Sunday, January 30, 2005

All mixed up

Meanwhile back in 2004, I put together the following “mix” from songs that could have been downloaded from the Internet around that time if one had been that way inclined.

1. Santa Esmeralda, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”: all ten and a half minutes. Possibly from the soundtrack to “Kill Bill Vol 1” but our local Tarantino buff failed to recognise it in a blind tasting, so who knows?

2. Shannon, “Let The Music Play”: I didn’t expect this to sound as good as it does.

3. Telefon Tel Aviv, “My Week Beats Your Year”: I like the “attitude” (and the Vocoder usage). From an album called “Map of What Is Effortless”, which I think is a lovely title.

4. Klonhertz, “Three Girl Rhumba”: in which the most recognisable two-note guitar figure of the punk era gets sampled, looped, and fitted out for the dancefloor. Not for Wire purists, perhaps, but if you put that guitar line on an endless loop and piped it into my grave I’d be shakin’ all over until the worms help nature take its course.

5. The Fall, “Telephone Thing”: I rely on others to navigate through the tangled byways of The Fall post-“This Nation’s Saving Grace”. For the most part I’m content in the knowledge that Mark E Smith is still out there drinking, falling down and generally fighting the good fight. This one’s from “Extricate” and it’s everything you could want from a Fall song: a rant, a beat, a mess.

6. Dolly Mixture, “Shonay Shonay”: a sliver of punk that passed me by back then. You only have to hear the first few bars to be transported back. If you were ever “there”. Dig, too, the decidedly un-punk “Stairway to Heaven”/”Bohemian Rhapsody” bit at the end.

7. The song known only as “Popnose 7”. Thanks, Tom Ewing. If I described it to you as sounding a bit like a German “Ca Plane Pour Moi” you would be a few small steps on the road to understanding.

8. Big Youth, “S90 Skank”: best taken on a summer afternoon as the cooling breeze starts to make its way into the house. And loud.

9. Cottonbelly, “Night Nurse”: a malevalent take on the Gregory Isaacs song. Ah, don’t you just love that big dub sound.

10. Teriyaki Boys, “Kamikaze 108”: hip hop taken to extreme levels and then taken a bit further, in the way that only the Japanese cats can do. DJ Shadow seems to be buried in here somewhere, but even he could hardly be expected to keep up this pace. Exhausting but fun.

11. Neneh Cherry, “Manchild”: some songs you don’t know why you hit the right-click button (like, did I really think I ever needed to hear UB40 and Chrissie Hinde singing “I got you, babe” again?) but, to my surprise, this holds up exceedingly well. Sometimes the experts get it right.

12-16: here we go into a bracket of New Zealand music, all from or relating to 1980s Dunedin: “Beautiful Things” by the 3Ds, “100 Times” by the sublime Look Blue Go Purple (at least one of whom became a 3D), the Bats covering LBGP’s “I Don’t Want You Anyway”, our main man David Kilgour doing Chris Knox’s (or is it the Tall Dwarfs’?) “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” and Knox himself with “Half Man Half Mole”.

17. Yung Wu, “Shore Leave”: essentially the Feelies, but with the drummer singing. This is positioned after the NZ stuff because of the uncanny similarity between the vocals here and those of Martin Phillips of the Chills.

18. M Ward, “Flaming Heart”: during our recent trip to Victoria we drove through Meredith, a one-horse town that also hosts the Meredith music festival every year. M Ward played there last time around. No trace of him could be discerned. Mr Ward remains our standout discovery for 2004 so he should feature on at least one of these mixes.

19. The Walkabouts, “Train to Mercy”: nine and a half minutes of emotionally draining epic drama. Ever since they appeared on “Sub Pop 100” (or was it 200? The one with the Charles Burns cover) I have had the feeling that I should have paid attention to the Walkabouts, and the majesty of this song confirms that I have been wrong yet again to ignore my inner John Peel. Not to be confused with the Walkmen.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Love is the message for us all

Following my usual rule of thumb, viz. that where disco is concerned longer is usually better, I recently found myself in possession of all 11 and a half minutes of "Love Is The Message" by MFSB. Well, what a strange record this is. What you get is in large part perfectly acceptable string-and-sax-driven "classic" disco, with minimal(ist) lyrics (in the style of Silver Convention's "Fly Robin Fly"). There is some nice Hammond bubbling under at various places, and the whole thing really does take off around the eight-minute mark with some rippin' electric piano. But something is not right: for the first three or so minutes, every time the track threatens to go into The Zone we are instead subjected to a totally lame middle-of-the-road saxophone ballad thing a la, say, Kenny G perhaps, or David Sanborn, very "no static at all", anyway, that belongs in a completely other song. And the mood is lost. It's a bit like cruising along the Great Ocean Road with the top down on a blissfully sunny day only to be stopped by traffic lights every thirty seconds.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Something wicked this way comes

Over at the Music Box we now have two cover versions of Kraftwerk songs, one faithful and one irreverent. How Australian is that?

