Monday, January 31, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

1. Melbourne:

2. Sydney:

Each song, I think, captures something of the essence of its preferred location. Both are capable of reducing me to tears. Which, in the case of John Kennedy, is weird, because I have never in my life been to the Coles New World (or equivalent) in Newtown. Interesting, at this distance, how much it sounds like Aztec Camera. Paul Kelly, meanwhile, he's just quality. With a capital Q.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Duck photograph of the day

There's nothing I like more than pictures of ducks. (Except pictures of cows.) Here's a good one, which I pilfered from this page.

YouTube of the day

Some classic Madness to get your day off to a nutty start.

Black coats, flying saxophone players and, um, baggy trousers.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Song of the day

"King of the Mountain", by Kate Bush.

I finally figured out who it is that I have been flashing on whenever I hear this song: it's John Martyn!

Which is perhaps not so absurd really, if you think about it. (Then again, I am the person who hears Captain Beefheart in Joanna Newsom.)

I have been listening to this, of course, in the wake of the potentially exciting news that Kate "might" be releasing some music in 2011.

Be still my beating heart.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Song of the day

"Cold Irons Bound", by Tom Verlaine and the Million Dollar Bashers.

If you bring to mind Tom Verlaine's voice circa "Marquee Moon", and imagine what that voice would sound like if it tried to do an impersonation of Mark Lanegan, you will have some idea of what Verlaine sounds like on this song. Which is not a bad thing -- far from it, in fact -- but isn't entirely what I was expecting.

This is, of course, a Dylan song. The length is in its favour, as it is given time to percolate, slowly, malevolently, hauntingly. And Verlaine's guitar has all the room it needs to breathe.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Song of the day

"1 Thing", by Amerie.

You can watch an official-seeming video here. Sorry it looks a bit too "Video Hits", but you can just shut your eyes and listen.

I have written about this song before. It remains one of my favourite pop songs of recent years. It appears, in a curious context, in Sofia Coppola's new film, "Somewhere". Probably the easiest decision Sofia Coppola could have made, given her unchosen status as daughter of Hollywood royalty, would have been to have nothing whatsoever to do with the making of movies. That she did not make that decision, and has given us, now, four feature films, at least three of which (I'm not sure yet about "Marie Antoinette") are nothing short of wonderful, is a modern miracle.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A few words about Then Play Long

There are, to state the obvious, a lot of "great" albums out there. And, in our sleek and modern world of interconnectedness, it would be hard to find a record for which there is not at least one vocal online booster out there somewhere. As someone who has always had a tendency to believe everything he reads, I find this somewhat alarming: What, you mean I have to listen to [record x by band y] as well?

Yes, I understand that people have different tastes, and it is true that there are certain types of music where no matter how far somebody pushes open the door, I am not about to walk through it. But whenever I read that something is a "great record", my brain files this away in an ever-expanding "save for later" corner, along with millions of other similarly tiny snippets of information, where it lies dormant until the day that I come across that record at a garage sale or in a bargain bin, at which time a light will come on, and I will find myself agonising over whether I "need" to buy it. (The logical end-point of this is a sensation of having to buy everything in the shop: and, yes, I have been there.)

The ready availability, somewhere, of a downloadable copy of pretty much everything ever committed to tape doesn't really help; it just has the potential to create a hopelessly unmanageable backlog of unlistened-to music, clogging up hard-drive space and crippling monthly download limits. People like me have never had it so good, and yet, like Charlie Brown, I have this nagging feeling that *sigh* I miss the old days.

I recently borrowed from the local library a book called something like "1,001 Albums To Hear Before You Die". You have probably seen it. It is roughly the size and weight of a concrete paving stone. What it does is, well, you can probably figure that out from the title.

The book is a useful aid to chronology, which, as is so often the case when (my) memory is involved, can be confusing. (So much great music appeared in the years 1978 to 1981, for example, that, even having (a) lived through it and (b) worked my way through Simon Reynolds's post-punk primer, I can never confidently say which record came out before which other record.) And I cannot deny that it is always gratifying to find someone writing (in a book!) in glowing terms about one or other cornerstone of my own life's listening.

