Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A few words about "Ys" by Joanna Newsom

Well, it’s a real spectacle, isn’t it? Everybody seems to have an opinion about this record, even (or perhaps especially?) people who haven’t heard it. Or maybe it is only those users of Internet message boards and weblog comments boxes. What is unfortunate, but seemingly inevitable, is that much of that discussion is of the nature of “If you don’t like this record you must be retarded” versus “This is a steaming pile of dung and only a cloth-eared idiot could possibly like it nyah nyah”. Either that, or grown men who should know better find themselves putting a week-old record in the same space reserved for cornerstones like “Astral Weeks” and “Horses”. In short, Joanna Newsom’s new album is a field of discourse distinguished by hyperbole and extreme opinions.

To like Joanna Newsom, first you have to have a Joanna Newsom Moment. Mine came when the Dirty Three, while guest-programming “Rage”, showed a clip of her playing “Sprout and the Bean” from her first album, a song which I had downloaded some months previously, listened to a couple of times, and put on the too-hard pile. But now I watched, transfixed, as the camera circled around this harp-playing waif, as she sang (about who knows what) above, around and beyond the music, which itself was mesmerising. I was hooked.

“Ys” appeared second-hand before me, and I suspect before it had actually been released (a review copy, I presume). Others whose opinions I respect enormously are not convinced. Marcello Carlin has shown his hand early. When, as he has promised, he writes down his reasons they will be cogent and compelling. I imagine that they will to some extent involve a negative comparison with remote corners of his own listening experience such as I have never ventured into, and possibly may not even have ever heard of. (I also predict he will see “Ys” as an affront to the Emily Haines album which, in any other year, would be generating the buzz that "Ys" has generated, but which instead seems to have sunk, unfairly, without much trace. But surely there is room for two albums in one year by gifted and thrilling female composers/performers. “Aerial” was more than enough for last year, admittedly, but in a sense that was two albums anyway.) Why am I speculating about this? Because I genuinely want him, and him in particular, to like this record, or at the very least not to dismiss it lightly.

Me? Well, it seems to me that this is a record beyond rational criticism. Words are not enough, not least because any words you throw at it are dwarfed, reduced to pale imitations of words, by her own finely wrought lyrics. I find that I am unable to have "Ys" on in the background, or even when other people are in the house. It must be mine, and mine alone, in a way that very few records must be: “Tilt”, perhaps. “Music For A New Society”. These are not being held up as same-shelf comparators, just records that work on me in similar ways. There are large swathes of the record that I just don’t get, that may not in fact be “gettable”. But then there are moments, fragments even, of such sudden and shocking beauty that I am so instantly overwhelmed that I must sit down lest I fall over.

As for the words, and this is an album of words, knitted together by dense passages of (frequently gorgeous) music (and I don't buy the argument that Van Dyke Parks has simply taken the money and provided by-numbers "Van Dyke Parks" arrangements; what he does here is just what he does, as was the case in his work on the Chills' sublime "Water Wolves"), well, for my purposes (and, with the possible exception of Dylan, and possibly even then, the words of a song can’t be separated from the song; meanings and so on are based not on what the words say but how they sound, in the same way that I extract “meaning” from, say, the sound of a Hammond B-3, or the echo chamber on a particularly solid dub plate, or the sound of a finger sliding along a steel guitar string; so what she is singing is at once the whole of the album and a small part of the album; I know that doesn’t make much sense, but I’m doing my best) they are close to perfect, whether you call them “poetry”, “lyrics”, or some other category, invented by and for this album alone. Sui generis.

Listening to a live (possibly solo) version of “Emily” I recently acquired, I was able to find the comparison that had eluded me: Captain Beefheart. It wasn’t what I had expected, but I think it works: it’s the way the words and music combine together in such a way that the listener is given no room to move; no breathing space; no respite. I don’t know if anybody else would agree with me, though. Agreement and “Ys” don’t seem to go together.


Our house is presently inundated by tiny red spiders. They look like little full-stops with legs. Because of their colour they are actually quite cute and cheerful, but I can see how you wouldn't want them to end up as plentiful as the dust mites in Miyazaki's "Totoro".

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stumps, Day Five

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Australia win the first test in England too?

Nevertheless, the past five days haven't augured well for England's chances. I suspect it may be time for the Full Monty.

By the way, there is nothing I could possibly write about this series that hasn't been said, or won't be said, much more authoritatively and eloquently by Gideon over at Cricinfo.

