MP3 At 3PM: Emily Curtis

Emily Curtis is gearing up to release the Hindsight EP in November, but for now we’ve got her track “Battleshade” for your streaming and/or downloading pleasure. “Battleshade” is a big pop song with tact, backing away from an expected explosive hook to give the focus to Curtis’ stellar voice. Check it out below.

“Battleshade” (download):

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MAGNET Classics: The Making Of Wire’s “Pink Flag”

The making of Wire’s Pink Flag

By A.D. Amorosi

Though born of the punk moment, ethos and conviction, the debut of Wire on Pink Flag—conceived, executed and produced as a full work, rather than conforming to the era’s focus on DIY sound or singles simply strung together—has as much to do with punk as cheese does with giraffes. From its fast-and-furious, stripped-to-the-bone approach to its fleetingly short, often fragmented songcraft (21 tracks in less than 36 minutes); from its intentional dissonance without eschewing melody or big production values to its precision-driven stops and starts and the detached, acerbic wit of its abstractionist lyrics, Pink Flag sounded like nothing else of its time, in its time and—dare we say—in this time, 40 years later.

“It was deliberate, we were deliberate—even though we hadn’t done this before,” says guitarist/vocalist Colin Newman of Pink Flag’s sonic assault and modern primitivism. The album happened so quickly after the quartet’s formation that you can’t help but guess that such haste added to the persistent aggression—an artful minimalism with no display of, or interest in, rock ’n’ roll. The sense of urgency and experimentation that informed Wire’s 1977 debut would also figure into the band’s evolution.

“There was strength and a lack of compromise in their music from the start,” says Mike Thorne, the A&R man and producer who got hold of Wire—Newman, guitarist Bruce Gilbert, bassist Graham Lewis and drummer Robert Gotobed—barely six months after its inception. Wire appeared alongside Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex and others on Thorne’s The Roxy London WC2 (Jan-Apr 77) live document of the Covent Garden, London, club at the dawn of punk. In September 1977, Thorne got the foursome signed to EMI’s Harvest division and recorded Pink Flag at London’s Advision Studios with a shockingly layered (and decidedly un-punk) sound.

“When it became just the four of us working together, we got some very basic ideas down very fast,” says Lewis. “Like the stopping and starting of everything together was very effective.” He laughs. “And being in tune was good, too.”

As the “just the four us” phrase lingers in the air, one thing becomes clear at the start of this story: There would be no Pink Flag, follow-up albums Chairs Missing (1978) and 154 (1979) or even much of a Wire at all if guitarist/vocalist George Gill hadn’t broken some bones and taken time recuperating. “Ah, George,” says Lewis with both an air of sweet reminiscence and near despair. “The four of us collaborated and cooperated with each other in a very straightforward fashion, where with George, well … he tended to be ill-disciplined, really.”

Lingering too long on Wire’s origin story would be boring, if not for the fact that it occurred so close to Pink Flag. Before Wire formed, its members were rooted in art-school traditionalism: Watford Art College for Newman, Gilbert and Gill; Hornsey College of Art for Lewis, a textiles major who transferred to fashion design and had a hand in creating the oversized T-shirt with huge lettering fad. Newman and Gill both had something close to musical experience; Gotobed—née Grey—had been a vocalist in an R&B group, the Snakes, whose other members went on to form the Motors.

When Newman got to Watford, he immediately came to share a house with fellow students, including Gill, who began utilizing the college studio run by Gilbert, himself an experimentalist when it came to tape loops and musique concrète. “Bruce was always in it all for art, never music,” says Lewis of his friend and Wire’s true Dadaist. (Newman even recalls how Gilbert was influenced by Dadaist godfather Marcel Duchamp and his notion of ready-made art.) “Besides, Bruce was always embarrassed by the display of music, of standing onstage as a band person.”

Eventually, in 1976, Gill (the songwriter), Newman and newly minted guitarist Gilbert became Overload. Gilbert, who had befriended Lewis, asked him to come to a session with his bass. “I lied and told them I could play, so I had to borrow one from a friend,” says Lewis. Gotobed met Newman at a party where each was impressed with the other’s black-heavy sartorial splendor. Overload was complete—except for that band moniker.

“Overload is a rubbish name, but that’s when we had George in the band,” says Newman, with a hint of arch distaste, as if he’d eaten lemons dipped in gravel. “Bruce used to come ’round often, as he lived nearby. When Graham and Robert joined in, we realized that we had to have a proper name, like, ‘We have a gig and have to make up a name quick’ deal.” Newman hung lists of names around the Watford flat, but it was Gilbert who came up with “two really good ones,” in Newman’s estimation: the Case and Wire. Newman and Co. liked the one word un-wordiness of Wire—the starkness, the bluntness, the vagueness—one that ultimately fit with Pink Flag’s short, sharp feel. “Mind you, our good taste didn’t stop promoters from printing our name in barbed-wire lettering,” says Newman. “That was so common in the punk ’70s. So obvious. So hateful.”

