Saturday, July 23, 2016

Consumer advisory

Adrienne and the 18-year-old are off on a European holiday that we can't really afford, so the 16-year-old and I thought we would spend a few nights in Sydney. A pretty stupid idea, really, given how much the European trip has set back the household budget, but what are you going to do?

We figured on taking the train, because a few people had told us that it is quite a nice trip (it is). We had some activities on the list. But where to stay? I had played around a bit on Airbnb but didn't really have a feel for it. A work colleague hopped on to (which Adrienne has used before, with good results) and noticed a room with two single beds at the Sheraton on the Park for a price that was not too much higher than it seemed like we would be paying for any old hotel room. Describing it, as I recall, as something like the "deal of the century", he more or less insisted, and so we deferred to his better knowledge of the city. We probably couldn't really justify the expense, but, as I said, what are you going to do? Adrienne did the booking, as I am relatively (actually, scrap that "relatively") useless in that regard.

We only had to walk in the front door of the Sheraton on the Park to know that it wasn't our kind of place, and that the people staying there were not our kind of people. The 16-year-old observed that it seemed pretty fancy. (I could see him doing the maths behind his eyelids.) I bluffed my way up to the front desk and (unlikely as it must have sounded) said that I had a room booked. The girl behind the desk (who was very nice) did us the courtesy of checking the list instead of peremptorily calling for security, and, lo and behold (she did her best to hide the surprise), my name was on there.

Sir, she said, You will be in a room with a queen size bed. Well, this was not a good start. But, I said, We had booked two single beds. The girl enquired if we had booked direct, and I said it was through She then told me that bedding is not guaranteed through third-party booking sites.

I was at a disadvantage here, because I hadn't done the booking myself, but I was pretty confident that we had quite clearly and unequivocally booked two single beds. The short answer was that they didn't have any at that price, but there was one room available with two single beds overlooking Hyde Park (the room we booked had "city views") which she could give me for the "discounted" rate of an additional $60 per night.

I mentally weighed up the options: (a) trying to find somewhere else to stay; (b) sharing a bed with the 18-year-old for three nights; (c) making a public scene at the lobby of the Sheraton on the Park; and (d) finding an extra $180, which, the point being, we were over-extending ourselves anyway. The first three were easy to cross off, which left me reluctantly opting to postpone my retirement for a bit longer than I had been hoping.

Up in the room, where we did have, I must admit, a pretty nice view (you could see the harbour if you stood on tiptoes), and a black marble bathroom (what the heck am I going to do with a black marble bathroom?), I jumped on the phone and checked over what our booking confirmation actually said. There, in black and white, were the words "two single beds". I went back downstairs: reluctantly, obviously, but my inherent distaste for injustice is slightly more active when the injustice is directed towards myself. The same girl at the desk had a look at the confirmation on my phone and spoke to somebody else. Ah, you see, was the sense of what I was then told, the word there is "Requests". As in, the customer "requests" two single beds. It doesn't mean you are going to get them. They go to our own paying guests first. I was also told that if I had read the page from which the hotel was booked, I would have seen that it says "The hotel doesn't guarantee customer requests". But we can give you free wi-fi, which usually costs $20 per day.

What the heck. I took the free wi-fi. (Which I didn't need.) I enjoyed the view. (Which I hadn't felt the need to pay for in the first place, and I can't say my enjoyment of it was entirely free of resentment.) The black marble bathroom? Whatever. The beds were comfortable, I will give them that, but then I would assume that they were no different from the beds in the room we thought we had booked. Other than that, it was just a hotel room. (Plenty of unwanted noise came through from the room next door, for example. Plus, they would appear to have charged us $5 for a small packet of UHT milk. In my experience of regular hotels, the milk is complimentary, like the tea bags.) Everything else is just marketing.

