Saturday, September 20, 2014

Song of the day

"Knock Knock Knock", by Spoon.

Every once in a while, you should go to an actual record store and buy an actual record*.

It's good for the soul, it helps you bond with the music contained within the physical product (as opposed to, y'know, fond memories of which computer you were sitting at when you went through some dodgy, ad-filled download site and waited for Record X to come through the pipe, which it eventually did but not before crashing a couple of times and anyway it turned out to have one corrupted song on it), and it might even help some poor, struggling music retailer stay in business for another week or so.

(Oh the times we live in.)

So anyway, for me it was the new Spoon album, "They Want My Soul". Spoon records take a while to sink in. Which is fine, because one only comes along every three or so years. I expect this one will be no different. It starts off with a couple of readily identifiable but perhaps not exactly jaw-dropping examples of Spoon songs. The third track, "Rainy Taxi", is where you say to yourself, This song is going to reveal itself as a Spoon classic. The fourth track, "Do You", is an instant earworm that will have you pinwheeling around the living room. 

But it is the fifth track, "Knock Knock Knock", that stops you in your tracks, stares into your eyes, unblinking, and says: Yes, I do remind you of your (but nobody else's) favourite Pink Floyd album, "Animals". You got a problem with that?

And guess what? I got no problem with that whatsoever. But I can't say I was expecting it.

(Consumer advisory: contains whistling.)

*When I say record, I mean, for myself, a CD: the trendy thing at the moment is to buy vinyl, but as someone who has shelves of vinyl from the first time around, and who was here at the birth of the Compact Disc Digital Audio (TM), I have no lingering nostalgia for the pops and clicks, the inevitable skips and unintended locked grooves, the fuzzy "s"s, of vinyl; they were an impediment to hearing the music then, and I can only assume that they are still an impediment to hearing the music. Still, if that's what you want ...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Song of the day

"These Shadows (Acoustic Version)", by Wooden Shjips.

This is a very stripped-back take on Wooden Shjips. I must admit, I prefer them in their more usual guise: soporific, stretched-out and sludgy. But this does have one (very) redeeming feature: it makes them sound like The Bats. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Point That Thing Somewhere Else

RIP Peter Gutteridge, lesser heralded mainstay of the Dunedin music scene. 

I've written about Gutteridge before on these pages. Right here, in fact. Oh, look, here too. There's nothing more to say right now.

Your homework is to watch the clips embedded in this Pitchfork report. They will at least give you a sense.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Song of the day

"Higgs Boson Blues", by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

The best blues songs start off like this: "Well I woke up this morning."

The best of the best blues songs follow that with: "That was my first mistake."

So here goes.

Well, I woke up this morning. That was my first mistake. I walked out to the living room, whereupon I was unfairly and irrationally attacked by the cat. (To be honest, this is not such an unusual occurrence.) Then I opened the blinds and found myself face to face with a spider the size of a dinner plate. (You think I am exaggerating.) Then I got an eyelash trapped in my eye, and had to spend several uncomfortable minutes sticking my finger in my eye trying to extract it. And then the Internet was down.

But then things got better. Specifically, I went to Canberra's newest cinema, the Palace, to see the new Nick Cave film, "20000 Days on Earth". I'm not even going to attempt to make any critical observations about it. You should see it (obviously) if you have an interest in Nick Cave. Or if you have an interest in the creative process. Or if you have an interest in The Song. Or if you have an interest in Ed Kuepper (who makes an appearance with the Bad Seeds at the end of the film, when they are at the Opera House performing "Jubilee Street"). Does it feed the mythology? Or debunk it? Or lift the veil on it? Possibly some combination of the three; but, like most of the things Cave himself says, I suspect it is inherently untrustworthy. Untrustworthy but fascinating. My favourite part of the film, which contained a few potential favourite parts, was probably Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in Ellis's kitchen, with Ellis cooking up some eels for Cave (who leaves his plate to one side, seemingly untouched) while they talk about Nina Simone's performance at Meltdown.

After the film, I walked into Civic via London Circuit, which is kind of like the St Kilda Road of Canberra. It's a nice part of town, low-rise sixties/seventies office buildings with plenty of open space. Completely dead on a Saturday afternoon, of course, except for the hipster sanctuary that is The Cupping Room, which was doing very lively business. But I had a bus to catch (plus I'm no way a hipster) so I walked on past. A brief stop at JB Hi-Fi revealed a copy of Jim Jarmusch's Neil Young movie, "Year of the Horse", which I have been looking for for ages, at an irresistible price. Another win.

A couple of things I did take away from the Cave film: first, a renewed sense of how precious songs are. In the beginning there is nothing, then there is a spark of an idea, and then, perhaps much later, there is a song. We are inclined to take them for granted. That is wrong. The second thing was a realisation of how far the last Bad Seeds album, "Push The Sky Away", has seeped into my pores. It's a sneaky record, that one: many of its songs are masquerading as unformed ideas, still in the process of being teased out. But with familiarity, the album proves to be a brave (and successful) attempt to loosen up the process, to try out an idea, run with it for a while, and leave it like that. They may be songs (and this is something Cave talks about in the film) that haven't yet resolved into a comfortable form, but it is a sign of the band's confidence that the ideas, half-formed or not, were perceived to be strong enough to be let loose into the wild before they had reached a mature form. This may or may not be borne out by consideration of "Jubilee Street", which, by the time it reached the Opera House, had revealed itself to be a song with such a solid foundation that it was able to withstand the full might and power of the Bad Seeds, a children's choir, and an orchestral string section. Boom.

But, in keeping with the blues theme, here is the last song on the album, itself destined to become a Bad Seeds classic: with some songs, you can just tell.

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.