Category Archives: Culture

A Conversation With Sylken Somers

Separating music into genres has always bothered me. I much prefer to ask if a piece of music works despite the label? Does it touch me? Do I want to hear it again? After all, I may ignore a fabulous song if it’s classified with a genre I’m not fond of! So, when I discovered a three-track EP titled Prone by Sylken Somers, I didn’t pay attention to the eleven label tags the artist had listed on their Bandcamp page. Of course, it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway because I was immediately seduced by the first cut, Tenderhead Tenderheart. What is this? I shouted just as the melodica came in. A melodica? Reggae luminary, Augustus Pablo had made the toy instrument an integral part of his famed “Far East” sound, yet here that distinctive sound was almost at odds with what at first I took for a sad love song. But then Sylken sings, “I gaze in a haze while time stands still” And without warning – silence, long enough to make you worried, then the music starts up again and you realize this is no ordinary love song. In fact, this is not a love song.* Tenderhead Tenderheart could be a cry, a cry of despair. The love may never have been there. Listen carefully to the ending, distant voices, barely discernible even with earbuds, suggest you need to hear this track again and – again. Cut two, Robots, starts abruptly with more sad-sounding vocals overlaid with a cacophony of found sounds, a metallic beat, distant voices and then a stuttering effect that slows down as Sylken croons while the sound of rain and a storm(?) set the mood. If there is any other instrument except the bass I may have missed it. “I close my eyes and shut the curtains.” Sylken plaintively sings as the song fades to a close. The last and longest track, Wringing My Hands opens with what could be described as “waking from a dream” coda, which quickly morphs into hazy vocals from Sylken. The clockwork music-box sounds instead of being at odds with the vocals add an intriguing ominous tone. The lyrics seem deliberately hard to decipher, yet, “Wringing my hands” comes through ever so clearly. After a short instrumental break, you soon realize the artist has not only a lovely but distinctive voice. The rumbling up-front bass with the mixture of percussive sounds may persuade some train-spotters to talk of Nu Jazz – but that’s another label. An instrumental break comes from the music-box before the vocals begin again. Is Sylken angry? The metallic percussion becomes more intense as “Wringing my hands, wringing my hands” is repeated. Finally, “You left me wringing my hands” closes the song after almost eight minutes.

So fascinated was I by the music of this artist I had not heard of before and could not find any rave reviews – anywhere, I was determined to learn more, maybe a chat, if possible. We reached out to Sylken and the response was almost immediate, so a transatlantic interview was arranged. Sylken was delightful, engaging and damn funny. Yet, on playback, I knew I had wasted an opportunity to learn a little more about this talented singer-songwriter-poet-producer. It probably was one of those many tags on their Bandcamp page – Queer. I didn’t want to pry and I didn’t want to make gender or sexuality an issue. Another call was made and I asked Sylken if I should have been more enquiring. “I’m an open book!” The answer came rapidly, so we set off on our second conversation. The result is an honest, unabashed chat about music, life, being non-binary and sexual fluidity.

Norman B – February 2020

*credit (almost) to Martin AtkinsKeith Levene & John Lydon

Show #361

A Tribute To Andy Gill

Simon Reynolds by Adriana Bianchedi

“If a single word could describe Gang of Four’s Andy Gill—who led a version of the group from their formation in the late 1970s right up until his death on February 1—it might be “steely.”  It captures everything from his innovative and massively influential guitar style, which sounded like metal splintering, to his stern stage persona, to his brisk, no-nonsense demeanor in interviews. A guitar-hero for a “no more heroes” era, Gill saw rock as an agent of change: a hammer to reshape reality, not just reflect it.” The opening paragraph from Simon Reynold’s eloquent tribute in Pitchfork on the untimely passing of Andy Gill. Reynolds joins Life Elsewhere to talk about the Gang of Four guitarist’s legacy and the importance of his influence on legions of musicians.

Jon King & Andy Gill

It was devastating news for Jon King to learn of the sudden death of his longtime friend and bandmate. To add to the emotional whirl that descended up him, just an hour before Norman B was scheduled to chat with Jon, he sent a message to ask if the conversation could be delayed for a while as his daughter had just gone into labor. A roller-coaster of emotions ensued for Jon, he had just lost a dear partner of many, many years then just mere days after, he was celebrating the birth of a grandchild. With so much more to engage his time, Jon King graciously allowed us to hear his thoughts on the loss of Andy Gill and welcoming a newborn into his life. Jon’s remembrances are touching, he describes his bandmate as being nowhere near as dour as the persona he was known to present. You’ll hear the emotion of a man trying to rationalize what has just occurred in his life. We thank Jon King for sharing his thoughts, we send him our sincere condolences. 

