Monday, March 31, 2014

Song of the day

"A Walk In The Dark", by Minisnap.

I wonder how many of you knew that six years ago Kaye Woodward, long-time guitarist with The Bats, put out an album called "Bounce Around", under the name Minisnap. I thought I was a fairly close Bats-watcher, but I only stumbled upon it by happy accident a little while ago. You couldn't, in all honesty, say that it wanders very far from its parent project (not surprisingly, since Minisnap is essentially The Bats minus Robert Scott, doing Kaye's songs), but it is certainly never less than enjoyable and at times it's much more than that. This is the last song on the album, and one of the best. I am very partial to the guitar work on this; it splits the difference between "classic Dunedin" and "first Cannanes album".

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: April 2013

Consumer advisory: this month's playlist has been written under the influence of the cold that has been cutting a swath through large parts of the Canberra public service in recent times. So it is without the wit and sharp observations that I usually bring to the … Wait … What's that? … I don't? … Oh. Well then, you will hardly notice the difference. On with the, uh, show.

"Pinball", by Brian Protheroe. Mostly with these playlists I am leaning towards music that I either have never heard before or haven't heard for an unfeasibly large number of years. This song is a bit different, in that I have long been partial to a "rework" of it by Ashley Beedle. But now, having been acquainted with this, the original, I am inclined to think that any reworking was, really, unnecessary: it isn't a song that requires added echo or squelchy synths, or an extended "mood-setting" opening minute or so (not that any of those things are necessarily bad); it can stand on its own two feet.

"Os Grilos", by Marcos Valle. There are so many Marcos Valle albums called "Marcos Valle" that it's impossible to know which you know and which you don't know. This one is from 1970. There is an English version of this song, translated as "Crickets Sing For Anamaria", which appears on an earlier Marcos Valle album, but which is vastly different in tone. It is a song that has also been done by Emma Bunton. And she even got away with it. Imagine that!

"She's A Lover", by The Pretty Things. It's always about The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Animals, The Small Faces. (I could go on.) But it isn't often that The Pretty Things enter into the discourse. (When do they get their Mojo cover?) Which is a shame, because you couldn't really describe them as of lesser worth than the others. Their trajectory appears to have been similar: from blues rock to psychedelia to more straight-ahead "rock". "SF Sorrow" and the "Defecting Grey" EP may have been their high-water mark, but the following album, "Parachute", contained no signs of tailing off. Take this song, for example: it wouldn't have sounded that out of place on any of the later Beatles albums, for example, would it?

"The Skies Above", by The Equals. Astounding. Performs the seemingly impossible feat of being both heavy and effervescent. As the album title says, "Sensational". What I wrote above about The Pretty Things could probably also be said about The Equals, although they had the added hurdle, in those pre-enlightened times, of being of, uh, "mixed race". 

"Satori (Enlightenment)", by The Flower Travelling Band. Tripped-out guitar-and-wailing goodness from Japan, circa 1971. You could perhaps be inclined to refer to it as the Japanese "Pictures of Matchstick Men". But then again, maybe not.

"Dear Prudence", by Katfish. The Beatles song, done in a curious early seventies Laurel Canyon style, with added psychedelic touches. Charming, actually, and the download link still seems to work. Lucky you.

"Be Thankful (For What You Got)", by Winston Curtis. You can't have too many versions of this gem of a song. William DeVaughn both times? Check. Massive Attack? Check. This one is done in a reggae style(e). It is smooth as silk. The business happens at 4:15, but the journey is the thing.

"Bourgie', Bourgie'", by Gladys Knight and the Pips. "Disco euphoria" personified. Prepare to be uplifted at the 55-second mark.

"Foxy Pup", by Nirosta Steel. There was a time when every week (or so it seemed) a new Arthur Russell track would rise to the surface, adding to the already complex web of discography attaching to this elusive, unpindownable musician. Those days are long gone, now, but bits and pieces do occasionally appear, such as this track, and a few others by Nirosta Steel, which were released a year or two back. It doesn't add much to what we already know, but it's Arthur Russell; it's all good. You might say "This is just 'Let's Go Swimming' with different lyrics". You wouldn't be that far wrong, but you would also be totally missing the point.

"Anne Cherchait L'Amour", by Jacno. This is an icy, haunting piece of French synth-pop, from 1979. Given how hard I fell for "I'm In Love With A German Film Star", I shudder to think what this would have done to me had I heard it back then.

