Saturday, March 24, 2018

History lesson

The United States of America, as well as coming up with what must be, in retrospect, one of the least Google-able band names ever, are probably best known today for their self-titled debut album, which was clearly a building block for the Broadcast sound.

Of some marginal interest, then, both to Broadcast fans and to historians of the late sixties (and in particular the narrow, sometimes one-raised-eyebrow quizzical and sometimes (not always intentionally) comedic intersection between the New Yorker magazine and the long-hairs) is this extract from the issue dated 30 March 1968, where one of the mainstays of the magazine, Lillian Ross, writes about going to see The United States of America, an "Electronic Rock Band", perform at Judson Hall.

You're welcome.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Hypothetical mixtape 2.06

Let's just.

"Lord It Over", by Dylan Golden Aycock. You are thinking you could be listening to a Ryley Walker track here. You would be wrong, but not that wrong.

Bonus: here it is, unaccompanied. And at greater length. Whatever works, I suppose.

"High Tide", by Mythic Sunship. More sun-drenched psych-tinged guitar playing here, although on this occasion it might be argued they have drenched themselves in more than just the sun. Oh look, they are from Copenhagen. Perhaps slightly less of the sun, then.

"Working Nights", by The Camberwell Now. From the mid-eighties. Formed by This Heat's drummer. Who knew?

"Born Into The Sunset (Lindstrom & Prins Thomas Remix)", by Temples. I had no idea that L&PT were still working together. Here is the proof. Do they still have that Lindstrom & Prins Thomas magic? They do.

"Hey Benji (Prins Thomas Remix)", by Hatchets. I don't know what Prins Thomas was taking in 2017, but we could all benefit from a work rate like his. Two albums; a "version" of a Dungen album; a bunch of singles; a bunch of remixes. Hey, slow down; you're making us all look bad. There are actually enough really cool ideas on this one remix for anyone else to sit back and think to themselves, not bad, I think I'll take the next decade off. But Prins Thomas is not anyone else.

"Maskindans", by Todd Terje feat Det Gylne Triangel. A kinda sorta cover of an early-eighties semi-industrial electronic pop song a la, I suppose, Depeche Mode. The plot twist here is that Todd Terje has enlisted the original artist to do a new vocal track. This was released in the middle of last year; it was supposed to be from a "forthcoming" LP. We're still waiting.

"Inkjet", by Beatrice Dillon and Call Super. I know nothing whatsoever about this. I was attracted to the seemingly infinite depths of sound. Curiously, though, Beatrice Dillon appeared on a 2013 album with, inter alia, Charles Hayward, from The Camberwell Now (see above). Spooky.

"The Beekeeper (Atella's Sand In Shoe Mix)", by Horixon feat Birsen. Everything sounds better with arpeggiated bass synth.

"Love (Is Gonna Be On Your Side)", by Firefly. If, in 1981, you had hit me up with some contemporary funk action, I would have said get outta here punk. (Actually that's not entirely true: Kid Creole And The Coconuts. Also "The Lexicon Of Love", which this track sounds not unlike at some points.) But 37 years later, this, I would be the first to admit, is precisely as fresh as.

"Come Back Clean (Kaskade's Radio Edit)", by The Crystal Method feat Emily Haines. Everything sounds better when it's sung by Emily Haines. FACT!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Song of the day

"My Trade In Sun Tears", by James Elkington.

It has been weighing on me that I was unable to find a place in my 2017 year-end list for James Elkington's "Wintres Woma". If only a top-10 list could go up to 11, like Nigel Tufnel's guitar amp in "Spinal Tap".

Oh well. Life tends not to be like the movies.

Anyway, just because "Wintres Woma" didn't make the list doesn't mean I can't give it a boost. (To the extent, tending towards the non-existent, that this blog is capable of giving anything a boost.) Admittedly it's a record that looks more backward than forward; but the things to which it looks back are things that are all worth hanging onto. Admittedly, too, there is a particular kind of 3/4-time song that I don't have a lot of time for, of which there are a couple of examples on the album. But the rest of it more than makes up for any slight deficiencies on that score, and anyway I seem to be in the minority here (maybe I was damaged as a small child): Aimee Mann, whom I generally admire, but who I suspect will never again hit quite as hard as she did on "Bachelor No 2", just made an entire album of such songs to fairly universal acclaim.

Maybe, too, his guitar playing at this stage is a couple of steps ahead of his songwriting. But these are early days; and anyway, his guitar playing is at least a couple of steps ahead of many, many things.

