Monday, December 24, 2012

Song of the season

Twas the night before Christmas

And all through the house

Not a creature was stirring

Not even a mouse.

Except for your old uncle Noddy.

We would like to wish our reader [sic] a very 1973 Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Song of the day

"Hey Cowboy", by Lee Hazlewood.

In which our hero invents a new musical genre: country & northern.

Lee, as well as being a bit of a ladies' man (as the youtube clip attests), is one of the great arrangers in the annals of popular music (as the youtube clip does not attest, on account of its origins as a low-fidelity rip of a 1970 TV special -- but in the spirit of Christmas, why don't you download it here).

"Hey Cowboy" appears on "The LHI Years", strongly arguably the reissue CD of the year (and also strongly arguably the second-best album cover of the year).

Take it away, Lee.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Song of the day

"Sunlight On The Faded", by Laurel Halo.

There is a little ritual that I have where, every year, when The Wire magazine announces its best albums from the year just gone, I go out and buy a copy of the one that has been voted Number 1. I'm not sure why I do this, other than force of habit, but it is a magazine whose tastes tend to veer a little bit left of centre of my own comfort zone, but not too far, so I am likely to find something that stays with me but that I might not have otherwise checked out. (Mind you, I'm still struggling to make sense of last year's: Simon Reynolds described it as the audio equivalent of Jeff Koons, and I'm not inclined to disagree. Whether that makes it essential listening is another question.)

So, if the rumours are true, and Laurel Halo's "Quarantine" gets the nod this year, nobody would be happier than me. One, because it would be a truly deserving winner. Two, because it saves me some money, on account of I have had my own copy for quite some time. There are a number of artists presently working in what would be termed, loosely, the "electronic" field who are doing some very interesting, very listenable and yet very experimental work at the moment. James Blake and Nicolas Jaar didn't put out albums this year, but alongside "Quarantine" we were treated to work at various points along the present cutting edge from Burial (with one more to come, any minute now), Flying Lotus, Four Tet, the artist normally known as Caribou but this year known as Daphni -- whatever he chooses to call himself, I'm listening -- and, a late entrant for my own album of the year, Andy Stott.

Anyway, rather than being content to rest on her, ahem, laurels, Laurel Halo has followed up "Quarantine" in double-quick time with this single (it has an equally compelling dub version on the verso), which is kind of like the album but with a layer or two of "difficulty" stripped away. Her voice is still so exposed as to sit on the edge of uncomfortable (for the listener) but the music is, while still constructed of sounds that could never have existed in your grandfather's day, a little more direct and compelling.

Actually, to heck with it. I don't have much in the way of words for this song. Listen closely and absorb.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Song of the day

"Pure Affection", by Eternal Summers.

A song that for some reason resonates with me more now than it did when it first appeared, a couple of years ago. It's like a collision between the twin tectonic plates of early-80s Dunedin and late-80s Pacific North-West, coming to rest on the shores of the magnificent final Beat Happening LP.

What? There's a Beach Fossils remix of this? No way.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Unexpected albums of the year

"Here Before", by The Feelies.
"Falling Off The Sky", by The dB's.

(Disclaimer: okay, Discogs tells me that "Here Before" came out in 2011, so I must have been absorbing it for longer than I thought. (That's what happens when you get old.) Which kind of makes the entire concept behind this blog post redundant. And makes me feel like a bit of a dick. I could have scrapped it, I suppose, but why let temporal inaccuracy get in the way of a good story? Plus the dB's record came out in 2012. Definitely.)

I can't imagine either of these albums appearing on anybody's end-of-year best-of list. They are, in many ways, records made by ageing hipsters for ageing hipsters. But the fact that they exist is itself a remarkable thing, and the fact that they are both as good as they are is more than anybody could have expected.

For both of these bands, their heyday, if they ever had one, was in the early to middle 1980s. Neither of them outlived their usefulness, thus (perhaps) maintaining both their dignity and their legacy. Instead, they went off and did other things. Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple (dB's mainstays) have worked together on and off in the years since, and the Feelies have done a couple of low-key reunion tours, but I can't imagine that anybody would have expected either band to reconvene for an album of new material, let alone both of them doing so at more or less the same time. (Happy days!)

Yes, they are not alone in this kind of second (or third) act. Mission of Burma have now put out more albums post-reformation than they did in the glory days, and Wire continue to fight the good fight when many others would have taken a well deserved final bow.

On the other hand, if either of these groups had continued to work their own furrows year in and year out, like Sonic Youth, or REM, or U2 (or even The Rolling Stones), neither of these albums would probably have warranted more than a passing nod.

So, is staying out of the game for 20 years a good career move? An interesting question, but one we won't be dwelling on here. The point we want to make is simply that these are two thoroughly decent, well crafted collections of songs by musicians who know each other instinctively, and that slip very comfortably alongside each band's existing catalogue, but that make no pretense towards having been made by the people that they were 20 years ago. Thus, the range of the vocals has dropped, the tempos have slowed, there are more acoustic guitars, the lyrics are reflective, perhaps tending towards the melancholy (tho' in no way being a downer), and, in the case of The dB's, no longer sound like they are being belted out by kids with their whole lives ahead of them. (The Feelies never sounded like that.) But The Feelies are still The Feelies and The dB's are still The dB's. What they are both saying, in other words, is: "This is who we are now".

It makes me very happy to be able to write about these records. If you have a dad who was too young for The Beatles and too old for, I don't know, gangsta rap, black metal and mnml techno, who tells dad jokes but doesn't wear dad jeans, one of these records might just put a smile on his face on Christmas morning.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

RIP Dave Brubeck

"Take Five" might well be the one bit of jazz music that everybody knows. That in itself is quite an achievement.

Take a bow, Mr Brubeck.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

YouTube of the day

"You Forget", by David Kilgour.

This was going to be a "Song of the day" but then I discovered that this song was subjected to video treatment, uh, back in the day.

The chord change at 3.16 is why I listen to music.

Record cover of the year

Have you ever wanted to go to Jollity Farm? (I know I have.) Or Devil Gate Drive? Or Montague Terrace? Now you can! It's easy when you have a map.

I'm not sure why nobody ever thought of this before now, but I'm glad it was Saint Etienne who did.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

YouTube of the day

"Dr Mabuse", by Propaganda (directed by Anton Corbijn).

As I'm sure you all know by now, I have been obsessed with this song ever since it first revealed itself to me, on the radio, around 1984. It's an obsession that takes a bit of work, because there are so many different versions, edits, etc of it, reissues, ZZT trademark multiple single releases, that it's impossible to know if you have gotten to the bottom of it. (Me, I have a 12". I have no idea which one. It's got "Femme Fatale" on it as well. And Paul Morley's hand is all over it.)

So anyway, it came as a bit of a surprise to discover the existence of this video, which only came to my attention recently, thanks to the title of one of the several "Mabuse" versions that appear on a very handy new Propaganda compilation, "Noise and Girls Come Out to Play". (Is Mr Morley still in the house, or have they developed a computer program to emulate his gnomic prose?) (I should say, I mean that as a compliment.) Of course, as a piece of music you can't really go past the full ten-minute opus. It's got everything, including a drum machine solo (which must have been devilishly difficult to pull off). But this clip is worth a look and listen, both as a concise version of the song itself and as a kind of 1984 time capsule: the hair, the po-faced expressions, the pseudo-mystical nonsense, the title cards, Corbijn's trademark black and white camerawork (not a lot of colour and light, is there?).

