Saturday, March 28, 2015

Song of the day

"Disco Dildaar Mera", by M. Ashraf and Noor Jehan.

Having spent most of my adult life hoovering up musical genre after musical genre, I never cease to be amazed that there are entire musical ecosystems out there the existence of which has never even crossed my mind. (Cue the voice of John Cleese in Monty Python's "fresh fruit" sketch: "You fink you know it all.")

Case in point: Pakistani disco. Yes, that is (or was) a thing. And now it has been documented by the exemplar crate-diggers' label Finders Keepers, on an album called "Disco Dildar". To the untrained ear (and, who knows, maybe even the trained ear) it hews fairly closely to the sounds of Bollywood soundtracks. That is probably to be expected, as the music was used to soundtrack Lollywood movies. (Yes that is/was also a thing.) The synthesiser sounds are both jaw-droppingly amazing and extremely cheap. The energy levels are off the scale.

Disco as you and I know it is obviously the template (see e.g. the -- well, it's not a sample, but it is clearly a reference, at the 40-second mark) but you have probably never heard it done quite like this before. Put on your dancing shoes and par-tay.

Disco dildar mera by swatiking

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: April 2014

April 2014. Let me see. I was about to turn 50. I should have been spending my time more productively than foraging for random music across the internet. And yet …

"Prophecy Theme", by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno. Gosh, this transports me straight back to 166 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, listening to "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks", the final genuinely great Eno album for quite some time. It would also fit nicely alongside, say, the "Sparrowfall" trilogy from "Music For Films". It is taken from the soundtrack to what is invariably referred to as the "ill-fated" David Lynch movie of "Dune", where it sits uncomfortably in the middle of a bunch of tracks by Toto. (RIP Michael Porcaro.) As far as I can tell, it has never appeared on any legit  Eno collection. (Of which I have quite a few.)

"Uneasy Peace", by Wooden Wand. By the most extraordinary coincidence, the opening bars of this song are a dead ringer for "Deep Blue Day", from the "Apollo" album. Wooden Wand has put out more records than I have had hot dinners. I really don't know anything at all about him (my bad?), but I do find this song hypnotically compelling. It strikes me as bearing a resemblance to the solo work of Mick Harvey, especially the last couple of albums. The double bass is a nice touch. 

"Tomorrow Is A Long Time", by Elvis Presley. Elvis does Bob. Strange bedfellows, you would think (there is a formalism to Presley's delivery that seems totally at odds with the frequent stuffed-in-a-shoebox looseness of Dylan's lyrics), and yet on this song they are a perfect fit. Really.

"No Matter What You Do", by Lesley Gore. R.I.P.

"Prie Atminimu Upes", by T. Makacinas. Back when we were living at Dalgety Street, St. Kilda, we discovered that a certain Mr. Jim Jenkin lived just across the road. Jim had something of a collection of obscure vinyl oddities, which it was our pleasure to look after for a while. The most mysterious of those records were the ones bearing the "Melodya" label. How they even got into this country is probably an interesting story, as would, surely, be the story of how a song like this could have emerged from the Soviet Union, and in particular how and by what means Soviet "youth" might have been exposed to Western music, without which this song couldn't exist. I don't recall this record being amongst Jim's collection, but it would have been right at home there. Call it prog disco. It's a remarkable thing: kind of like what those of us in the West would have been listening to in 1982 (actually, more likely about five years before that, which might be indicative of how long it took "culture" to filter through to the East), but also entirely not. Bonus: album cover of the month.

"Like An Eagle", by Nancy Whang and Audiojack. A cover of a song originally recorded by a porn star, sung by someone whose surname is "Whang". Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up.

"You (Ha Ha Ha) (Lindstrom Remix)", by Charli XCX. Sometimes a remix works because of an obvious sympathy between artist and remixer. (Four Tet and Caribou.) Sometimes a remix works because is it from so far to the left of field that it should not even really exist. (Ewan Pearson's remix of Cortney Tidwell.) This is firmly in the latter camp. I cannot claim to have heard the original song, but, with those Lily Allen vocal stylings, one cannot imagine it sounding anything like this very Lindstrom remix. Special mention to the underwater-fart synth squelches.

