When it comes to rocking out, geek-style, there are no better bandmates than Scott K. Andrews and Magnus Anderson.
Scott has written for virtually every media, from the Kitschies-nominated Children's Crusade to audio plays for Big Finish to the best book on Dawson's Creek you'll ever read (Anne laughed for two days). For those that have ever met Mr Andrews, you'll know why he's an obvious pick for this week's Friday Five - he's a font of musical lore.
Magnus has also been published by Big Finish and has appeared numerous times on Resonance FM's Lollards of Pop. He's our go-to guru for all aspects of geek culture and is currently distilling some of his knowledge into a mysterious project being released in 2012.
Those who are about to rock - we salute you! [Wow. I've always wanted to type that. Who knew?!] You can sing along with the YouTube playlist.
"The Ballad of Barry Allen" - Jim's Big Ego. This track creates some kind of music/geek interface critical mass. Jim Infantino, singer and songwriter with the awesome Jim’s Big Ego, is nephew of Carmine Infantino, legendary comic book artist and co-creator of The Flash, whose original incarnation, Barry Allen is the subject of this song from his nephew’s album They’re Everywhere, for which he created the cover art. GEEKGASM! All this would merely be fodder for pub quiz questions if the song weren’t so damn brilliant, clever and unexpectedly poignant.
Bubbling under: JBE do the same thing for Peter Parker in "Being a Bug"
"Code Monkey" - Jonathan Coulton. Although his latest album signifies a confident maturation, Jonathan Coulton started his singing career as the world’s foremost purveyor of geek songs. He’s got songs about zombies, Benoît Mandelbrot (free download), giant squid (I imagine this is on permanent repeat on the Pornokitsch office iPod), robots, more robots, yet more robots (free download), evil geniuses (free download) and much more. In the end I plumped for his melancholy lament for frustrated computer programmers, "Code Monkey".
Bubbling under: Far too many to choose from.
"Star Wars" - Ryan Adams. A few years back Ryan Adams had completed his latest album early and found himself with a week’s worth of studio time booked and nothing to record. So Ryan, the self professed ‘sentimental geek’, decided to create, from scratch, a thrash metal sci-fi concept album about galactic war, giant lasers and Electro Snakes. As you do. The opening track devolves into repeated throat tearing screams of ‘IMMINENT GALACTIC WAR!”. Released on vinyl only, for extra geek points, the album is called Orion, it is the single geekiest musical recording ever created, and it is Unbelievably. Fucking. Awesome. It is also, however, a bit of an acquired taste. So I plumped for this track from Cardinals IV, which contains the priceless lyric ‘All I want is a girl who loves me like I love Star Wars’.
Bubbling under: "Ghorgon, Master of War!" from Orion
"Superman's Song" - Crash Test Dummies. Look, I know that Mmm Mmm song was annoying as all holy hell. But come on, this is a song is entirely constructed around trying to decide who is coolest: Superman or Tarzan. That’s just…. Fantastic!
Bubbling under: Nope, haven’t got a bean.
"My Space" - Evelyn Evelyn. Amanda Palmer rules. But for a while, as she struggled to free herself from a recording contract, she was forbidden to record under her own name. Her solution was to create fictional conjoined twins, sew a dress into which she and a mate could squeeze themselves, then tour and record entirely in character as Evelyn Evelyn. The album that resulted mixed weirdly disturbing David Lynchian narrative interludes with spot-on parodies of different musical genres. This faux-80s synth pop ode to Internet cafes made me laugh so hard the first time I heard it, that the people opposite me on the train thought I was having some kind of seizure. Hell, the album now even has its own comic book edition, how geeky is that?
Bubbling under: "Oasis", a super-dark and super-funny song about how being a geek fan of anything makes everything else alright (if you’re, you know, mental)
"Big Shell West Bristol" - Ben Cousins. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a tense, violent, dourly finger-wagging game about the threat of nuclear weapons, so it jarred with some gamers when the story wrapped up with a gentle, almost insipid jazz ballad. For a while it became a by-word for producer indulgence, so when Ben Cousins remixed it, compellingly mashing it with a production style borrowed from Portishead, the praise it received was all the more pointed. But still deserved: it’s an amazing transformation, expertly scalping the original’s wafting sound, and then transcending it to make something altogether more haunting. Even nearly a decade later, it’s still regarded as one of the best game remixes ever made.
