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.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

This Goes With This (four for the price of one edition)

"Lord Knows", by Dum Dum Girls.

When you have listened to rather a lot of music, it isn't hard to hear elements of a song in another song. Certain chord sequences sit together harmoniously, so they tend to get used often. Likewise, there are probably only a finite number of melodies in the world. Plus, none of us is a clean slate. Often, I am listening to things that have been influenced by other things that I have listened to. Sometimes my knee jerks upwards in an almost allergic reaction. (Bands that rip off Joy Division, for example.) Other times I just observe what's going on.

But: I can hear four other songs, very clearly, in this one song by Dum Dum Girls. I don't know what to do with that.

The song itself:

The constituent elements:

1. "Shivers", by The Boys Next Door. This is a song that means a lot to me. My first response upon hearing a close to note-for-note rendition of it at the start of this song was, I must admit, not positive.

2. "Listen To The Music", by The Doobie Brothers. Do you hear a slowed-down version of this song in the chorus? I do.

3. "Crimson & Clover", by Tommy James and The Shondells. This is in there, too: listen closely at the end of the chorus. And as the song fades out.

4. "Trees and Flowers", by Strawberry Switchblade. Another song that means a lot to me. There is no direct reference to it, admittedly, but I reckon it is the template on which the song is constructed.

Is the sum greater than the parts? That would be a pretty tough trick to pull off. I don't think it's ever going to work for me, given the baggage I am carrying in my own head. And that's a shame, because on its own terms it's actually a pretty darn good song.

Inspiration Information

Or, Fifty @ 50, Part III.

I can't nail this one down. So I had better just get it out there, before I turn 51. 

Mark E Smith.
Bob Dylan.
Neil Young.
Gillian Welch.
Tom Waits.
John Zorn.
Brian Eno.
David Sylvian.
Kate Bush.
Jens Lekman.
James Murphy.
Forest Swords.
Ricardo Villalobos.
Flying Lotus.
James Blake.
Dan Snaith.
Nicolas Jaar.
Jeremy Greenspan.
Hans-Pieter Lindstrom.
The Ghost Box collective.
Martin Phillipps.
David Kilgour.
Nick Cave.
Mick Harvey.
Chris Abrahams.
Ed Kuepper.
Ian McEwan.
Michael Chabon.
James Ellroy.
Don DeLillo.
William Gibson.
Haruki Murakami.
Jim Jarmusch.
Richard Linklater.
Wes Anderson.
Paul Thomas Anderson.
The Coen Brothers.
Hayao Miyazaki.
Naoki Urasawa.
Los Bros Hernandez.
Chris Ware.
Kevin Huizenga.
Charles Burns.
Daniel Clowes.
Richard McGuire.
Ben Katchor.

"Errors & omissions excepted."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Song of the day

"Disappearing Ground", by Group Rhoda.

We can only assume that Group Rhoda really mean it (man), as the only bandwagon they could have been accused of catching left the station a couple of years ago. But, "cold wave", "minimal wave", or whatever wave-adjective you want to throw at this music, Group Rhoda most definitely have the sound of early-eighties cassettes-by-mail synth music in their veins. Ancient, cantankerous synths sit on top of a rudimentary drum-machine track and some kind of Snakefinger/Suicide rhythm bed, bolstering the affectless singing of a lone female vocalist. (The eponymous Rhoda? I don't know.)

A whole album of this could well drag, and there are moments when the vocals drift a bit too far into Space Lady territory, but in small doses there isn't anything not to like.

There is even a synth patch (is that the right word?) that comes straight from the Stinky Fire Engine playbook. See if you can spot it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: February 2014

Gosh. This was a tough one. We could probably have filled a second disc and then some. Spare a thought for the ones that were lost along the way.

"Come Save Me (Pachanga Boys' Jagwar Pawar Version)", by Jagwar Ma. This is so hypnotic that you barely realise that 12 minutes have passed you by. Is that a good thing? Absolutely.

"International Feel", by Todd Rundgren. A song that has launched a thousand careers, and even lent its name to a record label. Rundgren has always been around; so much so that it is easy not to notice him, or his influence. If Don DeLillo can be singled out for the construction of his sentences (he can), Todd is in the same category vis a vis chord sequences. This song could be exhibit A.

"You're Looking Down A Road", by Ross. This is, in essence, Pink Floyd's "Pow R Toc H" -- or is it "Time of the Season", by The Zombies? -- blended together with prime-era (if there be such a thing) Chicago. Oh those perfect tight-trousered vocal harmonies. Further evidence that 1974 may have been a key year in our musical evolution. Bonus: album cover of the month.

"STUPiG", by BiS. And then there's this. J-Pop laced with speed-metal guitars and a bit of shouting a la "This Is The Excuse". Not that there's anything wrong with that. (Warning: video may cause seizures. Or bad dreams.)

"Warrior in Woolworths", by X-Ray Spex. You want iconic? The opening guitar line of this song. That's iconic.

"Adolescent Sex", by Japan. Here's an idea: try entering "Adolescent Sex Japan" into Google on your workplace computer and see what happens. On second thoughts, don't.

"Disco 2000", by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. You wonder how this came about. The Baddest Seeds are in fine form on this take on the Pulp heartbreaker. Cave's voice tends towards the slightly awkward croonerisms that sometimes makes the listener, if he is the kind of listener who tends to root for the Cavester, cross his fingers behind his back while quietly preparing to wince. Bad cover version? No, actually.

