Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: March 2013

Done in some haste. Please be gentle.

"Mind Mischief (The Field Remix)", by Tame Impala. Tame Impala take sixties psychedelia and play it through a filter of the blazing Perth summer sun. (I have never been to Perth, so I don't know if that is even true; this past summer the temperatures in Canberra seem to have been much higher. Perhaps Tame Impala should move here for maximum effect.) The Field take "minimal techno" of the Kompakt variety and leave it out in the weather for what sounds like years, until everything that caused the music to be in any way recognisable has been weathered away, leaving just the barest outline. (This may not sound like a compliment, but give him a listen and you'll see that it might be.) This ten-minute remix pitches the two of them against each other. Music is the winner.

"You Are My Destiny", by The Juan Maclean. It's been a while between drinks for our old pals The Juan Maclean. So what if this sounds like the second cousin twice removed of "Happy House"? It's a strong blood line.

"Outside Amore", by Man Tear. This is a strange one. It is naggingly familiar, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. I hate that. It's on DFA, but doesn't really sound like it. From Sweden, but doesn't really sound like that, either.

"King of Hearts (Richard X Remix Edit)", by Cassie. Clearly, Richard X still has whatever he had in the mid-00s that got me fired up about music again after so many years in the wilderness.

"Beautiful Son", by Peaking Lights. This song is equal parts mystery and beauty. That seems to be a perfect ratio. Is it too late to declare this one of the best songs of 2013?

"Entertainment (Dinosaur Jr Remix)", by Phoenix. That might be what the label says, but what it really is is Dinosaur Jr covering a Phoenix song. Which is a pretty funny thing to imagine, but in practice it is a triumph: J Mascis & Co ratchet down the pop intensity of the original, in the way that really only they, the Original Slackers, can; and in doing so they get to the heart of the song in a way that the original actually doesn't. Well, that's what I think.

"Journey From Eden", by The Steve Miller Band. You probably know The Steve Miller Band from mid-seventies radio staples "The Joker" and "Fly Like An Eagle". But sniffing around the internet reveals that they are a band with a rich history (former members included Jim Keltner, Ben Sidran and one Boz Scaggs) and no shortage of drama. This is the last long on their seventh (!) album, and their last before a serious accident, and perhaps a few moments of contemplation, saw Miller move in the direction of more immediate thrills and, at least from this vantage point, significantly more radio play. Good as those hits are, it is possible to argue that they never got better than this.

"Aegean Sea", by Abel. This turns out to be an "edit" (remember what I taught you?) of a track of Smokie's very first album, from 1975. The edit rocks. Which is not something I would usually find myself saying about Smokie. ("Alice! Alice! Who the %$#@ is Alice?")

"Up In a Puff of Smoke", by Polly Brown. Many of you will not remember this song, as it wasn't particularly successful as a single. But it is firmly imprinted on my own memory on account of its having appeared on "Whopper", a 1975 Australian Polydor "original hits original artists" compilation that I played to death. (Not to be confused with "Ripper".) Looking through the track listing today is a bit deflating, although it does have a run of highly listenable songs that cover much of its second side. (It also, I suspect, would have been my first introduction to Kraftwerk, so I owe it an enormous debt on that score.) If you had a hankering to listen to The Supremes you would probably be better off listening to The Supremes, but I have a soft spot for this song, and it brings an ever-so-gentle hint of glam rock into the mix.

"Tell Me What You See In Me", by Sandy Denny and The Strawbs. The Strawbs had so many line-up changes over the years that their Wikipedia entry contains a diagram that is so complicated that it is fathomable only by academics and superior alien life forms. Another of the long, long list of things I didn't know was that amongst the many members of The Strawbs (aside from Rick Wakeman) was Sandy Denny -- evidently for a brief period in early 1968. But not so brief that they didn't have time to record an album (in Denmark!), an album that wasn't released until 1973, by which time The Strawbs had well and truly moved on (and Sandy Denny, of course, had made a name of her own with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay). I have never heard a Sandy Denny song that I didn't immediately love, and this is no exception. They also do "Who Knows Where The Time Goes", but the Fairport version of that song is so ingrained on my consciousness that I can't really entertain any other version, even if Sandy herself is singing it.

"95c", by Valerie Lemercier. By approximately 10 seconds into this song, you will be convinced that the ghost of el records hangs over it. And you will be right: the credits reveal that el mainstay Louis Philippe appears here on the guitar. Meanwhile production duties are by the seemingly ubiquitous (at least in France) Bertrand Burgalat. It's very sweet: ye ye pop in the late 20th century.