It's a bit futile to say we certainly won't be staying here again, because we wouldn't be anyway. But the point I want to make is: people, please don't make the same mistake I did. If the people behind the desk are right in saying that a disclaimer exists on the booking page, I still find it hard to accept that it is, in any way, reasonable for travellers to not find out that their "request" has not been granted until they are at the desk of the hotel, and therefore, for all intents and purposes, at the mercy of the hotel. And furthermore, I would be interested to see what would happen were somebody to test whether the choice of bedding arrangements, which is actually one of the things you enter in order to search for, and therefore book, a room, can be construed to be a mere "request" (as opposed to, let's say, whether the room has a black marble bathroom, or free wi-fi, or views of the harbour if you crane your neck), and particularly whether it is reasonable for the unsuspecting customer to have understood it as such. It wouldn't be that hard to imagine a scenario where, unlike with the two of us, there would actually be no choice to be made by the two guests, and where it would be highly inappropriate for them to share a bed. What then?

So, the moral of this story. Well, there are two, actually. One: if a hotel seems more tony than your station in life would usually suggest that you might stay in, it is probably best to stay away. Two: if you are booking a room at the Sheraton on the Park via, and you have any "request" as to the bedding arrangements, you are doing so at your own risk.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Song of the day

"Dream Baby Dream", by Suicide.

This blog, this year, is starting to look like a rolling obituaries column.

This week, sadly, we lost Alan Vega.

Close reader(s) will already know that Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" sits very high up on the Farmer In The City Greatest Songs Of All Time list. I am presently reading Garth Risk Hallberg's gargantuan novel of mid-seventies New York, "City On Fire", and so I am immersed in that era of that city to the extent that, when I first heard the news, I momentarily thought it was still 1977 and he had been cut down in his prime. But in fact he was 78 years old -- or, strictly speaking, young -- and, until quite recently, was still pushing the envelope. We all should be so lucky.

Vega was responsible for much more than just that one song, of course, both with Suicide (you shouldn't pass up either of their first two albums, even if you will only want to listen to "Frankie Teardrop" once) and alone (he had something of a nearly hit with "Jukebox Babe"). But, for this listener, all roads lead back to "Dream Baby Dream".

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Song of the day

"Love X2", by Nite-Funk.

2016 being such a great year for music, it should be no surprise that yet another record has come across my (virtual) desk which has stopped me in my tracks. Specifically, a four-track EP by Nite-Funk; Nite-Funk being a certain Mr Dam-Funk, about whom, presumably on account of my advancing years and receding hipness, I know somewhat less than zip; and a certain Ms Nite Jewel, who engaged my attention some years back with her high-budget-on-a-low-budget electro pop nuggets. She lost me after a while as she crept into an actual high-budget set-up (or "higher" anyway; or maybe she just got more proficient), where I thought she had fallen just a little flat. Anyway, she's back, with an album of her own, and this EP, and in particular this exquisite slice of skeletal funk/soul, bearing as I think it does the gentlest of nods to the late-eighties / early-nineties London (and Bristol) of Soul II Soul and early Massive Attack (a place and time, musically speaking, that I never expected to be thrown back to). Plus, Nite Jewel herself has clearly been spending some of the intervening years working on her singing voice. Here, she soars.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Song of the day

"Widening The Vision", by Bentcousin.

Truth is, I would never have become aware of Bentcousin were it not for Marcello Carlin writing some paragraphs about them in the course of what must surely be the highest number of words ever written about (well, ostensibly about) a run-of-the-mill 1990 Fleetwood Mac album. Just another in a long list of things for which he has my eternal gratitude.

Bentcousin are obviously children of the 1978-1982 generation, but unlike with many other likeminded youth, listening to them doesn't make me wish I was listening to their oh-so-obvious influences instead. Bentcousin, and this song in particular, demand to be listened to Right Now.

