenable to some people and the same day I could play something that their grandmother would like. That's the problem that I have, because in terms of trying to get anyone to realize what I'm doing, not that I really care, but I have to answer a lot of questions, even with friends and family.

I released a record in January on the Egyptian label Nashazphone that's completely fucked up. Many who would like the record that we're talking about today would hate that record and vice versa. The Dwarfs of East Agouza are drifting out there and that's all free-form and then I could do like, covers of "Moon River" and "Mr. Tambourine Man", as dumbass normal as any open mic night.

But you put a spin on that normal stuff….

There's some of that older pop sensibility…the stuff I grew up with in the '60s and '70s that I like, but the modern pop sensibility I don't identify with because I don't like the production values. It's very slick, it's very trendy and novelty-esque and has too many bells and whistles that aren't needed.

When you're working in the studio, are you directing your musicians or is it more of a back and forth?

Both. There are some very strong opinions I have about exactly what I want for certain things, and then other things, I let them give me some ideas, and play tracks, and record overdubs that will change my mind. I want them to have freedom to feel like they can contribute something because I want them to play well, I don't want a slave in there because I could probably do it all myself that way.

The trick is to put together the right people to form an alchemy to make it work right. They have to have enough freedom to create what they hear. Sometimes if it seems to not fit the song, I'll tell them that. Play to what the song is… if it's a five chord country song, or it's a folk ballad, that's all they are so don't feel the need to overplay on it.

The musicians on this record are a combination of band members from your other projects.

Yes, The Invisible Hands are on most of the record, Aya Hemeda, Cherif El Masri , Adham Zidan, including various drummers we've used over the years on various sessions. And then we've got The Spoils from Seattle, which are Milky Burgess, Jim Davis, and Don McGreevy, who also played in Master Musicians of Bukkake. Don and Jim are the rhythm section on half the record and Milky plays electric guitar on maybe four tracks. Those guys also backed me up on the Koes Barat record released on Sub Pop, a cover record of the Indonesian band Koes Plus.

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So I recorded those guys on overdubs in Seattle, then everything else was done in Cairo, mostly in a non-soundproof bedroom in Adham's sixth floor apartment, recorded through ProTools with a couple of nice mics and a shitty practice amp and traffic noise coming in….

But it contributes to the overall tone. You switch from genre to genre but there's an acoustic cogency across the whole album and maybe that's partly from the recording environment.

There's a lot of layers to this, but yeah, that's part of it. I think that when I first went to Cairo in 2011 to live there, I came out with about 200 songs from my past that had never been recorded. This project is a greater extension of the whole project that really is just me going to Cairo with a stack of songs and going through them. It's a screwy situation, it's all over the place and I don't even really know where it's going next or what I'm going to release or what I'm going to record or if I'm going to like it, but there's a lot more to come. It's all one big long body of work that I guess in one way or another is the Alvarius B. song book, but it always involves other musicians to help curate it and color it and take it to another place. And I'm writing new songs along the way to mix in with the old.

You bring up a lot of themes in this project that we've heard before. Various phrases that become not like catchphrases but like the kind of repetitive phrasing you hear in a dream. We hear about the "superstars of Greenwich meantime", then there's a phrase I love about "untrained hard-ons", because I'm still trying to figure out what the hell it means…

Well, people who don't know how to use their tool….

[Laughing] You're saying that this project is this ongoing body of work, and then there are these repeated themes… can you comment on that?

Sometimes you know it's a matter of when I'm looking for a rhyme I will occasionally use something that I've used before and sometimes I don't remember that it's been released. I think most writers would do something like this. I guess I do have certain principles in terms of use of words and ideas and the way that I would rhyme things or incorporate things into a poem or a song. For example, to rhyme the word "dwarf" with "wharf", like a pier, you know? is a very easy rhyme so I'm not going to use it. I'm rhyming "dwarf" with "sports", "porch", "sort", I'm using something else. And people… and I've said this before… rhyme "life" with "strife"… it's the worst possible rhyme ever. "Strife" is the most idiotic word ever created, and anyone that uses it should be put back into kindergarten. You know, it's a stupid-ass word and only morons would use it, unless you're condemning it, which is the only way I've ever used it, to condemn it to make sure that people realize that it's a piece of shit word that shouldn't exist.

There are certain preoccupations that have been part of the music you've done before. There's a "don't tread on me" mentality that is much more to the fore in this project, especially the closing song "Wanted Man"m where you go into a sort of hillbilly monologue. Because you're in a persona when you're doing it, it's hard to say how sincere it is… or is it poking fun at that mentality?

