Monday, November 30, 2009

of the year 2009

I am starting to get the impression that the number of things that must be done between now and Christmas is longer than the number of days in which they can be done. So, if I am going to get a chance to put in my own, humble, bid for "Record of the Year 2009" it had better be now.

At least from my own singular perspective, it has been a fabulous year for music. Everywhere I turned, there was a discovery to be made (Jeremy Jay) or a new appearance by an old favourite (Air, The Necks). Lists will be proliferating very shortly, possibly even as we speak, and many of those lists, if you are looking in the right places, will contain many albums that I would be happy to endorse. So all I want to do is mention a couple of major records that might have slipped under the radar, and then nominate my favourite.

Under the radar 1: "Immolate Yourself", by Telefon Tel Aviv. In many other years, this would have won hands down: an album conveying such emotional depth by way of analog electronic sounds that it is no surprise, perhaps, that one of its makers didn't survive its making. How is it that sounds that have no existence in nature can stir up such inner turmoil in the listener? Kraftwerk knew this. Brian Eno had an idea or two. But the slightly off-kilter, wobbly warbles that emanate from "Immolate Yourself" can be so destabilising, and at crucial moments so crushing, that you will be convinced of the existence of ghosts in the machines.

Under the radar 2: "Liedgut", by Atom(TM). Another Kraftwerk reference (2009 might be the year that their influence, never slight, was the strongest it has been since 1977), and a vocal appearance by one of their number, too, on this brief but fascinating album, which manages to be a combination of Kraftwerk and white noise. Atom(TM) has spent a few years widening his fanbase, and (arguably; I don't agree) diluting his reputation, by releasing a series of Latin-tinged electronic albums under the name Senor Coconut (one of which is, you guessed it, an album of Kraftwerk cover versions). This record is much more tangential (it is frequently at a tangent to what most of us might think of as "music") but, in its own way, is also pleasingly light and playful. You could easily, having listened to it once, miss the point entirely. There may not be a point. Suffice to say, it warrants, maybe even requires, further listening.

Finally (drumroll) -- my favourite record of 2009 is "Begone Dull Care", by Junior Boys. It chooses itself, really. The funny thing is, though, that I can't really put a finger on why. I think it might be as simple as admiration for the level of attention to detail lavished on its recording. There is a sense that every note, every pause, every sound, has been considered at some length before being committed to. And the choices made are universally the right ones. You can listen to this disc many, many times (and it is another of a small number of records that should be listened to on compact disc -- some will no doubt scream "vinyl!!" -- regardless of the bit rate of your MP3s) and still notice things you could swear you had never heard before. So maybe it is more of a work of superior craftsmanship (whereas "Immolate Yourself" assumes the status of "art") but sometimes a well-made chair can be admired just for being a well-made chair.

Plus, it has the added benefit of breathing new life into their second album, "So This Is Goodbye", which until now could only be seen as Jeremy Greenspan figuring out the direction he would go in following the departure of the Stereo Image guy, who was such an important component of "Last Exit". Now that we can hear the direction chosen, we can appreciate anew the early forays in that direction, and also the paths considered but not taken.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Song of the day (2)

"A/B Machines", by Sleigh Bells. These days, much more often than not, when you actually get to listen to something new that has been hyped to the heavens by music bloggers, your response is, "ho hum". When you listen to Sleigh Bells, you get kicked in the head. In the old days, bands had a chance to settle down into some kind of normality before most of the world got a chance to hear them. We have been hearing about Sleigh Bells since they day they were born. It's a bit like reading reviews of the early Jesus and Mary Chain gigs in the NME all those years ago. Sleigh Bells are if anything more chaotic, more of an unstoppable force of nature. Even Jesus and Mary Chain settled down. There are a bunch of Sleigh Bells demos floating around that catch them in full, naive, flight. It's almost a shame that one day they will figure out what it is they are trying to do.

What to give a hamster who has everything?

A resort holiday.

Ah, those Europeans. They know how to treat a rodent.

