Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: March 2014

This one was actually put together a while ago. But then I procrastinated at the point of writing it up because, y'know, reasons. Thus I have now had to rush it out in a half-baked fashion. Who, me? April's shouldn't be too far away. Not to put pressure on myself or anything.

"T. On A White Horse", by Eberhard Weber. Fool that I am, I had the idea that ECM Records emerged around the latter part of the 1980s. In fact it had been in business for nigh on 20 years by then. It only took the world that long to catch up. On the strength of this piece, from 1977, the label knew exactly what it was doing from the start. The sonic template is impeccably tasteful, but easy listening it is not. Or, not exactly. Minor chords are applied liberally. Weber's woozy bass playing floats above, beside and, really, all around the steady framework that the other musicians have provided. There are elements in here that you might associate with jazz. But it's not really jazz at all. (No need to be afraid.) If it puts you in mind of Kate Bush at times, that would be because Weber has played on many of her records, notably "Hounds of Love" (see, especially, "Mother Stands For Comfort"). It also makes me think of mid-80s David Sylvian. But then, I have spent much of my adult life thinking of mid-80s David Sylvian. I understand from the internet that Mr Weber has been in poor health of late. I wish him well.

"Seven Stars", by Suni McGrath. Treating this beast as if it were an actual playlist that somebody might, like, actually listen to, one track after the other (in my dreams? (actually, I think it hangs together rather well, albeit that it does fragment somewhat towards the end)), I wouldn't want to lump the unwary listener with two lengthy ECM pieces in a row, so here is a brief interlude for solo guitar. It fits right in, if you ask me. McGrath is a lesser-known picker of late-sixties vintage. Tompkins Square, true to form, would appear to have tracked him down in the mid-'00s and got him to lay down a couple of new songs. This is one of them. Those fingers still sound mighty nimble.

"Blue", by John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette. From a 1978 album called "Gateway 2". If you were going to describe any artists as quintessentially ECM, these would probably be those. (Well, Keith Jarrett, obviously.) Do you remember the scene in "Diva" where the two leading characters are walking around in Paris in the rain, making intermittent use of an umbrella? In tone, this is not unlike the music playing underneath that scene. (See also "Rainbirds", by Tom Waits.) Not a lot happens, but nor would you want it to. In contrast to this, the Eberhard Weber track is (almost) exhaustingly busy. I guess it's all relative.

"Peace Piece", by Bill Evans. This, too, although it was recorded 20 years earlier than the above track, fits in completely with the ECM ethos, demonstrating that Manfred Eicher was/is looking both forwards and backwards at the same time -- in fact, given the above ECM tracks both stemmed from within the maelstrom of punk, everywhere except their own time. This song, by Evans alone, also evokes that same scene in "Diva". Evans's left hand is contemplative, ruminative. His right hand is, for the most part, simpatico, but occasionally it succumbs to a bout of orneriness, just to make sure we are still listening.

"Challenger", by Teddy Lasry. Time for another interlude. Release the Moogs.

"Come Back Home", by 2NE1. Ahem. And now, as they say, for something completely different. K-pop goes reggae. I kid you not. Featuring a gorgeous Rihanna-style chorus and one of the more bizarre and unexpected "drops" (I think is the term) in modern music. Over the top in every possible way.

"It Feels Good To Be Around You", by Air France. Basically just filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge of the Sincerely Yours label. This would appear to have been Air France's last gasp. Shame, that.

"Woman of Soul", by Rhead Brothers. Cow bells. Congas. Electric piano. Lush vocal harmonies. Brief, recurring "in the style of" Knopfler/Pablo Cruise guitar solo. Presumably, white trousers and semi-unbuttoned white shirts. With gold chains and (optional) chest wig. We observe that "Rhead" is only one letter and a slight tweak away from Bread. Surely a coincidence. Bonus: record cover of the month.

"It's Really You (Jan Schulte Edit)", by Tarney/Spencer Band. It says here that Messrs Tarney and Spencer met in Adelaide in the sixties, where they played in such bands as, if you can believe this, Johnny Broome and The Handels. This song, which has been given the re-edit treatment to admirable effect, was from their London years, and was released as a single on Uncle Herb's A&M Records. It sounds like it was aimed squarely at the American AOR market. I had never heard of them before this.

"Out In The Country", by Natural Child. In which album-oriented/classic/yacht rock gets updated for/by the hipster generation for no reason that we can see other than "because it was there". Still, you can't fault the song, the idea, or the execution of that idea.

