Saturday, July 29, 2006

There She Goes, My Beautiful World

Are these the end times?

We've got middle east jitters; oil jitters; north korea jitters; price-of-bananas jitters; global warming jitters.

Seems like as good a time as any to be listening to Nick Cave preachin' the blues on "Hiding All Away": "There is a war coming ... There is a war coming ..."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

One Two Three Four Five Six

No sooner is February out of the way than April comes along, at least in the land of the hypothetical mixtape. A few girls on the vox, a bit of the old post-punk skrunk, some new sounds, all tossed together with no time spent on the running order, and even less on research. Which is a shame, because only six of these artists have any history with me (answers on the back of a postcard, please), and my ignorance is bound to show through to those “in the know”.

Archie Bell and the Drells, “Tighten Up”: tighten up.

La Dusseldorf, “Time”: in which we get to hear the origins not only of a certain type of Stereolab song, from the era of “Lo Boob Oscillator”, but also, less expectedly, of Ed Kuepper’s majestic (oops, almost typed “jamestic”, which when you think about it equally applies; how about that?) “Honey Steel’s Gold”.

Andreas Dorau, “Strasse der Traeume (Dorau Rossknecht Remix)”: where have I heard this before? It must be the theme music for something, it sounds so familiar. It also sounds rather old. What gives? Perhaps it is mislabelled. Perhaps I am just ignorant and/or confusing it with something else.

Alpaca Brothers, “The Lie”: the EP whence this track comes was the second New Zealand record I ever bought. (The first was the Chills’ seven-inch “I Love My Leather Jacket” / “Great Escape”.) I can’t remember, now, what became of the Alpacas. Another short-lived Dunedin band whose members, no doubt, have turned up repeatedly playing with other combinations of members of that small but fecund scene. But if this was the only song they had ever done, it would have been worth it.

CanseiDeSerSexy, “Acho Um Pouco Bom”: there are some great post-punk-style guitars snaking away beneath this piece of essentially pop confection.

Snakefinger, “The Model”: my favourite Kraftwerk cover, from a genre which might well be called swamptronica, and half of one of my most-loved seven-inch singles, the other side being the timeless “I’m The Man In The Dark Sedan”, but the entire package wouldn’t be whaat it is without Mark Beyer’s cover art.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids, “Blank Generation”: and, from a similar time and place, the punk rock anthem that even your granny knows and loves.

Fantastic Plastic Machine, “You Must Learn All Night Long”: a big slice of danceable, infectious nonsense that would have your aforementioned granny tossing away the Zimmer frame for six minutes of frenetic boogaloo. Or hucklebuck.

The Pretty Things, “Defecting Grey”: here is a song I feel like I know backwards, but I swear that, on paper, I have never heard it in my life before. It’s a perfect selection for the “Million Dollar Riff” segment on “Rockwiz”.

The Wonder Band, “Whole Lotta Love”: a nice subversion of the dominant paradigm here, as the girls take hold of the Led Zeppelin (pilfered from the bluesmen but we all know that story) chestnut and send it out to the dancefloor. It must be a sign of the times when it’s the girl who sings “I’m gonna give you every inch of my love”. Take that, Jimmy Page.

Laibach, “Across The Universe”: sometimes, listening to a song for the first time can be a challenge. This is a perfect example. It is one of my least favourite Beatles songs (although not as bad as “Good Day Sunshine”, which was forever ruined for me by a tragic performance from Marcia Hines on her short-lived ABC television “variety”program, wherein she also took a bluntened butcher’s knife to the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”). Laibach reimagine it as performed by a heavenly choir of angels balanced on a shimmering, unbelievably thin tightrope. At any minute, you are thinking, the entire edifice is going to collapse in upon itself, and we are going to be abruptly returned to mundane reality. It is just too beautiful to be true, you think. They cannot possibly get away with it. But they do; and then, when it is over, you can take a deep breath, relax, go back to the start of the song, and enjoy it all over again.

Berntholer, “My Suitor”: it would appear that this is from Belgium from some time in the early 1980s. It figures, then, that it is, as of this moment, one of the best songs I never knew existed. Put it in a box with the Passions’ “I’m In Love with a German Film Star” and hope they start breeding like bunny rabbits.

Princess One Point Five, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix I’ll Be ...”: no, not that one. A lonely, vulnerable female voice sings about personal things, surrounded only by some rudimentary and primitive electronics. My mother once told me not to listen to songs sung by women because women couldn’t sing. This struck me as odd, given that one of the most-played records at our house was by the Seekers. (Then again, perhaps she had cottoned on to the essential truth: that nobody will ever equal Judith Durham.) I suspect now, on thinking about this after the passage of quite a lot of years, that she was probably subtly trying to steer me away from my obsession with Suzi Quatro. (She must have been beside herself when Blondie came along and the posters on my wall were updated.) Anyway, she was wrong.

Young Marble Giants, “Final Day”: now where did this come from? It’s not on the album; it’s not on the “Testcard” ep. I simultaneously love it and hate it when this happens: it’s a pinch-me moment to discover a “new” song by a much-loved but short-lived band. But on the other hand it’s very frustrating to know that you have lost 25 years of potential listening time. And the clock, it is ticking all the time.

Nathan Fake, “Grandfathered”: remember those slightly unsettling but also emotionally uplifting instrumental passages that OMD could seemingly toss out at will? This is a not half bad update that, if you like that sort of thing, you might seek out. Hi, Bart.