Stumps, Day Four

We are building a no-dig garden (it wasn't my idea). It involves alternating layers of straw and poo. In one bag of chook poo there was an intact egg. It weighed almost nothing. It was probably very old. I accidentally stuck the spade through it. It didn't just break; it went off with a BANG. This dark grey slimy substance oozed out of the egg, which was bad enough, but nowhere near as bad as the smell.

If you choose to find an analogy here with England's campaign to retain the Ashes thus far, well, that's up to you.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Joke" of the Week

"Kim Beazley has congratulated Steve Bracks on his election victory."

Yes, but what did he call him?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Stumps, Day Three

A week is a long time in cricket.

This morning's Under Sevens saw the emergence of a new addition to the bowler's arsenal, unknown before the start of this test. Aimed in the general direction of second slip, this ball is called "The Harmison". It is a not infrequent delivery in the U-7s, but its coincidental appearance in the repertoire of a test-level fast bowler is somewhat surprising.

Stumps, Day Two

It's interesting how the start of a test series, and particularly the Ashes, brings with it a sudden urge for a man to grow a moustache, in deference to the great mustachioed Australian cricketers of the 1970s (and beyond - Boonie; Big Merv).

It is, obviously, an urge that must be stared down and defeated.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Stumps, Day One

Not wishing to be insensitive (but being insensitive anyway), but I can't help thinking that Marcus Trescothick had the right idea.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"We stagged our T3 shares"

How cool is it to say stuff like that? Makes me feel all kind of grown up, in an alpha-male never-actually-grew-up-at-all kind of way.

Doctor Robert

I wake up this morning and the radio is talking about Robert Altman. In the past tense. And another one is gone.

I probably haven't seen as many Altman films as you. And I'm no cinephile. I remember watching "Nashville" and thinking it was never going to end (and kind of hoping it wouldn't). I remember the loooooong tracking shot that led us into "The Player". I remember the unbelievable casting and performances in "Short Cuts", a film I was prejudiced against, until I saw it, on the spurious ground that Raymond Carver should not be messed with. And "Gosford Park" was, quite simply, perfect.

Who can take up the baton?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Workers' Playtime

So, what were you listening to in August 2006? Some of us were listening to this:

Eddie Fisher, “East St Louis Blues”: this borrows the whistle from the start of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”, then goes straight into a kind of slow blues funk, with some of that wukka-wukka guitar we all know and love.

Dwayne Sodahberk, “Whiskey Eyes”: this is backgrounded by a warm bed of glitched-about acoustic guitars, in the style, loosely, of Four Tet or perhaps the Books, but unlike Four Tet the sounds are in support of an actual song, and a real nice song at that.

Dom Um Romao, “Lamento Negro”: if you could imagine a mash-up of “Linus and Lucy” with something from Martin Denny’s “exotica” records, you would be somewhere in the ballpark of this track. A minute or so in, we are gifted a nice electric piano solo and, I dunno, some piccolos or something. And it even tails off with some more of that wukka-wukka (not to be confused with Fozzy Bear’s trademark “wokka wokka”). Anyway, it clears the cobwebs out of your tired brain. Downloaded, some time ago, from the we-can’t-thank-you-enough Bumrocks (link at right).

Jorge Ben and Toquinho, “Carolina Carol Bela”: perhaps the only song I can think of that might have enhanced the unenhanceable quality of the “Tropicalia” compilation, a CD that continues to run and run, at least at our house. Although time-wise I’m not sure if this fits in or perhaps slightly pre-dates that very time-specific movement.

Caetano Veloso, “London, London”: Veloso split the Brazil scene when it got dirty, but continued to make great records. If you substituted Van Morrison’s voice, this would sit quite comfortably on “Astral Weeks”, I reckon. (Sorry, purists.)

Nathalie Nordnes, “Join Me In The Park”: to which I can only respond, “Name the time and I’m there”. The most gorgeous pop song I have heard in a long time, perhaps forever. Enhanced, as all the best pop songs are, by the strongly accented English of the vocals.

Kelis, “Bossy (Alan Braxe and Fred Falke remix)”: hot off the broadband, this one. Braxe and Falke have done some great remixes and some that don’t do much for me. This one is clearly in the former category, perhaps not least because of the undeniable quality of the song on which it is based.

Moonbabies, “Arnold Layne”: this wouldn’t be a Farmer In The City hypothetical mixtape if it didn’t contain at least one cover. So here it is. In memory of Syd.

