Friday, August 29, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: September 2013

If you were a lost soul wandering in the dangerous and murky backwaters of the internet in September last year, these are the songs you would have found. Actually, you would have found considerably more, but I have slowly filtered the list down to these essentials, so that you don't have to.

"Back to Nature", by Fad Gadget. Nothing to do with the very fine song by Magazine of the same name, but nevertheless notable in its own right, being both the first record by Mr Gadget, who went on to have a sterling career putting out electronic records on a Goth-industrial fringe, and also the second record released on Mute Records, also the first by someone other than label honcho Daniel Miller himself. (Although, this seems to be open to debate: the catalog number, MUTE 002, bears it out, but according to Wikipedia -- as of today(ish), anyway -- Silicon Teens' jaunty electropop take on Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee", another song I remember very fondly, came out first. It's all rather vexing, although, given that Silicon Teens turned out to be Daniel Miller in disguise anyway, ultimately not actually relevant to anything.)

"Tonight, We Fall (John Foxx and the Maths Remix)", by ADULT.. More fatback analog synths, although in this case we probably have to classify them as "retro", even though Foxx himself did sound like this back in 1979. Parts of this come across like a slowed-down version of DAF's "Der Mussolini", yet another fireside favourite. [Don't get too fancy -- Ed.] Elsewhere the synths are so huge you keep waiting for them to blow a fuse.

"All Night", by Icona Pop. This, on the other hand, is thoroughly modern. But a pop song, done right (as this one is), is timeless. I dare you not to jump around the room to this when it is played at high volume. Even if someone else is watching. How embarrassing.

"Jupiter", by Blackfield. Then we get the big, lachrymose strings, and the portentous piano, and it's like we're straight into Eric Carmen's "All By Myself", but this is not that song (mercifully) but another song, and it's not actually, once you get past the first 20 seconds, maudlin at all. (Well, I suppose it is, but within reasonable tolerances.) Mid-seventies pop-rock will never grow stale. What? This was made last year? Shoot me now. At least tell me they are from Canada. No? Damn.

"Mexico", by Firefall. Is it okay to hate The Eagles but to like music that sounds, largely, indistinguishable from The Eagles? Of course it is, nobody ever said I had to be consistent. The lead guitarist here may not be Joe Walsh, but he's no slouch. Bonus points for the mariachi interlude. (Postscript: it doesn't really sound that much like The Eagles, does it?)

"Summertime", by Booker T & The MGs. Oh that Hammond.

"Castles Made of Sand", by Four Tet. And old random stray Four Tet track, coming from his LateNightTales installment. You know the song. It's one of Jimi's. Whether you recognise it or not is an entirely different question.

"Tell Me What Is True Love", by Bert Jansch. Is Bert Jansch. Is good.

"Gnostic Serenade", by 3's a Crowd. Bands with both numerals and apostrophes in their name rarely make it big. (Now there's a challenge ...) That is the only possible reason for this mesmerising song being hitherto unknown. (Unknown to me, at least. Perhaps you knew better.)

"Sand", by Clear Light. You can be forgiven that thinking, after the first few seconds, that you were listening to "London Calling", by The Clash. You realise the error of your ways as the song rapidly morphs into what it actually is, a sixties guitar-driven garage smoulderer.

"Pink Dominos", by The Crescents. This is probably what The Beatles, or at least the kids who then turned to The Beatles, had been listening to just before The Beatles became a thing. You can hear them in it, but you can also be astounded at what they turned it into.

"Cocaine Blues", by Escort. There are other songs called "Cocaine Blues". This is not any of those. Escort have done their homework so well, there are no clues that I can spot that indicate that this wasn't made 35 years before it actually was. I hope they take that as a compliment.

"Hills of Katmandu (Patrick Cowley Mix)", by Tantra. Disco on steroids. And divers other substances, not necessarily all legal. Enter at own risk.

"Rainbow Circles (Beatless Version)", by Kaito. Whereas this is disco, or rather Kompakt-style techno, on, well, I don't know what: helium perhaps? All the bottom-end propulsion has been extracted from the track, leaving a residual pulse and an overall sensation akin to being lighter than air. Nice.

