Friday, September 25, 2009

Song of the day

"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow", by The Shapiros. And speaking of Bart, there is a curious reference in the third paragraph of this review. Could it be? I'm sure there are tens of thousands of twee bedroom bands to have recorded this song. Aren't there?

One the one hand, the reviewer could have been a little bit kinder. These are not just some disembodied sounds coming out of a speaker: there are HONEST, DECENT PEOPLE behind the making of the record. ("We" critics tend to forget that.)

On the other hand, it's nice to think that this particular version of what is a great song might be getting played in London pubs in 2009.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Product placement

This from the ever-reliable Harper's Weekly Review:
A North Carolina man had surgery to remove a plastic spoon that had been in his lung for two years. “There was an object down there, and it had writing on it,” the man said. “It spelled out 'Wendy's' on one side and 'hamburgers' on the other.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Song of the day

"Sorry Lori", by Jason Collett. Another George Harrison sighting: this time in Canada. Some very lovely Harrisonesque guitar is all over this sweet little number. Jason Collett is a member of Broken Social Scene. So, it would appear, is a majority of the Canadian population. Well, good luck to them all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Have I already told this one?

Once upon a time I was a boy living on a farm. My father operated the dairy-farm side of things, and my two uncles, Jack and Charlie, ran a few beef cattle, tinkered with fences and machinery, cooked up a storm, and otherwise kept pretty much to themselves. For the early years of my life they lived on a separate property, in a house on a hill halfway between our part of the farm and the town of Fish Creek. When they sold that property, they moved into a house at the other end of the remaining property from us. Uncle Jack concentrated on his cooking and on collecting an unfeasibly large collection of spare parts, nuts and bolts, old solid-state radios and the like. Uncle Charlie took on the role of weed destroyer, trooping through the many areas of untrammeled bush on the property, poison bottle and mattock in hand. He systematically worked his way from one end of the farm to the other over a period of several weeks, and would then start again, a bit like the blokes who paint the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

But there is one corner that he must have missed.

One day he came into our house in a state of some excitement. "I've found somethin' over in the bush near the Pollettis'. I think it might be" -- and here I must write the word as it was then pronounced, not as it is spelt -- "marry-jew-arna". At which point my teenage ears pricked up. "We better go and have a look", my dad said. I kind of quietly tagged along. There had been a spate of dope-related incidents involving some of the high school teachers that I actually liked, and of course there were references always appearing in my beloved NME, and on 2JJ, and in the records I owned, so I thought there might be something to be gained by being in the presence of the dreaded weed.

I knew our end of the farm like the back of my hand, but the part beyond the edges of the dairy paddocks was less familiar, as I spent much less time there. They seemed to go on forever, and the layout was confusing, so even now I'm not entirely sure where I was, but eventually we walked through a bit of bush I had never been in before, and there before us stood two circular groups of marijuana plants, looking thin and healthy, well leafed (if that is a word), and standing, at least this is how I remember them, about seven feet tall. There were buckets and a hose nearby. The plants clearly hadn't finished up there by accident, and nor were they suffering from neglect. Over by the boundary fence, there were well-worn track marks along the Pollettis' side, leading along the fence for a while and then across a paddock to a road. We surmised that the owners of the plants, our unknown and uninvited tenants, were regular users of those tracks, coming in, tapping into a water supply somewhere nearby (there are several stories from my youth on the farm that involve illegal tapping of the water mains), most likely a trough on the Pollettis' property, and then climbing through the boundary fence to check on and keep the water up to their crop.

"We better tell Duffus", Charlie said. "We better talk to Jack first", dad said. Nobody ever did anything without talking to Uncle Jack first. Duffus was the local policeman. He was duly told, and turned up a bit later that day with a couple of other coppers whom I didn't recognise, most likely from Foster, to inspect the merchandise. Unsurprisingly, dad and my two uncles were fairly quickly ruled out as suspects. On reflection I was probably a much more likely suspect, but if there was any heat on me I didn't feel it. The crop was unceremoniously pulled up and removed from the farm, never to be seen again. I imagined a phalanx of heavily armed policemen laying in wait in the far reaches of our farm for the unsuspecting marijuana farmers to return. But the cops seemed to be more interested in destroying the dope (or possibly keeping it for their own use) than in catching the culprits. I also wondered if the enterprising growers, upon discovering the destruction of their hard-won cash crop, might not reasonably have suspected the involvement of our family, and if we may have soon found ourselves involved in some kind of drug war, but I had probably been watching too much television.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Song of the day

"Dream Surf Baby", by Adventures In Stereo. This could easily be passed off as The Sound of Young Brooklyn, circa 2009. But it isn't. It's the Sound of Young Glasgow, circa 1998. Haven't heard them cited as an influence (unlike, say, Black Tambourine), but the similarities in sound and approach are undeniable. Several times a song from "Alternative Stereo Sounds" (thanks Bart) has come up on the iPod and I have thought, "I didn't think I put the Vivian Girls on here." I was right. I hadn't.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Song of the day

"Nutbush City Limits", by Bloodloss. Crazy, man. Crazy. One listen to this song (20 years old but still packing a remarkable punch) puts me in mind of about 100 other songs of the era. "Custom Credit". "In The Raw". Who will mount the argument (it won't win, but the result might be closer than you would think) that Australian music at the end of the 1980s was stronger than it was at the start?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

By Chance

After another slightly hairy weekend, it was a nice surprise to turn a corner in the National Portrait Gallery and be met with the Jenny Watson oil paintings of Grant, Lindy and Robert that were used for the front cover of The Go-Betweens' "Send Me A Lullaby" album (which can be viewed here). They aren't much bigger than they appear on the record cover. Small but perfectly formed. They might be hung way too close to a rather grim Reg Mombassa self-portrait and a series of individual photos of the members of Sherbet ("Darrrrryyyyyylllllll!!!!!!!!!") but you can choose to ignore those.

The Gallery has a few musicians hanging from its walls: Paul Kelly reduced to black t-shirt and piercing eyes but still instantly recognisable; Chrissie Amphlett painted by Ivan Durrant (I quite like Ivan Durrant's paintings, except they are like a very rich slice of cake: you can't have too much of it at one time without making yourself sick; not unlike Jeff Koons I suspect); and the real drawcard of the gallery, Howard Arkley's painting of Nick Cave, done in what I can only describe as "high junkie" style, perhaps proving the old schoolyard adage "It takes one to know one".

People Who Died

RIP Jim Carroll.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The cow in the creek

My father always knew if there was a cow missing. I don't know how he did this. There were quite a lot of them, and they all looked more or less the same. But he would, perhaps not with one fleeting glance over the herd, but after a day or two of going about his usual business, be able to say with absolute certainty that "Number 203 has disappeared", and that we had better go and have a look for it.

And so, off we went, him driving the tractor, me standing on the carry-all (a kind of wheel-less trailer attached to the back of the tractor), hanging off the back using strands of hayband knotted to the front of the carry-all, pretending to be a world champion surfer or something, and never once thinking that perhaps the knots might not hold and I might end up on my back in a puddle of mud or cow poo. Or maybe I was driving the tractor while dad gripped the front of the carry-all with tense white knuckles, smiling through gritted teeth and keeping his fingers crossed that I wouldn't drive us over a cliff or some such thing.

Anyway, this one particular cow had been missing for a few days, and we had searched and searched with no success. Dad was starting to wonder if perhaps she hadn't somehow escaped into the neighbouring property. But no, they hadn't seen her. So dad went about his daily routine, but quietly, as was his way, keeping half an eye out for our lost Bessie. Or Mabel. Or "Number 359". And it was only a couple of days until that quiet half an eye lit upon a rather unusual sight. So unusual, in fact, that he interrupted what he was doing to come back to the house and say, "You had better come and have a look at this." He wouldn't say what it was (which was not unusual; he never said more than was necessary).

