Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Song of the day

"Smoking Her Wings", by The Bats.

Let's take a trip back to 1988, a time when Dunedin bands were capable of unfeasible greatness. (And haven't New Zealand done well in the cricket World Cup? Cue the immortal words of Mike Williamson, in a different sporting context: "I tipped this!")

I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it, to the extent that if I ever get back to the list of 50 most important songs in my life, it will be on there. Featuring Alastair Galbraith on violin, not that you can hear it on this video, which is about as lo-fi as you can get (which is somehow fitting for those faraway, home-made days).

Thanks to whoever taped this from Rage and then had the good sense to throw it up on the 'Tube.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The hot new thing that's got the whole world talking

The only thing better than listening to The Beatles is listening to The Beatles In Mono. (Hint: click on the cover pictures for more of what you fancy.)

Ever since I bought my first complete set of Beatles albums on vinyl, in the early eighties, I have been vaguely troubled by the fake stereo separation evident on, particularly, the early albums. You kind of knew that Ringo wasn't really sitting by himself in the far left corner of the room bashing away on the drums while the others were huddled over to the far right, somehow coming together in the centre for the vocals. (You could always fake a mono set-up by pressing the "mono" button on your amplifier but it isn't quite the same, a bit like watching a black and white movie on a colour TV and getting distracted by the residual colour tints on the screen.) And so "The Beatles In Mono" is the answer to a lot of problems. It is also, if you read the hype, The Beatles as The Beatles originally intended. Which, if true, must surely count for something.

A song like "Please Please Me" -- any of them, in fact -- sounds so incredibly fresh and alive today, nearly fifty years later,  that it's impossible to imagine how revolutionary it must have sounded in 1963. "Beatlemania", kids, wasn't just some cynical marketing ploy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

This goes with that (antipodean edition)

The second album by Grinderman is, to my ears, far more satisfying than the first. The perceived intention behind the first album was to locate the precise nature of the change in direction forced upon the Bad Seeds by the departure of Mick Harvey. The brilliance of that plan was borne out by the success of "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!!", the resultant Seeds record. Thus, in a sense, Grinderman's purpose had been served. And yet Nick Cave, restless old soul that he is, has opted to pick up his guitar for a second time (cue sound of actual musicians the world over gritting their teeth) and, possibly feeling liberated by the fact the Grinderman was no longer a (side) project with a specific job to do, gathered the hirsute rabble together for another album of late-middle-aged sexual angst and disparate shards of noise. Yeah, I like it. (Some people prefer the Bad Seeds. Some liken Grinderman more to the heady days of the Birthday Party. I don't agree with that, but right now I don't see that a stated preference for one aspect of Cave's persona over another serves any useful purpose. It's a bit like (well, not really, but bear with me) Graham Greene, who wrote serious novels and interspersed them with what he called "entertainments": at the end of the day they're all Graham Greene novels.)

Listening to "Palaces of Montezuma", though, I was struck by one thing in particular: musically it is a dead ringer for, albeit slightly more mellow (you heard that right) than, "Theme From 'Mad Flies, Mad Flies'", by the Laughing Clowns. It is so close, in fact, that you half expect those exhilarating Laughing Clowns horns to burst in on cue and disrupt the proceedings and/or take them to a higher plane.

[Sorry, this appears to be the best available on YT. You might have to listen a little more closely than with the studio original but I hope the point is still made.]

It is as if some of the Ed Kuepper magic rubbed off on Cave during Ed's recent(ish) stint as guitarist-for-hire with the Bad Seeds (and, as you know, there are few internal organs I would not have been prepared to part with in return for the chance to see that set-up in action, but, alas, 'twas not to be), and seeped into this song, perhaps by osmosis (or perhaps by design). So what you get is something like two Australian classics rolled up into one neat-o package.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Three songs


"Calamity Song", by The Decemberists.

This is perhaps the least representative song on their new album, and it doesn't include what, for me, is the record's main drawcard, viz., the backing vocals of Gillian Welch. What it does have is Peter Buck on guitar, and, for all of the band's protestations that they weren't going for an REM sound as much as a "Peter Buck" sound, this song carries REM's DNA right down to its bootstraps. The vocal phrasing has more than a fleeting nod to Michael Stipe. The song itself is straight out of the "Fables of the Reconstruction" playbook. And it carries the listener along with the same sense of sweeping exhilaration that REM, once upon a time, did like nobody else (think "Driver 8").