"Flares", by Land of Light. It's not every day you hear a piece of music that transports you back to David Sylvian's solo masterpiece, "Brilliant Trees", or the second disc of "Gone to Earth", but this does that trick in such a way that, even after 11 minutes, you don't really want it to end. Ah, so that is what the "Repeat" button is for.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Song of the day

"Lentil Nightmare", by Neil.

It seems to me that a parody of a particular genre of music, with the passage of time, becomes indistinguishable from the genre of music that is being parodied, as long as the musicians involved know what it is they are having fun with.

Here is the evidence. (In this example, and this may or may not be important, the genre concerned was already a few years past its moment in the sun when this was made. It's easier, perhaps, not to sound dated when the sounds you are making are, themselves, already dated. No, I don't understand what I'm saying either.)

The fun starts around one and a half minutes in. If you don't know The Young Ones then (a) this may make no sense at all and (b) I feel sorry for you. Don't forget, you are here for the music. And, I suppose, the vocal, uh, "stylings". (Bonus: listen out for the voice of Stephen Fry.)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

2014 is not 1964

Volkswagen has had its share of negative publicity of late. But at least it no longer runs ads like this. (Actually, old VW ads are frequently surprisingly modern in tone and design, but this one seems to have been a victim of its times.) From the New Yorker, issue of 15 August 1964. You can open it in a new window by clicking on it. From there you can enlarge it, the better to read the offending message.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Song of the day

"The Dolphins", by Fred Neil.

Over the last couple of years we have been quick to recommend to anybody who will listen, and to many who won't, the Irish movie "The Guard". Now its director and lead actor, John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson respectively, have returned in a new, much darker, but still excellent film, "Calvary". It's a kind of riff on "High Noon", in its own way. You know from the outset that things are going to end up with some kind of a showdown (but on a beach rather than on the main street). The writing is perhaps not quite as crisp as it was in "The Guard", and it sometimes steers a bit close to cliche, but the wide cast of characters and the many stories they have to tell keep you interested. The Big Theme is what is the use of the Catholic church in Ireland in what has become, by and large, a godless society, and particularly in an environment where the church has been painted, and not without reason, as the bad guy. It's a large and weighty theme, and the comedy that is interspersed with the drama can sit a bit more awkwardly than it did in the earlier film. But, you know, it's a powerful picture, set in a bleakly stunning landscape, and Gleeson is extraordinary. Also of note is the appearance of Dylan Moran, cast somewhat against type as the nouveau riche Lord of the Manor. (Only slightly against type: he's still a bastard.)

"The Dolphins" appears early in the film. It's a good omen.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Song of the day

"Twin Oaks Pt 1", by Ryley Walker.

It seems like every few years there is a folk-rock revival. Either that or folk-rock never really goes away. It certainly adapts and mutates (the story, up until more or less the present day, is well told in Rob Young's massive book "Electric Eden"), as it did a brief while back through the insertion of electronic music, as heard to best effect in the work of Tunng. ("Bullets" is a fine, but not the only fine, example.) Young includes the output of the Ghost Box label in the tradition, but the link there, I reckon, is slightly tenuous -- the philosophy might be similar, though I can't quite hear it explicitly in the music.

What you also get is younger musicians coming through who are situating themselves squarely in the tradition, yet don't sound exactly like what has come before: the reason for that being that every generation leaves its distinctive marks and, in doing so, itself becomes part of the tradition. And so, what we find in the new recording by Ryley Walker, "All Kinds of You", are distinct echoes of a singularly modern band, Espers, who added their own (indefinable -- by me, anyway) incremental touches to what could be called the Pentangle school of British folk-rock. (And whose most recent album, "III", which is a few years old now, I still can't draw myself away from, assuming I would even want to.) (By the way, I don't even know for sure if "folk-rock" is the term I should be using here: I can hear purists' teeth being set on edge as I type.)

