Monday, June 30, 2008

Things I Want To Say About "Kung Fu Panda"

1. I struggled to make the connection between Jack Black's voice and the panda. To me, something didn't gel.

2. That opening dream sequence couldn't have been made without the pioneering work of the Supreme Being of Animation, Genndy Tartakovsky. Who, unless I missed it, wasn't acknowledged at all in the film.

3. Jackie Chan.

4. It's not Pixar, but otherwise "Kung Fu Panda" compares very favourably to most recent children's animated films I have seen; it's a field that has suffered from overcrowding and consequent loss of quality control of late.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

More News From Nowhere

I can't read newspapers any more. The line, which ten years ago when I retrained as an editor was getting hard to distinguish, between news and opinion is no longer even recognisable as a line. Even the Fairfax papers, in which I have long placed my trust, have succumbed to the lure of the sensational. My own mental state, these days, is somewhat fragile, and any sensational news story, of which there are now plenty, involving oil prices, retirement savings, climate change, and general existential crisis, is likely to send me into a nosedive. Thus, I find myself holding my breath and crossing my fingers whenever I find myself anywhere near a headline.

At least I know where I stand with the New Yorker. One of the best pieces they have run of recent times was by Jonathan Franzen, who went to China ostensibly to find the people who made a fake puffin golf club cover, and found a country where growth has taken on a life of its own, and where fake-fur soft-toy animals are being made in places where fewer and fewer real animals can be found.

Franzen is a novelist, not a journalist, and brings to the story a novelist's eye for small details, a sense of the absurd, and a strong sense of irony. This is my favourite sentence:

"It was as if the gods of world history had asked, 'Does somebody want to get into some really unprecedentedly deep shit?' and this place had raised its hand and said, 'Yeah!'"

Franzen's story is about Chinese industrial growth, and the struggles of a small number of concerned individuals to have any impact at all on the destruction of the natural environment. In fact, what he describes sounds a bit like the world of "Mad Max 2", a few years before the time in which that movie is set, and without Mel Gibson and Bruce Spence.

It's all bad, really, and whatever destruction is wrought there will be (a) on an unprecedentedly large scale and (b) unconstrained by geopolitical boundaries. In other words, we all have a stake. Which gets me thinking: a good place to start would be the toys that come with McDonalds meals. All of which are, aside from those few that are bought by collectors, five-day wonders, and all of which are made in the same Chinese factories that Franzen was visiting. (Or at least similar.) So: they consume a ridiculous amount of natural resources; their creation merely fuels the destruction of the Chinese landscape (sell more toys; build more factories); they end up as landfill; and they exist only to lure innocent children into eating crap food. And yet kids love them. (We have a large container of the damn things under somebody's bed at our house; most of them acquired at school fetes and garage sales.)

In short, the sheer magnitude of what Franzen is writing about makes you wonder how much good replacing your light globes with compact flourescents can really do. So many things are conspiring to destroy the planet's equilibrium that it's impossible to see how disaster can be averted. But at least a couple of things are starting to bite: oil prices are actually starting to affect the way people think about car use; everything is getting more expensive, which puts its own brake on consumption; and if these things, coupled with Wall Street greed, serve to tip us into a prolonged worldwide economic depression then, in some ways anyway, so much the better (if not exactly fun for anybody).

And the newspapers, in their neverending search for the story of the moment, are now doing their bit as well. Which is where we came in.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Every man has his price

... and I seem to have found mine. I was not prepared to pay $25 for the last Air CD, "Pocket Symphony", mainly because I wasn't (and am not yet) convinced that it is any good. But I was prepared (and did) pay $10 for it, because of its provenance and pedigree, because $10 isn't a whole lot of money, and because I am prepared to entertain the possibility that it will be, as they say, a "grower".

Similarly, I wasn't prepared to pay in the vicinity of $30 for the wonderful "Andorra", by Caribou (he'll always be Manitoba to me), because I, ahem, had no need to; but when it appeared at JB Hi-Fi for $15 I grabbed it without a second thought.

