Saturday, October 18, 2014

Song of the day

"This Evening So Soon", by Bob Dylan.

Dad died 25 years ago today. I've written about him, and about that day, before. I don't need to go over any of that ground again. But, being an only child, I do have to mark the occasion, because nobody else is going to.

How about we limit it to one memory: a memory that only recently worked its way up to the surface.

Dad and I were at the farm, working. I don't know what we were doing, probably something like digging post holes, repairing fences, or mucking about with water pipes or tanks. It was a still day. The blue sky stretched all the way from one horizon to the other. At some point we both thought we could hear, far off, what sounded like a lawn mower. This made no sense. The only house close enough for the sound of a lawn mower to carry to where we were was our own, and mum wasn't the one who mowed the lawn. We stopped what we were doing and concentrated on where the sound was coming from, until one of us noticed a tiny dot in the sky over to the east. As this tiny dot gradually increased in size, so the sound of the lawnmower gradually increased in volume. Time passed, and it continued to head in our direction, until eventually we could see what it was: a person flying an ultralight, quite literally a lawn mower with wings. We watched, stunned, as it buzzed its way over our heads and off to the west, where, eventually, we lost sight of it, and the sound faded away to nothing. I don't imagine either of us said anything. More likely, we just looked at each other and got on with the job at hand.

It's a good memory, because it involves just the two of us, working together out in the paddocks, which is how I like to remember the time I was able to spend with him.

Today's song, by Bob Dylan, has nothing to do with any of this. But it is about somebody called "Old Bill", and I think of dad whenever I listen to it. Dad, I don't think, would have thought much of Dylan. He was more of a Bing Crosby kind of guy: technically correct crooners who didn't do anything too fancy. (I doubt he would have thought much of Sinatra, either.)

Dylan being Dylan, the song cannot be found on either Soundcloud or YouTube, but you can listen to it on a page of Bob's official web site, if you can find the "play" icon. (Hint: it is not drawing any attention to itself.)


...


The other thing that I have been dwelling on is that I am now only 13 years younger than dad was when he died. I have been in my current job, and living in the same house, for 15 years now. It doesn't feel like a long time.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Song of the day

"Things Behind The Sun", by Dave Harrington Featuring Tamara.

If you only listen to one song today, make sure it's this one. (Yes, it is the Nick Drake song.) It first appeared earlier this year kicking off Darkside's Modcast mix. If you heard it there, it has haunted your dreams ever since. If this is the first time you hear it, it will haunt your future dreams. Let it.



[Editor's note: I'm sorry this clip cuts out early; it kind of spoils the effect. I am guessing this is the version taken from the Modcast, and that it cuts out in order to avoid the segue into the next track. It's available now, in its entirety (ie with an extra 20 seconds or so), on the new Other People compilation record, "Work".]

Now Play Long

Or, Fifty @ 50, Part Two.

(With apologies, vis-a-vis the title of this post, to Marcello Carlin via Fleetwood Mac. Or vice versa.)

"Closer", by Joy Division.
"Marquee Moon", by Television.
"Horses", by Patti Smith.
"Crazy Rhythms", by The Feelies.
"The African Man's Tomato", by The Cannanes.
"Fear of Music", by Talking Heads.
"Remain in Light", by Talking Heads.
"Another Green World", by Brian Eno.
"Before and After Science", by Brian Eno.
"The Correct Use of Soap", by Magazine.
"London Calling", by The Clash.
"The Return of The Durutti Column", by The Durutti Column.
"Colossal Youth", by Young Marble Giants.
"Up on the Sun", by Meat Puppets.
"Entertainment!", by Gang of Four.
"The Transfiguration of Vincent", by M Ward.
"Time (The Revelator)", by Gillian Welch.
"Imperial Bedroom", by Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
"Music for 18 Musicians", by Steve Reich.
"Second Edition", by Public Image Limited.
"Medicine Show", by The Dream Syndicate.
"Liege and Leif", by Fairport Convention.
"The Firstborn is Dead", by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
"Tindersticks", by Tindersticks (second album).
"For Your Pleasure", by Roxy Music.
"The Perfect Prescription", by Spacemen 3.
"World of Echo", by Arthur Russell.
"King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown", by Augustus Pablo.
"Quasimodo's Dream", by The Reels.
"Swordfishtrombones", by Tom Waits.
"Einstein on the Beach", by Philip Glass.
"My Life in the Bush of Ghosts", by David Byrne and Brian Eno.
"Daydream Nation", by Sonic Youth.
"Jamboree", by Beat Happening.
"Brilliant Trees", by David Sylvian.
"Hatful of Hollow", by The Smiths.
"Shoot Out the Lights", by Richard and Linda Thompson.
"Honey Steel's Gold", by Ed Kuepper.
"Moon Safari", by Air.
"Crocodiles", by Echo and the Bunnymen.
"Rattlesnakes", by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.
"Millions Now Living Will Never Die", by Tortoise.
"Low", by David Bowie.
"Hex Enduction Hour", by The Fall.
"Hounds of Love", by Kate Bush.
"A Walk Across the Rooftops", by The Blue Nile.
"Trans-Europe Express", by Kraftwerk.
"The Man-Machine", by Kraftwerk.
"Compilation", by The Clean.
"Before Hollywood", by The Go-Betweens.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Song of the day

"Wivenhoe Bells II", by The Cleaners From Venus.