Whatever it is, though, "All Kinds of You" is a totally successful record on its own terms. Certainly it contains traces, sometimes strong traces, of other music. Espers, yes, for sure, you only have to listen to the first song, "West Wind"; Pentangle and Fairport Convention are there, too, and there is a clear connection to Bert Jansch in Walker's affectless/undemonstrative vocal style. There are also hints of Nick Drake (not least in the album cover photo) and of what I would term, in my uneducated manner, Appalachian music (which, again, I apologise if I am getting this wrong). Dude can play guitar, too.

The surprising reference, for me, at least, comes at the start of "Twin Oaks Pt 1", which sounds so much like the work of Ed Kuepper that you half expect old Uncle Ed to start singing "My horses they ain't hungry, they won't eat your hay" at any moment*. It is an instrumental, though, so he doesn't. He was probably busy elsewhere, anyway: reworking "Eternally Yours" for the seven thousandth time or some such.

You can stream the entire album below (go right ahead); "Twin Oaks Pt 1" is the third track.

*Coincidence upon coincidence: Kuepper's "Pretty Mary" is actually Ed's rewrite / homage to an American folk standard, "The Wagoner's Lad", which, as "The Waggoner's Lad", was also recorded by Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. There you go. (And it's not just me saying this: go here.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: August 2013

Movin' right along …

"Bat Bi Hiru Lau", by William S Fischer. You could break this down into a list of its component parts, but that ain't never gonna convey the madness, or the intensity, of what all of those parts add up to. Is it early fusion? Lounge? Library? Psychedelic funk? All of the above? You decide.

"I Know You Got Soul", by Eric B and Rakim. You may appreciate the irony that a song that is built from samples of other songs was itself cannibalised so as to aid in the construction of "Pump Up the Volume". All together now: "You got it!"

"How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise?", by Brother D and the Collective Effort. We interrupt this frivolous playlist for a political message. A WELL FUNKY political message. All together now: "Agitate, educate, organise!"

"Three Sisters", by Affinity. You should never walk past any record that has on its front cover the famous Vertigo "swirl". It's as if these records, many of which sank without a trace on release, have been sitting buried in a time capsule for four decades waiting to be dug up and appreciated. If it includes Linda Hoyle on vocals, well, just pretend it's your birthday.

"O Caroline", by Matching Mole. Matching Mole were formed by Robert Wyatt (whose "Stalin Wasn't Stalling" was inexplicably left out of my recent "fifty at fifty" list) upon the demise of his previous band, The Soft Machine. They released two albums. Their reputation would place them squarely within the British progressive rock movement, but that would not tell the full story. There is nothing prog rock about this song. I suppose you might call it prog pop (but I would rather you didn't); Wyatt's opening lines might also align it with PoMo. But you might also relax for a minute, stop your anxious handwringing and enjoy it as the majestic pop song that it is.

"Drip Dry Eyes", by Yukihiro Takahashi. Speaking of pop songs, Yuki Takahashi, of YMO, has always had an ear for melody. It would be difficult to argue that this doesn't sound "of its time" (it being, on one reading, just another song evoking the sound of Roxy Music Mk II), but I don't care about that, cos somewhere deep inside of me it is always 1981.

"Alamein Train", by The Pete Best Beatles. A deeply personal song about Cheryl.

"Bitter Devotion (Ewan Pearson Extended Remix)", by Simone Fedi. The ghost of DFA Records hangs over this record. But fear not, it's a benevolent spirit, in this case, the afterimage of an old friend that's not quite here any more, but not quite entirely vanished, either. Whenever I see the words "Ewan Pearson Extended Remix", I cross my fingers for something as remarkable as his remix of Cortney Tidwell's "Don't Let the Stars Keep Us Tangled Up", and this isn't that, but it does have a similar lightness of touch. The house piano is a neat fit, as it was on The Juan Maclean's "Happy House", and I'm not just making that point in order to bolster an otherwise tenuous DFA reference. Because I would never do that.

"Anytime Soon", by Andy Stott. Free music. On the internet. Seriously. Here. (If you wanted to spend money, you could do worse than pick up his "Luxury Problems" album. It's a keeper.)

