Sunday, December 25, 2005

Friday, December 16, 2005

The paddock bomb

A common fixture on Australian farms is the paddock bomb. In case you don’t know, a paddock bomb is a car, probably twenty years old or more, unlicensed for driving on the road, and most likely completely unroadworthy. Not to mention highly unreliable and unsafe. Its main purpose is to provide an excuse for farmers to spend time out of the house, tinkering around under the hood and generally undertaking a course in Experimental Mechanics, when there is no actual productive work to be done.

There was no particular means by which a paddock bomb might be acquired. In our case, it coincided with the demise of a large black bullock. It was a dark and stormy night (of course). One of our cattle, as a result of a late-night episode of extreme boredom, managed to breach the boundary fence of the property, and found itself in the unfamiliar environment of the main road between Fish Creek and Meeniyan. Notwithstanding the very infrequent appearance of cars on that road in the wee small hours, a poor unfortunate local happened upon the animal. History does not tell us which of the two received the bigger surprise. The cow, a solid, purpose-bred beef-laden beast, made acquaintance with the bonnet of the car, upon which it was then carried for some distance, balanced precariously, as the driver struggled to come to terms with this new reality, applied the brakes, and the cow, by now quite dead, rolled off the bonnet and onto the road.

The driver, who had a fair idea of the animal’s provenance, walked up the hill to the farmhousewhere my uncles lived, and woke them up.

“I’ve run into your cow.”

“Right. Let’s go and have a look, then.”

Arriving at the scene, the uncles did a quick bit of prioritising: first, they checked the cow to see if it was too late to salvage its carcass for meat. (It was.) So, with the help of a tractor, they dragged the corpse off the road, and towed the car up to the house. In the spirit of the pre-litigious 1970s, a deal was reached whereby we paid a sum of money to the other party, and became the proud owners of a seriously dented black EH Holden.

My uncles were of perhaps the last generation of human beings to be capable of doing almost anything they set their hands to, whether it be milking cows, making folk art, baking, converting a refrigerated truck into a fully appointed mobile home, conducting a home slaughterhouse and butchery, darning socks, constructing large-scale irrigation systems, or playing lawn bowls. They set to making the car operable again, most likely with help from my city cousins, who enjoyed nothing more than being surrounded by car parts and grease.

Actually, my cousins did enjoy one thing more than being surrounded by car parts and grease: they also loved to get into the paddock bomb and hoon around the farm, either (in the daytime) for the sheer heck of it or (at night) for the purpose of putting a spotlight on the top of the car, grabbing a couple of guns, and trying to shoot as many rabbits as they could scare out of their burrows. Goodness knows what the cows (not to mention the neighbours) thought about all of this. But one thing I do know is that it appalled my mother. This activity all took place at my uncles’ part of the farm, which was some miles away from our place. So I was for the most part sufficiently removed from it that she didn’t much need to worry on my account. But always when my cousins came to visit, we would go over there for a barbecue. I spent most of these visits wide-eyed with amazement at the kinds of things my cousins would get up to, while at the same time being too scared to actually get involved (and anyway, mum was usually not far away, making sure I didn’t get led astray). But my cousins, and Heather in particular, who was three years older than me and very persuasive in her own way, seemed to have a knack of getting me to do things that I didn’t really want to do (like the time they took me out for a walk in the dark one night, for the sole purpose of getting me to walk into an electric fence, just for a “laugh”), or that would get me in a heap of trouble if my mother ever found out.

Which is how I found myself one afternoon in the back seat of the paddock bomb, laughing uncontrollably, out of fear and exhilaration, as my cousins, screaming and carrying on as only they knew how, spun around and around one of the paddocks just up the hill from my uncles’ house: forwards, backwards, sideways, stopping, starting, skidding the wheels. Of course there were no seatbelts, and the entire back seat of the car was not attached to anything, so we were flying around the inside of the car at about the same rate as the car itself was flying about. I may have been too scared to contemplate going on the legendary Mad Mouse at the Melbourne Show, yet here I was, doing something that was at once more frightening than that, several times more genuinely dangerous, and, because it was actually happening, the most fun I had ever had in my entire sheltered life. I was in paddock-bomb heaven.

What I didn’t know, and only found out because my cousins’ mother, my aunty Betty, told me many years later, was that this was, in fact, happening right under the nose of my mother, who was watching the goings-on from the kitchen window with my aunty (who knew that I was in the car). “Well, would you look at that,” said mum, with all the disdain she could muster. “At least Stan isn’t out there with them.” (I don’t know where she thought I was. Probably my cousins had spun her a yarn about me playing cricket up at the nets behind the old house, or swinging on the makeshift swing under the cypress trees behind the house (actually the hook my uncles hung freshly killed cattle on until they bled dry), or fishing for eels in the creek.) Betty said nothing, but smiled quietly to herself as she went on drying the dishes. And as far as I know, mum never found out.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Digital mixtape: May 2005

Anton Karas, “Third Man Theme”: Trinity College, Melbourne University, 1982. A number of us were in love with Kris McKie. Kris was small, had short dark hair, an endearing way of saying her “r”s as almost-“w”s, and was from Coventry (ie, “Coventwy”), England. She was, in other words, from the mythical land of the Punk Rock explosion, and had some firstknowledge of the scene. The other particularly nice thing about Kris was the way she would walk around singing the theme from “The Third Man”, in a “doo-be-doo-be-doo, be-doo-be-doo” style. I wonder where she is now.

