Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Song of the day

"Reagan Speaks For Himself", by Doug Kahn. Not a "song", really, just a collection of Ronald Reagan's own words cut up and put back together to bizarre effect. If Reagan didn't say these things, you can at least imagine him having done so. From opening cans of poison meat to breaking the backbone of America. I have been hunting high and low for this for many years; it first appeared as a flexidisc in an early issue of Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly's Raw magazine. The difficulty was I had no idea what it was called or who it was by. Somebody mentioned it the other day in something I was reading and *bingo*. At the time of writing it is available for download here. Those of you old enough to remember those times should do yourselves a favour.

My dream was to own a complete set of Raw. I start at number 8 and there weren't too many after that. (Oh, I also have the compilation of parts of the first three issues.) I am too scared to look on eBay because I have a feeling they remain as out of reach as they were when I used to see them sitting on a high shelf behind the counter in a book / comic shop (name lost to history) on Swanston Street. (I don't think it was an early location of Minotaur but I suppose I could be wrong. Happened before.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Song of the day

"Another Girl, Another Planet", by The Only Ones. While we're on the subject of guitar solos: they don't get much better than this.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Song of the day

"Time", by Pink Floyd. I have been giving "Dark Side Of The Moon" a good old thrashing lately. For many years I had something of a love/hate relationship with it: as an aspiring young antisocial post-punk nihilist (in my own mind) I was against it and everything it stood for. The problem was that by then its spell had well and truly been cast: I had been listening to it for a long time and had fallen in love with it. So I avoided the issue by just not playing it.

I have always been obsessed with the moment in this song, around the 4.30 mark (4.05 in the live clip I have linked to), where the guitar solo changes; it remains a guitar solo, but it spins on the head of a pin and becomes something else entirely. Without blinking an eye or missing a beat. I still don't know how they did that.

Album of the year: there has been a late challenge

It looks like I spoke too soon.

"Grinderman 2". In which Nick Cave and his band of hairy brothers continue to blur the line between Grinderman and the post-Mick Harvey Bad Seeds. The point of first Grinderman album, as it seems to me, and as I think I have said before, was not in what it was, but in what it led to: a rejuvenated Seeds on "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" But now, with Grinderman not so much a case of shaking the comfortable old sack to see what comes out as a legitimate musical project with its own history and, perhaps, defined parameters, the distinction, if there still is one, between Grinderman and Seeds is, as the lawyers would say, a fine one Okay, so perhaps Grinderman are a bit more feral, and certainly more rough around the edges, than (at least recent) Bad Seeds have tended to be, but the common purpose, the "bleed", if you like, between the two Grinderman albums and "Lazarus" is such that by now you can just as easily reach for Grinderman as for the Bad Seeds for your essential Nick Cave fix. (There are moments on this album when you wouldn't necessarily know which one you had picked up.) Album of the year? I don't suppose so, but in another year it coulda been a contender.

"Le Noise", by Neil Young. Two words come to mind when I listen to this record: "Ed Kuepper". One man, one guitar, and the mother of all effects pedals. At a couple of points during the course of the record I could swear that he was going to start singing "When I First Came To This Land". Listen to the start of "Someone's Gonna Rescue You" with your eyes closed. Make up your own mind. (I think the particular Kuepper record I have in mind is the live album "With A Knapsack On My Back".) Young's vocal register is a fraction higher, but there isn't a lot in it. You couldn't really say the child is the father of the man, because they are both no longer spring chickens, but you know what I mean. Or maybe you don't. Daniel Lanois cops a lot of shit, but come on: "Time Out Of Mind". "Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks". "Yellow Moon". That Emmylou Harris album. And now this remarkable beast. What's a guy gotta do? Seriously. Album of the year? It might be, if only I could get the chance to play it at the volume it deserves to be played at.

"Belle And Sebastian Write About Love", by, well, duh. It's been a long wait. It's another good B&S album. We really are spoiled, aren't we, when we can even entertain a discussion about the relative merits of this album versus that album or whatever. Just enjoy it. That's what it's for. Album of the year? Yes, of course, if I was in (yet another) cardigan phase of my life. So, no. Or at least, not today. (Irrelevant aside: note the coincidental titles of these two, not dissimilar, records, also bearing in mind that both appeared after a lengthy hiatus suggesting we would never be blessed with them -- "Belle And Sebastian Write About Love". "Bart And Friends Make You Blush". See what they did there?)

