Thursday, October 30, 2008

Song of the day

"Hang On To Your Love", by Sade. I fell in love with the album "Diamond Life" when it was first released, in 1984. It wasn't like anything else around at the time, and, as is so often the case, that difference was what made it interesting (I think a similar case can be made regarding the immediate impact of The Smiths, but maybe we won't go there). But three years is a long time when you are in your early twenties, and by 1987 I was on a diet of Sonic Youth, and Husker Du, and Einsturzende Neubauten, and Minutemen, and, well, to say that there was no room there for Sade it a slight understatement.

But now it's 2008, and she has come back into my life. I thought this would, like much of the music of the middle 1980s, sound horribly dated, but to my surprise it doesn't. "Timeless", well, perhaps not quite, but there's nothing that ties it to a particular moment in time. It goes down like the finest Scotch. Okay, now that my credibility is in tatters I will shut up.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Song of the day

"Find My Ghost (Dntel Remix)", by Sally Shapiro. What the second remix CD of songs from Sally Shapiro's "Disco Romance" album lacks in big-name desk jockeys, it makes up for in the synth and drum-machine sounds of the early 1980s. And that is never a bad thing. SSL and Alexander Robotnick are channelling New Order. The Russian Futurists convert "I'll Be By Your Side" into a Magnetic Fields song (I'm not so sure about this, but then whenever I hear the original my heart melts, and I'm not sure there is any way to improve on that). Dntel go in a slightly different direction. It sounds of a piece with what little Dntel I have heard, but I like all of that, and I like this too. You get skittery, defocussed drum sounds, some nice dub inflections, heavily FXed vocals (some of which remind me strongly of something that just won't come to me - unless it's lurking in some obscure corner of "Hounds of Love", perhaps) and, in keeping with the eighties theme, some ever so slightly off analog synths that make me think of pre-"Dare" Human League.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Song of the day

"Another Knife In My Back", by One-Two-Three. Influences run back and forth: ABC's "Poison Arrow" draws on many sources, soul music and, more generally, the dance floor among them. The person who made "Another Knife In My Back" (viz, Bobby Orlando) must have listened to "Poison Arrow" at some point in its creation (the similarities are too strong to be coincidence). And in turn, this is the music, if not the specific song, that New Order must have been filtering when they wrote "Blue Monday" and, especially, "Confusion". Others with knowledge might be able to connect specific dots. I am only telling what I hear. New York. 1983.

[postscript: the more I look the more I find - firstly, it may or may not be a fact that New Order brought legal action against Orlando for supposedly borrowing the bass line from "Blue Monday" for a song he did with Divine, "Love Reaction" (also released in 1983); secondly, Jellybean Benitez mixed both "Confusion" and "Another Knife In My Back" - so I'm not just hearing things]

Monday, October 27, 2008

Statistical quirk of the day

I suspect that this piece may be playing fast and loose with the facts, but the idea of AC/DC as economic barometer is, well, curious.

I see it, but I don't believe it

Sitting in the fridge, at work, is a "tube" of Vegemite - that is, something that looks like a toothpaste tube and bearing the distinctive yellow-and-red colouring we have come to know and love. As someone who does not regularly frequent supermarkets, watch commercial television or peruse junk mail (JB Hi-Fi catalogues excepted) I must say that I was stunned to see this. Vegemite comes in glass jars. That's what it is and what it does. The glass jar and metal lid can be recycled. The minuscule amounts of Vegemite the purists recommend can be dispensed with precision by way of the end of a knife, and have been for countless (well, a few anyway) generations. Crikey. How many of our best scientific minds went into this Technological Innovation - which allows for any amount of wastage of the product (how do you stuff excess Vegemite back into the little hole?) and alleviates the pressure on bursting recycling bins by coming in non-recyclable plastic? What is wrong with a glass jar and a metal lid, I ask you. I must be getting old.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Song of the day

"Used To Be", by Beach House. A virtual seven-inch single appears as if from out of nowhere. It has a virtual "A" side, a virtual "B" side, and a virtual picture sleeve. (It cost actual money.)

