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.