Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: June 2014

Without further ado.

"Stand on the Word (Larry Levan mix)", by The Joubert Singers. If "The Word" was regularly presented with this level of disco exactitude, many more souls would be saved. 

"Lay Lady Lay", by David T Walker. It has been said that Bob Dylan songs sound better when they are sung by anybody other than Bob Dylan. But is it possible that they sound better when they are not sung by anybody at all? This is Exhibit A. Bonus: album cover of the month.

 "Trouble", by Father John Misty. Father John (not his real name), as you already know, had a previous life as drummer with Fleet Foxes. Unsurprisingly, then, he has a voice that, ahem, pours down like silver. I confess to having not entirely warm feelings towards his solo records (the phrase "too much information" come to mind), but here he takes on a Cat Stevens song and nails it to the wall. 

"Eighteen is Over the Hill", by Veronica Falls. If there's one thing I have learned in all my years on this planet, it is that West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band songs make for quality cover versions. (See also this, a song also done by some of Dunedin's finest, but which doesn't seem to be on the 'Tube.)

"Motherless Child", by Sweetwater. Coming to you from the deepest recesses of 1968 Los Angeles. Warning: may contain traces of flute.

"Dandelion Seeds", by July. As above, but substitute London for Los Angeles and Some Serious Drug Intestion for flutes.

"Planet Caravan", by Brownout. From an album entitled "Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath". I think you can see where this is going.

"Never Thought I'd See the Day (L-Vis 1990 Sunrise Edit)", by Sade. I figure that if it's cool for Lee Ranaldo to be a fan of Sade, I can probably get away with it. Soundcloud comment of the month: "holy damn, im so in love".

"Canto Della Liberta (Prins Thomas Version)", by 3rd Face. I have no idea what's going on here. Sometimes you just gotta roll with it. The incessant handclapping that kicks the thing off suggests that Steve Reich may have wandered into the studio. It's probably just my imagination. Alternative title: shouting can be therapeutic.

"Salka Gets Her Hopes Up (Mark McGuire Remix)", by Yumi Zouma. We have a lot of time round our way for Yumi Zouma. We also have a lot of time for the "new age" stylings of Mark McGuire. So of course if you put 'em together it's probably going to press our buttons. Consider them pressed. (Coincidentally to the above, there also seems to be a Steve Reichian presence here, but this time it's "Music for 18 Musicians" that's getting the nod.)

"Karada To Uta Dake No Kankei", by Hi-Posi. So Japanese pop music in the nineties wasn't just Pizzicato 5? Who knew? Oh, wait, there was also Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. And, uh, Boredoms?

"I Scare Myself", by Thomas Dolby. And here we are back in the High Eighties world of Thomas Dolby, a musician who was, if I recall, seen as a bit of a novelty act (his adopted name might not have helped) when he was first around, but who, in the ensuing decades, has revealed himself as someone who May Have Actually Been Onto Something. I also have a version of this song (which was written by Dan Hicks) sung by Renee Geyer, but the wandering bass and Spanish guitar send this one to the next level.

"Beneath The Sea", by Se Delan. In the face of a song as dramatic and powerful as this, the best thing I can do is shut up and get out of the way.

"La Onde Guder Hvile", by Weh. I might just stay out of the way a little longer. (Except I can't, entirely: is this acoustic death metal? What's with that record cover?)

"Dark Destroyer Dub", by King Tubby. Charging out of the gates with a blast of the Hammond B-3, this may or may not be a dub reggae take on "Norwegian Wood".

Monday, April 20, 2015

Song of the day

"Stealing Gold", by Jane Weaver.

As is so often the case, I first stumbled upon the music of Jane Weaver because of the appearance on one of her records of a name: in her case, the name was Julian House, sub nom The Focus Group. And, as it happens, the record of hers that carried this name was a strange beast, not really a remix album, not really an album of her own as such, maybe something like an appendage to an album. It had me confused, as did the cover art. What was this thing? What was Susan Christie doing on it? Who the heck was Jane Weaver?

Her connection with Finders Keepers suggests either some kind of throwback to obscure early seventies folk singers or -- sharp intake of breath -- the Real Thing. It seems, to the extent that one can trust the Wiki, that she has been a working musician since the 1990s, a decade I continue to fail to understand, at least in musical terms. But I don't think she sounds very nineties.