"Biking Up The Strand", by Peter Baumann. (Click to play; right click to download.)

If I were ever to do another radio show (I won't), this would be the opening track each week. At least, until I got sick of it. Which isn't likely to happen any time soon. A lost gem of (although not really "of") the post-punk era.


"Limit To Your Love", by James Blake.

It's difficult to know what to make of the self-titled debut album by James Blake. It has been the centre of such a media shitstorm in the UK, and a lightning rod for so many divergent (and vehement) opinions, that it is probably going to take a while to assess it on its own terms. (It seems from this distance like half of London wants to put him on a pedestal and the other half wants to tear him limb from limb.) And it's true that releasing this song, a cover of the much-loved Feist original (from the thinking person's mother's-day present of 2008), as a teaser for the album was always going to be an accident waiting to happen, whether Blake knew it (unleashing his inner McLaren, perhaps) or not (the latter being more likely, I suspect).

It seems to me that the album is being subjected to much more weight than it was ever intended to carry. When you consider how different the album is from the EPs that preceded it, and how different the EPs were from each other, the picture is that of an exceptionally talented young artist trying on different clothes in an effort to figure out which ones suit him best, and this album is merely the most recent of those changes of clothing.

I deliberately avoided hearing the song until I could listen to it in the context of the album, but, even so, "Limit To Your Love", which sits literally and figuratively at the centre of the record, burns so bright that it sucks all of the air out of everything around it. (When the dub(step) drops, you realise you are witnessing something special.) It will take some time for it to find its place, but time is something that this album has on its side.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Song of the day

"The Great X-1", by The Informatics.

(Click to play. Right click to download.) (Somebody please let me know if this works. I am experimenting with something.)

With synth wave, cold wave, minimal wave or whatever wave being one of the flavours of 2010/11, it is worth remembering that Australia had a very strong synth-band contingent back around the start of the 80s.

Imagine: the small bar at an inner-city pub. The band: a shocking sight. No drums. No guitars. A couple of people on synths and a programmed drum machine. Guys in the band: extremely thin with severely fringed haircuts. Girls: black skirts and stockings, maybe with a horizontally striped t-shirt. Black and red perhaps. Quite possibly somebody up the front wiggling around and bashing a Syndrum (tm) to the second and fourth beats. As Phil Oakey sang, these are the things that dreams are made of.

This song is a good example of what this country was capable of. In fleeting moments it gets a bit proto-Kids In The Kitchen, but those moments soon pass. I think they were from Melbourne but I might be wrong. Biographical information is hard to come by.

You can also listen here, while looking at a typical early-80s post-industrial-type picture:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Song of the day

"Sticky Music", by Sandii & The Sunsetz.

Some things just stick in your mind.

Surprisingly, this was something of a hit in Australia. Surprisingly not because it isn't a very catchy song (it is), but because Japanese acts (I think it's fair to say; no research undertaken) tend not to do well here. Which is our loss, considering that they are at least the equals of anyone else in the world in so many genres of music, from psychedelic freak-outs to reggae to doom metal to noise to the sheer genius that is j-pop. In some ways it is a crying shame that Japan is not a part of Eurovision. Except that it would end up winning every year, thus spoiling everybody else's fun.

Haruomi Hosono (YMO) wrote the music for, and produced, this song. Curiously, there is a strong David Sylvian connection with Sandii & The Sunsetz. I had no idea. I love the internet.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

YouTubes of the day

Comic Relief edition.

In which Noel Fielding channels his inner Kate Bush:

and Adrian Edmondson portrays the dying swan (with some help from another familiar face):

Monday, March 07, 2011

Commercial Zone

Get these while they're hot.

Always check the asterisk.

Found in the New Yorker, early 1961.

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone

Yesterday we said goodbye to Ella, the little black St Kilda street cat who has been with us almost forever. She has been an integral part of our family for all of the boys' lives, and well before that, and we will miss her. We were lucky to have her around for so long, I suppose, but just now that's not how we are feeling.

Friday, March 04, 2011

YouTube of the day

"United Provinces of India", by Cornershop.

You may have thought that Cornershop released "Brimful of Asha" back in 1996 and then stopped. You would be wrong. They have released two albums and several singles since then, all of them excellent. They might have raised a middle finger to the music industry, but that's not the same thing. This clip would appear to be a track from their forthcoming album and is as infectious and uplifting as ever.