Down and Out in Melbourne and Geelong

Two and a half weeks in various parts of Victoria. It’s the longest family holiday we have undertaken. Here is some of it.

Sitting at a kitchen table in the Melbourne inner suburb of Richmond reading a piece by Frank Moorehouse in the Age, I became aware of a sense that I was at a place other than home reading about a place that I recognised as “home”. Given that we have been in Canberra six years now, I suppose that is to be expected, but it still came as rather a shock, given that at some basic level I still regard Melbourne as Home, most of our friends are in Melbourne (although that equation is changing), and I don’t really consider myself a “local” in Canberra. I suppose I had better start to acknowledge the new reality.

We went gold panning at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. This is an important rite of passage which, having been negotiated, we can now cross off the list.

An unexpectedly memorable (but not unexpectedly pleasant; these two entertain us once a year during our visit to the in-laws) evening was spent with our good Geelong friends Wendy and Roger, eating fish and chips on Roger’s boat, which is moored at the Geelong yacht club, and which they don’t actually take out into the open water very often. Roger was kind enough to take the boys fishing, although they spent much of the time scaring the seagulls away so that they (the seagulls) wouldn’t crap on the boat.

We saw “The Incredibles” at the big Village Cinemas complex in Geelong. I particularly enjoyed the early appearance of a French villain called Bomb Voyage who inevitably but beautifully refers to Mr Incredible as "Monsieur Oncroyaaaable". Julius, the four-year-old, when asked if he would be able to sit through the whole film (he struggled with “Finding Nemo”), said “I can’t promise but I’ll do my best”. He did very well indeed; from about the 90 minute mark his inclination was to join the steady stream of departing fathers with small children, but he held firm (actually he was held firm, by me) and made it to the happy ending (another Pixar appearance for John Ratzenberger, this time as The Underminer - “I may live beneath you, but nothing is beneath me”).

Melbourne record shops, with one honourable exception, were a disappointment. My regular pilgrimage to Greville Records in Prahran served its nostalgic purpose (Warwick, the owner, spent most of the time that I was there walking around the shop talking on his mobile phone), but nothing jumped out at me as a necessary purchase. Gaslight in the city is now so dire that it should just acknowledge defeat and close its doors. Collectors’ Corner has taken the dubious approach of mixing new with second-hand, which means that “collectors” are forced to flick through much run-of-the-mill product as well as having to glance at price tags for each disc to see if it is new or used. Missing Link has moved to I know not where. Au Go Go has closed its doors. Didn’t get to Brunswick Street, where I suspect Polyester may have afforded my only chance to pick up the most recent David Kilgour disc, which thus remains unaquired. The discovery (I have, as in all things, here been well advised by Doctor Jim) was Metropolis, a fairly new establishment hidden away on the the third floor of Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street (the building is being developed by Tim Peach, who, coincidentally, sold our flat in Dalgety Street, St Kilda, all those years ago), where my needs were attended to by the genial, modest Oren Ambarchi. The range here is small, but uniformly excellent, from krautrock to 60s psych/prog to 1970s dub to electronica. (But no Masada.) Its location above the city streets, so the windows can be opened to let a breeze waft through, encourages browsing. I came away with Pluramon’s “Dreams Top Rock” and “Venice” by Fennesz, on the grounds that they were the ones least likely to be found in the nation’s capital.

Adrienne and I left the boys for a day with our friends Peter and Jenni’s nanny and took to the streets, visiting old haunts such as Pellegrini and Tokio, checking out The Little Bookroom and Metropolis Books (adjacent to Metropolis records, see above), where we found Tove Jansson’s picture book “Who Will Comfort Toffle?”, which we have been searching for for some time, and spending time in the Ian Potter wing of the National Gallery of Victoria, wherein lies the best collection of Australian art in this country. The Aboriginal art on display is breathtaking, as are the McCubbins and Drysdales, not to mention Jeffrey Smart’s “Cahill Expressway”. The new building is not bad, either. We also visited the Immigration Museum, which was particularly moving for me as Adrienne relived, via contemporary home-movie footage, her own passage to Australia as a six-year-old.

Another rite of passage negotiated: “Wind in the Willows” at the Botanic Gardens. The night we were there, they had a live broadcast of the weather report for the channel seven news, which may have included a glimpse of Carl or Jules, or an audio snippet of Carl in the background saying “Geelong?” as the weatherman read out the expected temperatures for various regional centres.