The penultimate track on the album, "My Trade In Sun Tears", is a good demonstration of his talents. Which are considerable.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hypothetical mixtape 2.05

"I'm back in the saddle again ... I'm baaaaaaack ..." -- from a song by Aerosmith.

"Gonzo", by James Booker. Back in the very dim and very distant past, I did a one-hour radio show of a Wednesday night on a country community FM station. It was copious amounts of fun, subjecting the farmers and other unsuspecting locals to sixty minutes of largely post-punk and other anti-social musics. But as an introduction to the show each week, I tried to find something of an instrumental nature, which caused me to range a bit wider than my usual suspects. (You could, of course, cheat, because you were the one setting the rules: "L.A.", by The Fall, for example, is perhaps not strictly instrumental.) The point being, if I were to, by some miracle, find myself in charge of the airwaves again, this would be a no-brainer candidate for starting off my first show.

"It's A Better Than Good Time (Walter Gibbons Mix)", by Gladys Knight & The Pips. Of course, on radio, if you ever needed a toilet break, you would have to find something of a suitable length to cover for you. I wasn't aware of Walter Gibbons back then, but he is, clearly, the right man for the job. Extended disco tracks (and Arthur Russell was perhaps the master of this; as, in a different context, nowadays, is Ricardo Villalobos) play this trick where, around the time a normal song would start fading out, you start to lose your focus, until you no longer even notice that the song is actually still going, until, however many minutes later, the song snaps back into your consciousness just in time for it to end. You can try it with this 12-minute gem.

"Do On My Feet (What I Did On The Street)", by Dewey Terry. From 1972. From an album called "Chief". That's all you need to know. Which is handy, because it's all I can tell you.

"Woman", by Jeff Liberman. At first glance, this sounds like standard mid-seventies blues-rock guitar wankery, but there is something profoundly weird -- if not downright disturbing -- going on that you can't quite put your finger on. (And possibly wouldn't want to.) Bonus: album cover of the month.

"Cajovna", by M. Efekt. A bunch of likely Czech lads hitting a groove circa 1987. We have the collapse of the Iron Curtain to thank for being able to listen to this. Yes, you should be grateful. And if I was still on the radio I would totally be opening the show with this one week. Bonus: seven-inch single cover of the month. Is that too many covers of the month? It is not.

"Mechanical Fair (Todd Terje Remix)", by Ola Kvernberg & The Trondheim Soloists. In which there is absolutely no hammer dancing to be seen. Or heard. (Monty Python humour. Ask your grandparents.)

"Stone In Focus", by Aphex Twin. Having been a disciple of Aphex's "Selected Ambient Works Volume 2" for some years now but not being of a particularly curious disposition, I was (to say the least) surprised to discover this extra track, available only on a couple of random iterations of the album but not (of course, I may be wrong about this) otherwise. That it is entirely gorgeous, albeit in a somewhat cold and harsh electronic way, only makes its absence from my CD that much harder to bear.

"33A1", by John Bender. On the subject of cold and harsh electronics, there is also this. (Relax. It gets warmer after a couple of minutes.) I understand the criticism of "minimal" techno; but I don't accept it. And, while this astounding piece of music predates minimal by, what, 15 or so years, it certainly bears many of its hallmarks, and it hits me in a similar way. Maybe it's just my grounding in seventies dub reggae, but with tracks like this, as with the best dub, it really does feel like less is more. (Hands up, too, if it reminds you of Penguin Cafe Orchestra.)

"Pressing Matters (Robag's Pinvoldex Sull NB)", by The Cyclist. More of those good ol' cold and harsh electronics on display here, but with a lightness of step that you might not have thought possible. This serves as the regular reminder that I seem to require that I need more Robag Wruhme in my life.

"Doctorin' The House", by Coldcut. Because why not. If you were a recording artist, film producer or television showrunner whose work was not sampled in this song, you must have wondered what you had done wrong. (I maintain, somewhat selfishly, and certainly not without reservations, that lawyers have taken a lot of the fun out of modern music. The days that you could pilfer the catalogue freely in order to create new and fresh art were good days.)

"Starry Eyes", by The Records. When oldies radio has songs like this on high rotation, I will be proud to call myself an oldie.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Song of the day

“Turn Around”, by Dungen & Woods.
Dungen and Woods - Myths 003
Dungen are a band that, over time, have perhaps so perfected their own sound as to have become almost invisible. It seems that they may have recognised this, as their most recent releases have been drawn from some incidental music they did for a 1926 animated film, together with an album’s worth of remixes of same from Prins Thomas (admittedly this turns out to be much more Prins Thomas than Dungen).

