Friday, December 30, 2011

Song of the day

"Beeroth", by Masada.

All roads, it seems, lead me back to Masada. I am so loving this song today. It first appeared on the fifth Masada studio album. I also have a version recorded live in Seville in 2000. This one, though, simply rocks. Playing at Tonic, on home turf, they are very relaxed and comfortable. Joey Baron seems to have taken his happy pills, to no ill effect. You cannot sit still while listening to this. I have tried.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Song of the day

"Sister", by The Black Keys.

On the other hand, sometimes simple is best.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Song of the day

""Hello Shadow", by Pluramon.

The album this song comes from, "Dreams Top Rock", has been very close to the top of The List ever since I bought it, unheard, on the strength of recommendations, first by Marcello Carlin, and then by Oren at Metropolis Books in Melbourne, back in the days that they also sold music. (It probably wouldn't sell many copies just on the strength of the cover art.)

This song, and several others on the album, feature the voice (it is its own adjective) of Julee Cruise, you know, her from the Twin Peaks soundtrack (whoops, it's D*v*d L*n*h again) and various records bearing the name Angelo Badalamenti. (You might remember a song called "Floating".) Musically, it occupies the space between My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. Which is possibly a fairly narrow space.

If we are going to be talking about "maximalism", this shit is pretty maximal.

Download here (right click save as etc).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This does not go with this

The hardest of the hard waxing lyrical about two modernism pioneers? You better believe it.

YouTube makes for strange bedfellows.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Song of the day

"Video Games", by Lana Del Rey.



No matter how much the video screams "David Lynch, you want me for your next movie". No matter how much the song screams mock/retro/pseudo/meta/haunto/crypto/whatevah*. Neither of these things can hide the fact that this is a stunning piece of music. Seriously. Melancholy can so easily slide into maudlin. Not here it doesn't. To say, as I never thought I would say about another song, that it compares favourably with Aimee Mann's "Save Me", well, that's a nice thing to be able to say.

*It is clear, in 2011, that "Pseudo Echo" was a remarkably prophetic name for a pop group. Too bad they were rubbish.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Song of the day

"Nuclear Seasons", by Charli XCX.

I know it's wrong, but I just can't help it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Song of the day

"How To Be Invisible", by Kate Bush.

In preparation for the arrival in the letter box of the new Kate Bush album, I have been listening to "Aerial" quite a bit. (Not that that's any kind of burden.) I am always nervous when a new Kate album comes along. She seems always to be in danger of flipping over the edge into embarrassing excess, but somehow she never does.

I particularly love the guitar in this song. It evokes eighties guitar sounds but in a non-dated way. That's the other thing about Kate: her music runs alongside everyone else's music without ever feeling the need to engage with it. Or something like that.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

YouTubes of the day

One:



(In this century of Internet memes, where the TroLoLo guy can conquer the planet in a way he never could have before the Wall came down, you could imagine a song like this going the same way. What is even harder to imagine is that this was a real life hit single back in 1982. Which, in this country at least, probably demonstrates the power that "Countdown" -- or, really, one man, Ian "Molly" Meldrum (click on the link; please, click on the link) -- had over the record-buying public. Also notable for the very small Casio keyboard, which can also be heard on several songs by The Fall.)

Two:



(This is best appreciated if you don't know who is behind it. It is somebody you will be familiar with if you follow the music blogs, and who may well end up having made one of the albums voted best of the year. But he also does these video mash-up doohickeys that are works of art on their own.)

Three:



(Unleash your inner nerd. Dude has an amazing voice. Lyrics are clever. Technical expertise definitely required. Four and a half out of five.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Song of the day: overload edition

"Halleluwah", by Can

While we are on the subject of long songs, "Halleluwah" is the jam to end all jams. Liebezeit's drumming grabs you from the outset and doesn't loosen its grip for the next 18 minutes. How does he keep it up? If they had performance-enhancing-drug testing for musicians he would be high on the list of likely suspects.

I am not sure whether I am allowed to say that I find "Tago Mago", if taken, in the modern way, as 72 minutes of uninterrupted music, frequently too diffuse, too unanchored, to sustain my interest, particularly over much of the second half. But if you consider it as it originally was, way back in 1971, as two 12-inch pieces of vinyl, I think it makes more sense. There is a natural separation between the three rather engaging tracks on side one and the two slightly less engaging but equally rewarding tracks on side four, and the two epics that make up sides two and three. "Halleluwah" makes its case. "Aumgn", on the other hand, doesn't (my opinion), but when changing from disc one to disc two it is just as easy to flip straight over to side four as it is to cue up side three (youngsters, just go with this; you will likely have no idea of what archaic witchcraft I am speaking).



"Black Sweat", by Prince

I started thinking of this song when I was out in the garden this morning, trying to get a few things done before the heat kicked in, working up a skinny-white-dude sweat, imagining Prince conjuring up this song while doing his own weeding, or perhaps a bit of digging and planting. It's warm work either way.

(Regrettably, Prince won't let you listen to the song via YouTube. You can watch the clip, but only in silence. Boo, Prince.)

"Song To The Siren", by This Mortal Coil

As written about by Martin Aston in yesterday's Guardian. Seems I wasn't the only person not to realise that the words weren't written by Tim Buckley. I bought a vinyl copy of "Starsailor" in the early 1980s (I have since lost it: easy come, easy go) from the room up the back of Greville Records that subsequently disappeared and then, some years later, reappeared again, as if by magic. I have bought many fine records from those few square feet, some of which I have managed not to lose. It was the first Buckley I had ever heard. I didn't understand what I was listening to, but "Song To The Siren" is its own reward, and is the one thing from the record I kept with me. A couple of years later, being a Cocteau Twins uberfan, I was knocked out to hear on the radio the unmistakable voice of Elizabeth Fraser singing that song. It leaves me speechless, and spooked, to this day. People can (and probably will) continue to cover "Song To The Siren" until the cows come home, but Tim and Liz will always be the be-all and the end-all.



"Beachy Head", by Veronica Falls

Moving abruptly to the present day, don't be surprised (or, necessarily, care) if "Veronica Falls" ends up being one of my favourite albums of 2011. People seem to have them tagged as "twee", but really they aren't any more twee than (to pick a couple of echoes at random) The Cramps (I swear I can catch them in the sound of the guitars), The Raincoats and the fabulous, underrated Electrelane. Style never goes out of fashion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Check ... one ... two ...


Unless Aunty Kate pulls a rabbit out of her hat in a couple of weeks time, it is highly unlikely that I will like any song released in 2011 more than these two songs: "Banana Ripple", by Junior Boys, and "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)", by Wilco.

Both are long songs. "Banana Ripple" tops the nine-minute mark while the Wilco maxes out at 12 minutes. Neither outstay their welcome, and neither would benefit from being either shorter or longer. They are what they are.

The Junior Boys track is surprising for them, in that it more or less sheds the faint air of melancholy that hovers over most of their songs, for what might easily be mistaken for a lost New Order dancefloor anthem. Sitting, as it does, at the end of what is quite a weighty album (and also unquestionably one of the year's best), it also acts as something of a palate cleanser. It leavens their customary electronics with just the slightest trace of (stylishly fonky) guitar, and is possibly one of the few songs brave enough to foreground the click track. Jeremy Greenspan starts the falsetto revival. People have given it the remix treatment (which it probably lends it to more than most JBs tracks), but, as is often the case, there is no improving on the original.

