Saturday, February 25, 2012

YouTube of the day

Here's a clean-cut young man with a bright future ahead of him:

(via Dangerous Minds)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Virtual vinyl artefact of the day

"Shallow" / "Lessons", by Beach Fossils.

Ah, the seven-inch single. A small, flat, circular piece of vinyl, with one song on the A side, another song on the B side. They often come in a nice cardboard sleeve, with a picture on one side and some scant biographical details or product information on the other. You can play one side as many times as you like, as long as you don't mind getting up (or stopping dancing around the room) to put the needle back to the start of the record again. And then, when you get tired of listening to that song, you can turn the record over and -- lo! -- listen to the other song. (Perhaps the analogue, tactile nature of this exercise is a part of the particular sense of attachment one gets with singles. Even album tracks, in the days of vinyl, didn't quite carry the same sense of immediacy.)

Of course, I haven't actually bought one of these things for many a long year. So why this sudden outburst of nostalgia? Because, notwithstanding I acquired these two songs as MP3 files, and can play them one after the other on an endless loop, wirelessly remoted to many devices and/or parts of the house, they seem (to me) to epitomise the very essence of seven-inch-singleness. Both songs are under-three-and-a-half-minute slices of pop brilliance, and both make me want to get up, turn the record over, and play the other one.

Amongst the teeming, bottomless morass of "Brooklyn bands" (many of which probably don't even hail from Brooklyn, except in the sense of Brooklyn as a state of mind) only three have ever really caught my ear: Real Estate, Woods and Beach Fossils. (This might not actually be true: do Emeralds and their countless offshoots count as "Brooklyn"?) These three groups are quite different from each other, but what they have in common is their ability to breath new life into the always potentially moribund form of guitar pop.

When I listen to Beach Fossils, even now that the novelty of their sound has long worn off, I hear strong echoes of the venerable, distinguished, still vibrant Postcard sound (even if it is now showing signs of gray hair around the ears): a singular, effervescent jangle. That they combine this with a flat, affectless, I-might-be-singing-about-love-but-I-don't-really-give-a-damn vocal style doesn't detract from the songs' sparkle. (It might turn out to mark them as part of the class of 2011-12. But we can leave that to the hystorians.)

Now turn to side A:

Now turn to side B:

That's the other thing about the perfect seven-inch single: you can never decide which song you like better.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A few words about "Autoluminescent", a film by Richard Lowenstein

1. Rowland S Howard was fond of cats and worshipped Lee Hazlewood. What's not to like?

2. Listening at close range to Rowland's trademark Birthday Party guitar squall is like mainlining wasabi.

3. If the Pope is listening, can we please have Mick Harvey elevated to the sainthood?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Song of the day

"Off The Wall", by Lee Ranaldo.

The evidence is mounting. First, Thurston Moore releases a solo album that, unlike previous dispatches, isn't experimental wotsit but rather sounds like Sonic Youth Unplugged crossed with, say, Beck's "Sea Change" album. Then, Kim and Thurston announce one of the least expected splits in showbiz history (at least, from this distance). Then, if I recall correctly, Kim says she's working with some other folks (although she's done that before).

Now, we have a Lee Ranaldo solo album, this time not a collection of locked grooves and/or etched vinyl, but what promises to be an actual collection of songs.

If Sonic Youth haven't split, they are pulling off a reasonable approximation.

Maybe Lee's album is not all like this song. But my hopes are high. A lot of my favourite SY songs bear his hallmarks. And you can hear those at the start of this song. The more surprising thing is how, as the song goes along, it morphs into what might be the best song REM weren't able to come up with in the last, say, 25 years of their own distinguished career. Heck, Ranaldo is even sounding like Michael Stipe.

Which is interesting. The two bands must have been in some ways in orbit around each other for much of their careers. I wonder how much either of them might at times have wanted to be the other. (The trajectories of the two bands were quite different, but parallels are certainly there. Both peaked in about 1986. Both lasted a similar time (again, assuming).)

The legacy of the last few SY albums is curious. Any one of them is as listenable as any of their crowning eighties / early nineties albums. And yet, because they came later, they will probably never command the same reverence. Which is not to say Sonic Youth were ever just treading water.

It's weird to be old enough to have lived through the entire cradle-to-grave stories of two long-lived, significant bands. I suppose people older than myself had that sense about The Beatles (who got through it all, don't forget, in less than a decade; imagine that).

Excuse the scattered nature of these thoughts. It's Saturday morning. Just enjoy the song.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Song of the day

"666.66", by Weird Dreams.

