Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gone fishin'

Numberplate of the week

Driving from Canberra to Geelong, we came up behind a car bearing what looked from a distance to be a customised numberplate that said "FUN BOY". The car being a Rav-4-type "recreational vehicle" driven by "young people", and me being a Cranky Old Geezer, my instant reaction was, "Meh". However, on slightly closer inspection, it appeared to read "PUN BOY", a different thing entirely, and for some reason bringing to mind Ian Penman. Then, on even closer inspection, it revealed itself as "PUN 80Y", an apparently authentic New South Wales off-the-rack numberplate. The lucky bugger.

Friday, December 21, 2007

2007 (4)

So, where does all of this leave us? Looking back, as The Idolator would say, on a year in which two records stood head and shoulders above all others:

1. "Sky Blue Sky", by Wilco. From the cover photo inwards, a simply beautiful record. As Churchill almost said, never before has so little been made by so many using so much. You have three guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, frequently all happening at once, and still this music breathes. But its real power is in the songs. Tweedy himself says, on the accompanying DVD, "just play some fuckin' songs, man". And they did.

2. "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga", by Spoon, which also takes sparseness to new levels. There is frequently almost nothing there, but what there is kicks in a way that music hasn't kicked for a long time.

Both, in many ways, traditional. But when it comes to a contest between quality and originality (which is NOT to concede any lack of originality in either case), quality sometimes just might win.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

2007 (3)

2007 was the year in which I experienced something for, I think, the first time: use of the wrong word in a song lyric.

"The Bird And The Bee", by The Bird And The Bee, was one of my very favourite records of the year (notwithstanding its non-appearance in almost all year-end lists that I have seen - never trust a critic - one exception being Marcello Carlin). But my enjoyment of it is, I am afraid, tainted by a big howler: on the song "Because", Inara George sings "I'm lying prostate on the ground". Now, the old prostate/prostrate dichotomy is fun when (mis)applied by football commentators, but its appearance in one of the crucial (and clearest, and oft-repeated) lines in a song poses a problem: what does one do when singing along? Correct the mistake? But then one is not actually singing the song as written (and sung), but one's own, edited, version of same, and what business do I have in interfering with somebody else's song? And I've tried it: I feel like a schoolteacher. (And where would that end: "No, I'm not going to work on Maggie's farm any more"?) Perpetuate the mistake? Well, naturally I'm not comfortable with that. Not sing along at all? (Many would be grateful.) Press the "skip" button? I really don't know. It's vexing.

(Curiously, and somewhat tangentially, for some reason multiple copies of this CD appeared mid-year in Canberra's main second-hand CD shop. This could not be explained by natural attrition; I suppose they could have been review copies, but there is nothing marked on them to suggest that; could they have been hot? (But where would they have been nicked from in the first place? I don't think I've actually seen it for sale new anywhere, and you can't imagine too many shops ordering in more than one or two.) Strange. Canberra is full of little mysteries like this.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

2007 (2)

During the year I bought one of those pairs of in-your-ear headphones that Bose has latterly taken to advertising on every second Web site. They are very good headphones: the sound is clear, a lot of extraneous outside noise is filtered out, and they are comfortable. They are way better than the equivalents offered by Apple (and obviously not even comparable with the horrible phones that come with an iPod). (My only criticism is that you have to be careful not to lose the little silicone bits that stick in your ear, they are not affixed as well as they might be.)

Listening to Burial's "Untrue" through these headphones is a revelation. All the nooks and crannies of the sound are there, the bass is wicked, and generally the sound is just huge. I have no background in dubstep, and have only spent an hour or so of my life in Sarf London, so there is the sense, as with crucial seventies dub reggae (a not coincidental comparison), of surreptitiously listening in on something to which I was not invited. Plus, we are out on the cutting edge of music here. Nevertheless, if you found somebody who listened to all the right music from 1979 to 1983 and who then stopped listening to music altogether, they would experience a strong sense of continuity here. Really, only the beats have changed. Certainly, I can see why Mark K-Punk would like this: there is a lot of John Foxx in those synths.