On the other hand, it is a very "rock" book: guitar heroes are all over it; "progressive rock" and metal dominate the early seventies; the "canon", it seems, has spoken. It is a trainspotter's paradise: tick all the boxes, turn all the pages, complete the set. The writing is, frankly, appalling. If there is a "rock" cliche that can be trotted out, it will be trotted out. Quite possibly more than once.

To be fair, one narrow column of text for a "classic" album doesn't give much scope for scholarly analysis or personal reflection. Hence, of either of those things there is none.

Indeed, nothing in this book, beyond the simple fact of its inclusion, would cause anybody to actually want to listen to any of these albums. This is in marked contrast to Marcello Carlin's ongoing and very admirable project "Then Play Long", in which, for the past three years, he has been writing at length, one at a time and in sequence, about every UK Number One album, and doing so in such a way that he manages to find justification or purpose for even the least promising of entries (this would appear to be a challenge -- the charts care everything for sales figures and nothing for artistic merit -- but it is a challenge that he, like probably very few other human beings alive, is perfectly suited for) so that you actually do want to give each one of them at least one spin. His questions seem to be the right ones: What is it about this record, or its times, that caused it to get to Number One? What can we learn from the record itself, and its status when it first appeared, about both those times and our own? Why was it this record, and not that one over there, that made it to the top?

The answers can be surprising. One of the longest, and most fascinating, entries to date is the one on that most perplexing of albums, Bob Dylan's "Self Portrait" (a record that leaves one scratching one's head in wonder that it ever got anywhere near the charts, let alone all the way to the top). Elsewhere, he provides a very enlightening explanation of The Beatles' "Let It Be", an album the existence of and circumstances surrounding which I have never entirely understood. (He makes a very interesting point, here, about the uses of the Internet and whether "Let It Be" would ever have been officially released if it -- the Internet -- had been around then.) Heck, he even manages to write something fresh and interesting about "Stairway To Heaven".

Many of the records I turn to the most can be found in "1,001 Records" (I am, I guess, as much a slave to the idea of "canon" as the next obsessive), few in "Then Play Long". (Although, as we move into the seventies, more than I was expecting.) But it is fascinating to see what got to Number One, to dwell upon an alternative listening history from my own, and to be drawn to records I would not otherwise have given a second (or, in a couple of cases, first) thought. "Then Play Long" is the kind of project that the Internet was made for, and it is to be hoped that when he gets to the end of it (which, unless the charts themselves are consigned to history, he never will, but let's not go there) the entire thing can be adapted for a book. It might not weigh as much as "1,001 Records", but it will be infinitely more fun and insightful. Long may it play.

Song of the day

"Albatross", by Public Image Ltd.

I don't know how it would go as a hangover cure, but for clearing away the cobwebs from a fuzzy morning brain I can think of no better item. Wobble's bass is like aural wasabi, while Levene's guitar is like the knife in Philip Pullman's "The Subtle Knife" only more so. Lydon almost doesn't add anything to the song, but on the other hand without Lydon it would be nothing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

RIP Trish Keenan

Woke up this morning to the rotten news that Trish Keenan, of Broadcast, has died. Apparently from pneumonia (who dies from pneumonia in 2011?). It is often thought that Stereolab and Broadcast had much in common. Now they have one more thing: they have both lost core members to non-rock'n'roll-related deaths.

I cannot really express how sad this news makes me feel, nor how much Broadcast have meant to me. I first heard them back in 1996, when Bart gave me a copy of their Wurlitzer Jukebox single "Accidentals / We've Got Time". I have been with them ever since; every album bought and paid for. (They were way too special for internet downloads.) In fact, their first album (actually a collection of singles), "Work And Non Work", was the last new record I bought on vinyl, on account of its cover being so tactile and lovely in its 12" iteration. That was when we were still living in Alma Road. Much later, I managed to convince an employee of Red Eye, in Sydney, to sell me a copy of "HaHa Sound" a couple of days before it was supposed to be put on the shelves.

