Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday to Lego

Can I just say that I think our household has been responsible for a large part of Lego's financial recovery over the last 10 years. (Us, and that White Stripes video.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

what I like about electrelane

Late, but not too late, I own "No Shouts, No Calls", the fourth and, sadly, last (at least for now) Electrelane long-player. One thing about Electrelane is how remarkably closely, at this distance in time, they echo what was best about the whole post-punk idea. The sense of four people in a room making music for the sake of making music. The absence of the corporate. The urgency; the directness; the sense of "I can do that".

Another thing about Electrelane is the organic nature of their recorded sound. There is a real feeling that what you are listening to is four people in a room. Few, if any, instances of electrickery are involved. The drummer accurately conveys the sound of someone in the back of the room hitting a drum kit. Presumably because that is what she was doing. The guitars sound like guitars. It is as clean as it needs to be, and when it doesn't need to be it isn't. There is a palpable depth of field. In other words, it sounds more like Steve Albini or Jim O'Rourke than John McEntire. (Well, duh; their earlier albums were produced by Albini, as I am now reminded.)

And, of course, the most important thing about listening to Electrelane is the thrill; a thrill of the specific kind that vanished around 1991, the last moment in time when the world could have conceivably annointed the Cannanes as its saviour, and embraced Seattle instead. [Internal inconsistency alert: the Seattle thing may well have been in large part the catalyst for Steve Albini's prominence as a producer. Of course, it also facilitated Kim and Thurston's god-like status, which just goes to show that it's an ill wind etc.]

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Eighty-one: that's the number of days until the release of the third Portishead album. And still we will believe it when we see it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Song of the day

"Psycho Session", by Composite Profuse. It is four years now since I discovered that, hey, you could get music from the Internet. I have recently been going back over my archives, and this has caused me to wonder, is it me, or has the element of surprise gone out of the blogging lark? Admittedly, back in 2003 I was on a very steep, but hugely rewarding, learning curve. The law of diminishing returns has, no doubt, kicked in somewhere along the line. And perhaps I am suffering from download fatigue. ("Perhaps"???) But there are a lot of tracks in the archive that I would never have come across alone (and haven't come across subsequently) and which I would not part with for all the world. (The list is endless, but let's just say Chateau Flight's "Cosmic Race"; "Stuck (Superpitcher Mix)", by Contriva; "Compulsion", by Joe Crow.) A lot of them were pulled down from Woebot (RIP - the blog, not the man), Tom Ewing's lamented "PopNose" project, and Gabba. There are now many more places to find music; the industry has, by subterfuge or otherwise, gotten in on the act; and readers, fans, bloggers and musicians are almost visibly chasing each other around the web in ever faster, and ever decreasing, circles. It's tiring just to watch.

But today I downloaded from, and listened to, a track (from Gabba; you can still get it) called "Psycho Session", from a band called (incorrectly) Composite Prefuse. It takes me back to those Good Old Days, not only in the nature of the music but also in the thrill of hearing it for the first time. clarified the name confusion for me, and also indicates that this was a limited vinyl release of 300 copies. How, without the Internet, would I ever be able to hear that?

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Don't Like Mondays

Which may well be true, and, as this post is being published on a Monday, can in fact be confirmed. However, our purpose here is to mention "I Am Bob", a short film that showed on SBS over the weekend, in which Sir Bob Geldof, by playing himself as a surly, patronising and cantankerous old grump, actually manages to demonstrate that he has a sense of humour and therefore may not in fact be like that at all. (Either that or he thought it was a documentary.) The film takes place at a celebrity lookalike competition, where the real Bob (who is assumed not to be the real Bob but just another wanna-be) goes head-to-head with a not-real Bob (played, appallingly well, by David Bamber (aka Mr Collins from "Pride and Prejudice") sporting a headband - I can't remember Geldof ever actually wearing a headband, but it did add to the 80s verisimilitude) and loses when it all comes down to who wins a Bob Geldof trivia quiz, where the real Bob's not quite fast enough on the buzzer (but, again, is a good sport in answering in minute detail questions dealing with some less-than-flattering aspects of his life, even if he does end up questioning the compere's decision on the final question ("I didn't say that! I didn't say that!")). It is to be hoped that they show it again.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Song of the day

