Thursday, April 30, 2009

Song of the day

"Paper Tiger", by Spoon. Question: how much can you strip out of a song before it ceases to be a "song"? This is a question that Spoon appear intent on finding the answer to. The answer seems to be: quite a lot. I went second-hand-CD shopping a couple of weekends ago (thanks to Uncle Kevin) and one of the things I came home with was Spoon's 2002 album "Kill The Moonlight". You get the impression, if you listen closely, that Spoon work hard figuring out what goes into each corner of each song, and, even more crucially, what gets left out. "Paper Tiger" stands out for being so minimal as to be almost an abstraction, but it is in fact as strong a pop song as you could wish for.

The more Spoon I listen to, the more impressed I am with what it is that they do. And with what it is that they don't do. It's the "fish John West reject" methodology applied to the pop song.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Song of the day

"The More That I Do", by The Field. This is the first taste of The Field's "Yesterday & Today", the forthcoming follow-up to 2007's "From Here We Go Sublime". (Or not, if you count his "Sound of Light", a collaboration with a Swedish hotel - n.b. not a typo.) As such it is, in and of itself, a cause for excitement. On the evidence of this track, we are in for more of the same, which is not yet a cause for concern, although there must be some danger that Mr Willner could, if he isn't careful, work himself into some sort of a corner. The steel drums at the end are a nice touch. And I swear the vocal sample this time around is taken from somewhere deep within the Cocteau Twins' "Treasure".

Friday, April 24, 2009

Song of the day

"Steinlager", by The Chills. "Mmmmm. Beer."

Elsewhere, today's headline of the day:

"Woman sees Jesus in toast".


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Song of the day

"Keeping Us Together", by Keith Hudson. Perhaps as surprising a connection as the one discovered (or "invented"?) on yesterday's Song of the Day, today we bring you Keith Hudson, emerging from the deepest darkest dub jungle with - believe it ... or not - the first line of the chorus of "Macho Man", by The Village People. Although, given those Jamaicans' tendency to borrow liberally from other sources, and given also that Hudson's "Nuh Skin Up" was originally released in 1979, the year after "Macho Man" appeared, you might well think that it is not surprising at all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Song of the day

"Seerosengiessen", by Thomas Fehlmann. In which German techno channels Snakefinger. Who'da thunk it? (With, I think, a little bit of "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts" thrown in for good measure.)

We Were Rwong

Yesterday we said, having foolishly trusted the sequence of songs as they appeared on our iPod, that "Point That Thing Somewhere Else" was the first song on The Clean's "Mashed". In fact, it sits somewhere in the middle. Which shoots our point about sequencing down in flames, but doesn't weaken the almighty power of the song itself, wherever it might appear.

Also, we did, as promised, listen to The Bats' "Couchmaster" last night, and were horrified to discover that it came into our life FOURTEEN years ago. Wow, where did that go? The good news is the record itself, unlike us, hasn't aged a bit. "For The Ride" I think I have mentioned here before, a very Clean-like propulsive vehicle of the type you would like to see go on forever. And as Adrienne said, "Afternoon in Bed" is the kind of song that really gets you where you live. My response, "What? Canberra?", was neither funny nor wanted.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Song of the day

"Point That Thing Somewhere Else", by The Clean. I try to resist this song. I can escape its clutches for the first two bars, but I always trip on the next note and tumble headlong into its endless corridors and its many rooms. There is something primally thrilling about "Point That Thing Somewhere Else". I can't say exactly what it is. Perhaps it is not so much a song as a template. Certainly, that is how The Clean treat it. There are several live versions floating around, and they all take on lives of their own. The most recent, and the one that prompted this post, is the opening song on "Mashed", a live recording of a recent Clean tour, and presumably the opening song of the set from which it is taken. How a band that gets together briefly once every few years, perhaps plays a few gigs, perhaps makes a record, can instantly hit such peaks of creative intensity is a credit to the Dunedin drinking water, I guess. There are not that many live recordings that genuinely make you wish you had been there.

Meanwhile the influence of The Clean continues to show up in surprising places, e.g. the forthcoming second album from Wooden Shjips, whom I had previously nailed as acolytes of Crazy Horse (itself no bad thing) but who seem to also be drawing from "Point That Thing", or perhaps more accurately "Point That Thing" filtered through a prism of early Suicide.

And another meanwhile: word is getting around that there will be a new album by The Bats (the "other" band of Robert Scott, when he is not playing bass with The Clean) in June. If their last two albums are anything to go by, this should be worth waiting for. "Couchmaster", in particular, which must by now be ten years old, is a key Dunedin recording. In fact, I think I know what I will be listening to tonight.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No More Heroes

Disappointing to have to return from our Easter hiatus with a Death Notice, but such it is, as we mark the passing of J G Ballard, literary titan of the twentieth century and probably the first writer I was able to think of as more than just The Person Whose Name Is On The Book.

I am inclined to remember where I was when I read a book more readily than what was in the book itself. Thus, "The Drowned World" to me will always be inseparable from the Echuca Caravan Park. Which, taking that thought one step further, given the current plight of the no longer Mighty Murray River, it would have been more appropriate for me to have been reading "The Drought" there. (Whereas "The Drought" was actually read at 166 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, where its title was also borrowed for the name of a band of which I was briefly a member, but which had a longer and richer history without me.)

Reynolds, meanwhile, has posted a collection of dated but evocative (is that what you-all mean by "hauntological"?) covers of Ballard paperbacks. How does he do that?

Thursday, April 09, 2009


At the start of the Butthole Surfers song "Sweat Loaf", Gibson Jerome ("Gibby") Haynes says (and this, I should point out, is followed by one of the great moments in rock and roll), "It's better to regret something you have done than to regret something that you haven't done". Which may generally hold true, but I can safely say that I have never regretted anything as much as I regret ever having heard "Y Viva Suspenders", by Judge Dread.

