Tuesday, October 27, 2009

song of the day

"X-ray Eyes", by Vivian Girls. No, not those Vivian Girls. These Vivian Girls were from (presumably) Melbourne. They had two tracks on the 2001 Library/3RRR comp "Pacific Highway". And whereas the Brooklyn Vivian Girls are working through some kind of angsty lo-fi issues, these Vivian Girls are all post-punk elbows and knees, in particular echoing the kind of hopped-up, ramshackle propulsion of the first Cure album, but with a bit of Laughing Clowns thrown in for good measure. Always an appealing combination.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Speaking words of wisdom

Here's Tom Waits in a recent Guardian interview:
I used to imagine that making it in music -- really making it in music -- is if you're an old man going by a schoolyard and you hear children singing your songs, playing jumprope, or on the swings. That's the ultimate. You're in the culture.
If Michael Nichols had been lurking around in a typical suburban Canberra street a couple of evenings ago he could have borne witness to five seven-to-eleven-year-olds running around in a backyard and singing "Does anybody here want to buy some cabbage / Right down this way / Does anybody here want some brown-skinned cabbage / Get down this way". (Okay that last line isn't right but I didn't want to spoil the moment.) And I know for a fact that three of them had never heard the actual song. Hanshalf Trio, you're in the culture.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Song of the day

"What I Saw", by Roj. And just to round off the preceding scribble, I give you the last song on the Roj CD. It starts off on some kind of Fripp and Eno excursion before turning several unexpected corners and finishing off in an entirely different place. It is the most instantly striking of the songs on the disc, and demonstrates an understanding of the importance placed by Roj on "saving the best until last" - something I always did as a kid, even if it sometimes meant that my cousin Heather would eat it before I felt I had left enough time (which might be months in the case of a packet of chocolate cigarettes; I don't know how she knew where to find them).

Monday, October 19, 2009

There's A Ghost In My House-ah

I have been labouring under some pretty strong medication (don't drive; don't operate heavy machinery) and I feel as though none of my neurons are quite synapsing as they are meant to do (or whatever). So I have been struggling to put one thought next to another in any kind of sequence. But I've never let that stop me before.

Ghost Box.

Simon Reynolds, among many others, has been flying the flag of this label for some time. Its releases appear to be insusceptible to acquisition by unauthorised methods, and no Ghost Box records to my knowledge have ever graced the shelves of any record store in the Nation's Capital. So I have developed a feel for Ghost Box records, their artwork, the people who make them, and the type of music they contain, in a vacuum from the actual music. I was setting myself up for a fall, but I really did like what I (thought I) heard: a combination of experimental/avant garde music and the type of thing you might have found in BBC documentaries and children's shows from the 1960s and 1970s. (Yes, even on Australian televisions.)

At some point in late 2008, new Ghost Box releases started appearing, unannounced and certainly unheralded, on eMusic. I don't even know what possessed me to look. But there it was: "Other Channels", by The Advisory Circle, which would soon be listed as one of the top albums of 2008 according to The Wire magazine (which usually either means it is essential or unlistenable). And it was soon followed by "From An Ancient Star", the most recent release from something or somebody calling themselves Belbury Poly.

I downloaded them both and was hooked.

Both of these records reek of a kind of nostalgia for an England that probably never existed. Innocence is postulated, but with serious malevolence lurking just below the surface (literally, in the case of one track on the Advisory Circle album, which purports to be a recording of a warning message about watching little children at play on the ice). The word that comes to mind to describe what distinguishes these two releases is "echo": sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical. (And sometimes both.) It is the literal echo, I think, that allows Ghost Box releases to put the "haunt" in "hauntology". It is the metaphorical echo, of childhood, of a lost England, that sets them apart musically and emotionally from most other music being made these days.

Parts of the Advisory Circle disc, at least, are most likely a successor of the kind of British cleverness and satirical wit that we all know from the likes of Monty Python and the Bonzos. Both records come from a different tradition: the music that appeared, as if from nowhere, from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. (You have probably heard the Doctor Who theme.) Perhaps the Belbury Poly disc breaks the label mould somewhat (and has been criticised for same) by its forays into the edges of a parallel space-disco seventies, but it still manages to exist in its own world entirely, and couldn't possibly be mistaken for, well, for anything else, really.

There are a number of Ghost Box records that pre-date those two. There seems to be no move to put them up on eMusic, which is a bit of a shame. (I know of at least one person who would buy them.) But new releases continue to appear. First there was what appears to be a very thorough overview of the label. And now we have an album by someone calling themselves Roj. (Not a very Ghost Box kind of name, that, so he has perhaps felt the need to overcompensate by titling the album "The Transactional Dharma of Roj". Which IS a very Ghost Box kind of name.)