"Subconscio", by Efestion & Harald Grosskopf. Grosskopf might not be one of the more instantly recognisable names associated with that dubiously monikered genre, Krautrock, but he seems never to have been far from the centre of the action, and his fine solo album "Synthesist" was in recent years adopted by the digital wing of the hipster cognoscenti. What is surprising (to me) is that he is still working, and not only that, but still capable of putting together an up-to-the-minute gem of electronic pop music. Like this one. (See also John Foxx.) Efestion? I got nothin'.

"Radar (Michael Mayer Remix)", by Hauschka. In which Hauschka, who, I think I'm right in saying, tends more towards a modern-classical (whatever that may be) bent, gets all gussied up by Kompakt co-owner and remix stalwart Michael Mayer. This may not be on Kompakt, but it certainly carries that label's mark of quality. Maybe they're softening Hauschka up for a "Pop Ambient" gig? That would work.

"Alla Kan Se Dig", by Fontan. How come the Swedes get all the good tunes? I really, uh, digged their "Winterhwila" album. This is from the one before that. (Which I didn't know existed.) Is that a theremin I hear before me?

"Digital Witness (DARKSIDE Remix)", by St. Vincent. Remiss of me, I know, what with her being pals with Mr David Byrne and all, but I haven't paid Ms Clark any attention whatsoever until now, and even then she is only in the door because of the appearance of (it says here) "DARKSIDE". Am I about to mend my ways? Probably not. (I'm too busy mourning the premature demise of DARKSIDE, a venture which may well have collapsed under the weight of all those capital letters.)

"Faith (The Field Remix)", by I Break Horses. Let's make one thing perfectly clear: it is not okay to break horses. And it is certainly not okay to boast about it. There.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Roussos Phenomenon

I am a bit slow on the uptake with this one, so a belated R.I.P. to Mr Demis Roussos, who for a few short years enjoyed stratospheric levels of success. As a boy, I couldn't get far enough away from his music fast enough. I was, thus, surprised to discover, in the early years of this century, that Roussos was not just "My Friend The Wind". (See the record cover above, where he would appear to be trying out for a spot in the Bad Seeds (or, more likely, Grinderman) circa 2007.)

He was a member of Aphrodite's Child, at the end of the sixties, with Vangelis (how's that for a before-the-fact supergroup?), notable in particular for the "666" album, released on Vertigo in 1972, a time when that label could, seemingly, do no wrong. But the song I want to highlight here, and which I am indebted, as ever, to the (we hope) temporarily dormant Art Decade for bringing to my notice, is "I Dig You", a Moog-tastic song from 1977, produced by Vangelis and, in fact, originally recorded (as "Who") by him under the alias Odyssey in 1974. ("Forever and Ever" it ain't.)

Bonus beats: "L.O.V.E. Got A Hold Of Me", a ten-minute disco epic that wouldn't at all have been out of place on disc two of the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Song of the day

"aisatsana [102]", by Aphex Twin.

I have these occasional dreams where I am a country town (it bears a nocturnal resemblance to Foster, as far as I can fathom). I find myself constantly walking into a newsagents looking for a particular issue of a magazine (these being dreams, the magazine may or may not bear any actual resemblance to any magazine known to man). In last night's dream, Aphex Twin was on the cover of what was clearly Rolling Stone. (It was less clearly, I could tell upon waking, a photo of Aphex Twin.)

This struck me, in the dream, as surprising, and it continued to strike me as surprising once I woke up. First because he's not their type. Second because Aphex is not someone to have really ever been uppermost in my waking thoughts, so why would his smiling mug take centre stage in a dream? (That's why people say "in your dreams", I suppose.) Like an embarrassingly high percentage of artists who came to notice in the 1990s, his work from that period was something that I was barely peripherally aware of, and I suppose I was also put off (which I am sure was his desired response) by the disturbing videos he came up with for songs like "Windowlicker".

Music's return to (my) focus in the new century happens to have largely coincided with Aphex's long dormancy. Thus, the only record of his that I owned was "Selected Ambient Works Volume II", and I am fully aware that it could hardly be described as "representative". Anyway the Aphex Twin drought has recently broken, and then some. (First "Syro" came out, then a 30-minute "EP" (it's not) of supposed outtakes, and most recently a hundred-odd tracks found their way onto Soundcloud, which demand to be sifted through for the undoubted gems that are lurking there. For example, he does something wonderful with Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi".)

