Saturday, September 30, 2006

All I Ever Wanted

... was my morning cup of coffee.

I went to the cupboard.

The cupboard was bare.

I got ready for work early and caught the 8am express bus that drops me off near the National Library, which, until recently, made coffee as good as anywhere in Canberra, but now Jeremy doesn't seem to be working the machine it has gone off somewhat.

I had to wait 10 minutes for the Library's cafe to open.

I sat near a lady with a baby.

The baby made a sound somewhat akin to an elongated "splat".

There arose a smell which overwhelmed the size of the Library foyer and the air conditioning system.

But I wanted coffee.

One of the cafe staff unlocked the door of the cafe and announced that the machine was broken.

There would be no coffee.

I walked to work, a thick black cloud of blackness hovering somewhere above my head.

All I ever wanted was my morning cup of coffee.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The many moods of Yo La Tengo

If you catch a fish, cut it open, and examine its guts, you can tell what it had for dinner. But it is still a fish. If you trawl through the entrails of a Yo La Tengo album, you can tell what music they have been digesting, but what you are listening to is still a Yo La Tengo album.

And so it is with “I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass”, the nicely titled, nicely adorned (cover art by our man Gary Panter) new YLT long player. A cursory first listen, under suboptimal conditions, reveals the following ingredients:

Stereolab circa “Lo Boob Oscillator”

mid-80s Prince

John Cale’s “Paris 1919”

Brian Eno, with and/or without Harold Budd

“Sea Breezes” by Roxy Music

some Ramones

The Byrds of “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” vintage

The Clean, solo David Kilgour and any number of vintage Flying Nun recordings from the late 80s

and I suppose we might as well acknowledge the Velvet Underground, although they are perhaps more in the nature of DNA than influence these days.

Other ears will, no doubt, hear other things.

The other thing about Yo La Tengo is that they care nothing about sequencing their albums, setting and maintaining a mood, and all those other things that lesser beings put effort into. And it works in their favour: YLT records aren’t so much albums as collections of songs, and songs is what they are good at. (Except, their best album, “And then nothing turned itself inside-out”, is in fact an extended mood piece in which all the tracks do hang together and feed off each other - thus does the critic successfully puncture his own argument.)

You want another thing? Song length. Whether it’s two minutes or twelve, a Yo La Tengo song takes just the right amount of time. I’m not sure how they do that. The new album is bookended by 10-minute-plus workouts, and I can’t imagine anyone else being able to get away with this without causing me to look at my watch at least once or twice.

I must admit, I had been developing a sense that Yo La Tengo may have been falling into a kind of elder-statespersons pattern of releasing fairly uniformly “tasteful” albums every couple of years, punctuated by one-off releases as an outlet for their more experimental, uh, experiments, kind of in the way Sonic Youth have latterly operated. I was a fool.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Generals and Majors

We don't know this Macarthur fellow from squididdly, but we are amazed, and delighted, that he has decided to send John Zorn a cheque for $100,000 annually for the next five years (that's American dollars, which these days equates to roughly twenty squidillion of the Australian variety). That is going to put a little excitement into trips to the post office.

What will Zorn do with the money? For one thing, he could put it towards making Tzadik discs a bit less expensive. In Sydney I handed over $110 for three Zorn discs. Admittedly one was a double, but still.

I'm not sure he could put it towards increasing his already phenomenal work rate, but if he did, we would have to mortgage the dog. Wait, we don't have a dog. Can you mortgage children?

(A couple of years ago Macarthur made one of these grants to Ben Katchor. He is obviously a man of good taste and distinction.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

The world may be going to hell in a handbasket, Iran may be on the nuclear precipice, George W Bush may be President for two more years, global warming may be almost upon us, Iraq may be in civil war, millions of people the world over may be sick and/or starving, but ...

Seth is in the New York Times.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

... and the winner is ...

I have been putting together a weblog entry (albeit entirely in my head) involving Doctor Jim, and specifically how hearing for the first time, recently, the aural assault of the opening bars of "At The Mountains Of Madness", John Zorn's latest Masada-related star vehicle, put me in mind of an afternoon I spent, a long time ago in a batchelorhood far far away, at Jim's pad being bludgeoned by Zorn's "Spy vs Spy" and Big Black's "[sound of impact]" live bootleg.

So there I was thinking about this on Saturday afternoon, and playing around with the idea that for some time Jim and I were able to push each other in the direction of musics we hadn't otherwise considered or been aware of, and why he kept heading towards the outer limits while I turned back, when a familiar yet mysterious voice said to me, over the telephone, "You should watch tonight's 'RocKwiz'".

