Thursday, December 31, 2015

Song of the day

"Christmas Will Break Your Heart", by LCD Soundsystem.

We have had a couple of unwanted Christmas presents this year, with the deaths of Stevie Wright and Lemmy. (Not forgetting John Bradbury, drummer with and cornerstone of The Specials.) So it was something of a relief, not to mention a cognitive-dissonance-style surprise, to wake up a couple of mornings ago to the news that there is a new -- actually new -- LCD Soundsystem song, a little seasonal number called "Christmas Will Break Your Heart". And if Christmas doesn't, this song quite possibly will.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: February 2015

And we're back.

"To Find Out", by Keggs. It is the dawn of time. Man climbs down from the trees. He builds himself a garage. He plugs in an electric guitar. It's what separates him from the animals.

"Alone At The Show", by Girlpool. And fifty years later, nothing has changed, except that now the female of the species can do these things at least as well as the male.

"Haile Unlikely by The Electric Dread", by Steel Leg. Along the way, man's journey was interrupted by evolutionary cul de sacs such as Glam, AOR, and Prog Rock. But some time around 1978 the path was set to rights by those who called themselves Post Punk. Chief among them were Mr Keith Levene and Mr Jah Wobble. Sometimes they worked in conjunction with a Mr John Lydon, but not always. In this example of the latter, they imagined themselves as hailing from Africa by way of Kingston, Jamaica. Why they did that, nobody today can say. We must assume they had their reasons.

"I Never Knew", by The Avocados. Those who called themselves Post Punk also evolved. Scientists even today marvel at the pace of that evolution. Out of the initial murk emerged signs of melody and twang, such as might have been heard in the late 1950s, which, as we all know, is before the dawn of time.

"Don't Cry Your Tears", by The Delmontes. They were even doing it in Ireland.

"Dom Kan Inte Hora Musiken", by Masshysteri. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, youth had evolved so far that they had come right back around and landed once again in the Year Zero of punk. Even Swedish youth.

"Put Your Number In My Phone", by Ariel Pink. On the other hand, some pop songs are so perfectly crafted and executed that it is impossible, even with the most sophisticated carbon dating techniques, to locate a specific time and place. (Although, clearly enough, this song comes from a time after the invention of the telephone.)

"Algen", by Amason. At which point we abandon all attempts at dodgy evolutionary metaphors. Here we have more bloody Swedes constructing note-perfect pop sublimity. Featuring Gustav Estjes from Dungen, who also put out a damned fine record in 2015. Also, I would be grateful if someone could explain this video to me. But that would probably require a 15-year-old. Hang on, I think I've got one of those around here somewhere.

"Ufo", by Jim Sullivan. Compare and contrast this song, from 1969, with the previous two songs, from 2015, and marvel at how little pop music has really changed, at a fundamental level, in all that time. While listening, you really should read this remarkable story about the song's creator. You just kind of know Harry Dean Stanton is going to pop up somewhere in there.

"You Wouldn't, You Couldn't Be True", by Phil Upchurch. Proto-Hendrix jazz-guitar pyrotechnics meets The Swingle Singers. You read that right.

"Life & Death In G & A (Parts 1 & 2)", by Joe Hicks. "If it feels good, it's alright." Words to live by. 

"Keep On Dancing (Todd Terje Remix)", by Gary's Gang. It's sweet to hear Todd Terje once again stretch a piece of music out towards the ten-minute barrier. Not so much happens, but it happens (or should that be "doesn't happen"?) with quiet deliberation, a little flair, and maximum coolness.

"Raising The Titanic (Big Drum Mix)", by Gavin Bryars. Given my strong interest, back in the nineties, in Gavin Bryars, and, more recently, in Aphex Twin, one wonders how I could have been completely unaware of the convergence, on this track, of those two artists. Does it work? I'm not so sure. Plus, that's the wrong question. This is Aphex Twin we're talking about.

"Cube (Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer Remix)", by Hauschka. This, by some insane coincidence, is surprisingly similar to the Aphex/Bryars track, except that this time the drum track and the more melodic/atmospheric parts would appear to be listening to each other a little bit. Masters at work.

Bonus: album cover of the month.

"Lagrimas Negras", by DJ Sotofett Presents Fran Benitez. DJ Sotofett seems to be plowing the field adjacent to Ricardo Villalobos, at least on the strength of this track. It is both as scary as all heck and gorgeous, all in the one uncanny package. How is that even possible?