"Lida Lou", by Monomono. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure that there is anything in particular to distinguish this particular song, except that we do love ourselves some seventies African vibe, which is what this is. (Nigeria, 1973.) And that's more than enough. Oh, plus, there's a wicked Hammond solo. At least I think it's a Hammond. It could be a Lowrey. Or a Farfisa. Who's to know?

"Azamane Tillade", by Bombino. Which brings us squarely to this month's Black Keys connection: African desert blues, as they say, produced by what's-his-name. I like that they've resurrected the old Nonesuch logo. Somebody knows what they are doing.

"Pink Dust", by SQÜRL. (Nice umlauts, yes?) You would think that Jim Jarmusch would be old enough to know better, but something seems to possess the white-maned enigma to indulge in a spot of noisy guitar sludge. You know what to expect if you have seen "Only Lovers Left Alive". And if you haven't seen it, what's keeping you?

"Spiritual", by Tom Verlaine. You can read about this here. Download it, too; the link's still good. Me, I'm lost for words.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's just like Skype ...

... except it's basically useless unless you happen to live in New York, Chicago or Washington.

I found this ad in the New Yorker circa mid-1964. 

That Bell Telephone had this technology 50 years ago is surprising (to say the least). I guess the world wasn't ready.

Right-click etc for an enlargeable copy.

In ancient times

So, let me see. What, according to the "Goings On About Town" section of the New Yorker cover dated May 2, 1964, could I do in New York on the day I was born (Sunday, May 3, 1964)?

Well, I could go to the Village Vanguard to listen to Chet Baker. (Or I could wait a couple of days to catch the Miles Davis Quintet, on Tuesday, May 5.) Or maybe the "stalwart" Sonny Rollins, together with Roland Kirk's "foursome", at the Half Note. Hey, that's not a bad double bill. And Chico Hamilton is playing somewhere called the Gold Bug (85 W 3rd St).

On the other hand, I could always go to the movies. "Dr Strangelove" is playing. So is "From Russia With Love". Or I can be one jump ahead of the crowd by catching "The Pink Panther", which opens this week (although the New Yorker review isn't entirely favourable: "heavy-handed fun").

But what I am really interested in is E B White's unsigned editorial from the magazine, which, thanks to the miracles of the technology of the future, I am able to reproduce below (right-click etc for an enlargeable version). Taking the death of Rachel Carson ("Silent Spring") as his hook, White looks at the mistreatment of the natural world by America's corporations, specifically their use of chemicals, and despairs at its consequences and, more importantly, at the failure of government to do anything serious about it. ("The federal agencies concerned with the problem bicker among themselves" -- surely not!) It is a short, typically understated but brutal piece of writing.

Fifty years on, of course, the natural world may not exactly be thriving, but life hasn't died out (not yet); something was done (though never enough) about widespread unregulated use of chemicals; man, and many of those with whom we share the planet, lived to fight another day. In other words: we got out of that one.

And yet White's editorial continues to hit hard because, if you replaced "America's corporations" with "the countries of the world", and "use of chemicals" with "burning of fossil fuels", you could write much the same essay today.

I'm not sure how it is possible not to see climate change as a very serious threat to life on this planet. (Call me naive, but science, it seems to me, isn't something one can choose to believe or not believe depending on one's financial situation of political persuasion (the Pope may have put Galileo Galilei under house arrest, but the Earth still revolves around the Sun); science operates to demonstrate, as best scientists can with the tools at their disposal, that a thing is or that it isn't.) And yet the current discourse is against change, and the structural obstacles are so immense that the paradigm (or the "facts on the ground") would have to shift dramatically to galvanise the world into action. It is a lot easier to do nothing. My friend Alun thinks that this coming summer in Australia may well do the trick. I hope he's wrong (we have no air conditioning, and if Melbourne is hot, Canberra is usually hotter), but I also, thinking not only of myself, hope he's right.

Where am I going with this? Well, E B White's piece can work as a counter to such overwhelmingly negative thoughts. You can read it, you can reflect on the fact that over the intervening period we managed to put a man on the moon, and you can tell yourself that maybe, just maybe, we will find a way, despite our worst impulses, to get out of this one, too.