As it did with Brian Eno, Warp seems to have been conducive to Aphex reaching out to the public once more. (Both artists, it seems reasonable to assume, have continued to beaver away on their own projects, Salinger-like (or so we continue to hope), in public silence. (Although Eno never really goes away, does he, what with interviews, art projects, essays, production duties etc.))

Influenced, as I still am (even, it would seem, when I am asleep), by what is in the music magazines, I picked up "Syro" on the strength of The Wire voting it album of the year for 2014. Having missed so much of its back-story, I am hardly an ideal listener, but I hope I know quality when I hear it. "Syro" is a master class in practically every form of electronic music to have made any kind of headway over the last 20 years. It's as if he is saying, "Okay, I have let you all have your fun, but now listen, this is how it's done". Despite its considerable length, it keeps you (well, me) interested from beginning to end. Notwithstanding that it would be easy to write music like this off as "merely" academic, this album has a real, beating human heart to it, whether on account of the crystal-clear warmth of the sounds he uses, the fact that no five bars of the music are the same, or the joy of music-making that is front and centre throughout its every surprising step. Never is that human heart more evident, obviously, than in its final track, "aisatsana [102]", five minutes of unadorned solo piano. "Nice" is the first word that comes to mind, but I can't help suspecting a trap.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: March 2014

This one was actually put together a while ago. But then I procrastinated at the point of writing it up because, y'know, reasons. Thus I have now had to rush it out in a half-baked fashion. Who, me? April's shouldn't be too far away. Not to put pressure on myself or anything.

"T. On A White Horse", by Eberhard Weber. Fool that I am, I had the idea that ECM Records emerged around the latter part of the 1980s. In fact it had been in business for nigh on 20 years by then. It only took the world that long to catch up. On the strength of this piece, from 1977, the label knew exactly what it was doing from the start. The sonic template is impeccably tasteful, but easy listening it is not. Or, not exactly. Minor chords are applied liberally. Weber's woozy bass playing floats above, beside and, really, all around the steady framework that the other musicians have provided. There are elements in here that you might associate with jazz. But it's not really jazz at all. (No need to be afraid.) If it puts you in mind of Kate Bush at times, that would be because Weber has played on many of her records, notably "Hounds of Love" (see, especially, "Mother Stands For Comfort"). It also makes me think of mid-80s David Sylvian. But then, I have spent much of my adult life thinking of mid-80s David Sylvian. I understand from the internet that Mr Weber has been in poor health of late. I wish him well.

"Seven Stars", by Suni McGrath. Treating this beast as if it were an actual playlist that somebody might, like, actually listen to, one track after the other (in my dreams? (actually, I think it hangs together rather well, albeit that it does fragment somewhat towards the end)), I wouldn't want to lump the unwary listener with two lengthy ECM pieces in a row, so here is a brief interlude for solo guitar. It fits right in, if you ask me. McGrath is a lesser-known picker of late-sixties vintage. Tompkins Square, true to form, would appear to have tracked him down in the mid-'00s and got him to lay down a couple of new songs. This is one of them. Those fingers still sound mighty nimble.

"Blue", by John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette. From a 1978 album called "Gateway 2". If you were going to describe any artists as quintessentially ECM, these would probably be those. (Well, Keith Jarrett, obviously.) Do you remember the scene in "Diva" where the two leading characters are walking around in Paris in the rain, making intermittent use of an umbrella? In tone, this is not unlike the music playing underneath that scene. (See also "Rainbirds", by Tom Waits.) Not a lot happens, but nor would you want it to. In contrast to this, the Eberhard Weber track is (almost) exhaustingly busy. I guess it's all relative.

"Peace Piece", by Bill Evans. This, too, although it was recorded 20 years earlier than the above track, fits in completely with the ECM ethos, demonstrating that Manfred Eicher was/is looking both forwards and backwards at the same time -- in fact, given the above ECM tracks both stemmed from within the maelstrom of punk, everywhere except their own time. This song, by Evans alone, also evokes that same scene in "Diva". Evans's left hand is contemplative, ruminative. His right hand is, for the most part, simpatico, but occasionally it succumbs to a bout of orneriness, just to make sure we are still listening.