"An Ocean Between The Waves", by The War On Drugs. There is also a whole lot of classic-rock in this song. (When was the last time you heard so much guitar?) I had been aware of the hoo-haa last year about this band, but none of it gave me any reason to expect that I would find a song as powerful as this. I'm not ashamed to admit (well, yeah) that I cannot listen to it without the appearance of liquid in our eye sockets. I must be getting old and emotionally unstable. No, that can't be it. It must be raining. (Song of the year? It's too late for that now.) If one were going to use the word "epic", one might as well do it here. (And, like all of the best songs, it has solid motorik underpinnings.) Oh, look, they can also play it live on the radio.

"On The Beach", by Joakim. If Neil Young had made "On The Beach" using the tools that he employed for "Trans", it might have sounded something like this. A compelling reinvention of an extraordinary song. Extra points if you can identify where I have previously come across that warbling keyboard sound that kicks in about a minute before the end. My guess is it's buried somewhere in Pink Floyd's "Animals", but I don't got time for that.

"Hotel California", by Gypsy Kings. As heard in "The Big Lebowski", a film by Joel and Ethan Coen. Ooh, look, here it comes now. I love the internet.

(I would also like to take this opportunity to put on the public record that my opinion of The Eagles is in complete accord with that of The Dude.)

"Dead Flowers", by Townes Van Zandt. This, I reckon, is the best Rolling Stones song, from the best Rolling Stones album. And it is only improved if someone other than the Rolling Stones performs it. (I'm not a huge fan.) Another one from "The Big Lebowski".

"Hard Workin' Man", by Jack Nitzsche. You have to understand, I grew up as an only child on a farm, in a household where there were no books to speak of, and I went to the local schools, where the quality of my education was what it was. Pretty much everything I learned, I learned from music magazines and from listening to 2JJ's sketchy transmissions of an evening, when and if I could get the transistor radio into the right spot. So I had no idea who this guy Jack Nitzsche was, but I had seen his name in print enough times to be aware of him. (Turns out he packed a bit into his 63 years. Check it out.) I also had no idea how it might be pronounced. "Nitsky"? "Nitch"? "Neetcha", like Monty Python pronounced the philosopher on my well-worn Python cassettes? Truth is, I still don't know the answer to either of those questions. Jack Nitzsche, mystery man. This song doesn't alleviate my confusion. It's a down and dirty blues stomper, of the kind you would expect to hear from Muddy Waters, or, in a slightly more bastardised form, by The Beasts of Bourbon, or Captain Beefheart. Hey, guess who has wandered in to provide vocals? It's the Captain himself. Hello there, Captain.

"Larousse Baron Bic", by Rosa Yemen. The guitars chime, jangle, and work themselves up into the best kind of post-punk state of nervous tension. The singer gets lost inside her own emotions. It's over in one minute and 30 seconds. Cool!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Song of the day

"No Easy Way Down", by Rain Parade.

Speaking, as we were, of The Dream Syndicate, it is only a short step from there to Rain Parade (or, as they were sometimes called, The Rain Parade: did they consciously lose the "The" when Dave Roback left (maybe he took it with him?), or were they just the accidental victims of nomenclatural uncertainty?). Both bands, along with a few others you can probably give at least name recognition to, were lumped together in the mid-1980s under the not entirely inaccurate (one can assume that there were paisley shirts in attendance) but also not particularly helpful umbrella "The Paisley Underground". (At least one person, who must remain nameless, made the dumb-headed assumption that Paisley Underground had something to do with Prince. Wrong.)

"No Easy Way Down" is Rain Parade's longest recorded song. (Note: that last statement has not been fact-checked.) It would not have been out of place on "Medicine Show"'s majestic second side. It was co-written by Dave Roback, but he doesn't play on it, as by the time it was recorded he had left the band to form Opal with ex-Dream Syndicate member Kendra Smith, and thence, as everybody knows, Mazzy Star with Hope Sandoval. (Where is Pete Frame when you need him?) Even in Roback's absence, though, the band still manages to do the song full justice. It retains his languid lilt, but combines that with some blistering psychedelic electric guitar mayhem. It may be the high point of the movement, even allowing that the "movement" was never really a movement anyway.

(Further (and better) reading can be had in this excellent piece by Joe Banks at The Quietus.)

Bonus Beats: The other thing about "No Easy Way Down" is that, whenever I hear it, I have a sudden urge to listen to "Surfacer", by 14 Iced Bears. I have no idea. (But nor do I need an excuse.)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Song of the day

"The Ballad of Freer Hollow", by Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band.

