Thursday, January 30, 2014

Song of the day

"The Philosophers Trap", by Marsen Jules.

Every year around this time, a new volume in Kompakt's "Pop Ambient" series of compilation albums appears. This year's is hot off the presses (or digital simulacrum) and contains the usual mix of familiar and unfamiliar names. Most likely the track that will be of most interest to the curious is the Gas remix of a piece from the most recent album by The Field. Good (perhaps surprisingly so) as that is, though, the one that has caught my ear is "The Philosophers Trap", by Marsen Jules. There's not much to say about it other than that it is strongly evocative of the instrumental half of David Sylvian's "Gone To Earth", a place that it is always nice to visit. So this is like looking at your old holiday snaps. Maybe.

It doesn't seem to be on the internet (yet), but you can listen to a fragment of it over at Kompakt's Soundcloud page.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Song of the day

"Spring Rain", by The Go-Betweens.

So anyway, when I mentioned Jonathan Demme's "Married to the Mob" while discussing Scorsesean uses of music in film it is quite possible that what I actually had in mind was "Something Wild", Demme's previous film, and in particular its use, at a perfect moment, of the exhilarating strains of "Spring Rain". The song then was brand new, so there was also a major element of surprise in hearing it used by a Hollywood director, at a time when The Go-Betweens where critics' darlings but commercial nobodies.

I must confess, I haven't followed Demme's career beyond "Married to the Mob". But I stuck with The Go-Betweens, like glue, until the (tragic) end. Come to think of it, there is probably a Hollywood narrative arc that could be teased out of the story of The Go-Betweens. Or at least Sundance. (Any happy ending would have to be invented.)

This song came out in 1986 (as did the film). But watching this video it seems like yesterday.


Bonus beats: Jonathan Demme directed this video of New Order's "Perfect Kiss". There is nothing particularly "arty" about it, but it is, in its own modest way, perfect. (It also has its own catalogue number. How Factory is that?)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Song of the day

"10538 Overture", by The Electric Light Orchestra.

So I went to see "American Hustle", the new film by David O. Russell. You have probably seen it already, or heard so much about it that you may feel you don't even need to. (You should override such feelings. You do need to.) It's easy, when watching a movie that flows along so effortlessly, to overlook the effort that is actually involved. To convincingly recreate an entire world, to make characters that are sufficiently real that you care about them, and their all-too-human weaknesses/unpredictability/inconsistencies, to construct a story that, even though it is close enough to a true story that we probably know how it ends up, nevertheless has us sitting on the edge of our seats for two-and-a-quarter hours, well, I was in awe from the very first shot. How did he do that?

I'm no film critic. But I do like to slot things into little boxes. And this one, I would process as follows: it's like a mashup between Martin Scorsese's mobsters and David Mamet's con artists. In fact, I found myself thinking one thing more than any other throughout the film: that we don't really need Scorsese any more. This film is like his greatest movies, let's say "Goodfellas", "Raging Bull", maybe "Casino", but without the Joe Pesci character, so that those of us of squeamish dispositions don't have to spend much of the film either gripping the arms of our chairs or peeking through our fingers as somebody, y'know, gets their head stuck in a vice or their eyes poked out by a sharp pencil. (Purists may thus say the film doesn't go far enough, but they still have the Man Himself.)

The other thing Scorsesean about this movie is its use of music. (See also Jonathan Demme's "Married to the Mob".) Okay, mining the seventies you could hardly go wrong, but nevertheless you probably could. They don't. (There should be an Oscar category for Best Use of "I Feel Love" in a Motion Picture. This film is a shoe-in.) Case in point: "10538 Overture" (not, as my retarded brain insists on typing, "90210 Overture"), which appears just when you needed it to, even though you didn't realise that you needed it to.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Song of the day

"Heatwave", by The Jam.

It turns out that this year's annual visit to Melbourne and Geelong has fallen during a week that seems intent on breaking all kinds of temperature records. Where we stay in Geelong has air conditioning downstairs, which of course is a blessing (and a luxury we wouldn't have had if we were at home, where 40 degrees seems to be the baseline maximum temperature at the moment), but there is nothing upstairs except a few small windows (and no insulation either) and upstairs is where we are sleeping, or, rather, trying to. If I said it was like lying in a furnace you would think I was exaggerating. You would be wrong.