I like that music no longer sees itself as limited, as was the case in the period between the demise of the vinyl single and the rise of the blog, to the dull and stifling cycle of the long-playing compact disc. Beach House have written a (in fact, yet another) fantastic song. Why should we, and for that matter they, have to wait for months to be able to hear and/or buy it?

Bonus: if you go here, you can watch them performing the very same song, live, surrounded by rocky Sydney coastline, using just voice, acoustic guitar, foot on bucket, and tambourine.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Filmworks: The Story Continues

Moving right along, we find ourselves listening, and listening, and listening, to John Zorn's "Filmworks XIV: Hiding and Seeking". I think I may have raised suspicions that by Volume XIII we were forming the view that the best of the Filmworks series was now behind us. Well, that (tentative) view has been well and truly scotched. This is an absolute cracker of a record. It needs no movie to go with it. It is a model of understated simplicity. Marc Ribot further cements his reputation as a genuine Guitar God. The mood is Iberian: from the cheeky flamenco handclaps that turn up at one point, to some stark, evocative Spanish guitar. (Remember the episode of "Thunderbirds" where Alan, having become a famous racing car driver, gets kidnapped and left stranded on a bridge which has been rigged up with a motion sensor device so sensitive that if he so much as takes one tiny step the whole thing will blow up, taking Alan with it? Well, maybe John Zorn does, too: the music here is very reminiscent of the music there.) And with the infusion of the music of the Gypsies into this kind of music, it is easy to see how Zorn might have got from Masada to here.

There is a good serving of vibraphone, which, as you know, we always like. And Zorn also uses the human voice, something that doesn't get much of a run in his work, except at the further-out end of the spectrum, viz., Diamanda Galas on "The Big Gundown" and Mike Patton on the three (with a fourth on the way, which also is going to feature Ribot; oh happy day) "Moonchild" albums. But this time the voice is floating gently down from heaven. (On further reflection, and this is from no position of knowledge whatsoever, it strikes me that another possible influence on this record may be the 1970s airbrushed soundtrack albums made by the likes of Francis Lai. I think I'm getting that from the voice, but I can't really say why.) Percussion and upright bass anchor the music, but rarely intrude.

Aside from a few brief minutes towards the end where things get just a little bit gnarly, it's hard to see how anybody could object to this music. On a blind listen Adrienne loved it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Home cinema

Some people have enormous televisions coupled with quintillion-speaker "surround sound" systems, with which they can watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters immediately they are out on DVD (if not sooner). We are not those people. Thus, our intention last night, having booked a babysitter, was to go to an actual cinema and watch an actual movie ("Wall-E", thank you for asking, although why two adults would be leaving the children behind to go to see a "children's" movie is a question perhaps best not asked).

Our plans were thwarted on account of the ten-year-old, at the end of the first unequivocally great school day he has had in several weeks, if not months, somehow managed to trip over his own feet and knock considerable chunks off both of his front teeth. A length of time at the dentist's, and concomitant delay and frustration, put paid to our night out.

So, instead, we rented John Waters' "Hairspray" (the one with Divine, not the one with John Travolta) and, after the kids had retired for the night and we were sufficiently over the nerve-jangling trauma of the late afternoon (there is no traumatic like parental traumatic), we threw a few beanbag chairs on the floor in front of the telly, augmented those with some couch cushions, and hit "play". It was our own private cinema. We called it "Vinyl Class". For a brief time it became "Crap Class", but "Vinyl Class", it seemed to us, was a better fit, and was, we felt, more "Stan and Adrienne".

The Wind From Nowhere

An impenetrable wall of wind sprang up in Canberra about 8.30 this morning and hasn't let up since. This, my scared and perhaps fevered mind tells me, is the future of weather on this planet, and I don't like it. In fact, it, like, totally freaks me out. Clearly, I read too many J G Ballard "novels" (many so prescient they might better be termed "premature histories") as an impressionable teenager.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Photo gallery of the day

This is possibly be best website I have seen all day. The name says it all really: The Brokers With Hands On Their Faces Blog. You have seen most of these photos before, but the cumulative effect is actually, surprisingly, quite powerful.

(Link is from James Surowiecki's new blog for the New Yorker: I was hoping this fellow would do a blog, what he writes in the magazine is always worth reading. Catch him while he is in the typical New Blogger Frenzy. He will run out of steam soon. They all do.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Song of the day

"It's All Right With Me", by Tom Waits. Tom Waits does Cole Porter in this possibly lesser-known Waits cast-off, taken from what I think was the first of the "Red Hot" series of AIDS benefit discs (of which I actually purchased one, "Red Hot + Rio", in (ahem) Milan, in 1996). Its sound is reminiscent of that on Waits' own "Frank's Wild Years" album, which, given the dates involved, is probably about right. Always remember that, as with Dylan, it's the songs that Tom Waits rejects that make Tom Waits the best. Or something like that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Darren Hit Parade - Part Nine

It lies somewhere between The Beatles and The Traveling Wilburys, so it must be George Harrison. And it is! "All Those Years Ago", to be precise. George was responsible for many of my favourite Beatles songs, and yet his solo career is, to me, an embarrassing black hole. It is a bit like loving the first two volumes of "Lord of the Rings" but never getting around to reading the third. Paul had all the hits. John had all the fame. Ringo became the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine (I haven't heard Ringo's solo records either). George just quietly kept on doing his thing, and like a fool I wasn't listening.

But this was, perhaps, his own fault: releasing a triple album as his first post-Beatles record raised the bar way too high, and after that there was no way for me to get a handle on George Harrison Solo. So I really don't have too much to say about this song, listening to it, as I am, in a vacuum only really intruded upon by faint memories of "My Sweet Lord". Of course, "All Those Years Ago" is a lovely song. It may not set the world on fire (those synths stick out like sore thumbs) but it also doesn't make me feel any better about having ignored him for so long. The first 25 seconds are the best; that is the period in which your brain says "Beatles!" "George!" And you smile.

Things Change

I am currently reading the August 25th issue of the New Yorker. That's, like, less than two months ago, right? There is an ad on the back cover. This is a part of what it says:

"Deciding where to invest your retirement savings can be pretty stressful. Put your mind at ease. With the AIG companies, you're tapping into more than 85 years of wisdom and expertise that can help make your retirement savings last."

And there you have it, a small piece of history, a snapshot of the world mere milliseconds before things fell apart. AIG? It now has squillions of dollars of public money from the United States government to prop it up. It may even have been a little bit naughty. All will, most likely, be revealed in due course.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Song of the day

"Before Hollywood", by The Go-Betweens. I think it can credibly be argued that The Go-Betweens never made a better album than the one that shares its title with this song [so that would be "Before Hollywood" then? - ed]. Sure, they got "better" than this, in the sense of developing a greater proficiency in their craft, but this album captures a band in the full flush of literate post-youth, oozing confidence, and with the world at their feet, and before the intrusion of the bizarre love quadrangles and other psychodramas that added a level of tension and underlying complexity to what came later. Much as had happened only a couple of years or so earlier in the case of another fine group of pop musicians from another, colder, country. Ha. The Go-Betweens and ABBA. Why had I not made that connection before?