In 12 months time I may or may not be as obsessed with this record as I am right now, but for the time being I am drawn back to it at least as strongly as I was drawn back to The Field's "From Here We Go Sublime" a few months ago. It's nice to think that from my jaded and cynical standpoint I can still fall for something as simple (and complex) as a piece of music.

Will the real Raymond Carver please stand up?

This is a fascinating document.

Somewhere there is a line between editing and re-writing. (Yes, I have my own Red Pen Of Death, but it is necessarily reserved for the clearly wrong; everything else is marked in pencil for further discussion.) Wherever that line is, Gordon Lish seems to have crossed it. The story, as published, should really have been credited to "Gordon Lish writing as 'Raymond Carver'". What effect revelations like this have on Carver's reputation remain to be seen. For me, he remains in the pantheon, but nevertheless it will be difficult to re-read those early stories with the same sense of unalloyed pleasure. A seed of doubt has been sown. (Do we know who was responsible for the name change? "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", as a title, seemed to express Carver's writing in a nutshell. To find out it's not Carver at all would make for a very bad day.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2007 (Part 1)

Two of my favourite records from this year (although not "My two favourite records from this year") were Studio's "West Coast" and A Mountain Of One's "Collected Works". Both pull off the neat trick of coming across as new by sounding old, but with the old nestled comfortably inside heavy quotation marks. Hence, what they make is "songs", not songs. (And perhaps you could argue that listening to both is "fun", not fun. But I wouldn't agree with you.)

The difficulty with this approach is that one senses that both bands are travelling at speed down a very short cul de sac. (But then, I thought the same about LCD Soundsystem, who managed to come back with an album that majestically bolstered LCD Soundsystem's undeniable Style with unexpected Substance.) (But then, I also thought the same about Dungen's "Ta Det Lugnt", and this year's "Tio Bitar" hasn't, at least for me, added much to the sum of human knowledge.) So who knows where the future lies? For now, it might be best just to enjoy the present.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Song of the day

"Turn To Earth", by Al Stewart. The drum sound on this song has been borrowed, at some point, by Broadcast.

YouTube of the day

In which Kermit The Frog gets it soooo right. Even down to the I'm Cutting My Arm Off In Little Thin Slices bit.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Song of the day

"Gila", by Beach House. New! Improved! (Maybe.) Certainly, it's been on high rotation, as would be expected for new material from Beach House, whose first, self-titled, album has been on the highest of high rotations throughout 2007. This new song features the most gorgeous of big, echoey guitars, blending in nicely with the drum machine, bass guitar and organ, and of course that voice. Sweet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Song of the day

"Teach me how to fight", by the Junior Boys.

Two of the best albums that I bought this year and which bear the copyright date "2007" were not in fact recorded in 2007. The first of them, which should come as no surprise to regular reader(s), is Neil Young's "Live At Massey Hall 1971", the missing link to beat all missing links (although, at least theoretically, "Chrome Dreams" would give it a run for its money). It's difficult to begrudge "Harvest" its massive success over the decades, but really, it's such a (typical) stylistic muddle that that success remains just a little startling. The Massey Hall recording, which sounds so good it could have been made yesterday, is, on the other hand, a Unified Theory Of Neil Young, circa 1971. Young as much as admits his mistake, in putting out "Harvest" instead of this, on the "removable" (don't try it) cover sticker.