"Ride", by Gaussian Curve. Featuring Gigi Masin, who, curiously, also appeared on the previous hypothetical mixtape in this series, but whose existence (even though he has been making music since the mid-eighties -- which perhaps explains how some elements of this track come straight out of the early solo David Sylvian playbook) I had been entirely unaware of until then. So he's a bit like Melbourne trams, then: you wait forever for one, and then two show up at exactly the same time.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Merry Christmas from Lego, circa 1965

This is an ad from the New Yorker magazine, December 1965. I think the take-out message is, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Only the prices are different.

(Actually, that is not entirely true. There are now, inevitably, Lego that look suspiciously like guns.)

(Also: is the plural of Lego "Lego"?)

(Also: you can right-click etc on the picture for a closer look.)

Of the year

There may have been albums released during 2015 that were more "worthy", "important", or "significant", or even (as if it could be measured) "better", or that more closely captured the goddamn zeitgeist, and there are certainly others that I will come back to from this year, either because they are slow builders or because I am a slow learner, but the following dozen albums are the ones that I would scoop up and tuck under my arm as I ran from a burning building:

"No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal", by The Apartments.
"River", by Daniel Bachman.
"Don't Weigh Down the Light", by Meg Baird.
"Silver Bullets", by The Chills.
"Captain of None", by Colleen.
"Songs to Play", by Robert Forster.
"Morning / Evening", by Four Tet.
"From Kinshasa", by Mbongwana Star.
"Vertigo", by The Necks.
"Over and Even", by Joan Shelley.
"Primrose Green", by Ryley Walker.
"Star Wars", by Wilco.

Not really an "album", but as good as anything else on this list:

"Nymphs II", "Nymphs III" and "Fight (Nymphs IV)", by Nicolas Jaar.

Best new old music:

"The Cutting Edge", by Bob Dylan. We may be digging through the entrails, but those are some quality entrails.


"Girl", by Jamie xx. I couldn't completely embrace the album (what Jamie xx gets when he hears steel drums is not what I get when I hear steel drums). But this is as close as it gets to a perfect pop song.


"Leviathan". I thought they didn't make them like that anymore.


"Swamplandia", by Karen Russell. I read for a living; hence I don't read anywhere near enough for pleasure. This book is a few years old now. Has anybody out there read any Karen Russell? Oh, man!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

This goes with this (extreme eighties edition)

When I get to the end of Tomo Akikawabaya's "A Dream Of No Pillow", what song is going through my head? "Strength Of Strings", from the second This Mortal Coil album. 


What's interesting is that these two records were made at roughly the same time, and yet it is quite possible that at least one of them had no idea of the other's existence. 

(This year, Veronica Vasicka's invaluable Minimal Wave label rescued Tomo Akikawabaya from crate-digger hell, putting out a compilation of his work entitled "The Invitation Of The Dead". It's another reminder that there is a lot of music that remains locked away in the past. The first song is stunning, and if the whole album had been in that vein I would quite possibly be shouting Album Of The Year. The final piece on the album, "The Hill Of Dreams", wouldn't be out of place on an Oneohtrix Point Never record. I'm not sure what that says.)

(Plus, how can you go past a record cover like this?)

(Footnote: both songs are notable for (some might say "marred by") some slightly awkward vocals, but in both cases I'm not sure it is possible to imagine them being sung any other way, or at least any more suitable way.)

Hypothetical mixtape: January 2015

On the one hand, I seem to be once again falling hopelessly behind with these playlists and (full disclosure) I think I am getting a bit tired of trawling through song after song, knowing that around the corner I am going to discover another batch of songs to trawl through. On the other hand, this one has been as rewarding a trawl as I have had in a long time. Buried in here are a couple of songs I can't believe I didn't know existed, so that's a wrong I am glad to have righted.

"Electro Theme No. 3", by Cecil Leuter. Sleazy funky Moogy grooves. Originally discovered here. Song available via Dropbox. For now.

"Superman", by Mike Vickers. From an album called "Brass Plus Moog",  which pretty much sums it up. Again, originally discovered here and, it seems, still downloadable. O-Dub put in an absolute blinder over the first half of 2015. We thank him.

"Lady Love", by Ferrante & Teicher. This wouldn't have been at all out of place on Soul Jazz's excellent "Can You Dig It!" compilation, if it wasn't for the Richard Claydermanesque grand piano that permeates its grooves and, it has to be said, just gets in the damn way. Still.

