Monday, December 30, 2013

Song #461 of 9999 - Psykick Dancehall by The Fall

It's 1979 on 9999 Songs! And I'm already shirking my responsibility!! Tonight, one of my former students and a staunch purveyor of excellent pop/rock, Thomas Neufeld, chimes in with his take on The Fall's sophomore effort. Enjoy!

Song #461 of 9999

Psykick Dancehall
Artist: The Fall
Year: 1979
Album: Dragnet

“Psykick Dancehall” is not my favorite song by The Fall. It’s not my favorite song from Dragnet, and it’s definitely not my favorite song of theirs from 1979. But I have picked it to try and work out some feelings about why their early music hits me harder than nearly any other music, rivaled only by the harmonies of our friends John and Paul or what Guided By Voices accomplished in laundry rooms and basements (Robert Pollard being a strange doppelganger of Mark E. Smith in age, prolificacy and lyrical inscrutability). It may seem a sign of severe mental illness to admit tearing up to The Fall, but I have, listening to their first Peel Session in 1983, where they had two drummers and sound as hypnotic and absolutely perfect as any band I’ve ever heard.

“Psykick Dancehall” kicks off Dragnet, their second album and the first with bassist Steve Hanley and guitarist Craig Scanlon, two absolutely vital components of their sound and deeply underrated musicians. I’m not the first to point out that Hanley’s bass is the Sound of the Fall. His booming tone always cut through the racket of the guitars and vocal squeals of MES, providing a melodic signpost even in impenetrable gusts like 1981’s “Prole Art Threat” or the foggy terror of 1979’s “Spectre vs. Rector."

The track starts off with a voice asking “Is there anybody there?” to which he receives an enthusiastic yell of “yeah!” It’s both a snotty punk call and a more subtle announcement of themes– we are going into the land of spirits, of ESP and mediums. An off-kilter groove develops, with most instruments sounding as if they were recorded in tar pits before Smith’s voice cuts through, at once ranting and precise; note his voice dipping to a pinched whisper for ‘twitching out’ and adopting a rounder tone for ‘bumble, stumble’ in the second verse.

Smith tells a story of a dancehall for ghosts, or by ghosts. People come to dance, but seemingly not to records, but to vibrations and voices of those long past. It’s a striking image, fitting with the paranormal themes of Smith’s early lyrics, a strange mix of the dull and normal with the oblique and haunting (the narrator lives near a computer center, but sees a glowing monster on its roof.) The last verse is particularly striking. “When I’m dead and gone,” the voice assures us, his “vibrations will live on in vibes of vinyl.” People will “dance to his waves” as the years pass. It’s an unsettling yet joyous song, and the words match perfectly.

All the while Hanley leads the way. Scanlon and second guitarist Marc Riley prove a deadly team, their interweaving lines emerging in dissonant pinpricks and oddly voiced chords, with the coda serving as a strong example, one guitarist repeating a queasy cluster while the other plays a spiny, up-and-down riff. An indecipherable vocal sample, and the song ends. Good evening, here is The Fall.

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