For the just-born Wire braintrust, being obvious was a cardinal sin on par with murder, adultery and bad taste. Yet Wire was stuck in the rocky sea of ’70s obviousness—of old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll done fast and sloppy—that was the then-burgeoning punk movement.

“One thought that the ‘punk movement’ would be the start of a very open, experimental situation for all mediums,” says Gilbert. “And although it was true initially, it soon became very clear that it was a superficial and commercial bandwagon.”

Newman went a little further with his level of aversion. “Most of punk rock was bullshit, messy, disorganized,” he says. “I never got that whole thing where bands didn’t care if they made mistakes. Wire cared.”

Punk was not what Newman or Gilbert were listening to. They didn’t have friends in London’s 1976-77 punk-rock scene. “Nobody in punk bands then actually liked seeing other punk bands—they only went to sneer at each other, to mock,” says Newman.

Instead, Wire’s members were fans of the Euro-mantic likes of Roxy Music or the repetition-heavy Can and other krautrock acts. On the American side of the ledger, there was the Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman’s Modern Lovers and Patti Smith. (Mention to Newman that interviews between this writer and British punk avatars such as the Damned’s Dave Vanian and Public Image Ltd’s Jah Wobble yielded nothing but compliments for Wire, and Newman is genuinely surprised. “Somebody had to like us because we got signed, but we never heard from anyone in that scene in our initial time out,” he says. “We actually never heard from any musicians until American hardcore hit in the ’80s.”)

As Overload turned into Wire, only the brevity, speed and directness of the Ramones and Buzzcocks were attractive to the band members. “That was the problem with most of punk—it was sloppy,” says Newman. “I loathed sloppiness.”

And who personified sloppy “punk” more than anyone? Good old George Gill, a brash lad who loved a good histrionic guitar solo. The five-piece’s lone demo session from August 1976, produced by band pal Nick Garvey in a basement studio in Stockwell, features one delicious artifact that would come to mean something on Pink Flag: the original raw, rocky take on “Feeling Called Love.”

“Did Colin say all that about George?” asks Lewis, chuckling. “Thing about George is that he had a lot of attitude, which was quite useful at the beginning. People were either scared by or enthralled with him. It was all a bit crazy and chaotic with him in the band. And his songs weren’t terribly good. But the rest of us were connecting at the same time.”

That connection came together more quickly when Gill broke his ankle in February 1977. “He was stealing gear from some punk band, an amplifier, and fell down a flight of steps at some pub in Kilburn,” says Newman. “So much for punk brotherhood.”

This accident, however, was when Wire truly began, bonding more as musicians. They suddenly began rehearsing with frequency, intensity and haste, and with the blunt sound that would become Pink Flag’s signature.

However, the members of Wire did not become friends at that point, beyond the camaraderie shared by Lewis and Gilbert (then and now). “We were never lads or drinking buddies, but Bruce was my connection to music,” says Lewis.

“No, we were never pals or hung out, though I dare say we had—and still have—something different between us, in that we are probably like a family, albeit a radically dysfunctional one,” adds Newman.

With Gill gone for the time being, Newman began to push forward his songs to the rest of Wire. “To start, though, we did actually play George’s songs—just better than he did, and without him,” says Newman dryly. “That’s the kind of discovery that made us look forward.”

Newman stops and insists that this was Wire’s shining hour. “I can’t emphasize this enough,” he says. “That accident became Wire. We went from being immediately messy to extremely organized. I began to write, too, which was odd because I certainly didn’t fancy myself a songwriter before that.”

During that initial three-week period of rehearsals sans Gill, out came in quick succession the stripped-down roar of “Lowdown,” “Brazil,” “12XU,” “Strange,” “Mr. Suit,” “Three Girl Rhumba” and “106 Beats That”—all of which found a place on Pink Flag. “Lowdown” came first when, following a Damned concert that Newman and Lewis attended, the latter handed the former a set of lyrics to a song the guitarist had played during rehearsals.

“I think I was fairly up front about writing lyrics after that,” says Lewis about the abstract visions culled from dreams or history books or rich concepts in his head, such as the thrill of “12XU.” “The text of ‘12XU’ is special being a three-hander between Bruce, Colin and myself—my edit, though. It manages to encompass self-censorship, transgender sexuality and queer slang—that ‘got you in a corner, got you in a cottage’—whilst turning a cliché and advertising smoking.”