We headed down to one of my favourite places on the farm, a narrow overgrown track at the foot of a steep bluff and running alongside the creek that ran through the property, not far from where a platypus had once allegedly been seen. Walking along, I was wondering what he could possibly have to show me down here. It was a place for standing still and taking in the absolute quiet of the farm, not a place for things that needed "having a look at".

"What can you see?", he said, looking through the thin stand of creek-side blackwood trees. I looked.

"Nothing, dad", I replied.

"You're not looking hard enough."

I looked again. I was starting to feel a bit silly: I really could see nothing. "In the creek", he said helpfully.

And there, standing in the middle of the creek, was the missing cow. Dead, and yet standing upright, as if enjoying a peaceful bath.

"What?!", I exclaimed, not quite registering what I was seeing. Adopting a Sherlock Holmes-like persona, dad ran through the likely circumstances of the cow's demise, as well as he could reconstruct them. There had been rain a few days earlier, and the creek had suddenly gone from a trickle to a flood, which often happened. The cow must have been walking through the creek, which was something they could do when the creek was low (although obviously such activity wasn't encouraged), and got its leg caught in one of the many fallen trees that lay like traps on the creek bed. The flood then came up and the cow drowned. That would explain why she was still standing up: if she had got stuck and starved to death before the flood, she would have fallen over (plus, that would have taken a while, and dad would have realised she was missing much earlier than that, and his eagle eye most probably would have been able to discover her plight before it was too late).

It was a remarkable sight: disturbing, but not without a kind of serene beauty, or grace, or even majesty. I kept waiting for her to turn her head, or swish her tail, or at least say "Moo". The poor old cow.

She had also left dad with a problem. Normally, dead livestock would be removed from the property, or at least taken far away from the working dogs and burned (dogs being attracted to dead cows' guts, in which lurk certain substances that are, unfortunately, fatal for dogs). In the absence of any idea of how to get her out, and given that her semi-submerged state would keep her safe from dogs, dad thought the best thing was to let nature take its eventual course. Which didn't take long: soon, the cow had collapsed and disappeared under the water, where some vestige of her perhaps still lies.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The latest thing from England

The place: a wind-swept and lonely bus stop in Canberra's "parliamentary triangle" (kind of like a love triangle but without the love). The time: a late-wintery dusk.

The 5:40pm bus to Woden either had been cancelled or was running early. (I hate it when buses run early. It means most people will miss it, and that means the next one will be late and/or overcrowded.) Thus the lonely public-transport user (i.e. me) had time to listen to the entirety of the debut album by The xx, called "xx". Even in the unregulated critical Wild West of the Internet, the hype bestowed on this record has been remarkable. There is no way that the thing itself could live up to it. And, unsurprisingly, it doesn't. Quite. A good record, yes, by a bunch of kids who have done their homework and seem to have a healthy but not overbearing degree of self-confidence and belief in what it is they are trying to do. But, really, at this point in my life (and perhaps this is a generational thing: I wonder, now, although I didn't wonder then, how people who grew up with the likes of The Byrds and Credence Clearwater Revival responded to R.E.M. and the paisley underground of the late 1980s) if I want to hear something that sounds like, let's say, Young Marble Giants, early New Order, and the production work of Martin Hannett, I would much rather go back to the things themselves.

So, yes, there is much to admire here. Brevity, for a start. It is one of the interesting developments of this era of everything-is-free-if-you-want-it music consumption and limitless storage that long-playing records (or the digital equivalent) are getting shorter rather than longer (Oneida three-disc concept whatevahs notwithstanding). It's like, now that they are not limited to 80 minutes bands no longer feel the need to record enough music to fill the space available. (I wonder how someone like Stereolab would have responded to that?) This is undoubtedly a Good Thing. Many of the best records of the late seventies / early eighties were EPs and what used to be called "mini albums", generally two or three songs per side. They weren't easy to market, but they enabled a band to cut away the fat. The Reels did two brilliant examples, one in particular ("Pitt Street Farmers") is as good as anything in their esteemed discography. The Triffids had "Raining Pleasure" (and also "Lawson Square Infirmary", by the non-existent group of the same name, which contained a Triffid or two). Internationally, the "Snake Charmer" supergroup (my first exposure to Arthur Russell, tho' I didn't know it at the time), the Meat Puppets and R.E.M. come to mind. It was a pain to have to get up and turn the record over after ten minutes but everything that requires movement is a pain when seen through the eyes of a teenager.