I never claimed (well, I might have pretended) to know everything about everything. But, given my cloistered youth, spent with one ear glued to 2JJ and one eye glued to the NME, I thought I could reasonably claim to have a solid enough working knowledge of the staunchly independent, I-did-it-my-way corner of the United Kingdom music scene from the end of the seventies (and beyond), nowadays collectively labelled as "DIY".

And then along comes Jon Dale (hey, Jon, can you do the corresponding Melbourne scene next?) with a survey of 131 key exponents of the "DIY" genre, and on a quick count I can give name recognition to roughly one in four of the entities involved, with an even smaller number of boxes ticked for individual songs. (But a hale and hearty "YES!" to ... And The Native Hipsters, Fatal Microbes, and The Prats.) Jon's is at once a heroic achievement, and more than slightly humbling. (Also exciting, at the thought of all those stones yet unturned.) I highly recommend that you spend some quality time with it.

Also, it gives me an excuse to plug, once again, The Cleaners From Venus, down whose rabbit-hole I have been crawling for the last few months, sparked by Captured Tracks' admirable and impressive reissue programme. The Cleaners From Venus, The Brotherhood of Lizards, The Stray Trolleys: it's a rabbit-hole with many branches, but all of them lead back to Martin Newell, creator of a spectacular number of classical English pop songs, many of which could have been propelled to the upper region of the charts under the guiding hand of someone other than Newell, who was content to send his music out into the world by way of cassette tapes housed in hand-coloured covers. Jon's piece serves as a reminder that he wasn't alone, at that time, in operating in this way. Was there an entire generation of musicians fiercely intent on "sticking it to The Man"? Or was this the only way they could get their music heard?

Anyway, "Wivenhoe Bells": Jon opts for the second iteration of this song (Newell clearly knew a good thing when he heard it; some of his best songs were recorded more than once: see also "Marilyn on a Train"). I fell in love with the song via the original recording, from 1980's "Blow Away Your Troubles" cassette. It has taken me a while to come to terms with the (relative) slickness of the 1982 edition, but ultimately the quality of the song itself wins out, whichever version you listen to. And, you know, I'm starting to think that Jon's choice might be right.







Saturday, October 04, 2014

Re-Broadcast

You probably know this already, but earlier in the week, to mark what would have been Trish Keenan's 46th birthday (so young ... so young ...), the Broadcast website posted demo versions of two songs from the "Tender Buttons" album.

In truth, they don't veer too far from the versions that were released on the album, but it's always nice to have an excuse (if any were needed) to listen to some Broadcast, and it's a treat, if still somewhat harrowing, to be able to hear that voice again.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: October 2013

October, 2013. Here are a few of the songs I found on the Internet. Filtered for your listening pleasure.

"Vibration (Parts 1 and 2)", by Joe Brown and the Soul Eldorados. When I was a kid, listening to ABC radio sport on a Saturday afternoon, every half an hour or so they would cut to a horse race, which would inevitably be called by Joe Brown. He was a Melbourne horse racing legend. This is not that Joe Brown. 

"Hey Joe", by Johnny Hallyday. Like The Beatles in England, Johnny Hallyday was so big in France that he didn't have to put his name on his record covers. Just the word "Johnny" and a photograph would suffice to project his records into the stratosphere. On the one hand, this is just another cover version of what must be one of the most covered songs in the history of the world. On the other hand, it's in French, which sets it apart and gives it just a hint of the exotic.


"No Fun", by Doctor Mix. So anyway, I don't profess to know everything there is to know about the UK music scene in the post-punk era, but I am nevertheless surprised when something comes up that I would have expected to have at least heard of, or read about. Especially if it was released as a Rough Trade seven-inch. And especially if it was a cover of a song by The Stooges. So here we go: Doctor Mix. Never heard of them. "No Fun", by Doctor Mix. On Rough Trade. Never heard of it. I wonder what else is out there, lurking in the historical shadows. (Also, the picture sleeve looks like the cover of a Stereolab record 20 years before the fact.)

