Saturday, February 06, 2016

Song of the day

"Over It", by Junior Boys.

Five years later, Junior Boys return. It certainly doesn't feel like that long. The curious thing about Junior Boys has always been that they somehow never seem to raise expectations about their next record. Maybe that's because they are Canadian. Maybe it's because each record so far has been self-contained (and each, by the way, has also been pretty wonderful). The sense I get from all of them, including the brand-new one, "Big Black Coat", is that they don't put expectations on themselves: an album comes along when it's good and ready. Now's, as they say, the time.

What strikes me already about this new album is how much, and how successfully, it draws on the 1980s. A number of times over its duration I think to myself, if Human League made "Dare" in 2016 it would sound like this.  (I'm sure others will wax lyrical about how they have added elements of this or that up-to-the-second dance music micro-sub-genre to the mix. Glued to the past, me.)

What also strikes me is the inclusion, in a couple of crucial places (e.g. the 2:18 mark on "Over It"), of guitar (and even, I swear, a one-off appearance of an authentic electric-bass "doink", a la Kraftwerk's "Tour de France" single, and just as surprising). 

The other thing about this particular song? The boom-chuck-boom-chuck drum pattern. Two seconds of this song and you are transported straight into the black heart of "Dancing In The Dark", or "Flashdance" (or even the Oils' "Power And The Passion"), or any number of other hits from the early-to-mid-'80s. In some hands that would spell an early death. Junior Boys, as is their wont, get away with it. 

Hypothetical mixtape: March 2015

This month's playlist starts with Nicolas Jaar and ends with Nicolas Jaar, but otherwise contains no Nicolas Jaar whatsoever.

"What Kind Of Man (Nicolas Jaar Remix)", by Florence + The Machine. Everything I know about Florence + The Machine could be written on the head of a pin. I'm not not a fan, it's just one of my many blind spots. (I accept full responsibility.) So I come to this 12-minute epic entirely from the perspective of what Nicolas Jaar might bring to it. Dude is clearly some kind of maverick boffin: even in the three minutes it takes the song to really get going, he introduces and then discards more ideas than you might have thought possible. And then he just keeps on doing it. Headphones recommended.

"Boys Latin (Andy Stott Remix)", by Panda Bear. As with the previous track: Panda Bear? Got nothin'. Andy Stott? Lemme at it. You may even find some actual music in here if you listen closely enough.

"Falling Free (The Aphex Twin Remix)", by Curve. And the same thing again. (As an aside: Aphex Twin is clearly insane. I mean that in the nicest possible way.)

"Love Is Stronger Than Pride (Mad Professor Remix)", by Sade. Whereas Sade I do know something about. 1984 found me listening (with, I have to say, some degree of post-adolescent angst given its absolute smoothness) on repeat to "Diamond Life". A remix by Mad Professor makes more sense than you might think: remember "No Protection"? Don't expect any Black Ark-style shenanigans here, though: that would be disrespectful. And nobody disrespects Sade.

"Entropy", by Bleachers x Grimes. Pure pop for now people. I'm not even sure this was ever released. How thoroughly modern is that?

"Subcoiscient Lamentation (feat Tigerlight)", by Payfone. Released in 2014, this song either missed the boat first time around or is the vanguard for the next wave of acts that sound precisely like Studio and A Mountain Of One. I'm waiting.

"By The Time I Get To Venus", by The Juan Maclean. I have been, as you know, a huge Juan Maclean fan for many years, but this one, from the early days of DFA, seems to have passed me by. Happy to make amends. (The video is super cool, albeit it does get a bit weird.)

"Time Moves On", by Strutt. We haven't busted any classy disco moves around here for a while. Time to make amends.

(Bonus: album cover of the month.)


"Canto De Ossanha", by Dorothy Ashby. Reinventing the place of the harp in popular music. No, it's not Joanna Newsom, it's Dorothy Ashby circa 1969, bringing something special to the Brazilian groove of this song. Warning: contains flute.

"I Am Waiting", by Jennifer. Known to you (and me) as Jennifer Warnes. She appears to have gained the surname after she became popular, contrary to the usual nomenclatural trajectory. Possibly still available for download here.

"The North Wind Blew South", by Philamore Lincoln. Trivia note: according to Wikipedia Philamore Lincoln played drums with The Who for one gig in 1967 while Keith Moon was injured. Now you know as much as I do.

"Monticello", by Monty Alexander. In which Monty Alexander gets in touch with his inner (city) Marvin Gaye.

"Baby Batter", by Harvey Mandel. In some countries that is probably not even legal.

"Canon", by Michel Colombier. Close your eyes, and imagine a Serge Gainsbourg album (say, "Histoire de Melody Nelson") orchestrated by George Martin. And relax.

"Carrefour", by Luis Bacalov. What is Italian for "blacksploitation soundtrack"?