Ray Bryant, “Up Above The Rock”: no synths here. Just some way funky drumming, a nice vamping piano, and - “hey!” - handclaps. If this was the opening scene to a movie (and maybe it is), we would be driving in a red convertible along some European back-road in early spring, with Tuesday Weld in the passenger seat (we couldn’t afford Audrey Hepburn).

Sparrow, “The Early Years”: Franz Ferdinand via sixties bubblegum pop? Now we are in the inevitable FF-backlash years, such a description might not be instantly attractive. It might also be totally off the mark. This also reminds me of the first dBs album, and more generally that it is always the right time for a power-pop revival.

Odetta, “I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain / Water Boy”: the single most jaw-dropping moment on the “No Direction Home” film, an artefact with no shortage of jaw-dropping moments (eg, who knew there was actual footage of the “Judas” incident?), is Odetta singing this deep dark monster of a song. My theory is that when Robert Johnson went to the crossroads it was Odetta, in the guise of a big black cat, who was there to meet him.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives

Obviously, and understandably, the Internet is awash with words about Syd Barrett and his legacy (which is, not exactly "questionable", that sends entirely the wrong signal, but, how to say this, he seems to be worshipped, and I suspect that's not too strong a word, much more for what he could have done than for what he did - his is a story of real sadness that has been somehow turned into a cult). Jody Rosen on Slate has some worthwhile things to say, and in the Guardian you can choose from Richard Williams, Nick Kent and Rick Moody. The BBC has extracted a few paragraphs from Joe Boyd. I'm sure there is much more that can, and will, be said. So it seems a bit pointless for me to add anything.

Except: I have long harboured an irrational, but genuine, hope that Barrett would one day, J D Salinger-like, emerge from his extended hibernation and present us with new songs that would thrill and beguile us. If Salinger dies, there will be no hope left.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Baker Street

Adrienne saw in yesterday’s Melbourne Age that one of the best (in fact it may have been the best) places for buying pies in Victoria is the Malmsbury bakery. This may not mean much to most people, other than somewhere to go for a Sunday drive. But when my father was very young, during the Depression, his father owned what was then the Malmsbury bakery. Malmsbury is a small town on the highway north-west of Melbourne, near the edge of the goldfields. It has a very nice park with a lake (where dad and Aunty Betty supposedly once found a matchbox-full of gold in some dumped quartz), a bluestone church, a mostly bluestone school, and an enormous railway viaduct that used to give me the creeps. In more recent years it has also been host to a correctional facility for naughty boys. For a few years the Emmerson family held its annual reunion at the Malmsbury hall.

One day dad showed me through the bakery, having imposed on its then owners. It was amazing to me to think that a family with 12 children could have lived and run a business in such a small space. Apart from the shop, there was one small bedroom, somewhere to cook, somewhere to wash, and precious little else. The oven was in a separate structure in the backyard. And yet this was how they lived. As it was told to me, government regulation in those dark days meant that providers of things like bread were obliged to sell on credit, even where there was no real likelihood that they would ever get paid. So things were tight. Workers on rail gangs would come through from time to time, get their bread on credit, and be gone in a day or two. Dad told stories of playing football with other kids, using an old sock, stuffed and sewn up, as the ball.

At some point he went to live with some of his older sisters in Richmond, where he went to school near the MCG and claimed to once have played a school vs school football match in which a young Lou Richards was playing for the other school. Later, dad's family left Malmsbury and somehow finished up at Meeniyan and thence to a farm at Berry’s Creek, from which I suppose dad and some of his brothers got the idea of being South Gippsland farmers.

The desperate circumstances of their youth no doubt lies behind the close-knit nature of dad’s generation. Dad and three of his brothers worked the one farming enterprise until dad’s untimely demise. If you put any two of that generation of Emmersons together, nobody would say very much. But if you added a third, it was impossible to shut them up, as the stories would tumble out. Always the same pool of stories was drawn upon, told in different combinations and in different ways. Always funny. The day my father fell into the milk separator. The day Uncle Jack had to write a letter for some poor farmer whose wife had left him and taken their prize cow. The day Uncle Jack, while on the bread run, found someone in their house trapped underneath a wardrobe that had fallen on top of them. The day Uncle Tip (real name Albert) took literally my grandfather’s exasperated exclamation “those kittens should be tied up”, with predictably grim consequences. The day Uncle Tip got the sack from his newspaper run, for some inadvertent indiscretion, and said “Well I won’t take the sack”, turning up for work again the next morning so that the newsagent felt compelled to take him back (and didn’t regret doing so). The day the bullock wagon ran out of control. The night the roof blew off the house (shades of Thurber in that one).

Well, now Uncle Mick (real name Walter) has gone, and there is only one of that generation left, Aunty Betty, the baby of the family and mother of my mad cousins from the city. It must be very strange for her to be alone, after having so many brothers and sisters for so long. And, perhaps predictably, the next generation has gradually gone its separate ways. I have a large number of cousins, but most I have neither seen nor heard from in the seven years since we moved to Canberra. News travels, of course, and I have some idea of what goes on, but many of them must now themselves be getting quite old. The stories of dad’s generation have now gone, there being no longer the possibility of a quorum. Murray, one of my cousins, has apparently written them all down, but I’m not sure what is happening with that. I suppose it would be nice to be able to pass some of them on to the boys, but it wouldn’t mean the same to them, given that they have no real knowledge of the people who were telling them.

Such is life, I suppose.