"Green And Gold", by Roy Ayers. Did somebody mention Blacksploitation?

"Why Am I Treated So Bad?", by Melodiya Ensemble. If they made black action films in the USSR (Redsploitation?), this would surely have been played over the opening credits. Rad!

"Jam It Jam (Superman Crew Jam)", by She Rockers. The distance from State-sanctioned seventies Soviet grooves to Old Skool electro is but a short step. Man, those hairdos are SHARP.

"Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)", by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. Whereas it's quite the trek from this fine song (as heard in "The Big Lebowski", just like every other great song ever) to bloody "Lucille". And bloody "Coward of the County". And bloody "The Gambler". It's hard to imagine someone like Kenny having had a hard-rockin' past. There you go.

"Sundown", by Scott Walker. For me, this song will always be owned by Ed Kuepper. But here we have Scott, from what is generally regarded as his Decadus Horribilus, giving it everything he's got. Which is quite a lot, obviously, and more than you or I will ever have to give. 

Bonus: album cover of the month (luxurious fonts edition).


"True Love", by Tobias Jesso Jr. So, Tobias Jesso Jr wandered into the room laying claim (or having claim laid on his behalf) to being the new Randy Newman, Nilsson, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, all rolled into one. (As a test, we sat him on this playlist right between Scott Walker and Todd Rundgren. He seems pretty comfortable.) Is that what the world needed in 2015? Possibly.

"Hello It's Me", by The Nazz. Hello, it's Todd.

"Shining Brightly", by Brinsley Schwarz. I'm so confused about the back story of Brinsley Schwarz. In fact, I give up. This song was written by Nick Lowe. Pub rock it ain't.

"Shattered Illusions", by England's Glory. Listen closely. Recognise the voice? Yes, it's Peter Perrett, of The Only Ones, in his early days. It's so hard to accept that a song as magnificent as this sank without trace. (Praise be the internet.) Still downloadable from Aquarium Drunkard. Don't sleep.

"Tong Poo", by Akiko Yano. Fans of YMO (hello there) will recognise this song. I am finding it a bit difficult coming to terms with the female vocals. But I'm sure I will find a way. One may, of course, focus on the early-eighties electronic pop music stylings, which are pretty tasty.

"Parallelisme", by Miharu Koshi. And in a similar vein. Produced by Hosono. 

"Speed Racer", by Fernanda Abreu. What the hell? I think I just died and went to heaven.

"Silent Night", by Robert Fripp. Merry Christmas.

"Falling Leaves (Gigi Masin Remix)", by Sven Weisemann. Enigmatic. (I know, I can do better than that. But it's a long playlist, and the song can probably speak for itself.)

"Green", by Hiroshi Yoshimura. I should probably have placed this with the other two eighties Japanese tracks, but it is also joined at the (un)hip with the Sven Weisemann track. By the end of these two, you should be spiritually uplifted. Like a boss.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Song of the day

"Phototones", by Cavern of Anti-Matter.

I know we are not really supposed to be over-playing the Stereolab thing, but, Tim Gane, y'know? It's pretty difficult to pretend it's not him. Especially when this song, the B-side to the brand spanking new Ghost Box single by Cavern of Anti-Matter, harks back so clearly to the early, Krautrock-driven days of the 'Lab. Just enjoy how smoothly it slips down, then. And marvel. Just marvel.

(So, this clip is only about 25 percent of the song, but it doesn't really deviate much from the template. Nor does it need to.)

Saturday, December 05, 2015

This goes with this (deepest darkest dub edition)

I had a sudden and unlikely revelation the other day, while strolling along the "shores" of Lake Burley Griffin: that "Forgiven", the rather, uh, unforgiving opening track from Actress's "difficult fourth album", "Ghettoville", would mash rather well with "No Comprende", the second song on Low's rather wonderful 2015 album, "Ones and Sixes". Both songs are cast within that singular dub framework that we know so well, while in neither case being in any regular sense "reggae" tracks (see also Forest Swords). Practically everything is stripped out of the music except that crucial third beat, which (especially in the case of Actress) hits with a violence that makes relaxation difficult.

Even if the idea of a mashup seems beyond the pale (I wouldn't argue), I reckon a DJ could get these two songs to flow one into the other with quite the niceness. 