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From The Desk Of Juana Molina: “Conquest Of The Useless” By Werner Herzog

It’s a good thing that Argentine artist Juana Molina cut her showbiz teeth acting in humorous ’80s/’90s TV shows, because the singer—who’s just released her seventh album, Halo—is practically living a real-life sitcom. Her daughter Francisca, now 23, has moved out and wants nothing to do with the family business, which dates back to Molina’s high-profile folks, tango singer Horacio Molina and thespian Chunchuna Villafañe. But the comedic axis on which Molina’s life revolves is Rosa, her ex-husband’s nanny, who stayed on after their divorce more than a decade ago. Molina even penned a tune for her housemate called “The Gift,” but it didn’t make the final Halo cut. Molina will be guest editing all week. Read our new feature on her.

Molina: If you saw Fitzcarraldo, and especially if you liked it, you will enjoy this diary. Herzog talks about the impossible as an everyday experience. And if you haven’t seen the movie, then you have two recommendations …

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Happy Birthday Mark Sandman (Morphine)

Happy birthday to Mark Sandman (Morphine). Read Eugene Mirman on Mark in MAGNET here.

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Essential New Music: Matt Pond PA’s “Still Summer”

Matt Pond and his ever-rotating gang of collaborators return with their 12th album, a melancholy song cycle that drifts down a river of long, empty days and warm, endless nights, haunted by the ghosts of lost love. The scenarios may be washed by the glowing heat of summer, but the chill of winter is lurking in the empty emotional landscapes Pond describes. His vocals seldom rise above a whisper and slowly pull you down into the album’s dreamy despondency. Even uptempo numbers such as “A Spark” and the title track are steeped in the knowledge of limitation and look forward to the inevitable end of all the good times. The strongest tracks are “Last Breath” and “Canada,” songs that face heartache directly, celebrating the momentary intensity of the love that makes life worth living. The ambient instrumental interludes that punctuate the tracks add to the overall feeling of hopelessness and sorrow.

j. poet

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In The News: R.E.M., Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Mavis Staples, Andrew W.K., Norah Jones, Dan Deacon, Tegan And Sara, Willie Nelson And More

R.E.M.‘s classic Automatic For The People gets a 25th-anniversary reissue November 10 via Craft. The two-CD version contains the remastered original album plus a live recording of the only show the band played in 1992, while the four-CD deluxe edition adds a disc of 20 never-before-heard demos as well as Blu-ray that features the LP remixed in both Dolby Atmos (marking the first time an album was commercially released in this format) and high-definition audio as well videos and a digital press kit … Black Rebel Motorcycle Club returns January 12 with Wrong Creatures courtesy of Vagrant … With If All I Was Was Black (out November 17 on Anti-), Mavis Staples reunites with Jeff Tweedy for album number three, with this outing marking the first time all the songs were written by Tweedy … It’s been more than a decade, but Andrew W.K. is still fighting for your right to party, with an as-yet-untitled new LP due March 2 via Sony … Speaking of partying, it’s time to dust off your white, three-piece, bellbottom suit and your boogies shoes: On November 17, Capitol/UMe will release the 40th-anniversary edition of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack as a two-CD/two-LP/Blu-ray boxed set and a two-CD package; both contain a remastered version of the original Bee Gees-led, 17-track album, plus four Serban Ghenea remixes, while the super-deluxe box adds the remastered original record on 180-gram vinyl in a double-LP gatefold jacket, a Blu-ray with the film’s restored director’s cut and theatrical version (both in 4K resolution with an updated surround-sound mix), a 23-page book, Bee Gees photos/movie stills, a turntable slipmat, five art prints and a movie poster … On October 27, Norah JonesDay Breaks gets the deluxe-edition-reissue treatment from Blue Note, with nine live songs from a 2016 performance … Dan Deacon‘s score to indie flick Rat Film is out October 13 via Domino Soundtracks … To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Tegan And Sara‘s The Con, Warner Bros. is releasing The Con X: Covers on October 20, featuring the album being interpreted by some of the duo’s fave artists, including Ryan Adams, Hayley Williams (Paramore), CHVRCHES and Sara Bareilles … The soundtrack to the Chris Perkel-directed documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, about music-biz legend and Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer Clive Davis, is out via Legacy on September 29; the 20-track collection features some of the many artists who Davis played a key role in during their careers, including Simon & Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Patti Smith Group, the Kinks, Aretha Franklin and the Grateful Dead … Avant-chamber ensemble Thor & Friends will release sophomore effort The Subversive Nature Of Kindness on November 17 via Living Music Duplication … The Professionals (featuring Sex Pistol Paul Cook) have a new album, What In The World, due October 27 on The End/Automaton and sporting a guest roster including fellow Pistol Steve Jones, Mick Jones (Clash), Duff McKagen (Guns ‘’N Roses), Phil Collen (Def Leppard) and Billy Duffy (Cult) … Willie Nelson And The Boys, the second installment in Willie Nelson‘s Willie’s Stash series, is out October 20 via Legacy and features Nelson and sons Lukas and Micah performing country standards, including seven songs written by Hank Williams … Joe Satriani‘s 16th solo album, What Happens Next, will be issued January 12 by Sony/Legacy; the LP was recorded as a trio with bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple) and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) … Johnny Mathis Sings The Great New American Songbook, out September 29 on Columbia, features Johnny Mathis tackling songs written or made famous by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Adele, Pharrell, Josh Groban, R. Kelly, Bruno Mars and Whitney Houston … Mute is kicking off its A Certain Ratio reissue series November 24 with 1979 debut The Graveyard And The Ballroom, 1981’s To Each and 1986’s Force, with a compilation coming in April and more albums and a rarities boxed set later in the year … Evanescence is revisiting some of its previously released songs on Synthesis, out November 10 … Stax Country is a 16-song collection of rare/unreleased country songs recorded for the famed label in the ’70s, out October 20 on Craft … Seal‘s Standards features the singer putting his spin on jazz/swing classics by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone; it’s out via Republic on November 10 … Legacy is issuing a 20th-anniversary edition of Mariah Carey‘s Butterfly as a vinyl picture disc on October 20 … Pistoleros (which has included members of Gin Blossoms, Jayhawks and Smithereens over the past 25 years) returns courtesy of Fervor on November 3 with Silver … Christmas corner: Cheap Trick‘s Christmas Christmas (October 20, Big Machine); Various Artists, Holidays Rule Volume 2, featuring Paul McCartney, Jimmy Fallon & The Roots, Norah Jones, Grace Potter, Rosanne Cash, the Decemberists, Lake Street Dive and more (October 13, Capitol); Frank Sinatra‘s Ultimate Christmas (October 6, Capitol/UMe); Elvis Presley‘s Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (October 6, RCA/Legacy); Hanson‘s Finally It’s Christmas (October 27, 3CG/S-Curve); Alabama‘s American Christmas (October 6, BMG); and Balsam Range‘s It’s Christmas Time (October 27, Mountain Home).