"Widening The Vision", the last song on the album (there is nowhere else it could have gone), is a monster. A juggernaut. It is welded together by an unrelentingly solid bass line. The drumming, counterintuitively but perhaps necessarily, is feather-light, calling to mind those magical days when Lindy Morrison held the Go-Betweens together. The guitars; well, here's a surprise, because who is on guitar? None other than Sir Keith Levene, that's who (not a real "Sir"), bringing a kind of Rowland S Howard-on-a-holiday texture and -- yes -- melody. There are lyrics about weeing in the sink. There are gorgeous twee-pop (not a pejorative) backing vocals. There is a melodica. After four minutes, the song, and the album, fade out. They have to fade it out, because there is no way that you could actually stop a song like this; there are no brakes powerful enough. You can turn the volume down, but the song, somewhere, keeps going.

I want you to promise me you will listen to this at some volume.

Edit. Newly discovered bonus beats: you can listen to their rather tasty version of Dinosaur Jr's "Freak Scene" below. The actual Soundcloud page includes a download button. With your ears pinned back.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Song of the day

"Bad Politics", by The Dead C.

(Who, by the way, would appear to be recording and touring again.)

First, we have the longest-ever Australian federal election campaign, which comes to an end next Saturday. It has been about as enlightening and inspiring as I expected (i.e. not even). The prime minister has demonstrated that whatever he might bring to the office he presently holds (which either is not a lot, or has been kept from view until now, for reasons best known to himself), he is not much chop as an oppositionist. (Which perhaps makes him the reverse of the person he replaced, except that we all know what he was like as prime minister.) Given that this country has not been effectively governed since 2007 (with the exception of Julia Gillard's prime ministership, which, against all odds, managed to push some important and/or worthwhile things through a minority parliament, some of which have even survived), and given the turbulent international waters that we find ourselves in, it is dispiriting (to say the least) how uninspiring our leaders and aspirants have continued to be. We are not those others over there / we are better than those others over there would appear to be an end in itself. (At least the Labor Party has made some attempt at policy development, but from where I sit (on my side of the bed, the cat curled up in the sun at my feet) it isn't getting much traction, and anyway the slogan "100 Positive Policies" is about as likely to engage the electorate as John Hewson's "Incentivation" (remember that?).)

Secondly, Brexit, in which it would appear, from this distance, that what may have happened is that enough people registered a perhaps well-meaning protest vote (although against what they were all protesting against may have been neither clear nor uniform) to bring about a result that either nobody wanted or, at least, nobody had really thought through the consequences of. Am I the only person who is beginning to think that there might be such a thing as too much democracy?

Thirdly, the bizarre (and increasingly alarming) prospect of a President Trump. See previous sentence.

Bad politics, baby.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hypothetical mixtape: August 2015

There are things I really ought to be getting on with. This is not one of them.

"White Clouds (Day's Rhodes More Travelled Edit)", by Hiroshi Fukumura.  So good.

"Dreams", by Beck. A one-off single by the Beckster. It sounds like a reaction against "Morning Phase". A lot of Beck's records sound like a reaction against the record before. (See also: The Go-Betweens.)

"Spiral", by XTC. If you were seeking evidence to back up the seemingly outlandish claim that XTC had pop songs literally dripping off the ends of their fingers, consider this song. Most bands would commit criminal acts to be able to write a song as poptastic as this. XTC couldn't find a way to fit it onto either of their "Apple Venus" albums, for which it seems to have been recorded.

"Is It Her?", by Smashing Time. This song sits somewhere on the straight line that connects The Zombies' "She's Not There" with "Nice Day", by Persephone's Bees. Which, if you are chasing pop perfection, is not a bad place to sit. Warning: contains a flute player running rampant. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) This would appear not to have been released at all, other than on the compilation whose cover adorns the YT clip.

"Mississippi Mud", by Smithstonian. The song title, combined with the neat pun in the band's name, tells you where you are going with this. Nowhere. Slowly. Deliciously. (Also released under the name of Black Blood and the Chocolate Pickles, with added vocals and with the piano replaced by a Rhodes. Now that's quality.)

"Mar de la Tranquilidad", by Azul y Negro. I have died a thousand times listening to the ache on the guitar. Why oh why did the eighties have to end? (Bonus: album cover of the month.)