By probable coincidence, "One Sunday Morning", similarly, is one of Wilco's lightest songs. Which is not to say it's a confection. Far from it. This is a pop song, pure and simple, that bears real emotional weight on its featherlike wings. There are a small number of 12-minute songs that can sustain the length. "Marquee Moon" is one of them, and Wilco have nodded towards Television several times previously. (Here, they don't.) If there is a reference point for the musical palette employed (an exquisite acoustic-guitar figure, embellished with piano flourishes, and other tonal stuff floating by underneath), it might be "Five Leaves Left"-era Nick Drake. It drifts, that's what it does. Damn near perfectly.

Wilco's recent critics (of which there are dispiritingly many) seem to have a problem with a band that has so much indie/avant rock talent not chasing the extremes. But what Wilco are really doing, I think, is even braver, and rarer: rather than seeing how far out they can go (which Tweedy has, arguably, already proved), they are seeing how far they can go the other way: specifically, what are the limits of restraint. It is instructive to listen closely to their last three albums, watching out for how little everyone is doing, and what they are, or are not, doing with it. (Similar notions might have been afoot on Yo La Tengo's "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out", another album that works brilliantly within its own terms, and which was also somewhat misunderstood on release.) "One Sunday Morning" is where the Wilco strategy proves itself.

Both YouTubes will, of necessity, cripple your monthly downloads. But here they are anyway:





Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mere Pseud Mag Ed

The New Yorker is an august, urbane, steadfastly middle-class journal of record. It gives theatre, classical music and architecture as much coverage as cinema. It also has Sasha Frere-Jones. He has given it instant street cred by giving valuable column inches, over the last five years or so, to artists as wide-ranging as Arthur Russell, Robyn, and Norwegian death-metal purveyors. This week, he writes about The Fall. This would be very high on the list of things I never expected to see in the New Yorker. You can read it here.

While four or five columns in a mainstream magazine is barely going to scratch the surface for those of us who are lifelong devotees of Mark E Smith's long-running circus (and will likely piss off a lot of Fall purists for not being 20 pages long), I reckon he does a pretty fair job of explaining the curious appeal of the band, and perhaps even allowing a cursory listen to their usual mayhem to make sense to the novice. He writes:

The world flows through Mark E. Smith’s lyrics, in all their venom and wonder, while the band keeps us rooted, promising us nothing more than a sure footing.
And you can't argue with that.

Smith's current band, which is now, if my mathematics is right, an astounding three albums old, is the finest rock band he has had behind him since the two-drummers days of "Hex Enduction Hour" et al. The new album, "Ersatz G.B.", shows off one of the most nimble yet forceful rhythm sections of recent vintage, and the guitar has such a classic post-punk sound and fury that those of us who grew up ingesting the sound of records made in the UK between 1978 and 1980 may find ourselves checking our calendars to see what year it is. Smith, too, is in fine form, studiously moving from moments when he sounds like he is doing nothing except clearing his throat into the microphone, to moments when he is a deranged pensioner who has wandered into a recording studio, to other moments of genuine hilarity and/or insight. ("Nate Will Not Return" is a particular lyrical highlight.) You would hesitate to call it a collection of "songs", but I don't know what else you would call it.

And in the midst of all this mayhem Smith generously gives us "Happi Song", which is stop-you-in-your-tracks gorgeous. The Fall have done this before: I am thinking of the chorus of "Slang King". I am also thinking of "Wings", but would have to listen to it again to be certain. It mentions Australia. It is sung by, I am assuming, the current Mrs Mark E Smith, Elena Poulou, who sounds like nobody so much as Clare Grogan with a mittel-European accent. And that's good enough for me. (See what you think.)

One more thing. Frere-Jones, in a blog entry associated with his Fall piece, refers to loons like him who would never be sorry to hear "Cruiser's Creek" for the hundredth time. Those are also loons like me. Make that one hundred and one:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This Goes With This (Sacred Cow Edition)

There is a fine line between the gentle homage and the rip-off. Love Is All take the keyboard line from The Clean's "Tally-Ho" and run with it. Which side of the line does it fall? You be the judge.



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Song of the day

"Black Ribbons (Spring Mix)", by The Apartments.



So, like I said, I wasn't expecting the new album by The Bats. Well, I -- LIKE TOTALLY -- never imagined, when I woke up this morning, that I would discover that The Apartments, after a hiatus of 13 years, had released a brand new seven-inch single. It's enough to make one believe in miracles.

Peter Milton Walsh's voice seems to have fallen victim to the ravages of time, but this newly exposed fragility suits these typically fragile, melancholy songs. Actually the two sides of the record are two takes on the one song. The one above is the Spring Mix. The other side is the Autumn Mix. The latter title seems a bit redundant, as there is a sense of the autumnal permanently suspended over The Apartments.

Shout-outs to Chapter Music for putting the record out, and to That Striped Sunlight Sound for alerting me to it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Where did I come from?


Earlier this year I was at the picture framers, having my Christmas present from Adrienne put in a frame suitable for hanging at work. The woman who took my order made some observations about the unusual nature of the name "Stan", and was it a family name (it isn't), and did I know how it came about. (Generously, she also told me a story about the appearance of the name "Stan" in her own family, although I hadn't asked her to and, on balance, would probably rather she had just measured up the picture and given me a price.) I kind of shrugged and made the sort of noncommittal noises one makes when one isn't the kind of person who likes talking to complete strangers, particularly in a business or commercial setting, about personal matters.

As it turns out, I do know something about how I got to be Stan. There is a long answer and a short answer. The short answer is that my mother said to my father, "Call him whatever you like, just as long as it's not Arthur." (I probably wouldn't have minded being "Art", or "Artie", but I'm sure I would have been given even more hell at school than I was actually given; "Stan" doesn't carry a lot of baggage that country high school kids could readily latch onto and throw back at you. It's not common, but on the other hand it's also not a signifier like, say, "Adolf".)

The longer answer gets to the same punch line, but by a more circuitous, although not necessarily scenic, route. It is a tale that was related by my cousin Max (at my mother's direction) at my 21st birthday. I was only half listening then (or, more likely, I was listening but in a state of extreme self-consciousness on account of its being about me, thus causing the story to drift into one ear, pass straight through and out the other side, leaving little or no trace), and I have since lost the piece of paper which had most of the story sketched out on it, and my 21st birthday is a generation ago now, and neither of my parents have been around for a long, long time, making it impossible for me to seek clarification of the details. But, from what I do remember, it is kind of a good story. And what does it really matter if it is not 100 per cent fact?

According to Wikipedia, nothing interesting happened on Sunday, 3 May 1964. And yet there I was, at Foster Hospital, preparing to make my big entrance into the world. Trouble was, my position was such that I was folded around on myself, like a piece of tiny human origami, so that every time I moved I kicked myself in the head. (This perhaps explains some things.) Medical facilities in a small country hospital at that time being, it is fair to assume, somewhat rudimentary, my mother's doctor, having decided that I probably wasn't coming out that way any time soon, or not alive, anyway, determined that there was nothing for it but to send her (and the incipient me) to Melbourne, a two-hour drive away.

