Sunday, June 27, 2010

Song(s) of the day

"It's Gonna Rain (Pt 1)" and "It's Gonna Rain (Pt 2)", by Steve Reich. This is one of those accidental discoveries that changed the future of music. The surprising thing about it, though, is how damn danceable it is, considering that there isn't a doof doof to be found. Listening to it this afternoon I couldn't sit still. Of course, it's just possible that that might have been in some small part due to the day's serial caffienation.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Song of the day

"Old Fangs", by Black Mountain.

Watch the video. Cars. Beards. Aviator Glasses. Mystical, uh, "chicks". Lights radiating out from people's heads. What more do you want?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mashup of the day

"How Soon Is Independence?", by Go Home Productions.

For generations, young men (and not so young men) have strived to find a song that can be successfully mashed together with The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?".

Now, after countless hours of human suffering and personal sacrifice, and most likely many cups of coffee, one man has found the solution. That man is Mark Vidler, a.k.a. Go Home Productions. He has climbed Bootleg Everest. Humanity is in his debt.

I might have known that Beyonce would be involved.

You can listen to it over here. You can even watch it.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Being precisely one-eighth Swiss (my mum's mum's parents were both from Switzerland, although they met in Gippsland), I was pleased to wake up yesterday morning to the news that my fractional ancestral home had defeated Spain, an Actual Soccer Playing Nation, at the World Cup.

Imagine if Switzerland hosted the World Cup. They could replace those wooden trumpet things, which make it sound as if the whole of South Africa is permanently under attack from swarms of killer bees, with alpenhorns.

Is the World Cup draw truly random? Wouldn't it have been interesting if North and South Korea had been in the same group. Or if, say, in the 1942 World Cup America had played Japan, or England had played Germany. Was there even a World Cup in 1942? There kind of was, but it ran for six years, and the playing field was larger than usual.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I spend a bit of time hanging out at the local skate park, chaperoning the ten-year-old through an emaciated and oily forest of "youth". (I actually don't mind doing this. It gives me a chance to observe. Today's active child is tomorrow's "youth", after all, and it allows me to do some research unobserved: unobserved because I am of such an advanced age that I do not actually appear to them in visible form.) Language is an issue here, and the ten-year-old understands that just because the bigger guys use it doesn't mean that he can, so don't even think about it. He's cool with that (for now). But sometimes a gem slips out that demands to be catalogued.

One such: "Hey, don't do that. I almost shat out my own heart."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

YouTube of the day


Don't believe what they say. Nostalgia is what it used to be.

When is the cravat revival?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Song of the day

"Bouree", by Jethro Tull. By God, it must be over thirty years since I have listened to the music of Jethro Tull. But in those intervening years this song has intermittently snuck its way back into my head, by processes unknown. Listening, now, to its parent album, "Stand Up", with those thirty extra years of growing up (well, a bit) and accumulating musical knowledge (I hope), it strikes me that Tull weren't as sui generis as I have long assumed: like some Appalachian yokels transplanted into Middle-Ages England. What I hear now is a band that, flute solos aside, is something of a mid-point between The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin and the English folk revival. I had a bad feeling I would cringe on going back to this. I was wrong. (How many times have I written those words?)

My take on the career of Jethro Tull (still going!) is that an analogy can be drawn between them, The Bee Gees and Status Quo. All three had a kind of heyday in the late sixties / early seventies, until they either lost their way or the world moved away from them. But whereas Ver Quo and Ver Bee Gees reinvented themselves in the later seventies as boogie-heads and disco-pants respectively, with huge degrees of success, Ver Tull's (or, more accurately, Ian Anderson's) strategy in those dark days was to play a long game: basically, to keep on doing what they were doing, maintaining integrity and a loyal fan base, until that fan base had become wealthy merchant bankers and what have you, able to spend large amounts of money on concert tickets every year or so, buy extravagant Tull merchandise, live recordings and reissues, and basically keep the cash flow positive over the long term. (You would probably say Quo have done something similar, and maybe add in Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span as well, although in the latter case there isn't, correct me if I'm wrong, such an identity between those bands and one individual.)

I'm rambling.

