Saturday, November 29, 2014

Song of the day

"Faith in Strangers", by Andy Stott.

This is a difficult one. Andy Stott's last album, "Luxury Problems" (them's the best kind of problems), was perfect in almost every way. His new album, "Faith in Strangers", runs a little harder on the abstract/experimental/oblique axis. Me being a primarily meat-and-spuds kind of guy, I am finding it a bit difficult to get my teeth into. In large measure, I can admire it a lot more than I find myself liking it. At least, at this early stage.

It is an album that has an interesting structure. (Like Nicolas Jaar's "Space Is Only Noise", with which it might have quite a bit in common, it is difficult to decide whether it is a collection of songs or one contiguous song comprised of various not-always-cohesive parts.) It starts off very impressively. The first track, "Time Away", is beatless and held together (to the extent that it is held together at all) by what sounds like a ship's foghorn. It is not quite like anything else I can think of. If Brian Eno did an album entitled "Music for Fog-bound Container Ships", it might sound like this. (Actually, that is an album I would like to hear.)

The second track, "Violence", drifts ominously (perhaps it's that title?) with the fleetingest vocal fragment and a very John Foxx-like synth motif until the first beat of the album (preceded by an even more ominous pulse) appears nine minutes after you first pressed play on the CD. And this is a "dance" album? (No, it most certainly is not.) But the beats build into a most unholy sequence of overdriven piledriver bludgeoning, which is bound to set off false readings on any nearby seismometer.

From there, if I'm being honest, my attention starts to drift somewhat. (This, I'm certain, is a criticism of me, not of the album.) But I was dragged back into the room with a start by the title track. It starts with a deep bass pulse. A very appealing skittering cymbal program kicks in next, joined by a simple snare pattern I may even have been able to write myself, whereupon an actual bass guitar emerges, unbelievably conjuring the precise sound, and feel, of the third Cure album, "Faith" (which will always be the Cure album for me). Alison Skidmore, the singer who made such a mark on "Luxury Problems", returns here, delivering, from a distance, something that sounds remarkably like -- gasp! -- a song. And that's all there is to it, really, but it is so striking as to leave one speechless.

Which leaves the final piece, "Missing", which takes the album out with waves of abstracted synths and the most ghostly, oppressive (and yet lyrical as all heck) double bass I think I have ever heard. (This could also be on the above-mentioned hypothetical Eno record.)

It is, clearly, an album that is going to require work. But you know how sometimes you can just tell that, even though you don't quite get what is going on yet, the effort is going to be worth it? So I can't at this stage include it in my albums of the year (coming soon!: be still your beating heart), but it might well land high up in an albums of the decade list. (Though I'm not sure which decade.)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: December 2013

December 2013. It all seems so far away.

"I Want To Fly", by Brown Eyed Girls. You can call it K-Pop if you want to. Or you can just call it Pop. But you can't deny the lush seventies strings, or the liquid electric-guitar line that appears around the one minute mark and reappears from time to time thereafter in a rather satisfying manner.

"All You're Waiting For (feat Nancy Whang)", By Classixx. Has there ever been a time when the words "feat Nancy Whang" weren't a 100% selling point? What are you waiting for? Also, there is a new Juan Maclean album out there somewhere (although not, as yet, in Canberra record stores: c'mon guys, you are throwing money away).

"Calls (feat Jill Scott)", by Robert Glasper Experiment. On Blue Note (it says here), if that means anything anymore. Perhaps this is a throwback to nineties "acid jazz". Perhaps it's a nod to Yesterday's New Quintet. Perhaps there's even a tiny bit of Flying Lotus's DNA in here. Whatever: every time I hear that electric piano my heart breaks a little. No, I can't figure that out either.

"Walk With Me", by Memoryhouse. Well, obviously I like this. What I don't get is how it landed on Sub Pop. Mudhoney they ain't. Memoryhouse are a band (if you can call two people a band) (from Canada, no less) who were tossing gorgeous songs onto the Internet three or four years ago. Whatever they had then, they still have.