At this point, a number of "degree of difficulty" factors presented themselves. The regular ambulance driver was on holiday. The relief driver had a heart condition. The ambulance had a heart condition of its own, namely a failing battery. It also had a non-functioning radio. Oh, and its siren didn't work. Nevertheless, our mercy dash seems to have gone smoothly, until the driver went to turn onto Swanston Street, in order to take us across the city and thence to St Vincent's Hospital. The good people at Foster had rung ahead to advise of our mission, and arrangements had been made to close Swanston Street to ease our passage through the city. Unfortunately, on account of there being no working radio on board, there was no way of communicating this to the driver, who, entirely understandably, thought, "Crikey" (or words to that effect), "the flamin' road's closed. What do I do now?", thus putting unnecessary strain on his already strained ticker, and adding valuable minutes, or tens of minutes, to our trip as he sped off up Flinders Street to find another way through, along roads that would have been more congested than they would normally have been, given the closure of Swanston Street (my fault; everything has always been my fault), and unable to alert other drivers of the urgency of his mission, given the lack of a siren. (In the interests of verisimilitude I should point out that all of this isn't quite as dramatic as it sounds; the events in this story took place many years before there were any signs of life to be found in the city on a Sunday afternoon, aside from the destitute and those travelling from one side of Melbourne to the other.)

At the end of this ordeal, the ambulance arrived at St Vincent's, only to find (there must always be one further complication in a story like this) that the maternity ward turned out to be on the other side of Victoria Street from the rest of the hospital. Well, this wasn't anything that a speedy U-turn couldn't fix, of course, and by that stage our driver must have thought he was a cardiologically challenged Evel Knievel. (I can only hope his trip back to Foster was less eventful.)

I, after all that, was born. My spine has been slightly twisted in a couple of places ever since, and I required two blood transfusions (all I know is that my mother once told me they weren't for "the usual reason", whatever that may have been), but in any event I survived. As did my mother, somewhat against the odds. At some point, after I had been taken away and mum had emerged from whatever sedation she had needed (if any; I have always assumed she had passed out somewhere along the way), my father said to her, "What are we going to call him?", to which she replied, "Call him whatever you like, just as long as it's not Arthur." At which point my mother fell asleep for a long, long time. (Three days later, she looked at the nurse and said, "Do you think I could see the baby?" It would appear that that minor detail was overlooked in all of the other excitement.)

And so it was that I became "Stanley".

(My middle name, "Bruce", on the other hand, has always been a bit perplexing. Could there be any good reason for naming your first (and, as things turned out, only) child after Sir Stanley Melbourne Bruce, the man who was, at that time, the only sitting Prime Minister to have lost his seat at an election? (As readers with long enough memories will know, this is no longer the case, which alleviates me from that particular burden, but also kind of proves the point: can you imagine Mr and Mrs Smith calling their little boy "John Howard Smith"? Well, I suppose there would have to be somebody, somewhere. There always is.) I imagine that in my case it was simply a matter of innocent and probably subconscious word association. The world will never know.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Song of the day

"Simpletons", by The Bats.

I neither expected, nor had knowledge of, a new album by The Bats. And yet, lo (behold, even), here one is: "Save All The Monsters", on the resuscitated Flying Nun label. (Nor did I know that they were playing Melbourne and Sydney last weekend, or I would have urged you to get out and see them.) With the exception of a relatively fallow couple of years in the early nineties, when, for misguided but perfectly understandable reasons, they took the commercial option, a new Bats album has always been a thing of joy. And this is no exception.

The thing about The Bats is, they are at their best not when they try to push the boundaries but when they stick to their formula. They are slowly moving towards creating the perfect Bats song. Three and a half minutes of understated pop bliss. And when they get there we will be able to discard everything else and listen to that one song, on an endless loop, forever. But until that point is reached we have quite enough very fine Bats songs to be going on with.

Ooh, look, here comes one now.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Song of the day

"Terrible Angels", by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

As good as this song is (and it really does bounce along), you can see why it wasn't included on her last album, "IRM". While that album was in name and execution a Charlotte Gainsbourg album produced by Beck, this song is almost pure Beck, save for the vocals. If you close your eyes, you might think you are listening to something from "Modern Guilt". Which is not a criticism. The music works well with the post-Michael Jackson dance routines of the video, which you may now watch (spoiler alert: it has a somewhat alarming ending).

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Not every coincidence is a happy one

During the weekend I intended, but ran out of time, to make a Song of the Day entry for "Lyke Wake Dirge", a song off Pentangle's "Basket of Light" album. I was going to make some light-hearted crack about how it reminds me of the scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" where the monks are walking along, chanting and hitting themselves on the head with wooden planks.

And then I woke up this morning to the news that Bert Jansch has died. (It probably suits his famously reticent nature to have had his death overshadowed by that of a certain world-changing computer entrepreneur.)

Here is a different Pentangle song, "Train Song", highlighting Jansch's quicksilver guitar playing:



And here he is, alone, doing a song called "Angie", from his first album:




And here is what Sasha Frere-Jones has to say.

Song of the day

"Still Cold", by Mazzy Star.



I have always secretly loved the way that at around the 3'30" mark this song finally does what it has been threatening to do all along: morph into Boston's "More Than A Feeling". Only for a fleeting moment, really, but it's enough.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

John Zorn 2010 - Third Quarterly Report


Getting back to a project we started some time ago and then lost sight of, viz., tracking the progress of John Zorn in his attempt to release an album a month over 2010. We can now say with some certainty that he did achieve that goal (the one we have deemed to be the December release may not have turned up until the new year, but we should cut the guy a bit of slack: even eleven albums in a year isn't something normal people could manage). But we will for now confine ourselves to July-September.

First up was "Haborym", the most recent in the ongoing Book of Angels series.

You probably know the story of Masada; how Zorn wrote a couple of hundred tunes (I believe they may be called "heads") based on some mutant -- but inspired -- combination of Ornette Coleman's harmolodics and klezmer music, and put together a knockout quartet to record a few of them. Over time, thanks both to the original studio albums and to any number of (legit and otherwise) live recordings, many of these tunes became almost standards -- well, in our house, anyway -- so that, by the time Zorn started bringing in different combinations of musicians to interpret them, the amazing thing was not the tunes themselves but how they could be pulled apart and put back together in any number of ways and still hold up.

And then one day Zorn, who may or may not be easily bored, woke up and said to himself, okay, I think I will write another 300 or so of these things. And I will call it the Book of Angels.

And he did.

By this time, though, the original quartet had disbanded, so instead of starting with a solid and uniform template through which to introduce the new pieces, and from which variations could later spring, variations this time around are all we have. On each album a different combination of (mostly) "downtown luminaries" is brought in to interpret, under Zorn's watchful eye, several pieces from the Book of Angels. Practically none of the pieces have appeared more than once. Because of this, and because for the most part these pieces themselves sound like variations on the ones from the Masada songbook, the Book of Angels was always going to struggle to gain the recognition of the original Masada tunes.

Not that that would stop John Zorn. This album, the 16th (!) in the series, is an encore performance by my favourite of all of Zorn's journeymen combos, the Masada String Trio. Double bass, violin, cello. For what can be difficult music, it is seemingly effortlessly played, and cleanly recorded: there is not much more to be said. If you have crossed paths with these characters before, you absolutely know what you are going to get.

