Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Song of the day

"Who Loves The Sun", by The Velvet Underground.

Who loves the sun? Not me, that's for sure. If I can't be undercover or at least in the shade, I will be the first person looking for a hat and dark glasses; and usually, a little later, a packet of Disprin Forte.

Nevertheless, we are off to the beach (or what (we) Canberrans refer to as "the Coast") for a couple of days. "I have never been so excited in my entire life." (There. I said it. Now stop pointing that gun at my head.)

Still, I've got some Neal Stephenson, some Dupuy & Berberian, some New Yorkers, some Coronas, some headphones. Everything's going to be just fine.

(Ha. Imagine Lou Reed and his pals off for a day at the beach. Pale skin. Black clothing. Leather boots. Mirror shades. Sneers.)

(Can't seem to get any of the clips of this song on YouTube to work, conspiracy buffs, so here it is.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Song of the day

"Long", by Daphni.

I have this theory that every great synth-pop album from the late seventies / early eighties ended with a quiet, evocative piece of instrumental music. These instrumentals were perfect for those of us who could dance like a robot and be reduced to tears by the sounds made by machines. The funny thing is, I can't conjure up an actual example, and I am forced to concede that I may in fact have invented the idea.

This tradition, assuming it to exist, is brought up to date by "Long", the final track on Daphni's very fine "Jiaolong" long player from (what is now) last year. Daphni, as you already know, is Dan Snaith, who is the evil mastermind behind Caribou.

Hey, where the heck did that harp come from?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Song of the day

"Last Land", by John Talabot.

Does anybody know what sample/s is/are being used in this song? There is something in there that sounds very, very familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is.


I suppose one could always just g**gle it, but that would be too easy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Song of the day

"I Don't Owe You Anything", by Sandie Shaw.

Why am I making you listen to this?, you ask. Well, first off, Sandie doesn't make too bad a fist of this Smiths song (her take on "Hand in Glove", I'm sorry to say, is awful). But mainly, I have been listening to this song in order to demonstrate something Johnny Marr said recently about how Smiths songs were made. It seems that, unlike most guitar bands, the songs weren't built upon the bass and drums. Rather, the structure of Smiths songs centred around the guitar and the bass. Listening again to a random assortment of Smiths songs with that in mind, I can hear what he was getting at. But it may be that to hear it properly you have to have Morrissey bound and gagged and placed in a box in the corner. You know, just for a couple of minutes. Give it a try. Morrissey won't mind. Much.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Song of the day

"Love Cry", by Four Tet.

Should you buy a second-hand copy of Four Tet's 2010 album, "There Is Love In You", for ten bucks? Should? The heck. How could you not? It may not carry the instant WTFness of hearing "Rounds" for the first time (especially if, like me, you had not previously heard any music made the Four Tet way). But it may in fact be the better album of the two. It also differs from his subsequent output, which, while excellent in its own way, seems to be a series of exercises in envelope pushing. "There Is Love In You", on the other hand, gives the impression of having been made as an album, and certainly benefits from being listened to all the way through.

Nevertheless, "Love Cry", which was also released as a 12", can easily be severed from the album and stuck up on your wall with super glue, as we have done here.

(Incidentally, the B side of the 12", "Our Bells", is a mighty piece of work in its own right, taking his music in a kind of Brian Eno direction. (Like I know what I'm talking about.))

Friday, January 11, 2013

Song of the day

"Are 'Friends' Electric?", by Tubeway Army.

So. Around years 9 and 10, that would be 1978 and 1979, I went off the rails. 

This statement must be put in context: an only child living on a farm four miles from the nearest town, in a small rural community, has limited opportunity for going seriously astray. But he can nevertheless find opportunities, if he works at it, for letting his parents down.

How did I do it? Largely by misbehaving at school, which was easy enough, and in retrospect relatively harmless: mostly I came across to my teachers as an annoying pain in the butt and general smart alec. This was in aid of "forging" my own "identity". (Which started and ended, if I'm being honest, with my buying from the Melbourne Show, and gamely wearing once or twice, a badge that read "I'm Antisocial", in "punk" lettering. (Why am I thinking, right now, of Rik Mayall's character in "The Young Ones"?))

I got one opportunity to take things a bit further. And, perhaps unwisely, or for the wrong reasons, I took it.