"North", by Darkstar. It continues to amaze me how much raw emotion can be worked from the sounds made by machines. The Human League. Kraftwerk. Telefon Tel Aviv. Junior Boys. Air (although their palette is broader). And now Darkstar. Some records, and I'm not talking lyrics here, I'm talking sounds, or combinations of words and sounds maybe, have a certain, well, I don't even know what you would call it -- a "quality"; an "X factor" -- that hits me like a punch in the stomach. If "North" doesn't have that effect on you, I can imagine it might leave you seriously underwhelmed, because its surface alone, in the context of what it is going to be, inevitably, compared with (Hyperdub long players, of which there have been few, in particular; the future of dubstep, in general), may well, as your stockbroker might say, surprise on the downside. (In which case I feel sad for you, but I understand.) Me? I have a feeling that this record will be with me for a long, long time. Album of the year? I think it might have been, if only I had enough time to take it in, to absorb its lessons, to live in it. And you can't do that in a couple of months.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Song of the day

"Out Of Tune", by Real Estate. And, surprise surprise, here it is. The fact that it starts off like a lost Marine Girls song, and is able to totally avoid the disappointment that would usually be felt around these parts when it turns out to be something else entirely, speaks volumes for how good this song is. And it is. The two-guitar thing I was talking about before? Right here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Song of the day

"Walking About", by Venom P. Stinger. A full-throated roar from beyond the gates of Hell. Well, Melbourne. Featuring a couple of guys you might recognise.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Song of the day

"Younger Than Yesterday", by Real Estate. I have been listening to this band quite a bit lately. I like the cut of their jib. Or is that "gib". Mostly the vocals sound like they bought their microphone from the same dodgy shipment that seems to have finished up in the hands of most of today's Brooklyn bands. But it's the guitars that stand out. They get a kind of two-guitar interplay thing going. I'm not saying we are in the realm of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, or even Red Symons and Bongo Starr, at least not yet, but there is a real chemistry here, and the thing they do they do just right. And when they do it, I'm theirs.

I have their self-titled album, bought and paid for. They have a new single, "Out Of Tune", which could end up on these pages any day now. But this song is from the "Reality" EP, which came out either before or after their album. (I have chronology issues.) It stretches out over four and a half minutes. It has a very likeable twang to it, and just the faintest hint of a drawl. (Although in truth they are about as "country" as Galaxie 500.) There are moments when I am reminded of The Gun Club. I wish I had more opportunities to say those words.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Addiction of the week

This site.

Just one more click ...

Just one more click ...

Just ...

One ...

More ...


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Another Filmworks Haiku

John Zorn, "Filmworks XX: Sholem Aleichem":

"If you like this sort
Of thing then this is the sort
Of thing you will like"

(A bit pathetic, really -- the haiku -- but it keeps us motoring through them. Not too many more now. This one has our friends the Masada String Trio, backing some accordion and harp. You know how I feel about the accordion.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Song of the day

"The Pearl", by Espers. In which, in a somewhat unexpected turn of events, side two of Brian Eno's "Before And After Science" is reinterpreted through the filter of Joe Boyd's production work circa 1969. It even has some Robert Fripp-style infinite-guitar-loop shenanigans. And to complete the picture, the title of the song is also the title of one of Eno's most highly regarded albums.

Espers: Eno fanboys (and girls)? Just a hunch.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Song of the day

"Why Cant [sic] We Live Together", by Sade. (There is no apostrophe on the back cover or inside the gatefold, but mercifully one appears on the label.)

Once every couple of months the YMCA Auxiliary holds a garage sale in and around what looks like an old scout hall near the playground at Yarralumla. There are a few shelves of dusty boxes of dusty vinyl taking up most of one room. I usually have time to get through only a couple of boxes before Carl has ransacked the boxes of old McDonalds toys and such, usually managing to enhance one of his many incomplete sets, and is ready to leave. (We seem to have roughly ten McDonalds toys for each time we have visited that godforsaken place. I suppose it keeps them out of landfill.)