There are countless versions of this Holland-Dozier-Holland song out there. This one will always be the one for me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

YouTube of the day

"Yesterday", as performed by Pan's People and Jose Feliciano.

Because what else are you going to do in Geelong on a 40-degree day but watch old episodes of The Two Ronnies?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Song of the day

"The Fate of the Human Carbine", by Peter Jefferies and Robbie Muir.

This song is the sound of cassette tapes in padded postbags being stuffed into letter boxes in country towns in the late 1980s. It is the sound of that brief moment in time when I had disposable income and no responsibilities, and before both of my parents died, the family farm vanished from beneath my feet, and the Leongatha "scene" (all four of it!) fragmented, for various necessary reasons. (It was also before Adrienne wandered into the room, so the associations are not all one way.)

It is also, of course, one aspect of the sound of Dunedin. Peter Jefferies launched his solo career* (he had previously been in a band called This Kind of Punishment with his brother Graeme, who went on to his own solo career as The Cakekitchen) with an Xpressway cassette release, "The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World", which was accompanied by a seven-inch single that he did with Robbie Muir, of which this is the B side. The two releases were repackaged as one record, for the CD era, by Ajax Records, and have now been subject to the reissue treatment again, in the same iteration. It is well worth your time, especially if you have worn out the copy of X/WAY 16 that was lovingly packaged up, addressed, and mailed to you by the incomparable Bruce Russell.

Jefferies does loud and quiet. This is him doing quiet, but with an edge.

* This statement may be debatable; he released, with Jono Lonie, a vinyl LP, with paint-splattered cover, on the Flying Nun label, called "At Swim 2 Birds" (although its connection with the Flann O'Brien novel is unclear), in 1987, of which I was lucky enough to find a copy at the long-forgotten Exposure Records, which resided somewhat incongruously on Cotham Road in Kew, during the same brief idyllic time period. Or maybe his solo career can be traced back to the single he released with Shayne (Straitjacket Fits) Carter, "Randolph's Going Home", in 1986, also on Flying Nun (although Carter got top billing there). Really, it does your head in.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: January 2013

So, I had my chance to -- at last -- construct a 2013 playlist while it was still 2013. Seems like I missed it. Does that make this "nostalgia"? Happy New Year everyone.

"Dans Quelques Minutes", by Les Garcons. G'day Les. No, wait a minute, it's not that kind of Les: this is genuine French post-punk, so it must be something like "The Boys". Once again, I am amazed by how resonant the various guitar sounds of that era remain. I particularly love what this song does at around the 45-second mark, and regularly thereafter. Also notable for its largely instrumental "chorus". You don't hear many of those.

"Tomorrow (DFA Remix)", by Clinic. So this is five years old (and almost sounds as if it could have been 35). I was absorbing everything that bore the stamp of "DFA" at that time, so I don't quite know how this one got away from me. It's never too late, though, and, because DFA productions are an approximation of every record you have ever owned, they never sound dated. Note in particular the unexpected Sgt Pepper strings half way through.

"After You", by Pulp. And speaking of DFA, James Murphy had his hands all over the controls of this one, the welcome but unexpected return of Pulp, the thinking introvert's Britpop combo. At this point I feel the need to mention that Jarvis Cocker is best known in our household for his performance as Petey in Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr Fox".

"Second Summer", by YACHT. Our third and final DFA-related track for this month. I haven't ever really been grabbed by YACHT, partly, I must admit, because of the unnecessarily in-your-face ALL CAPITALS of their name, but I quite like this; it's a bit like the best bits of Hot Chip conjoined with a singer who shares the best bits of The Juan Maclean's Nancy Whang. Well, that's what I'm hearing.

"Flutes (A JD Twitch Optimo Remix)", by Hot Chip. In another month this may not have made the cut. But it seems to fit well with those other songs up there (and the one below), it is never less than listenable, and it is a song, or a piece of music, that allows you to nod your head while at the same time, if you focus closely, being impressed by the number of twists and turns it takes while remaining, at all times, manifestly the same song.