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From The Desk Of Tigers Jaw: Clementine von Radics’ “Mouthful Of Forevers”

Spin, Tigers Jaw‘s latest album, is a glowing set of pop/rock tunes that denotes a shift in the band’s timeline. As the first release for producer Will Yip’s Atlantic Records imprint Black Cement, Spin is Tigers Jaw at its most composed and polished. But Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh still build upon their penchant for dizzying, unexpected hooks and bare, honest songwriting. Tigers Jaw will be guest editing all week. Read our Q&A with them.

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Collins: Spin was the first Tigers Jaw record that I specifically sat down to write lyrics to. At times, I was met with writers block that I thought I would never get out of. One thing that really helped and inspired me in some of those difficult moments was to read Mouthful Of Forevers by Clementine von Radics. There are so many similarities between poetry and lyrics; arguably lyrics are poetry put to music, and I love the way that von Radics writes poetry. There’s so much beauty in the simplicity and weight that her words have, as well as pleasant poetic rhythm. The subject matter of her poetry in this book felt so familiar and connected to themes that I myself was working on lyrically.

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Happy Birthday John Coltrane

Happy birthday to John Coltrane. Read the Feelies on the Trane in MAGNET here.

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Essential New Music: Doldrums’ “Esc”

Doldrums, the brainchild of Montreal denizen Airick Asher Woodhead, exists in the odd confluence of rhythmic EDM, soulful indie pop, industrial chaos, deconstructed techno and ambient margin noodling, assembled with a craftsman’s precision and an artist’s haphazard vision. For his third album, Woodhead touches on the sonic signatures of electronic pioneers Brian Eno, Philip Glass and late countryman Nash The Slash, with an aggressive rock layer that suggests Perry Farrell and Al Jourgensen (“Epilogue,” “Swim,” “Against The Glass”). Amid all that unsettling headfuckery, Woodhead and a small coterie of co-conspirators—guest vocalist Jane Penny from TOPS lends a shiver-inducing cross between Annie Lennox and Lana Del Rey on “Perv”—achieve a woozy pop aesthetic that sounds like Rufus Wainwright on a coherent acid binge (“Limerence (We Come In Pieces),” “Heater,” “Runnerup”). If the explanation sounds as chopped-up as the soundtrack to The Texas Computer Chip Massacre, trust that Woodhead-as-Doldrums has succeeded in making a compelling musical/mechanical statement.

Brian Baker

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R.I.P. Charles Bradley

We’ll miss you, Mr. Bradley.

Read Tift Merritt on the man in MAGNET here.

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