Thus, even though there seems to be very limited turnover of records from one year to the next, I often manage to uncover something that induces a smile. Today, that something was a seemingly unplayed copy of the first Sade album. I was transported back to 1984, the second year of the fabled Nicholson Street shared household. My 1984, musically, was a mixed bag. The first Jesus and Mary Chain album. Talking Heads' "Speaking In Tongues". David Sylvian's "Words With The Shaman", with Jon Hassell. (Also Hassell's own "Dream Theory In Malaya".) Eno's "Apollo". The Michael Brook and Brian Eno album (which I never could get intom although not for want of trying). U F@cking 2's "Unforgettable Fire" (purely on account of Eno's involvement -- see the pattern here?). "Porcupine", by Echo & The Bunnymen. The Smiths. The first two REM albums. The Dream Syndicate's second album, "Medicine Show". Weekend's "La Variete". "Einstein On The Beach". And Sade. What she was doing in there I could never have explained (I may well have had the hots for her, based solely on her singing voice), and when, a couple of years later, I had dived headlong into an unruly diet of Einsturzende Neubauten, Foetus, Sonic Youth and the like there was really no room for her silky smooth tones. (Funnily enough, it was a comment I read somewhere by Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo about Sade, possibly ironic but also possibly not, that got me thinking that I may have been wrong.)

Of course, Canberra's glorious spring weather is the perfect listening environment for something this perfect. It might be slightly ersatz "soul", but you can't fake quality, and quality is all over this record. According to SFJ, writing in the New Yorker, she and her band are still going, and going strong, 26 years later. She sells, like, more records internationally than anybody, and yet you never hear anything about her. Sounds like a good business model.

All I really wanted to say, though, is, and this may sound to some like sacrilege: there is really not much between her version of Timmy Thomas's "Why Can't We Live Together" (apostrophe rightly reinstated) and Massive Attack's cover of "Be Thankful For What You Got". Which, before you start your hate mail, is not intended in the least as a slight to Massive Attack.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Song of the day

"Get Behind Me", by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan. In which the absence of any kind of recognisable verse-chorus-verse structure, the unchanging rolling and tumbling blues and general ramshackle anybody-can-do-it skiffle-billy playing, and the singular nature of Lanegan's post-adenoidal growling/gurgling, lead to the conclusion that if this had been inadvertently included as the lead-off track on any of Dylan's post-"Time Out Of Mind" albums, not too many people would have even noticed. (The fleeting appearances of Isobel Campbell, peering around the corner from time to time from the edge of the frame, might give the game away to the attentive listener.)

The Filmworks Haiku Series Continues

John Zorn, "Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse".

(This one's a bit lame. I would also just like to say that this is one of my favourites in the series. It is a fine and very lyrical example of small-ensemble playing.)

There is nothing quite
Like a well-recorded and
Well-played piano.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

YouTube of the day


I can't believe I haven't seen this before. It somehow conveys the pure essence of Yo La Tengo.

If you listen attentively, you will also notice that "Sugarcube" is a fine song, in anybody's language.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Album of the year?

They said it couldn't be done. I said "Phooey".

They said it was too early. I said "No, no, no". Oh, wait, that was Amy Winehouse.

Up until now, I had assumed that the race for that bogus but necessary title, album of the year, would be a two-horse affair between Espers' "III" and "The Courage of Others", by Midlake. They are both albums that reward, no, demand, repeated listening. Although I am totally into the Midlake at the moment (it was wrong of me to say that it doesn't have a "Roscoe"; it may actually have two or three), I suspect that it is the Espers record that may turn out to be the more lastingly "significant" of the two.

As we turn into the back straight of 2010, however, a third horse, which has been slowly creeping through the field, its vision obscured by the other contenders, has suddenly broken into a gallop and overtaken them all. That record is "Swim", by Caribou.

It has taken me some time to get past the fact that "Swim" isn't "Andorra" part two. It has none (or very little) of the luscious pastoral electro/acoustic psychedelia of that album. My early impression was that this quality hadn't actually been replaced by anything at all in particular, and thus I struggled to find a way in. But piece by piece I found myself being drawn to it, and now I'm in the kind of phase that I don't get into all that often these days, where this is frequently the only record I want to listen to. A similar thing happened last year with the Junior Boys' "Begone Dull Care", and so it was surprising, but also perhaps inevitable, that Mr Greenspan's (no, not that one) name turns up on the credits for "Swim". There is a similar attention to detail in the two albums, a sense that each individual sound has been given a serious amount of care and attention, and tweaked until, like the littlest bear's porridge, it is Just Right. You wouldn't want this quality in everything you listen to, but when it works it's more than a bit special.)

"Swim" may not be a terribly "immediate" or "direct" album, but, like "Andorra", it turns out to be totally psychedelic in its own way, and is almost overstuffed with wonderful passages, sounds and ideas. I still find it impossible to imagine that Caribou's songs are constructed, essentially, out of bits of other people's records: they seem too organic for that. Ah, the mysteries of the creative process. I suspect if I were a musician I would be even more in awe of this record than I am.

