Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hypothetical Mixtape 2.02

Like the proverbial London bus (or Melbourne tram), you wait forever for one of these playlists and then a second one appears almost immediately. (Relatively speaking.)

"The Secret Field (Todd Terje Remix)", by Kaoru Inoue. A field day for the head-nodders.

"Friends", by Westerman. Imagine that the "World of Echo" iteration of Arthur Russell tackled The Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like An Eagle" while under a John Martyn narcotic haze. Hey, you don't have to. You're already there.

 "Can You Ever Really Know Somebody", by The Juan Maclean. New Juan Maclean for the win.

"Faith (DJ Koze's Grungerwomen Remix)", by Ada. Ada is the kind of gal who is perfectly capable of getting it done without anybody's help, thank you very much. (Witness her remarkable version of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps".) But if DJ Koze puts his hand up, it is never less than fascinating to see what might result. Here, it's like the track (which, I just discovered -- hey, I only work here -- is another cover; this time, of a Luscious Jackson song) has been channelled through a dense wall of fog, scattered about with shards of piercing light. Or something.

"Beat Bop", by Rammellzee vs K-Rob. What they call "a classic". Notable for bearing one of only two (as far as I know) purpose-designed record covers by Jean-Michel Basquiat (the other belonging to a downtown ska-punk band called The Offs, who at one stage also had Richard Edson (from Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise") on trumpet). But we're here for "Beat Bop". It has its own story. (Which you can read here.)

"Paper Thin", by MC Lyte. Hip hop was not just for the fellas. There are days when I think music never improved on this. Also the video is priceless. And the sudden appearance of "Hit The Road, Jack" is about as likely as Neil Young singing "Oh Susanna" to the tune of "Venus".

"Sputnik", by Sidney Owens And North, South Connection. Being, as it was, the b-side of the only known record by this combo, circa 1976, "Sputnik" was understandably lost until resurrected by The Gaslamp Killer on a 2007 mix CD. And I'm so glad it was. The guitar on this is, as the title of the song might suggest, out of this world. The voice is not a million miles away from that of Lux Interior, who I'm sure would have warmly embraced this song. "People are running ... Where are they going?"

"Arabam Kaldi Yolda", by Edip Akbayram. Which translates, it says here, as "My Car Broke Down". I am guessing they don't make records like this any more. (Bonus: album cover of the month.)

"Staying Alive", by Machuca Cumbia. The Bee Gees as you've never heard them before.

"Hot Love (Gas Mix)", by Love Inc. This is a case of alias upon alias upon alias. To be precise": Love Inc is an alias of Mike Ink. Mike Ink is an alias of Wolfgang Voigt, prolific musician and co-owner of Cologne's venerable Kompakt record label. Gas is another of Wolfgang Voigt's aliases. And here, in the guise of a re-working of a T Rex song, is alias Gas doing a mix of a track by alias Mike Inc's alias Love Inc. Got that? Gas is a terribly important component, not just of Voigt's work but also of modern electronic music in general. He went on, in the latter part of the 1990s, to release four albums of strikingly defocused, well, something: not really ambient, not really techno, but also not really neither of those things. It is what it is, I guess. (I could be less helpful. Or not.) This particular track, one of the earliest appearances of the Gas name, is actually a lot more structured and clear cut than the later records. You can hear very clearly here its influence on Axel Wilner's work as The Field (whose "Cupid's Head" Gas remixed a couple of years back). Gas reappeared this year with a brand new album, "Narkopop", which sounded like all of the earlier albums but also, and I suspect not just because of the passage of time, entirely fresh.

"Blue And Moody Music", by Hiroshi Sato. So smooth and clean you could eat your dinner off it. You would have to be wearing a razor-sharp dinner jacket, tho. (Australian music alert: there is also a quite different version of this song featuring vocals by Wendy Matthews. I'm sure there's a story there but I don't know what it is.)

"Ocean", by The Phantom. And away we go, into the sunset, with the help of 12 minutes of transcontinental drift from Poland's own Bartosz Krukzynski. 

... And relax.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

This Goes With This: Waltz-Time Edition

So I bought the new Psychic Temple LP, "IV", on the day it came out. Buying music on the day it comes out is a good feeling. You should try it some time.

The opening song on the album, "Spanish Beach", starts with (isn't it always?) lonesome pedal steel guitar, immediately putting me in mind of Brian Eno's "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks", from 1983, and in particular side two of same (ask your parents). This should have come as no surprise, given that the previous Psychic Temple release was a spirited large-ensemble take on Eno's "1/1", from "Music For Airports". So that's fine.

What I really didn't expect, though, was the turn that the song then immediately takes: a turn that takes me back to 1986, and specifically to "Beatrix", the third song on side one of "Treasure", by Cocteau Twins, one of the albums that got me through that year.

