Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: October 2013

October, 2013. Here are a few of the songs I found on the Internet. Filtered for your listening pleasure.

"Vibration (Parts 1 and 2)", by Joe Brown and the Soul Eldorados. When I was a kid, listening to ABC radio sport on a Saturday afternoon, every half an hour or so they would cut to a horse race, which would inevitably be called by Joe Brown. He was a Melbourne horse racing legend. This is not that Joe Brown. 

"Hey Joe", by Johnny Hallyday. Like The Beatles in England, Johnny Hallyday was so big in France that he didn't have to put his name on his record covers. Just the word "Johnny" and a photograph would suffice to project his records into the stratosphere. On the one hand, this is just another cover version of what must be one of the most covered songs in the history of the world. On the other hand, it's in French, which sets it apart and gives it just a hint of the exotic.

"No Fun", by Doctor Mix. So anyway, I don't profess to know everything there is to know about the UK music scene in the post-punk era, but I am nevertheless surprised when something comes up that I would have expected to have at least heard of, or read about. Especially if it was released as a Rough Trade seven-inch. And especially if it was a cover of a song by The Stooges. So here we go: Doctor Mix. Never heard of them. "No Fun", by Doctor Mix. On Rough Trade. Never heard of it. I wonder what else is out there, lurking in the historical shadows. (Also, the picture sleeve looks like the cover of a Stereolab record 20 years before the fact.)

"Screaming in the Darkness", by Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls. It must be something like 35 years since I last heard this song. The Invisible Girls were the banged-together studio band of producer Martin Hannett, who also provided the musical accompaniment for John Cooper Clarke's northern poetry. This song positively reeks of Manchester circa 1980. The credits disavow the idea that it is Barry Adamson on bass but, come on, nobody else plays the bass like that.

"Sportsman", by Haruomi Hosono. Electronic pop music from Japan, from the dawn of the 1980s. It is, I think, just far enough to the left of cheese to be embraceable by you, me, and everybody else.

"Curtains", by Yukihiro Takahashi. As above, except without so much of the cheese. Yuki was the pure-pop voice of YMO, I think, Hosono the larrikin experimentalist/comedian (YMO's Holger Czukay, perhaps) and Ryuichi Sakamoto the lush emotional heart. Together they were unbeatable, but individually each was strong enough to stand on his own two feet.

"Blowout", by Jah Wobble. Earlier, we mentioned Barry Adamson. Wobble was the other notable bass player of the era (well, we can't really not mention Peter Hook), responsible for the concrete-floor-crushing bottom end of Public Image Ltd. He went on to have a prolific, if largely unheralded, solo career (which continues). This twelve-inch from 1985 picks up where the "Snake Charmer" EP, from a year or so earlier, left off.

"I'm In Love With a German Film Star (Original Radio Edit)", by Sam Taylor-Wood produced by Pet Shop Boys. This is where it gets difficult. The original of this song, by The Passions, is so deeply embedded in the core of my, uh, being, that if the song itself somehow ceased to exist, I suspect that I would, too. So I am reluctant to delve too deeply into the reason for my connection with it, for fear that to do so would only end up destroying the bond. Fortunately, I don't have to: this version, essentially a tastefully Kompaktified take on the song, has all the charm and ineffable mystery of the original, and I can enjoy it guilt-free and without having to undergo therapy. Phew.

"International Smark", by Payfone. Where the hell has this come from? It seems to be, at fleeting moments, bursting straight out of the Propaganda playbook, but with clean lines that bring it up to date sonically, and with a delicate hint of, of all things, "yacht rock" guitar. Well, that's what I'm hearing. Any way you cut it, though, it is irresistible.

"Up and Down (Beep) (Special Disco Version)", by Moxie. AKA (allegedly, anyway) a James Murphy/Pat Mahoney "re-edit" from 2008 of an obscure late-seventies banger that might conveniently (if possibly misguidedly) be labelled italo/space disco. Listen to what it does around the 2.45 mark. And then what it does around the 3.45 mark. And at the 5.30 mark. Then there's what happens at 8.50. In fact, you might as well just sit back and enjoy the whole shebang. Warning: contains cowbells. Surprise!

"Down South", by Museum of Love. And speaking of Pat Mahoney, this is a recent project involving him. On DFA, naturally. If you ask me, it has a bit of an old-school John Foxx feel to it. Which is fine by me.

"Dancing With the Mentally Ill", by Club 8. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that these folk had been listening to the third Raincoats album before making this record. File under "tribal pop". (Note: YouTube clip below has gratuitous four minutes of silence at the end of the song. Enjoy!)

"Garden's Heart", by Natasha Khan and Jon Hopkins. You could take the high road with this one and say that it puts you in mind of Cocteau Twins. Or you could take the low road and say that it puts you in mind of Enya. Me, I'll take the high road, but the evidence might not be all one way.

"Living for Love", by Realities. File under "dream pop". I really don't know what else I can say.

