Monday, January 23, 2012

Song of the day

"Moondance", by Blondes.

Nothing whatsoever to do with Van Morrison.

You would think I would be totally sick of that arpeggiated blissed-out space disco shit by now. Apparently not.

(Admission: I sat on this for too long. I had lumped them in, unheard, with any number of Brooklyn lo-fi indie bands with interchangeable names. My bad.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Song of the day

"Leave It", by Mike McGear.

Listen to this song without context. Without knowing who Mike McGear is. (YouTube spoiler alert.)

You hear echoes of the vocal stylings of both Ferry and Eno, mixed with a pinch of UK Squeeze, and filtered through a Beatles prism. You detect more of 1982 than of 1974.

Then check out the story of Mike McGear. And be amazed.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Wot no album of the year?

2011: it's been and gone. I haven't kept a list of albums that might be considered "of the year", because the passage of time frequently proves my snap judgments to be wrong, and because I am not good at keeping lists. (I am good at starting them.) Most of the records that have caught my ear have been mentioned in these pages. Those I don't think I have acknowledged, but which deserve a nod (and which I have spent actual money acquiring), include the new albums by Kate Bush ("50 Words for Snow") and The Necks ("Mindset"); "Replicas", by Oneohtrix Point Never; "Helplessness Blues", by Fleet Foxes; Gillian Welch's "The Harrow & The Harvest"; "As The Crow Flies", by The Advisory Circle"; David Kilgour's "Left By Soft"; and "Sketches From the Book of the Dead", by Mick Harvey. This last one doesn't seem to have gotten much recognition at all, which is a shame, because it is really very good, in a typically understated way. There is a particular strain of Australian music which I am too close to to be able to articulate sensibly, but which this album, I think, taps into. Nick Cave's loss is our gain. As an example, here is "October Boy":

"October Boy" is, it would seem, Harvey's farewell to Rowland S Howard. The film about Howard, "Autoluminescent", is showing at the Arc Cinema on 11 February. See you there.

Song of the day

"Walking in the Rain", by Grace Jones.

A wise man once said that you learn something new every day.

I was drawn back to this song by its appearance in the rather glamorous Peugeot ad that is currently appearing during the cricket. What caught my ear in the ad was the voice that comes in at the end: not Grace Jones, but someone who sounded suspiciously like whichever of Harry Vanda and George Young was the vocalist in Flash & The Pan. Which sent me to the internets, who informed me that it was, indeed, a Flash & The Pan original, and in fact the B-side to probably their best-known song, "Hey, St Peter". Who knew?

And I call myself an Australian ...

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A few words about "Bad As Me", by Tom Waits

The same story can be told in two different ways.


Tom Waits has released what might be the least consequential album of his long, stellar career. There is nothing new here, nothing that Waits hasn't done before, better. Almost all of the songs contain echoes, sometimes more than echoes, of earlier, superior Tom Waits songs: the roll call includes, but is not limited to, "Heartattack And Vine", "Blue Valentine", "Walking Spanish", "Time", "Soldier's Things", "Johnsburg, Illinois", "Big Black Mariah" and "Town With No Cheer". The songs are populated with characters the likes of which we have seen many times. The inevitable promotional interviews contain the same (or analogous) similes and digressions as we are used to, but even these have become tiresome. Heck, he has even done the Keith Richards thing before. Waits, who for so much of his career has positioned himself as one part showman, one part ironist, one part junkyard revivalist, and one part sensitive balladeer, is now also one part self-parody. He may not yet have jumped the shark, but he is in the pool with it, and is strapping on his water skis.


There is something unexpectedly refreshing about the new Tom Waits album, "Bad As Me". It sheds the excess that marred his three proper post-"Rain Dogs" studio albums. [Note: this is my own classification. Excluding compilations, live albums, and records containing songs written for other purposes, e.g. theatre, film.] This is a stripped-down Tom Waits, and the better for it. He has called in the old gang, most particularly Marc Ribot on guitar (I never met an album that wasn't improved by the appearance of Marc Ribot, see also Elvis Costello's "National Ransom"), Larry Taylor on bass, and some bloke called Keith Richards on guitar, while Clint Maedgen is an excellent stand-in for Ralph Carney on sax. Thirteen songs in 44 minutes amounts to a nice, concise statement, possibly even a Tom Waits Master Class. It is as if Waits is saying to The Kids, "This is about as much of me as I can squeeze into something your atrophied attention spans might be able to handle. See what you think." Perhaps the best way for those of us who have a close familiarity with Mr Waits' long and diverse career to view this album is as the third in a trilogy that began twenty-odd years ago with "Swordfishtrombones" and "Rain Dogs". (In fact, it goes one step further than those two classic albums, a step that he couldn't have taken back then, on account of lack of distance: several of the songs hark back to the sounds he was making prior to whatever epiphany or crossroads experience he had between 1980 and 1982 that led to the first of them.) They all sound as though they are having a lot of fun, and Waits has all the energy of a kid (albeit a kid who had been chain smoking since he was in the womb) making his first record, with everything still to play for.

The path you decide to take, in this Tom Waits Choose Your Own Adventure, is entirely up to you. I have, after a slightly hesitant start, opted firmly for the second. But you probably already knew that.

Song of the day

"Medicine Show", by The Dream Syndicate.

It is a commonly held belief that the mid-1980s were a fallow time for music. And yet it was a period that gave us a whole slew of great albums, from "Daydream Nation", "Psychocandy", "The Perfect Prescription", via "Treasure", "The Firstborn Is Dead", "Secrets of the Beehive", "Diamond Life", to "Rain Dogs", "The African Man's Tomato", "This Nation's Saving Grace, "Hatful of Hollow"; and that's without really stopping to think.

What there isn't really, in all of that lot, is a defining sound, or look, or gimmick. Perhaps the band least likely to have come from the Decade that Taste Forgot was The Dream Syndicate. Their second album, "Medicine Show", didn't fit many post-sixties moulds, really: this is especially the case with side two, which consisted of three songs, all of them rather long, and festooned with actual guitar solos. You can see from the following clip that they also didn't much look like anybody's conception of 1984:

And hence, by embracing quality over "fashion", they (together with a large number of the albums listed above) justify the appellation "timeless". What I most love about this song, and what is not conveyed by the performance above, are the guitar chords and the backing vocals. Plus the fact that it just plain rocks.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Song of the day

"Sa Sa Samoa", by Korallreven.

Here is a band that has given more than the casual nod to New Order. You wouldn't call a song "The Truest Faith", and sounding as it does, by accident.

On "Sa Sa Samoa", though, the pan-African vibe that also permeates their music is more to the fore. I can also hear elements of the classic 4AD sound (or maybe that is just because I have been lately immersing myself in This Mortal Coil). 

The dreamlike vocals are by Julianna Barwick, herself responsible for one of the better albums of 2011, and one which I have been remiss in not mentioning here before, "The Magic Place".

Happy new year.