But what really makes it for me is the discovery, right at the very end, that Claudia Brucken has the sweetest smile. It makes you wonder why in all the publicity photos they make her put on the most serious "teutonic" face. I suppose it wouldn't have fit the image, but it's such a waste! I think I could happily leave it frozen at the 4.27 minute mark forever.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Song of the day (2)

"Love Interruption", by Jack White.

Curse you, Jack White. Not only do you establish the greatest colour-coded two-piece rock band in the history of the world. Not only do you make a career out of artistic alliances with attractive women that you are no longer going out with, and create relationship furphies (or at least red herrings) to further the mystique. Not only do you come up with the idea of the travelling record store, for which I will hate you until the day I die for my not having thought of it first. Not only are you the only American ever (possibly not true) to use cricketing terminology/imagery in furtherance of a musical career. No. Not content with all of those things, you are also responsible for this song, which I cannot get out of my head. How do you create such musical propulsion without so much as a drum or a bass guitar? How do you fit so much into 2.5 minutes? Where did you find Ruby Amanfu, whose backing vocals are the most perfect of perfect fits? Where did you get the idea to turn what is basically a power pop or maybe even pop-metal song into what is essentially a duet between clarinets and an electric piano?

How do you make everything look so damn easy?

A few words about "Anastasis", an album by Dead Can Dance

The year was 1990. We were renting a small terrace house in Liverpool Street, North Fitzroy. It was the year we got married, and the start of our life together. The house was positioned so as to receive the least amount of sunlight possible. It was a very cold house. And damp. Mould cruelly took from me one much-loved pair of op-shop stovepipe trousers and a pair of black pointy shoes.

The house had a dishwasher. Neither of us had ever lived in a house with a dishwasher. We figured that in the absence of dishwasher powder we should be able to squirt a quantity of dishwashing liquid into the space provided, with the same result. We figured wrong.

We also shared the house with mice. One night Adrienne was talking on the phone with someone when a mouse scurried up the cord that connected the handpiece to the telephone. Mice also ate one layer of our wedding cake. (Ants ate the other layer. I think it should be safe to say now, 22 years later, that neither of these things proved to be bad omens.)

My musical tastes also changed over the course of 1990, as we unconsciously sought out some common ground. It seemed time for me to say goodbye, at least for a while and/or outside of headphone listening, to Swans, Einsturzende Neubauten, Big Black, John Zorn, Husker Du, and the like. Tom Waits seemed like fair game. (Although to this day I have never been entirely sure.) And we both liked Elvis Costello, The Blackeyed Susans, My Friend The Chocolate Cake, and (of course) the many moods of Dave Graney. (I don't think we had yet discovered the love that dared not speak its name -- lounge music.)

But one record that particularly mesmerised both of us that year was "Aion", by Dead Can Dance. It was the first Dead Can Dance album I bought; I had not previously had anything more than a passing awareness of them in their earlier, classic Goth incarnation. I don't even know what lured me into buying it. But it immediately stuck. It seemed to strike both of us as coming from somewhere we could both appreciate (if not recognise), a place that was both mysterious and striking. We listened to it a lot in that house, and have continued to bring it out from time to time ever since. (I also distinctly remember sitting on the floor in the living room one Sunday afternoon listening to an interview with Lisa Gerrard on Triple R or 3PBS that conveyed the distinct impression that she is not like other people (viz., as mad as a hatter). Which, I suppose, just confirms that linearity and/or rationality of thought is not a prerequisite for artistic creation.)

They released a couple more albums after "Aion", in which they chased their particular, and elusive, muse in different but still rewarding directions, and we stayed along for the ride. Then they went quiet. Lisa Gerrard did some solo work, collaborations and film soundtracks (quite a lot, actually). Brendan Perry retired to Ireland and was a less visible presence. We didn't feel the urge to pursue what either of them was doing individually. The Dead Can Dance albums we knew and loved were enough to tide us over.

All of which is to say: my sense of amazement at the existence of a new Dead Can Dance album, in 2012, might well amount to nothing more than misty-eyed nostalgia. But it also might be down to its being a record of the highest quality, landing unexpectedly, like a dream, in the middle of an era when the prevailing aesthetic, at least outside of the purely electronic/fetishistic realm, seems to be one of slap it down and push it out. Whatever emotional and intellectual plane they are operating on, it results in music that sounds like nobody else. It also allows them frequently to get away with things nobody else could get away with.

Cases in point:

1.  Brendan Perry's lyrics on "Children Of The Sun", which, if anybody else was singing them, would come across as the most embarrassing hippie nonsense, but the gravity with which he sings them, and the sheer exhilaration of the musical accompaniment, render nugatory any question of how much he means it and how much is slyly winking self-mockery. His voice, an authoritative blend of Jim Morrison, Scott Walker, Mark Snarski and Frank Sinatra, commands an authority that cuts any such questions short.

2.  "Amnesia" slides uncomfortably easily into "The Eternal", by Joy Division, a pre-Goth talisman for those of their/our generation but also a song, and a band, that remain largely untouchable and from whose narrow orbit you would have assumed Dead Can Dance had drifted away many years ago. And yet somehow, again, their unblinking sense of purpose means that any doubts are left at the starting gate.

Look, I can't really say much that would convince you of the worth of this album if you were disposed the other way. As a possible (or even likely) album of the year, it is, as I have attempted to convey, a very personal choice, and I would be the first to admit that with Dead Can Dance you either get it or you don't. But if that die has not already been cast for you, can I at least suggest that you give it a try? (And if you do, please, to do it justice, listen on CD through good quality speakers or headphones. It's what they would want you to do.)

(And to FACT Magazine, who included it in their list of 50 worst album covers of the year, I say: phooey.)

Song of the day

"Reservations", by Wilco.

"I've got reservations about so many things but not about you."

I can't think of another song lyric that I can relate to so completely.

Well, except for "I feel like sitting down", obviously.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Yorker cover of the day

17 March, 1962. By Abe Birnbaum.

Surely this deserves to be on a wall somewhere, not just sitting on a newsagent's shelf trying to catch the eye of the unsuspecting browser. Although I imagine it would have worked as that, too.

(Apparently he once did a children's book, called "Green Eyes", which I have long kept half an eye out for, thus far unsuccessfully. Yes, I know that's what the internet is for.)

As usual, if you open the picture in a new window you should be able to enlarge it. But I imagine you are way ahead of me on that.

What John Zorn did next

And so, after a hectic 2010, in which he released, more or less, an album a month, you would expect that John Zorn would have taken it easy in 2011. And in a sense, by his standards that is what he did. "Only" five albums under his own name appeared that year. One was a surprise. Now read on ...