My best friend in primary school, and even as far back as kindergarten, had been Malcolm. My dad and his dad, and a few of their respective brothers, had made up the bulk of a cricket team, Fish Creek West, that played on a lopsided cow paddock a few miles out of town. So our families saw a bit of each other, even though my mum and dad's social life didn't really exist. By this time the cricket team had disbanded. Its members had either moved away or given up cricket for lawn bowls. Malcolm's dad died and they moved into town. Malcolm rebelled before I did. This included his disowning me as a friend, or at least telling me that I was uncool (true) and that my dad was an idiot (manifestly untrue, and by far the more upsetting of the two things -- but, given his own loss, it might have been understandable to me if I had been old and "mature" enough to make the connection).

Malcolm thus had two advantages over me: he lived in the town, and therefore had access to things that could be obtained in a town, viz., cigarettes and alcohol. He also had an older brother (adopted, as it turned out; not that that is relevant, but it does go some way to explaining how two people who resembled Laurel and Hardy could be brothers), who was able to facilitate access to same.

At the same time it had become clear to me that I had to win back Malcolm's friendship, and that I could only do this if I could prove to him that I could be a Bad Boy. It didn't seem like a good idea, but I didn't see that I had any choice, if I wanted to put an end to a long period of school-bus bullying and ostracism. 

The Blue Light Disco came to town. I had permission to go to this highlight of the Fish Creek social calendar. I was dropped off at Malcolm's house beforehand. Malcolm had come across cans of VB, which he had stashed behind the railway station. Alcohol had never before passed my lips. I had no idea what it was supposed to do to me. I drank two cans. Malcolm drank, I think, a few more. We went to the disco.

I was, even then, a music obsessive. I gravitated straight towards the DJ. I was flicking through his record crate when I found, to my amazement (I really did think I was in a world of my own, with my surface-mail NMEs and my night-time access to 2JJ), a copy of Tubeway Army's "Are 'Friends' Electric?", which was yet to make its first appearance on Countdown and was therefore still largely unknown in Australia. I asked him if he would play it. Some time later, after either the two cans had kicked in or, more likely, I had convinced myself that they had, that opening synth line came on, louder and in better sound quality than I had ever heard it before.

And then, dear reader, I went nuts. I was was an acne-spotted stick insect. I had long, lank, straight black hair and black horn-rimmed glasses. I wore a polyester Miller shirt of some combination of brown and orange. I wore desert boots. I "danced" around the room like a lunatic, crashing into people, spinning my arms about, and jumping hither and yon, for the entire length of the song. I danced myself under the table. Literally. I stayed there for some time, wondering what had just happened, and, more ominously, what was going to happen. The adult help, all of whom were known to me and, worse, to my parents, escorted me from the premises and arranged for them (my parents) to collect me.

I doubt that I was actually drunk (although for a time I endured the cruel and vicious nickname "Two Can Stan") but beer could still be smelled on my breath. (Or was it teen spirit?) I underwent a necessary interrogation when I got home. (The car ride itself was awfully silent, and silently awful.) Mum was in tears in bed for some time. Of course I denied, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, that I had been drinking (I said it had been Malcolm, and that the smell must have got on me somehow). Mum made me promise that I would never do it again. (That was a promise that was easy to keep, if only because of lack of further opportunity. Eventually the hormones settled themselves down, I knuckled down at school in year 12, and I threw away the "I'm Antisocial" badge.)

I had made my mum cry. I had made my dad look at me in a way I had never seen before, and didn't much like. I had made an utter dick of myself in front of my peers. I had to live with all of these things at once. I think I discovered, and not for the last time, that going off the rails was not for me.

I still get goosebumps when I hear this song.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hypothetical mixtape: March 2012

Coming not exactly hot on the heels of our February 2012 hypothetical mixtape, here is what we cooked up, or reheated, for March. Um, that would be March of last year.

"The Motorcade Sped On", by Double Dee & Steinski & Mass Media. It starts with these things: the introduction to the Johnny Carson show. The opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night". JFK. Three gun shots. A news bulletin. All in very rapid succession, such that, if you were listening in 1985, you really would not have had any musical framework into which to place it. It also would have been deeply confronting to anyone with personal connections to the assassination or who had been old enough in 1963 to have been scarred by it. I wasn't even born then, but I still find the track, even at this late date, surprisingly affecting. It also paved the way, eventually, for DJ Shadow's "...endtroducing" (among other things), and so has a cultural legacy of its own.

"Driving Away From Home (Wicked Weather For Walking)", by It's Immaterial. There are several songs that, throughout the earlier, less self-assured, years of my life, I harboured an affection for that was deep but secret. They were songs that I didn't think fit the way I saw myself, or more likely the way I wanted others to see me. "Rio", by Mike Nesmith. "Baker Street", by Gerry Rafferty. "Wicked Game", by Chris Isaak. "Driving Away From Home" is another one, and one, I must admit, that I had completely forgotten. I still like it. (I still like all those others, too. And now I don't even care who knows it. [Insert blogging as self-psychotherapy alert here.])