"Idle I'm (Colorama Coloured In Remix)", by John Stammers. There's no words I can type that would in any way add to your enjoyment or understanding of this song. The download link may still be up: try it for yourself.

"The Captain of Her Heart", by Double. It may be because I am one quarter Swiss that this song hits me where I live. Ostensibly garden variety mid-80s pop, there is something slightly mysterious lurking behind its surface sheen that I find attractive. (Also, the opening couple of bars put me in mind of the underrated work Chris Abrahams did with Melanie Oxley a few years back.) Curiously, this song was mentioned in this seemingly unrelated article on Pitchfork just the other day.

"Letter of Intent (Mark McGuire Road Chief Remix)", by Ducktails. My take on it is that Mark McGuire dons his Road Chief hat whenever he wants to venture down the highway of seventies/eighties FM radio. Thus he drives what was, in its original form, a perfectly good if rudimentary fragile pop song out into the land of lush arrangements and a particular kind of tone such as you might (hope to) find over the closing credits of a particular type of American independent film. A road movie, maybe.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Recipe of the day

Take one part Gun Club:

Add one part Cocteau Twins:

And, hey presto, you get "Yellow Eyes":

Way back in the mid-1980s, I listened to a lot of Gun Club, and I also had a possibly unhealthy obsession with Cocteau Twins, in particular the "Treasure" LP. But those were two worlds that I would never have imagined might one day collide. I mean, come on. Southern gothic screech-and-wail versus ethereal English gothic? (Okay, so they had "gothic" in common, but those days who didn't?)

Hence, to say that the news that one day filtered through that Robin Guthrie would be producing what was to become the fourth Gun Club album, "Mother Juno", took me by surprise has an element of understatement to it. I had a moment of cognitive dissonance. To be honest, I wasn't even sure I was looking forward to the result; I kind of liked them both the way they were (although by 1987 I was forming the view that both of their best days may have been behind them).

The resultant album, while patchy, had high points that were higher than I could ever have imagined. "Yellow Eyes" was undoubtedly the centrepiece, and if you had taken the time to imagine what a mash-up of The Gun Club and Cocteau Twins might sound like, "Yellow Eyes" is what you would have come up with. It is uncanny. I swear that it isn't only my imagination that leads me to think that at various points Jeffrey Lee Pierce even sings like Elizabeth Fraser. (Of course, it is also possible that I have taken leave of my senses.)

And to top it all off, Blixa Bargeld, then of the Bad Seeds (another of my mid-80s obsessions), floats some unworldly guitar across the surface of the thing.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Song of the day

"New Puritan (Peel Session)", by The Fall.

(It may be that I am the sole surviving Australian subscriber to eMusic. (I keep hanging on, waiting to see if they offer me a tidy sum to get me off their books.) I mention the following on the off chance that there are others out there, stranded on this antipodean desert island.)

Occasionally real bargains can be found on eMusic. John Coltrane's European Tours box set cost me practically nothing. The Tindersticks box of Claire Denis film scores likewise. (I could once have picked up Gas's "Nah Und Fern" for not much more, but it slipped through my fingers.)

As of right now, you can pick up The Fall's "Complete Peel Sessions" for $2.99. That is not a typo. Six discs' worth of music, seven hours of Mark E Smith in your face. It's a lot less than the sixty-odd I paid for the box itself, and the booklet you can probably find scanned somewhere on the internet anyway. You should, of course, go for this with your Ears Pinned Back.

The box set as a whole is like an alternative history of The Fall. In fact, if you didn't have the albums you may well be better off with the Peel Sessions alone. The chronology was unfortunately truncated by the loss of Peel himself, but it gets you through to 2004, which ends a pretty fair run. What I find fascinating about these (also the Magazine Peel Sessions, as I'm sure I've said before) is that they capture the band in a different way from the records: in The Fall's case, live and direct, without the audio smudging and deliberate sabotage to which Smith has always been prone. This makes the records fun, of course, but often at the expense of the music, so it's nice to be able to hear what was -- is -- underneath it all one of the great rock bands, and a band that, notwithstanding its countless lineup changes, never sounded like anything but itself.

"New Puritan" a la Peel has fascinated me ever since I first heard it on the "Kicker Conspiracy" double seven-inch. Mark E Smith here is biliously spitting the words out, as if they are a cancer in his mouth that he has to get rid of. Meanwhile behind him that juggernaut of a riff rolls on, and on, and on. Seven minutes is both too much to bear and barely enough.

Bonus beats: the video for "Wings". It never gets old. Phew, rock 'n' roll.