"Where The River Goes", by Amplifier. There sure is a lot of fine music out there that one is simply not aware of. Turns out Amplifier have been plying their trade since 1999, and yet this is the first I have ever heard of them. The good people at Discogs label it "prog rock". I don't know about that. It is, in large part, straight-forward alt rock, but there is something about it that transcends its genre. I think the seventies harmonies help. (This is a six-minute song. You just know it is going to explode at some point. It does. And when it does, it's a ball-tearer. Actually, if you had to guess which of these songs was on Sub Pop, it wouldn't be the Memoryhouse.)

"The Garden Of Poppies", by Ryuichi Sakamoto featuring Robin Scott. In which we continue the recent tradition of having at least one YMO connection in these playlists. Come for the intriguing drum patterns and tasty synth washes. Stay for the chord change.

"Like A Fool", by Robin Gibb. High Eighties Style at its highest.

"Face Dances, Pt 2", by Pete Townshend. How many hit records can you name that are in 5/4 time? Okay, "Take Five", that's a given. "Living In The Past", by Jethro Tull, a song I can never entirely get out of my head. And this. Also: what is Townshend singing in the chorus? "Face dancing tonight"? "Face into the light"? I'm sure Denis, our resident The Whovian, knows.

"Night Nurse / Version", by Gregory Isaacs. Speaking only for myself, I'm not such a fan of JA music made after about 1979. Something about the higher sound quality and/or digitalisation of the rastaman sound rubs me the wrong way. But of course there are exceptions, and this is such a fine song that it would be mean-spirited of me to quibble with the sound. Notable -- see also "Don't You Want Me" -- for the way the singer writes himself into the song.

"Lightning Flash (Weak Heart Drop)", by Big Youth. This is what I'm talking about. Reggae from 1975. (De)constructed using cardboard, string, elastic bands and sticky tape, and all the better for it.

"All Because (I'm A Foolish One)", by Al Green. Clearly, I don't know enough about Al Green. All I have is received knowledge: smooth soul singer, found God. These pieces of (mis)information didn't prepare me for this: a few more screams and it could be James Brown. Wokka-wokka guitar, nimble organ lines, horns: you know it.

"Hey Joyce", by Lou Courtney. This is actually one of the first songs I found on the Internet all those years ago, once I figured out what the right mouse button was for. But I misplaced it at some stage. So this is like the return of an old friend. (Hi, Phil!) I think they might call this Northern Soul, but what would I know? Maybe it doesn't do a whole lot over its two minutes and forty-five seconds, but I reckon if you heard it on the radio you would have no reason to change the station.

"Dead", by Carolyn Sullivan. Singing as acting. At least, you would hope that Carolyn Sullivan didn't actually feel this way when recording this song: "I wish I was dead". Hoo boy. Meanwhile a Hammond and a saxophone float along underneath, as if the deed was done and they were bearing her mortal soul towards the heaven she no doubt deserves. Kick-started, too, by a drum track that's ripe for the sampling. [Editor's note: these last three songs are from the estimable Clifton's Corner, appearing occasionally on Aquarium Drunkard. Thanks, pal.]

"Introduction 2 Dance", by J.V.C. F.O.R.C.E. Early hip hop is the hip hop for me. Before things got all, you know, nasty and stuff.

"Deutscher Girls", by Adam And The Ants. In which Mr Adam Ant tentatively steps out into the spotlight, in the company of a sprightly tango and is that a triangle? The mystery, to me, is how this turned up on an Editions EG records compilation, in company with such post-punk luminaries (not) as Phil Manzanera, Jon Hassell, Penguin Cafe Orchestra and King Crimson. Was it a misguided shot at contemporary relevance (even though the song was by 1982 already four years old) or a prescient vision of these disparate musics not being differently pigeon-holed in a more enlightened future? (Mind you, there is a song by Eno & Snatch on the same record that more explicitly bridges the presumed unbridgeable gap between the pre- and post-punk worlds. Well, it would be Eno, wouldn't it?

"Human Once Again (Four Tet Remix)", by Grimes. If anyone out there is hankering for a Four Tet song that sounds as if it might be a lost outtake from the burst of creativity that generated "Rounds", look no further. Grimes's wispy vocals are more than just an added bonus.