And here we fall upon an interesting connection.

In dwelling on Ghost Box, and its highly selective discography, seemingly unique approach to sound, instantly recognisable packaging, and general avoidance of the publicity machinery, I was trying to come up with another label that I thought might have operated in a similar way. And the only thing I could hit upon, aside from perhaps Blue Note at certain times in its long and distinguished history, was Warp. Warp is well and truly above-ground now, releasing records by the likes of Maximo Park and generally looking like a business model (no, that's a bit harsh; it still has a strong aesthetic imperative, it just casts its net a bit wider these days, both artistically and commercially). But in its early days you felt that you were on solid ground.

And here we play 20 questions (although we won't get to 20).

Who, it can be argued, was the first band to sign to Warp that didn't play music of the type that most listeners would have associated with the label? Broadcast. And who designs Broadcast's record covers? Julian House. And which label does Julian House run? Ghost Box. And which band did Roj used to play with? Broadcast. And which band has just been remixed by Advisory Circle? Seeland. And which band did the members of Seeland used to play with? (You can see this coming, can't you?) Broadcast. And who designs the covers of Seeland records? Julian House.

And here are the most interesting questions of all: Which band has another Ghost Box entity, The Focus Group, just released a collaborative EP with? Broadcast. And who is the human being hiding behind the name The Focus Group? Julian House. And which label is it on? Warp. (I cannot confirm that Julian House also designed the cover but the bookmakers have stopped taking odds on that.)

It is an interesting record, the Broadcast / Focus Group one. (It's called "Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age", which is another very Ghost Box kind of name.) Some of us don't agree with the accepted wisdom that Broadcast have in some way "gone off" over the course of the last couple of records. Some of us will go to our graves smiling as the voice of Trish Keenan floats around in our head. They have "changed", yes, but change is not necessarily bad. Some of us have been waiting rather longer than we would have liked for a new Broadcast record (assuming, or hoping, all the while that there would be one). Well, this is not the new Broadcast record. Although at times you might be forgiven for thinking that it was. Actually, it is a bit like one of those optical-illusion puzzles where, the more you try to see one thing you see something else, and the more you try to see that other thing the more you see the thing you were trying to look at earlier. So, if I try to listen to this as a Broadcast record all I can hear is Ghost Box. If I try to listen to it as a Ghost Box record, all I can hear is Broadcast. It isn't a Broadcast record, but it isn't really not a Broadcast record either. And it's not a Ghost Box record, but it's not really not a Ghost Box record either. It's all rather vexing. I dare say that over time this disjunction will wear off. I'm curious as to what will then reveal itself.

And then there is Roj. He has just now landed in my in-tray and so I feel unable to comment on what he has on offer, yet. It strikes me, on a couple of listens, as less interested in any kind of song structure and more interested in impressions and fleeting effects. I like it. I formed the view, while walking yesterday morning alongside the golf course and dodging an enormous tractor-scraper that impinged on the usual tranquility, that it is in some way a mixture of, say, Delia Darbyshire and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" (the latter, yes, is a bit of a surprise, and perhaps a bit of a stretch). I may have more to say about both of these records as I grow into them. Stay tuned. Or, given that we are talking about Ghost Box, perhaps stay just slightly de-tuned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We're Only In It For The Money

Are we witnessing the death of cricket, not only as we know it but as it has been played since the days of W G Grace?

Just asking.

Song of the day

"Lady Eleanor", by Lindisfarne. This is my next most recent obsession. I can't stop listening to it, and when I can't be listening to it I can't get it out of my head. I know it is included in Darren's List, but I first heard it one weekend recently when we had the 1969 UK Top 40 on random, and I thought it was Kevin Ayers (getting it mixed up with another Eleanor). I had long ago formed the impression that Lindisfarne were English folkies in the style of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, probably from the similarities of their names (just like Adrienne had assumed that Massive Attack were heavy metal) but I may have been wrong: were they actually more sympathetic to the Cambridge prog scene? (Ayers again.) At points it is actually like an English "Horse With No Name". Further research reveals the song was written by Alan Hull, two of whose songs I found on the Internet many moons ago and instantly fell in love with. But beyond that I know nothing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hey, Kids! Punk Rock!

The New Yorker is opening its archive to all comers, one issue at a time, for one week at a time. As you know, there is nothing I like more than turning the pages of an old copy of the New Yorker. The most recent one online is the issue of 28 November 1977. Let's look at the Goings On About Town section, specifically the listing for CBGB & OMFUG:
Punk-rock bands on the bandstand; punk-rock-band entourages in the audience -- an interesting jumble of torn T-shirts, dirty sneakers, rear-guard platform shoes, jeans, feathered boas, slicked-down hair, leather, and a wholesome flannel shirt or two. Monday is showcase night. The music usually begins after nine-thirty.
Platform shoes? Really? And was that Mike Watt, visitin' from the West Coast, in the flannel shirt?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Separated at birth?