Brevity, then, and simplicity (in the sense of absence of undue complexity). These are hard to pull off. And The xx do pull them off. It's not their fault that the incestuous and insular world of the music blogger has showered them with impossible garlands. But it's hard not to take a deep breath and shout: "GET REAL". 4.5 stars? 9.5 out of ten? Huh? It seems to me that the high points scores are being given out on the basis that (and they may well be right about this) it is a remarkable record for a bunch of 19-year-olds. But if that was a legitimate criterion, its unavoidable corollary is that, if I was sufficiently able to get myself together to write, play, record and release a CD (the "if" in that clause is doing a power of work), I should get an automatic ten stars, irrespective of how awful it would undoubtedly be, simply because I am crap at everything. The review would go something like, "This is an absolutely remarkable record, coming from a guy who is a complete dick at everything he does. Ten stars." Good for me, but, honestly, I wouldn't buy it.

Reality check: "xx" is not a bad first effort. Maybe one day they will grow into something beyond their influences (or their parents' record collections). I like the sound of the guitars. I don't much like the guy's singing voice. Picky picky. I suppose I would much rather kids today were listening to this than, I dunno, gangsta rap (does that still exist?), but there is, really, a fair amount of reinventing of the wheel going on here. Lucky it's a stylish kind of wheel, I guess.

Given the length of the record and the infrequency of Canberra buses, not only was I able to get through all of "xx", but I was also able to sneak in the first few songs of Tiga's new album, "Ciao!". Now, there's an album that has learned the lessons of New Order and applied them in all sorts of interesting, and fun(!), ways. "Shoes": is that the best song of 2009 or is that the best song of 2009?

Song of the day, circa 1975

"Dreamers", by Supertramp. I haven't heard this song for many a long year, but when I was 11 or 12 years old I listened to it over and over, thanks to my "exotic" and "sophisticated" Melbourne cousins. (It has actually aged pretty well. Some of their other songs haven't.) I wonder if my fascination with this song back then has something to do with my present obsession with the sound of the electric piano.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Song of the day

"Manchild", by Neneh Cherry. Just the latest in a continuing series of "Songs it has taken me half of my life to realise I cannot live without."

Monday, September 07, 2009

Song of the day

"Tensile", by The Clean. I listen to a lot of songs. I listen to a lot of songs that I have never heard before. I should, by now, be unable to be surprised. But this song surprised me. As in, What? This is The Clean? Closer inspection reveals certain indicators of The Way The Clean Do Things, but for a band to drift so far away from their roots at an age when most musicians would be starting to think about the attractions of the supper club circuit is admirable. The song might be a distant cousin of a Bats song, "For The Ride" perhaps, but with added keyboards, electronic effects and processed vocals such that it might have come out of the present Brooklyn scene. It's from their forthcoming album, "Mister Pop". You should buy it. I know I will be.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Song of the day

"The Times", by Lightning Dust. Usually when I hear something that reminds me of "Sympathy For The Devil", well, I would rather be listening to "Sympathy For The Devil". It is a mark of the excellence of this song, which certainly has a "Sympathy" quality to it, that I am just as happy to keep listening to it. Well done, you.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Song of the day

"Do It Again", by Intimate Disco. Fifteen minutes of pure instrumental bliss, picking up the Steely Dan song of the same name and running with it as far as it is possible to run. And then running some more. I suspect Messrs Fagen and Becker would approve.