"Gillie Amma, I Love You", by Four Tet. This drifts on a bed of benign synths, in a way that Four Tet's more recent releases haven't done. Pillowy voices float in and out of, and around, the music. It's a bit mysterious, and slightly unsettling (or ominous). It's like you spend most of its length waiting for the point, until eventually you realise that the absence of point is its point. And a point well made.

"Tahoultine", by Mdou Moctar. You heard Peter Frampton sing "I want you / To show me the way". So you tried to show him the way; but you gave him bad directions, and he ended up in the African desert. While there, he lost his "talking box". A wandering Tuareg found it, and decided to make a record. This is that record.

"Time", by Lambert & Nuttycombe. No, I've never heard of them either. But from the darkened corners of Herb Alpert's A&M Records they sprang forth with this small acoustic gem, in the style of, let's say, Phil Ochs' "Changes", which, in an alternative 1970, could have been huge.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Quality Assortment

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Although I have no idea which is which.

"Der Mussolini", by DAF.

After 1990, it was no longer a John Le Carre world. In the last couple of years, though, the world seems to have transformed itself, for better or worse, into a place in which Le Carre seems comfortable to inhabit. (If "comfortable" is the right idea.) We recently travelled to the cinema to watch "A Most Wanted Man", notable for three things: 1. The telling, in necessarily truncated form, of a classic Le Carre story. 2. The final sighting, in a major role, of Philip Seymour Hoffman. As if we needed to be reminded of what we have lost. 3. The unexpected appearance, in a scene shot in a Hamburg bar/nightclub, circa a year or two ago, of this song. Would bars in Hamburg be playing, at volume, a relatively obscure piece of German synth-pop from thirty-odd years previously? (I suppose the sound of cranky, overdriven analog synths has come back of late, through the likes of Factory Floor; but if you are going for old music in a Hamburg setting, wouldn't you have picked some early Beatles? Or maybe it's just a bauble placed there by the film's director, Anton Corbijn, rock photographer par excellence of the era from which this song hails.) Still, I'm not complaining; as you know, it is a song that got its claws into me at an early age.

"Games for Girls", by Say Lou Lou x Lindstrom.

In which Hans-Peter Lindstrom, perhaps best known as the creator of "I Feel Space", the pivotal, if not the best -- and I'm not saying it's not the best -- song of this century so far, tries his hand at a pop song for the masses, in company with the twin daughters of The Church's Steve Kilbey (you couldn't make this up). And it would be hard to say that it's not an instant winner. Just in time for the (southern) summer, too.

"All You Need Is Love", by Echo & The Bunnymen.

Around the time of "Ocean Rain", Echo & The Bunnymen appeared live on the telly to play a number of songs, in a stripped-down, laid-back style, with McCulloch sounding like he hadn't quite gotten warmed up yet. Here they pay homage to Lennon and McCartney. Stick around for the second half of the song, where McCulloch riffs on songs old and new, seemingly singing whatever comes into his head, from Teardrop Explodes to Dylan to James Brown.

"Julie Ocean", by The Undertones.

The thing that was repeated time and again after the death of John Peel, so often that it has been accepted as fact, was that "Teenage Kicks", by The Undertones, was his favourite song. Now, far be it from me to pick a fight with the ghost of the great man, but if you were to ask me, I would say that "Teenage Kicks", great and all as it is, is not the best song ever. It's not even the best Undertones song. That would be "Julie Ocean", seen here in its superior, seven-inch version. It gets me every time.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Buried amongst all of the variously bad, alarming, terrifying and plain old depressing news stories a couple of days ago was some unexpected and great news: Alison Bechdel has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship "genius" grant. 

Bechdel writes and draws comic books. She has made two of them. They are both very, very good. In fact, they are shining examples of what the medium is capable of. They are pretty harrowing going in places, and "Are You My Mother?" loses me with its feminist/literary theory at times (here I concede I am as far from her presumed target audience as it is possible to be while still being human). But they are brilliantly executed, highly readable, and I dare say you can find both of them (as I have) at your local library.

It always amazes me when someone not only can both write and draw pictures, but can do both to such a high level that the comic book is their perfect medium of self-expression. It's a rare combination of gifts. 

Well done, you.

Song of the day

"Knock Knock Knock", by Spoon.

Every once in a while, you should go to an actual record store and buy an actual record*.

It's good for the soul, it helps you bond with the music contained within the physical product (as opposed to, y'know, fond memories of which computer you were sitting at when you went through some dodgy, ad-filled download site and waited for Record X to come through the pipe, which it eventually did but not before crashing a couple of times and anyway it turned out to have one corrupted song on it), and it might even help some poor, struggling music retailer stay in business for another week or so.

(Oh the times we live in.)