Sally Oldfield, "Hide and Seek". There is something intriguing about the way this song filters English folk music through a prism of late-seventies production and, particularly, disco. (Shudder.) Things to note:

1. She is the sister of Mike Oldfield.

2. The dude on the left.

Last thoughts on Bob Dylan

It's easy to forget this: in October 1962 Dylan was still playing in New York coffee shops; within the next three years and nine months, he had become the poster-boy for the "protest" movement; gone electric; recorded what must be the greatest six-album run ever seen; been called "Judas"; been feted in England; and had a serious motorcycle accident (well, something had to bring the madness to an end).

So, what were you doing three years and nine months ago?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Song of the day

On the day that we discovered that there exists a version of The Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love" performed by current heartthrobs The Bird And The Bee, how can that not be the song of the day?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Song of the day

I recently picked up "The Monstrous Surplus", the long-awaited (by me) new album from Marcus Schmickler's Pluramon alias. It appears, on first listen, to be a (relatively) straightforward collection of songs, although I am sure there is a lot more happening, which will only reveal itself over time. Schmickler, presumably coincidentally, is moving in a similar direction to Caribou. Here are a couple of first impressions: (a) if you cut out the vocals, the opening song, "Turn In", could be a new song by the Chills (and with that prospect remaining tantalisingly close but frustratingly far away, I'll take this for now); and (b) "Fresh Aufhebung" would appear to have invented a new genre, which I would choose to call progtronica (if nobody has the copyright on that yet).

But it is "Can't Disappear" that I keep coming back to. It sits so neatly with a number of my own personal cornerstones (viz., The Passions' "I'm In Love With A German Film Star", Strawberry Switchblade's "Trees and Flowers" and the Moir Sisters' "Good Morning How Are You"; meanwhile Julee Cruise does her best Noosha Fox impersonation) that I can't give it any kind of dispassionate analysis or perspective. What I do know is that I love it.

A Question of Temperature

We were in Melbourne (or at least nearby in Geelong) for some, but mercifully not all, of that city's run of forty-plus-degree post-Christmas days. If this is the future, you can let me off now, thanks. All thoughts were addressed towards finding the nearest available air-conditioned premises. And the media duly reported record levels of energy consumption in Melbourne on those days.

Aha, I said. Herein lies concrete proof, if such was needed, of my theory: a theory which is, essentially, a variation on the theory of the frog and the pot of water on the stove. (You know the one: put a frog in a pot of cold water and bring it to the boil and the frog will stay there until it dies; put a frog in a pot of hot water and it will jump straight out.) It goes something like this.

1. Consumption of fossil fuels is causing the planet to heat up. (This is, perhaps, the one aspect of my theory that is not capable of proof; but how much proof do you need beyond looking out the window? If we were to wait until this could be proved, it would be too late. Which is my fundamental point on climate change.)

2. As the planet heats up, more and more people, at least in the affluent West, are turning to domestic air-conditioning units in order to cushion themselves from hot days.

3. As more people install, and use, domestic air-conditioning units, consumption of fossil fuels, in order to run those units, increases.

4. As fossil fuel consumption accordingly increases, the planet continues to get warmer, and places like Melbourne experience more and more extremely hot days.

5. As the number of hot days increases, the number of people installing, and using, domestic air-conditioning units also increases, thereby leading to further increases in the consumption of fossil fuels, leading in turn to hotter weather, leading to more people succumbing to the lure of the air conditioner, which in its own turn ... well, you get the picture.

What I don't know is the extent to which domestic air conditioners are a contributor to global warming (as opposed to, say, the arrival of the motor car in large numbers in India and China), but if their use can be seen in a noticeable spike in the daily energy consumption of a large city like Melbourne they surely must be a significant contributor.