"Hopeless", by Against All Logic. It's always worth keeping an ear out for what Nicolas Jaar is releasing on his Other People label. This is why. It has that same ever-so-slightly woozy loping gait that Jaar's own work tends towards. Plus, the recurring motif that starts off the record wouldn't sound out of place on a Four Tet record.

"Digital Arpeggios", by Percussion. Did somebody mention Four Tet? This be he, under a sneaky pseudonym. This track is rather gorgeous; it has the clean lines you expect from the best Kraftwerk tunes. If it's a homage, it's a mighty impressive homage. When the beat kicks in, at the five-minute mark, it momentarily feels like it's in the way; but only momentarily.

"Back2TheStart", by KH. "KH" being, as you have probably already guessed, Kieran Hebden. Does that man exist purely to make records?

"Ability To Gain Access (Pye Corner Audio Remix)", by Not Waving. Martin Jenkins is not a recently deceased cricket commentator. He is a musician who often goes by the name Pye Corner Audio. He tends to work in his own darkened corners, although in more recent times he has been brought out, blinking, into the sunlight under the tutelage of the estimable Ghost Box label. Here, he remixes a song.

"Loud Places (John Talabot's Loud Synths Reconstruction)", by Jamie xx. The first half of this remix / "reconstruction" is all about those three piano chords, which the other components exist merely to frame. Then, in the last two minutes, things get dank, via some very tasty high- and low-end arpeggiation. Now might be an opportunity for me to plug John Talabot's very excellent "fIN" album, from a couple of years back. Well, 2012. Time flies.

"Here In Iowa", by Korallreven. This month's Swedish pop goodness is brought to you by the (now defunct, it seems) Korallreven. I suppose this would go in the box marked "Balearic", but there is actually quite a lot of pan-globalism going on here. (Some parts of it remind me of Junior Boys. Shout out to the Canadians.) Possibly the best thing about this song, though, is that it is only physically available via a single-sided flexi-disc. Kids these days. (Also: nice video.) (STOP PRESS: listen to Peaking Lights take the original and turn it inside out.)

"Jump Out Of The Train (Road Chief Remix by Mark McGuire)", by CFCF. CFCF has been in the periphery of my vision for some years now. My Apple Music subscription has allowed me to rest my gaze more directly upon his works. I'm not sure I'm convinced yet, but I suspect there is something there I'm not getting. Mark McGuire, on the other hand, I have been absorbing like a sponge in the desert. (Does that even work?) When he puts on his "Road Chief" hat, that usually sends you in the direction of a yacht rock / high eighties sound. Such is the case here. Is nice.

"Hot Music (Jazz Mix)", by Soho. Imagine what a "jazz mix" of a song called "Hot Music" might sound like. Yep. I dare you to sit still. What was I listening to in 1990 when I should have been listening to this?

"Sundowner", by Zachary Cale. This has something of the feeling of enervated drift that you get from the best of Beach House (which I would classify as their first album, in case you were going to ask), though it is coming from a very different place. Cale has existed below the (or at least "my") radar for several years, but this album was released on No Quarter, a detail which, these days, makes me sit up and take notice.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Song of the day

"No Comprende", by Low.

It's curious how a song can come at you from different angles at different times. Six months ago I wrote about this very same song, at which point the opening bars were sending me off on a riff about inversions of the dub reggae template.

Today, what I am hearing when the song starts is something that sounds like a Spoon song. Okay, a slightly slower than usual Spoon song, but a Spoon song nonetheless. You can try it at home. Just pretend you don't know what you are about to hear. Then press play and wait. The starkness of the guitars and drums. The suggestion that something is about to happen. Of course, when that something does happen you know it's not Spoon. But that doesn't amount to disappointment. Far from it.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Low's "Ones and Sixes" is how a band that has been around, like, forever can conjure up something fresh and, yes, exciting, while at the same time sounding like nothing outside of themselves. But wait there just a second. You can say exactly the same thing about Spoon. What's that you say about the death of indie rock?