Saturday, May 13, 2017

Song of the day

"Bill Is Dead", by The Fall.

The bad thing about being me is that I have been compelled, against my better judgment, to spend way too much time observing, to the point of obsession, the unfolding spectacle/tragedy of the president of the United States of America.

The good thing about being me is that over the past week I have been able to veer between (again, most likely against my better judgment) yet another trip down the Grateful Dead rabbit hole (a series of May 1977 shows that have just been officially released for the first time) and a trip down a very different rabbit hole, and one which I haven't descended for some time, that of Mancunian institution The Fall.

It was only two weeks after these particular Grateful Dead shows that The Fall played their first gig. And yet to judge by the mellow, laid-back nature of this particular iteration of the Dead ("Dark Star" would seem to have been retired; there is little if any sign of space noodling) (actually, the one noticeable gesture towards modernity is the extended "Dancing In The Street" that closes off the first set of the fabled 8 May show at Cornell, which most likely would not have existed in this particular form had it not been for the advent of [sudden intake of breath] disco; although the observation I read that it leaves for, ahem, dead everything on the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack is, surely, rather wide of the mark), the thing called Punk Rock hadn't yet (if it ever did) invaded personal Dead space. (One interesting discovery, or realisation, that my sojourns into the dark realms of Grateful Dead have led me to, however, is that there is quite a bit of Dead in Television's "Marquee Moon". I feel I am a better person for being able to notice this. I could also be wrong about both of those statements.)

As has happened each time I dive headlong back into the land of the Dead, after a few days random songs of theirs start keeping me awake at night. It was with some relief (and exhaustion), then, that I stumbled upon The Quietus's recent survey of personal-favourite Fall songs, produced to celebrate Mark E Smith's sixtieth birthday. Aside from the rather unflattering (but then is there any other kind?) photo of The Man Himself, it is an excellent piece, with a fine selection of songs (I can't, off the top of my head, think of any that are missing -- [brief pause] -- actually that's not true at all) and some perspicacious observations about them and/or personal reminiscences, the latter of which are frequently what make these kinds of thing succeed or fail.

The songs are listed alphabetically, and I recommend going through the list from "Before The Moon Falls" to "Words Of Expectation" in the order presented. Why? Because it demonstrates an unexpected unity of purpose for a band that has existed for forty years, seen innumerable lineups, and been through good times and bad. Every non-casual listener would have a sense of their favourite eras and also of the years that they would rather disown. This selection, in this sequence, will happily debunk all such ideas. Myself, I switched off between the end of the eighties and the end of the aughts, during which time other things got in the way: relationship; "career" (ho ho); children. So, when I returned to The Fall fold, I felt I had missed way too many records (and had heard way too many tales of woe) to ever catch up, leaving me with a 20-year black hole that this article has, in a stroke, chastised me for ignoring. (In fact, I intend burning myself a "wilderness years" CD comprised solely of the selections from this era that appear here.)

Everything here contains that unbottleable Fall magic, in one way or another, but the song that stands out at this moment is "Bill Is Dead", from "Extricate" (which came out not long after I jumped off the train). It is, and I can't believe this word belongs anywhere near a Fall song, gorgeous. In fact, it is such an atypical Fall song that, this being The Fall, it is actually a typical Fall song. (If you have read this far, you will know what I mean.)

But wait, there's more.

Philip Harrison's write-up of "Garden" makes reference to Hacienda footage of that song from 1984. I am now going to force you to sit down for the ten minutes it takes to watch this through. (Full screen, if you can. I don't know why it's better, it just is.) It reveals one thing that Jerry Garcia and Mark E Smith both recognised: the power of a two-drumkit lineup. It is also a rare example of an already great song that pushes itself to be even greater. (Which, to belabour the point, is also the reason people keep diving head-first into three-hour-long tapes of Grateful Dead shows.) (Now, about all those live Fall records ...)