So I did. "RocKwiz" is SBS's superior music trivia show, hosted by the lovely, sharp and irrepressible Julie Zemiro, and including as contestants two actual musicians and four mugs from the audience. Doctor Jim was one of those mugs on Saturday night. And his was a sterling performance. It is possible that a couple of clangers (no, Jim, Boney M were not, in this or any other alternative universe, responsible for "Take Me To The River") were caused by some errant coaching from his celebrity teammate Kate Ceberano, or by nerves. But for the most part his approach of Hit the Buzzer First, Think Later paid off. His non-verbal communication skills came to the fore when giving the answer "Chris De Burgh".

Jim, you did us proud. In fact, I can say with some certainty that yours was the best (a description in no way diminished by the fact that it is also the only) performance on a television quiz show by someone of my acquaintance since the night that Ian Woolley wiped the floor with all comers on "Sale of the Century", only to do the completely unheard of and take the prizes and run, rather than come back the next night in search of more loot.

The one thing I would like to know, though, is the identity of the Doctor Jim Fan Club who were cheering him on throughout the show. Of course, we were cheering right along with them.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Where Have They Been?

So it's the "9/11" edition of the New Yorker, and they have rolled out most of the heavy hitters. This goes a long way to explaining, and excusing, the unbearable lightness of the bulk of the last few issues (although the recent piece on feudin' mathematicians was a fascinating window into a world most of us never see). Jane Mayer, Jeffrey Goldberg, Lawrence Wright, George Packer: all have valuable insights into everything that has gone wrong in the last five years. (No Jon Lee Anderson, but he is excused, having filed at length recently from both Lebanon and Cuba.)

But the most amazing thing about this issue is the fiction, which is written by Cate Kennedy: man, I know Cate Kennedy. She was at one time the other half of a friend of mine from University, Phil Larwill (who in turn is a cousin of the artist David Larwill, one of whose screenprints hangs on our living room wall). Cate and Phil decamped to Mexico for a couple of years, from where they sent some very funny, and interesting, letters and emails, and Cate eventually wrote a book about those times (something I had tossed around in my mind as a possible publishing venture, although I never communicated that to them). We gave a copy of that book to Adrienne's mum, who herself had spent some time knocking around in Mexico in her youth.

Remarkably, this is the fourth appearance in the New Yorker of someone I know. John Adamson, brother of my very very very good friend Marcelle (who now lives much too far away, in London), was quoted in a profile of the then up-and-coming historian Niall Ferguson. Tim Klingender, whom I also knew at University, featured in a piece on Aboriginal art. And there was once a full-page ad for a book by Angus Trumble (and, as we all knew, if you removed the "GT" from "Angus Trumble" you got "Anus Rumble" - oh those crazy undergraduate days).

So anyway, Cate, wherever you are, very well done. I look forward to your forthcoming book.

Monday, September 04, 2006

"Stealing in the name of the Lord"

If you had an Internet connection, were sentient, and had sufficiently poor grasp on what are the important things in life, you, too, could have constructed the following mix tape (June 2006 edition):

Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”: is this the greatest radio song ever? Well, I can’t think of anything that would best it. It is almost as if the greatest pop moments of the last, what, 40 years had been absorbed into this one definitive three-minute perfect storm. It could have been made at any time over those 40 years and not have seemed out of place. I am not worthy.

Go Home Productions, “Papa Was A Clock (The Temptations vs Coldplay)”: perhaps not so surprising that the only song that could credibly hold its own with “Crazy” is something that doesn’t quite exist. We don’t much care for Coldplay, but by taking out those vocals and replacing them with one of the all-time greats you actually end up with something little short of wonderful.

Devo, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: it’s funny, but the last two songs for some reason make me think of “Bittersweet Symphony”, which makes me think of the Rolling Stones, and how they went the corporate heavy over that song’s use of ... well, you know the story. So why not follow up with this Devolution of the Rolling Stones, featuring the most counterintuitive drumming known to man.

Bobby Bland, “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City”: and if we’re going to hate, we may as well play a song about no love.

Martin and the Moondogs, “Tropical Loveland”: and if there ain’t no love in the city, we may as well heed the call of Martin Phillips to choof off to his tropical loveland. (If you thought it was the height of “irony” for Abba to record a song about a tropical paradise, how about having that song covered by a bunch of reprobates from Dunedin, which may be as far from paradise as it is possible to get (geographically speaking only).) From an album of Abba songs covered by sundry New Zealand luminaries.