"A Visit to a Sad Planet" - Leonard Nimoy. So many bubbly classics in Leonard Nimoy’s debut album, yet it finished with this earnest sci-fi yarn featuring – wait! – a cautionary twist. See if you can guess - listen to it now.
NOOOOOO-...oh. There’s something charming about the way this sternly delivered morality tale is so convinced of its power to shock. At least it would have been a surprise if the planet had been called, say, Kevin.
A better delivered, and far more self-aware warning comes from Hazel O’Conner’s "Eighth Day": it’s melodramatic and arch, but also in cahoots with the listener. In live performances, O’Conner’s performance would brim with excess, and the audiences were more than willing to indulge her. The story is cold and horrific sci-fi, but delivered so vampishly that it may as well be a missing song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
It’s hard to think of a more consistently geeky band than Daft Park, who’s Cylon masked (and voiced) anonymity eventually earned them a place in the Tron franchise. For me their high mark is "Harder Better Faster Stronger" – from a light synthpop base, the absences in the vocals eventually fill in to create a sense of relentless, barely comprehendible activity. I found this at once giddyingly high and terrifying: it is another warning of a technological domnion, but this time insisting that we must turn into robots ourselves.
"Spellbinder" - TheWeevil. Spellbinder is a barely remembered game for the 8-bit BBC Micro which sported curiously evocative theme music. In 2003, retro game enthusiast Dave Moore asked his friend to remix it, which he did, overnight and quite spectacularly. But unknown to either of them, the tune had itself been pinched from ‘Midnight Summer Dream’, an oblique album track by the Stranglers, credited only deep inside the code of the game. I like both TheWeevil’s take and the original, but what I find most interesting is that the tone of the song can still be traced through these unlikely filters: the sparse, echoey voice of the BBC Micro meant the haunt of the original lingers even though the vocals are lost, and with roar of early 2000s electronica, it feels like a spell is getting stronger with each iteration.
Those are tough acts to follow. I don't have the musical knowledge that the others do, but, as if in compensation, I have an inhuman lack of shame. So here goes...
"The Good Soldier" - NIN. Teh Trentlord deserves a mention and there's no geekier album in his (fairly geeky) ouevre than Year Zero. The concept album follows the story of time-travelling projects from a dystopian future. NIN also seeded the album in the most bizarre and marketing-prescient way I've ever seen - tiny little factoids and hidden tracks, buried throughout the internet and at concerts. This is also a cracking good track of what Anne calls "emo boy rock" - slightly forlorn yet hyper-masculine vocals about how we're all pretty much doomed.
"The Doctor Who Theme" - Orbital. Honestly, I'm surprised that, of the three of us, I'm the one to pounce on this. I love a bit of boingy house music and watching (because it is a true audio-visual nutjob experience) Orbital unleash on an already-catchy theme is one astounding experience. (Honestly, crank the volume on this one and bounce around like Matt Smith. He's just having so much fun.)
"Confusion" - New Order. Again with the boingy house, but how could you not see Blade in the theatre and walk out thinking, "fucking hell, the opening scene was AWESOME" (followed by "...shame about the rest of the film"). If you're going to get together with all your hot vampire friends and shred a sleazy clubber, this is the track to beat.
"Feel Good Inc" - Gorillaz. Pretty much the Venn Diagram of geeky music. Geeky band, geeky theme (dystopian future again) and song by animated mutant-monkey-people-things. Tough to top.
"Oops, I Did It Again" - Britney Spears. It's on Mars. I did warn about the "no shame" thing.
Special Bonus Hate: The theme tune to Firefly makes my soul die.
So, what about you? What are your favorite and least favorite geeky tracks... tell us in the comments!