We spent a lovely afternoon in the rock pools at Point Lonsdale with the Glaspole Yeatmans (whose Melbourne house we were allowed to mind for six nights; thanks guys, you now have the dilemma presented by owning the first of Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s“Little Lit” series of “children’s” books: do you leave Chris Ware’s “Road Rage” intact, or pull out the pieces and play the game?).

Thanks to everyone who either put us up or put up with us, the making and breaking of arrangements that seems to come with travels with children (or is it just us?), and apologies to those whom we managed to miss this time around: please don’t take it personally.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Huckabees 'R' Us

So, on Wednesday night we went along to see “I [heart] Huckabees”. There are some films where, even if you are quite enjoying it, you find yourself periodically looking at your watch from about 45 minutes in. This is not one of those films. The ascendence from the bottom of the screen of the closing credits marked the first time since the film began that I was aware of the passage of time. About three minutes into the movie, not long after giving Adrienne the customary dissertation on who did the soundtrack music and what else they have ever done in their lives, I said to her words to the effect that “this is the best film I have ever seen”. Well, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but it grabbed me from the outset, and as far as I am concerned it could well have just kept going and going, and I would still be sitting there, absorbed.

This is the latest in a string of films from, primarily, young(ish) American writers and directors that I have found very appealing, in their (overused word, but perfect in this context) quirky, left-of-centre storytelling and visual techniques, injecting comedy into what are not, for the most part, comedies at all. That these films find a wide audience is surprising; there is nothing “pat” about them. That they are able to be made at all, in these days of ever-decreasing circles of creativity in mainstream Hollywood (Pixar honourably excepted), is remarkable. “Huckabees” has taken the dramatic and aesthetic lessons of films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” to the next level. One wonders which of the gang will play the next trump card. (The next P T Anderson film is most likely still some way off, but there is a new film by the Other Anderson (Wes) which should be here soon.)

And how can you say no to a film that features Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman as a pair of “existential detectives”?

Later, there was a man sitting at a table outside Charmers in Manuka, wearing a Bush-Quayle ’92 t-shirt. Canberra in January is another planet.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I Had A Real Good Mother And Father

Once in a very infrequent while, you find yourself confronted with a piece of information so disjointed, so out of synch with the way you intuitively understand the world to be, that for a brief moment the world spins off its axis and you don’t know which way is up. Then you look again and, making sure that what you just read is still there, ie, you didn’t hallucinate it, you begin the process of letting your brain take it in, and assimilating it into the fabric of what you thought you knew.

So it was a few days after Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ concert in Canberra (a couple of months ago now), when one of my work colleagues sent me an email link to a short piece about Welch taken from the Melbourne Age. Okay, I thought, some kind of concert review or other item of interest about the tour. I started reading. Apparently Gillian and Dave had ventured to country Victoria to play a show or two. So far so good. All of a sudden I went slightly woozy: one of those places was the Meeniyan hall. What?? I read back over what I had just read. It made no sense. (Even now, it still makes no sense. I have trawled the Internet for an explanation of how it could have come about, but am none the wiser.) How could two of the saviours of modern music finish up there?

Meeniyan. It’s no Byron Bay. Or Daylesford. Or Meredith. Heck, it’s no Fish Creek, for that matter. It’s just a nothing town on the highway, half way between the farm I grew up on and Leongatha, the nearest town of any decent size. No offence to the people who live there, by the way, at least one of whom was one of my best friends at Fish Creek Kindergarten. Also, and this is of no small significance, my mum and dad are both buried there, in a lovely lawn cemetery on a hill surrounded by giant cypress trees. Nevertheless, Meeniyan is no place for American musicians of considerable international standing to wash up, even for one night. Unlike the towns listed above, it has not thus far undergone the transformation to some kind of cultural outpost necessary to avoid stagnation and death.

Well anyway, on a six-degrees-of-separation level, it goes like this: I spent much of 2004 absorbing the music of the two-headed beast that calls itself Gillian Welch into my bloodstream; out of the blue, they get the Profile treatment in the New Yorker, a magazine that, over the last decade, has become a rather unhealthy obsession of mine; unexpectedly, I got the chance to see them play live in Canberra; then they go and play in a town near where I grew up; the town where my parents are buried; a town which it makes no sense for them to play. It’s all a bit, um, creepy, isn’t it?

Monday, January 03, 2005

I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night

Actually, I dreamt that Marcello Carlin came into my office while I was out on my lunch break and wiped out everything on my computer.

I don't know what I should be reading into that; but if I were Marcello Carlin I think I would be glad that we live on opposite sides of the planet.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

My Label

Santa brought me a rain gauge. It's nice to know that the Germans aren't above splashing meaningless puffery on their product packaging:

"precision - high-quality-materials - first-class finish - tasteful design"