Far be it from me to call for any sort of a ban on domestic air conditioners. I don't like to ban things. (Public air conditioning I have no problem with; on its own, it should be able to be managed in a reasonably benign way, and if we didn't have such comforts in our own homes we would have to get out more, which wouldn't be a bad thing either. Car air conditioning, well, its use will presumably be self-regulated with further increases in petrol prices, which, by the way, I am happy to argue should be about four times what they are now, even in these expensive times.) But I think it's time we woke up to what we are doing, or to get out of an understandable state of denial (the consequences are too horrible to contemplate).

We might well be able to make ourselves more comfortable in our homes, but at some point we will all be feeling very uncomfortable indeed. We might be The People Who Air Conditioned Themselves To Death.

End of sermon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Films I saw

"No Country For Old Men" is tense like "Blood Simple" and bleak like "Barton Fink". It is beautifully shot and written but harrowing to watch. In short, another fine Coen Brothers movie.

"The Darjeeling Limited" just proves how lucky we are to have Wes Anderson movies to look forward to. Views may differ, but mine is that he can do no wrong. His films contain so much; it is a privilege to bask in his shadows. (I have no idea what that means.) Conclusion: the critics are not always the right people to ask about these things.

Song of the day

"BBC World", by David Kilgour. "The Far Now" continues to grow on me. It's a simple thing that David Kilgour does, but he does it so well that the greatness of individual tracks tends to sneak up on you.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Price Check Aisle Three!"

eMusic subscribers: on a simple cents-per-minute basis, James Blackshaw's 34-minute drone-and-guitar epic "Lost Prayers & Motionless Dances" wins the Value For Money Sweepstakes. That it also happens to be a gorgeously hypnotic slice of meditative post-Fahey, post-(Robbie)Basho sound-drift just seals the issue, really.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Italian Job

A long time ago - it must be at least nine years, given that that is how long we have been in Canberra - Gideon recommended to me the Aurelio Zen series of crime novels by Michael Dibdin. It is a recommendation I have picked up and run with. My summer reading this year included, or, more accurately, was, "Back To Bologna", the second-last of them (the final one had been completed, but not published, before his death, last year, at the age of 60, and I look forward to reading it anon).

Dibdin started doing funny things with genre a few books ago. "And Then You Die", for example, was Beckett's "Waiting For Godot" in the guise of a crime story. Likewise, "Back To Bologna" is more Keystone Cops than police procedural, a farce masquerading as a whodunnit, with a dose of tricky post-structuralism thrown in, thanks to the appearance of a thinly disguised Umberto Eco character, who gets it in the end (literally). Not unexpectedly enjoyable, but unexpectedly a hoot.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ludd Gang

Or: What We Did On Our Holidays.

For a few days in early January, we were very kindly given the keys to a very nice house on the river in inner Melbourne. It has the distinction of being the only house I have ever been in that has more Charlie Brown books than our house does. (It also has the most Doctor Who figurines and magazines I have ever seen outside a shop, which has sent Carl off onto his next most recent obsession. Thanks, Miles. Oh, and sharp kitchen knives. Thank heaven for sharp kitchen knives.) The house is not geared for scaredy cats such as us. It has all (post-)mod cons, everything that can possibly be remote controlled is remote controlled, and press-buttons do the most surprising and unexpected (and sometimes unwanted) things. We were all at sea, and hence probably made a few too many telephone calls to the owners.