My best memory of those years of being South Gippsland's Number One Jethro Tull Fan Under The Age Of Fifteen? Going into Clark's Sound Centre, in McCartin Street, Leongatha, and asking its esteemed proprietor, Mr Clark, for the cassette of their (then) new double-live album, "Bursting Out", which he happened to have in stock. "Ah, yes", said Mr Clark (in an effort to be seen to be hip to what was goin' down, although in truth he would have been much more comfortable discussing Dixieland jazz with old-timers), "that's one of his best albums". "His". At that moment I lost my faith in the adult world. I was going to have to do this thing on my own.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Song of the day

"Falling Down a Mountain", by Tindersticks. In a world where Internet hype knows no bounds, bands are famous not so much for 15 minutes as for 15 mouse clicks, and their mothers still have to hang around to change their nappies before they go on stage; in a world where blockbuster releases take up all the remaining space; in that world, one band continues to sail just under the radar, year after year, making music just as good as they made back when you were taking notice. I'm talking about Tindersticks. "Falling Down a Mountain" is their second album in their new, stripped-down line-up. The previous album, "The Hungry Saw", had them testing the waters. This new album is a triumph. The sound is subtly different from the old days (mostly due to the smaller number of players involved, and the loss of their string and brass arranger, Dickon Hinchliffe). They have now discovered that less can, indeed, be more. And still, Stuart Staples rides atop it all, his voice, if anything, getting better with a little bit of wear and tear.

The album opens with the title track, six and a half minutes of slow drift, carrying with it clearly intentional echoes of "Walk on Gilded Splinters". That is a brave thing to attempt: like going for a triple somersault with double reverse pike while blindfolded. Naturally, they pull it off with aplomb.

(And did I ever mention that "Tiny Tears" is most likely the greatest song of the last 20 years? Well, there's no harm in saying it again.)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Zorn of the Month Club

As if he hasn't flooded the market enough with new recordings over the last couple of years or so (gotta spend that Macarthur Fellowship money somehow, I suppose), John Zorn announced at the start of this year that he would bring out a new CD on the fourth Tuesday of each month of 2010. Is it even possible to do that? Will there be any cheating involved? Will the best-laid plans of mice and men do whatever it is that they do?

Time will reveal all. But, in the meantime, we have had five fourth Tuesdays and five new Zorn records. (Six actually -- or maybe even seven -- but we'll get to that.) First out of the box was "Mycale", the thirteenth installment of the ongoing Book of Angels series, otherwise known as the Masada songbook, book two. The Book of Angels is starting to build into something substantial, in terms of quality as well as quantity. I found it difficult to get a handle on what he was up to early on -- the fact that each release was by a different artist, with little or no overlap of individual songs between them, made it hard for the music to develop an identity of its own, particularly when the shadow in which it sat was the extraordinary body of work known as Masada, with its large number of very memorable and excellent individual songs, all of which were first sent off into the world by Zorn's very own Masada quartet, which allowed them to develop a strong and recognisable template before Zorn introduced the many and varied reworkings, and live recordings, that followed.

The original quartet seems to have been put to bed (although a variant of it came together for volume 12), so book two inevitably comes across more as variation than as theme. But repeated listening, and in particular shuffling between them at length, reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, a uniformly high standard amongst the releases. If Zorn knows one thing, it's what he is doing. "Mycale" is a quartet of female voices, putting words, or things that sound like words, to Zorn's music. It is necessarily of shorter duration than most of the other releases. It would be too intense, too draining, if it went much beyond the allotted 33 minutes. It might not be the one I come back to the most often, but there is a lot going on here and it does repay concentration.

The fourth Tuesday in February brought with it "In Search of the Miraculous". This appears to be part of a new series of works by Zorn called "Odes for the New Millennium". It is lyrical chamber music, perhaps you might call it chamber jazz if you had to bang a nail into it from which to hang a particular shorthand description. The opening theme sets the tone: melodic piano and vibraphone, with restrained drumming lurking in the background. You could put this on in a fancy restaurant and it wouldn't raise too many eyebrows.  Which, y'know, when you're talking about John Zorn is actually a remarkable thing. He seems to have been working with melody and restraint rather a lot lately: the difference being that he no longer seems to feel the need to break the mood with passages of noisy skronk (which, obviously, has its place, but it does mean you don't get to introduce most of his music to the squares, even though they would like much of it).