Marcos Valle, “Garra”: Brazilian music from the late 60s/early 70s is a recent obsession. This is a good example of why. Winter in Canberra serves to make the inherent sunniness of this music more profound.

Would-Be-Goods, “Le Crocodile”: girls singing in French has been a much older obsession. This, again, is another good example of why.

Emiliana Torrini, “Sunny Road”: I thought this might have been a guilty pleasure. Then SFJ gave her a good write-up in the New Yorker. It’s a sure sign of my own inadequacies that I have always been much more comfortable when things I latch on to get endorsed by reputable third parties.

Claudine Longet, “Love Is Blue”: not much I can add here. If the brief had been open ended I would have followed it up with the discofied “Love Is Still Blue” which may or may not have been recorded by Mr Mauriat himself. But we have only 80 minutes, and we must move on.

Paul Mauriat (or perhaps not), “Love Is Still Blue”: a disco-and-harpsichord interpretation of the above. Surely you can’t be serious.

Bobby Hughes Experience, “Season of the Witch”: a funky, electric-piano groove, based on a song that we have previously used in one of these mixes in a much different guise. This song must be endlessly adaptable, like the “Autumn Leaves” (or “Nature Boy”) of the rock’n’roll generation.

The Camberwell Now, “Working Nights”: prog rock rears its no-longer-ugly head. Is this the real thing, or is it just fantasy? (Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.) Or is it a crafty simulacrum of the Camberwell scene, updated to Now?

Sondre Lerche, “Two Way Monologue”: it was a toss-up between this and “On The Tower”. I think if I was doing this now I would have opted the other way. There is something timeless about Sondre Lerche, which is why it sits well in this particular place, between maybe-genuine-maybe-not psych-folk and the real thing.

Harpers Bizarre, “Witchi Tai To”: mmmm, lovely.

Bill Fay, “Be Not So Fearful”: if this was a hymn, I would be a regular church-goer. It covers similar sonic, and perhaps thematic, territory to Nilsson’s sublime “All I Think About Is You”. And it may even be as good. (Readers, that is a very big statement.)

Crosby, Stills and Nash, “Dark Star”: David Crosby did some lovely, although sometimes disturbing, minor-key work with the Byrds. He also got very fat. Here, in a minor key again, is another extremely tasteful piece of work, in a kind of jazzy, funky, smoooooth style. Break out the swizzle sticks.

Rättö Ja Lehtisalo, “Valonnopeus”: what drives me to say that this is the musical equivalent of an Aki Kaurismaki film?

Barrington Levy, “Murderer”, “Version”, “Tell Them Nah Ready”: otherwise known as Dub 101. (Not, I hasten to add, Dub For Dummies.) The song, the version, the dub. See how it all fits together. Or, rather, falls apart.

Arthur Russell, “Kiss Me Again”: and finally, my last most recent obsession (my next most recent being Popol Vuh), Arthur Russell. Different versions of his many different songs abound. This claims to be the version from “Disco Not Disco”. It appears to be identical to what is called the “Version” on the b-side of the 12-inch, although with a brief spoken intro. With Arthur Russell, who knows? What is indisputable is that David Byrne scratches his way through the 12 minutes-plus like an agitated madman/genius. I hate that until 2005 I had no idea that this existed. It is perfect in every way.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

2005: And another thing ...

Obviously, the single of the year is "1 Thing" by Amerie. Oh man, those drums ...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ape Mon

I don't remember the context, but it went something like:

Julius: "It's going ape!"
Carl: "It's going more than ape!"
Julius: "It's going super ape!"

At which point the muesli I was eating almost leapt out of my mouth in surprise.

"Super Ape" by Lee "Scratch" Perry is one of the cornerstones of Jamaican dub reggae. Obviously, my efforts to provide the boys with a proper musical education is even more successful than I had hoped. (I thought we hadn't got much further than learning to play Jonathan Richman's "Egyptian Reggae", with one finger, on the piano and/or the melodica.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

2005 erratum

Owing to a failure of intelligence (i.e., mine) it appears that Boards of Canada's "The Campfire Headphase" was left off of the previous, somewhat haphazard, run-down of the current year's music.