During our stay, we only made one trip into the city, much to the boys' disappointment: "only two train rides? only two tram trips?". We dropped in on the Games Lab at ACMI, where all of us got to try out a few cutting-edge computer games, including a gorgeously whimsical piece of Czech animation called "Samorost 2". Thereafter we split up, and I was able to take in the Christian Marclay exhibition (the four-screen gunfire-percussion loop, featuring scenes from many movies, almost all of which involved someone firing or aiming a gun at you (the viewer as victim), was particularly confronting (and mesmerising), but there were lots of other good things; and to think I only knew of Marclay as a "turntable artist"), and the ridiculous-to-imagine Saint Nick Cave exhibition across the road, where you could look at Actual Nick Cave Notebooks, an Actual Nick Cave Desk and Typewriter, Actual Nick Cave Bookshelves, and many, many photographs of Actual Nick Cave, and listen to the Actual Nick Cave Voice commenting on the above, in his dry, verging-on-ironic/sarcastic manner. Unsurprisingly, you are left with the impression that he is somewhat bemused by the whole thing, and not taking it particularly seriously (although it is a serious exhibition, and entirely deserved).

We also spent a very memorable evening of a very hot New Year's Eve with good friends at the beach at Point Lonsdale, and took a run up to Ballarat, where I saw my cousin Max, whom I last saw at my mother's funeral, in 1993.

Miraculously, I got to catch up, briefly, with one of the most important people in my life, who I haven't seen since before we moved to Canberra, and who has been living in London for many years now but happened to be in Melbourne for Christmas and happened to ring us the day before we left home for the holidays, and whose time in Melbourne happened to overlap with our time in Melbourne by two days.

In other news, that man Darren insisted on filling the remaining space on my hard drive with (after deleting the few that I already have) 1,111 songs (Nelson with an extra digit), personally chosen to highlight my many weaknesses and blind spots (e.g., and particularly, my long-held aversion to all things popular, which I have since remedied but which has left a gaping void as a legacy). I intend to blog all 1,111, from top to bottom, on these pages, even though it will likely take several years to do so.

And, finally, what you have been waiting for:

"The Ball In The River": A True Story.

Somehow the boys talked us into buying for them from Studley Park Boathouse a bouncy ball each (we used to call them super balls; I don't know the current nomenclature). Next day, we were going for a walk along the edge of the river at Fairfield Boathouse when - as if you didn't know what's coming - Jules lost control of his ball and we watched it roll slowly but inexorably towards, and into, the river. In its own way, this was not unlike the end of the first chapter of Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love", with its runaway hot air balloon - although here nobody dies.

I have never seen anybody as distraught as Jules was. He ran after the ball to the edge of the river, but mercifully did not jump in. We could see the ball, which had become trapped near the bank, but just too far out for a very brave person (viz., myself) to reach, despite my best efforts at riverbank clambering. There was only one thing for it: we were planning to hire a canoe the next day for a Wind In The Willows outing anyway, so we instantly decided to bring it forward a day. What the heck; and Jules wasn't going anywhere from his watching post, so Carl and I hastily proceeded to the boathouse while Adrienne stayed with Jules, lest he decide to do something rash. After several rings of the boathouse bell, somebody deigned to take our money and issue some very rudimentary instructions about boat hire and safety.

I was not born with sea legs, and I have an unexplainable inability to tie knots (I am from a family of knot-tying professionals), yet somehow I managed to get Carl and myself into the boat, upright and facing the right way, preparing to light out for the territory, as they say, just in time to hear from nearby a small boy shouting the words "We got it, we got it". Somehow figuring out how to stop the boat from drifting away from the bank, I held it in place for Adrienne and Jules to join our little party. Their story was that Jules had used his, uh, piercing voice to hail a passing kayak, and after several attempts the ball (which, I might as well at this point add, would have been entirely replaceable for the very affordable sum of two dollars) was passed up onto the bank and into Jules's greedy hands, and thence to his mother's handbag, with strict instructions not to take it out until we were well away from any watercourse.

Our purpose thwarted (thankfully; I had no great confidence in my ability to retrieve the ball myself), we nevertheless, having paid for an hour of boating time, headed off upriver for a leisurely row, mercifully not putting too many other rowers (or ourselves) in too much danger, strengthening our arm muscles, picking up a bit of sunburn, and gradually getting our heart rates back to within normal range.