"The Satyr's Play / Cerberus". There are some John Zorn albums that I would happily never listen to, or even think about, ever again. This album is in that category. Whether Zorn is in the business of throwing every kind of shit against the wall and seeing which lumps of it stick, or whether I just don't have the right set of ears for this kind of chamber/avant/compositional malarkey, is a question I won't spend too much time divining an answer to. I'm not interested, and that's that. Most of this album is given over to two Zorn regulars, Kenny Wollesen and Cyro Baptista, hitting things -- including some pretty nifty-sounding things, it has to be said -- as per Zorn's instructions, along with a selection of sound effects. As you might expect, goats appear. It would probably have been better (at least for the goats) if they hadn't. We are in the field or discourse where people tend to spell the word "Magic" with a "k", and "Weird" with a "y". It contains a couple of rather nice passages, but even these are marred by the appearance of those blasted goats. The rest of the album is given over to a mostly gnarly combination of bass trombone, tuba and trumpet. (The word "random" comes to mind.) For ten minutes. And if that sounds enticing, you are a braver person than I am.

"Nova Express". If you read William S Burroughs during your university days (as one does), you would recognise the title of this album, and also the names of a few of the tracks: "Port Of Saints". "Dead Fingers Talk". "The Ticket That Exploded". In fact, this is the second Burroughs-themed album of Zorn's, following on from 2010's "Interzone". As with that record, I have little to no sense of where the Burroughs connection might be coming from. Maybe it's a red herring. Maybe my Burroughs days are just too far behind me. Whatever. The music is very cool regardless. Joey Baron you already know as one smart, agile drummer. Trevor Dunn is a bassist Zorn has been using regularly of late, although usually he is plugged in (Greg Cohen being the go-to guy for the upright) whereas here he plays acoustic. Similarly John Medeski, best known as a Hammond technician, plays the piano. Kenny Wollesen finesses the vibraphone (because, y'know, everything sounds better with vibraphone). This is music to immerse yourself in. What sets this, with its frequent abstractions, apart from "The Satyr's Play / Cerberus"? That's hard to say. Maybe it's just one's greater familiarity with a piano/bass/drums structure. Maybe it's the intuitive sense of Baron's drumming doing just enough to provide the listener with an anchor. You can, at least most of the time, tap your feet to this music, while at the same time being invited to concentrate hard enough to get to the bottom of it. It's an invitation I am happy to accept this time around. Although such is not, alas, the case for ...

"Enigmata". "Res Ipsa Loquitur", writes Zorn in his lengthy accompanying essay to this album. The phrase is well known to lawyers: "the thing speaks for itself". But Zorn adds an addendum: "Sed Quid In Infernos Dicit" ("but what the hell does it say?"). Which, when put together, is not a bad explanation of what Zorn does, not just here, but on many of his records. He also makes a couple of other pertinent observations: "the world may not be ready for this music." And "it makes no pretensions to be anything other than what it is." Of course, he is making a case for his own work here, and while the music "sounds" good on paper, that doesn't convert the damn thing into anything that approaches my own understanding of what is "listenable". Which seems to me to be a bit of a setback. Maybe he took the time to articulate and communicate his thoughts about the creative process as a way of both acknowledging this music's wilful cussedness and engaging the listener in a kind of aural staring contest. In which case, whoops, I blinked. I can admire it (it must have been hell to learn and play -- you really need dudes of the calibre of Marc Ribot and Trevor Dunn (who switches to electric five-string bass here) to pull this off). But, as with the first album dealt with in this survey, I don't know that I really want to go through it all again in a hurry.

"At The Gates Of Paradise". On the other hand, and maybe here I am further demonstrating my own narrowmindedness, I can listen to Zorn's chamber jazz ensembles (my term) both at length and on repeat. Plus, this is the exact same quartet as on "Nova Express". The mystery here, if you choose to turn your mind to it, which you certainly don't have to, is as to when you are listening to Zorn's composition and when what you are hearing is the players, playin'. And on this occasion they are not telling. Which is fine, the music works the same way regardless. It is, as the man said, what it is. There are moments when you might imagine yourself sitting at a table in some smoke-filled supper club, drinking a martini and sucking on a cheroot, listening intently to the Vince Guaraldi Trio. At other times you might be immersed in a world of 1950s exotica a la Martin Denny. Certainly the vibraphone helps in this regard. But the versatility of John Medeski is maybe this record's trump card. This is a world that Zorn has been frequenting quite regularly of late. The question of whether this particular well might start to run dry hasn't yet formed itself, but it is a question that cannot be ruled out in the future.

"A Dreamers Christmas". Which brings us to the words we never thought we would be typing: this is John Zorn's Christmas album. To which the only response, as no doubt its author intended, is "What the???". Is it some kind of post-modern exercise/statement? An elaborate hoax? A move into the lucrative field of television-advertised product? A quest for fame and fortune? Something for the kiddies? It may even be all of the above. (The appearance of Mike Patton in the credits might suggest, to those familiar with his other Zorn-related utterances, that the kiddies should be kept well away. But let's keep an open mind.) Indeed, the front cover design is rather family-friendly, with the possible exception of Santa's slightly disturbing blackened eye-holes. (John Zorn would delight in pointing out to you that Santa is an anagram of Satan.) Once lured in by the cover, what do we find? Seven traditional Christmas songs and two Zorn originals, performed by The Dreamers sextet, the most potentially radio friendly of all of Zorn's projects. (Which is not necessarily even remotely close to radio friendly, really.) Trevor Dunn. Joey Baron. Kenny Wollesen. Cyro Baptista. The bearded wonder Jamie Saft on keyboard duties. And the trump card, Marc Ribot on guitar, a fellow guaranteed to breathe life into the most moribund of music. Not that this is at all lifeless. The surprise, which is no surprise at all really, is that you actually could slip this on while your grandmother is serving out the Christmas pud and nobody of any generation would bat an eye. Even Patton is on his best behaviour, channelling Mel Torme in his performance of Torme's own (with Robert Wells) "The Christmas Song". A (Christmas) cracker.

Which brings us, somewhat belatedly, to 2012, and by last count a further ten records under Zorn's name have been released this year, with at least one more to come. As usual, not everything will be to everyone's liking. None of it at all may be to some people's liking. Me, I'll take it all in when I'm good and ready and most likely write a few words about the exercise here. But you know by now not to expect it any time soon.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Song of the day

"We Came To", by The Crystal Ark.

In which The Crystal Ark turn into The Juan Maclean. Well, kind of. The Juan Maclean with home-made synths and a hint of Spanish. Sounds okay to me!

(Note: clip is of the "house mix", not the album version, but it will give you the general idea.)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Song of the day

"Bend Beyond", by Woods.

I hope it's just a phase I'm going through, but some of the more highly regarded recent releases from well-known, and in some cases loved, artists have been putting me in mind of the phrase "I like your old stuff better than your new stuff". Those that jump readily to mind are by Cat Power, Tame Impala and Best Coast. There are others. The Best Coast album, for example, demonstrates what happens when an artist who makes an early impression based on a particular sound, or a particular transmogrification of the zeitgeist (does that even mean anything?), steps out from behind the veil of that sound and reveals ... nothing special.

Woods are a band that have made sounding ramshackle and slap-dash something of an (anti-)art form. So the signs weren't good when they announced that their new album would be made in an actual studio. Would Woods, too, throw out the baby with the sonic bathwater? Well, the answer is, well and truly, no. "Bend Beyond" reveals that, even when Woods' sound has been (relatively) cleaned up, they still have something going for them. That something is a keen ear for a melody, a turn of phrase, whatever is that X factor that goes into making a song memorable.