This, perhaps, is anecdotal evidence that Radiohead, and now Girl Talk, are onto something: maybe we all do want to go legit, and for the right price we would be happy to. If that price differs for different people, then I think the glimmer of a solution could be coming into view: perhaps too small at this point for myopic major labels to recognise, but who knows?

Meanwhile, over at iTunes, the $US10 vs $A17 discrepancy gets wider as the exchange rate sits tantalisingly close to parity (and if you can buy a physical copy of, say, "Andorra" for $15 why would you pay $17 for significantly inferior sound quality, no cover art and no physical embodiment of the music anyway?).

Thus, by way perhaps of sending Apple a tiny message, I lashed out the other day on "Lucifer: Book of Angels Vol 10", by the Bar Kokhba Sextet, the most recent release in John Zorn's ongoing Masada fest. (By the way, everything about this record is exquisite. Zorn seems to be aiming for the Mother's Day market, here, what with this and the exceedingly gorgeous and not at all in-your-face recent releases "The Dreamers" and "Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse".) Tzadik CDs are expensive, so $16.90 on iTunes for a non-DRM copy at 256kps using AAC (AAC, to my ears, at least for jazz and like styles of music, is superior to MP3), or what iTunes calls "iTunes Plus", seemed like a reasonable compromise, and a nod to iTunes that I would buy more stuff from them if they offered more stuff in this form. On the other hand, I would NOT give them $17 for a DRM-controlled 128kps AAC version of "Filmworks XVIII: The Treatment", even though that will either force me to use "alternative methods" of acquiring it, or shelling out circa thirty bucks for the CD. Sheesh. Life is so complicated these days.

What are words worth?

I just used, in the one sentence, and without thinking, two words that I had no idea that I even knew:

1. Chapeau. (I didn't use an accent because I didn't know which one to use or where to put it.)

2. Lacuna. (The plural of which, but you already knew this, is "lacunae".) (Wasn't there a band called Lacuna Coil? Answer: yes. Discogs describes them as an "Italian Gothic Metal band". Which is kinda spooky because at this very moment I am listening to "Pilgrimage" by OM, who may not be Italian but are pretty damn Gothic Metal, and how often would I be caught listening to such aural sludge? (Nice aural sludge, but ...))

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Song of the day

"How Soon Is Now?", by t.A.T.u. Man, I have been wanting to hear this for the longest time. Once again reasons of history lead my critical faculties to fail me, so that I can't tell whether it's good or bad, but what I do know is that it's FREAKIN' AWESOME.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Song of the day

"Song IV", by Peter Zummo. Twenty minutes of tabla and trombone and, as an added bonus, Arthur Russell on cello. You could, I think, draw a line from this piece of music to the more recent extremities of Ricardo Villalobos. It would be a short and relatively straight line.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Song of the day

"(I Don't Need You To) Set Me Free", by Grinderman. Sometimes I have to do things backwards. Nick Cave's Grinderman project I took to be a letting off of steam, and after one listen I decided that I was too old to listen to Grinderman's kind of music, even if Nick Cave wasn't too old to, like, make it. But I could hear what its seeds had grown into on "Dig Lazarus Dig!!!", and I suppose I had no choice but to go back and do some re-planting. In retrospect "Grinderman", while it still sounds like a half-way house, is a remarkable collection of songs more or less documenting the kind of unrequited lust that I assume those around 50 years of age succumb to (unless you are, say, Pablo Picasso, or maybe Hugh Hefner - if the latter, in fact, gets any, or just swans around his mansion in his dressing gown, surrounded by scantily clad young females, because that's what he likes to do, and how weird would that be?). The song I have chosen, though, doesn't climb the walls like a horny and desparate lower primate, it is rather a straightforward slow blues, two chords only, the Grinderman boys lurching into a drunken vocal stumble during the fade.