Masada and its offshoots, for me, are the core of Zorn's repertoire, and, although a certain, perhaps quite large, contingent of his followers might label it "conservative" (and perhaps, by his earlier standards, they would be right), well, outside of American politics that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The next disc to come along, in August, was "The Nobel Prize Winner", aka volume XXIV in the Filmworks series. This recording is something of a showcase for the piano playing of Rob Burger, who sets up an understated, melancholy mood, with little room (or need) for disruption or tension. (Although, this being Zorn, you do get a little of both.) Zorn regulars Kenny Wollesen (drums) and Trevor Dunn (upright bass) provide a rhythm section when called upon, with the overall effect that of being at a better class of smoky piano bar. If you find yourself thinking of Vince Guaraldi during some tracks, and Philip Glass during others, you are probably not alone. And, yes, I know the Tzadik website blurb mentions both of those surnames, but that doesn't make them wrong or not independently verifiable. (Besides, how do we know they weren't referring to Hopey Glass and, erm, Charlie Guaraldi?)

September, on the other hand, spawned a monster. "Ipsissimus" is the fifth release in the Moonchild series, and an altogether more raucous affair than the above two records. (It doesn't rupture your spleen as completely and instantly as "Spy Vs Spy", say, but we're all a lot older now.) Dunn again appears on bass, this time utilising electricity and amplification, alongside Joey Baron on a much abused drum kit. The two of them (over)drive these tracks, with their odd time signatures and thrash metal tropes. Texture is provided variously by Marc Ribot (in meistershredder mode), Zorn himself on sax, and Mike Patton's, uh, "versatile" vocal cords. On the one hand I was listening to this kind of thing 15 years ago courtesy David Brown and his pals. On the other hand it is still pretty freakin' awesome. (Note, especially, the Morricone-meets-"Rango" desert twang of "The Book of Los".) Best consumed loud -- very loud -- while wearing oversized shorts, runners and a black t-shirt bearing your choice of antisocial message, and using your free hand to throw a whole mess of devil's horns.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Song of the day

"Misery", by Veronica Falls.

Veronica Falls sound variously like The Raincoats, The Wedding Present, The Cannanes, The Bats (and if you are going to do a song in homage to that particular pocket of the Flying Nun sound, you might as well call it "Stephen") and The Ampersands (the Melbourne ones). But what they might lack in originality they certainly make up for in verve. Their just-out self-titled debut album is full of it. If we were 20 years younger we would be bouncing around the living room. Heck, we are anyway.

You can't watch the official video for "Misery" on YouTube in Australia (what's with that?) but you can watch them playing it live:



(They make a bit of a meal of the vocals in the first chorus but just bear with them. Also, the recorded version -- download it here! -- ends with a very sweet bit of acapella, sounding more like Steeleye Span than any of the names listed above.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Song of the day

"Penobska Oakwalk", by Quilt.



The best that I can say about this song, which is quite new although it doesn't really sound it, is that it starts off good and gets better. I think what really won me over is how, tucked away in the dusty corners of their sound, you can hear the faintest trace of Galaxie 500.

Downloadable from Altered Zones. Take note of the obligatory band photo: at least two of the members are smiling. That will never do.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Song of the day

"Caught in a Landslide of Love", by Debra Jackson.

Here is a curious thing. The first 38 seconds suggest nothing you would ever wish to listen to again. But then it turns on the head of a pin and becomes something that, if you were able to blot out the entirely inappropriate piano, and replace it with some charmingly rudimentary guitar playing, might well have come out of the "twee" side of the Pacific North West scene of the late 80s / early 90s. (It's actually from 1984.) The final two-part harmony, for example, is pure Softies.

Un-YouTube-able, so download it here.

Warning: hardened cynics need not apply.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Song of the day

"Kick The Can", by The Junior Boys.



Isn't it strange how, the first time you hear a song, all you can think of is "Smalltown Boy", and yet by the tenth time you have heard it, "Smalltown Boy" no longer registers at all, the trace of melody (okay, in this case a bit more than a trace) having been absorbed into the fabric of this new song. It is probably the music fan's equivalent of composting.

(If the same melody appears in another song in 10 years time, will the music fan say "that's 'Smalltown Boy'", or will he say "that's 'Kick The Can'"? I guess that will be the real test. But right now I am reaching for the new Junior Boys CD, not Bronski Beat.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Song of the day

"One Million Year Trip", by Laetitia Sadier.



I have been listening to quite a lot of the elaborate prog-pop of Elektra-era Stereolab recently. I always assumed that Stereolab operated a bit like I understand Portishead do, in that the guys (or "guy" in the case of Stereolab, that guy being Tim Gane) came up with the music and, at some point thereafter, Laetitia Sadier threw down some kind of Marxist-Leninist tracts to sing over the top. But listening to her solo album, "The Trip", I can see that this wasn't in fact the case: there is a lot of the Stereolab sound on this record, not least on this song, which I interpret, lyrically and perhaps musically (most evidently in the backing harmonies), to be "about" Mary Hansen, who went on her own million-year trip as the result of a cycling tragedy in London, after which Stereolab were, understandably, never quite the same. (Although their last few albums nevertheless contained enough good-natured pop experimentalism to keep me coming back, and I do miss them.)

There is also something in this song, a particular chord change or guitar line perhaps, that reminds me of "Two Rivers", by The Meat Puppets, a song that I am always happy to be reminded of. Oh, look, here it comes:

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Song of the day

"The Town Halo", by A C Newman.



This song has some of the most rockin' cello since the golden days of ELO. That's all you need to know, really.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Conspiracy theory of the day

We haven't received an issue of the New Yorker for over a month. This is bad. (Adrienne is climbing the walls over the sudden absence from her life of "Talk of the Town".)

Now I notice the following two documents, which I have liberally borrowed from Sasha Frere-Jones's tumblr.



I have put two and two together, and reached the following conclusion:

OUR POSTIE IS A SC**NT*L*G*ST!!!

[editor's note: all good conspiracy theorists use lots of exclamation marks]

I would just like to point out that I most certainly did not read the "expose" in question; even if I did read it, I most certainly did not enjoy it; and even if I did enjoy it, I most certainly did not share it with and/or recommend it to anybody.

Honest.

Can we please have our New Yorkers back now?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where It's At

People like me: you have my sympathy. You should also read this recent Pitchfork column by seemingly erstwhile scribe William Bowers. You will recognise many of the thought processes, anxieties, petty rationalisations and antisocial tendencies contained therein. (You will also note, with misguided satisfaction, that you are not the only person to obsessively alphabetise your "collection", and to know who sits next to whom on the shelves.)

One qualification, though. In the case of Maggie Gyllenhaal, I think I could turn a blind eye to the occasional Jim Morrison poster.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Song of the day

"Trilogy", by Sonic Youth.

There can be nothing more pathetic than the sight of a wizened 47-year-old man in a nondescript gray suit, standing at a bus stop in Canberra, playing silent air guitar like his life depended on it, to a song that is going on 25 years old.

Reader, that was me.

Fortunately the bus arrived before things got too out of hand.

The first part of the trilogy you can see/hear below.




Sunday, August 28, 2011

Song of the day

"Be All Be Easy", by Woods.