There is something about buying music on spec, i.e., without ever having heard it. (It is also, let's face it, getting harder and harder for the music tragic not to get full access to an album for nothing, often enough before it has even come out.) But so it was with "Intensity Ghost", the new, actually the first, album by Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band. I had an inkling it would be good. My recent gaze has been drifting towards new American guitar music, from the likes of Steve Gunn, Daniel Bachman, Ryley Walker, and, at the other end of what might or might not be a spectrum, bands like Quilt and Woods.

Forsyth came to my notice a couple of years back with "Solar Motel", an ostensibly solo instrumental rock "suite" (ahem) for which he put together a band that then, thank the stars, morphed into an actual thing. "Intensity Ghost" came out late last year, but my first exposure to The Solar Motel Band was at the start of 2015, with a session for Aquarium Drunkard in which they covered songs by Richard Thompson and The Dream Syndicate. (They are still there. Check them out.) This made sense: there seems to be a new-found reverence these days amongst the Americans for Thompson-era Fairport Convention, while a nod or two to The Dream Syndicate can be found in the songs of Quilt, for starters.

The Dream Syndicate influence is all over "Intensity Ghost", along with another band much more popular now than when they were together, Television. (The third track on the album, "I Ain't Waiting", not only has a title that is pure Tom Verlaine, it has Tom Verlaine weeping from its every guitar line: it's as if Television had reformed and re-located to Woodstock.)

But that's not what we're here for. "The Ballad of Freer Hollow", which makes its statement over eleven and a half minutes, kicks off the album. Here "Intensity Ghost" departs somewhat from its forebears. The accepted wisdom used to be that if you were going to build a song up to epic length (especially in the days when cracking the four minute mark would leave you open to cries of "Kill the hippie!"), you would plant it somewhere around the middle of the album. "Marquee Moon", obviously. But also, to get back to The Dream Syndicate, "John Coltrane Stereo Blues", which takes centre spot on side two of "Medicine Show". "Intensity Ghost", on the other hand, boldly throws its longest song front and centre. It is saying, Here is what we can do. Take it or leave it.

Reader, I took it.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

This Goes With This (four for the price of one edition)

"Lord Knows", by Dum Dum Girls.

When you have listened to rather a lot of music, it isn't hard to hear elements of a song in another song. Certain chord sequences sit together harmoniously, so they tend to get used often. Likewise, there are probably only a finite number of melodies in the world. Plus, none of us is a clean slate. Often, I am listening to things that have been influenced by other things that I have listened to. Sometimes my knee jerks upwards in an almost allergic reaction. (Bands that rip off Joy Division, for example.) Other times I just observe what's going on.

But: I can hear four other songs, very clearly, in this one song by Dum Dum Girls. I don't know what to do with that.

The song itself:

The constituent elements:

1. "Shivers", by The Boys Next Door. This is a song that means a lot to me. My first response upon hearing a close to note-for-note rendition of it at the start of this song was, I must admit, not positive.

2. "Listen To The Music", by The Doobie Brothers. Do you hear a slowed-down version of this song in the chorus? I do.

3. "Crimson & Clover", by Tommy James and The Shondells. This is in there, too: listen closely at the end of the chorus. And as the song fades out.

4. "Trees and Flowers", by Strawberry Switchblade. Another song that means a lot to me. There is no direct reference to it, admittedly, but I reckon it is the template on which the song is constructed.

Is the sum greater than the parts? That would be a pretty tough trick to pull off. I don't think it's ever going to work for me, given the baggage I am carrying in my own head. And that's a shame, because on its own terms it's actually a pretty darn good song.

Inspiration Information

Or, Fifty @ 50, Part III.

I can't nail this one down. So I had better just get it out there, before I turn 51. 

Mark E Smith.
Bob Dylan.
Neil Young.
Gillian Welch.
Tom Waits.
John Zorn.
Brian Eno.
David Sylvian.
Kate Bush.
Jens Lekman.
James Murphy.
Forest Swords.
Ricardo Villalobos.
Flying Lotus.
James Blake.
Dan Snaith.
Nicolas Jaar.
Jeremy Greenspan.
Hans-Pieter Lindstrom.
The Ghost Box collective.
Martin Phillipps.
David Kilgour.
Nick Cave.
Mick Harvey.
Chris Abrahams.
Ed Kuepper.
Ian McEwan.
Michael Chabon.
James Ellroy.
Don DeLillo.
William Gibson.
Haruki Murakami.
Jim Jarmusch.
Richard Linklater.
Wes Anderson.
Paul Thomas Anderson.
The Coen Brothers.
Hayao Miyazaki.
Naoki Urasawa.
Los Bros Hernandez.
Chris Ware.
Kevin Huizenga.
Charles Burns.
Daniel Clowes.
Richard McGuire.
Ben Katchor.

"Errors & omissions excepted."