"Beatrix" goes like this:

(Actually, to stretch the comparisons in the direction of breaking point, "Spanish Beach" sounds kind of like "Beatrix" by Cocteau Twins as performed by The Blackeyed Susans. So that's two kinds of winning.)

Have a listen. Perhaps I'm imagining all of this. Perhaps you will like the song anyway, on it's own terms. I wouldn't rule that out. It even has a trumpet solo. How eighties can you get?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Song of the day

"In The Year 2525", by Visage.

Zager and Evans's "In The Year 2525" has always been, and will always be, close to the top of the list of songs that I would rather kill myself than ever have to listen to again.

Turns out that synthesisers, a metronomic drum machine, make-up and industrial quantities of hair gel make all the difference. Who knew?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Song of the day

"All Cats Are Grey", by Nouvelle Vague.

"Nouvelle Vague". It's French for New Wave. You would have thought the idea of arranging post-punk songs in the style of sixties French pop-music forms would have had a fairly short life span. It comes across as a particularly nineties kind of conceit (as, indeed, the above album cover suggests), good for a couple of records (and a couple of laughs) before its creators wandered off to other pastures.

And yet here we are, and I am as surprised as you are to discover that Nouvelle Vague's fifth album was released at the tail end of 2016. (We missed the fourth one, from 2010, which was made up largely of covers of French new wave songs. Theoretically, that could by then have been of more interest than listening to them continue to mine songs that are probably better known by anyone who isn't actually French. I should probably check it out.)

So, has the law of diminishing returns kicked in on this new album? Obviously, the element of surprise is long gone. But they seem to have stuck resolutely with what they know best. It might be a gimmick, but it is not a gimmick without substance. Or heart. Okay, maybe Cocteau Twins isn't a perfect choice to lead off the album (their take on "Athol - Brose" might confirm any suspicions you may have had that Cocteau Twins were long on sonic artistry and atmosphere (and that otherworldly voice) and short on traditional song craft), but The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" works surprisingly well, and one imagines Brian Eno being tickled by the appearance of the slightly misnamed "No One Is Receiving", given how far adrift from post-punk and new wave "Before And After Science" sounded when it came out (Talking Heads anagram "King's Lead Hat" notwithstanding -- and is it a coincidence that this version sounds not entirely unlike the solo records David Byrne, with whom Eno would shortly be working, would one day release?).

But we are here today for their take on "All Cats Are Grey", a song from The Cure's never-bettered "Faith" album. As a general rule I prefer my favourites to be left well alone, but I can make exceptions, and this is one. The thing that jumps out at me is how closely this version is aligned to the quieter moments on Radiohead's "A Moon Shaped Pool", and in particular "Present Tense". Which, if you think about it, makes some kind of intuitive sense, Radiohead and The Cure being bound together by a particularly English strain of miserablism, coupled with occasional outbreaks of extreme musical gorgeousness. It only took a group of French retro-curators to make the connection.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Hypothetical Mixtape 2.01

Aaaaaaand, we're back. Eighty fresh minutes of music that was lying around on the Internet, waiting for me to pick it up, brush off the dust, and make sense of.

"Forty-Nine Reasons", by Julius Brockington. Well, this is a nice way to kick these playlists back into gear. From the get-go, it signals that it's going to be some kind of epic slow jam. Its fluid introduction quickly coalesces into a (trigger warning) flute-driven monster. The flute, in turn, gives way to a piano that sounds like it has seen better days. It is a song that is, maybe, at its best when the intensity is dialled right back, but you need the intensity to be able to make that call, right?

"Down By The River", by The Undisputed Truth. The real undisputed truth (see what I did there?) is that I still haven't heard too many covers of this Neil Young landmark. You will, until the song reveals itself, think you are listening to a rather faithful cover of "Breathe", by Pink Floyd. This (a) makes me want to listen to "Dark Side Of The Moon", a feeling that I have been confronted with considerably more often of late than I ever expected and that, even more surprisingly, I am entirely comfortable with, and (b) turns out to be entirely a good thing. Even when you realise it isn't "Breathe", that feeling never really goes away. Can I also just say that the guitars on this song are somewhere beyond outstanding.

"The Mexican", by Babe Ruth. Concluding, for now, our little sojourn into the 1970s, some indescribable prog-thrash fronted by what sounds, to these ears, like a close relative of Suzi Quatro. I didn't know I needed this in my life.

Bonus: album cover of the month.
 "Cry Later", by Hater. Fast-forward to the year 2017. Music sounds like this now. Except it also sounded like this in the late sixties. And the early eighties. And the end of the eighties. And the nineties. And so on. Guitars, bass, drums, a girl singer. Never gets old.

"Lip On The Floor", by Duck. Imagine if The Jesus and Mary Chain were influenced, not by the Phil Spector-produced girl groups of the sixties, but by Suicide (who were, themselves, not uninfluenced by the exact same sound) and/or by assorted Sheffield electronic bands from the end of the seventies.  Oh, look, Duck are, it says here, from Sheffield. Something must be in the water. Clearly, this is meant to be listened to loud. No, louder.