Of course, I could also be talking out of my bum.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Song of the day

"Full Moon", by Woods.

Chances are that you have been wondering why it is that I have had nothing to say about the 2014 Woods album, "With Light And With Love". (And if you have been wondering that, then all I can say is, Get A Life.)

Let's just say that if I had written about it 18 months ago, what I would have had to say would not have been positive. My feelings were mixed: one the one hand there was a real sense that I had heard it all before. On the other hand, it seemed that the high-fidelity stereo sounds, something Woods had never offered us before, didn't sit at all well with their trademark scuzzy-George-Harrisonisms. 

But, you know what? Fuck that. This is an awesome album. It sounds great. The songs are great. The title track is a no-holds-barred freakout rollercoaster ride, drugs not required. It stops suddenly, on, as they say, a dime, because how could it possibly end otherwise? (It works okay live, too.) But the gems on this album, really, are end-to-end.

I think, deep down, I knew this at the time, and that it would just take a while for my initial misgivings to fade into irrelevance; and that this is why I stayed my hand. (Or perhaps I was just lazy.)

Speaking of George Harrison, listen to "Full Moon". Homage never sounded so fresh.

This Goes With This

I'm not sure what is more problematic: the fact that you can sing along to Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" when listening to "Days Burn Blue", the last song on the new (and excellent) Darkstar album, "Foam Island", or the fact that I noticed that you can.

It goes to show: what you listen to in Year 11 never really leaves you.

(Note: in the video, which differs from the album version, what I'm referring to starts at the three-minute mark. But don't fast forward.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Song of the day

"Falling", by Julee Cruise.

Every year for as long as I can remember, I have put together a mix CD for Adrienne's birthday (which is today). Usually it is culled from a mixed bag of random off-cuts, thrown together with little or no regard for playability or continuity, good to break the monotony on long car trips but perhaps for little else. This year I attempted something a bit more scientific. (Only a bit more.) I had two songs that I wanted to use, and I decided to try to build a mix from the ground up, centred around those two songs, to see if I could do it. It was hard. I probably failed. It is also a little on the short side, 53 minutes inclusive of the closing 10-minute full-eighties 12-inch (comprising in itself, though, two songs, and no it isn't "Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go?"). Will she like it? I honestly don't know, and it would be in her nature to be too polite to say if she doesn't. The exercise has been fun. I probably won't do it this way again, though.

There were a few songs that came into my head as fitting perfectly, but which for various reasons I couldn't get to work. Chief amongst those was "Falling". There was simply no place for it, lest its delicate petals be crushed by the songs around it. It may be a song that can only exist in a vacuum of its own, to be followed by, and only by, an extended silence, so as to allow its many resonances to slowly fade. (If it was a primary-school child, its report card might read "Does not play well with others".)

Thus, I must present it here, on its own. Adrienne, this one's for you.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Song of the day

"Parliament of Birds", by William Tyler.

(Parliament of Byrds, more like, given the twang that Tyler sets up at various points throughout this monster.)

A couple of months ago, as you know, Wilco gave away their new album, "Star Wars", to anyone that wanted it. The catch came a few days later, when they put up a blog post suggesting records that you might want to buy in lieu of payment for the Wilco album. One of those records was "Deseret Canyon", the reissued first solo record by William Tyler, originally released to precisely no fanfare or acclaim in 2008. Tyler has gone on to bigger and unexpected things since then (you should hear his version of Michael Rother's "Karussell"). I already have a couple of his more recent albums. He is at the centre of the recent wave of reinterest in what has been called American Primitivism (although there's not too much that's "primitive" in Tyler's playing). Tyler, like the others lumped under this dubious rubric, shows a clear debt to the playing of John Fahey (not to mention the song titling: exhibit 1, "Waltz of the Circassian Beauties").

Anyway, heeding Wilco's advice, and seeking to assuage my guilt at having procured free music over the Internet (perish the thought), I bought a copy of "Deseret Canyon". (You're welcome.) For a first album, there is certainly nothing tentative or, uh, juvenile about it. "Parliament of Birds", the second song, maybe sets up a template for Tyler's future trajectory. It is the kind of free-flowing, long-form piece of music that could go anywhere, and in its execution on the album does manage quite a few unexpected turns, all of them tasty.