One thing is for certain: she has a voice to be reckoned with; a voice that hasn't, so far as I can tell, sounded better, or maybe that should be "been used to better effect", than it is here.

The Julian House connection is apt. As you know, he did the (overused-adjective alert) "iconic" cover art for Broadcast's records, and this song sounds like nothing if not a lost Broadcast song. (Well, you could say it sounds like Trish Keenan singing a song written and played by Marissa Nadler and her peeps.) In fact, maybe it sounds a little like a plausible sequel to "Tears In The Typing Pool".

If you can connect with the last few sentences, you may even find that it makes you cry a bit, even if only on the inside.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Song of the day

"Things You'll Keep", by The Apartments.

That list of 50 songs I put up a few months ago? It was a fraud. Because it should have included this song but, inexplicably, didn't. I blogged it briefly once before, but that was eight years ago. Nevertheless how it could have been omitted is a mystery. Stay tuned (or not) for the revised list.

"Things You'll Keep" plunges you so deep into the well of melancholy that it makes "Quasimodo's Dream" sound like "Everything Is Awesome".

I imagine the only thing that could beat listening to "Things You'll Keep" would be seeing The Apartments play it live. In Paris. See below for the (grainy) evidence.

Peter Milton Walsh has been playing the longest of long games with The Apartments. Their history stretches from the 1970s to the present day, and yet they only have a handful of albums and singles to show for it. But never mind the width, feel the quality. The good news is that "The Evening Visits" is getting the rerelease treatment, with a few singles and demos tacked on the end. The better news is that there is a new album out, "No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal". The best news is that I will be buying both of them tomorrow. Happy days.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Song of the day

"We Used To Dance", by James Murphy.

When you go to see "While We're Young", the new film by Noah Baumbach -- and you really should go to see it; it is very good -- the one thing it would be good to know beforehand (or, at least, it would have been good for me to have known beforehand) is that -- and I doubt that it's any great Spoiler Alert for me to mention this -- Dean Wareham plays a shaman.

For a very small proportion of people who were a particular age at a particular time, the three albums by Galaxie 500 are to this day worn like a badge of honour, or an entry card into a secret club. (Dean Wareham was one of the three members of Galaxie 500. He sang and played guitar. The three members of Galaxie 500 were of equal importance to the band, but it seems fair to say that Galaxie 500 would not have sounded the way it did if Dean Wareham hadn't been one of the three.)

For a (perhaps slightly larger) proportion of people who were a particular age at a more recent particular time, the three albums by LCD Soundsystem may have a similarly prominent place in their lives, both now and in years to come. (James Murphy was the singer and principal songwriter for LCD Soundsystem. He made the incredibly brave decision to call it quits before things had the chance to become less interesting.)

For perhaps a microscopically small number of us, these two sets of three albums form a kind of pair of bookends to our music listening over the past 30 or so years. So it's a curious footnote to "While We're Young", although it has no real bearing whatsoever on one's enjoyment of it, that Dean Wareham and James Murphy found themselves working together (in a sense) on the film, for which James Murphy (who has worked with Baumbach before -- as has Wareham, for that matter) wrote a couple of pieces of music for the score.

There is a kind of "Where's Wally" (or is it Whack-a-Mole?) aspect to James Murphy's career post-LCD. He lies low for a while, he does something, the internet goes (relatively) feral over that thing, he goes quiet again, etc. He does a coffee thing. Yadda yadda. He remixes a tennis match. Yadda yadda. He works on a sound system. Yadda yadda.  He does a Bowie remix. (Maybe one of the best things he has done, erm, "IMHO".) And so on.

Murphy wrote for the score of Baumbach's "Greenberg" a few years back, so it is possible these two pieces might even have been written while LCD was still a going concern. Nevertheless, they are further grist to the mill. We assume that Murphy, Salinger-like (or so we also assumed), is beavering away in some secluded somewhere on the next great thing. Because we are like that. And so we grab hold of these snippets. For that, really, is what they are. "We Used To Dance" is the one I have picked, but only because it's the longer of the two. The other one (see below) really is just a snippet. (Albeit a rather fascinating snippet.)