Anyway, "Before Hollywood" (the song). I could have chosen any song from the album (and, as you know, will always choose "Cattle and Cain") but this is the one that came up on the iPod while I was out enjoying the lunchtime sunshine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Song of the day

"The Low Murderer Is Out At Night", by Low Motion Disco. One assumes that Low Motion Disco are the latest graduates from the School of Blatant Retroism, which previously brought you Studio, A Mountain of One, Dungen and Map of Africa. But even in that context, this is pretty darn convincing. It drifts along for a while in a B*l**r*c haze, before turning into something that Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac might have been proud of. So ignore the who and the where, and just enjoy the what. (Warning: drugs may have been involved in the making of this record.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Song of the day

"Drain Cosmetics", by Serena-Maneesh. Being the first song on S-M's 2005 debut self-titled album, and being also an adrenalin rush of the best kind. S-M are clearly enough working to a template, but it's a fine and time-honoured template that, in the right hands (as it is here), can produce startling results. What they are doing is playing at the numerous edges of the melody-vs-noise spectrum. Precursors are The Jesus And Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 (never more directly than on this track), My Bloody Valentine (ditto), Husker Du (often overlooked in this context, and I could never understand why, unless it's the naff production that their best records struggled to emerge from), Band of Susans (hands up if you remember Band of Susans) and Sonic Youth. You can name others. The point being that this is a big, beautiful album, one that you can lose yourself in over many listens. And it's from Norway, which may be the first time I have used those words on this blog.

"I'm looking for things that make chords sound good"

Go here to watch the first part of a Pitchfork interview with Laetitia and Tim from Stereolab. Go on. You know you want to.

(Note in particular Laetitia's interesting choice of disc for someone just starting to investigate the 'Lab's catalogue.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Song of the day

"Money", by The Flying Lizards. (What else?)

On Friday afternoon I suggested to Adrienne that she pull a couple of hundred dollars out of the bank "just to be on the safe side". Well, the previous couple of days had seen global financial madness on, I suspect, an unprecedented scale, and with an entire weekend for all kinds of monetary sores to fester and, perhaps, erupt (sorry), it seemed to me about the only form of insurance we could take out. We also paid all outstanding moneys on our credit card, and so for a wondrous period of about 15 hours we were Debt Free.

I know (and knew) that I was being ridiculous (what, we were going to Rule The World on two hundred dollars in cash?), and that it was totally unnecessary. But so was what Kevin Rudd did yesterday afternoon in guaranteeing Australian bank deposits. So I figure that Kevin and I are about even now.

And speaking of things spiralling out of control, we sat down with the boys to watch "Mousehunt" yesterday. That is a completely insane, but oddly compelling, film. The mouse is clearly the star of the show, but it also features Nathan Lane, best known to me as the voice of the Littles' cat in the "Stuart Little" films; and Lee Evans, who was great in Peter Chelsom's underrated "Funny Bones" and who we don't get to see enough of these days. (I was going to say of Peter Chelsom "Where is he now?" but OMG he's directing "Hannah Montana: The Movie". Oh well.)

Falling Man

Now I feel even more stupid than usual.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Song of the day

"Fledermaus Can't Get It", by Von Südenfed.

On the one hand, this song demonstrates, if proof were needed, the undiminished charismatic POWER of Mark E Smith.

On the other hand, it sounds like somebody's uncle, blind drunk, wandered into a huge warehouse dance party (do they still have those?), took over the microphone, and started ranting about things of which only he was aware, and everyone was too polite to do anything other than pretend, uncomfortably, that he wasn't there at all.

Which, of course, may be exactly what happened.

Wall Street Village Day

We like our ironies delicious, and they don't come much tastier than the distinct possibility that George W Bush will be remembered as the President who presided over the nationalisation of America's banks.

As this crisis continues, the speeches and "comments from spokespersons" coming out of the White House convey only the impression of a very uncomfortable man who just wishes it were January so that he could get the fuck out of there. There are still three months to go, Georgie boy. Squirm on.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ooh look! Dorothy sweared!

I have been listening to the most recent New Yorker "Campaign Trail" podcast. Dorothy Wickenden, whom I have become rather fond of during this otherwise interminable US election campaign, quotes Chris Rock as having said: "George Bush has fucked up so bad he has made it hard for a white man to run for president."

I hope he actually did say that; it's rather good. I also hope he's right (and that he was thinking about one white man in particular).