Song of the day

(Sorry for being a bit slow on the update.)

"Eagle", by ABBA. By the time of "ABBA: The Album" I had disembarked from the ABBA cruise ship and was about to board the Post-Punk Express. So I missed hearing the bulk of ABBA's "mature" work, until many years later, because of course you couldn't be a Man In Black and also an ABBA fan (at least publicly, so it was best not to do it at all).

And so I come to "Eagle", via its appearance on Lindstrom's "FACT 100" mix, with fresh ears. And what do I hear? All of the bigness you expect from a great ABBA song: outsize arrangements; outsize vocal harmonies; outsize underlying psychodrama; outsize ambition; outsize success. But something else: a pre-echo of the New Pop that would grip the world four or five years later. In fact, there is an element buried in this song that is so close to the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" that ABBA's lawyers must have pricked up an ear or two. (Not only that, but the song's opening also prefigures the music of Studio, and others of the (for want of better descriptions) nu-Balearica school. They really did have all bases covered.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Song of the day

"Antenna", by Sonic Youth. From "The Eternal". In which Thurston Moore does the best impersonation I've yet heard of Beck circa "Sea Change".

Is 40 the new 30?

It adds something to a piece like this one about climate change to be reading it in Canberra, in November, when you should be enjoying another glorious between-seasons Springtime in the Nation's Capital, and it's 38 degrees (that would be 38 degrees Celcius) outside. No. That "38" is not a typo. Twenty-eight would be quite warm for this time of year. But 38? That's just fucked. (And it's going to be the same again today.)

It's a bit like Dylan said: something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

William Steig presents "Punch and Judy: The Later Years"


This Goes With This

"Darkness Falls", by David Sylvian and Robert Fripp, from the album "The Last Day", which I must confess I don't listen to as often as I listen to other Sylvian records, bears a striking resemblance, at least when Sylvian isn't singing, to Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze". Really it does.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Song of the day

"Lite Beam", by Jeremy Jay. This song is what happens when the primitive pop sensibility of K Records' International Pop Underground butts heads with the icy glamour of David Bowie's "Station To Station". Surprisingly, it has a lot going for it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thought for the day

Apparently you can now buy a record called "The Fall", by Norah Jones. Well, I don't know about you, but I would much rather hear a record called "Norah Jones", by The Fall. I suspect it's just a matter of time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Song of the day

"Double Barrel", by Dave and Ansel (or possibly Ansil, according to some sleeves) Collins. This has been on some heavy rotation at our house since yesterday afternoon, when Carl, while looking for "Aidy's Girl's A Computer", which I seem to have hooked him on, for some reason clicked "play" on this song instead. Has anybody ever figured out what the heck the toaster is saying at the start of the track? I get "I am the magnificent", but then nothin'. "Storming", perhaps, is in there somewhere. Or not.

Also, this is the perfect soundtrack for the present unseasonal (is anything "unseasonal" in these strange days, though?) hot spell Canberra is going through.

The facts on the ground

It was looking like being the best strawberry crop ever. (Enough, even, to comfortably share them with a very large blue-tongue lizard, who has been seen helping himself.) But a couple of nights ago I though something looked wrong with them, and today, after a visit to the nursery, I have, on a rare day off work, had the sad task of pulling one entire patch out by the roots. Curse you, fungal infection.

I should, of course, have listened to my mother, who would never have allowed a strawberry patch to stay in for more than three years. They did so well last year that I thought, Another year can't hurt. And, as has so often proved to be the case (another example: "You are no handyman"), she was right and I was wrong.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Song of the day

"Aidy's Girl's A Computer", by Darkstar. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to nominate this gorgeous piece of dubstep-meets-New-Pop as song of the day, but I don't know shit about dubstep and thus I didn't have the words to say it. Now, thanks to Marcello, here are some words.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fun with words

I quite like the look of this. But then, I am a bit of a sucker for that sort of thing. It's easy to do, but slightly more difficult to do well.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Heroes and Villains

Kevin Huizenga has been busy putting all kinds of lovely stuff on his web page. Check it out.