What appears to be a "new" four-track EP by The Bats (and what a fine collocation of words that is) landed on eMusic this week. It's called "Don't You Rise". As far as I can gather, it is a few songs recorded in the long gap between their last two albums. The quality is high. Something that sounds like Alastair Galbraith's violin makes a welcome appearance. When The Bats are in good form there is nothing better.

But there is something familiar-looking about the cover: compare this with this.

Coincidental I'm sure, but in a year in which the Old Guard have fully proved their worth yet again (here we are talking not just The Bats and Sonic Youth, but also The Clean and Yo La Tengo), it's funny that two of them come up with practically the same cover concept.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Song of the day

"The Greys", by Frightened Rabbit. It was Man Like Raisbeck who first put me onto Frightened Rabbit. It has taken me a while to actually hear them. I don't know if "The Greys" is at all representative of them, but of all the (many) bands presently channelling the sound of early 1980s Dunedin, it is only Frightened Rabbit that have put me in mind of The Verlaines, one of the lesser known mainstays of that scene, but whose "Juvenilia" compilation album, if you want my opinion, is as solid as anything by heavy hitters like The Clean, The Bats, The Chills. Hats off.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

YouTube of the day

Watch (an almost visible) Rob Snarski singing "This One Eats Souls", accompanied only by Chris Abrahams on piano. Now that's quality.

Friday, October 02, 2009

What is French for "Announcement"?

I have heard the new Air album. I know I have been burned before, many times, calling out the greatness of a record after one listen, only to eat my words later. So I might as well do it again. This is a very good album. Like, very, very good. Like, "Moon Safari" good. Like, "Talkie Walkie" good. Trust me. Just this once.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

What we did on our holidays

Note: the third photo, you need to look very closely or right-click it onto a new page. It shows an echidna that found us while some of us were fishing. It followed us along the riverbank, and then it followed us up to the top of the riverbank. The little buggers can move remarkably quickly. We had camera-battery trouble or we may have been able to get a better shot. It wasn't shy at all.

Other highlights:

Watching the AFL Grand Final in the bar of the Empire Hotel, Wahgunyah, with plenty of a particular type of untranslatable Australian humour (dry as dust) as accompaniment -- especially towards the end of the game, when the locals were well lubricated. I had looked deep within myself, as you do when you don't support either side, in the minutes before the opening siren, and found that I actually wanted Geelong to win. The locals were firmly in the St Kilda camp, as were our camping companions, so I kept quiet. For the most part. But I am glad the Cats won, even though in saying that I have to acknowledge the pain of the many Saints fans of our acquaintance. Sorry, guys.

Seeing a fairly old and clunky four-wheel drive with a sticker that said "Victoria: a great place to live" and, below that, "Unless you are autistic". I wanted to find the driver to ask what was behind the sticker, as it is something we have a personal stake in, having autism in the family and intending, at some point down the track, to move back to Victoria. But we got distracted by other things and the vehicle disappeared when we weren't looking.

Sitting around an actual campfire telling stories. With and without marshmallows.

Downside: having to take with me a ball and chain, in the form of a laptop and wireless dongle to "allow" me to hose down a couple of work-related fires that sprang up an hour after we booked our trip, which we did, unusually for us, on the spur of the moment.

Maybe we should do that sort of thing more often.

Song of the day

"Life From A Window", by The Jam. It is twenty or more years since I last listened to "This Is The Modern World". I am struck by how big the sound is: possibly this is a result of a good remastering job, possibly because what I was listening to 20 years ago was a copy of a worn vinyl LP taped onto a low-end cassette tape, probably a TDK AD90. In the intervening two decades I had also entirely forgotten this song. It doesn't appear on any Jam compilation of my acquaintance, and yet it is a lovely song. Not within a bull's roar of "punk", more Kinks (think "Days") than Sex Pistols or, to use a Mod against Mod comparison, more Kinks than, say, The Action. Paul Weller, for all his Angry Young Man stance, always had a way with a good tune. I think that is why I, unlike some, had no problem with the final Jam album and Weller's subsequent reemergence with The Style Council. They may have been lightweight musically (actually they weren't: when I saw them live Mick Talbot's organ was frequently only a couple of degrees away from being toppled over by the furiousness of his playing) but they were creating a style of music that nobody else was brave enough to go near (or, if they did, to do justice to). A bit like this song, really.