"Elegant Chaos" may have been a song by Julian Cope, but it also neatly sums up what you get with Woods: more or less classic pop stylings wrapped up in ramshackle instrumentation and deceptively absent (but in a good way) production, uh, "values". All of which is on offer here. What I like, in particular, are the keyboards that quietly sneak in towards the end of the song and then take over, like a benevolent dictator taking power in a bloodless, but rather exciting, coup.

Or perhaps you would prefer the live experience:



You knew there would be facial hair.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Song of the day

"Candyskin", by Fire Engines.

Where is the YouTube love for this song? Come on you guys. In the meantime direct download it here.

Anyway the lame excuse (if one were needed: NOT) for posting this song is that we had two fire engines at our house on Sunday night, on account of smoke in the living room and some kind of electrical smell. It must have been a false alarm (the house is still standing). One boy was understandably freaked out. The other was out there in his PJs staring in awe at the trucks. I had been, for a short while, in a state of desperate panic as I raced around the house looking for the flames I was certain I would find.

In hindsight it was probably my amplifier burning out. For the second time this year.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Song of the day

"Come On", by Melted Toys.

There is something particularly endearing about this song. It's a bit like if you took The Cat's Miaow, added a couple of extra guitars and tripled the length of their songs. It has a bit of that good ol' understated charm about it.

Here they are doing it live:



Style note: it would appear that floppy fringes are back. Perfect for hiding behind if you are a reluctant lead singer uncomfortable with the idea of "projection".

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

YouTube of the day

This is a long clip of Battles doing a song called "Wall Street" live in a big old building somewhere in Paris.



Sometimes you have to watch a band in order for them to make sense. Battles on CD can be somewhat less than transparent. It helps to discover, or be reminded, that all that sound, with its fragile structures and thrilling runs, is being made by three guys. And man, that drummer.

The new album, "Gloss Drop", is well worth your time. I think we can safely say that, "Atlas" notwithstanding (easily the best song of whatever year that was), this is the Battles we wanted all along.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

YouTube of the day

The video for one of the finest songs of the twenty-first century, rendered entirely in Lego (albeit with digital effects, purists):


For comparison purposes, here is the original:



Saturday, July 23, 2011

Unfinished Business


There are numerous threads that have not yet been tied up. To wit:

The quarterly round-up of John Zorn's album-a-month release schedule for 2010 stalled at the end of the second quarter.

I still have something like 18 Neil Young albums post-1980 to listen to.

Darren's list of 1,111 songs (give or take a few) is up to number 19. So there is a bit of work to go there. (We love understatement.) (This was never intended to be a public project, but as each of these songs was personally chosen with me in mind, it seems only fair that I give them all proper consideration, and that  generally requires utilisation of the written word.) Number 20, for those who think two years (almost to the day, coincidence fans) is long enough, is Jose Feliciano's string-laden take on "Light My Fire".


We love old-school lounge music at our house, so this by its mere existence is uncritically awarded full marks. (His version of "California Dreamin'" might just tip this out of the number one slot, but who's counting?)


(Another fine version of "Light My Fire" is by The Free Design.)


(As a general rule, my only problem with The Doors is Jim Morrison.)


If I ever get anywhere near the end of these projects, I plan to turn my mind to Ed Kuepper's Prince Melon Bootleg Series of live recordings and outtakes; Bob Dylan's recorded works post-"Blonde On Blonde" with the exception of "Blood On The Tracks" and "Time Out Of Mind", both of which should be sufficiently well known (and loved) to require no further comment; and, once I have really taken leave of my sanity, David Bowie's catalogue since "Lodger", which is where I happily got off. Oh. That would require tracking down and listening to the Tin Man albums. I may not be man enough.




One thing led to another ...

"Ghost Town", by The Specials. (Note: best song EVAH.)



"Torch", by Soft Cell.



"Temptation", by Heaven 17.



"Confusion", by New Order.



"Stool Pigeon", by Kid Creole and The Coconuts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Song of the day

"Mind Your Own Business", by Delta 5.



aka more words of advice Rupert Murdoch would have done well to follow.

Be sure to stick around for the very Gang of Four guitar slashing at the end.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Road Trip

We are heading off down the highway for a few days, so it figures that things will probably be a little quiet over here at Farmer In The City Central. Chances are that we won't so much be having a holiday as packing up our troubles and taking them to another location, but a change is as good and all of that.

What we won't be doing is travelling in one of these:


(Right click etc to enlarge.)

Two things to be said about this ad (from the New Yorker, mid-1961). One: nowhere does it use the word "Kombi". Two: Volkswagen have been doing fabulous, frequently self-deprecating magazine advertisements for more than 50 years. That is pretty impressive, no?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Song of the day

"News of the World", by The Jam.



Or maybe you would prefer "Sunday Papers", by Joe Jackson.



Or, and this is particular favourite that needs no bogus topical excuse, "Rupert Murdoch", by The Reels. I couldn't find it on the 'Tube, but it's short and it's sweet and you can download it here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Song of the day

"I Might", by Wilco.



Hey kids, it's a new song by Wilco.

One of the things that has impressed me about the last couple of Wilco albums (both, in my opinion, essential purchases, although many would disagree) is the way they have managed to do so little with so many. In a good way. Once again, there is a lot of space in this song, but everything that needs to be there is there, and your brain will infer the rest. Spoon come to mind, in the taut starkness of the thing. The Smiths also come to mind, in the way the bass and drums do a lot of the melody work.

The b-side is a cover of a Nick Lowe song, proving that they also have impeccable taste.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Song of the day

"Keep You", by Class Actress.

In the chilly bleakness of another Canberra winter, this is a song that will warm your heart. The only thing I know about it is that it is brand new. Can't even find it on the 'Tube. You can (= should) download it here. (Right-click etc.)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

News item of the day

From Harper's Weekly Review:

[A] woman driving down Vroom Street in Jersey City fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a mattress store.

Isn't that just a little too perfect?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Feeling Moog-y

Even in your darkest hours, you can find enlightenment in:

cover versions of early 70s songs played by John Keating on the Moog.

Such as:



And:



And:



And if you were wondering whether you needed to own the entire album: you probably don't. Much of the rest of it comprises original compositions, which generally speaking haven't survived the passage of time as well as the covers have. Plus it contains an entirely unwelcome version of "Jesus Christ Superstar". Perhaps you had to be there. (Come to think of it, I was; and I had no time for it then, either.)

My dad would have been 85 today. That has nothing to do with any of this, but it is, of course, worth noting. He was a fine man.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Coincidence of the day

I read both of the following sentences within the last 72 hours.

From "Dream Machine", by Rivka Galchen, in the New Yorker, 2 May 2011, page 39:

In the early nineteenth century, a "computer" was any person who computed: someone who did the math for building a bridge, for example.

From "Cryptonomicon", by Neal Stephenson (1999), page 827:

At this point in history (April of 1945) the word that denotes a person who sits and performs arithmetical calculations is "computer."

The curious thing about this is that I have been reading "Cryptonomicon", off and on, for over a year, so the chance of my stumbling upon this particular sentence, buried within a 900-page book, within a couple of days after having read Galchen's piece from the New Yorker must be pretty small. Mathematically speaking.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Song of the day

"That's What I Heard", by Robert Scott and Adalita Srsen.