"Challenger", by Teddy Lasry. Time for another interlude. Release the Moogs.

"Come Back Home", by 2NE1. Ahem. And now, as they say, for something completely different. K-pop goes reggae. I kid you not. Featuring a gorgeous Rihanna-style chorus and one of the more bizarre and unexpected "drops" (I think is the term) in modern music. Over the top in every possible way.

"It Feels Good To Be Around You", by Air France. Basically just filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge of the Sincerely Yours label. This would appear to have been Air France's last gasp. Shame, that.

"Woman of Soul", by Rhead Brothers. Cow bells. Congas. Electric piano. Lush vocal harmonies. Brief, recurring "in the style of" Knopfler/Pablo Cruise guitar solo. Presumably, white trousers and semi-unbuttoned white shirts. With gold chains and (optional) chest wig. We observe that "Rhead" is only one letter and a slight tweak away from Bread. Surely a coincidence. Bonus: record cover of the month.

"It's Really You (Jan Schulte Edit)", by Tarney/Spencer Band. It says here that Messrs Tarney and Spencer met in Adelaide in the sixties, where they played in such bands as, if you can believe this, Johnny Broome and The Handels. This song, which has been given the re-edit treatment to admirable effect, was from their London years, and was released as a single on Uncle Herb's A&M Records. It sounds like it was aimed squarely at the American AOR market. I had never heard of them before this.

"Out In The Country", by Natural Child. In which album-oriented/classic/yacht rock gets updated for/by the hipster generation for no reason that we can see other than "because it was there". Still, you can't fault the song, the idea, or the execution of that idea.

"An Ocean Between The Waves", by The War On Drugs. There is also a whole lot of classic-rock in this song. (When was the last time you heard so much guitar?) I had been aware of the hoo-haa last year about this band, but none of it gave me any reason to expect that I would find a song as powerful as this. I'm not ashamed to admit (well, yeah) that I cannot listen to it without the appearance of liquid in our eye sockets. I must be getting old and emotionally unstable. No, that can't be it. It must be raining. (Song of the year? It's too late for that now.) If one were going to use the word "epic", one might as well do it here. (And, like all of the best songs, it has solid motorik underpinnings.) Oh, look, they can also play it live on the radio.

"On The Beach", by Joakim. If Neil Young had made "On The Beach" using the tools that he employed for "Trans", it might have sounded something like this. A compelling reinvention of an extraordinary song. Extra points if you can identify where I have previously come across that warbling keyboard sound that kicks in about a minute before the end. My guess is it's buried somewhere in Pink Floyd's "Animals", but I don't got time for that.

"Hotel California", by Gypsy Kings. As heard in "The Big Lebowski", a film by Joel and Ethan Coen. Ooh, look, here it comes now. I love the internet.

(I would also like to take this opportunity to put on the public record that my opinion of The Eagles is in complete accord with that of The Dude.)

"Dead Flowers", by Townes Van Zandt. This, I reckon, is the best Rolling Stones song, from the best Rolling Stones album. And it is only improved if someone other than the Rolling Stones performs it. (I'm not a huge fan.) Another one from "The Big Lebowski".

"Hard Workin' Man", by Jack Nitzsche. You have to understand, I grew up as an only child on a farm, in a household where there were no books to speak of, and I went to the local schools, where the quality of my education was what it was. Pretty much everything I learned, I learned from music magazines and from listening to 2JJ's sketchy transmissions of an evening, when and if I could get the transistor radio into the right spot. So I had no idea who this guy Jack Nitzsche was, but I had seen his name in print enough times to be aware of him. (Turns out he packed a bit into his 63 years. Check it out.) I also had no idea how it might be pronounced. "Nitsky"? "Nitch"? "Neetcha", like Monty Python pronounced the philosopher on my well-worn Python cassettes? Truth is, I still don't know the answer to either of those questions. Jack Nitzsche, mystery man. This song doesn't alleviate my confusion. It's a down and dirty blues stomper, of the kind you would expect to hear from Muddy Waters, or, in a slightly more bastardised form, by The Beasts of Bourbon, or Captain Beefheart. Hey, guess who has wandered in to provide vocals? It's the Captain himself. Hello there, Captain.

