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January 23, 2008



I read this piece the day it first appeared, and I was always puzzled by the statement "the distortion is sort of beside the point; it is what it is". I'm still not sure what that is saying. But I bought the LP last night and am very slowly listening to it, and am naturally interested in reading and thinking about it.

A couple of initial thoughts, in dialogue with this PA piece:

1. it is presumably (characteristically) wilful and perverse of an acclaimed lyricist like Merritt to do something so ... uncharacteristic as to start the LP with what is nearly an instrumental. I was going to say he'd never done such a thing before, but then remembered the marvellous 'Dust Bowl'. btw: the opening sound on this opening track recalls the opening noise of Pixies' 'Cecilia Ann', no?

2. I like to hear Shirley Simms sing again, and there are good musical and melodic things about 'California Girls'. But the sentiment is surely terribly trite - it would be lame even on some kind of early-evening teen show, Dawson's Creek / Charmed / whatever, wouldn't it? - and I think it's a little risky to come up with something this weak when you're so self-consciously going up against an identically-titled canonical record from the 1960s.

3. I think the piece above must be right to say that the record tends to sound echoes of earlier Merritt. The first 6 notes of every verse of Simms' 'Xavier Says' are effectively identical to those of Susan Anway's reading of the chorus of 'Jeremy', what, 17 years earlier. Re. the 'Old Fools' = 69LS3 idea, I guess the writer didn't mean this that literally, but perhaps he was thinking of the echo of the speed of 'Yeah, Oh Yeah!' and - the other echo which surely resounds through this whole thing: the pseudo-live-in-studio, distorted / garage sound of 'I'm Sorry I Love You'? *That* unobtrusive track surely turns out to be the great precursor to this whole adventure.

I'm not sure I'm convinced about 'The Nun's Litany': it seems monotonous to me. But I agree about the pathos of 'Old Fools' - it's a pretty serious and real thought, especially as some of us are no longer as young as we would have liked to remain.

4. the distortion issue, though - I'm still not quite sure what MRP was saying here, but I think it might be that the distortion is an arbitrary add-on that could have been on the record or not been on it, and it wouldn't matter either way? Well, I'm sure it's true that the songs were written without all that distortion, and I gather that they've been played live without it too. And I agree that the decision to use so much distortion - like the apparent pride in making all the songs near to 3 minutes - is Merrittian formalism, just like the titular conceit of 'i'. But surely formalism is of his essence: that's what he does, and what prompts much of what he does best; to call it 'clinicism' sounds to me like making a vice of one his virtues (which is a feature that most other people in pop don't share anyway, so there is surely space for it). But beyond that: the distortion idea may be arbitrary, yes; but I am finding its effect quite profound. It surely changes quite a lot how these songs come across to us; they would sound and seem different if performed a la 'i'. It is a kind of statement in itself, and a whole added element of the listening experience (and he's obviously interested in this kind of thing: remember the talk about headphones, epilepsy etc re. 'Abigail' and 'Experimental Music Love' in the 69LS booklet?) - it does make for a quite different LP from what we would otherwise have, and as far as I can tell so far, I think it somehow makes for a better and more interesting one. And dig those drum sounds - the thumping toms and echoing hi-hat, or whatever they are - how they enhance the sonic depth and pop flavour of this record! I think I see here how the songs might be 'at war with themselves', but - unlike that JAMC protagonist whose tale John Peel and Janice Long used to play over and over c.1985 - I don't yet see that Merritt has been tripped up.

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  • If Ayn Rand and Walter Benjamin got in a cage fight and then made up over foie gras, single malt scotch and indie pop, you'd have the delightful adventures of "That Was Probably Awkward." Plus or minus the single malt and foie gras, depending on the week's finances. But always the indie pop. Sad, stirring indie pop. And a decent happy hour.

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