"Encore", by Nicolas Jaar. This was snuck out, digitally, as a free gift not long after the release of "Space Is Only Noise". And I'm sorry to say that I missed it. It is some distance removed from the opening track on this hypothetical mixtape, which only serves to demonstrate the wide fields in which Jaar is able to work his particular kind of magic.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Song of the day (2)

"World Away", by Tweedy.

From 2014's largely under-the-radar "Sukierae" double album: private music nevertheless released for public consumption. Meaning it was made for the sake of making it: always the best reason. (And we now know it didn't completely drain Jeff Tweedy's creative coffers.) 

But why are we here? Because Spencer Tweedy demonstrates otherworldly gifts by managing to make something done in 7/4 time sound funky as heck. I can't imagine that's an easy thing to do.

Bonus beats: he can also do it live.

Song of the day (1)

"It Means I Love You", by Jessy Lanza.

New Jessy Lanza. Assisted, as with her first album, by Jeremy Greenspan.

I can go for that.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Me and Apple Music, we got a thing goin' on

The first thing I would say about Apple Music is that it's a whole lot of fun. In fact, it might be the most fun you can have for twelve bucks a month, if you are a music nerd who has a decent broadband speed and an internet plan that gives you unlimited data. (At this moment in history 1000 gigabytes per month works for us.)

You feel a sudden urge to listen to some Laibach? There it is, more Laibach than you can poke a trident at. Old-skool Dunedin sounds? Where do I start? Donny McCaslin? (Because, y'know, "Blackstar".) Check. Electric Miles? How many weeks have you got to spare?

But, as Jeremy Clarkson so often said on "Top Gear", there was a problem.

A sensible person would do the research before leaping into the unknown. Me, not so much. Having dived into Apple Music with my ears pinned back, what I discovered, as many people (I now know) seem to have discovered before me, is that if, like me, you have eleventy million random songs sitting in your iTunes folder on your computer, then, when you sign up to Apple Music, the metadata (I have no idea if that's technically the right word) for all of those eleventy million random songs, even your 15-year-old's Garageband experiments, are sent into the cloud: problem number one. Apple then proceeds to upload all of the songs that don't match its own database into the cloud: problem number two. Those that do match songs in its own database it doesn't upload, but if you have given your own copies of those songs cover art, or tagged them in a particular way, all of that gets tossed out and replaced by Apple's defaults: problem number three. Then, when you turn on the Music app on your phone, all of that metadata from those eleventy million songs (remember those?) from your computer gets replicated on the device, clogging it up and making it impossible to find the music that you have manually synced to the device in order to be able to listen to it offline, which was the point of having a fancy phone in the first place: problem number four.

I reckon four is enough problems. But we can't quite leave it there. I spent an inordinate amount of last weekend (let's not mention here how not-impressed Adrienne had by then become) clearing most of those eleventy million songs from the computer, and switching off something called the "iCloud music library", in a vain attempt to start from scratch, naively thinking that by doing so I could at least get rid of the forest of useless "ghost" songs from the phone. But it was not to be. It seems that Apple remembers, even when you would prefer to forget.

But, or so they say, time heals all wounds. In the space of a week, Apple Music and I have come to an accommodation. There turns out to be a way to switch off the metadata from my phone while still being able to store on the phone, and listen offline to, stuff from Apple Music that I might (hypothetically) otherwise have been sent to the dark(ish) web to, uh, obtain by other means; e.g. new albums by Tindersticks and Tortoise. And I suppose giving the laptop a thorough clean-out has merit anyway. Also, I was fortunate (or anal) enough to have backups of everything, so all of my obsessive tagging and filing was not lost forever. So it's all, as they say, good.

But back to Apple Music itself. It isn't perfect, of course (although this is, in a way, surprising for an Apple product), and the integration issues between iTunes and Apple Music really ought to be addressed by the company. (I don't see why they can't do it by way of two separate programs/apps, but what do I know?) What is missing? The entire Tzadik catalogue, for one. That was actually the first thing I looked for, and initially I thought its absence might be a deal breaker. But I haven't found many other huge gaps like that (the Soul Jazz and ECM catalogues would be nice), and so much else is available that it probably doesn't really matter. Once you have played around with it for a while, it becomes almost embarrassingly easy to instantly listen to anything you choose from a surprisingly high percentage of all the recorded music currently available. The curated playlists and radio stations I am still finding my way around. I may not use the radio, given that there is so much else that is directly searchable and able to be listened to as and when; but some of the playlists have been smartly constructed, and have already sent me off in new directions. (Who knew that Panda Bear sounds like our old favourite The Reels?)

If I think of it, I'll let you know in three months' time whether I decide to pony up for the paid subscription. I probably will.

Hope that helps.

Wait, did somebody mention Laibach?