And, because I can't help myself, the greatest Fall video ever. Maybe the greatest music video ever.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Song of the day

"Daylight", by The Pattern Forms.
The Pattern Forms is Jon Brooks, of The Advisory Circle (and one of the masterminds of the Ghost Box label), and two dudes from The Friendly Fires.

Ghost Box have made an art form out of burying personality under layers of what tends to be called "hauntology" but what breaks down as overdosing on British children's television shows of the sixties and seventies, "The Wicker Man", and old-school BBC public service announcements, and turning all of this (and more) into pieces of music. What they haven't done too much of is actual, honest to goodness songcraft. (There are fleeting glimpses of this across their two seven-inch-single series, but still largely obscured by the concept.) 

(I am making this sound like negative criticism. Actually, it isn't. They do what they do consistently brilliantly.)

The Pattern Forms come to us still dressed up in inverted commas, but here it's the sound of mid-80s British music, in all of its high-production-values majesty. (Think Tears For Fears, Talk Talk, and any number of records the product of expensive studio time with Fairlights, and go on from there.) And, in "Daylight", they have come up with an honest to goodness pop song, with heart and soul, and complete with chorus that, if you were there the first time around, will bring literal tears to your eyes. You have been warned.

First Impressions

So, like everybody else around here, I have listened to the two new LCD Soundsystem songs.

If I am good at anything, it is NOT judging records on the strength of one listen. Sometimes, even 10 (or even 100) is not enough. Often enough, down the track I can no longer remember what I first thought. Here, then, for my own future reference, are those first thoughts.

"Call The Police".

All I've got for this, really, is a pull quote. You want it, it's yours.

"I don't mind that James Murphy got the band back together. It's just a shame that the band was U2."

"American Dream".

Having blown the entire budget on "Call The Police", LCD find themselves stuck with some sick (NOT in the sense of "fully") OMD synths circa 1980, and have some fun doing what they do best: slapping down something that sounds remotely like a song with what gives the impression of minimal effort or pre-planning but, knowing James Murphy, was no doubt quite the opposite. "An unlikely hit."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Song of the day

"Open Soul", by Tomorrow's People.

Floating Points is probably the most significant musical discovery I have made over the past 18 months. I don't know precisely what it is, but everything he turns out sounds to me like some sort of perfection. But not satisfied with making his own particular musical magic, Mr Points has seen fit to reissue what would appear to be a pretty obscure 1976 soul-disco album from some otherwise-unknown Chicago band of (literally) brothers.

I can't speak for side one of said album, but this song, which comprises the entirety of side two, is twenty minutes of the best kind of seventies insanity. Nothing stays in the one place for long except the rhythm, which is relentless. Give that bass player a medal. And the drummer. And the rhythm guitarist. Oh, and let's not forget whoever provided the vamping electric piano, which is all over everything. And everything, as Radiohead once sung, is in its right place. I don't know if Floating Points established his own label solely to be able to release this monster jam, but I couldn't blame him if that turned out to be the case.

It's a four-day weekend, so you have time to listen to this.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Song of the day

"Sunspots", by Julian Cope.

In those long lost days of 1984, following the dissolution of his band The Teardrop Explodes, but before he became something of a latter-day druid, world expert on all things Krautrock and Japrock, creator of heavily psychotropic- and/or magick(sic)-influenced multi-disc concept records, published author, archaeologist, and possibly much else besides, Julian Cope released two brilliant and still, I think, criminally overlooked albums of finely crafted, inventive yet earworm-heavy psychedelia-tinged pop songs, "World Shut Your Mouth" and "Fried". Cope, I think, had the idea that he wanted to be a star, and after these two albums failed he took a bit of time off, returned with a larger budget and with songs containing bigger (and louder) hooks, but stardom yet eluded him. In the traditional narrative of the damaged rock musician, that would be the point at which he fell off the edge of the world as most people know it, but looking at the series of photos adorning "Fried", with a seemingly naked Cope looking fairly comfortable and relaxed under a tortoise shell, one suspects that by 1984 he was, just possibly, already occupying a space slightly out of phase with that occupied by the rest of us. Looking at the vastness of his body of work, it doesn't seem to have held him back. And "Sunspots", which popped, unbidden, into my head this morning, and which I am, as a human being, ashamed to say climbed no higher than number 76 on the UK singles chart, is about as good as it gets.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Song of the day

"Two Arrows", by Real Estate.