"Her Needs", by Sandra Plays Electronics. This song has razor-sharp edges and harsh surfaces. You wouldn't want to touch it with bare hands. Uncovered and released by Veronica Vasicka's Minimal Wave label. Hasn't she done some sterling detective work over the last couple of years?

"Mali Koori", by Bassekou Kouyate & Ngouni Ba. This is as dry and windswept as the Malian desert. I could use an album of this.

"Requiem Solution (feat. Loreen) (Prins Thomas Remix)", by Kleerup. It's hard to listen to this and not think of the first Air album. It may be just the bass; it may be more than that. It's a minor chord happening.

"Painted Faces", by Jacques Greene + Tinashe. Tinashe: "American singer-songwriter, record producer, actress, dancer, and former model." Yes, but can she make a decent cup of tea? Jacques Greene, well, he is a Canadian, and that's okay.

"Selfish", by The Other Two. The other two being Gillian Gilbert and the other one, um, Stephen Morris (sorry). Did anyone remember that they put together this New Order side project? Presumably it was in pointed response to Bernard Sumner's Electronic. And then Hooky went rogue …

 "Even When The Water's Cold", by !!!. Now how in the heck are you supposed to pronounce that? (Well apparently it's "chk chk chk", but in my own mind Philip Brophy cornered the market on that pronunciation with this Australian late-70s art-punk project.) The first time I heard this song I immediately thought I recognised something in the vocal mannerisms. I realised I was thinking of Spoon. Curiously, I then discovered that that band's Jim Eno (who is not the singer) produced the song. He also added piano, such as you hear on Spoon records. The song also grows on you in that particular way Spoon songs do. (Not that I have any intention of overdoing the comparison.) It's on Warp, although it could just as easily have slipped out under the DFA banner.

 "Horizon Unfolding", by Fantastikoi Hxoi. Six minutes of understated but insistent Krautrock take us out for the month. Nationality and time period are a mystery that is not solved merely by studying the title of the song and the name of the band. (1970s? Albania? Wrong. Greece. 2012. But each possibility would be as strange as the other.)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Song of the day

"Black Eyed Dog", by Nick Drake.

I can never listen to Nick Drake without feeling a nagging, non-specific sense of guilt. This is crazy, of course: there wasn't anything I could have done to change the course of his short life. Heck, I was ten years old when he died, had never heard of him, and anyway at that time his music hadn't even travelled very far beyond the few people who had a hand in it being recorded and released; it certainly wouldn't have reached the ears of a child in South Gippsland. (And even if it had, what would that child have made of its quiet, non-demonstrative, haunting tones?)

(In fact, my first exposure to the name "Nick Drake" came in about 1977 (or so), when I read a review of "Bryter Later" in the Australian fortnightly music paper RAM; it must have been either a reissue or, perhaps, the first Australian release. I don't remember getting any sense from the review of it being anything other than a new record. For whatever reason, lost to time now, the review stayed with me. (Thanks for that and much else besides, Anthony O'Grady.))

Nevertheless, his story permeates his music, even forty years later. Who, after all, was Nick Drake? Aside from the records, other recorded fragments, photographs, and reminiscences (and as much as I worship at the feet of Joe Boyd, I can't help suspecting that his own memories might, intentionally or otherwise, have been  twisted by decades of external hagiography), we only really have mythology.

My best guess is that, to paraphrase Brian Wilson, Nick Drake not only wasn't made for his times, he wasn't really made for any times. Living in the world, at least the world outside of his family home, seems to have been too much for him. So, if he had had during his lifetime the success that his music obviously deserved (and has posthumously attained), what then? The evidence suggests that he wouldn't have handled it. His story was destined not to have a happy ending. Perhaps the best he (we?) could have hoped for would have been three albums released to moderate acclaim and sales, followed by more of the same, to similar or reduced sales, a common enough career arc for a musician (think Ron Sexsmith; or Aimee Mann; or, maybe even, Elvis Costello). Maybe there would have been a latter-day hipster-driven revival, a la Johnny Cash or John Fahey.

But that's not what happened. Those three albums remain, they have always been with us, they have never been diluted by whatever may have happened next because nothing happened next.