Judy Henske and Jerry Yester, “Raider”: there is something in this song, beyond the title itself as if that wasn’t enough, which makes me think that Kendra Smith must have been in some way influenced by this song when she put together “Five Ways of Disappearing”.

Madder Rose, “Car Song”: and speaking of Kendra Smith: with its post-Dream Syndicate guitar sounds, and a female voice, the obvious reference point here is Mazzy Star, or more likely its cruelly lesser-known precursor Opal. The sound here is a bit fuller, a bit more Indie Rock perhaps, but it gets away with it.

Pajo, “Who’s That Knocking”: Carl can watch a movie for, like, 15 times and still run from the room at the scary part, even though he knows exactly what’s coming, and how whatever it is resolves itself in a nice way (all children’s films must have a happy ending - except “The Empire Strikes Back”, which may or may not have been a children’s movie). Similarly, this song continues to get under my skin, to mesmerise and slightly wrong-foot me each time I hear it, even though I know what’s coming.

Low, “Transmission”: oh look, it’s another cover version. I generally run a mile from Joy Division covers, holding the originals, as I do, in a highness of esteem that is probably a bit unhealthy. But this Low-ification of one of their more uptempo (or, at least, aggressive) numbers takes it so far from its roots as to make it a brand new song, with its own (very different, but wonderful in its own way) dynamic.

Paul Revere and the Raiders, “I Hear A Voice”: which more or less leaves me speechless. A big, big song, heavy on the emotion and drama, cavernous piano, leavened by some rather lovely tapping on something like a marimba. In my ignorance I didn’t ever suspect a band with a name like Paul Revere and the Raiders of being capable of something like this.

The Sonics, “Have Love Will Travel”: as namechecked in LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge”. (But then, who wasn't?)

The B-52s, “Mesopotamia”: the story that I heard was that David Byrne was enlisted to produce this record and they had a major falling out. Well, you couldn’t tell from the joyousness of this song, and the crispness of its sound. I should have acknowledged this for what it is years ago.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, “Red Frame/White Light”: from memory this was the first we knew of OMD. Didn’t radio DJs and television pop-show presenters make as much mileage as they could out of the band’s “weird” name? Those were much simpler times, those were.

Andreas Dorau and Die Marinas, “Fred Vom Jupiter”: the constantly amazing thing about trawling the internet for nuclear-weapon handbooks, erm, music, is the number of times a song can appear that you had long forgotten that it ever existed. Enter “Fred Vom Jupiter”, which was on very high rotation on 2JJ many a long year ago, and then disappeared from view. What I didn’t know was who was responsible for it, and it is curious that another Andreas Dorau track has coincidentally appeared on another one of these playlists. Just goes to show what good, or at least consistent, taste I have.

Das Bierbeben, “Hauser”: I hope “bierbeben” translates as “beer babies”, I really do. Okay, you all know I’m a sucker for breathy girl vocals, especially those hailing from Europe somewhere. This one sits atop a bed of dreamy electronica ...

Safe Home, “Dear Dusty”: ... whereas this one is more acoustically based. Just to mix things up a bit.

Lalo Schifrin, “Most Wanted Theme”: and to finish off, some 60s soundtrack sounds, suitable for framing, heh heh.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I have now lost two friends to cancer in the last 12 months. They say these things come in threes. So, if you were my friend, and I were you, I would be taking steps to sever that friendship. Just in case. Send all insults, taunts and fightin' words to the email address on the right-hand side of this page.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thinking Outside The Box

Six-year-old: "Mum, how come you never finish your sentences?"

Mum: "I suppose I've got a lot on my mind most of the time."

Six-year-old: "I think it's because you have a vagina. That's like a big hole, and things probably fall out."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I Can Hear The Grass Grow

Well, I'm glad that's over. Seventeen straight days at work (long days, too) and still it was a race against the clock. But, like the Canadian Mounties, we always get our man.

On a not unrelated note, tonight I have been invited to dine with one of the ten most important people in Australia - at least according to the Financial Review. I can't help thinking I would be much more comfortable with one of the ten least important people in Australia. But then, it's not something you would get to do every day. Unless, that is, you happened to be married to him.

I just hope I don't pass the port in the wrong direction.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Good morning. As you know, here at Farmer In The City we strive to help you keep up with what's going down.

However, we also have bills to pay, and just at the moment our work has us in a headlock, a squirrel grip and a step-over toe-hold, and just won't let go.

Until next week.