I think it's ambiguous and I think that's the key so everyone can interpret it in their own way. Maybe I'm making fun of it but I'm from that mentality. My dad was a hick, he was born in a town in Tennessee with 35 people and that's how he grew up and I have that in me. My mom was born in a small town in Texas, so I mean, I'm from that. But I could also be using it to make certain points.

Today, when everyone is so polarized in one camp or the other, everybody is getting played like a $20 fiddle. They're all morons. Everyone is falling for the trick again. They fall for it every time. And so you've got these polarized camps thinking that they're right about everything, on both sides of it, and they're all being fooled again. And people that have PhDs and people who are in academia, the media, experts, scientists… there's hardly a clear headed mind out of any of them. I've been pointing to this through my work all the time. I had these feelings since I was 15, that this world around me is filled with idiots, and maybe it's a curse. But I'm seeing it, and I can prove it. You give me the courtroom and 700,000 years and I'll convict every single one of them out there, of the seven billion that are on the Earth. I'll do it. But I don't have the time to do that. But I would win every single case, you know. And maybe there's a 100,000 who aren't fooled, I don't know. Or maybe I'm here to fool you, to think that you're fooled and maybe you're not.

[Laughing] We'll get to the dark existentialism in a minute, but… your punk roots also come out a lot on this project, not just in the sound on a couple of the tracks, which get really noisy, but also in the promotion of casual violence for artistic purposes. How do lyrics about drilling people's skulls mesh with your…

Day to day life?

[Laughing] Libertarian ideology…

Well, it could be autobiographical, maybe not. Maybe I'm one of the last uncaught serial killers and I can espouse it because no one will ever catch me. But I think that we all have these feelings sometimes, don't we? I think it's healthy to have a disdain for mankind and to use a sense of anger and violence and hatred for creative purposes. Such emotions have created some of the greatest work in the history of humanity. So you know, it's a healthy thing, I believe. It is for me. I think it keeps me sane… in one way… and I think it gets points across, it clarifies and interprets some feelings that I just don't know any other way to express. And I think it resonates with a lot of people, actually.

Let's talk about some of the sounds on the record. People who have heard a lot of your other stuff and can say this sounds like Alan Bishop's sound, and then there's some other stuff on there that's new. I'm wondering how you decide to match lyrics with sounds.

I didn't try to do too much on these records. It was a really stripped down recording infrastructure. I tried to let the songs just be what they are. I started everything with acoustic guitar and vocals and then recorded on top of it. I didn't want to over-produce it, I didn't want to over-think it, I just thought that each song has its own universe and if it's going to be a minimal universe that's what it's going to be and I don't need to force anything.

I didn't really know where any of this was going when I started. In September of 2014, after we finished the second Invisible Hands album Teslam, I sat down Adham and Cherif in my apartment in Cairo and I played them all these songs or fragments of songs from my entire life, from 40 years ago to now. I played them two hours worth of demos and they listened and took notes and they were all in, I think that's the key to everything. They were willing to explore anything.

The majority of the electric guitar and all of the keyboards come from those two guys and so it really helped solidify a sound for all these songs from the inception. Adham ended up being the co-producer and he was the engineer for everything and came up with some really interesting ideas. I usually don't co-produce, but it was great working with him and he did an amazing job with very few tools to work with.

To talk about the cover songs, most of these are pretty obscure….

Yeah, I suppose… and even if you know the artist you might not know the song. You might know Morricone but might not know the track "Il Forte/The Fort" is from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, where it's done very slowly, like a funeral march, and I turned it into a more up-tempo thing. And Sly Stone wrote "Are You Sure?" but he gave it to Beau Brummels and produced it. "Wanted Man" is a Dylan song given to Johnny Cash. Yeah, and Lee Hazelwood, and Gene Clark …. Not their most famous songs, but songs that I love, that's why I wanted to do them.

You've appropriated them, you've changed the lyrics to fit more with your own commentaries and your own outlook.

Yes, with a couple of exceptions. I have no problem re-writing anyone. Nothing is sacred when it comes to words or poetry. I find the original "Wanted Man" and the Nick Cave version pretty boring and cheesy. The original is boring and typical for Johnny Cash and fair enough, it's Johnny Cash, it works for 1969, but the Nick Cave version was a little bit cheesy, he's trying to sound like a bad ass and it doesn't work. My version is ridiculously absurd but I think it's more updated and a little bit more wanted.

But as a commentary on your previous work…

On the whole world, actually, and the people in this world. It's a commentary on them and it's a commentary on what's swirling around out there in a million different layers that most people who are very singularly dimensional will refuse to ever even think to consider the possibility of what's swirling around them right in front of their eyes and they don't seem to want to acquire the tools to find their way into these worlds that are probably even more real than the ones that they think are real.