(Any excuse.)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2016: Let The Good Time Roll

If you can start the year off with a new song by Cornershop, it's going to be a good year.

(nb quite possibly the cheapest video ever)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

David [Not] Live

I wasn't intending to add to the reams that have been written about Bowie in the past few days, but I suspect I'm not going to be able to move on until I have gathered my thoughts. So here goes.

The first time I knowingly, and with intent, heard a song by David Bowie would have been the Soul Train video of him doing "Golden Years". But I had been aware of Bowie as "Bowie" much longer ago than that, on account of my cousin was a major fan, and so I had come across a number of Bowie records while looking through the records at her house. (My aunt was appalled. Men wearing makeup and dresses?) I also remember a conversation with the sons (a few years older than me) of a sharefarmer who worked with us, this must have been around 1976, regarding my confusion about the recent chart success of "Space Oddity", which I understood to be a much older song. (I had no idea then that something in the charts might not be entirely "new".)

I think that my first Bowie album must have been 1979's "Lodger", which I bought as soon as it came out and for reasons that I no longer recall. This was the Australian pressing, without a gatefold (making the sleeve patently ridiculous as well as cheap) and with a complete lack of sleeve notes. The absence of credits, I suppose, added to its mystery, but I wanted desperately to know who was involved in this fascinating album and had no way of finding out. I was well into my Eno obsession by then, and I could see a few "Eno" writing credits on the label, but "produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti" told me less than I would like to have known. I would probably have fallen under the spell of ""Heroes"" and "Low" much sooner otherwise. (It possibly says something about me that the most exciting thing about the "Bowie Is" exhibition was seeing the actual EMS synth used on "Low". I may have squealed.)

Bowie went quiet after "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" (an album I didn't rate as highly as Marcello has now convinced me I should have, although I did win a copy of the seven-inch of "Ashes To Ashes" at a Blue Light Disco held at the Fish Creek hall), and a year and a half later I went off to University, to new and exciting times. My access to music increased exponentially, and I quickly moved backwards to "Station To Station" and "Young Americans" (as well as ""Heroes"", "Low", and the two Iggy Pop albums produced by Bowie), and developed at least a passing acquaintance with his earlier work. Bowie reappeared in 1983 with "Let's Dance". I hated it. "Let's Dance" seemed to me, who was hungry for new and different sounds, to be the ultimate in selling out. (I am aware that I allowed particular youthful "attitudes" to cloud my vision in relation to certain records; this one, I remain convinced, I was right about, notwithstanding Richard Cook's glowing review in the NME.)

At that point, I crossed Bowie off my list, although I did allow myself to be talked into venturing out to the no-longer-existent VFL Park, Waverley, for the Melbourne leg of the Serious Moonlight tour. What do I remember about that show? How far away the stage was, and consequently how small Bowie looked. How the sound was like listening in a canyon; it was all around you and yet impossible to catch. How the car park was impossible to get out of afterwards. It is quite possible I was only there because of the lure of seeing The Models as support act; although of course by then they had started to turn their own gaze towards the possibilities of megastardom, making them the perfect match for Bowie, but for all the wrong reasons.

I thought then that that was it for Bowie and me.

And then he came back.

And then he was gone.

So, what was it all about? For me, at the end of the day(s), it was all about that incredible four-album run from "Station To Station" to "Lodger" (the latter being the one they always ignore in career run-throughs, but I am not (just) being contrarian when I say it is my favourite Bowie album; it really is), without which I would be nothing.

Try to imagine a world without Bowie. More than once he saw where music could go and dragged it, sometimes shockingly, in that direction. Beyond music, he forced people to question their own prejudices, broaden their own horizons. He watched. He listened. He adapted. There will always be someone. We were fortunate, I think, that that someone, in the late twentieth century, was Bowie.

David Bowie. Magpie and chameleon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bowie's In Space

What if your favourite David Bowie song wasn't even a David Bowie Song?

Kids these days.

As for myself, I'm not finding this to be as funny today as it was two days ago. But it is clever enough, and sympathetic enough to its subject, that I'm confident that with the passage of time I will one day be able to enjoy it as much as I once did.

(Click the link above to watch. Embedding, understandably enough, has been disabled.)

I can't go on, I'll go on.


(From an original idea by Carl.)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Song of the day

"Christmas Will Break Your Heart", by LCD Soundsystem.

We have had a couple of unwanted Christmas presents this year, with the deaths of Stevie Wright and Lemmy. (Not forgetting John Bradbury, drummer with and cornerstone of The Specials.) So it was something of a relief, not to mention a cognitive-dissonance-style surprise, to wake up a couple of mornings ago to the news that there is a new -- actually new -- LCD Soundsystem song, a little seasonal number called "Christmas Will Break Your Heart". And if Christmas doesn't, this song quite possibly will.