This song starts off like some kind of Paisley Underground throwback (not a criticism). It breathes a lot more than a Real Estate song usually does. (It is also in the direction of twice the length of a typical Real Estate song.) Around four minutes in, something locks into place. You know those songs that go round in a seemingly endless circle, looping back on themselves so often that, no matter how often you have heard the song, you have no idea when it is going to end? "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", from "Abbey Road", might be the ur-text for this type of song. It can be an almost stressful listen, in its own way, as you know the song is going to abruptly cut out but you can never be quite sure when. "Two Arrows" does exactly the same thing. (One assumes this isn't coincidental.)

(You kind of wish The Velvets' "What Goes On" did the same thing, instead of fading out; although there is an argument that fading the song out, rather than cutting it out abruptly, leaves a stronger suggestion that the song does, in fact, go on forever. (It's nice to think that somewhere "What Goes On" is continuing to motor its way ever onwards.))

Bonus beats: here they are performing the same song live in the middle of last year, when it was a "new song", and where it heads off in a slightly different, but also very satisfying, direction.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hypothetical mixtape: April 2016

And then disaster struck. Well, not actual disaster. Nobody died. The computer on which all the random music I have internet-trawled resided (note the past tense), neatly parcelled into monthly playlists awaiting my delayed attention, had to be rebuilt, the result of which is that I haven't lost any music, but everything has been lumped together into an undifferentiated, congealed mass. Here, then, endeth the monthly hypothetical mixtape (which was never really monthly, or hypothetical; or a mixtape). I will try to find a way to keep doing these, in some form, as it has been an enjoyable exercise and a way of discovering the occasional wtf musical moment, and those, of course, are what it is all about. In the meantime, there is this.

"She's In The Wall", by Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions. Let's start off by what seems to have become the monthly Hope Sandoval song. This time it's her own band, and a song that, because she has been on a total creative roll of late, she seemingly couldn't fit onto her latest album. If you were a musician that would probably make you cry.

"She Wants To Disappear", by Plates Of Cake. If you ever imagined what The Clientele might have sounded like if they were a part of the Postcard Records roster (I know I have), this song is for you.

"Golden Vanity", by The Hanging Stars. Because everything sounds better when it sounds like it was written and recorded in 1967.

"Dejenla En Paz", by Tonchos Pilatos. Remember, if you build a wall between Mexico and the United States you will also be keeping out good people like Tonchos Pilatos. Which would be just wrong. 

Next up: a mini-mix of three stray Stereolab-related tracks; either I was bored, or listening to Cavern Of Anti-Matter sent me into a dangerous spiral of nostalgia. Who can say?

"One Wild Moment (Stereolab Remix)", by The Pastels. There is probably a Pastels song buried in here somewhere, but all I can hear is what I regard as Mouse On Mars-era Stereolab (you know, the "Dots And Loops" sound), which was not a thing for anywhere near long enough if you ask me.

"Explosante Fixe", by Stereolab. The "A" side of a "Chemical Chords"-era tour single. This is part of what at the time I regarded as Stereolab's "long tail", although in retrospect this era still has its charms, albeit they may be taking a bit longer to reveal themselves.

"Calimero", by Stereolab & Brigitte Fontaine. Released in the same year as the above Pastels remix, this struck me instinctively as sounding more like something from what I would call the Jim O'Rourke ("Cobra And Phases Group") era of Stereolab, although in trying (without success) to find the precise analogue to the backing track, I have been forced to conclude that (a) it might also be related to "Sound-Dust" and (b) this might well be the most mind-bending three-album run by any group in the history of popular music.