Bonus beats:

Monday, April 06, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: May 2014

This thing is a whole lot easier when there are a couple of 15-minute epics included. Not this month. Nineteen songs. Nineteen. Count 'em.

"Death Wish (Main Title)", by Herbie Hancock. "Dino De Laurentiis presents Charles Bronson In a Michael Winner Film 'Death Wish' Music Composed, Conducted and Performed by Herbie Hancock". What are you waiting for?

"Can't Hardly Stand It", by Charlie Feathers. The Cramps did a cover of this song. But whereas Lux and Ivy were essentially a cartoon version of a gothic horror couple, who probably were just as happy sitting down for a cup of tea with the neighbours as hunting for thrift-shop gewgaws to add to their collection, there is something truly frightening about the way Charlie Feathers delivers his lines here. If I was the subject of this song, I would be keeping my doors and windows locked at all times.

"D'Ya Like Scratchin' (With The Red River Valley Girls)", by Malcolm McLaren Featuring World's Famous Supreme Team Show. This is the version on the b-side of the "Soweto" 12-inch. It rambles around, without ever sticking in one spot for any length of time (a bit like Malcolm himself?), but over its five and a half minutes it covers everything that made Trevor Horn and Anne Dudley shoulda-been household names.

"Sometimes I Wish", by Pink and Black. Synth pop! From 1985! Biographical details for Pink and Black are largely non-existent. It seems that Pink and Black released only this one record, in England and Spain, on small labels. How do people find this stuff? How you respond to the thundering drum-machine intro will determine whether or not you can be my friend.

"Casse-Tête Jungle", by Les Espions. The French have a reputation for not really "getting" pop music. Either that reputation is misguided or this song, which really does pick up the essential elements of the more melodic, keyboard-and-sax-oriented arm of post-punk, is one out of the box. (It, like the previous song, appears to be the only record this group ever made; one extra level of obscurity here, though: this song appeared as the b-side. Not so obscure that it isn't on YouTube, though.)

"Le Centre du Monde", by Ici Paris. As above, only this time it's French! Punk! Rock! And it sounds like they mean it, maaan. They sound a bit like a more feminine Buzzcocks. (What would such a band be called? I shudder to think.) Whatever you think of the song, you can't fault the intro, which comes barrelling straight out of the garage and Into! Your! Face!

"Oh Oui J'Aime", by X-Ray Pop. This, the third in our French punk/post-punk trilogy, claims to be from 1987 but sounds older. Loosely synth-pop, although it is the guitars that give the song its kinetic energy.

"Happy", by Pharrell Williams. Sometimes the good guys do actually win.

"Do It Again (Radio Edit)", by Röyksopp and Robyn. If this really is the end of Röyksopp, it is a perfect way to sign off. Play loud.

"Hey Joe", by Charlotte Gainsbourg. There are probably eleventy thousand versions of "Hey Joe" out there in the universe. But this is the only one in which, if you listen closely, you can hear Beck on backing vocals. In its creepily malevolent tone, it isn't too far removed from the version by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds from all those years ago, while musically it sounds like a lost "Morning Phase" outtake with guest vocals.

"… Even Though You're With Another Girl", by Trentemoller. You might have placed Trentemoller in a box marked Minimal Techno. You now have to take him out of that box and put him in a box marked Trentemoller. This is classic dream pop but with a dark edge. That it has taken me five years to discover it is shameful. Don't make the same mistake. (If you can figure out what is going on in the video you are a better man than I.)

"Twelve Miles High", by Burger/Ink. AKA Jörg Burger and Wolfgang Voigt, both mainstays of the Kompakt label. Originally released in 1996, when it really must have sounded like a transmission from the future. Re-released by Kompakt (which itself, at least as a record label, didn't exist in 1996) in 2010, it still sounds like the future.

"Promises (Nils Frahm Version)", by The Presets. Well, isn't this a lovely thing? It's like Steve Reich pulses carried aloft on an electronic cloud-bed. Or something. The Presets are from Sydney: who knew?

"Midnight Train", by Tommy James. One year after "Crimson and Clover", Tommy James went solo and came up with songs like this: a little less overtly hippy trippy, perhaps, but no less psychedelic.