Time Passages

In 2008, your iPod can take you straight from "Promises", by Buzzcocks, to "Go Your Own Way", by Fleetwood Mac, without you even batting an eye. Whereas back when they were both new, the gulf between them was wider than the Atlantic Ocean. What's with that?

Random Walk

It is, perhaps, appropriate that, in the middle of this strange but compelling exercise in global financial mayhem, the next song to struggle up to the surface of Darren's Pile of Songs is by a group called the Rogue Traders. The song is called "Way To Go". It has the heaviest guitars I think I have ever heard in a pop song. It's a bit like listening to the Stooges mashed up with, I don't know, let's say Girls Aloud. (In fact, the Soulwax people once did a similar thing to startling effect, squashing "No Fun" into Salt'n'Pepa's "Push It". Or perhaps it was the other way around.) Come to think of it, this song does remind me of "Push It", for reasons I can't quite put a finger on. It also borrows, rather well, from New Order's "Blue Monday". And there's a hint of Cheap Trick synth in there as well. In other words, what's not to like?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Song of the day

"Pensive Aphrodite", by Harold Budd and Clive Wright. Some people I know regard listening to Harold Budd as roughly as exciting as watching concrete set. They may have a point as a statement of fact, given that his music doesn't actually "do very much", but aesthetically they couldn't be more wrong. Budd works with mood. It is not fair to lump him in with purveyors of "New Age" music, because he strikes very strong emotional chords in his music, and not always comforting or "nice".

He also, for the most part, works in pieces of short duration, around the five or six minute mark, and this perhaps doesn't always play to his strengths. Ten or a dozen similar-sounding tracks over the length of a CD isn't necessarily going to make him a lot of new friends. But occasionally, as on the title track of "Lovely Thunder", and now with this brand new track (thank you eMusic for allowing me to download the new album, "A Song For Lost Blossoms", before it physically existed; I believe that happens today), he really stretches things out: here, to a length of somewhere over half an hour, and this compounds pleasure upon pleasure. This is music that drifts, and drifts, and then keeps on drifting. In Clive Wright (about whom I know nothing) he seems to have found another excellent foil. Wright adds the kind of atmospherics that Eno used to give to him, but with guitar (albeit drenched in FX much of the time). The ghost of Frippertronics hovers just outside of the frame. "Pensive Aphrodite" is perfect for late-night listening. If only we had a fireplace.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Great Depression

My parents were born in the 1920s. They were children during the Great Depression* of the 1930s. Hence, I have lived my life in the shadow of those dark times. So the present crisis feels strangely comfortable. Not in the sense of It Feels Good, but in the sense of I Recognise This.

It was interesting to overhear a couple of youngsters in the National Library's cafe a few mornings ago, talking about how people of their generation have never seen anything like a depression, and that they didn't know how they were all going to cope. It's a good question. Looking back at the degree of self-sufficiency that my dad and his brothers were capable of, it is quite amazing what skills have been lost in the space of a couple of generations. Heck, I have it on good authority that there are people out there who don't even know how to cook, let alone how to grow some basic produce, darn socks, patch trousers, and all the many other things that come with not having any money.

But might there be a silver lining to an absolute economic meltdown? You would almost have to be the kind of person who believes things happen for a reason (unlike, say, me, who believes only in the utterly meaningless randomness of existence) to think along these lines, but this is how it would go:

1. All the money evaporates (if it hasn't already). Bosses can't pay their bills or their workers. Everybody gets laid off. Machinery shuts down. People have no money for petrol. Planes stop flying. Nobody buys anything. Result: nobody makes anything.

2. The positive spin-off of this is that consumption of fossil fuels dramatically falls, more so than it would have under any scheme (national or international) that would have had any scope of succeeding.

3. Climate scientists pinch themselves, then realise that global warming projections can be revised, for once, in a favourable direction.