And a query: Is Grinderman the only Nick Cave band-type thing that hasn't included Mick Harvey? The answer depends on whether Harvey was involved in the Immaculate Consumptive junkie-super-group. Which I don't know. Anyone?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Song of the day

"Love At First Sight", by The Gist. It's remarkable what gems are buried on eMusic, waiting to be ferreted out by keen puppies. For example, lying unseen next to the new James Blackshaw album (get it!) and the new Studio remix collection (ditto!) is a record called "Embrace The Herd", by The Gist, aka Stuart and Philip Moxham, aka two-thirds of Young Marble Giants, which was recorded not long after that band's break-up, in 1982. And while it can only be a disappointment by comparison with the colossal "Colossal Youth", on its own terms it is a very listenable album, which sounds if anything more modern today than when it came out, and which, in "Love At First Sight", contains what must be a candidate for my nascent list of Fifty Most Important Songs. Everything about this song is near perfect, especially the first appearance of the bass, a few bars into the song, at which point you know you are in expert hands. It is, not unexpectedly given its provenance, the bass that really drives this song, but the subtle use of other instruments and vocals takes it to, as they say, the next level.

(Postscript: I realise that I had previously blogged The Gist, with the observation, or query, whether Richard Thompson played on this album. He didn't. I was getting confused with "The Sound Of The Sand And Other Songs Of The Pedestrian", by David Thomas and the Pedestrians, which came out at a similar time, was also on Rough Trade, also included Philip (but not Stuart) Moxham amongst it impressive list of musicians, and for a short but intense time was the most important record in my life. The horn line from its reggaefied take on "Sloop John B" continues to invade my internal jukebox notwithstanding that I haven't heard it since approximately 1987.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gimme Indie Rock Revisited

A month or so back there was a discussion on Moistworks about the term "indie rock" and what it signifies today. It was an interesting, thought-provoking (and nostalgia-inducing) thread and I commend it to you. (Don't forget to read the comments: if you have time. As usual in an open discussion on the Internet, people with barrows to push keep pushin' them barrows, but if you stick to the core constituents - Brian, Alex, Carl, Douglas, Ben and Luc you can't go wrong.)

Last weekend I sat down and typed in excess of 1,000 words on the subject. That is not what you are going to read, but it at least gave me a chance to lance a good few thought-boils. In fact, I only have a couple of things to say about Indie Rock at this point. The first is that, to me, Indie Rock will always be Sebadoh and Pavement. I think those two groups, and more broadly perhaps the Homestead label, personify what was going on at the time when Indie Rock ruled the world (sorta). If it means anything today, and I doubt that it does (although a quick search of this blog indicates that it is an expression I use all the time), it means nothing more than a basket into which this record over here, and that record over there, can be thrown in together without one setting off an adverse medical reaction in the other.

Secondly, it has always surprised and baffled me how many of my favourite records, at least those from the post-punk era, came out on what you might as well call a "major label", or were distributed by one in this country (in other words, a major label appeared on the back cover of the record). The first three Wire albums. "Drums and Wires". "Entertainment". "London Calling". "The Correct Use Of Soap". "Trust". "Crocodiles". The first four Talking Heads albums. Heck, even John Zorn was first introduced to me through the string of albums he released on various arms of the WEA conglomerate: "Spillane"; "The Big Gundown"; "Spy vs Spy"; "Naked City". Not exactly "mainstream", then. Were these mere fleeting cracks in the time-space continuum, now closed over? Are there larger forces at work? (There are always larger forces at work.) In short, I don't think you can meaningfully critique a musician or a record on the basis of whether or not they are part of a major-label network, no matter how "indie" you choose to see yourself as. Like any arbitrary system, it ends up being an arbitrary system. Same with "alternative": alternative to what?

I think the moral, as Dylan said, and as always, is "don't follow leaders, watch for parking meters".

Now go about your business.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lucky find of the day

I stumbled upon this fantastic advertisement in the June 14, 1958 issue of the New Yorker. (If you right-click on the picture and open it in a new tab/window, it comes up really big, which is how you want to see it.)

Points to note:

1. We worship at the feet of Charles (and Ray) Eames.

2. If Alcoa was able to devise a solar-powered toy/sculpture fifty (yes, fifty) years ago, what exactly have we all been doing in the meantime? Why isn't it Solar On Everything in 2008?

