A Rambling - Toenails, Codeine and Musical Therapy

Lukas Clark-Memler

Lukas writes about music for a wide range of international publications and a number of vaguely respected websites. He's music editor here at Chelsey, and hates having an empty inbox, so drop him a line with any questions, comments or music to check out at lukas@getfrank.co.nz

Last week I had my toenail removed. What started out as an ordinary ingrown nail, became infected and puss-filled until my entire toe turned a disturbing shade of mauve and swelled to a rather inconvenient size. This condition made wearing shoes difficult, and, since many restaurants I regularly frequent will not serve shoeless customers, I decided to risk emasculation and get it checked out. After an initial consultation the nurse deemed my toe ‘concerning’ and booked me in to see a doctor. I love medical euphemisms. Doc took one look at my poor hallux and deemed it 'incurable.' No euphemisms there. I get called into a treatment room and meet my surgeon for the day: a sixth-year medical student who tells me she has never done this kind of procedure before, but spent a long time watching ‘how to remove toenail’ videos on YouTube. For some reason this didn't bring me any sense of comfort. In all fairness, she was efficient and gentle, but watching my nail being slowly pulled away from my toe was a fairly vertiginous experience (which is a euphemism for fucking nausea). I was offered to keep the bloody nail as a souvenir, but I declined.

Every cloud has a silver lining however, and I found myself in possession of a potent dosage of codeine. But every silver lining has its own cloud: namely, codeine cannot be mixed with alcohol. Thus, I spent my weekend numbly sober, with nothing but a stack of new CDs and a rapidly decreasing codeine supply for company.


Lights flicker in a sterile changing room, a long-haired and topless jock pumps iron as an oddly dressed pixie girl sways to a tuneless beat oblivious to the overt masculinity. Scene change. A dirt-biker flies through the air as the crowds cheer on, no, it’s a football game, and the odd girl now has pink hair and a boombox. More topless guys covered in grease, with the girl now wearing the vestments of a nun?

I must have been asleep. No, I would never dream of topless jocks, this fantasy sequence is actually the video for Claire Boucher’s (better known by her performance moniker Grimes) “Oblivion.” If I were to describe Grimes’ fourth LP, Visions, I would use words phrases like: post-Internet, refreshingly original, nihilistic self-indulgence, synth-tastic triumph, phosphorescent ecstasy, jubilant escapism. But then I would just sound like some pompous jackass with a thesaurus. Besides, Grimes’ music can’t be defined by adverbs and adjectives. 

One would need to splatter oil on a canvas, or dance to the sound of orcas mating in order to describe Grimes’ masterpiece. It is bizarre art that can only be described by other bizarre art; art that revels in its eccentricity and refuses to submit to contemporary taxonomy. "Not knowing how to play music is my greatest asset,” Boucher once said, and her disregard for conventional instrumentation makes Visions almost anti-music. Grimes’ hyper-reality is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, but for a vague idea, imagine Crystal Castles doused in oil, fused with the sounds of orcas mating. Get the picture? 

Grimes' Claire Boucher


Grimes’ psychedelic mindfuck almost pushed me over the edge; I briefly contemplated downing the half-full bottle of vodka sitting beside my desk; fuck warning stickers that read “effects of mixing alcohol and codeine can be deadly.” Lucky for you Visions is a relatively short record, and my next port of call was cut from an entirely different cloth.

The opening chords of The Black Seeds’ latest, Dust and Dirt, are anything but suicidal, and frontman Barnaby Weir’s salty dub filled me with visions of sun-drenched beaches, exotic cocktails, bonfires and hammocks. The album is by far the most experimental Black Seeds release to date, melding their classic reggae-roots sound with a certain ‘70s funk aesthetic. The record has a nostalgic and sepia-toned feel to it, like it’s a precious artifact from a bygone era that’s been lovingly preserved for the next generation. Flawlessly produced and infectiously chill, Dust and Dirt is the perfect soundtrack to a day at the beach, mellow party, or 2 a.m. painkiller come-down. 


Suddenly I’m all too aware of the fact that I now only have nine toenails and am probably addicted to these pain-pills I keep on popping – a future of snide comments, “hey look at that freak with a missing toenail”, and codeine-dependency lies ahead of me. There’s only one thing that can get me out of this rut: a guitar-heavy blend of Southern rock and Memphis soul. Oh, what a fantastic coincidence that my next album to review is Alabama Shakes’ gritty throwback Boys & Girls. In an age where true authenticity is something few musicians can claim, Alabama Shakes are as ‘real’ as it gets.

Let’ start with influences: lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard is a Janis Joplin incarnate, if Joplin was making music in the ‘30s and… was Black. Throw in a bit of Otis Redding, the guitar prowess of Keith Richards, and the lyrical stylings of Aretha Franklin, and we begin to see the beautiful form of Alabama Shakes take shape.

This is rock music at its most pure and noble. Respecting their roots yet progressing beyond them, Alabama Shakes have produced one of the tightest and most listenable recordings of the year. Boys & Girls is an album of raw power, packed with songs that affirm the human spirit and shed light on the darkest of times – just what the doctor ordered.

I welcome all disagreements, disparate points of views, and, general insults. 
Feel free to share your own thoughts on the state of the current music scene.
And to all of you who share my views... Bless you.

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