"Leave That For Memories", by Hoover. A long-haired, moustachioed dude, perched on the edge of a tombstone, staring blankly at, or just past, the camera. It could be Lee Hazlewood, if Lee Hazlewood had an actual singing voice. It could also be, I don't know, Tim Hardin, or Phil Ochs, or the Nilsson of "Everybody's Talkin'". They knew how to make records in those days.

"Caught Away", by Oasis. Aw heck, I don't know. Just listen to it. (It seems to be still available here.) This is not that Oasis.

"Door To Tomorrow", by Beyond The Wizards Sleeve. Those four BTWS EPs left a permanent mark on those who were exposed to them. These guys are inveterate tricksters, and as such it is difficult for outsiders to separate the fact from the fiction. We can tie ourselves up in knots or we can just bask in the richness of the backing vocals and George Martin (with or without the "esque") strings.

"Soft Wind", by Orchestra Gary Pacific. It is probably reasonable to assume that, just by reading the band and song titles, you have a fair idea what this is going to sound like. You might not be entirely correct, though: at the very least, the funky-drummer break sounds like something Hydroplane could have isolated, looped, and worked their own magic around. The rest of the song doesn't sound like that.

YouTube of the day

"Mary Mountain", by Quilt.

You already know how I feel about the Quilt album. Now here's a chance to watch the kids themselves in action. They seem to smile a lot. Hippies.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hey daddy-o, I don't wanna go down to the Basement (Tapes)

A couple of weeks ago in the New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones had an admirable go at parsing the "Complete Basement Tapes" (possible alternative title to the article: "The Basement Tapes: Their Part in My Downfall"). You can read that article here.

This is not the first time Dylan has appeared in the magazine. Ellen Willis wrote at least a couple of pieces during her stint as its rock music critic. And Nat Hentoff wrote one of the magazine's "Profiles" on him in 1964. Hentoff followed his subject around during the recording of "Another Side of Bob Dylan", although the article itself seems not to have appeared until a month or so after the album was released (if Wikipedia can be trusted). Well, things moved more slowly back then. Presumably Dylan, as interview subject, did his usual amount of dissembling: it would be interesting to know what the fabled fact-checking department made of it all.

The Hentoff piece was reprinted in the book of interviews "Dylan on Dylan", but my preference (pathetic as it may be) is to read New Yorker articles in situ, typed using the actual New Yorker typeface, and in their original context, i.e., surrounded by magazine ads of the period. (Like, uh, "Go ahead, be a narcissist". Woah.) Anyway, I made a PDF of it, and you can get that from the Dropbox, at least for a little while.

You're welcome.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Song of the day

"Tempus Fugit", by The Cannanes.

From one Australian legend to another: the Cannanes pay tribute to the big guy.

It's a shame that He didn't live to hear it. But given that it was written and recorded on the occasion of his death, well, that starts to get a bit weird, doesn't it?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Song of the day

"Second Chance", by Caribou.

The new Caribou album, "Our Love", is another advertisement for listening to music on compact disc on a home stereo system. (While either of those thing still exist.) It contains the most sumptuous, perfectly wrought sounds you could ever expect to hear. (For any Snaith fans who were put off by the jagged edges of his recent output under the Daphni moniker this should come as a welcome surprise.) It also might be the best album of 2014. And it does all of these things without drawing attention to itself.

What it also is is a demonstration of a unique planetary system, made up of Dan Snaith, Kieran Hebden and Jeremy Greenspan. These three individuals seem to be in permanent orbit around each other, sometimes drifting out onto distant arcs, sometimes crossing paths in close proximity for a fleeting moment, for a remix of one another's tracks or just for the purposes of cross-pollination.

From time to time, other celestial bodies wander into their orbit, one of whom, Jessy Lanza (responsible for one of my favourite albums of last year, which just happened to be co-written and co-produced by Greenspan), provides vocals on this song. And what a song it is: in a slightly alternate universe it could be a diva-pop smash; most of the elements are intact. Melody has long been at the forefront of his work (see, in particular, the psychedelic-pop splendour of the "Andorra" album) and this song takes those ideas to the next level. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, it isn't played entirely straight: note the synthesisers that wander slightly out of tune, as if to remind you what you are listening to, and so that you don't get too comfortable. Still, it is, on reflection, rather a long way from "glitch-pop".