While we're on a bit of a Dunedin kick, here is a rather nice little song of recent vintage by Robert Scott, he of The Bats, The Clean, Magick Heads, and assorted solo projects, and Adalita Srsen, who is evidently the singer for Magic Dirt. (I know nothing about Magic Dirt.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Song of the day

"Tangled Line", by Brave Irene.



Brave Irene are Rose Melberg's new band. Rose may be best known to you as a member of the too-short-lived K Records band Tiger Trap. Or as one half of The Softies. (Sigh.) But here she is, many years after her last "band" project, bringing together a bunch of like-minded dudettes in order to channel the sound of 1980s Dunedin as if she owned it.

I wouldn't be surprised to discover that somebody from the band had flown to New Zealand to borrow the actual organ that appears on all of the classic Flying Nun records.

The (likely) fact that they are named after a William Steig children's book (and one that we own, too) only adds to their charm.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I Want The One I Can't Have


There are four stories of The Smiths.

The first is that of the improbably iconic rock band, fanatically embraced by a legion of hyper-loyal followers. Rarely could even an English football team have been supported in such a partisan, proprietary manner. Hordes of teenage and post-teenage males (in a kind of gender-reversed Beatlemania) lost their bearings over either the insecure, sexually confused, gladioli-toting totem of a lead singer, or the jesus-of-cool guitar player. (Who were the other two again?) These Smiths were the second coming of The Only Gang In Town.

The second story of The Smiths is the story of the band that released four studio albums of original material. This would be the Smiths that most middle-aged, chin-stroking, Mojo-reading music fans would recognise, and most of those would hold these Smiths in very high regard, particularly given the status of one of those albums, not unreasonably so, either, as a "classic".

The third Smiths are the Smiths that brightened up the radio between 1984 and 1987. I can't think of any successful pop group in the post-Beatles era to have released so many non-album singles, and to have consistently charted so high with them; this is particularly so when you consider that neither "This Charming Man", nor "How Soon Is Now", two of their best-known songs, were initially included on albums. In fact, if you only knew The Smiths as a singles band, you nevertheless knew them as one heck of a band.

The fourth story of The Smiths falls somewhere between the cracks of the other three. These Smiths are a band that have been forever shaded by their early demo recordings. I can vividly recall hearing these Smiths coming through the airwaves on a very patchy 3RRR one night while I was back at the farm during university holidays. This was long before they had any records out, and I had no knowledge, and crucially no mental image, of Morrissey or Marr, and no sense of any "hype" that may have been building around them. The Smiths were just a name. And it seemed to be a particularly fitting one for purveyors of such no-nonsense, back-to-basics, four-guys-in-a-room rock and roll. The NME, then my eyes and ears on the British music scene, arrived at Eastaways Road eight to ten weeks after it was written, so by the time I saw their name in print The Smiths were well and truly off and running.

From this distance it is impossible to imagine how revolutionary those early recordings sounded. By late 1983 the radio, even "alternative" radio, had ossified into a very pale imitation of the synth-pop that I had grown up on, all style over substance and not a lot of style at that. What The Smiths did was, on the one hand, strip all of that away and, on the other, write some stunningly original songs. It was a combination that had to set the world on fire.

Awash with anticipation, I marched into the original Missing Link Records, in Flinders Lane, on the day of release in this country of the first, self-titled album. I bought it, took it home and played it. A noose of expectation hung around its neck. I listened to it end over end, for weeks, and I can to this day run it through my head from start to finish without, I don't think, missing a note. I tried to convince myself it was everything I had hoped, and expected, it would be, but something of their vitality seemed to have been sapped in the process of making it. I couldn't help but compare it with those demos that I had heard on the radio, and the comparison wasn't kind.

Was mine a minority opinion? In any event, The Smiths went from strength to strength. A friend of a friend brought the first known copy of "Meat Is Murder" to one of our house parties at 166 Nicholson Street. Side one, on first listen and in the context of mild inebriation / boyish enthusiasm, was incendiary. (It still sounds that way in the cold light of 2011.) This was what I wanted The Smiths to be. But when the record eventually came my way all I could think was that by the end of side two they had sacrificed all of the momentum they had built up for uncharacteristically trite "statements", and abattoir sound effects. (The seven minutes of stilted funk that made up "Barbarism Begins At Home" didn't attract it to my young, post-punk-infused ears, either, although now I hear it quite differently.)

There appeared to be two separate realities running along in parallel to one another. In one, the hit singles kept coming. In another, The Smiths were a band perpetually mired in controversy. (Although it is possible the one fed the other.) Somewhere in the middle of all this "The Queen Is Dead", their third album, appeared. Yes, it is the masterpiece everybody says it is, but by then they were so huge they were no longer "my" Smiths in any way (at that stage I was subsisting on an unhealthy diet of The Fall, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Big Black, Einsturzende Neubauten, Butthole Surfers. And, uh, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions), and I confess that I didn't even hear "Strangeways, Here We Come" until I bought it second-hand several years later. (It turns out to have been a very good record, after all, possibly only slightly shaded by "The Queen Is Dead". It somehow sounds like a final album -- not that the wind had gone out of their sails, but there is a sense that they knew it was over. There is probably another essay in this. I am not going to be writing it, though.)

And that was it.

It was probably inevitable that my favourite Smiths album would be "Hatful of Hollow", where some of those radio phantoms that had beguiled and eluded me (or something sounding very like them) sit next to a string of their best singles. I always took the existence of "Hatful of Hollow" as amounting to an admission by the band that they themselves weren't entirely satisfied with how the first album came out. (I am prepared to entertain the idea that I might be wrong about this.)

It might be because of the way that the four albums, in isolation, fail to tell the true story of The Smiths. It might be because a collection of just the singles leaves too much out. It might, I suppose, be because there continues to be money in it. But the unending stream of Smiths compilations, starting, I suppose, with "Hatful of Hollow" itself, probably bears witness to the fact that there is no single way of listening to The Smiths that tells anything like the full story. The best attempt thus far, and the one that is probably a necessary purchase even if you have every Smiths record ever released, is the two-disc version of "Sound of the Smiths". It does such a good job of bringing together the best bits of each of the different Smiths narratives that, after listening to it in its entirety, you do feel that, yes, that was The Smiths. I might be wrong about this, but I understand that  this is the first post-Smiths Smiths compilation in which a member of the band actually had a hand. It may be no coincidence.

Not long ago something funny, or at least serendipitous, happened. I was reading one of Mark Richardson's "Resonant Frequency" columns on Pitchfork. In it he was writing about The Smiths, and the peg on which the article hung was a recently surfaced bootleg vinyl release entitled "Unreleased Demos & Instrumentals". You can find digitised versions of it on the Internet. (Well, duh.) It has a cover that makes it look for all the world like an authentic Smiths release. It spans the length of their career. And it turns out to be the Smiths record that I had been vainly searching for since the night I first heard The Smiths.