Well, nothing except the Four Last Songs. They first surfaced, at least officially, on the vinyl box set "Fruit Tree", which was released in 1979 and then released again, in slightly different form, in 1986. I spent many afternoons gazing wistfully at the latter, perched, as it was, on a high shelf beside the counter at Discurio Records in the city, but, as a poor university student, I had no hope of ever being able to buy it. By then Nick Drake was a name that you saw around, but, in that pre-internet age, it wasn't easy to actually hear the music. That didn't happen for me until some time later, when I picked up a copy of the 1986 "Time of No Reply" CD compilation. So to my ears "Black Eyed Dog" sits (un)naturally as a part of the Nick Drake discography. It wasn't until later again that I learnt the real story of it, and of the other three stark, desolate, desperate pieces of music that were recorded at the same time. They are all the sound of a door closing.

"Black Eyed Dog", I think, hits hardest of all of them, harder than any other piece of music I can think of. I cannot listen to it without involuntarily shuddering. And yet I cannot not listen to it. Look, here I am doing it again. Like a rabbit in the headlights, waiting to be struck down but unable to move; mesmerised.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Song of the day

"December Ice", by The Bats.

Sneaking out under the radar, as music from New Zealand has a tendency to do, this lone song was released by The Bats on iTunes late last year with virtually no fanfare whatsoever. And yet The Bats continue to do what they have always done: make music because they can, while there is still time, and with passion and enthusiasm. Because they mean it, man. It is a song that was "left off" their last album (suggesting, wrongly, that is an inferior cast-off). "Free All The Monsters" found them mining a particularly rich vein (and, in "Simpletons", digging up one of the standout songs of their long history). And "December Ice", being in the nature of "more where that came from", is worthy of your attention. (The suggestion on the souncloud spiel that there are unreleased "space jams" from the same sessions seems too good to be true, and may well be a wind-up aimed at people like me. Thanks, fellas.)

Saturday, March 08, 2014

1963 New Yorker cover of the day

Heeere, kitty kitty kitty ...

Cover artist is Andre Francois, who was responsible (it says here) for 54 New Yorker covers (that's over a year's worth!), but this was only his second. (He also did this pretty extraordinary cover for "Lord of the Flies".)

(Click for an enlargeable version. If that works.)

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Snowboarder of the day

Ah, yes. Chumpy Pullin. The snowboarder so rad (or is that "gnarly"?) they named a song after him.

(Actually the song came first, but chronology is just a bourgeois construct.)

He carried the flag for Australia at the Winter Olympics. He was our gold medal hope. He crashed out in the quarter finals. He was subjected to media obloquy. Did he ask for any of it? We are so quick to put our sporting heroes up on a pedestal, and even quicker to sink the boot in when they don't live up to our inflated armchair expectations. It would be nice if commentators (amateur as well as professional) sometimes thought before they spoke/wrote, and kept in mind that there is a human being, with all of a human being's usual vulnerabilities and frailties, behind the media image.

And anyway, not that I know anything about snowboarding, but the four-man snowboard cross looks more like a crapshoot than a sporting event: how well you do seems to depend more on what happens to the person in front of you than on your own skill. Roll on 2018.

"Chumpy", by The Clean. 

Sound of the day

"Bremen Nacht", by The Fall.

No drum program ever written, or that will ever be written, can hope to emulate the sheer physicality of the thwack of the snare drum in "Bremen Nacht".

The 2:40 mark is where it really happens. But it is kind of all through it. (YouTube is probably not the best place to hear it, obviously. But what can you do? Hopefully you have your own copy of "The Frenz Experiment".)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: March 2013

Done in some haste. Please be gentle.

"Mind Mischief (The Field Remix)", by Tame Impala. Tame Impala take sixties psychedelia and play it through a filter of the blazing Perth summer sun. (I have never been to Perth, so I don't know if that is even true; this past summer the temperatures in Canberra seem to have been much higher. Perhaps Tame Impala should move here for maximum effect.) The Field take "minimal techno" of the Kompakt variety and leave it out in the weather for what sounds like years, until everything that caused the music to be in any way recognisable has been weathered away, leaving just the barest outline. (This may not sound like a compliment, but give him a listen and you'll see that it might be.) This ten-minute remix pitches the two of them against each other. Music is the winner.

"You Are My Destiny", by The Juan Maclean. It's been a while between drinks for our old pals The Juan Maclean. So what if this sounds like the second cousin twice removed of "Happy House"? It's a strong blood line.

"Outside Amore", by Man Tear. This is a strange one. It is naggingly familiar, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. I hate that. It's on DFA, but doesn't really sound like it. From Sweden, but doesn't really sound like that, either.