The title track ("Bend Beyond" -- well, duh), I think, bears out my earlier description of Woods as occasionally coming across (in a good way) as a kind of dishevelled Mercury Rev. What passes for the chorus is so gorgeous that lesser artists (or more sensible ones, perhaps) would have milked it for all it was worth. Woods, on the other hand, give us a couple of fleeting glimpses of it before spending most of the remaining four minutes teasing out some well-wrought guitar shenanigans. (It is not surprising that the first live version I found on YouTube runs for 10 minutes.) Then we get two more runs-through of that gorgeous chorus, as if to confirm that we didn't just imagine it. And that's it. It sounds better than it reads on paper, mainly because it is impossible to describe the (again, relatively) fragile beauty that the song is exuding.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that it's not even the best track on the album. There is an astounding three-song sequence in the latter part of the record that has gone a long way towards convincing me that Woods are, as of this moment, the best thing going.

That live version of "Bend Beyond" I mentioned? It's here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Joke of the day

Thanks to Warwick Hadfield, of ABC Radio National, for almost making us choke on our muesli with this one:

What is the difference between a cricket official and a shopping trolley?

You can fit more food and drink into a cricket official.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Song of the day

"Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", by Susumu Arima And His Misty Sounds.

The noises that blurt out of what appears to be a Moog at various points during this track are so wrong that one can only assume that a three-year-old wandered into the studio unnoticed at some point. Either that or it was possessed by devils and was playing itself.

Unavailable on YouTube but you can (and should) download it here.

Email of the day

It purports to come from FedEx. It looks authentic until you read this:

We apologize, but it seem so, that we not can deliver your package. One of our trucks is burned tonight. In attachment you can find a form for insurance. Please fill it out and send it us urgent, because we must told amount of damage to the Insurance company.

The giveaway? There is no attachment.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Song of the day

"Dean's Eleventh Dream", by The James Dean Driving Experience.

It's a perfect spring day here in Canberra. The sun is shining, there is nary a cloud in the sky, the leaves are shimmering in a gentle breeze (enough to move the hammock but not enough to induce wooziness), the temperature is in the middle twenties. The under-13 cricket season started with a win.

Unless you were hankering for a dose of subaqueous dub reggae, this may be the perfect musical accompaniment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Song of the day

"Light My Fire", by Ananda Shankar.

It might not quite reach the dizzy heights of Jose Feliciano's take on the same song, but:

(1) Doors songs always sound better without Jim Morrison. (In our opinion.)

(2) We do like a cover version that contains sitars.

But wait, there's more:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Song of the year? (1)

"She Brings the Sunlight", by Richard Hawley.

It may be that you have to live in Sheffield to fully "get" Richard Hawley. But you don't have to have so much as looked for Sheffield on Google Maps to twig to the idea that this song, the first track on Hawley's 2012 album, "Standing at the Sky's Edge", is something special.

It unfurls over seven and a half effortless minutes, drawing on practically every significant strain of British popular music over the previous 45 years (also Hawley's age) to create a song that is so huge, and so compelling, that it is like a giant psychedelic black hole: it sucks you in, and you are powerless to resist.

What is surprising, at least to those of us who have followed Hawley's career arc out of the corner of one eye, allowing it to come into sharp focus only on occasion (eg "Coles Corner"), and heartening to those of us that are way too far on the wrong side of 40, is the unforced and unembarrassing (cf, possibly, although this jury is still out, latter-day Nick Cave) hardness that Hawley has been able to draw on in pursuit of his muse this time around.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Song of the day

"You Are The One", by The Time And Space Machine.

This acid-soaked, sun-struck, brain-fried construction is built around something that sounds very much like a small but crucial piece of Mazzy Star's "Ghost Highway". As Richard Norris, who as far as can be gathered IS The Time And Space Machine, is also one half of Beyond The Wizards Sleeve, we wouldn't be at all surprised. I like where music is going these days. There are people taking bits of songs and turning them into entirely new and fresh songs or pieces of musical, uh, bricolage. And not just getting away with it, but winning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Song of the day

"Pajarillo", by Aldemaro Romero Y Su Onda Nueva.

If this were a Hollywood pitch, it would go as follows:

"Philip Glass meets The Swingle Singers."

Which is slightly unfair to all three parties, but I promise you that if you have "Einstein On The Beach" in mind when listening to this, you can certainly imagine it as something that may have sneakily insinuated itself into Glass's masterwork.

The Venezuelan New Wave may not have been our New Wave, but it was, in its own way, pretty damn cool.

PS if I can survive the next two weeks I hope to resume slightly more regular transmission shortly thereafter. But at this stage that is a pretty big "if".

Saturday, September 08, 2012

A few words about "Moonrise Kingdom", a film directed by Wes Anderson

Perhaps the best way to describe Wes Anderson's new film, "Moonrise Kingdom", is by saying that it is just like any other Wes Anderson picture you have seen, only more so. Accordingly, you will either love it or hate it depending on your predisposition towards the Wes Anderson way of doing things. (I have unequivocally loved and admired everything he is ever done, including his advertising work, but I concede that it is a fine line he is treading, and I predict that, if his style ever manages to attract imitators, their films are likely to be uniformly awful.)

So anyway, all I really wanted to say here is that when Adrienne and I were leaving the cinema, she mentioned to me that the film put her in mind of "Time of Wonder", a children's book by Robert McCloskey (author of one of the all-time classic children's picture books, "Make Way For Ducklings"). As is her way, having sowed the Wes Anderson seed, she then silently deposited the book on my side of the bed. Of course, I then just had to read it immediately, even though it has been in the house for years. (She is very good at this sort of thing. The phrase "Bart would wear that shirt" also has a proven track record.)

It turned out, unsurprisingly, to be a wonderful book, even if it does shine an uncomfortable light on how much better, at least in some respects, the lives if children were fifty years ago. And of course Adrienne is right: the similarities between the book and the film are many. The setting, around the islands of New England, is perhaps the most obvious one. But there is also the theme of children having adventures out of the sight of adults, sailing boats, watching the weather. There is the great storm that is the centrepiece of both the film and the book. Even the houses look curiously similar. The film being by Wes Anderson, there are, of course, inner demons of one sort or another in all of the characters; a dog gets harmed; and everyone is impeccably dressed and/or has a very precise taste in, say, music. None of those things is reflected in Robert McCloskey's book (which was written eight years before the year that Anderson's film is set in). There are no boy scouts in the book, either (unless they are hiding in the shadows).

It would be interesting to know, wouldn't it, and I suppose it would not be surprising in the slightest, if Anderson had read this book as a child and if, consciously or otherwise, it sparked an idea that evolved into "Moonrise Kingdom". Or maybe it is total coincidence. I was expecting to find that Anderson himself grew up in New England, but this appears not to be the case (Texas, it would seem, which is about as far from New England as you can get while still being a part of the United States), which makes the similarity of the worlds depicted in the film and the book even more intriguing.

Anyway. Read the book. See the film. That's all.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Hypothetical mixtape: February 2012

The time is upon us once more to flatten one month's worth of internet trolling into one seamless (not!) sub-80-minute smackdown. Or something.

How far behind the times are we? Way far. Let's party like it's February 2012.

1. "DoYaThing", by Gorillaz. Or, the reappearance of James Murphy. This also exists as a radio-length song, but once you have heard the full thirteen minutes you will wonder why. There's a nice bit of Iggy Pop channelling that goes down from the five-minute mark.

2. "Wolf Girl", by Simian Ghost. Once in a while a song comes along that breaks your heart so completely that all you can do it sit quietly and observe, helpless, as it ever so subtly and unexpectedly draws the tears into your eyes. For now, for me, this is that song. I have no explanation for this.

3. "Faithless", by Scritti Politti. Whereas thirty years ago that song would have been a song not unlike this. I can't profess to ever having heard the 12" version before. At over nine minutes, it demonstrates conclusively that, no, you can't have too much of a good thing.

4. "Saturday Night", by Central Unit. There is a time in your life, if you are "into" music, when you are suddenly old and/or independent enough to start to get out into the world, and perhaps adventurous and/or curious enough to discover some musicians, or some sounds, that are so new that you might be able, for a time, to call them your own. 1982 was my time. These particular floppy-haired wonders would appear to have been Italian, but essentially the same music was being made in Melbourne then, too. Who needed the internet?

5. "Visions (Nite Jewel Seance)", by Stevie Wonder. Speaking of the internet, it has been easy, and particularly rewarding, to have been able to watch the evolution of Nite Jewel. Our little girl is now (musically speaking, anyways) all grown up. It's a brave step to take a song by someone as untouchable as Stevie Wonder and strip it back to practically nothing: two chords teased out, slowly, on an electric piano: music suspended in mid-air with no support. It might be John Martyn's "Small Hours" in miniature.

6. "I Don't Know What I Can Save You From (Royksopp Remix)", by Kings of Convenience. The Kings have a way with melody. Royksopp have a way with sound. That works.

7. "It's A Lovely Day Today", by The Walter Wanderley Trio. Back in the mid-1990s, when we frequented Grumpy Warren's Record Paradise, down the road from the Galleon Cafe in St Kilda, we bought lots of records like this. Just how good is the echo on that Hammond? (Rhetorical. It's good.) Smile for the camera, fellas.

8. "Fallin' In Love", by American Spring. Written by Dennis Wilson. Produced by Brian Wilson. Made in 1973. What more do you need to know?

9. "People Make The World Go Round", by The Stylistics. Evidently there was more to The Stylistics than "You Are Everything" and ritzy suits. Thanks (as always) to Marcello Carlin for writing sufficiently eloquently about this song for me to want to track it down.

10. "All Across The Nation", by All Saved Freak Band. Heavy metal church music. Yes, you read that right.

11. "Heya", by Bosques. Garage rock from Argentina. Garage rock really was the universal language for a while there. Someone is playing the guitar (or is it a mandolin?) in the background in a way that invents Ed Kuepper.

12. "Mary Lou", by Black Mountain. Canada's finest hairy guitar-wranglers come down from the (black) mountain after too long an absence, and we're glad they did. This is them at their most krautrockinest. Is it also perhaps a nod towards early Stereolab? Or maybe they were both merely drinking from the same well.

13. "Chinese Rocks", by Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. This month's Oldies Radio contribution.

14. "You Know You Like It (Raffertie Remix)", by AlunaGeorge. On the other hand, sometimes we feel compelled to give a passing nod to music that could only have been made in the here and now.

15. "The Sometime Girl", by Gerry Pond. This was the b-side to a Reprise single from 1966. Gerry Pond seems to have made no other records. He had clearly been listening to Donovan before he made this one (not a criticism). Fascinating and, in its own way, slightly terrifying.

16. "The Way You Look Tonight", by Dexys Midnight Runners. Let us celebrate the return of Dexys, after a thirty-year absence, with this lesser known off-cut from their previous album, "Don't Stand Me Down", the one the critics loved but nobody bought. (Although it may be that that description, sadly, will also fit the new one.) The last 20 seconds of this version of this well-known song kill me. Kevin Rowland is The Man.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Song of the day

"Privacy Settings", by Ital.

Kids, learn from my mistakes. Do not listen to this, especially on headphones, if, as I have been for most of the last couple of weeks, you are labouring under a nauseous stomach and a woozy head. It's like anti-aspirin.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Internets of the day

I'm not going to beat around the (Kate) Bush here; I'm just going to link directly to this Dangerous Minds post that conveniently collates all the 1982 Kate Bush videotape you could wish to see.

So, um, why are you still here?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

They also served

At times, these pages can resemble an obituaries column. It is probably unfair to say so, but sometimes people don't come to the front of your thoughts until something bad happens to them. Two persons of note have, sadly, fallen into that category in the past couple of weeks.

The first, and if I'm honest the one that stopped me in my tracks, was Jon Lord, keyboard player for Deep Purple.

If your life revolves around listening to music, there are certain sounds that leave a particularly strong, deeply profound impression on you. These days, for example, I regularly succumb to the (al)lure of the Hammond B-3 organ and the Fender Rhodes electric piano. As a nine-year-old, listening to tapes on my Sanyo portable cassette recorder (those tapes were frequently bootlegs picked up for next to nothing at Dandenong Market; favourite mistyped song title (actually the only one I can remember, but they were legion): "When the Leave Breaks"), I wasn't in a position to start to pick out individual instruments (well, drums and guitars, obviously). The first unique sound that I recall being able to recognise was a deep, grinding, slightly wheezing sound: a sound I now know to have been Jon Lord, playing a Hammond B-3 through a thing called a Leslie cabinet, a device that one might describe -- probably offensively to aficionados -- as like the effect of talking to somebody from the other side of a rotating fan (cue the scene where Rizzo the Rat sends secret messages to Gonzo in "Muppets From Space").

The Deep Purple record that I was listening to in those impressionable times was "Made in Japan", a double album on one cassette (!) that, as it turns out, is perhaps the best example of (the) Lord's work. (The three classic studio albums tended ever so slightly to overemphasise the guitars at the expense of the organ.) It was the time of the double live album: my collection grew to include entries from Status Quo and Jethro Tull (Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick and Bob Dylan all put out, in the space of a few short years, double live albums of their own (what was this thing called Budokan?), but none of those were on my radar (well, except for Frampton, who was all over everything in the early days of FM radio; ah, the "talk box": another musical Rosebud)).

Anyway. When next you listen to "Smoke on the Water", consider that iconic guitar line, the one that everyone plays the first time they pick up a guitar (or, in the case of someone in our family, the fife), and listen to it closely: aside from the first couple of bars, whatever the guitar is doing, Jon Lord is right in there behind him. In fact, if it wasn't for the almost subliminal tonality / cadence / depth that the organ adds to what the guitar is doing (or maybe it's vice versa), I sometimes wonder if it would have worked at all.

The other fallen soldier this time around was Darryl Cotton.