(By the way, I also have a 15mb PDF of this ad. Bear in mind that it's from a scan of a magazine reproduction that used 1958 technology, but the quality is still rather good and the ad itself is, I would say, suitable for framing. Email if you want me to send it through to you.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Song of the day

"Bullets", by Tunng. Lately, a mutually advantageous three-way arrangement has been going on in my life. It works like this:

1. Somebody buys, or is sent, the most recent CD by Tunng.

2. That person, whoever they may be, takes that CD into the second-hand CD store in the centre of Canberra.

3. They, in their wisdom, price it five or six dollars below what they charge for other comparable new releases that come their way.

4. I find it and buy it.

This has happened twice now. Tunng's first album I found in the usual way (I call it "research"), having first become aware of them by way of their cover of Tim Buckley's "No Man Can Find The War". I soon became hooked. Each of the second and third albums were obtained, in corporeal form, by way of the abovementioned arrangement. The second album didn't affect me the same way the first one did. The third (and most recent), "Good Arrows", takes them right back to the top of the class. I suppose one has to label things these days, and "folktronica" is a term that could have been made for Tunng, with their blend of glitches and blips and an early-Fairport Convention sensibility combining in a seamless but unexpected (and fundamentally "new" – how often can you say that?) whole.

"Bullets" is a fine example of what they can do. Listening to the album again now, the song no longer stands out quite so strongly, but that is only because the entire album is so bloody good.

The lesson here, for me, is that I must dig out the second album again and treat it with the respect it most likely deserves. The lesson here for you is, I hope, obvious.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Song of the day

"Piano Tec", by Uli Teichmann. A slowly drifting cloud of almost-nothingness, this track reminds me strongly of Eno's "Music for Airports", especially its crucial track, from which so much else has followed, "1/1". I don't usually like things encroaching upon the music that I hold closest to my chest, but for something this lovely (it also, and not unrelatedly, evokes Harold Budd at his most languorous) I am happy to make an exception.

This was actually the lead-off track on Kompakt's "Pop Ambient 2006". In case you weren't looking, a slew of Kompakt releases have just appeared on eMusic, making the 75 downloads a month suddenly appear to be a rather small number.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Song of the day

"Who Built The Road", by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan. They may not be the critics' darlings, their ideas may not be entirely original and their influences may be obvious, but I could suffer to hear many more songs like this before I became bored and destructive. The pairing is perhaps as unlikely as the Screaming Trees/Beat Happening split LP from all those long years ago, but the voices are perfect and they fit together perfectly, and the entire feel of the enterprise is spot on. (Not to mention the font used on the front cover.) It could only be in a world where music is too free and easily obtainable that something like this could fail to ignite a spark of interest. (See also the wonderful album by She & Him, subtle and timeless, exquisitely arranged, and harking back to a time of youthful innocence (perhaps even that of your parents) when songs could just be songs, and "authenticity" was not a questionable concept. I miss the old days.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

John Zorn's "Filmworks": the saga continues

In which our brave correspondent analyses Volumes VII to IX.

"Filmworks VII: Cynical Hysterie Hour" is an absolute hoot. Twenty-three tracks, 28 minutes. It has backstory. It has important broader significance. It is the most fun you can have while keeping at least one foot on the floor at all times.

The backstory, as I understand it: this was released at the tail end of Zorn's relationship with Elektra Nonesuch. It appeared for, like, a couple of days, before it was withdrawn from sale, remaindered, deleted, whatever. Some years later, someone connected with Nonesuch, or its parent company, wanted to use the Knitting Factory, which for a while was Zorn's venue of choice, for a private function. It had already been booked for the night in question by Zorn himself. Result: the company got the venue; Zorn got his back catalogue; and everything became right with the world.

These pieces were recorded as the soundtrack to four episodes of a Japanese cartoon show. (Once again, you have to hand it to the Japanese.) This album, much more so than any of the other Filmworks, makes you want to watch the shows it was made for. They sound so perfect as kids'-TV music. But they also sound great on the headphones - as long as you don't want to concentrate on anything else.