Woods, on the other hand, are a band that have perhaps so perfected their own sound as to have become, not invisible, but predictable. Their songs tend to inhabit a clearly defined song structure that by now is so embedded in my brain that whenever a new Woods record comes out, it takes me a while to decide whether I like it (so far, so good) because each new song is, in its own way, the same as some other Woods song.

Neither of these things is intended as criticism. Both bands have much still to offer, and I will be more than happy to keep listening. However, possibly the best news so far to have come out of 2018 is that, in March, an EP is coming out that will showcase the results of a 2017 collaboration between members of Woods and Dungen which took place during Marfa Myths. We now have this taster. From the vocals alone, as well as the overall structure, it is easily identifiable as a Woods song, albeit a Woods song that happens to be backed by a particular Scandinavian melancholic psychedelia that, well, I can't really say “you could only get from Dungen”, but that is definitely the Dungen sound. (What is that sound? Imagine if someone spent a career trying to recreate The Zombies' "Odessey And Oracle", only with their own songs.)

I am, I have to say, pretty excited about this.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Song of the day

"Smile", by The Fall.

Even though Mark E Smith went through so many Fall members that if they all turn up to his funeral they will need a bigger church.

And even though Fall albums have appeared on more record labels than you even knew existed.

And even though (not unrelated to the previous point) there is a ridiculous number of rarities collections and live recordings out there, most of which are of dubious provenance and even more dubious quality.

And even though there were more eras of The Fall than there have been of human evolution.

And even though no two Fall fans would ever be able to agree on what were the best of those eras.

And even though the sound quality of the band's John Peel sessions frequently trumped that of the actual records.

And even though, in recent years, Smith has sounded more like a drunk uncle crashing a 21st birthday party than the singer in a rock n roll band.

And even though, looking at recent photos of him, you find yourself wondering how he even made it to sixty.

And even though to be a fan of The Fall meant having the patience to sit through fallow periods, sometimes (depending, perhaps, on where you came in) lasting for a decade or more.

Despite all of these things, for those of us captured by their inexplicable brilliance there remained, to the very last, and, as often as not, contrary to all common sense, a genuine sense of excitement, a thrill, every time a new Fall album landed. Sometimes the thrill might have lasted only until the first three or four songs had been endured; but we never lost that feeling.

Like the singer who pulls the plug on the lead guitarist half way through a song, it feels as if the arc of The Fall has been suspended, suddenly but permanently, while it still had a long way to travel. All we can do now is look backwards; which is not a thing The Fall ever did.

So, "Smile". It beats crying.

(They say that John Peel was The Fall's number one fan and booster. Here is film of him being just that.)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Song of the day

“Holiday House”, by Peter Lillie And The Leisuremasters.
I first became aware of what might be called the “Carlton scene” when as a young boy I bought a copy of “Horror Movie”, a seven-inch single by a band called Skyhooks, who had captured the attention of some of the more adventurous boys at Fish Creek Primary School (a pretty small number), largely on account of their smutty lyrics, but, in my case, on account of the sound of the guitars. “Horror Movie” to this day gets my pulse racing, but it was the b-side, entitled “Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)” that really captured the imagination of a farmboy dreaming of a life of adventure.

A few years later, when I had started to listen to Melbourne’s 3RRR-FM, I found myself drawn to unknown (to me) entities with names like Eric Gradman’s Man And Machine, Whirlywirld, and Tch Tch Tch (easy to pronounce, typographically fiendish to denote: see the embedded graphic below), 
under the direction of one Philip Brophy, who would, even later, be an important part of my weekend routine as co-presenter, with Au Go Go Records impresario Bruce Milne, of a wonderfully free-form afternoon radio show on 3RRR called “Eeek!”.

By the time I moved to Carlton, in 1982, direct from Fish Creek, the Carlton scene, if there ever really was one, had already fragmented into several of the many tiny shards that made up the Melbourne post-punk contingent (if Pete Frame was still around to do his Rock Family Trees, this would give him an enormous challenge), and in turn started joining hands with the above-ground.

(For example, at that time there was still a piece of graffiti on a wall in Carlton proclaiming the greatness of The Jetsonnes, who had by then reinvented themselves as Hunters & Collectors; and Ian Cox, who was our Nicholson Street neighbour a couple of years later, had moved away from bands like Essendon Airport (along with Robert Goodge) and Equal Local in order to provide saxophone support for Kate Ceberano in I’m Talking.) (Further research reveals how chock full of Venn diagrams the Melbourne music scene of these times was: Cox also appeared on one song on an album called "Skippy Knows", by Whadya Want?, which also featured, on another track, Michael Sheridan on guitar, thus demonstrating that there was one degree of separation between the pop music of Kate Ceberano and the noiseniks who were released by Dr Jim’s Records (the titular proprietor of which label once appeared on an episode of Rockwiz with, you guessed it, Kate Ceberano). (With one further degree of separation, we can even trace Ceberano to Sydney trio The Necks, as Sheridan also played with Necks drummer Tony Buck in multinational “underground industrial” (it says here) group Peril, another of Dr Jim’s stable of stars.) (Whadya Want? also included David Chesworth, part of the "Clifton Hill scene" and (yet) another member of Essendon Airport, and Philip Jackson, who was in Whirlywirld and Equal Local. I think I'm getting dizzy.) (It goes on: Adam Learner, of International Exiles, who shared a seven-inch single with The Jetsonnes, went on to play with Blue Ruin, one of my gig-going staples of the later 1980s.))

But before I disappear up my own bum entirely -- What? It's too late? Hey, you should see what I edited out -- I should probably get to the point.

Somehow, Peter Lillie And The Leisuremasters make up a disproportionate share of my seven-inch-single collection. (Admittedly, it’s not that much of a collection; it fills a shoe box.) But the two records of theirs that I own continue to get a regular spin at home. It gave me more of a thrill than I expected when I convinced Number One Son to play “Holiday House”, the b-side of one of them, on his own radio show on 2XX a couple of weeks ago. (It was like stumbling upon a photo on the Internet of the Henry Maas-era Black Cat Cafe. I have also done that.)

A little fossicking around reminded me that Peter Lillie, sans Leisuremasters, had already taken up space in the inner recesses of my brain with a song called “Samurai Star”, which, I recently discovered, featured everybody from The Birthday Party who wasn’t Nick Cave or The Paunchy Cowboy. It’s a curious song, sounding, unexpectedly, more like The Sports than like “Hanging Round The House” and “Holiday House” (or, for that matter, “Homicide/Division 4”, the other of their singles that I own). Looking a little further back, it turns out (surprise!) that Lillie was a part of the Carlton scene in his own right, being a member of The Autodrifters with Johnny Topper (another 3RRR lunimary), and, not only that, but being the author of a song that might also lay claim to being the quintessential 1970s Australian song: “The Birth Of The Ute”. And before that, he and Topper were in the Pelaco Brothers, one of the few groups I can think of named after a neon advertising sign, and which also included, amongst its members, one Joe Camilleri, and one Stephen Cummings. (And, while we are here, we should also mention the High Rise Bombers, a group that fragmented into, on the one hand, Paul Kelly and the Dots and, on the other, The Sports (with the aforementioned Cummings).) (A handy musical compendium of the Carlton scene was released a couple of years back under the title “(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton”, which, over the space of two discs, manages to take you all the way from Daddy Cool to Eric Gradman.)

It wasn’t actually all that hard to convince the lad to play “Holiday House”. I mostly just needed to point out to him its use of the 1970s slang expression “it’s grouse”, meaning really good; and to note that this is the only song I can think of that uses the word, and that I can’t recall “grouse” ever having made a come-back. (It's long overdue.) That, I think, helped make it the type of marginal historical time capsule he seems to find fascinating. The cover design is also of its time; Melbourne’s arty types then were seemingly obsessed with a rose-tinted idea of pre-Whitlam Australian culture, all beach houses, EH Holdens, seashell ash trays and Laminex furniture: essentially, nostalgia for a time that may never have actually existed. (See also the paintings of Howard Arkley.) Musically, too, it harks back to a kind of pre-Beatles Eylsian Field of simpler and better times. But that, too, was the tenor of those times: a post-punk fairyland where former hippies were moving to Belgrave to make experimental music; rockabilly rebels and bluegrass throwbacks crawled out of the least expected corners; and a lanky and intimidating fellow from Caulfield Grammar sat on the steps of the Missing Link record store in Flinders Lane, scaring away potential customers.

Sorry. I’m drifting off again. 

You could have saved yourself a lot of time by just reading this Facebook tribute.

But you should listen to this song. It’s grouse.