"Album of the year", then? What about Joanna Newsom, I hear you cry. Tracey Thorn. Real Estate. Tunng. Numerous African reissues. Tindersticks. The Magnetic Fields. The Fall. (It's been a long, long time since I would have seriously considered nominating a Fall album as the best record released during a particular year, but there is none of the usual best-record-since-whatever over-egging about "Your Future Our Clutter", it's a genuinely urgent, intense, compelling marvel.) Woods. Emeralds. Jeremy Jay. Tame Impala. "Total 11". jj. Ellen Allien. The Books. Julian Lynch. Lindstrom and Christabelle. Max Richter. A few others that I have no doubt forgotten to mention. And what about the unknown albums still to be released in 2010? (Not forgetting, either, the other two records mentioned earlier.) And that's without even acknowledging the existence of the elephant in all of our living rooms. [Hey, wait, James Murphy might be a big bloke, but he's not *that* big -- Ed.]

But this is where I sit, or "swim", for now.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Version therapy

*Yawn*. Another Lee "Scratch" Perry release. How many thousand must there be now? New. Old. Repackaged. Dubious. Authentic. Troubling. We have had them all.

If I am being honest, my own preference is for the cavernous depths and endless spatial vistas conjured by the likes of King Tubby (and, leaping into the present, the almost palpable echo chamber created by Rhythm & Sound -- not even Jamaican) to the bizarre sound effects, scatological ravings and cow noises so often tossed off by Perry.

But you can't deny Perry's power and influence, and I do swear by "Arkology". And original seventies releases such as "Super Ape" and "Blackboard Jungle Dub". And numerous albums with his name on them somewhere, such as "Party Time", by The Heptones, and "War Ina Babylon", by Max Romeo. And countless Black Ark singles.

And so here we are in 2010 and Pressure Sounds, the venerable reggae reissue and archival label, gives us twenty more Perry dubs, packaged together under the title "Sound System Scratch". If I understand the back story properly, they are all culled from a collection of one-off dub plates never before heard outside of the Jamaican sound systems of the seventies.

I first caught the dub bug in about 1979, the tail end of the period documented on this disc, when I started listening to what was then 2JJ, which ran a "spiritual" program of a Sunday evening. (If churches played music like this they would have a few more parishioners.) There wasn't much scope for acquiring Jamaican records in Fish Creek, so with the reinvention of 2JJ as 2JJJ this music was lost to me until the reggae reissue boom (which ran in a curious parallel with the lounge music boom) of the 1990s.

Hence there are many people, I am thinking in particular of the Murray Nashes of the world (he being the only person I have ever met who actually had a lot of this stuff on original, ganja-soaked vinyl), who are much better educated about this kind of thing than I am, but I think it's fair to say that I have dived a reasonable distance below the aqueous surface of seventies dub. And I am very pleasantly surprised to be able to say that (1) I don't recall ever having heard any of these particular tracks before and (2) they are all first rate. First rate, I tell you.

Many of the basic rhythm tracks will be familiar to regular listeners. "Big Neck Cut", for example, comes from a track known to me as "Dreadlocks In Moonlight", which appears on "Arkology", and which itself is a close relative of Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves", and the approximately twenty thousand "versions" that song has begotten. (Or is that "begat"? Begorrah!) This version, though, has Perry's own vocals replaced by some lovely female chorusing. "Lama Lava Mix One", the longest track here at five and a half minutes, is not a million miles away from "Onward Christian Soldiers" (and features the smooth tones of Augustus Pablo's melodica). "The Rightful Organiser" comes from what I think is a Pablo track, but I can't quite put a finger on it. (It's one of the relatively few times that Perry puts himself into the mix, and on this occasion it works well, probably because it's the exception rather than the rule.) And so on.

Much of the disc is resolutely lo-fi, which perhaps confirms the putative nature of the source material. Perry's ego and tiresome self-promoting is put aside and his considerable talents are applied, instead, in the service of figuring out just how far "out" this music could go while still being recognisable as "music". The opening track, "Dub Plate Pressure", at times approximates metal sheets of white noise. And there is not a fake cow noise to be heard.

All in all, this is solid gold Lee "Scratch" Perry from start to finish. As such, it qualifies as perfect Friday afternoon listening around these parts.

Song of the day

"My Love", by Paul McCartney & Wings. When I was nine years old, and I only knew this as a song on the radio, I thought that it was the greatest song I had ever heard. It extracted from me emotions I never knew I had.

In 2010, it tells me two other things: first, how much of McCartney there must be in "Abbey Road"; and second, that when McCartney gets it right, it can't be gotten any more right.