The first six tracks, which soundtrack the first episode, amount to something of a star turn for Christian Marclay's turntables and Bill Frisell's banjo and atypically gnarly electric guitar. Tracks seven to eleven feature - get this - Robert Quine, Arto Lindsay and Marc Ribot on guitars. The music veers from punk snarl to a Morricone-like waltz to near-silence and back again. In five and a half minutes. There is even a really nice airy keyboard sound that I'm sure The Chills used around the same time, somewhere on "Submarine Bells", and which is surely due for a revival. Tracks 12 to 15 are quieter, string-based pieces, although Ribot is in there, as is Ikue Mori on electronics. The final episode, comprising tracks 16 to 23, are as insane as you would expect Zorn pieces with titles like "Stink of an Onion" and "Punk Samba" to be. This is the bleed I was referring to in my earlier Filmworks post, between the Filmworks and Zorn's many other hats. There is a clear line to be drawn between this music and, for example, the first Naked City album; "The Carl Stalling Project"; and "Spillane". It is a lot of fun.

"Filmworks VIII" is more serious. It is also perhaps the most satisfying of the first nine albums in the series, at least as a pure listening experience. It is divided into two halves; the first half is played by a stripped-down version of the "Bar Kokhba" personnel, with the addition of something called a pipa, a kind of Chinese lute. What you end up with might be called Eastern Europe Meets East Asia. The music, although Masada-like (but with an Oriental tinge), hasn't appeared on any Masada recordings, and the limited depth of my Zornology doesn't allow me to say whether this music pre-dated, and perhaps provided the spark for, the Masada avalanche, or whether it consists of unreleased Masada pieces, or whether it was written later (it was released well after the first batch of Masada albums, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything). In any event it is frequently gorgeous. The combination of bass, cello and violin, in particular, is something I could listen to for days on end. In fact, I have. (As a "bonus" you can play the melody line from "Shanghai" on one finger on the piano, while at the same time singing the words to an old Scottish song that may or may not be called "Ye Canna Shove Your Granny Off A Bus".)

The second half of the disc is a series of duo recordings of percussion and vibraphone. We like a nice, well-recorded vibraphone, my word we do. There are also several stretches of shimmering, almost aquatic, ambient percussion which obviously have film-accompaniment work to do but are entirely successful on their own.

"Filmworks IX: Trembling Before G-d", unexpectedly includes some of my favourite Masada pieces, done in a variety of styles and instrumentation (in fact, this disc can also be thought of as another in the series of Masada "recital" recordings). As is often the case with Zorn, you have the impression that the record started out with him thinking, okay, this person is available, or this instrument is one I haven't used before, or this combination of instruments; what can I do with it? (In the case of Masada, the answer being, write, like, 200 songs. And then write 350 more. Football commentators would call that a "work rate".) In this case, you can almost hear him thinking, hmmm, clarinet, that's an instrument I can put to good use; I know, I'll invite Jamie Saft and his box of tricks along. That might work. And of course it does. Although, in a typical Zorn gesture, the general calm is punctuated by a kind of Yiddish knees-up, "Simen Tov / Mazel Tov", featuring some kind of dinky Casiotone keyboard.

Next stop: "Filmworks X". The soundtrack to a film about a "voodoo priestess". Sweet.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Song of the day

"Hello Mister", by Ramases. You hear this song. It sufficiently causes you to prick up your ears that you determine to investigate further. You might say, when you discover who was involved, that you took notice of the song because it triggered some kind of recognition in the deeper recesses of your memory banks. But that would be spinning it. Because really, you had no idea that the bulk of the music was played by the people who would soon become 10cc. Or that it was released on Vertigo during that label's golden years.

There. Now you're interested.

Discogs has this to say about the person behind Ramases, Martin Raphael: "Martin Raphael had a vision somewhere in the mid to late sixties where the Egyptian Pharao Ramases informed him he was his new incarnation on earth and he had to inform the people about the truth of the universe."

And a bit later: "After the second album he faded into obscurity and is presumed to be death."

Which, grammatical glitch aside, is a very sad story. I need to hear the album this is from, "Space Hymns", with its of-the-moment, garish green-and-yellow cover, immediately.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oils Ain't Oils

Next up on the playlist entitled “Songs From Darren” is “Redneck Wonderland”, by Midnight Oil. Now, the Oils have never featured terribly high on my list of must-listens. In fact, aside from having a soft spot for “Bus To Bondi”, the only track of theirs I ever have a hankering for is the atypical, and Peter Garrett-less, “Weddingcake Island”, from the “Bird Noises” EP.