As the years went on, and the band reduced in size to its ultimate core of two, and the music became more strikingly avant-experimental (their last album, a collaboration with Ghost Box's The Focus Group, was Wire magazine's album of the year in 2009) they never lost sight of the pop side of the equation.

I am so very, very sorry. I don't know what else to say.

Here is a wonderful example of the Broadcast sound:

Friday, January 14, 2011

The one that got away

In these early days of 2011 my ears have fallen upon a record that, had I been aware of it before the end of 2010, would have been at least a strong contender for Record of the Year (which I awarded, in case you missed it and/or have the slightest interest in what I might think, to "Swim", by Caribou, although in doing so I still feel bad for a slew of other, basically equally worthy, albums, by Espers, Tindersticks, Spoon, Midlake, Joanna Newsom, Lindstrom and Christabelle, LCD Soundsystem and Darkstar, to name only those that come immediately to mind).

The record of which I speak is "Dagger Paths", by Forest Swords. And no, a couple of weeks ago I hadn't heard of it, either.

Here is a record that carries with it some of the lo-fi production aesthetic so beloved of much of the Class of 2010, but in this case it comes across more as a necessary byproduct of the circumstances of its creation than as a lifestyle choice or affectation.

It is perhaps most distinctive, musically, in its deployment of some of the most striking post-punk guitar-and-bass stylings I have heard since the end of that (very) particular era. (I am reminded, most specifically, of the Cure that was responsible for "Seventeen Seconds" and "Faith".)

(You would also have to say that at some level the maker of this record is worshipping at the church of Joy Division, but there is no harm in being a follower of that benign and (mostly) benevolent deity.)

A smattering of dub appears, at just the right moments. (Dubstep itself might be lurking in this record's many shadows, but never quite reveals itself.)

Like Burial, it evokes a rain-soaked 6am, but not so much the streets of London as some place where people do not generally gather together: not necessarily a place of rural isolation, but somewhere unfamiliar, desolate, unforgiving.

I am also reminded, at different times and for varying, possibly random, reasons, of: the more astringent end of the classic mid-80s Flying Nun stable, mostly those FN records bearing somewhere the name "Jefferies"; 4AD releases from the same period, in particular a band that I don't get reminded of very often, This Mortal Coil; and two other singular albums: "The Return of The Durutti Column", and Virginia Astley's "From Gardens Where We Felt Secure".

All of which may provide sign posts or markers of the direction you are heading in, but they won't give you any real sense of what you will find when you get there. Because "there" is a record that may well be impossible to do justice to in words. It is all the work of one guy. He lives in The Wirrall, a fact that seems to be of some importance for the sound and mood of the record, but means absolutely nothing to those of us residing in an entirely different hemisphere. The record comprises six songs over 35 minutes. It is evidently considered by its creator (yes, he does have a name, but it somehow feels wrong to attach something as direct, and mundane, as a "name" to something so personal) to be an EP, but it holds together as an unbroken, perfectly sequenced suite of songs and deserves to be considered as an "album", whatever that word might mean today.

I think what I like most about this record is its unassuming nature. It never tries to force the issue, or to get in your face. On the other hand, it isn't really background music. There is too much at stake for that. I also like that it doesn't really attach itself to any particular genre, musical style, time or place (much like the Durutti Column and Virginia Astley records mentioned above). And I get a real sense that the person behind the record understands about playing to your strengths and downplaying any weaknesses you may have. The temptation, when making a record on your own, must be to leave nothing out, to make yourself sound like a band. (This is also why most blogs don't read as well as most "paid" writing: we are our own worst editors.)

Forest Swords isn't like that. The guitar is clearly a strength: it is not that we get a lot of it, more that it is given the space to breathe, the room to stretch out. Drums, conversely (and interestingly for a very much rhythmically based record), are noticeable for what they don't say (they don't actually appear until half way through the first song, but you have to be listening for them to notice that). They are used, instead, as part of the texture of fabric of the song, or as a kind of tribal pulse. Also, he has the confidence to hold back, to make a virtue of understatement and to give a sense of the slow drift of time (think, possibly, of a slightly darker version of side two of Brian Eno's "Before And After Science").

But what I like most about this record is that I can't get the blasted thing out of my head, and when your head is as full of songs as mine is that's no small feat.

Here, to allow you to make some sense of the above, is the last song on the record.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Daft Punk is playing at our house

I suppose I must be the ten millionth person to have thought of doing this. I couldn't even find matching helmets. FAIL.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Song of the day

"Maze", by Actress.

From Wire magazine's album of the year. I don't know that I would go that far. But then, it is an album that, for the most part, is speaking in a language I do not really understand.

The first couple of minutes might well be the end credits of an Italian horror film from the 1970s.

A slightly longer, and somehow preferable, version exists as a single b-side and can also be found here.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

YouTubes of the day

Two by the incomparable Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66.


Of course you know this one. Note in particular the beautifully rolled RRRRRs of Eartha Kitt (rocking the introduction) and the, uh, smooth moves of the shaker/tambourine player. Also, those earrings: you could do some serious damage with those.


I thought we had a reasonably solid grasp of Sergio's body of work, but we had no idea that he had tackled "Wichita Lineman". Not demolished and rebuilt a la his take on "My Favourite Things", but very nice nonetheless.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Bargain of the day

Attention shoppers. If you are a subscriber to eMusic you might be interested to know that they presently have available on their site, mistake or otherwise, the audio component of John Foxx's "The Complete Cathedral Oceans" (that's three CDs' worth) for $US5.99. That's money well spent, in my book.

Okay, if you were a Foxxaholic you would probably shell out for the physical (fetish) object with its attendant DVD and hardcover book or whatever, but really it's all about the music (isn't it?), and most of us would be very happy with this version, especially given that it has been ripped at a bit-rate that is high enough that I can no longer tell the difference.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Song of the day

"Baker Street", by Gerry Rafferty. Well, it couldn't be anything else, could it? So long, old chap.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


If you have ever listened to either of Japan's albums "Tin Drum" or "Gentlemen Take Polaroids", you will instantly recall the distinctive sound of Mick Karn's bass playing. I don't believe anyone has ever played the instrument in quite the same way and I suspect that nobody ever will. RIP.

This, perhaps, the exemplar:

Song of the day

"Corona", by Calexico.

We seem to be having a Calexico holiday. Which is somewhat ironic, seeing as Calexico evoke hot, arid, dry, all things which, unusually, Canberra has not been (so far) this summer. Maybe we are over-compensating.

I think this might be my favourite Calexico song (even though, or perhaps because, it was first a Minutemen song, from their mighty "Double Nickels On The Dime" double-album).

La cerveza, as they say, mas fina.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

YouTube of the day

You have to marvel at the seemingly boundless vistas of human ingenuity. If we can do this, maybe we can overcome climate change.

(Link via Inger. Thanks, buddy.)

Cameo of the day

The members of Daft Punk (not that you could tell behind those helmets), in "Tron: Legacy". Not content with putting together a really powerful soundtrack (reminiscent in parts, although I could be making this up, of a number of the quieter pieces on YMO's "Technodelic"), the boys make an appearance in the nightclub scene, up in the booth spinning tracks as all hell breaks out on the floor.

The film? If you are, or have ever been, a thirteen-year-old boy, you will love it. It is presently challenging "Star Wars" for supremacy, according to our own resident taste maker.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Word of the day

"Skillage". Noun. Meaning: a large quantity of awesomeness. As in, "I am possessed of maximum skillage". First appeared: late 2010, at our house. Possibly.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Song of the day

"25 or 6 to 4", by Chicago. Large parts of this, if you marginally tweaked the production and removed the classily streamlined vocals, could be slotted, unnoticed, into Spoon's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga". No, I never thought I would write those words, either. And you would also have to removed the guitar solo, which is a bit too, uh, fancy. And no, I have no idea what the title is all about.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Song of the day

"Walk Out To Winter", by Aztec Camera. Manages to rise above its trademark eighties sheen by the simple fact of it being an excellent pop song. Can it really be that hard?

Gratuitous song-title-related remark: here in the Nation's Capital today we are not walking out to winter. The temperature has cracked the thirty-degree mark before 10.30 and is only going up. Happy new year.