"Screaming in the Darkness", by Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls. It must be something like 35 years since I last heard this song. The Invisible Girls were the banged-together studio band of producer Martin Hannett, who also provided the musical accompaniment for John Cooper Clarke's northern poetry. This song positively reeks of Manchester circa 1980. The credits disavow the idea that it is Barry Adamson on bass but, come on, nobody else plays the bass like that.

"Sportsman", by Haruomi Hosono. Electronic pop music from Japan, from the dawn of the 1980s. It is, I think, just far enough to the left of cheese to be embraceable by you, me, and everybody else.

"Curtains", by Yukihiro Takahashi. As above, except without so much of the cheese. Yuki was the pure-pop voice of YMO, I think, Hosono the larrikin experimentalist/comedian (YMO's Holger Czukay, perhaps) and Ryuichi Sakamoto the lush emotional heart. Together they were unbeatable, but individually each was strong enough to stand on his own two feet.

"Blowout", by Jah Wobble. Earlier, we mentioned Barry Adamson. Wobble was the other notable bass player of the era (well, we can't really not mention Peter Hook), responsible for the concrete-floor-crushing bottom end of Public Image Ltd. He went on to have a prolific, if largely unheralded, solo career (which continues). This twelve-inch from 1985 picks up where the "Snake Charmer" EP, from a year or so earlier, left off.

"I'm In Love With a German Film Star (Original Radio Edit)", by Sam Taylor-Wood produced by Pet Shop Boys. This is where it gets difficult. The original of this song, by The Passions, is so deeply embedded in the core of my, uh, being, that if the song itself somehow ceased to exist, I suspect that I would, too. So I am reluctant to delve too deeply into the reason for my connection with it, for fear that to do so would only end up destroying the bond. Fortunately, I don't have to: this version, essentially a tastefully Kompaktified take on the song, has all the charm and ineffable mystery of the original, and I can enjoy it guilt-free and without having to undergo therapy. Phew.

"International Smark", by Payfone. Where the hell has this come from? It seems to be, at fleeting moments, bursting straight out of the Propaganda playbook, but with clean lines that bring it up to date sonically, and with a delicate hint of, of all things, "yacht rock" guitar. Well, that's what I'm hearing. Any way you cut it, though, it is irresistible.


"Up and Down (Beep) (Special Disco Version)", by Moxie. AKA (allegedly, anyway) a James Murphy/Pat Mahoney "re-edit" from 2008 of an obscure late-seventies banger that might conveniently (if possibly misguidedly) be labelled italo/space disco. Listen to what it does around the 2.45 mark. And then what it does around the 3.45 mark. And at the 5.30 mark. Then there's what happens at 8.50. In fact, you might as well just sit back and enjoy the whole shebang. Warning: contains cowbells. Surprise!


"Down South", by Museum of Love. And speaking of Pat Mahoney, this is a recent project involving him. On DFA, naturally. If you ask me, it has a bit of an old-school John Foxx feel to it. Which is fine by me.

"Dancing With the Mentally Ill", by Club 8. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that these folk had been listening to the third Raincoats album before making this record. File under "tribal pop". (Note: YouTube clip below has gratuitous four minutes of silence at the end of the song. Enjoy!)


"Garden's Heart", by Natasha Khan and Jon Hopkins. You could take the high road with this one and say that it puts you in mind of Cocteau Twins. Or you could take the low road and say that it puts you in mind of Enya. Me, I'll take the high road, but the evidence might not be all one way.

"Living for Love", by Realities. File under "dream pop". I really don't know what else I can say.


"Gillie Amma, I Love You", by Four Tet. This drifts on a bed of benign synths, in a way that Four Tet's more recent releases haven't done. Pillowy voices float in and out of, and around, the music. It's a bit mysterious, and slightly unsettling (or ominous). It's like you spend most of its length waiting for the point, until eventually you realise that the absence of point is its point. And a point well made.

"Tahoultine", by Mdou Moctar. You heard Peter Frampton sing "I want you / To show me the way". So you tried to show him the way; but you gave him bad directions, and he ended up in the African desert. While there, he lost his "talking box". A wandering Tuareg found it, and decided to make a record. This is that record.



"Time", by Lambert & Nuttycombe. No, I've never heard of them either. But from the darkened corners of Herb Alpert's A&M Records they sprang forth with this small acoustic gem, in the style of, let's say, Phil Ochs' "Changes", which, in an alternative 1970, could have been huge.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Quality Assortment

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Although I have no idea which is which.

"Der Mussolini", by DAF.