If you were born in 1964, and absorbing Countdown and 3XY from when you were, say, nine years old into your early teens, you knew certain names and faces of Australian music: Little River Band. The Angels. Darryl Cotton. Brian Cadd. Russell Morris. At that age, you accept everything at face value. You have no idea that any of these people had a past. This only comes to you later on. As it turns out, there was a generation of Australian musicians, of which Cotton was an important part, who opened a door for the likes of Skyhooks (who themselves had a foot in the sixties), Sherbet, Mark Holden and others -- right through to your Kylies and Jasons -- to be considered as musicians first, Australians second. I am not ignoring the significance individuals such as Slim Dusty and Johnny O'Keefe, who forged a path of their own, but the wave of music that came from "home grown" (ignoring nationalities here; many were actually Poms) acts such as The Zoot and The Masters Apprentices, and the songwriting titans Vanda and Young (again, I had no idea, when "Hey St Peter" was one of my first Best Song Evahs, that these two unusual characters were already legends of the scene several times over), even the great Molly Meldrum himself, was, or at least seems from this distance to have been, the first appearance of anything like an Australian music "scene". (Where the Bee Gees fit into this idea I cannot say; they strike me as more like the Barry Humphrieses, Germaine Greers and Clive Jameses of Australian music: going overseas in order to become famous.)

In other words, if I had been born five or ten years earlier my impression would have been very different. For me, Darryl Cotton played a crucial but somewhat secondary role in the Countdown years. For my hypothetical older brother, he was much more than that. (Date of birth, however, has no bearing on the fact -- fact! -- that The Zoot's version of "Eleanor Rigby" is one of the greatest covers of a Beatles song ever. Ever.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Song of the day

"Sylvia", by Arthur Verocai.

While listening to this song, you can do one of two things.

One, you might contemplate the genius of Stereolab, and how close they were able to go to blatantly appropriating other people's songs while creating music that was entirely their own. The particular reference point here is the three albums they released after "Emperor Tomato Ketchup", which, although each of them is in parts rather unwieldy, might turn out to be the central component of their career.

Two, you can forget all of that angsty, music critic stuff and enjoy this song, basking in the lilting rhythms, silky strings and general sense of spare-no-expense opulence that seems to have gone with every damn record that was made between the early sixties and the early seventies. (See also: Lee Hazlewood.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Song of the day

"Space", by Magic Wands.

If The Cure had invented surf beat ...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Song of the day

"I'm Going To Spain", by Steve Bent.

What we have here is a one-off single from 1976, released on Bradley's Records, sometime home of The Goodies. Its main claim to fame would appear to be its spot on Kenny Everett's "World's Worst Record Show" compilation (seeing is believing). That is a little unfair. It is a perfectly nice snapshot of 1960s British pop (note the George Martinesque sliding strings near the start) filtered through the Chinnichap prism of 1970s British pop, while also putting me in mind of "Eanie Meany", by Jim Noir, which is a snapshot of 1960s British pop as rendered in the early 21st century.

But wait, there's more.

The Fall, as you know, have always had an ear for the obscure cover version ("Victoria", by the then forgotten Kinks; "Mr Pharmacist"; "There's A Ghost In My House"). It will come as no surprise to you, then, to learn that "I'm Going To Spain" appears on their 1993 album, "The Infotainment Scan". And a pretty nice job they do of it, too: it's a rare opportunity for you to hear Mark E Smith doing something that (loosely) fits the description of "singing".

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A few words about "Brave", a film from Pixar

Following on from the seemingly franchise-driven slight misstep "Cars 2" (which, in Pixar's defence, it really had to make; I don't see how you could ignore the fact that toy shops were still full of merchandise several years after the film all those toys were based on last showed in a cinema), Pixar has, much to the relief of those of us who have believed in Pixar for so long and spent nights lying awake worrying if, or more likely when, the Disney takeover would work Disney's particular form of anti-magic, gone back to what it does best: telling stories.

"Brave" is not merely the name of the film. "Brave" is also what Pixar was when it decided to make the film. For "Brave" is an unusual thing: an American mainstream film set in an imagined Scotland and with no concession to American audiences. (It is very Scottish. I kept being reminded of our first night in Glasgow in 1996 with Adrienne's aunt and uncle, when they had invited a number of their friends around to meet us and also to celebrate Adrienne's uncle's birthday: people talking to me in an almost aggressively friendly manner, with me failing to understand more than the occasional word but having a lovely time nonetheless.) Also, both of the main characters are female. (There are, I think, leaving aside the servants, only two female characters, but the entire film is built around those two characters. It is possible that their strength draws in part from their position in what is very much a man's world.) And, to put a complete end to the "Cars 2" complaints, there would appear to be no marketing, spin-off or sequel opportunities with this one. It simply is what it is.

Is "Brave" an act of penance, then? Presumably not, as Pixar's usual working method would suggest that the film would have been well into production before "Cars 2" hit the screen. Or, if it is an act of penance, then it must have been pre-emptive penance, if such a thing is possible. What it might be, though, is John Lasseter's tip of the hat to Hayao Miyazaki. We know that Lasseter was a driving force behind bringing the Studio Ghibli masterpieces to English-speaking audiences. There is much of Miyazaki in this film: the painting-like backgrounds, especially on the long-range landscape shots; the strong young female lead; the mystical elements (the forest sprites in "Brave" echo the dust mites in "Totoro", for example); the physical appearance of the witch, who is very much of a type with some of Miyazaki's elderly grannies and crones. (The witch, and her cottage, I am now thinking, must also be something of an homage to the witches that permeated the classic early Disney movies. Well, "duh".)

If you asked me to come up with a pithy mathematical calculation to sum up this film, then, it would probably be "Studio Ghibli meets 'The Secret of Roan Inish'" (a film, Adrienne and I discovered when comparing notes afterwards, that we had both been put in mind of): predominantly whimsical and mystical (the "Roan Inish" connection), but with just the right amount of mindless violence, suspense, and the customary race against time just before the finish.

Somehow I haven't managed to see any reviews or box office news, so I have no idea how "Brave" is playing out in the wider world. We couldn't convince the boys to see it, on account of word having gone around that it is a "girls' film" (which it most definitely isn't; or at least not only; well, okay, it does contain scenes of a girl riding a horse, but it's clearly not "Saddle Club"). But I am working on them, slowly, in the hope that I might get to see it again on the big screen rather than just on DVD later on. (Did I forget to mention that the animation, even by Pixar's lofty standards, is frequently how-did-they-do-that stunning?)

(Also, and again in keeping with Pixar tradition, we were treated to a lovely stand-alone short film as a curtain raiser for the main event. The only thing missing, which Pixar used to do -- although I can't remember if this was always the case -- was a trailer for whatever next year's Pixar film turns out to be. (It may or may not be a sequel to "Monsters, Inc". Another Pixar sequel? Well, the two wonderful "Toy Story" sequels suggest that there is no cause for alarm. Let's give Pixar the benefit of the doubt for now and work on the assumption that "Cars 2" was just an off year. Oh, and go and see "Brave", even if you can't find any kids to drag along with you. I promise you will like it.))

Song of the day

"Sit Still", by Each Other.

The guitars alternate between post-punk acridity and Postcard jangle. The voices put one in mind, variously, of The Raincoats and Electrelane. The combination is winning. A hit!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

YouTube of the day

I don't think I realised how much Gary Numan meant to me until I started watching this video (warning: it's a download quota crusher). I kind of got that feeling, which I haven't had in a long time, of being at the start of a concert and sensing that something very special was about to happen. Except it was happening on a tiny screen. And I was on the bus home. And it actually took place in 1979. Whatever. It goes to prove that being on the autism spectrum doesn't necessarily prevent you from knowing how to put on a good show.