"Flower Glass", by Hand Habits. Don't let the similarity of the melody through-line with, well, actually let's just let that go unmentioned. In this context, it is a melody that allows you to melt without shame.

"Running Waters Wide", by The Hanging Stars. I believe we have had The Hanging Stars on here once before. What's not to like? If nothing else, The Hanging Stars have a very excellent graphic designer. Which may sound like damning with faint praise, but isn't meant to be. Also: bet you didn't think you would hear piano like this on a 2016 song. (And oh, those vocal harmonies. Plus, is that the second appearance of a flute in this playlist? Code red! Code red! No, wait, maybe this time it's a recorder.)

"Touch Blue", by Scraps. In which some sick beats fool me into not expecting that the synth chord sequence that follows is about to reduce me to tears. God damn. It's only pop music, but really it's also only everything that fucking matters. Oh, sorry. I got a bit carried away there.

"Twist Your Arm (Lindstrom And Prins Thomas Remix)", by Ten Fe. Nice to see these two old dudes working together again. This one screams "EIGHTIES!". Put it this way, if you like Talk Talk, you're gonna love this, I think.

"Dub Be Good To Me", by Beats International. I am particularly struck, at this distance, by the mounful harmonica, straight outta Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds circa "Your Funeral My Trial".

"Chopping Dub", by Prince Jammy. From one classic riddim to another; this one you might think you know from The Clash's "Justice Tonight / Kick It Over". Or, y'know, you might not.

"Scrying In Water", by Jenks Miller & Rose Cross, NC. This be drifting of the highest order. It may run for 20 minutes, but nevertheless I find myself coming back to it over and over again. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there are parts of it that remind me, in the nicest possible way, of the records Brian Eno was putting out in the early 1980s: I'm thinking "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks", and "The Pearl", with Harold Budd. Technically it bears no relation to those records (and it reaches parts that they never attempted to reach), but emotionally, well, maybe it's just me. Anyway, Three Lobed had the good sense to put this out, and you would be a fool to ignore Three Lobed.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Song of the day (2)

"Let It Be Unknown", by Endless Boogie.
If you have ever thought to yourself, "Somebody should write a song that rhymes "nickel" with "Don Rickles"", well, this song is for you.

(Sorry, but I can only find it online as part of the whole album. Song starts at 8:25.)

Song of the day (1)

"Avalanche Alley", by The New Pornographers.

This almost sounds like it could be a Wire song of recent vintage. Except that you can't imagine Wire, those perennial wrongfooters, coming up with something that becomes as exhilarating as does this song, which, I can almost guarantee, will have you doing pinwheels around the living room until you realise that you are actually way too old for that sort of thing and that you are therefore an embarrassment to everyone around you. But it felt good for a while there, didn't it?

Bonus beats: the same song, live on KCRW. Have to say, some of them are starting to look like Old Pornographers ...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Song of the day (2)

"Another Day In The Sun", by The Moffs.

While digging through the Compactus looking for songs fitting the theme of "days" (tomorrow on The O-Zone), I stumbled upon a forgotten nugget from a forgotten (but not entirely -- see below) Australian band from the latter half of the 1980s -- a place and time where giants walked upon the land. Feedtime. The Cannanes. The Lime Spiders. The Widdershins. Beasts of Bourbon. The Cosmic Psychos. Died Pretty. The Apartments. The Eastern Dark. And this is probably only just scratching the surface.

While a lot of the above drew on the sounds of underground pop music, garage punk, so-called "psychobilly" and the like, The Moffs, at least on this song, seem from this distance to have been drawing more from the well of dreampop/shoegaze and the paisley underground. If these terms mean nothing to you, you might, nevertheless, find this song a joy to listen to.

And if it whets your whistle, there is much more goodness to be found on these two excellent collections. Pin your ears back.

Bonus beats:

If you are of the younger generation, this cover version by contemporary pop pickers Jagwar Ma (with Dreems; who teaches these kids to spell?) might be more to your fancy.

Song of the day (1)

"Conversation Piece", by The Chills.

And speaking (we were, weren't we?) of the beloved Dunedin sound, hands up if you knew that at the start of this year The Chills released, seemingly only as a promo single, a cover of a very old David Bowie B-side?

One would infer that the intention was to mark the anniversary of Bowie's passing. (One would also have to say that all of those memes about Bowie having been all that was holding the fabric of western society together would appear to have been proven correct.) In any event, even if it was intended as in the spirit of Bowie's occasional early "novelty" singles, it turns out to be a moving, and powerful, tribute to the man. The fragility in Martin's voice, e.g. when he sings "scattered on the floor", is hard to listen to. From one national treasure to another.