I suppose every band evokes its own time and place, but I can't help thinking that the metallic, harshly bright sound of the records of the middle of the 1980s, presumably a response to the new-found possibilities inherent in compact-disc technology, and a corresponding inability amongst studio boffins to leave anything alone, was particularly damaging for The Smiths. Added to this, in the case of The Smiths, were some questionable choices of producer, and "embellishments" (piano parts, assorted overdubs) that didn't so much embellish as get in the way. If any band should have been heard unadorned, it was The Smiths. And this is what this bootleg, for the most part, gives you. (There are still strings where and when you need them: one cannot be that much of a purist.)

Richardson does a better job of analysing the record than I ever could. What these recordings do is bring the listener back to the idea of The Smiths as four highly talented, individual but sympathetic musicians, together in a room, making the best music they could make. You can practically hear them glancing across at each other and grinning in amazement at what they were capable of doing. You can hear, in the distance, the faint but unmistakable ringing sound of future cash registers. 

Or can you?

This is where we finish up, then: in the field of discourse known as "art versus commerce". Would The Smiths have been as successful as they were if these essentially unadorned recordings were what was presented to the wider listening public? Would they have made the leap from late-night public radio to megastardom without the backing of a record label and the inevitable compromises, artistic and commercial, that that backing brings? Maybe this bootleg is special (to me) purely because it represents a path that wasn't taken. These recordings are never likely to be commercially released. But The Smiths continue to be an important touchstone, and "Unreleased Demos & Instrumentals", I reckon, is the clearest picture we have yet had of why, as four people in a room, they stood out enough for those commercial forces to sit up and take notice, and why The Smiths still matter. At the very least, it will brighten up your day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Song of the day

"Robot High School", by My Robot Friend.



Just for fun.

There is a little bit of Devo in there somewhere, I suspect.

I find the video a bit disturbing, but you can always listen with your eyes closed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Song of the day

"Message To Pretty", by David Kilgour and Martin Phillipps.

One of my favourite Dunedin records (I have a lot of favourite Dunedin records) is the self-titled five-song CD by a one-off sixties covers project called Pop Art Toasters, spearheaded by David Kilgour and Martin Phillipps. Thus I was surprised, nay, delighted, to discover recently the existence of another sixties cover (the original is by Arthur Lee's Love), this time by just the two of them. (I don't know who is playing the harmonica but I am glad somebody did.)

Both the Pop Art Toasters record and the tribute album on which this song resides came out in 1994. Were they recorded at the same time? Did one spin off from the other? And, if the latter, which is the chicken and which is the egg?

In any event, the song is absolutely gorgeous. Trust me.

I can't find a clip anywhere, so here's a download.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The other Martin

Martin Rushent died last week. If you are 47 years old, and maybe even if you aren't, his name will appear on more of your favourite records than you would expect. "Dare" is the obvious one, and enough of a feather in the cap for any one person on its own. But if you add to that crucial records by The Stranglers, The Buzzcocks, XTC and Altered Images, plus reputedly coming up with the concept plan for the League Unlimited Orchestra, well, it's not a bad life's work.

Reynolds has a nice cache of YouTube links. There's not much point reinventing the wheel, so I suggest we all head over to his place. I'm sure he won't mind.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Song of the day

"Tijuana Taxi", by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.



Hours, well at least minutes, of mirth at our house yesterday morning, thanks to the "random" (boys' word) saxophone honk that appears intermittently throughout this song. Now it's your turn.

Honk.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Music sub-genre of the day

Denis and I spent some productive time yesterday trying to come up with names of bands that released songs that had the same name as the band itself. We didn't get very far. I know there are quite a few out there.

The story so far:

"Laughing Clowns" by Laughing Clowns.
"Talk Talk" by Talk Talk.
"Radio Heart" by Radio Heart. (Technically by "Radio Heart featuring Gary Numan" but what the heck.)

Denis came up with a beauty, but it must be knocked out on a technicality: "Bo Diddley" by Bo Diddley.

He also mentioned Icehouse, who as Flowers released a song called "Icehouse" and then changed their name to Icehouse.


 I know there are a bunch of disco-era singles where they would get a few people together in a studio, kock out a dance-floor banger, and as an afterthought come up with a one-size-fits-all name for the song and the "band".

Check out this YouTube of "Radio Heart". If ever a song, and a video, screamed "EIGHTIES" louder than this, I have yet to see/hear it. Numan busts some of his best moves ever. There's a keytar. The suits are stylish as. (As for the girls, well, what were they thinking? Girls could look good in the 80s. Clare Grogan. Shaz on "Ashes to Ashes" (okay, that was reconstructed 80s).)




Back to work.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

YouTube of the day

"The Bottle", by Gil Scott-Heron.



A sad end to a sad life. I read a New Yorker profile of the man last year. He still had dreams and ambitions, but he also couldn't move too far from his crack pipe. I can't recall any other New Yorker profile where the subject had a crack pipe in his living room. Drugs might screw you up, but if it is the music industry that hooks you on those drugs, what (or who) is really doing the screwing?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Song of the day

"Evergreen", by John Foxx And The Maths.



In which John Foxx, who has been quietly making records for much of the time since he disappeared from the scene in the mid-80s, teams up with a guy calling himself Benge (not to be confused with the similarly named Benga, dubstep artist; nor, presumably, with Mrs Robert Wyatt), who seems to have accumulated an arsenal of what would appear to be called "vintage" analog synths, and produced an album that sits quite nicely, in terms of mood and, uh, aesthetic as much as actual sounds (and how gorgeous those actual sounds are), between "Metamatic"'s steely futuristic pop and the lush maximalism of "The Garden". Rejoice.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bob Dylan: scaring the children since 1961

As well as being the year of Bob's seventieth birthday, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary, give or take, of his emergence onto, uh, "the scene".

But kids' music?

And yet here he is, doing "This Old Man" (right click etc to download; normal click to listen), taken from a Disney compilation released to raise money for children with AIDS. A worthy cause, indeed, but I'm not entirely sure Dylan's gravel-throated growling, and wailing harmonica, entirely suited the (presumed) target audience.

The Wiggles he ain't.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy seventieth birthday, Bob

"Dylan's music is not inspired. His melodies and arrangements are derivative, and his one technical accomplishment, a vivacious, evocative harmonica, does not approach the virtuosity of a Sonny Terry. His strength as a musician is his formidable eclecticism combined with a talent for choosing the right music to go with a given lyric. The result is a unity of sound and word that eludes most of his imitators."

-- Ellen Willis, from "Dylan", published in Cheetah magazine, 1967.

(Well, it was either run with that quote or be the seventy thousandth blog to link to a YouTube clip of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" or "Not Dark Yet".)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Song of the day

"Satellite (The Bug Remix)", by The Kills.



I don't know squiddly-did about The Kills, but I have a hunch the original sounds very little like this. The Bug, aka Kevin Martin, has been pushing the boundaries of sound, often in several directions at once, for as long as I can remember. Here, he sends the concept of dub out somewhere towards the stratosphere. Bass is the place.

Hands up anyone who can hear elements of "Fisherman", by The Congos, buried in the mix.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

YouTube of the day

"Look Back In Anger", by David Bowie.



I can't recall ever having seen this video before.

The thing that makes this song transcendent, aside from the very sprightly drumming, is the guitar riff that comes in just before the half way mark. Sublime.

2011 is not 1961 - or is it?

The first thing that strikes you about this advertisement is how it could have been written in 2011. (It, and the following two ads, actually appeared in the New Yorker magazine in May, 1961.)