"Freiburg V 3.0 (Club Europe Mix)", by Tocotronic vs. Console. Around the dawn of the new century, when I first discovered how easy it was to extract music from the internet onto the comfort of my own hard drive, and real life consequently receded into the realm of "abstract concept", I stumbled upon something called the "I Like Giorgio" mix of this song. (At the audio-tastic bitrate of 96 kbps.) It may be that I respond to this quite different mix in a fit of misplaced nostalgia. Whatever.

"Sunshine", by John Talabot. Late to the party as usual, I took my old sweet time hepping to John Talabot's "Fin" album. Having done this, belatedly, I looked backwards. And found this. Nice, isn't it?

"Oddball", by Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett. In which the A Team of British library music create an ersatz blacksploitation funk groove and hit it out of the park.

"Pair of Wings", by Frankie Rose. The day I no longer fall head over heels in love with this kind of song will be the day I quit. For now: quick, pass the smelling salts.

"Number One", by Silent Corner. And as long as good people keep digging up nuggets from the synth-pop / "dark wave" end of the post-punk continuum, I will continue to listen.

"Week End (Larry Levan Mix)", by Class Action. Originally released on Sleeping Bag. Produced by Bob and Lola Blank. To borrow a catch-phrase from the other Stan: 'Nuff said?

"Surfers Hymn (Actress Primitive Patterns Mix)", by Panda Bear. Every so often Kompakt will throw out a curve ball, often involving artists not usually, or at all, associated with the label. (See, for example, Pet Shop Boys tackling "I'm In Love With A German Film Star".) The tradition continues. While not approaching the wilful difficultness of Actress's very impressive album from 2014, "Ghettoville", this is a much harsher, almost industrial sound than we are used to from Kompakt. Cynics could say, "they couldn't get Factory Floor, so they went with this instead". Cynics be damned.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

F├╝tter Mein Ego

True story.

Earlier in the week I was introduced, in passing, to the newly appointed judge who is about to become my latest "stakeholder". He seems like a nice guy, which might be a platitude but is also true.

So anyway, later on I bumped into the person who had done the introducing. She said to me that afterwards the judge had said to her words to the effect of, "I am glad to have met Stan. Everybody knows about Stan: he's a legend."

Now, assuming that he wasn't making this up, and assuming also that he hadn't just been well briefed by another, soon-to-be-retired judge, I find it hard to know what to make of this. The idea that I am on the radar of people I don't know makes me very uncomfortable. It also strikes me as entirely ridiculous, and a bit scary, that the people doing the talking would include people of the calibre of recent appointments to the esteemed institution at which I work, and where all I have ever tried to do is an honest day's work. (Also: I am not a legend. (But nor am I a myth.) One of our boys may once have referred to it as "Daddy's High Court", but it actually isn't.)

Still and all, I must admit that it also put a smile on my face: at least until I realised that I had an overwhelming urge to tell my parents about it, which, of course, is one thing I cannot do. I wonder what they would have said. Dad would probably have been quietly complimentary and encouraging. Mum would have found a way to put me back in my place. She wouldn't want such things going to my head. That would be a dangerously slippery slope.

But I can't tell them, so I'm telling you instead.

Song of the day

"Banana Boat (Day-O)", by Stan Freberg.

Notwithstanding that it bears the same relation to the ancient and noble sport of cricket as World Championship Wrestling bore to the ancient and noble sport of wrestling, the almost-15-year-old and I have been inexplicably glued to this year's Big Bash League. I don't think either of us is interested in it as a sporting contest as much as we are observing with morbid fascination how a thing can become commercialised to within an inch of its life and then a bit more, and yet still retain some slight vestige of the thing that it once was.

Heck, there is even a sponsor for the innings break.

What I have noticed is that every so often the cry of "Day-O", from Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song", erupts from the ground's loudspeakers. Aside from there being one or two West Indians scattered amongst the teams, I have no idea what purpose it serves. But at some point it brought back a childhood memory.

I spent a good amount of my primary-school-era downtime at the house of my best friend, Weary. On one such occasion Weary played me a seven-inch single that belonged to his mother, called "Banana Boat (Day-O)". It turns out to have been a parody of the Belafonte song, although I wouldn't have known that then. It amounted to a couple of grown-ups talking like beatniks (man) and occasionally singing a bit. It had us in stitches, to the point where, after a while, if one of us said "it's too loud, man" we would both be rolling around on the floor laughing unstoppably and gasping for breath.


And now I've got the next generation doing much the same. (Although instead of rolling around on the floor laughing they adopt the faintest hint of a smile, throw a pair of air quotes, and deadpan the word (if it be a word) "lol". And occasionally shout the word "Bunch!" As I said, "Kids.")

(Weary and I also got a good amount of mileage from the b-side, "Tele-Vee-Shun". ("I'm sick of it.") I haven't introduced the boys to that one. Yet.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vimeo of the day

"Subterranean Homesick Blues", by Bob Dylan.

Just as you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, you don't need an excuse to listen to "Subterranean Homesick Blues". That old rollicking skiffle-beat word-salad never gets tired. But if you happened to be looking for an excuse, you have one: according to this piece by Mr Richard Williams in Ye Olde Guardian, it was 50 years ago today that Dylan committed it to tape. ("Is it rolling, Bob?")

Nor do you need an excuse to watch, for the umpteenth time, its highly influential, oft-parodied "film clip" (actually taken from D A Pennebaker's "Don't Look Back"). "Don't follow leaders."

(You all know that's Allen Ginsburg in the bottom left corner, right?)