"I Don't Know Why I Love You", by British Electric Foundation. From the less well-known second volume of their "Music of Quality and Distinction". Featuring the one, the only, Green Gartside on vocals. When your young grandchild says to you, many years from now, "What did the eighties sound like, grampa?", you will play this, and they will know. (So it was released in 1991. It's still eighties to the core.) What's that you say? There's an extended version? Oh crap. [Cranks up the Google.]

"I Keep Mine Hidden", by The Smiths. And, speaking of the eighties: ooh, look, a Smiths song that doesn't seem to have appeared on any of the 25,000 (and counting) Smiths compilations that continue to litter the countryside. B-side of "Sweet and Tender Hooligan", apparently. Warning: contains whistling.

"Exactly Nothing", by Real Estate. We can always get excited about a Real Estate b-side. This is a song (and Real Estate a band) that probably, at some level, wouldn't have existed without The Smiths. I really like what Real Estate can do with guitars within the framework of the humble pop song. They can give a song both air and density at the same time, which is kind of a neat trick.

"Imaginary Girl", by The Silver Seas. The piano makes you think "Ben Folds Five", only I never much cared for Ben Folds Five. In my ideal world, every time you switched on your car radio this would be playing.

"Friend Zone", by Spectrals. We've said it before and we'll say it again: everything sounds better with reverb.

"Goldilocks Zone", by Grass Widow. Conveys the spirit of Electrelane (and, perhaps, The Raincoats) sufficiently well that how could we say no? It's the guitars, innit?

"Ohio / Machine Gun", by The Isley Brothers. Sometimes a piece of music has to go for nine minutes in order to find the sweet spot. The Isleys here take two anti-'Nam/Civil Rights Movement talismans, fuse them together, and travel so far into The Zone that there ain't no coming back.

"Police On My Back", by The Equals. Another anti-establishment song, then. At first blush it sounds a bit stilted in comparison with the agit-punk of The Clash's cover. But stick with it. Who knows, you may end up preferring it this way.

"Miss You", by The Rolling Stones. What have we here? Only the second-most ridiculous thing you ever heard: not just The Rolling Stones, but The Rolling Stones in a "Special Disco Version". The third-most ridiculous thing you ever heard? It works! Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts really come into their own over this song's 8.5 minutes. (You have to try to ignore M*ck J*gg*r. But you've been successfully doing that for the last 30 years anyway so that shouldn't be too hard. Focus instead on the electric piano.)

"Pacific State", by 808 State. Having sat through a lifetime of Dancing Stones, you need to have your palate cleansed. This will do nicely.

"Movie Show Dubwise", by Junior Delahaye. Okay. It goes like this. In the 1970s, heyday of dub and roots reggae, Lloyd "Bullwackie" Barnes recorded and released, on the Wackie's label, a bunch of crucial reggae tracks before relocating to New York, where he continued to do much the same thing. In the early '00s a couple of likeminded Germans, Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, who had already been responsible for practically the only post-early-'80s reggae worth listening to (they understood the essential yin-and-yangness of bass and space) under the Rhythm & Sound moniker, undertook a spit-and-polish reissue programme of a choice selection of Wackie's material. It holds up particularly well, and it is hard to argue that old-school dub has ever sounded better. This is a good example. Its A-side, "Movie Show", also appears on an album called "Showcase", which I have, and which is as good a place to start as any.

"Domina (Carl Craig's Mind Mix)", by Maurizio. As fate would have it, this, too, is the handiwork of Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, subtly tweaked by that man Carl Craig. While this may not fall under the rubric of "reggae", it, too, has bass and space. In quantity.

"Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie (Parts 1 and 2)", by Kraftwerk. Somebody took this 1973 (i.e. pre-"Autobahn") seven-inch single from Kraftwerk, fused both sides together into one long track, and gave it up to the internet. And we thank them for it. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Song of the day

"Hymn of the Big Wheel", by Massive Attack.

Today's question is: do you really need to buy the 2012 remixed/remastered version of Massive Attack's "Blue Lines"? I haven't heard the 2012 release, but listening to the original CD, from 1991, I can't say that I can find, with the passage of 21 years, any particular deficiency or negative legacy in the original. In fact, I would happily say it still sounds as vital, as fresh as a daisy, as it ever did.

On the other hand, if you don't already own "Blue Lines" in some form, there is only one answer: grab a copy with your Ears Pinned Back.