Be strong.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Musical Notes

Clearing the decks, then:

So, LCD Soundsystem has put out a 45-minute “song”, financed by, and badged with, corporate money (viz., N*ke). Screams of “sell-out” have long been a rallying cry amongst the hipster cogniscenti, and they can be heard again now. First things first: it is a great track, designed to accompany the iPod generation on their jogging routine, but unlikely to be tested in that environment by me, given that I am now of the age where if I break out of a walk I can feel my man-boobs bouncing up and down, and I don’t even have man-boobs.


Patronage in the arts goes back hundreds of years, and you don’t see your average Renaissance painter being criticised for having taken “corporate” (or whatever it was then) bucks. I rather rashly formed the view, while on a visit to London 10 years ago, that advertising would be the dominant art form/medium of the 21st century (mainly on the strength of UK cinema ads, which were quite brilliant compared to anything seen in Australia), and promptly forgot all about it. But I think I may have been onto something. With the rise of the Internet we have seen “name” directors putting together tiny movies promoting (albeit loosely; remember we are now in the era where everything has to be soaked in “irony”) American Express and BMW. Locally, the cleverness of the “Flashbeer” ad and attendant campaign cannot be denied. (That is, if you don’t completely miss the point, as was the case for almost an entire table of people I was out to dinner with recently.) And I can’t see how doing something like this is necessarily any kind of compromise for an artist. James Murphy is one of the cleverest musical minds around, at least in terms of someone who has the uncanny ability to give you (i.e., me) exactly what you needed to hear even though you would never have realised it before he gave it to you. The offer to do a long track for jogging to would, I imagine, be just the kind of creative challenge he would have jumped to, no matter who was behind it. Unless the suits were in the control room holding a gun to the engineer’s head, it’s hard to imagine that his musical decision-making would have been any different whether he was doing it for himself or for corporate America (except for this: he would never in a million years have done something like this under his own steam, and that would have been our loss, not his). Anyway, as soon as you opt to release anything other than a home-made recording on a back-yard record label, you are most likely a cog, however small, in the big business machine. After all, in Australia the DFA catalogue is badged under the EMI moniker, hardly the last of the good old-fashioned steam-powered trains.

All of which is to say: the title, “45.33”, presumably echoes John Cage’s most well-known composition, while the cover art (and perhaps the concept behind the piece) brings to mind “E2-E4” by Manuel Gottsching. Which is very much in keeping with the LCD Soundsystem corporate strategy. Bitchin’.


Ricardo Villalobos is clearly mad. He looks mad. He does mad things. He djs for, like, six hours at a stretch. He puts out mad records. His last record, “Achso”, was almost more musique concrete than techno. And now there’s something called “Fizheuer Zieheuer”, part one of which I have had the opportunity to listen to. And it is not so much mad as completely fucking batshit crazy. (Sorry.) What you have is 15 minutes of counter-rhythmic percussion and echo-chamber dub, held together by a looped fragment of something that sounds Russian classical, “Peer Gynt” or some such, and occasionally something else of a similar vein but inna slightly more baroque stylee. It’s like a fast-paced fairground ride that you want to get off and yet at the same time you never want it to stop. And this is only Part 1?


Barbara Manning has always been slightly off my radar. The closest I got was Peter Jefferies’ version of “Scissors”, on his “Electricity” lp. This week I discovered that while she was in New Zealand she put together a record of seven songs with some of Dunedin’s rock royalty. This was cause enough for excitement, even without the added attraction that she brought with her messrs Burns and Convertino, a.k.a. the core of Calexico. Too good to be true, perhaps, but it is in fact true, not to mention extremely good. I never thought I would make another discovery as personally significant, in an I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-know-this-existed sense, as Arthur Russell’s “Kiss Me Again”. And yet here, at the end of Barbara Manning’s “In New Zealand” album, lies perhaps the unsought-after-because-unknown Stan’s Holy Grail: “Aramoana”, a completely beautiful, spellbinding 11-minute pastoral instrumental featuring David Kilgour. Thank you, Barbara Manning, thank you.


And while we’re at it, we may as well do another This Goes With This. This time I imagine it is purely my own mind making dubious musical association between one song and another, but whenever I listen to “The Valleys” by Electrelane (a rather beguiling song which I like very much, the way it puts something like The Raincoats together with something like Kate and Anna McGarrigle [or maybe that’s The Roches] and comes up with something else entirely) there is a certain point at which what comes into my head is the bit in that song by Spacemen 3 (I don’t have time to dig it out in order to find the title, you will either know it from the description or this won’t mean diddly) which goes, I think, “well come on, don’t let it happen to you”.


Oh. That’s it.