March: Zorn's Dreamers ensemble, what I have come to think of as his "such fun" outlet, came along with their own take on Book of Angels, "Ipos". It perhaps doesn't need to be said, but this is a delight from beginning to end. The music is constantly changing, but almost invariably the changes raise a smile. (If Dreamers sound like any other Zorn combo, it would be Naked City as they were on parts of the debut album and, most directly, on "Radio".) Anything with Marc Ribot on board is bound to be quality.

The Tzadik site lists not one but two Zorn releases for April. Which one is the Zorn of the Month Club entry? The first is Zorn and Fred Frith improvising in the studio. There is a side of John Zorn's work that I have to allow others to make sense of. In the absence of anything to grab onto I find this type of unstructured improv impossible to enjoy, and hence impossible to listen to. I know that's my bad.

The other April release is another Book of Angels volume: number fifteen, "Baal". It is by two-thirds of the Jamie Saft Trio (responsible for the essential Book of Angels volume one, "Astaroth") with a different drummer, Kenny Wollesen -- another Zorn regular -- plus Ben Goldberg on clarinet. It promises to be very klezmer. I haven't heard it yet.

May has promised us one of Zorn's modern-composition pieces, from which I will probably keep my usual distance. I doubt that it's reached our shores yet.

Have we reached saturation point? Well, I haven't, anyway. (And nor has this been all: in February he also snuck out a reissue of "Chimeras", "a child's adventures in the realms of the unreal" (but which would more likely induce nightmares), with some reworkings and additions.) There is enough of a something-for-everyone feeling about what has come out so far (or has been announced -- a second Masada String Trio recording of Book of Angels material!; a sequel to In Search of the Miraculous) that he might just be able to pull this crazy stunt off, and without scraping the bottoms of any barrels, either. Stay tuned. (And then he will probably somehow top it in 2011: a disc a week, perhaps? I'd better resurrect my own survey of the "Filmworks" project, before it's too late.)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Song of the day

"You", by Ellen Allien. Ms Allien has long been our hot German DJ babe of choice. (Mind you, we have creepy middle-aged-man kinda feelings towards Ada, too.) Ellen's new album, "Dust", is a much more direct and straightforward affair than the relatively diffuse tones of "Sool". But I don't think anybody was expecting "You", a sub-three-minute slice of dream-pop comprising bass guitar, actual drums, and clean guitar lines straight out of the Robert Smith playbook. It is as striking as it is out of place. (Although it's only out of place if you approach your musician of choice with preconceived ideas of what they will sound like. As we do.) As we have now said three times running, "girls just wanna have fun".

Friday, June 04, 2010

Song of the day

"Dancehall Queen", by Robyn.

I figured that I wouldn't hear a fresher pop song this year than Germany's winning Eurovision entry. [Aside: for the last week we have had a ten-year-old going around the house singing "Balkan Balkan Balkan" and doing a very special little dance. Some days you hope they never grow up.]

But I had forgotten that Robyn had an album coming out. This song, which had previously appeared under the name "No Hassle" in various corners of the Internet, looks more backwards than forwards, but what Robyn manages to do, as few Europeans before her have managed, is to tackle serious reggae grooves and not come across sounding totally, um, "white". The Clash got it right after a couple of false steps. Rhythm and Sound, obviously. Well, The Police [he grudgingly acknowledges], whom Robyn might in fact be shouting out to in the brief "eeyo-yo-yo" passage. Anybody else? As for Robyn, she's a natural. This song will dislodge whatever is stuck in your head, and it will stay there until, well, until you play any other of the first six songs on the album. [Aside two: is it an album? Eight songs? Twenty-seven minutes? I think I have bought "albums" by KC & The Sunshine Band that have been that short, and a lot of early long players weren't all that long. What else are you gonna call it? It's too long to be  a "mini-album". It's definitely not an EP.] (The last two songs are quieter affairs, and take the record in a quite different, but not in any way lesser, direction.)

As we said yesterday, girls just wanna have fun.

Thursday, June 03, 2010