"Gun-Shy (Lindstrom Remix)", by Grizzly Bear. So anyway, I don't know anything about Grizzly Bear. But I think I know a bit about Lindstrom (given that he appears here probably two out of every three months). And this fits neatly, albeit in a curious way, into the Lindstrom storyline. Viz., a year or so back he put out an album called "Six Cups of Rebel", which appears to have been almost universally hated by Lindstrom fans. Not quite universally: I thought its combination of "I Feel Space" energy and prog rock excess suited him perfectly, and I still listen to it almost obsessively. (Almost?) He then put out (maybe as apology, maybe it was where he was going anyway) a short album (or long EP) which was mostly hailed as a relief, or a Stunning Return to Form, but which sounded to these ears ever so slightly like a backward step. So it was refreshing to pick up on this remix, which, in its rapid-fire chord changes, should serve as a signal for the haters to return to "Six Cups of Rebel" again: it might be the key that unlocks the mystery. (That there is no mystery.) Also, to the extent that "Six Cups" drew from the lessons of Todd Rundgren (which I think we can assume from the fact that he got Saint Todd to work a remix of one of its tracks), I am sensing a bit of the old Rundgren magic lurking in here, too.

"Everything Is Embarrassing", by Sky Ferreira. This is a fine pop song, structurally and emotionally strong enough to hold up the very heavy synths that might have caused a lesser song to collapse under their weight. The ghost of Lana del Rey (or is that Laura Palmer?) might be hiding in the shadows, but that's no bad thing.

"Closer", by Tegan & Sara. Whereas this one is more in the nature of pure ear candy. Which, of course, is no bad thing; and the chorus will have you doing windmills with your arms.

"In The Wild", by Alpine. Cowbells. Spanish guitars. Piano. A sprightly gait. Some vocal work of the highest order. Pop music can be simple, but it can also be inordinately complex, and just occasionally so complex that the fun is in hearing it all fuse together like an unexpectedly successful science experiment. And look, they're from Melbourne! Bonus points!

"Sleepover", by Hospitality. A pop song can also hit you with an emotional force so overwhelming you are left curled up in the corner, whimpering.

"Belinda", by Eurythmics. It wasn't until their second album, in 1983, that Eurythmics marched into Australia, burning everything in their path (in my head I can hear Gavin Wood on "Countdown" calling them "the Eurythmics", although there was never any "the" there), but their first album, from 1981, is a fascinating listen, with some surprising names in the credits, e.g. one half of Can; Robert Gorl, from DAF. "Belinda" is more straightforward post-U2 guitar pop/rock than, say, "Never Gonna Cry Again", but it has its own charm, which is not a word I would imagine I would ever feel tempted to use in relation to Bono. (Sorry, that slipped out.)

"Any Way That You Want Me", by Evie Sands. Gold-plated 1960s pop from the "Dusty In Memphis" / "Angel of the Morning" school. (Also recorded by The Troggs.) Is it just me, or does the photo on her Discogs page look uncannily like Hope Sandoval?

"Blue Flower", by Slapp Happy. And speaking of Hope Sandoval, general ignorance and specific failure to read and/or absorb liner notes led me to believe, until putting this playlist together, that "Blue Flower" was a Mazzy Star original. Not so. Now I'm not sure if it's only conditioning that leads me to prefer the Mazzy Star version or whether the slightly plodding nature of the original, and the singer's failure to be Hope Sandoval (not her fault!), would otherwise have caused me to give it not a second glance. So what is it doing here? Don't ask me!

"Longanisse", by The Liminanas. (Typography alert: there should be a tilde above the first "n" of "Liminanas".) Serge Gainsbourg's cigarette smoke hangs heavily over this song. On the one hand, that's a pretty brave thing for a French band to do. On the other hand, why the hell not?

"Paradise", by Crystal Syphon. This purports to be a reissue of an obscure record from the late sixties, by a band who otherwise disappeared without trace. But these days, who knows? It's hard to believe that a band with the word "Crystal" in the title could have been formed other than within the most recent band-name cycle. But this certainly sounds true to the Californian dream-psych sound of those long-ago days, so I am inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. More fool me?

"Sommarlaten", by International Harvester. Swedish psychedelic rock from 1968. The electric guitar and saxophone parts (at least I think it's a saxophone, it's really quite difficult to tell) sound like they were recorded on "vintage" (= "old") equipment set up two rooms away from where they were played, via a echo-y linoleum-covered hallway, or maybe a disused water pipe. Needless to say, I love it. (Also kudos for having named -- technically, renamed -- themselves after a tractor manufacturer.)

"Grand Ma", by Tonic. A re-edit of a Grand Funk Railroad song, with only the best bits left in. Southern guitar boogie DNA.