"Larousse Baron Bic", by Rosa Yemen. The guitars chime, jangle, and work themselves up into the best kind of post-punk state of nervous tension. The singer gets lost inside her own emotions. It's over in one minute and 30 seconds. Cool!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Song of the day

"No Easy Way Down", by Rain Parade.

Speaking, as we were, of The Dream Syndicate, it is only a short step from there to Rain Parade (or, as they were sometimes called, The Rain Parade: did they consciously lose the "The" when Dave Roback left (maybe he took it with him?), or were they just the accidental victims of nomenclatural uncertainty?). Both bands, along with a few others you can probably give at least name recognition to, were lumped together in the mid-1980s under the not entirely inaccurate (one can assume that there were paisley shirts in attendance) but also not particularly helpful umbrella "The Paisley Underground". (At least one person, who must remain nameless, made the dumb-headed assumption that Paisley Underground had something to do with Prince. Wrong.)

"No Easy Way Down" is Rain Parade's longest recorded song. (Note: that last statement has not been fact-checked.) It would not have been out of place on "Medicine Show"'s majestic second side. It was co-written by Dave Roback, but he doesn't play on it, as by the time it was recorded he had left the band to form Opal with ex-Dream Syndicate member Kendra Smith, and thence, as everybody knows, Mazzy Star with Hope Sandoval. (Where is Pete Frame when you need him?) Even in Roback's absence, though, the band still manages to do the song full justice. It retains his languid lilt, but combines that with some blistering psychedelic electric guitar mayhem. It may be the high point of the movement, even allowing that the "movement" was never really a movement anyway.

(Further (and better) reading can be had in this excellent piece by Joe Banks at The Quietus.)

Bonus Beats: The other thing about "No Easy Way Down" is that, whenever I hear it, I have a sudden urge to listen to "Surfacer", by 14 Iced Bears. I have no idea. (But nor do I need an excuse.)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Song of the day

"The Ballad of Freer Hollow", by Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band.

There is something about buying music on spec, i.e., without ever having heard it. (It is also, let's face it, getting harder and harder for the music tragic not to get full access to an album for nothing, often enough before it has even come out.) But so it was with "Intensity Ghost", the new, actually the first, album by Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band. I had an inkling it would be good. My recent gaze has been drifting towards new American guitar music, from the likes of Steve Gunn, Daniel Bachman, Ryley Walker, and, at the other end of what might or might not be a spectrum, bands like Quilt and Woods.

Forsyth came to my notice a couple of years back with "Solar Motel", an ostensibly solo instrumental rock "suite" (ahem) for which he put together a band that then, thank the stars, morphed into an actual thing. "Intensity Ghost" came out late last year, but my first exposure to The Solar Motel Band was at the start of 2015, with a session for Aquarium Drunkard in which they covered songs by Richard Thompson and The Dream Syndicate. (They are still there. Check them out.) This made sense: there seems to be a new-found reverence these days amongst the Americans for Thompson-era Fairport Convention, while a nod or two to The Dream Syndicate can be found in the songs of Quilt, for starters.

The Dream Syndicate influence is all over "Intensity Ghost", along with another band much more popular now than when they were together, Television. (The third track on the album, "I Ain't Waiting", not only has a title that is pure Tom Verlaine, it has Tom Verlaine weeping from its every guitar line: it's as if Television had reformed and re-located to Woodstock.)

But that's not what we're here for. "The Ballad of Freer Hollow", which makes its statement over eleven and a half minutes, kicks off the album. Here "Intensity Ghost" departs somewhat from its forebears. The accepted wisdom used to be that if you were going to build a song up to epic length (especially in the days when cracking the four minute mark would leave you open to cries of "Kill the hippie!"), you would plant it somewhere around the middle of the album. "Marquee Moon", obviously. But also, to get back to The Dream Syndicate, "John Coltrane Stereo Blues", which takes centre spot on side two of "Medicine Show". "Intensity Ghost", on the other hand, boldly throws its longest song front and centre. It is saying, Here is what we can do. Take it or leave it.

Reader, I took it.