The second thing that strikes you is how nice the graphic design is. (This was the era of "Mad Men".)


(Click on the pictures for bigger versions.)

When you have finished providing clean drinking water for everybody (it has only been 50 years, and we're not nearly there yet) you can take a break. Why not fly Pan Am to Rio. Or Buenos Aires. (The sound of bossa nova is in the air.)


Or take the whole family bowling. (This one does contain some text on the next page, but it's the picture, innit.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (6)

Whether by intent or necessity (it was later revealed that at this time Neil Young was coming to terms with being the parent of a seriously disabled child; and we have some knowledge of how draining, physically and mentally, that can be) "Hawks & Doves" bears the devil's mark of "contractual obligation". Not without some justification: it was to be his final album for Reprise before jumping ship for an ill-fated run with Geffen Records. It must have come as a grave disappointment for Young's loyal fan base, or whatever of it remained, coming as it did after two albums ("Comes A Time" and "Rust Never Sleeps") that suggested that Young had pulled himself out of the malaise of the Ditch Trilogy (proved by time not to have been a malaise at all, especially so with "On The Beach", perhaps now recognised as Young's crowning achievement) and got his career back on an upward path.

It is, unequivocally, a very slight record, clocking in at barely 30 minutes, with four songs that failed to make the cut on previous albums and an entire side of seemingly tossed-off knee-slappin' hoedowns.

Yet, perhaps on account of its brevity, I find it hard to get too cranky about this record. It has a good-natured spirit, a lightness of touch, a degree of "bounce", perhaps, which makes its short playing time pass like a breeze.

There is a song called "Lost In Space" which sounds at one point like Neil is auditioning for the Franciscus Henri circuit. "The Old Homestead" occupies a quarter of the album, and amounts to a shaggy dog story (not so far away from "After The Goldrush", if you think about it) involving naked riders, telephone booths, prehistoric birds and someone or something called "the shadow" -- the kind of thing that could easily have been a fever dream brought about by too much spicy food. It may or may not include a dig at David Crosby. It does include a musical saw, an instrument that always puts me in mind of Mercury Rev's "Deserter's Songs", which is a record I am always happy to be put in mind of.

I will neatly sidestep the politics of the five songs on side two. It is not possible, though, whether you agree with the sentiments or not (assuming you can figure those sentiments out), to fail to sing heartily along with the "You Ess Ayyyyy, You Ess Ayyyyy" backing vocals on the title track (which also features one of the few appearances on the album of Young's trusty electric guitar).

Today's song, though, is the final number from the first side, "Captain Kennedy". It is very simple. Just Young and his acoustic guitar. He underplays the vocals, to the song's detriment. I would love to hear this covered by somebody like Mark Lanegan. Or Mick Harvey. I think either of them would really bring it to life.

There are roughly ten thousand people doing this song on the YouTube, but none of those people are Neil Young, and all should be avoided. They are not what I had in mind at all. Instead, you can, for a short time, download it here (right click etc).

Song of the day

"Undeadman, ReMMix by Mordant Music", by Shackleton.



Cabaret Voltaire for the 21st century.

Specifically, the Cabaret Voltaire of "2x45".

Mind you, Cabaret Voltaire were so far ahead of their time that they themselves might as well have been called "Cabaret Voltaire for the 21st Century".

In which case, what would you call this? Yesterday's tomorrow's music today? My brain hurts.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Is it "irony"? Or is it just sad?

From Harper's Weekly Review:

"Two imams en route to a North Carolina conference on anti-Muslim prejudice were removed from a commercial flight because their manner of dress was making the pilot uncomfortable".

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Song of the day

"Blue Star", by Seapony.



Those roads from today's music that don't lead back to Look Blue Go Purple seem to lead back to somewhere not far away from The Cat's Miaow. Which, obviously, can only be a good thing. It's just kind of funny.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Song of the day

"Mubu", by Alberto Baldan Bembo.



You are sitting in a discreet corner of a dimly lit piano bar. You are with your new friend. His name is James Bond. He is drinking a martini. His martini is shaken, not stirred. You, too, are drinking a martini. Your martini, too, is shaken but not stirred, because you are drinking with James Bond. This might well be the music playing in the background.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Song of the day

"Le Coeur au bout des Doigts", by Jacqueline Taieb.



A fine little song to get you moving on a Monday morning, and perhaps to start you thinking about the excitement machine that is Eurovision 2011, coming to a telly near you this weekend.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (5)

It was as if, after spending the entire ten years since "Rust Never Sleeps" wandering along diverse musical paths by turn moribund and bizarre, embracing everything from electronic music to rockabilly and all (disap)points in between, as if by a miracle all of Neil Young's stars fell into perfect alignment, because in 1989 he delivered "Freedom", a record that surprised everybody by being a Very Good Neil Young Album.

Of course, it was not free from strangeness -- the second song, "Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero, Pt 1)", strays rather too close to that necessary electrified boundary fence between (1) all music that doesn't sound like Dire Straits, and (2) Dire Straits; and when Neil Young decides it's time to put his own personal stamp on "On Broadway" it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry, although in the end what one gains is a clear mental image to go with the word "ham-fisted" -- but he seems to have regained both his sense of wistful lyricism and his ability to pull unfeasible noises out of an electric guitar.

You already know the quietly anthemic "Rockin' In The Free World" (it appears twice, not unnecessarily). You should now acquaint yourself with "Eldorado", yet another in Neil's series of Aztec / Inca fantasias/allegories, and a good one (and watch for one of those -- in this case fleeting -- unfeasible guitar noises, which comes from out of nowhere just before the end of the song).

There goes another veteran of the punk wars

RIP Poly Styrene.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (4)

On the other hand, some Neil Young songs are just good wholesome fun. This is as close to punk rock as Neil ever got, I think: even "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)", which famously name-checks Johnny Rotten, is more black sludge than punk (but in a good way). And so what if it was "only" 15 years after the event; and anyway it's not as if he wasn't listening).

"Piece Of Crap".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (3)

Neil's 2005 album, "Prairie Wind", harks back to acoustic country-folk outings like "Comes A Time". But you would probably be happier going back to "Comes A Time" itself, given that this time around the acoustic-guitar-driven ballads, though of a uniformly high quality, are interspersed with, uh, other types of songs. One comes across as some kind of a paranoid-conspiracy song. One is, let's not mince words, a hymn. In the traditional sense. One is an extended riff about Elvis, complete with Elvis-type voiceovers. (Surely one of the main problems with being "Neil Young" is that nobody is there to put their hand on your shoulder and say "Bad idea, Neil.")

Which leaves the title track, seven and a half minutes of fine acoustic-guitar playing, great brass lines, and a "chorus" (if that's what it is) sung in gospel style by a wall of female singers. Note the space between the verse lines, long even at the start of the song but even longer in the second half. Like, I'm going to take my own sweet time doing this. The theme, like that of much of the album, is one of looking back. (This, one assumes, has to do with a life-threatening medical condition Young suffered during the making of the record.) It appears that the song has not been YouTubed, so you can download it here (right click, save as, etc) for the time being. It is well worth listening to, but you really have to be in a position where there are no pressing demands on your time and you can afford to just allow it to wash over you. Like the best Neil Young songs, it will distort your sense of the passage of time.