More bonus beats: Donnie Sutherland interviews Mark E Smith and Marc Riley. Really.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Song of the day

"Green, Green Rocky Road", by Dave Van Ronk.

If you had gone to see "Inside Llewyn Davis" expecting something along the lines of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", you would have soon been somewhat perplexed. Notwithstanding its musical substructure, this is not that kind of Coen Brothers film. Rather, it's another of their somewhat abstracted time-and-place-rooted character studies, along the lines of "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "A Serious Man" (and, let's suggest, "Barton Fink" -- you could probably add "No Country For Old Men" in there, too, although it bleeds heavily into another type of Coen Brothers film entirely): character studies in which the leading character is not particularly likeable, or charismatic, or even interesting, and in which therefore the life of the film occurs in the characters and situations that the leading character walks through (or into) or bounces off. And those characters and situations, this being the Coen Brothers and all, are exceedingly rich. (Two words: John Goodman.)

The early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene plays the role that late 1960s Jewish Minnesota played in "A Serious Man". It's a fascinating world to be sucked into, with its curious mixture of idealism, opportunism, hucksterism, patronage and abject poverty. Underneath it all is the music: "traditional" folk music circa 1960 isn't something I generally turn to for pleasure -- it seems too earnest, colourless and worthy in the light of what Bob Dylan (who "appears", inevitably, at the end of this film) was soon to do to it -- but there is a lot to enjoy about it here, not least Oscar Isaac's golden voice.

But the best part of the film for me, musically speaking, comes during the closing credits, when we get Dave Van Ronk playing and rasping his way, exquisitely, through "Green, Green Rocky Road" (a song which Oscar Isaac turns his hand to earlier in the film, as if to further cement the already fairly firm connection between the fictional Llewyn Davis and the real-life Van Ronk (the existence of this album, and the prominent appearance of a cat on its cover, are not likely to be coincidences)).

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: February 2013

Well, aside from starting with a song called "Sunrise" and ending with a song called "Ending", this playlist, in accordance with usual practice, comes to you with absolutely no rhyme or reason. And it is a year old. 

"Sunrise", by Cherubin. Now is probably the right time to mention that, for the whole of 2013, the dj/crate digger known as Turquoise Wisdom blogged one song each weekday, and given the excellence of many of his choices you will see an unhealthy number of those songs in these playlists until we get to 2014. (I'm feeling its loss already.) (He did it as a New Year's Eve resolution, which is silly enough; that he pulled it off without faltering is just insane. We are grateful for his efforts. And his good taste.) This is one of those songs. It's from 1974, the year that just keeps on sounding better and better.

"Houses", by Elyse. What do the words "guitar by Neil Young" mean to you? To me they mean "listen up". The song itself is otherwise perfectly fine but not shout-from-the-rooftops-great hippy-trippy folk rock, typical of its vintage (1968), but it is certainly livened up by the short blasts of "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" Youngian electric-guitar splendour.

"L'Espace D'Une Fille", by Jacques Dutronc. This is like listening to Serge Gainsbourg's slightly more burnished, slightly less nicotine-stained, cousin. The echoes of this song in Serge's own "Harley Davidson", recorded and released as a single by Brigitte Bardot only a year later, are either coincidental or not. And Serge isn't saying.

"Hesitation", by Honk. The way this song starts, you think you are in for another unwanted jazz-lite-fusion outing. And that sax line does reappear throughout the song, but elsewhere it's a kind of Doobie / Alessi Brothers vocal harmony extravaganza (from 1974, as if you hadn't guessed) and the world and its hard drives have always got room for one more of those.

"The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", by Llans Thelwell and His Celestials. True story: In olden times, when my associate and I spent unhealthy amounts of time digging through piles of other people's discarded vinyl in search of Arthur Lyman, Martin Denny and Manuel records (and the elusive V Balsara), we took home more than enough Klaus Wunderlich albums to last any normal person a lifetime. (We still have them all.) The back covers of some of these records gave, tantalisingly, the track listings on other of his records, and we were particularly intrigued that one of the "Hammond Pops" series that we didn't have (No. 3, to be precise) included Klaus's take on "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". (You can see how that would get us excited.) Thus, we were beside ourselves when, one day, "Hammond Pops 3", with its typically alluring cover photo, appeared, like a miracle, before our very eyes. It seemed too good to be true. And it was. Foolishly not checking the record itself before rushing it home, we discovered to our disappointment that someone had put a different "Hammond Pops" volume in the wrong sleeve. And so our search continues. In the meantime, it is nice to have this ska/bluebeat version to get us through the lean times.