Bonus beats: those of you who consider yourself "heads", or anyone interested in further research and/or curious to see how it is done, might like to watch this audience footage from Germany of Tyler doing this very same song, albeit with six more years of water under the bridge. Around the six-minute mark he builds it up into the kind of chugga-chugga that is guaranteed to have you dancing around the living room. How that much sound can come out of one guitar? Beats me.

(By the way, the Wilco record isn't bad, either, even by their lofty standards. Its sudden appearance, and relative brevity, might convey the suggestion that it was put together rather quickly, but that's not always a criticism, and isn't in this case. Tweedy is known for wanting to keep Wilco fresh. Put it this way. If I had paid money for it I wouldn't be complaining.)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: December 2014

Backdated monthly playlists: the nightmare continues ...

"Empire Mines", by Plankton Wat. Some months/years back I likened a piece of African music to The Laughing Clowns, so why, on that flimsy basis, shouldn't I spuriously claim that a song out of Canada reminds me of solo Ed Kuepper? Come on, tell me you don't hear it. The guitar playing, the chord structures, the, uh, vibe. This wouldn't be at all out of place on one of his three instrumental (as anything) albums from the 1990s.

"Holding", by Grouper. Imagine Harold Budd and Brian Eno's "The Pearl" with vocals. Not what I expected from Grouper, but stunning. (Also a fine companion piece to Colleen's fine album "Captain of None".)

"Nobody Knows", by Pastor TL Barrett & The Youth For Christ Choir. Seriously. Like Bob's "You Gotta Serve Somebody", you don't need to have religion in order to totally feel it.

"Acid Tracks", by Phuture. From the sublime to the, well, not exactly ridiculous, but not exactly not ridiculous. Twelve minutes of squiggles that may or may not have invented acid house. Working backwards from Aphex's mighty "Syro", this is one of the places you might end up.

"Hideous Racket (Thee Four Horsemen Mix)", by Allez-Allez. All I know for sure is that this is not the Belgian new wave band of the same name (sans hyphen) who were responsible for "African Queen". Aside from that, you're on your own.

(There appears to still be a working download link here.)

"Lovin' You Ain't Easy", by Pagliaro. Proto-power-pop of the highest order. From 1971. Pagliaro here is swimming in the well from which Matthew Sweet continues to slake his thirst. There is a certain Sports song that makes its way to the surface around the 35-second mark, too. See if you can spot it. (Bonus: album cover of the month.)

"Seasons (Waiting On You)", by Future Islands. At first, you think you are about to hear a cover of Underworld's "Born Slippy". But it quickly morphs into a kind of High Eighties homage, of the type that I have recently and unexpectedly been smitten by. (See also: The War On Drugs.) It's like being able to listen to the best of Bruce Springsteen without whatever it is about Bruce that I find off-putting.

"Asleep", by Makthaverskan. In which a contemporary Swedish pop band busts some seriously eighties moves, to enticing effect (even if the singer does perhaps sound a little too much like a shouty 12-year-old).

"The Chauffeur", by Duran Duran. You don't see much mention of Duran Duran in these pages. But I know people of taste and distinction who hold a very high opinion of them, so, y'know, "respect". This song, one in which they don't particularly try to go pop, is perhaps telling of a greater ambition. But by then the cocaine had left its mark. Allegedly.

"Breakdown", by Carol. First-rate, seemingly steam-powered electronic post-punk from 1981. Don't know anything about Carol, but the name puts me in mind of a joke told at an assembly at our boys' primary school by one of the younger children involving Christmas and some ladies' underwear (and some very nervous parents). (Punch line: "They're Carol's.")

"Giudecca (Gabe Gurnsey / Factory Floor Remix)", by Ghost Culture. This month's Factory Floor-related product: pop music that sounds like it was stranded on another planet in 1980 and keeps sending transmissions back to earth in the forlorn hope that someone will hear. Well, we're listening.

"Beautiful (Rustie Edit)", by A G Cook. Listening to too much PC Music in one go is a bit like overdosing on sugar and coffee simultaneously. (Hey, we've all been there.) This Rustie edit of one of their signature tunes manages to take enough of the edge off it that mere humans can survive exposure to it, while retaining enough of the hyperintense sweetness of the original that you would certainly know it if it hit you. Nevertheless, approach with caution.

"Telephone and Rubber Band", by Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Hypnotic, breathtakingly simple, and you may have heard it in the fine Australian film "Malcolm".

"Music Box", by Don Muro. Home-made musical gorgeousness from the 1970s. Enjoy.