"King of Hearts (Richard X Remix Edit)", by Cassie. Clearly, Richard X still has whatever he had in the mid-00s that got me fired up about music again after so many years in the wilderness.

"Beautiful Son", by Peaking Lights. This song is equal parts mystery and beauty. That seems to be a perfect ratio. Is it too late to declare this one of the best songs of 2013?

"Entertainment (Dinosaur Jr Remix)", by Phoenix. That might be what the label says, but what it really is is Dinosaur Jr covering a Phoenix song. Which is a pretty funny thing to imagine, but in practice it is a triumph: J Mascis & Co ratchet down the pop intensity of the original, in the way that really only they, the Original Slackers, can; and in doing so they get to the heart of the song in a way that the original actually doesn't. Well, that's what I think.

"Journey From Eden", by The Steve Miller Band. You probably know The Steve Miller Band from mid-seventies radio staples "The Joker" and "Fly Like An Eagle". But sniffing around the internet reveals that they are a band with a rich history (former members included Jim Keltner, Ben Sidran and one Boz Scaggs) and no shortage of drama. This is the last long on their seventh (!) album, and their last before a serious accident, and perhaps a few moments of contemplation, saw Miller move in the direction of more immediate thrills and, at least from this vantage point, significantly more radio play. Good as those hits are, it is possible to argue that they never got better than this.

"Aegean Sea", by Abel. This turns out to be an "edit" (remember what I taught you?) of a track of Smokie's very first album, from 1975. The edit rocks. Which is not something I would usually find myself saying about Smokie. ("Alice! Alice! Who the %$#@ is Alice?")

"Up In a Puff of Smoke", by Polly Brown. Many of you will not remember this song, as it wasn't particularly successful as a single. But it is firmly imprinted on my own memory on account of its having appeared on "Whopper", a 1975 Australian Polydor "original hits original artists" compilation that I played to death. (Not to be confused with "Ripper".) Looking through the track listing today is a bit deflating, although it does have a run of highly listenable songs that cover much of its second side. (It also, I suspect, would have been my first introduction to Kraftwerk, so I owe it an enormous debt on that score.) If you had a hankering to listen to The Supremes you would probably be better off listening to The Supremes, but I have a soft spot for this song, and it brings an ever-so-gentle hint of glam rock into the mix.

"Tell Me What You See In Me", by Sandy Denny and The Strawbs. The Strawbs had so many line-up changes over the years that their Wikipedia entry contains a diagram that is so complicated that it is fathomable only by academics and superior alien life forms. Another of the long, long list of things I didn't know was that amongst the many members of The Strawbs (aside from Rick Wakeman) was Sandy Denny -- evidently for a brief period in early 1968. But not so brief that they didn't have time to record an album (in Denmark!), an album that wasn't released until 1973, by which time The Strawbs had well and truly moved on (and Sandy Denny, of course, had made a name of her own with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay). I have never heard a Sandy Denny song that I didn't immediately love, and this is no exception. They also do "Who Knows Where The Time Goes", but the Fairport version of that song is so ingrained on my consciousness that I can't really entertain any other version, even if Sandy herself is singing it.

"95c", by Valerie Lemercier. By approximately 10 seconds into this song, you will be convinced that the ghost of el records hangs over it. And you will be right: the credits reveal that el mainstay Louis Philippe appears here on the guitar. Meanwhile production duties are by the seemingly ubiquitous (at least in France) Bertrand Burgalat. It's very sweet: ye ye pop in the late 20th century.

"Idle I'm (Colorama Coloured In Remix)", by John Stammers. There's no words I can type that would in any way add to your enjoyment or understanding of this song. The download link may still be up: try it for yourself.

"The Captain of Her Heart", by Double. It may be because I am one quarter Swiss that this song hits me where I live. Ostensibly garden variety mid-80s pop, there is something slightly mysterious lurking behind its surface sheen that I find attractive. (Also, the opening couple of bars put me in mind of the underrated work Chris Abrahams did with Melanie Oxley a few years back.) Curiously, this song was mentioned in this seemingly unrelated article on Pitchfork just the other day.

"Letter of Intent (Mark McGuire Road Chief Remix)", by Ducktails. My take on it is that Mark McGuire dons his Road Chief hat whenever he wants to venture down the highway of seventies/eighties FM radio. Thus he drives what was, in its original form, a perfectly good if rudimentary fragile pop song out into the land of lush arrangements and a particular kind of tone such as you might (hope to) find over the closing credits of a particular type of American independent film. A road movie, maybe.