So, I have nothing whatsoever to say about “Redneck Wonderland”. But I will say this. Peter Garrett has long been one of the most recognisable of Aussie Rock Stars. (It’s hard to overlook a six-foot-plus singer with bald head, Akubra hat, charisma to burn and a dance that he seems to have learnt from St Vitus.) He made the decision to move into politics. He must have known that joining a mainstream political party would cause his personal beliefs, many of which are well known (and admirable), to clash with the party line which he would be forced to toe. And so it has come to pass. Thus far, Garrett the politician hasn’t filled me with confidence. He is trying, but he is also struggling. I wish him well, because his heart is so clearly in the right place. But, in what is a complete inversion of the well-known wannabe-rock-star admonition, I kinda wish somebody had said to him, “Peter, don’t give up your night job”.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Song of the day

"Converging in the Quiet", by Crystal Stilts. One of my problems with bands like Franz Ferdinand and the myriad other exponents of the Post Punk Revival style is that they tend to adopt the vocal stylings of their heroes (be it Robert Smith, Pete Shelley, that Curtis fellow, or whomever) and apply it to music that is bright, crisp and, like, "up".

That is not my post-punk, and it is probably not yours, either. The best p-p, for me, presented a kind of moody beauty, not exactly gloomy (although there was often that) but certainly not good clean fun, either. We are talking, here, about "Closer"; about Young Marble Giants; about certain songs on Wire's third album; even about the first couple of Echo & The Bunnymen albums. We are especially talking about "Pink Frost" by the Chills, one of, perhaps the, greatest record ever made. (For once I mean it.)

All of this is imagined, recreated perhaps, encapsulated certainly, by Crystal Stilts, a band that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere with a seven-song record of surprising depth, feeling and understanding of the heritage and tradition on which it draws. (We may also, in addition to the above reference points, note the nods contained in its grooves to bands like Beat Happening, and your shoegaze exponents of choice.) The instant highlight "Converging in the Quiet", which almost uncannily channels the feel of "Pink Frost" without diminishing what is important about that song. I almost never like songs that remind me of songs that mean a lot to me. Such is not the case here. It is not a song that draws any attention to itself. You are invited in, but only if you want to go.

The only possible negative is that structurally it does contain an echo of Pat Benatar's "Love Is A Battlefield". There, now I've spoiled it for you. (Although that is redeemed, and forgiven, by the echoes of "Closer" in the way it winds down, as if the life was being drained from it, in the final half minute.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Song of the day

"Trommelstunde", by Gabriel Ananda. Strange but true: hidden somewhere within this incessant ten-minute percussion-driven techno stomper there are echoes of "Trouble's Braids", by Tom Waits.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Playlist, March 2008

Well, we haven’t had a hypothetical mixtape for a while. This one has been sitting around since late last year, but if we call it “March 2008” it doesn’t feel quite so stale.

Bobb Trimble, “Glass Menagerie Fantasies”. Music hunting is a bit like archaeology, or wandering along the beach with a metal detector: you turn up large quantities of useless junk, and very very occasionally a hidden gem. If this really is a lost 1980s masterpiece and not an elaborate hoax (you never can tell these days) you have to wonder where Bobb Trimble went wrong. Putting a record in a cover featuring a photo of a morose (presumably) English young man nursing an electric guitar and a Kalashnikov may not have helped. But if this song is anything to go by, the music inside is gorgeous and brave. I might call it folk’n’Fairlight, which may not be technically accurate but perhaps gets the message across. Kate Bush is not entirely out of the equation. It reminds me a lot of a song by Sally Oldfield which I mentioned in these pages a little while ago.

Nina Miranda and Chris Frank, “Have U Ever”. The title suggests Prince. The music suggests Brazil, but it also contains some nice electronic squiggles underneath the heat haze. A candidate for Adrienne’s 2008 birthday CD.

The Would-Be-Goods, “The Camera Loves Me”. One of my lost seven-inch singles, missing since the horrific and senseless record cull of 1998. On el records, the marque of quality.

