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.