The Gist, “Love At First Sight”: and if you went to a tropical loveland you may find “love at first sight”. This, if I remember rightly, was Stuart Moxham’s first foray into the solo world post-Young Marble Giants. I have the album, “Embrace The Herd”, tucked away somewhere in my collection, unlistened to for many years. I have to say, hearing this song in the early 21st century gives me the odd sensation that I may have obtained my copy 23 years before its actual recording. It sounds in no way dated. Did Richard Thompson play on the album? That is something I will have to look into.

The Marine Girls, “A Place In The Sun”: I think we’ve taken the thematic approach way far enough for now, and it would have been too obvious to connect “a place in the sun” with a “tropical loveland”. So we won’t. What we will do, however, is point out the absurdity that Carl, the eight-year-old, has developed an obsession with this song, and has most likely listened to it more times in the last few weeks than the total number of times it was listened to by the total number of people who listened to it when it first came out. We can’t work out what he hears in it; it has no big air-guitar moments or dancefloor potential. He’s a good boy.

Hydroplane, “We Crossed The Atlantic”: full disclosure - Bart is one of the nicest people we know. And my mum knew Andrew’s mum when they were girls. None of which detracts from the indisputable fact that this song, this beautiful drifting thing, can, and does, more than stand on its own two feet. As featured (if I remember rightly) on John Peel’s Festive Fifty.

Ulrich Schnauss, “Suddenly The Trees Are Giving Way”: shimmering electronic beauty from somewhere in Europe from the recent past; and yet it follows on nicely from Hydroplane, adding to the sense of drift one of those simple drum patterns that Hydroplane used on some of their more (relatively) kinetic numbers.

Ratata, “Liv Utan Spanning”: bring your own umlauts. I bet you didn’t know there was a Scandinavian Ultravox.

Shimura Curves, “I Am Not Afraid”: this slice of gorgeously brittle pop has, buried in it, a nice trace of vintage Flying Nun. (The Dunedin sound is cropping up everywhere these days; viz. the latest Mojave 3 album.) There is a guitar line in here, too, that I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere before, which is driving me nuts.

Seelenluft, “I Come Along (Joakim Dub)”: I’m not quite sure why I chose to single this out from the seemingly endless parade of good electronic music coming out of Europe, but in terms of the sounds employed it cannot be faulted.

The Others, “I Can’t Stand This Love, Goodbye”: from the jungle (heh) to the garage, this comes from the Nuggets school of do-it-yourself proto-punk, and is as infectious as all heck.

Los Impalas, “Love Grows A Flower”: a slower, slightly trippier version of the above, the result, no doubt, of ingestion of the appropriate substances. If songs like this had been better received in their day, there would have been no need for progressive rock to have been invented; but then, there would have been no need for the jams to be kicked out by punkers either, so lets not go there.

The Master’s Apprentices, “Rio De Camero”: and some home-grown homegrown, if you know what I mean.

The Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset”: it is too easy to take the existence of a song like this for granted and never really listen to it. I did the same thing with “Ride A White Swan”. My bad. There may be no better evocation of a particular time and place.

Jeremy Warmsley, “5 Verses (demo)”: okay, it may be cheap, but believe me it’s not nasty, to play this after the Kinks, who are an obvious reference point for this gorgeous slice of English pop; fashioned, it seems, by the human voice, understated post-punk-era guitar, cheap keyboards, and a seriously over-amped drum machine.

Mulatu Astatqe, “Mulatu”: fresh from his uncovering by Jim Jarmusch in his beautiful most recent film, “Broken Flowers”. It is easy to understand Jarmusch’s love for this guy: his music is entirely simple, charming and uplifting.

Dandolo, “Fire Breathing (Shit Robot Remix)”: which amounts, in essence, to one goddamn propulsive bass-line repeated ad infinitum or until the bass player’s fingers fall off. But what a bass-line. And with just the right amount of bleeps and washes threading under, around and over the top of it. What will they think of next?

Well, that's it for now. We're off to Sydney, sans kids, for the week to learn how to make our home, and perhaps the world, comfortable and inviting for an eight-year-old on the autism spectrum. Plus, I have a brand new credit card and an expectation of bringing home more than a little John Zorn product.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Trees and Flowers

"Mum, I'm going to sketch the blossoms."

[A few minutes pass.]

"Mum, can you stop the trees from moving?"

Saturday, September 02, 2006

climb every mountain

I once made a vow that I would, one day, listen to "Sandinista" in its entirety. Even fans of the Clash told me I was mad. But I never lost sight of my dream.

And now I have done it.

The lesson here is, I think, just because you are in a position to force your record company to let you put out a low-price triple-album set, that doesn't mean it is actually a good idea.