Show #360

Two Questions About Love

With Valentines Day just around the corner we gathered together a stellar cast of participants to share their thoughts on love by asking two questions:

1. What is love?

2. What is your favorite love song?

Dr. Jennifer Mercieca from Texas A & M University teaches classes on politics, media, and propaganda, but she also uses her academic acumen to answer our questions about love. Acclaimed creative director Robert Newman always has fascinating, cultural information to share, so you can expect his take on our love questions to be notable. Laura Palmer operates the impressive online station, WNRM The Root, her encyclopedic music knowledge suggests she will come up with a treat for What is your favorite love song? The distinctive voice of legendary singer-songwriter, Ronny Elliott suggests he has seen his fair share of love, so how will he answer our two questions? In our recent conversation, the unbridled honesty of new-discovery, Sylken Somers, we knew her views on love had to be included. The man who works with words for a living, Penguin-Random House copy chief, Benjamin Dreyer was an obvious candidate to answer two questions about love.

All of our guests tackle the first question, “What is love?” In a similar fashion, yet their answers are distinctive and clearly personal. For question number two, ‘What is your favorite love song?” Their answers are as surprising as they are different. Try and see if you can match the guest with their favorite love song:

Laura Nyro – Sexy Mama

Judie Tzuke – Under The Angels

Santana with Rob Thomas – Smooth

Sade – By My Side

Ella Fitzgerald – Always

Dayna Kurtz – Venezuela


Show #359

The Negativity Effect & Standing Out

Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it’s mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All-day long, the power of bad governs people’s moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics. Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn’t find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature. Our brain’s negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today’s media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisis mongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed—and vote for—the voices telling us the world is going to hell. Noted science journalist and co-author, John Tierney talks with Norman B about The Power Of Bad – How the Negative Effect Rules Us And How We Can Rule It.

Jamie Mustard is an avid consumer of popular culture, he is also a graduate of the London School of Economics. And, he is obsessed with the “economics of attention”. In his fascinating book, The Iconist – The Art And Science Of Stranding Out, Mr. Mustard discusses why the rise of digital media, advertising and the constant barrage of information makes it difficult to be seen and heard. The branding and design strategist explains how individuals, organizations, and brands can break through the noise. He says the secret to standing out lies in creating content that the desired audience will “lock” onto and remember with little effort – simple, bold ideas that can be immediately understood. He blends relevant examples from history and pop culture with cutting-edge psychology, Mustard explores why certain things stick and others fade from memory – as examples, he asks, “Why do we immediately recognize art by Van Gogh and Warhol? What does Beethoven share with Rage Against the Machine and Madonna? What makes us remember the words of Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Junior (and Domino’s Pizza, for that matter)?” Jamie Mustard is an animated conversationalist, his interaction with Norman B will certainly prompt you to reassess your ideas on Standing Out.

Show #358

A Rare, Intimate Conversation With Colin Moulding

While XTC was founded in 1972, it wasn’t until 1979 that XTC had their first UK charting single. Although less prolific than his bandmate, Andy Partridge, bass-player, Colin Moulding wrote the first three charting singles Life Begins At The HopMaking Plans For Nigel, and Generals and Majors. By 2007 it was reported that Colin “was not interested in music”. Yet over the next couple of years, he made guest appearances on a number of recordings with various artists. Then, in 2017 Moulding announced that he and former XTC drummer, Terry Chambers had recorded a four-track EP, titled Great Aspirations.  The bass player and drummer began promoting their new project under the moniker of, TC&I and planned a small tour in England. After hearing the remarkable new recordings, and recognizing a large ongoing interest in XTC and Moulding, we set about arranging an intimate conversation with the Swindon-based musician. The result, an unabridged chat between Colin Moulding and Life Elsewhere host, Norman B. You’ll hear Colin talk about the early days of a fledgeling rock band, his early influences and a preference for an intuitive approach to songwriting. He also dismisses the ragged myths of unquenchable availability sex and drugs for young musicians, but he does endorse being reasonable while learning along the way. Colin Moulding is a gracious talented man and a delightful conversationalist. Make sure you don’t miss this edition of Life Elsewhere.

Photo by Laima Bite

Show #357

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