So anyway, for me it was the new Spoon album, "They Want My Soul". Spoon records take a while to sink in. Which is fine, because one only comes along every three or so years. I expect this one will be no different. It starts off with a couple of readily identifiable but perhaps not exactly jaw-dropping examples of Spoon songs. The third track, "Rainy Taxi", is where you say to yourself, This song is going to reveal itself as a Spoon classic. The fourth track, "Do You", is an instant earworm that will have you pinwheeling around the living room. 

But it is the fifth track, "Knock Knock Knock", that stops you in your tracks, stares into your eyes, unblinking, and says: Yes, I do remind you of your (but nobody else's) favourite Pink Floyd album, "Animals". You got a problem with that?

And guess what? I got no problem with that whatsoever. But I can't say I was expecting it.

(Consumer advisory: contains whistling.)

*When I say record, I mean, for myself, a CD: the trendy thing at the moment is to buy vinyl, but as someone who has shelves of vinyl from the first time around, and who was here at the birth of the Compact Disc Digital Audio (TM), I have no lingering nostalgia for the pops and clicks, the inevitable skips and unintended locked grooves, the fuzzy "s"s, of vinyl; they were an impediment to hearing the music then, and I can only assume that they are still an impediment to hearing the music. Still, if that's what you want ...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Song of the day

"These Shadows (Acoustic Version)", by Wooden Shjips.

This is a very stripped-back take on Wooden Shjips. I must admit, I prefer them in their more usual guise: soporific, stretched-out and sludgy. But this does have one (very) redeeming feature: it makes them sound like The Bats. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Point That Thing Somewhere Else

RIP Peter Gutteridge, lesser heralded mainstay of the Dunedin music scene. 

I've written about Gutteridge before on these pages. Right here, in fact. Oh, look, here too. There's nothing more to say right now.

Your homework is to watch the clips embedded in this Pitchfork report. They will at least give you a sense.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Song of the day

"Higgs Boson Blues", by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

The best blues songs start off like this: "Well I woke up this morning."

The best of the best blues songs follow that with: "That was my first mistake."

So here goes.

Well, I woke up this morning. That was my first mistake. I walked out to the living room, whereupon I was unfairly and irrationally attacked by the cat. (To be honest, this is not such an unusual occurrence.) Then I opened the blinds and found myself face to face with a spider the size of a dinner plate. (You think I am exaggerating.) Then I got an eyelash trapped in my eye, and had to spend several uncomfortable minutes sticking my finger in my eye trying to extract it. And then the Internet was down.

But then things got better. Specifically, I went to Canberra's newest cinema, the Palace, to see the new Nick Cave film, "20000 Days on Earth". I'm not even going to attempt to make any critical observations about it. You should see it (obviously) if you have an interest in Nick Cave. Or if you have an interest in the creative process. Or if you have an interest in The Song. Or if you have an interest in Ed Kuepper (who makes an appearance with the Bad Seeds at the end of the film, when they are at the Opera House performing "Jubilee Street"). Does it feed the mythology? Or debunk it? Or lift the veil on it? Possibly some combination of the three; but, like most of the things Cave himself says, I suspect it is inherently untrustworthy. Untrustworthy but fascinating. My favourite part of the film, which contained a few potential favourite parts, was probably Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in Ellis's kitchen, with Ellis cooking up some eels for Cave (who leaves his plate to one side, seemingly untouched) while they talk about Nina Simone's performance at Meltdown.

After the film, I walked into Civic via London Circuit, which is kind of like the St Kilda Road of Canberra. It's a nice part of town, low-rise sixties/seventies office buildings with plenty of open space. Completely dead on a Saturday afternoon, of course, except for the hipster sanctuary that is The Cupping Room, which was doing very lively business. But I had a bus to catch (plus I'm no way a hipster) so I walked on past. A brief stop at JB Hi-Fi revealed a copy of Jim Jarmusch's Neil Young movie, "Year of the Horse", which I have been looking for for ages, at an irresistible price. Another win.

A couple of things I did take away from the Cave film: first, a renewed sense of how precious songs are. In the beginning there is nothing, then there is a spark of an idea, and then, perhaps much later, there is a song. We are inclined to take them for granted. That is wrong. The second thing was a realisation of how far the last Bad Seeds album, "Push The Sky Away", has seeped into my pores. It's a sneaky record, that one: many of its songs are masquerading as unformed ideas, still in the process of being teased out. But with familiarity, the album proves to be a brave (and successful) attempt to loosen up the process, to try out an idea, run with it for a while, and leave it like that. They may be songs (and this is something Cave talks about in the film) that haven't yet resolved into a comfortable form, but it is a sign of the band's confidence that the ideas, half-formed or not, were perceived to be strong enough to be let loose into the wild before they had reached a mature form. This may or may not be borne out by consideration of "Jubilee Street", which, by the time it reached the Opera House, had revealed itself to be a song with such a solid foundation that it was able to withstand the full might and power of the Bad Seeds, a children's choir, and an orchestral string section. Boom.

But, in keeping with the blues theme, here is the last song on the album, itself destined to become a Bad Seeds classic: with some songs, you can just tell.