We're going to take a short break now, but we'll be back in a while. Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Biggest Number

Back when oi were a wee young feller-me-lad (well actually it was much later than I thought, 1990 in fact, the year in which I moved to Melbourne and got married) Mad Love Publishing put out the first two issues of what was to be a 12-issue comic book called "Big Numbers", written by Alan Moore and drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz. There was no Internet then, and no real way to find out what was going on. But we waited for the third issue to appear. And waited. And waited. Until eventually we got interested in other things and gradually forgot all about it. Except we didn't quite forget all about it: we held those first two issues tightly to our chest, and maintained a foolish hope, year after year, that perhaps we would one day wake up as if from a dream and find out what happens next.

The story of the story, as far as we can piece it together:

"Big Numbers" seems to have been something of the equivalent of Terry Gilliam's attempt to film "Don Quixote". Moore wanted, typically, to produce something bigger in every way than anybody else could ever have imagined or conceived, let alone pulled off. A 360-page comic book, chronicling the attempt by an American corporation to build an enormous shopping mall in the middle of middle England (Northampton, to be precise, Moore's own tramping ground). And the locals' attempts to fight against it (shades of "Local Hero"?), come to terms with it, live their own lives, and more or less everything else he could get into it, possibly including the kitchen sink. He was also thinking, as we all were then, about chaos theory, and the idea to build this mall may have been Moore's proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon basin or whatever. I seem to recall reading that he was planning on calling it "The Mandelbrot Set". The first issue was all black and white. The second had one splash of colour. By the end of the series, it was going to be all colour. Moore had an entire wall of his house covered with the various plot lines and intersections, and how it might all come together.

Something happened to Bill Sienkiewicz's eyesight somewhere around the making of issue 3. He had to walk away from the project. Mad Love Publishing, which was a by-product of the untold riches made by the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, may have run out of money. The replacement illustrator, which may or may not have been Al Columbia, left the project in "mysterious" circumstances while either working on, or having finished, issue 3, or issue 4, or not, and having destroyed, or not, the entirety of issue 3, or 4, or both, or neither. Moore's hyperactive brain moved onto other things. In short, "Big Numbers" stalled at issue 2 and was never going to progress any further.


The Freaky Trigger side bar, which has long been the source of most of the best unknown (by us) Internet marginalia and wonder, was updated some time last week with the cryptic words "Big Numbers #3". Those words scratched an itch in our brain. No, we thought, surely not, it's a coincidence, it's something else entirely. It must be. A giant number 3 or something. Somewhat tentatively, we clicked, thinking we would probably wish we hadn't. But as a result of that click we have been able to print out, and savour, and marvel over, and scratch our head in wonder about the provenance of, issue 3 of "Big Numbers". Only 18 and a half years after the appearance of issue 2.

It seems that somebody else with a long memory found on eBay a package deal with issues 1 and 2 together with "rare unpublished xerox Alan Moore". This person took a punt, was the only bidder, and presumably fell off their chair upon opening the package. After apparently seeking Moore's permission, they had it scanned and uploaded. (For which we say, Thank you.)

But what is it? To our amateur forensic eye, it is, clearly enough, "Big Numbers 3". The page count is right, the page dimensions are right, the story follows on, or would appear to, from issue 2, and crucially, it matches panel for panel Moore's own detailed instructions for the first eight pages, which have been floating around cyberspace for a while now. It is only in black and white, so there are no clues about the further use of colour. It doesn't have a cover. The artwork appears to be something more than a rough draft, but something less than the finished article. I would venture that some of it is Sienkiewizc, some of it not. But in the end it doesn't really matter. It is the comic book equivalent of somebody finding manuscript pages in J D Salinger's rubbish bin: the fact of its existence is at least as significant as what it actually says. Sure, it continues the story, but we are still only a quarter of the way through, and presumably that is as far as we are ever going to go, so it doesn't exactly add much to the sum of human understanding.


Unless the groundswell of excitement that the past few days have seen on message boards etc. sparks something in Moore, or Columbia, or whoever, to move things along. The story is a time capsule, sure, but the nature of the story is that that would be what it became anyway, Moore would have known and most likely intended this, and its completion 20 years later would really be neither here nor there. And Moore is so notorious for providing novel-length storyboards for his comics that, if they exist for the rest of "Big Numbers" (another mystery), well, any exceptionally talented artist could turn them into comic books if somebody could pay for the printing.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Song of the day

"Exposure", by Robert Fripp. What a remarkable song this is. I am coming at it from a distance of 25 years, possibly more, but I remember it very well from evenings listening to static-y AM signals from Sydney's 2JJ (who knew radio waves could travel so far?). If I had recognised Eno's voice reading out the letters of the song's title I would have been more excited than would have been good for me. (I got way too excited when I picked Eno's voice out of the backing vocals in U2's "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" a few years later, and had to have a lie down.) If I had known it was co-written by Peter Gabriel I would have been a bit surprised (still am). If I had recognised how much, musically, it anticipated Byrne and Eno's "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts" I would have been able to see the future (not, however, as in "I have seen the future of rock'n'roll and..."). Musically, also, of course, it echoes the kinds of sounds Fripp and Eno were coaxing out of the humble electric guitar on songs like "Wind On Water" a few years before. I have never been entirely comfortable with Terre Roche's screamings, but then I have never been comfortable with screaming in general (I think I worry for people who are able to let themselves go to that degree) and Terre Roche, in most other contexts, is to be unconditionally loved, so on that basis she, and they, get away with it.