To me this project is your most personal statement. It seems to be coming a bit closer from the heart, closer from home.

Well, yes, it's more traditionally recorded and presented as something that is more familiar to more people, more accessible, more… coming from my youth, I suppose, the music that I used to listen to. So in that way you're right, but it encompasses a lot of different things and I'm not really sure what it all means. I think that the three records are a statement that work together as a trilogy, as a 35 song narrative, yet each record has a different personality, yet they sonically fit together enough for me to release as a volume set of three parts.

Are you anthologizing yourself?

I don't know. I'm just trying to do it in a way where I'm not going to lose money [laughter]. I wouldn't want to do it cheaply, maybe I'll do a nicer box-set later, but for now I think it's going to have to stick with this and people can buy what they want.

To get to specifics, what does the phrase "Mark Twain August" mean?

That's for you to tell me. I have a lot of different interpretations for it but I would hate to spoil the party. I think there's enough in there so people can formulate their own interpretations. I really don't like to try to define what I'm saying because often these things come off the top of my head anyway and I really don't know where they're going or what they mean.

That's the only track with a banjo on it.

Milky plays banjo on it. I thought he was going to laugh at me when I said I wanted a wah-wah banjo but instead of laughing he just went out and got it and hooked it up and played it. And it was incredible how it all turned out.

And he's doing the backing vocals, too?

No, Adham and Cherif are doing the backing vocals on that. I think all the backing vocals on the male parts are those two guys. It's primarily the Invisible Hands, Aya, Cherif and Adham, doing the backup vocals on most tracks with Aya doing several co-lead vocals with me. Hana Al Bayaty is doing vocals on three tracks and I'm doing a lot of the backup vocals as well.

Tell me about "I'll Carry Your Dwarf". It's the only track where you don't sing the lead.

Yeah, Hana is doing the lead there, and we do a co-lead on "Mandolyne" and she's doing the backing vocals with me on "Crackled Witch."

Those are your lyrics? or did she write them?

I wrote the lyrics but she came up with the idea for the song. She gave examples of how it could be stated, like "I won't do this, I won't do that, but I'll carry your dwarf." So I ended up writing the rhymes and the lines but we really worked on it together.

Because it's a female lead vocal it seems to push back against some of the more overtly masculine songs.

It had to be a female vocal. I couldn't do the vocal because a male doesn't carry a child.

It brings the whole record down to earth because you get this kind of feminine commentary about not putting up with a lot of shit you get from a man.

Perhaps. I think more than anything it's absurd and it's the kind of comedy that can attract anyone.

I don't listen to a lot of modern pop, but from what I'm exposed to, the only sound that is similar to this new record is Jack White's solo albums, especially Blunderbuss (2012) and Lazaretto (2014). There are a lot a similarities in the instrumentation, a lot of organ, a lot of acoustic guitar, and also some of the themes… There's a heavy "don't tread on me" Americana vibe.

I haven't heard any of that stuff, I'd be curious now that you mention that, but I haven't heard any of his solo work.

White's far more mainstream than you are, but he's also kind of on the periphery of the mainstream… the old word for that was "alternative", I don't know what they use these days.

Yeah, I don't either, but I know he's very eclectic in his decision making on where he goes with his music.

What I'm hearing is your work moving closer to the mainstream periphery.

I always thought that the mainstream was moving a little bit closer to me, but if you want to put it that way, that's okay. I know that I'm not ever entering that world because that's the world of the industry and the industry turns me off. I'm putting it out on my own label, there's going to be a thousand copies or less of everything here. It doesn't have anything to do with the mainstream in terms of philosophy, but when you're talking about the way that the songs are structured, verse-chorus… these kinds of things, then perhaps I can see it, but… really for me, if the mainstream was closer to this record then that would be really interesting.

Anything else coming up? Sun City Girl vault material coming forward, or any Uncle Jim stuff?

Yeah, there's going to be some Sun City Girl albums being reissued. Alvarius B. and Dwarfs of East Agouza and Invisible Hands are all continuing… it's a slower process with the Hands, there's lots of scheduling issues with everyone. Something I've been thinking about is an Uncle Jim touring show, which would be fun to do. The longer I wait, the older and the more like the real Uncle Jim I will become. So I have a little time….

* * *

With a Beaker on the Burner and An Otter in the Oven double-CD released on Abduction Records 3 November.

With a Beaker is also released over three separate vinyl LPs: Vol. 1 Natural Wonder (6 October), Vol. 2 A Mark Twain August (20 October ), and Vol. 3 Heathen Folklore (3 November).

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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