(via Dangerous Minds)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Song of the day

"And I Love You", by The Darling Dears.

The vocals are best described, at least within my limited and possibly misguided musical vocabulary, as silky smooth Philly soul. The frequently over-mic'd backing track, by the wonderfully named Funky Heavy, would, had this record been made in the 1990s rather than in 1972, be called Trip Hop.

And this was "just" a B-side?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Song of the day

"You're My Drug", by The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Only a quarter of a century late, I sink my teeth into XTC alter ego The Dukes of Stratosphear. This slight detour came about after (if not as a result of) working with Todd Rundgren on "Skylarking". It may well be that this 25-year delay has served a useful purpose. Listening to an eighties band going sixties in 1987 might have just sounded either 1987 or 1960s, whereas listening to the same thing in 2012 allows one to hear a little bit of both sides of the equation: the spiky but sophisticated pop of mid-period XTC; and the influence on it of the music of The Beatles, The Kinks, The Beach Boys and, as evidenced on this phased-out gem, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. XTC, in all of their guises, never really put a foot wrong. They sit perfectly comfortably on any continuum that contains the names listed above.

Carl, aged 14, thinks "You're My Drug" is a very strange name for a song. He much prefers "The Mole From The Ministry", perhaps under the influence of the second Johnny English movie: "You mean there's a mole AND a vole?"

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Song of the day

"What Did The Hippie Have In His Bag?", by Cornershop.

Not content with having been responsible for the Best! Song! Ever!, Cornershop have reconvened (not strictly true; they never went away) to bring you the Next! Best! Song! Ever!, while at the same time providing the answer to one of the true mysteries of the universe.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hypothetical mixtape: January 2012

Every month I find, thanks to my many internet friends, an unfeasibly large number of songs that I think might be worth listening to. These songs have, for some time now, been going into an ever-expanding pile, never to be seen again. At the start of this year I decided to conduct an experiment: could I dump the songs I found each month into discrete little piles, and distil each month's offerings into an 80-minute mix tape, just enough to fit onto one (hypothetical) CD? The hell I could. It's now June, and I have struggled to pare January's hopefuls down to 160 minutes of fun. Okay, so that could be labelled a two-disc set, or a "Deluxe Edition" or "Legacy Edition" (?) with bonus disc. That's not the real problem. The real problem is that, at this rate, the songs I am finding now won't get called for consideration until, on a quick calculation, around 2016. At which point if there are any "new" artists floating around in amongst it all, they will have already gone stratospheric, developed bad personal habits, and/or crashed and burned.

All of that is a problem for another day (or year). For now, I give to you the January A-list. (No links provided, or I wouldn't be putting this up for another month. Anything you want to hear, I'm sure you can find.)

"Moon Jocks N Prog Rocks", by Mungolian Jet Set. Just like the old days, this hypothetical mixtape starts off with an epic space disco anthem. It's not by our old pal Lindstrom, but heck, it might as well be. It tells a kind of shaggy dog story, features some tasty Vocoderised vocals, drops in a circa Chariots of the Gods synth solo and generally motors along at a cracking pace for its ten and a half minutes.

"Gypsy Woman", by Kiki Hitomi. I was giving this one two thumbs up before I even knew what it was I was listening to. It's not either of the songs called "Gypsy Woman" that I know. This one was apparently a "club hit" in 1991. Like I would know. Kiki Hitomi sings with King Midas Sound. That's the first thumbs up. The backing music, which I should have recognised but didn't, is a Ricardo Villalobos track. I thought it sounded like Kraftwerk's "Computer World" fed through every kind of filter. That's two thumbs up.

"Whole Sex Lotta Machine (the Drumloop, the Guitar Riff & the Super Bad)", by Fissunix. In other words, a mashup, the content of which should be discernible from the name alone. If you could insert Jimmy Page's classic riff into James Brown's rampant funkisms, you would, wouldn't you? The drum loop? It sounds like it might be the one from "Walk This Way". Although presumably those dudes copped it from somewhere else.

"Pinball (Ashley Beedle Edit)", by Brian Protheroe. The words "lost psychedelic classic" sit with the song, but not really with the year: 1974. And anyway this is an "edit", meaning some boffin has taken the original track and made it "better". I can't comment on that, but in this iteration it is certainly a "trip", uh, "man".

"Underwater Light Reflections", by Gate Way. I listened to a lot of music in 1975 but I don't think I ever heard anything like this. I don't even know what you would classify it as. "Soundtrack music" might fit, if that even meant anything. If you listen closely you can hear things that, many years later, would go to make up the classic Broadcast sound. Research reveals that Gate Way is actually "Laurence Vanay", who is actually the wife of one of the guys from Magma. Which probably makes as much sense as anything I've written today.

"Just The Two Of Us", by Grover Washington Jr. In my mind, Grover Washington Jr is a saxophone-playing Sesame Street character. Featuring the unmistakeable voice of Bill Withers. You would have thought this song was from 1971 rather than 1981. Which perhaps makes it a bit "old fashioned" when viewed from when it came out (but that didn't stop it being a huge hit) but viewed from today it is just a "timeless classic". Which just goes to show, uh, something.

"Isle de Joie", by Mandre. This invariably makes me think of "Quasimodo's Dream" and "Beautiful", my two favourite albums by Dubbo's finest, The Reels. Go figure.

"Aybatti", by Fikret Kizilok and Tehlikeli Madde. Turkish psychedelic Hammond organ freakout. C'mon, guys. C'mon.

"Yokpo Wa Non Kpo Hami", by Assa Cica et L'Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou. The backing band on this track has been subjected to the archival treatment in the last couple of years. It all sounds wonderful, but there's something singularly remarkable about this song. You are probably not going to believe this, but the horns on this song sound so much like The Laughing Clowns, it's actually uncanny.

"Kelen Ati Len", by Orchestre du Bawobab. Originally released in 1975 in Senegal, and excavated and released as a seven-inch single on Soundway in 2005. And it's great. It crossed my mind that "Orchestre du Bawobab" might be the same as the still-going combo Orchestra Baobab. Turns out it is. There is so much great 1970s African music being unearthed and reissued. I should tell you about it some time.

"Mademoiselle Marie", by Coeur Magique. More archival footage here. French prog rockers circa 1971, rediscovered by the estimable Finders Keepers label. In here for the sound of the guitars, really. As if that ever wasn't enough.

"Eighth Avenue", by Hospitality. And here is proof that absolutely no thought has gone into the sequencing of this mix. Suddenly, like waking up from a prog dream into a pop new morning, we have briskly strummed acoustic guitars and breathy, underplayed female vocals. A certain indefinable "something". As long as people keep making songs that sound like this, I will keep listening. 

"Nice Age", by Hatsune Miku Orchestra. The best thing about this song is that Hatsune Miku doesn't exist. She is a "singing synthesiser application with a female persona". How William Gibson is that? Here "she" is "performing" one of my favourite Yellow Magic Orchestra songs. Ah, what a world we live in.

"Have A Cigar", by John Foxx and The Maths. Foxx's voice here is distorted to within an inch of its life and Benge's synths do a remarkable impression of Foxx-era Ultravox! as they tackle, with gusto, the Pink Floyd song. If there are no second acts, as F Scott Fitgerald is supposed to have said, then nobody told John Foxx. Oh, wait, Fitzgerald limited that rule to American lives, didn't he?