The guitar at the start of this song sounds so much like The Durutti Column that it's almost a shame when the song proper starts. "Almost", because if this turned out to be my favourite song of 2012 I wouldn't be at all surprised. It's a welcoming, breezy take on post-C86 pop with a gentle shoegaze-y fringe. At least, that's what I'm hearing. Kids are getting such great sounds out of guitars these days. Not original, necessarily, but great.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Song of the day

"When I See You Again", by Shimmering Stars.

What happened while I was away? The Jesus and Mary Chain revival.

I found this song at a blog called Sounds Better With Reverb. And, you know what? It does!

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Summer Place

Well, that was fun. Four nights at the coast, as a kind of farewell to the school holidays. We did it last year. Then, it was hot and stormy. This time, it was just cool and damp, not at all boogie-boarding weather, and only barely pool weather. Still, we gave it a go. The place we stayed at was in receivership last summer, and we got a really good deal. This year, it turns out, it is under new ownership, and we were somewhat surprised (not pleasantly) by the rates, and by being forced to pay extra for two children and four continental breakfasts, none of which (ie the breakfasts) we really needed. (Four days of mini-croissants and assorted Kellogs (tm) cereals is, I now know, about my limit.) Since we were there last year they have fenced the pool out from the bar area, which just seems wrong (although we would have missed it more if it had been pool weather). They have also forgotten how to make coffee. In fact, all in all I think I preferred the place when it was being run by the receivers. That can't be good.

Still, the setting is magical: cabins that face right onto the beach, bushland behind. Kangaroos wandered onto the deck, looking to stroll right on into our cabin. We took a few walks, with and without geocaching objectives (kindly researched by friends of ours, whom we convinced to come with us). (One of the caches was, apparently, the first ever "earth cache", which took us to various geological formations that we had walked over previously without even noticing, and a fossilised colony of bryozoa, or something, like I would know.) We found a snake curled up in a hole in a rock, not entirely in a location that I would have expected to find a snake. I had walked right past it; it's a wonder I hadn't blindly stuck my hand in the hole for grip. Snap.

Wednesday night we drove into Batemans Bay for fish and chips. As you do. The last week of January is a good time for this, as New South Wales is back at school and the ACT isn't, so you can get a table at the fish and chip shop, and look out at the boats or down at the many fish that are swimming around below you (and a stingray, which, I swear, waved to us).

With the weather being as it was, there was time for other things.

Like watching DVDs. And T20 cricket. And "QI".

Or like playing some of the games we had picked up at CanCon the previous weekend. Unbeknownst to me, Adrienne had bought a game called Monty Python Fluxx, which was fun while also being head-splittingly confusing (the game keeps changing), and which might well lend itself to long, boozy evenings, if such a thing were possible. She had also, while I wasn't looking, bought another game, called Escalation, mainly for the cover image of a granny wielding a machine gun. (If I'm honest, I would have bought it if I had seen it.) It is fun, and simple, and fast. These are not always things you are looking for in a game, but sometimes they are just the ticket. The other game, Elfenland, is neither fast nor simple. It may well be fun, but that is a conclusion that will only be reached with further understanding of how the damn thing works.

Or like fighting through my reader's block (it's like writer's block, I think, except from the other side of the page: I have for some time been unable to pick up and start a novel, presumably in some not small part as a result of having very little time or energy (on account of the nature of my day job) for reading. So to make a start on Ian McEwan's "Solar" was a bit like finding a favourite old jumper in the back of the cupboard. (Actually, an old jumper would have come in very handy, given the weather. Did I mention the weather already?)

Lesson learned: if you are going to take your Bialetti on holidays with you, make sure you take a trivet for balancing it on the stove. There is nothing sadder than coffee that is on the floor instead of in the cup.

The dolphins we had seen last summer seemed to have deserted us this year. But this morning, as we were packing up to leave, I noticed some smaller fish jumping through the surface of the water. This, last year, had seemed to be a signal that the dolphins were about. So I said to Jules, who is useless at packing up (fact!), to go out (in the rain) to look for dolphins. Whereupon he said, within a couple of eye blinks, "There are dolphins." And there they were. Possibly (but probably not) waving us goodbye. We loaded the car, in the rain, walked over to our final continental breakfast, in the rain, brushed the sand off the boogie boards, in the rain, and drove back to Canberra, in the rain. We passed a still-fresh car accident on the way back, which is always a sobering thing to see.

Georgie the cat was pleased to be brought home from her own summer holiday adventure at the local cattery. Two issues of the New Yorker awaited us. The house was cold. There were 28mm in the rain gauge.

And thus normal life returns.