The return of the hypothetical mixtape

May 2009. It's not that long ago.

"Emotional R", by In Flagranti. If this song got stuck on an endless loop on my stereo I wouldn't feel too disappointed. Essentially the best bits of the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" (Jagger singing "Is there nothing I can say nothing I can do"; that snare hit and bass doink half-way between the third and fourth beat of every second bar) chopped up, screwed with, and looped together, with the piano bit from "She's A Rainbow" thrown in for good measure, this naughty piece of music demonstrates that, in certain contexts, less really is more.

"Return of Starlight (Invisible Conga People Remix)", by Woolfy vs Projections. Coming at you from a Lindstrom (or is it Prins Thomas?) tip, this is a slow build to nowhere, but you shouldn't let that put you off. A small fragment of what might be an actual song drifts in for a couple of minutes towards the end, and then drifts right out again. Welcome to music in 2009.

"The Sun (Parallel or 90)", by Bo Hansson. This is the guy who put The Lord of The Rings to music. On one of his album covers (not the record this song is from) he appears as a cross between Rick Wakeman and Gregor Samsa. This is where I get my electric-piano fix for this month. Actually, if you played this back-top-back with the Woolfy vs Projections, you might think that music hasn't travelled far from the early 1970s. You would be wrong, but not far wrong: in fact, music has gone quite a long way since then, but, like an overextended piece of elastic, it has been pulled back again. Music is like that.

"From Africa To Malaga", by JJ. The album from which this is taken features, on its cover, an oversized picture of a marijuana leaf. That should tell you everything you need to know. A gentle haze descends over proceedings. The vocals remind me (in a good way) of Tracy Thorn. The song is subtle but catchy. The seemingly obligatory high-life influence (welcome to music in 2009, part two) is present and correct (the title kind of gives it away), but not overplayed.

"Gifted", by N.A.S.A. I am not hip-hop averse; I just don't get exposed to much of it. (I also struggle with some lyrical concepts.) This wins by having the artist formerly known as Santogold doing a verse, and particularly by having a chorus voiced by (my) hot chick of the year, Lykke Li. (Even if I don't know how to pronounce her name. And anyway, I plan to just point and nod. )

"Beach Town", by Le Loup. There is something of a baked jungle-samba rhythm bed going on here. The vocals sound somewhat alarmingly like Sting at his most declamatory. There is some big, reverb-y guitar chording. And some other guitar that might remind me, slightly, of Johnny Marr. And some Fleet Fox-ish harmonies. Basically, I don't know what the hell is going on here. And I'm not sure Le Loup do, either. Best just to let it wash over you. Like, I dunno, Woody Allen's "Shadows and Fog".

"Really Wanted You", by Emitt Rhodes. This guy is, like, the shadow Paul McCartney or something. And this song certainly wouldn't be out of place on any number of Wings albums (although I'm sure I detect a certain Lennonish sneer as well): actually, my sense is that it straddles the bridge (not a terribly long bridge) between late Beatles, Cheap Trick and late-seventies skinny-tie "power pop". With some George Harrison and CSNY thrown in. Like me to do any more name dropping? It won't help.

"Forget All About It", by The Nazz. The Beatles/Cheap Trick connection is even stronger here. Come to think of it, I could probably just repeat everything I wrote about the previous song, perhaps adding a special mention of The dB's on account of the vocals.

"Riviera 69", by Chris Joss. Electric bass is front and centre of this slow-burner from, I can only assume, somewhere within five years either side of 1972, with a gorgeous slice or two of Hammond sneaking in just when you want it to (but not staying as long as you might like).

"Blue Honey", by Pop Levi. Oh, and here is another John Lennon vs Cheap Trick smackdown. With the second coming of Marc Bolan on vocals. Pop with attitude is the best kind of pop. Funny, the dude looks more like George Harrison on the record cover. That probably explains the sitar-like sounds that permeate the second half.