"You'll Improve Me (Caribou Remix)", by Junior Boys. If there's anybody I have been digging in the last few years as much as Junior Boys it's Caribou. Hence at this point my critical faculties switched themselves off.

"Hymn of the Big Wheel (Egyptrixx Remix)", by Massive Attack. It's as if someone said, I wonder what "Hymn of the Big Wheel" would have sounded like if Massive Attack were starting out in 2011. I think this nails it.

"I Close My Eyes", by The Bee Gees. Sadly, The Bee Gees now are like the punchline from the old Dave Allen story about the wide-mouthed frog: "Don't see many of them around these days, do you?" (I say this as a mark of respect, not a cheap joke, but admittedly it could be difficult to tell.) But their songs will live on. It is the disco-era Bee Gees that still command the most column inches, but I believe that their earlier records are the ones that warrant the most latter-day reconsideration. This song is but one case in point. It would be hard to argue that anyone was as good as The Beatles, but crikey, The Bee Gees gave it a shot. My school friend Mark Eddy, who made a lot of unlikely claims, once told me that his uncle had been the drummer for The Bee Gees in their Australian days. A surprising number of Mark's claims turned out to be true, and anyway, why would you make something like that up?

"Tropical", by Nino Nardini and Roger Roger. Groovy. Tropical. The end.

Song of the day

"Cybele's Reverie", by Stereolab.

After 22 years of marriage, at least we can agree on one thing: our favourite Stereolab song.

Happy anniversary, you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Song of the day

"Sparrow Song", by Acrylics.

If you are about as overburdened with work as it is humanly possible to be while still remaining alive and (barely) upright, it is particularly gratifying when the universe hands you a song that at once sounds like the best song you never heard in 1986 while at the same time being as timeless a slice of dreampop as you are ever likely to hear.

Thank you, universe.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

This goes with this (old world vs new world edition)

So anyway, there I was, listening to "Lonely Boy", by The Black Keys, as you do, and I thought to myself: what we have here is good-ol'-boy Southern boogie in the style of the British New Romantics.

Billy Idol could have done this.

And then it dawned on me: he did! But back then it was British New Romantics channelling the Confederate battle cry.

It's a funny old world, isn't it?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Song of the day

"Change", by Tears For Fears.

The place where I have worked for the past 13 years is not actually a family, but it can feel like one. Today I found out that a part of that family, someone who has been a part of the reason I still enjoy my job, against the odds, after all that time -- someone who, in fact, has become an important part of my life over the time that we have worked together -- is about to leave.

This song is for him.

Everybody gets a card when they go. Everybody gets a parting gift. Not everybody gets a blog post.

It's comforting, at times like this, to know that there is a place, amongst the infinite number of parallel universes out there, where it is still the 1980s.

And, because it is the 1980s, it must be the extended version.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

This Goes With This (The More You Listen The More You Learn Edition)

1. "It's So Easy Falling", by Manfred Mann.

Listen (from the 2.07 mark) here; or download here.

(The YouTube clip linked to above compiles two Manfred Mann songs, with "It's So Easy Falling" appearing second. They are both worth a listen; if you thought that Manfred Mann's career started and ended with "Blinded By The Light" (and oh how I love that electric piano), you might be pleasantly surprised.)

2. "After Hours", by Caribou.

It is no secret that Caribou's particular skill lies in crafting songs (which are frequently excellent in their own right) using bits of other people's songs. But until I stumbled upon the first few seconds of "It's So Easy Falling", from Manfred Mann's "Mighty Garvey!" album (from 1968), I had never had a clear example of him actually doing it. (It may be that his sources are almost uniformly obscure; or I may be a not particularly good listener.)

And while we are on the subject, I recently had the opportunity, courtesy of our local library (your taxes at work), to finally listen to Isaac Hayes's "Black Moses" album. (He was much more than the voice of Chef.) Therein lay a surprise, even if I am the last to have discovered it. It goes like this.

First, refamiliarise yourself with Portishead's "Glory Box":

Then, listen to "Ike's Rap II":

See how easy this is?

If it is true that all the good songs have already been written, then I suppose you might as well use them as building blocks for your own songs. (But query what is going to happen in a few years' time when the songs that are based on other songs are themselves used as the basis for other songs. My head hurts.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Song of the day

"Ill Wind", by Ed Kuepper.

The High Quality Audio Reproduction Fairy paid us a visit not long ago, bringing with him/her a Cambridge Audio amplifier and CD player (people still buy CD players?). They must have been a good choice: they even make Ed Kuepper sound good. Not his voice, obviously (I think the expression is "lol"?), but the crispness of his guitar playing really stands out on a song like this. Especially at the kind of volume that can only be employed when the other family members are far away from home.

I have no idea how long it is since I listened to this album ("Character Assassination"), but it really is much better than I remember it. That can't just be the hi-fi talking, can it?

(Obviously, sound quality is a stupid thing to be talking about when linking to a youtube clip, but you can enjoy the pastoral images and imagine the sound of the strings.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Song of the day

"I Feel Love", by Donna Summer.

Well, obviously.

It's not every day a song comes along that turns on its head the accepted understanding of what popular music can be.

Thank you, Donna Summer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

YouTube(s) of the day

If you have been following Dangerous Minds (and you should have been) then you will have already seen this. If not, now is your chance to enjoy Martin Denny and his pals whooping it up on television some time around the early 1950s. Those were different times.

Bonus beats: John Cleese is the devil.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mad Man

May, 1945. Fifteen years before "Mad Men". The Second World War (not yet given a capital "S") is drawing to a close. Those outside of Germany, hitherto not prepared to believe the stories that had been dribbling out from that country about the concentration camps, are suddenly forced to believe it, as the evidence, in the form of emaciated, destroyed humans returning to Paris from the camps as they are liberated, is laid out before them. In amongst these stories, of a combination we are unable to comprehend of exhilaration, exhaustion, and foreboding (the horror is not yet over, not that many people at this particular time would have been aware of its magnitude), there is this advertisement, occupying page 9 of the issue of the New Yorker cover-dated 19 May 1945.

(Open it in a new window to get a better view, then click to enlarge. It's worth it.)

One can only imagine the extra weight this ad would have carried in May 1945. Paris, and French perfume, had been lost to the rest of the world since 1940. Nobody knew what state it, or what was left of its residents, would be in until it was liberated. So, there's that. But there's also the drawings themselves, by Saul Steinberg. I always associate Steinberg with Picasso, both because of the extraordinary number of pictures they were able to create, and because of their ability to do magical things with a few lines on a page. (They also both were able to create art out of things the rest of us would never see as the basis of art.) Picasso, though, hangs in museums, while Steinberg is known, if he is known at all, as a New Yorker cartoonist and illustrator of advertisements. (At least there are now Steinberg books that you can buy.)

But take a closer look at this ad. It simply oozes Paris, from the Arc de Triomphe in the centre to the policeman (or is it M. Hulot?) on a bicycle in the bottom right corner. And there, over on the far right, nearer the top: is that Steinberg himself, in his garret, working on his next picture? I would like to think so.