4. In a bid to get the wheels of industry turning once more, governments the world over engage in a co-ordinated New Deal type of arrangement, whereby huge sums of government money are ploughed into alternative energy schemes and energy-efficient infrastructure developments. So that when those wheels start whizzing around again at full speed (as they inevitably will), they will be spinning on green technology.

Like I said, you would have to be crazy to believe in something like that. But sometimes, as they say, being crazy helps.

*And just because it was called the "Great Depression" doesn't mean that it was a one-of-a-kind event, never to be repeated. What we know as the First World War was known, until the next one broke out, as the "Great War", or the "World War". It wasn't, as far as I can see, until a couple of years into World War II that the New Yorker, which we trust in most things, started calling the earlier one the "first World War", and then with the word "first" in a somewhat hesitant or provisional lower case. So, by the time we work through the present crisis, who knows, the Great Depression might have been renamed the Little Dip.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Song of the day

"Boom Shacka Laka", by Hopeton Lewis & The Chosen Few. (Also known as Track Six on Disc One of "Don Letts Presents... The Mighty Trojan Sound".)

And don't the kids just love it.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

After The News

It's kind of reassuring how quickly things get back to normal. Within hours after the US Congress passed the $700 billion financial-crisis package, the leading story on the BBC News website was about O J Simpson.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Little Man

Like us, you have probably been wondering what Chester Brown, comic book artist, has been up to.

Well, aside from running for the Canadian Parliament (fact!), Chester has been doing some zombie posters to promote the arts in Toronto, which can be viewed here.

Now, if he would only get back to doing those bible stories ...

(links courtesy drawn & quarterly, and speaking of whom, this is waiting for us to pick it up; oh happy days)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bye Bye Baby

George W Bush has been a bad President. A bad, bad President. Exactly how bad is clearly enunciated in this lengthy editorial by "The Editors" of the New Yorker magazine, the mere existence of which, let alone its content, indicates how seriously we should all be taking this moment in history. (Once again, it seems clear to me that it should be everyone who doesn't live in America who should be choosing the American President.)

Leaving aside domestic issues (although some of those are also relevant to the rest of us: witness the fallout from the Wall Street financial crisis, a crisis that happened purely and simply because it was allowed to happen), here is my little list of what was wrong with the Bush Jr Years.

Iraq. Someone flies aeroplanes into landmark US buildings and the Administration responds by invading Iraq. It was like saying, These guys over here did this terrible act; therefore I'm going to beat up that guy over there.

Torture. A clear message has been sent to dubious rulers everywhere that when it comes to torture and other breaches of human rights, the ends justify the means so just shut up okay?

International institutions. Just how important did Bush Jr consider such important global forums as the United Nations to be? Take a bow, John Bolton.

Environment. And finally. And finally. As the world in the past eight years has come to recognise what a mess we have been making of our planet, and what is required to be done to clean up that mess, and how urgently, the Bush Jr people have applied themselves with all the resources at their disposal to Shut The Scientists Up and to pretend that it isn't happening, and if it is happening it's nothing to do with us, and anyway if it does happen America will be better placed to survive it than anyone else so it's all a Win Win really so bring it on.

Thanks for listening. This has been another Farmer In The City Community Service Announcement.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

YouTube of the day

Look, ma, it's a new song by Grace Jones. Yes, Grace has returned, and she's ready to scare the pants off a new generation of adolescent males.

The song itself sounds not unlike Massive Attack circa "Mezzanine", which is no bad thing.

Song of the day

"Sugarcube", by Yo La Tengo. The good thing about delving back into the Yo La Tengo archives is that you get to remember songs like "Sugarcube", a song which, in a fairer and better world, would have been a huge summer breakout hit. Except it never would have been, because, y'know, it's Yo La Tengo, and they're never gonna have a huge summer breakout hit in a million years. Although that doesn't explain why not. It just isn't. Going to. Happen.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

White Noise

If you felt that you had to read somebody's observations on the US presidential campaign, it might as well be Don DeLillo, "Master of Postmodern Literature" (it says there).