Mari Wilson, “Just What I Always Wanted”. Ah, this takes one back to Fitzroy, 1984, the era when beehive hairdos were all the rage, and Brunswick Street comprised a couple of Italian grocery stores, an old-style hardware store, the Black Cat Cafe, Dizzy Spinners (where I bought my first John Coltrane record), Fetish Clothing, and a general sense of inner urban malaise. Gertrude Street you didn’t go along at night; in the daytime, illegal gambling dens and dubious rooming houses didn’t quite reveal themselves (nothing on Gertrude Street opened to the street, at least without a tough-looking guy looming in the doorway). Boy, how that all changed. Mari Wilson exists in a brief moment in time. I suppose it must sound horribly dated nowadays; I don’t think I would risk recommending it to any of my younger acquaintances.

The Special AKA, “Racist Friend”. Eighties in sound and content, like the above, and yet timeless in both. In fact, one of said “younger acquaintances” wandered into my office at work while this was playing, paused, and said “Specials”. I could have hugged him. (I didn’t.)

Billy Preston, “The Same Thing Again”. Billy Preston was the other fifth Beatle. This is a gloriously laconic slow blues with a fine organ solo. We love a good organ solo. Listening to the lyrics always reminds me that Caravan once put out a record called “If I Had To Do It All Over Again I’d Do It All Over You”.

The Merseys, “Sorrow”. I didn’t even know “Sorrow” was a cover. Listening to this, you wonder why David Bowie even bothered: there isn’t much on his version (good as it is) that you don’t get from this. For sure the English did things well in the Sixties.

Marissa Nadler, “Cowboy In The Sand”. As well as putting out one of the better records of the last couple of years, Marissa Nadler keeps her internet friends happy by frequently dispensing demos and one-off bits and pieces that she is happy for you to keep. This, obviously, is her take on Neil Young, and it’s a fine thing, if very different from the original: dreamier; hauntier.

The Sadies, “My Heart Of The Wood”. A particular type of song gets me every time. This is that type of song. It’s not country, it’s not rock’n’roll, but it’s not not either either. We have quiet vocals, strummed guitars, a slide guitar or similar winding its way through it, and lots and lots of echo. I know where I am and I like it here.

Anja Garbarek, “I Won’t Hurt You”. This song, which I first discovered via Dunedin supergroup the Pop Art Toasters, has been covered by so many people that it must be considered something of a standard. I don’t know if this is the definitive version but it is intriguing, a bit mysterious, and very very lovely.

Pelle Carlberg, “Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls”. If there were any justice in the world this would be a summer radio anthem. (Maybe it was; how would I know?) This is jangling pop at its best; the lilt of the bass line, and the trumpet, and the bridge, all point to Belle and Sebastian (there’s even a spoken-word bit in the background towards the end that reminds you of the days when Stuart David was in the band), but hey, you can’t have too much of a good thing.

This time around, the last three tracks are of some length, and are all from the 1970s. The Seventies is a decade that has a reputation for bloated excess. None of these songs contribute to that reputation. They have no fat. Sometimes it just takes 10 or 15 minutes to get your thang across. Introducing:

The Outlaws, “Green Grass and High Tides”. A down-home take on the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today”. Or “Hey Joe” taken to its logical extreme (if it has one; even Soft Cell couldn’t break it). Or Crosby Stills Nash & Young if Neil Young had the licence to push their songs as hard as he pushed his own (circa “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”). This is a song to get lost in. Featuring one of the great Seventies guitar solos. Make that two.

Jay Mitchell, “Mustang Sally”. I am quite sure that this is the most remarkable song I heard last year. Unearthed by the estimable Numero Group label, it is from an album called “Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay”, and is far from the only jaw-droppingly good thing on the album (there is a version of the theme from “The Godfather” that has to be heard to be believed). Herein the funk is in full effect, with a rippling organ running, or meandering, right through it. Props to the drummer, too.

Min Bul, “Champagne Of Course”. If this year is the year of the bass player (or was that last year? Hey, every year is the year of the bass player), then 1970 must have been, too. They didn’t tend to do samples and loops in those days, so dude’s fingers must have been rather sore by the end of this. I feel your pain, fella.