The other one is the 2007 reissue - a whole three years after its original release! - of the Junior Boys' "Last Exit". Bart once explained to me the difference between the first two Mazzy Star albums by saying that "She Hangs Brightly" has the higher highlights but that "So Tonight That I Might See" is the consistently better record. Whilst one might disagree with the example given (personally, I have such a soft spot for "She Hangs Brightly" that I cannot listen to it objectively, but I think I know what he is getting at), one can use the description as a way to compare the two Junior Boys albums. There are four songs on "Last Exit" that cannot fail to make you go weak at the knees. "Teach me how to fight" is perhaps the most affecting of those; that recurring synth line hits me like it's 1981. (Or 2.) The second album, on the other hand (and this is where the Mazzy Star analogy entirely falls apart because one half of the JBs left between the first and second albums), doesn't reach the heights of unreleased tension that are so brilliantly employed on the debut, and yet it is a delight to listen to from one end to the other. (One might question where the music industry is headed - hey, there's a new idea - with seemingly instant repackaging of still-warm music (Boards of Canada's "Music Has A Right To Children", Fennesz's "Endless Summer") but (naughty) I didn't own "Last Exit" until I found this 2007 reissue second-hand a couple of weeks ago, AND it contains remixes by Fennesz and Manitoba, so at least in my case it serves several purposes at once. If you already owned the original album I don't know that you would be shelling out again.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Baby's got a blog


Who knows what evil lies in the hearts of men?

The Shadow knows.

Song of the year?

In a year which didn't contain a song as instantly captivating as "1 Thing" or "Crazy", we are forced to fall back on the old rule that a song that compels you to turn it up the second it starts, no matter how many times you have heard it, is a Good Song. This year, that song has been "Atlas" by Battles, with its insistent drum beat, crispness of sound, and just-in-time-for-the-movie Alvin and the Chipmunks vocals. For probably the first time since early REM it is possible to love a song without having a clue what they are singing about. (The singer is hooked? The kitchen is cooked?) Oh, and it looks good, too.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Best of Both Worlds

Two songs thrown up in succession by the sh-sh-shuffle perhaps encapsulate the two extremes of what I am looking for in a song. Okay, it's just two songs at random, and any other two songs chosen at random might be able to be analysed in the same way, but there you are. First we have the Marine Girls' version of "Fever": charm; brevity; a kind of goodnatured naivete; taking a good song and making something new out of it; Tracey Thorn's voice. Then we get "Halleluwah", by Can: strength through repetition; experimentation; length; a sense of the unknown; Jaki Leibezeit's drumming.

And all things in between, obviously.

The funny thing was, the very next song to shuffle up was Talking Heads' "Electric Guitar", from "Fear of Music". I don't recall ever having connected Talking Heads and Can before. But knock me down with a feather, the two songs have an almost identical rhythm. (And it's not the kind of rhythm you have ever really heard anywhere else. If I didn't already over-use the word "counterintuitive" I would be using it again here.) Who knew?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Ways to skin a hepcat"

The above phrase, the context of which we shall get to, is by Mark Sinker, semi-dormant link at right, one-time writer for the NME, one-time writer for and editor of The Wire, writer for Sight and Sound, of latter years appearing less frequently than we would like, a writer we always looked up to, someone who may be considered a more-low-than-highbrow but equally articulate English Adam Gopnik, someone who is able to draw together threads you had never thought of, and who regularly sends you off in directions you never expected to go, lover of Moomins, someone about whom Mark E Smith either did or did not write a song ("Mark'll Sink Us"), now masquerading around Freaky Trigger, The Poptimists, ILM and the like under the moniker P^nk Lord Sukrat Cunctor (go figure).

But why is he here? Because you can now read a piece of long-form writing by him responding to the death of Richard Cook, one-time writer for the NME, one-time writer for and editor of The Wire, whom I also, for many years, looked upon with awe and for crucial guidance (when I wasn't silently cursing his contrarian ways, viz. glowing reviews of The P*l*ce, of David Bowie's "Let's Dance"; it was so typical of him to take over The Wire and put Michael Jackson on the cover). Sinker writes typically astutely and candidly here of the nature of music, of writing about music, and of the perils of magazine editing. If you have ever been of the view that music criticism needs to be more than just a consumer guide, you would do well to go across and read it (hint: scroll down).