"The Way Love Used To Be", by Pain Teens. Pain Teens were a bunch of experimental Texan mischief makers. It is probably no surprise they found themselves on King Coffey's record label. Here, they take on a Kinks klassik and, unexpectedly, win.

"Sulle, Leyna", by Jaak Joala. Details are scarce, but if you imagine an Estonian version of Pilot you won't be too far off the mark. If anybody had brought a copy of this record to Australia, Molly would have played it on "Countdown" for sure.  Punters, I urge you to watch this clip. It is very special.

(Bonus: album cover of the month; at least, I am led to believe this is the same record, although the song title differs. Anyone?)

"I've Got Your Number (Demo)", by Ned Doheny. Ned Doheny was a musician working in California in the seventies. That's about all I can tell you, and all you probably need to know. This song is from a compilation album released by the ever dependable Numero Group. It's nice. A download link would still appear to be available here.

"Calling Me Home (Demo)", by Donald Thomas. This, too, is from a Numero Group compilation. It's a little bit WTF and a whole lot of perfect.

"Blue Shadow", by Alan Parker. We take you out tonight with a moody instrumental piece by Alan Parker. The album on which it appears contains one side written by Parker and the other side written by Alan Hawkshaw, another one of the bastions of the British library music "scene". Enjoy.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

A few words about "Primrose Green", an album by Ryley Walker

Or, "The Anxiety of Influence".

So the new Ryley Walker album, "Primrose Green", now walks amongst us. It seems to have copped something of a dissin' on the Pitchfork. They may have a point: it does sound, at various times, like a young man trying desperately to be Tim Buckley, or John Martyn, or Van Morrison (the cover could easily be from an imagined early-seventies Van album), or Nick Drake, or Bert Jansch, or the recently departed John Renbourn.

But if any of the above were to make a record in 2015, I doubt that it would sound anything like this one. (Possible exception: Bert Jansch, whose "Black Swan" consciously attempted to place itself amongst the elder statesmen of his own back catalogue, as if to suggest that those who wore him as a badge (some of whom played on the album) still had the real thing to compete with.) Think of the steep and sudden descent, quality-wise, of the last couple of Tim Buckley albums. Or how the ravages of time ate into John Martyn. Van Morrison, well, him we will probably never figure out. Walker's songs are not parodies. They are not pastiches. They are possibly best described as "in the style of". But even that isn't quite right. I think what he is doing is trying on different sets of clothes to see how they fit. Walker is self-evidently a prodigious talent, as singer, guitarist, songwriter, arranger. It is what he chooses to do with that talent that will determine who he becomes as an artist.

Is that really such a bad thing? It seems to be acceptable for young novelists to wear their influences on their sleeves. Or aspiring visual artists. I always understood that if you wanted to do something well, you could do worse than observe, and by extension try to figure out, how the masters did it. And those names above are not such a bad set of influences.

In this media-driven, warp-speed century, it may well be that the only place to grow up as an artist is in public. James Blake has been doing just that. We still don't know who he is as an artist, but it's been a fascinating journey so far. (Blake is not a classicist like Walker, but that makes no difference. They are both grasping for their sound.) James Blackshaw likewise. In fact, Blackshaw may be slightly different: he started out as "the new John Fahey", teased that out, at length, about as far as it could go, brought in some different instrumentation, did some soundtrack work, and has re-emerged in 2015 with "Summoning Suns", an album that is frequently unrecognisable as James Blackshaw, but which may turn out to be one of the albums of the year.

So consider this as a snapshot from an evolving life story. But also enjoy it for what it is: a damn fine album by a damn fine musician.

"On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee", which kicks off side two of the vinyl, seems to leapfrog over the above names to a more traditional time, where songs weren't owned by the people who first sang them so much as they were released into the wild to take on a life, or lives, of their own. Curiously, we might even say paradoxically (we might also say I am an idiot), it may be the closest we have yet got to Walker's true voice. I can't find the album version on the net, but here are a couple of live YouTubes, which themselves suggest an evolution taking place:

The other thing you should do is check out these two excellent live recordings of Walker, from January and March of this year. We should be excited about where he goes from here. But we should also be patient.