I would like to know, apropos the blanket of negativity that this record was greeted with, by what definition the phrase "sounds like their previous records, but with guitars" could be a bad thing. (Reminds me of the time several of us huddled around Anthony's Bose speakers circa 1982 and debated whether that was an actual bass guitar being doinked on Kraftwerk's "Tour De France" single, and whether, on the - seemingly misguided - assumption that it was, we would have to thereafter forever abandon our loyalty to Ralf und Florien.) Purism, kids, will get you nowhere. Look at the Americans in Iraq. (Whoops, where did that come from?)

Sunday, December 04, 2005


I absorbed more music this year than in any year since, let me think, probably the golden years of 1987-1988, the time before Punk Broke, before Adrienne appeared, before my father died and a lot of things went pear-shaped for a long, long time. Those were the days when I was young, single, earning money, and thanks to Maria, Bart, Darren, Doctor Jim, and others I was able to furiously indulge a passion for seven-inch singles, fanzines, and mail-order catalogues from the USA.


Now, of course, thanks to the miracles of the Internet, one no longer needs huge amounts of money to spread one’s musical wings far and wide. We are living in a geek’s paradise. Which is, as a geek might say, Way Cool. The interesting thing, though, is that contrary to what the music “industry” would have you believe, those of us who actually care about music are not in any way transferring our acquisition programme from the legal to the free and illicit. If I am any guide to anything, the situation is actually quite the reverse: not only am I listening to more music than I have in a long while, I am also expanding my collection of actual, bought CDs at a somewhat alarming rate. (There is, obviously, a wider and more significant debate to be had in this area of discourse, but this is not the place to have it. I am one, possibly not representative, case study. Heck, I’m just this guy. But: example: downloaded Kate Bush’s “Aerial”; listened, twice, astounded; bought it within a week. If not for having downloaded it first, I can’t imagine that I would have bought it at all. Which would have been both my loss and EMI’s. Have I done something wrong here? Not unequivocally no, but also not unequivocally yes, either.)

But I digress. Again.

What music pushed the right buttons this year?

Not all of it came out in 2005, but most of the following is at least fairly recent. Without doubt, the most important release of 2005, and surely the one that I will still be listening to when I’m 61, is “Aerial”. Like “Tour De France Soundtracks” a couple of years back, it is the record we didn’t dare imagine we would ever see, much less hope that it would be as good as it is. I haven’t followed Kate closely since “Hounds of Love”. There is much about the new record that situates it as that one’s spiritual successor. Anyone who carries “Hounds” close to their heart has a duty to immediately acquire “Aerial”.

Beyond that, there has been much goodness floating around. Records by The Juan Maclean, Lindstrom & Prins Thomas, Vitalic, and Superpitcher have all rekindled my long dormant interest in electronic music, last seen in 1982. This year’s Black Dice record demonstrates the usefulness of noise. Tom Waits’s “Real Gone” is getting under my skin the way every Tom Waits record does: slowly but inexorably. “Margarine Eclipse”, atypically for a Stereolab album, has taken a while to work its charms, but work them it has. (Thanks are due to Jon Dale - link at right - for his perceptive write-up of this record in his belated 2004 roundup, without which it may still be in the too-hard basket.) Whereas the ’Lab’s “Oscillons of the Anti-Sun” and “ABC Music” collections adequately satisfy a Stereolab obsessive’s obsession. Meanwhile there is much beauty in Antony and the Johnsons’ “I Am A Bird Now” and The Arcade Fire’s “Funeral”. Also, I finally stumbled upon “Frozen Orange” by David Kilgour, and the unexpected "Stand By" EP from Martin Phillipps’s reconstituted Chills. (And if I had found the new discs by the Bats and Cakekitchen (if the latter even exists) I have no doubt they would be mentioned herein, too.) Not to mention Beck’s “Guero”, which was treated with inexplicable indifference by the press, The Fall’s mammoth Peel Sessions collection, and of course the double live Kraftwerk set, “Minimum/Maximum”, which I don’t play as much as I should but which is an indispensible artifact of an indispensible group.

Well, that’s quite a lot, really, when you think about it.

But the Record of the Year? Without doubt [drumroll] it has to be “Tender Buttons” by Broadcast. Where “The Ha Ha Sound” was cold and distant [editor’s note - this is not for a minute to suggest that “The Ha Ha Sound” is not a work of greatness], “Tender Buttons” is warm and welcoming. Everything about it shows a pair of musicians in full creative flight. The use of a drum machine, forced on them by no longer having a real drummer, is actually an inspired touch. “Michael A Grammar” features a gorgeous four-note descending guitar line that would not have been out of place on either of the last two Sonic Youth albums, while the title song carries the distinction of giving Adrienne the opportunity, for only the second time in her life, to say the words “this sounds like the Velvet Underground”. (And on both occasions she was spot on.)

I can’t really say why I would choose “Tender Buttons” ahead of “Aerial”, given that the latter is the more important release (and probably even the best record of the last 12 years). But it’s my party, and I won’t cry if I don’t want to.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Coming soon to a hospital waiting room near you ...

We are now the proud owners of a trampoline.

Whether it will take any of the strain off our long-suffering couches and beds is another question.

Boing, boing.