"Oh, You Pretty Things", by Au Revoir Simone. Bowie, covered. By three more of my favourite chicks. Do people still say "chicks"? The glam of the original has been replaced by a well-considered understatement. And a tambourine.

"Hanging On The Telephone", by The Nerves. This is so much a Blondie song that it's not easy to come to terms with the fact that it existed as a Punk Rock single a mere three or four years before Debbie Harry and co picked it up and ran with it. Straight to the top of the charts. But here it is. I hear Lennon again. I hear Cheap Trick again. I hear The dB's again. In fact, I hear all the things I most want to hear when the sun comes out and the weather warms up.

"Walk On Gilded Splinters", by Johnny Jenkins. Man, give that funky drummer some. Taken from a Duane Allman anthology. I don't know what's with that. (The Allman Brothers are not my field of expertise.) If you wanted to argue that it goes on a couple of minutes longer than it needs to, I wouldn't put up much resistance. But still, that drummer.

"Northern Hemisphere", by East of Eden. 1969. If Heavy Metal had been invented then, this would have been called by that name. The guitars are straight out of Black Sabbath. But the vocals, well, it's more like Folk Metal, actually. I love this song. In fact, it might be the greatest song ever recorded (as of this minute).

"Recursion (CFCF Remix)", by Genghis Tron. I like the name "Genghis Tron". I see bearded barbarian hordes streaming across the mountains but rendered in 1981-vintage pixelated computer graphics. Widescreen. But not entirely high-res. Which, curiously, is kind of how the song sounds. I tend to like songs that remind me, however slightly, of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. At three-and-a-half minutes a nice reggae lilt sneaks in, hangs around for a while, drifts out again, and then, later, sneaks back in a dubwise stylee. But really, it's the synths, which by the end of the song are all that we are left with, that this is all about.

"Ant 10 (Remix by DJ Lindstrøm)", by Boredoms, or whatever they are calling themselves this week. This is probably, "Shoes" by Tiga notwithstanding, the individual highlight of 2009, a year that has been, I might say, full of (musical) highlights. I will probably never hear the unremix of this song, and I quite possibly wouldn't "get" it if I did. But man, this 10-minute slab of furious drumming, filtered through Mr Lindstrøm's slightly blissed-out visions, stands entirely on its own. You need to turn it up loud. You need to give yourself over to it. And when you do, you will obey its every command. But will you be ready for the funky clavinet (or whatever) that appears around the half-way mark? No, you will not. And will you expect to be reminded of the full-length version of "Disco Inferno", by Trammps, from the soundtrack to "Saturday Night Fever"? No, again. In fact, this track contains more tricks and surprises than a magician at a birthday party, but they are all so subtly and seamlessly introduced that no child will leave in tears, unless, like me, they are crying because they wish it could have gone on longer.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

song of the day

"Small Hours", by John Martyn. All nine minutes of it. I first heard this song on "Crooning on Venus", a David Toop-curated compilation CD on the theme of the human voice, which I bought in London on our 1996 World Tour. But for me it's not so much the voice that makes this song as the guitars. No matter how many times I listen to this song, I want to hear it again.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Song of the day

"Sky Is Falling", by Tugboat. I'm on a bit of a Library Records kick at the moment, partly because the kind of music they released a decade ago is now being drawn on by so many bands from Brooklyn and elsewhere, and partly because I am in the process of creating MP3 archives/back-ups of all my physical CDs. Just in case, y'know. "Sky Is Falling", from the "CDs and Ideas I Never Got Around To Acting On" half of the final Library-wraps-it-up double-CD, drifts along so delicately and gently it is a miracle that it even gets to the end at all, rather than just falling apart halfway through on account of lack of momentum. The trick with a song like this is to be brave enough to back your audience to stay with you for four-and-a-half minutes. It would be tempting to add stuff to it in order to make it more "dynamic". Tugboat resist that temptation.