"Rashomon", by Takeshi Terauchi & The Blue Jeans. My discovery of this track, right here, is why I do this blog. Whatever the first two and a half minutes (a remarkable piece of music in its own right) leads you to expect you are being set up for, I can almost guarantee that you will be wrong. Try it and see.

(Bonus: album cover of the month.)
"Underground In Blue", by The Underground Set. As interpolations of "Love Is Blue" go, nothing can quite reach the might and majesty of Paul Mauriat's own disco version, but this unstable pile of Italian nutso gives it a fair shake.

"Nucleo Antirapina", by Bixio, Frizzi & Tempera. This seems to have been originally rediscovered (if that's not a tautology) by the estimable nineties label Crippled Dick Hot Wax. So incredibly well recorded that listening to it could actually kill you. (But don't let that stop you.)

"Zota Yinne", by Alogte Oho Jonas. So, this is some classic African-tinged roots reggae. It sounds so amazing (I almost had an accident when the horns first kicked in) that it could only have been made in ... Germany. In 2013. In fact, the only thing that might connect it to the 21st century is the copyright information: otherwise it is so authentically seventies that you have to suspect a set-up.

"Ono No Imoko", by Siuyoubi No Campanella. Because Japanese pop music.

"El Groove De Tu Corazon (Matias Aguayo Version)", by Ana Helder. Matias Aguayo has a reputation for doing things that don't sound quite like other things. I don't entirely know what to make of this song, if it is even a song, but it certainly fits that description. Uh, "enjoy".

"Threatened", by Lives Of Angels. Purely electronic sounds from, I would say, the earlier end of the 1980s. Well, mostly electronic: note the (at the time) subversive use of Young Marble Giants-style electric guitar for "tonal colour".

"The Linear Way", by Linear Movement. This is not the first time I have heard Linear Movement. In another universe, they might have been the band that I went to see at The Tote with almost religious devotion. (They are also very stylish.) Notwithstanding the previous track, you certainly did not need guitars in order to make an impact. It would all be lost to history now, if we didn't have the internet. (On the other hand, if we didn't have the internet Donald Trump most likely wouldn't be president. Gosh, that's awkward.)

"Crossing", by Midori Takada. You would be ignoring the elephant in the room if you didn't at least mouth the words "Steve Reich" when listening to this. Which is not in any way to diminish what is a sufficiently compelling, and mesmerising, piece of music on its own terms. By an extraordinary coincidence, the album this comes from, "Through The Looking Glass", is being reissued this very week on WRWTFWW Records, which is a very satisfying acronym.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Song of the day

"French Press", by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.

It is gratifying, from a distance of 19 years and 660 kilometres, to still be able to recognise a Melbourne band when you hear one. You know that this scene has continued to bubble under in the old town, because you have been keeping an eye on bands such as Twerps, Beaches and The Crayon Fields. But only from a distance. And nothing that you have heard has quite knocked you off your feet as this song does.

It is also gratifying to know that, as your body starts its inevitable descent into senescence, and your mind starts taking a little longer than it used to to recall concrete nouns (don't worry; we're not quite there yet), you are still able to feel the same adrenaline rush that you used to get in those long-lost days of, say, the late 1980s, and that you are still able to fulfil every parent's role of embarrassing your offspring by spinning around the room with your hands above your head, and/or going the full air guitar. (Hint: don't try both at the same time. You are not as young as you used to be.)

There is a moment about three and a half minutes in, where you would normally expect a song of this type to abruptly end, leaving you needing to immediately play it again, when instead it suggests, momentarily, that it might be about to take off into "Daydream Nation" territory, before it returns, by way of a 90-second guitar-driven coda that leaves the song, and you, with nothing left to give. And then you have a lie down.