"Love Can Run Faster", by Robert Palmer. I don't even like this. So what is it doing here? Because I have been searching for a long time for the reputed song that Robert Palmer recorded with Lee "Scratch" Perry at the Black Ark. And this is it. Musically, it is a typical Black Ark production. There is nothing wrong with that. But Palmer's white-boy soul shtick over the top of it isn't a good fit. I much prefer Perry in an all-Jamaican context and I much prefer Palmer on his album of the following year, "Clues". C'est la vie.

"Fool for a Valentine", by The Gist. Following the demise of Young Marble Giants after one (perfect) album, Stuart and Philip Moxham re-emerged as The Gist. They released one album, and it seems that Philip then went off on his own to do a number of different things, some surprising (David Thomas and the Passengers, in the company of one Richard Thompson) and some not so surprising (Weekend; a stint with Everything But the Girl), leaving Stuart as the gist of The Gist (ahem). This song, the A side of a Rough Trade single (of course), is, therefore, Stuart Moxham's baby. It is also the final Gist record. It is, too, an example of white-boy reggae done right, perhaps because its gentle lilt doesn't seek to draw too much attention to itself.

"Trees and Flowers", by Dum Dum Girls. Generally speaking, I ain't got time for cover versions of the songs that mean the most to me. "Trees and Flowers", by Strawberry Switchblade, is one of those songs. Hence, I listened to this cover through gritted teeth. I got to the end, listened again, and then again. The world didn't end. Maybe it began again. This is a very different take from the original: it is a bit like being submerged in an densely glooping sonic bath. (If that could be a good thing.) Following on from their take on The Smiths' "There is a Light That Never Goes Out", one can only conclude that Dum Dum Girls have a way with other people's songs.

"Blind Myself", by Rosemary. And so we find ourselves back in the wondrous days of do-it-yourself bands playing untameable analogue synths and rogue drum machines, a lone female vocalist shining a beam of light into the darkness. Except this song is from 2013. Incidentally, it reminds me of what I loved so much about the early Nite Jewel records.

"(Don't) Turn Me Away", by Rexy. And speaking, as we were, of Young Marble Giants, this might be what YMG would have sounded like had they used electronic instruments rather than, y'know, like, guitars and stuff. (Okay, they did use a drum machine.) This, like all of the best records, is from 1980. I wish I had known about it at the time, but better late than never I guess.

"Fingers", by Cyclopean. This is on the Spoon label, the home of your Can records. Which isn't so surprising, because, as well as Burnt Friedman, Cyclopean features Jaki Liebezeit and Irmin Schmidt, names you might know. "Fingers" is a lovely piece of music in its own right; but it also puts me in mind of a couple of things: (1) not surprisingly, the "Snake Charmer" EP, from 1983, which also featured Liebezeit along with Holger Czukay (another member of the Can axis); and (2) surprisingly, last year's album by Dawn of Midi (I am thinking in particular of the attenuated string sound -- superficially tagged as "Eastern" -- that is common to both records).

"Modern Driveway", by Luke Abbott. Come for the gorgeous chord sequences. Stay for the, um, gorgeous chord sequences. This knocks me over in a similar way to the way Caribou's "Swim" album knocks me over. I probably could have expressed that better.

"White Noise", by Disclosure. By the end of 2013 Disclosure had acquired ubiquity. But back in March, not so much. See how hip we are? (After the event ...)

"Magnifique", by Jersey Devil Social Club. AKA Morgan Geist, of whom we haven't seen so much lately. "Magnifique" was a disco burner from 1979. Is this a cover? An edit? Part of me has to know; the rest of me just wants to dance.

"Pearly Dew", by Lena Hughes. Queen of the flat top guitar, apparently. Reissued on the Tompkins Square label, so you know it's good.

"Wakin on a Pretty Day", by Kurt Vile. "Kurt Vile", it seems, is his real name. That may well be all you need to know. ("Wakin" does not have an apostrophe on the record cover. You probably don't need to know that.) This song, which stretches out over ten minutes on a laid-back yet industrious bed of electric guitars, seems to have no tickets on itself. It exists for its own sake. I don't know if I've heard a better song in a long while. 

"Ending", by Bruce Langhorne. Langhorne, I discovered when looking into who the hell he is, seems to have worked with Pete Seeger, so it's timely, if coincidental, that this list goes up in the same week that Seeger left us. This haunting piece is from the soundtrack to Peter Fonda's 1971 film "The Hired Hand", although the soundtrack seems not to have been released until the early oughts, courtesy of Blast First records (another label to which we owe so much). It would be perfect for a warm night around an open campfire, although it might scare the children.