Impossible, it is (as Yoda might have said), to single out any one track from what must be one of the most solidly excellent albums of recent years. But today we are going with the closing number. For a reason. Possibly an entirely spurious reason, but a reason nonetheless.

Listening this morning, with slightly more open ears than usual (holidays, after you have been on them for long enough, will do that to you), I was struck by the similarity, in one of the synth lines, between this song and Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream", which is, as you already know, one of my favourite songs. Neneh Cherry is responsible for the backing vocals on "Hymn of the Big Wheel", and also (I now discover) co-wrote the song. There is, as you also already know, a previous connection between Massive Attack and Neneh Cherry: Robert "3D" Del Naja co-wrote "Manchild" (which happens to be another of my favourite songs). All of this elaborate joining of the dots leads us to: last year's unexpected and surprising (and entirely successful) cover by Cherry, with jazz collective The Thing, of "Dream Baby Dream".

Which is a long way from Massive Attack, admittedly, but I suspect they would approve.

Big wheels within big wheels, indeed.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Song of the day (2)

"Got Paid", by Katy B.

And speaking of Gary Numan, this song starts off with 10 seconds of pure, unadorned Numanesque synth squelch. You would think, wouldn't you, that it would be all downhill from there. You would be wrong: partly because of the song's irresistible happy-times vibe, partly because Katy B has a voice that has genuine kick while also being as smooth as.

Normally I'm not a fan of songs that have guest rappers, or what have you, dropping in for a bit of a rant half way through. But for this I can't help but make an exception.

The other notable thing about this song is that it comes as part of a free four-song downloadable EP. By a name act. On the most major of major labels. And none of these songs could be described as leavings, floor-scrapings or other detritus. They are good. This, I suspect, says something bigger about the future of the music industry than might be immediately apparent. (Of course your understandable first reaction was: "Cool! Free stuff!") What that something is I'm not at all certain, but when Sony -- Sony! -- starts giving you something for nothing, that suggests to me that somewhere, somehow, shit is going down.

Maybe the answer lies in the attendant "Privacy Policy". Or maybe I'm just jumping at shadows. Wouldn't be the first time.

Song of the day

"Motorbikin'", by Chris Spedding.

You know how every so often a song will pop into your head that you haven't heard for years, possibly decades? Today, this is that song.

Watching the TOTP footage below, it strikes me that Spedding here is inventing the look of Joe Strummer, who hadn't been invented yet.

Thinking of this song then got me thinking of "Airport", by The Motors (I'm not sure why).

Oh, I see. It's a transportation theme. In which case, we can't leave without reminding you of Gary Numan's "Cars".

We could go on. We won't.

Friday, January 04, 2013

New Yorker cover of the day

(If you open it in a separate tab/window you can make it bigger. But you already know that.)

2012 was a remarkable year in many respects; most of them not in a good way. But one pretty much amazing thing happened: Chris Ware published a book (notable enough in itself, really), "Building Stories", that ended up in the New York Times list of best 10 books of the year. As someone who has been following Ware since his "Floyd Farland, Citizen of the Future", and who owns all but a couple of Acme Novelty Libraries (there didn't seem much point in buying the last couple of "Jimmy Corrigan" issues given their appearance around the same time in the book; oh how I regret that decision now), I see that last sentence as one of the most unlikely, but deserving, ones I have ever written. (In 1981 I reacted almost violently against the sudden, and equally unexpected, mainstream acceptance of Talking Heads, feeling that My Band had been taken away from me. I'm older than that now.)

I'm not going to go on about the thing itself; you can read that anywhere. (The one thing I will mention is that, this being a Chris Ware production, no detail has been overlooked: a short strip might have been included, if the author had thought about it, on the inside of the box that encases all of the other goodies; so, of course, such a strip appears. You might miss it if you are not already familiar with the Ways of Ware.) Of course, you should buy it, even though there is a fair chance you will already be familiar with some of its contents. There has never been a "book" quite like it, and there most likely never will be. I can't see how it wouldn't have permanently exhausted him, although in late breaking news he has been given the first New Yorker cover of 2013.

Instead, I simply note that during 2012 I read an interview with Ware in which he acknowledged the influence on his work of early New Yorker illustrators including Ilonka Karasz, the creator of the above cover and of many others. You can see the connection, if not exactly a clear resemblance (although those trees are absolutely Chris Ware trees). Composition. Weight. Balance. Substance and form sitting in perfect harmony. (And, if you stretch your imagination as far as it can go, thematically this cover might be seen to be not a million miles away from what "Building Stories" is "about".) And so it is that, once again, two seemingly disparate but equally important influences in my own life are shown to be closer to one another than I could ever have imagined. It is, indeed, a funny old world.