After 1990, it was no longer a John Le Carre world. In the last couple of years, though, the world seems to have transformed itself, for better or worse, into a place in which Le Carre seems comfortable to inhabit. (If "comfortable" is the right idea.) We recently travelled to the cinema to watch "A Most Wanted Man", notable for three things: 1. The telling, in necessarily truncated form, of a classic Le Carre story. 2. The final sighting, in a major role, of Philip Seymour Hoffman. As if we needed to be reminded of what we have lost. 3. The unexpected appearance, in a scene shot in a Hamburg bar/nightclub, circa a year or two ago, of this song. Would bars in Hamburg be playing, at volume, a relatively obscure piece of German synth-pop from thirty-odd years previously? (I suppose the sound of cranky, overdriven analog synths has come back of late, through the likes of Factory Floor; but if you are going for old music in a Hamburg setting, wouldn't you have picked some early Beatles? Or maybe it's just a bauble placed there by the film's director, Anton Corbijn, rock photographer par excellence of the era from which this song hails.) Still, I'm not complaining; as you know, it is a song that got its claws into me at an early age.



"Games for Girls", by Say Lou Lou x Lindstrom.

In which Hans-Peter Lindstrom, perhaps best known as the creator of "I Feel Space", the pivotal, if not the best -- and I'm not saying it's not the best -- song of this century so far, tries his hand at a pop song for the masses, in company with the twin daughters of The Church's Steve Kilbey (you couldn't make this up). And it would be hard to say that it's not an instant winner. Just in time for the (southern) summer, too.



"All You Need Is Love", by Echo & The Bunnymen.

Around the time of "Ocean Rain", Echo & The Bunnymen appeared live on the telly to play a number of songs, in a stripped-down, laid-back style, with McCulloch sounding like he hadn't quite gotten warmed up yet. Here they pay homage to Lennon and McCartney. Stick around for the second half of the song, where McCulloch riffs on songs old and new, seemingly singing whatever comes into his head, from Teardrop Explodes to Dylan to James Brown.



"Julie Ocean", by The Undertones.

The thing that was repeated time and again after the death of John Peel, so often that it has been accepted as fact, was that "Teenage Kicks", by The Undertones, was his favourite song. Now, far be it from me to pick a fight with the ghost of the great man, but if you were to ask me, I would say that "Teenage Kicks", great and all as it is, is not the best song ever. It's not even the best Undertones song. That would be "Julie Ocean", seen here in its superior, seven-inch version. It gets me every time.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Genius


Buried amongst all of the variously bad, alarming, terrifying and plain old depressing news stories a couple of days ago was some unexpected and great news: Alison Bechdel has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship "genius" grant. 

Bechdel writes and draws comic books. She has made two of them. They are both very, very good. In fact, they are shining examples of what the medium is capable of. They are pretty harrowing going in places, and "Are You My Mother?" loses me with its feminist/literary theory at times (here I concede I am as far from her presumed target audience as it is possible to be while still being human). But they are brilliantly executed, highly readable, and I dare say you can find both of them (as I have) at your local library.

It always amazes me when someone not only can both write and draw pictures, but can do both to such a high level that the comic book is their perfect medium of self-expression. It's a rare combination of gifts. 

Well done, you.

Song of the day

"Knock Knock Knock", by Spoon.

Every once in a while, you should go to an actual record store and buy an actual record*.

It's good for the soul, it helps you bond with the music contained within the physical product (as opposed to, y'know, fond memories of which computer you were sitting at when you went through some dodgy, ad-filled download site and waited for Record X to come through the pipe, which it eventually did but not before crashing a couple of times and anyway it turned out to have one corrupted song on it), and it might even help some poor, struggling music retailer stay in business for another week or so.

(Oh the times we live in.)

So anyway, for me it was the new Spoon album, "They Want My Soul". Spoon records take a while to sink in. Which is fine, because one only comes along every three or so years. I expect this one will be no different. It starts off with a couple of readily identifiable but perhaps not exactly jaw-dropping examples of Spoon songs. The third track, "Rainy Taxi", is where you say to yourself, This song is going to reveal itself as a Spoon classic. The fourth track, "Do You", is an instant earworm that will have you pinwheeling around the living room. 

But it is the fifth track, "Knock Knock Knock", that stops you in your tracks, stares into your eyes, unblinking, and says: Yes, I do remind you of your (but nobody else's) favourite Pink Floyd album, "Animals". You got a problem with that?

And guess what? I got no problem with that whatsoever. But I can't say I was expecting it.

(Consumer advisory: contains whistling.)


*When I say record, I mean, for myself, a CD: the trendy thing at the moment is to buy vinyl, but as someone who has shelves of vinyl from the first time around, and who was here at the birth of the Compact Disc Digital Audio (TM), I have no lingering nostalgia for the pops and clicks, the inevitable skips and unintended locked grooves, the fuzzy "s"s, of vinyl; they were an impediment to hearing the music then, and I can only assume that they are still an impediment to hearing the music. Still, if that's what you want ...