Saturday, November 26, 2011

YouTubes of the day


(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.)


(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.)


(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: