Saturday, September 19, 2015

Song of the day

"Put Your Arms Round Me (Stereolab / The High Llamas Remix)", by Todd Rundgren, Emil Nikolaisen and Hans-Peter Lindstrom.

[Photo contest: match the dog with its owner. Answer: they are probably all Todd's. Photo via Stereogum.]

 Is it possible for the most confounding album of the year to also be the best album of the year?

We may be about to find out. "Runddans", a collaborative album by His Royal Toddness, the guitarist from Serena-Maneesh, and the King of Space Disco, is a fascinating and uncompromising listen. Like Nicolas Jaar's "Space Is Only Noise", or Flying Lotus's "You're Dead!", it is not so much a collection of songs as one contiguous suite arbitrarily broken, for convenience of searching, into individual tracks, but it should really only be heard as one uninterrupted slab. (If you've come to this from Todd, you know to expect the unexpected. If you've come here from Serena-Maneesh you will be gratified by the occasional outburst of shredding. If it's Lindstrom wot brought you here, be aware that this is more "Six Cups Of Rebel" than "I Feel Space". (Disclosure: I was a big fan of "Six Cups Of Rebel" from the minute I first heard it, and was surprised to discover that it was generally received as a steaming pile of ordure.))

If the album has a centrepiece, is would be "Put Your Arms Round Me", as close to Rundgren's pop mastery as the album gets. (It was also released as a single, probably a smart (but misleading for the unsuspecting) move; though it does important work in the the album's singular trajectory, it is also capable of having a life of its own, untethered from the rest of the album.)

I have been listening to the album, front to back, on my regular walk (it is the exact same length), at considerable volume, and have found a way, if not exactly to figure out what the hell is going on, to at least allow it all to wash over me in a somewhat leasing fashion. I wouldn't have thought it was a candidate for today's de rigueur fashion accessory, the remix ep. And yet here it is. Erol Alkan, no stranger to the remix game, and one half of retro-futurists Beyond The Wizards Sleeve, pulls off the significant feat of distilling an undistillable album down into ten easily digestible minutes while maintaining something of the peculiar flavour of the original. EYE, and this will be no surprise at all, piles noise upon noise.

And then there's this. The "Stereolab / The High Llamas Remix" of "Put Your Arms Round Me". What the? Stereolab, the band of the 1990s, have been on hiatus (at the very least) for some years now; Laetitia Sadier is building a solo career and Tim Gane has been operating as under-the-radar as it would be possible for the music nerd's music nerd to operate (a forthcoming release on Ghost Box will surely put paid to that). The High Llamas, well, they have been quiet for a few years too. So what kind of beast is this? My first guess, without hearing the remix, was that it was probably just Sean O'Hagan at the controls, he being a sort of uncredited member of Stereolab during their golden years. But listen. Within the first seven seconds you are plucked out of your seat and thrown back to "Dots And Loops"-era Stereolab so completely that it actually comes as a bit of a shock. In fact, it is extraordinary. Nothing is going to bring Mary Hansen back, which only makes the sudden immersion into the sound of her era of the band that much more of a jolt. My new best guess, then, is that it is O'Hagan and Gane together who are responsible for this. Who was the genius (okay; it's Todd Rundgren: you know the answer to that one) who put this on the table and made it happen? We can only be grateful. As the song says, "I have waited for this moment ...".

Wipe the tears from your eyes and smile.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: November 2014

Can I be honest with you? I'm getting a bit tired of these monthly mixtapes. Not the end results; they always seem to turn into something I would want to listen to. No, it's the endless trawl through a seemingly bottomless pit of songs that sometimes isn't my idea of a good time. (I see to be in a let's-listen-to-albums-from-start-to-end-like-nature-intended phase. I'm sure it will pass.)

And yet we press on. Because we must.

"Africa", by Sathima Bea Benjamin. Of course, we can ease into the task with a jazz number from the mid-seventies that is held together by some very nimble percussion playing and the kind of circular bass line heard on, say, The Birthday Party's "NickThe Stripper", or Min Bul's astounding "Champagne Of Course". You will be so mesmerised that you will have no idea that 20 minutes have just passed.

"Talking Central Park Blues", by Ultimate Painting. Given that there's really nowhere you can go after as powerful a song as "Africa", we might as well just move on to the next one on the list. Which happens to be two English (at least I think they are both from the UK; one is, anyway) dudes, both from other bands, riffing on the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On" (and, of course, on Dylan, with the title of the song). "What Goes On" is a part of my DNA, so of course I am going to go for this.

"Moonquake Lake", by Sia & Beck. This makes no sense to me. Evidently it is from a movie. What is Beck doing here? Being Beck, I guess.

"Inside-Outside", by Embassylights. Information about both band and song is thin on the ground, or I don't know where to look.  (They would appear to be from Calgary via Reykjavik.) Anyway, this is an easy song to like. If it's the vocals that are perhaps curbing your enthusiasm, stick around: there is a nice hint of Broadcast towards the end.

"Orange Romeda", by Boards of Canada. Boards of Canada are the kind of band where it is always worth picking up the crumbs. This particular crumb is only available on a Warp compilation entitled, and I think this is a fair statement about the label (as least through the eyes of the consumer) "We Are Reasonable People" (see what they did there?)

"Late Train (Emperor Machine Special Extended Version)", by Paqua. Some of the more recent output of Emperor Machine under their own name has left me a bit under-excited. This 12-minute remix shows they have still got it.

"Fried Neck Bones And Some Homefries", by Willie Bobo. As (presumably) sampled in some old hip hop track. This song is making me hungry.

"Swan Lake", by Blackalicious. Speaking of some old hip hop track ...

"A Harsh Truth (Parts I & II)", by Zurich. Zurich, as far as I can gather, was a one-off project featuring  Neil Halstead which took place in the couple of years between Slowdive's "Souvlaki" and the extraordinary final album, "Pygmalion". Halstead would go on to helm the Americana-by-way-of-Dunedin Mojave 3, but this sounds nothing like that.

"Reve", by Vangelis Papathanassiou. Even though this isn't taken from the "Blade Runner" soundtrack, if you close your eyes you can practically see those rain-soaked neon-lit streets, that once-majestic apartment building ... [sigh].

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Song of the day

"Lighthouse", by Colleen.

I will be very surprised if Colleen's "Captain of None" doesn't sit at the top of everybody's album of the year lists. Okay, not surprised. But disappointed. It is a wonderful album, brilliantly simple in construction, but emotionally complex. It somehow manages to convey both warmth and space, so that it would work equally well at a summer barbecue and around the fireplace on a cold winter's night. That's not as easy as you might think.

Essentially the album is a combination of viola da gamba and the human voice, embellished with a healthy dose of reverb and other effects. "Ah, Arthur Russell's 'World of Echo'", I hear you say. And of course that equally remarkable record provides an obvious touchstone. But listening through the album, you also hear other reference points: mid-seventies Jamaican dub (a melodica even appears on one track, confirming other, perhaps more ambiguous sightings); Forest Swords' inversions of the dub template; Virginia Astley's "From Gardens Where We Feel Secure"; and perhaps a little Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Not that "Captain of None" is merely a pale reflection of its lofty sources. It is a record that can, and does, stand on its own two feet.

It is on "Lighthouse" that the Virginia Astley and Forest Swords (and, I guess, Penguin Cafe) references are most directly felt. I think you will spot them.

"Lighthouse", in its recorded version, doesn't seem to reside on the internet. (I have put a copy of it here (right-click etc), to allow you to listen, and will leave it up for a couple of weeks, if nobody minds.)

I did, however, find a clip of Colleen in performance; she somehow manages to convey the vibe of the original; it is perhaps instructive to watch it happening in real time.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

YouTube of the day


No, wrong dolphins.

That's better. "Dolphins", by Fred Neil.

Based on the inane grin that keeps appearing on Fred Neil's face throughout this 1976 performance, I deduce one of three things. Either:

1. I have completely misunderstood what I have always taken to be a devastating song of loss.


2. Fred Neil has completely misunderstood his own song.


3. The drugs have taken hold.

(Embedding disabled. Go figure. Head over here to watch the video. Please.)

(I was hepped to this fine clip by Mr Ian Penman's twitter feed. Thanks, dude.)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Mix of the day

FACT Mix 152, by Max Richter.

Max Richter has just produced an eight-hour piece of music entitled "Sleep", designed to be listened to, presumably osmotically, during that process (and a one-hour distillation of same for those of us who prefer to listen). Not satisfied with that, he has also, and apparently for the first time, tried his hand at putting together a mix. He is, as it turns out, a dab hand at that, too.

How is it possible to combine the likes of, on the one hand, Boards of Canada and Cat Power (themselves not necessarily comfortable bedfellows) with, on the other, Old Skool composers like Bach, Purcell and Byrd (that's William, not Donald) and youngsters such as Berio and Golijov, and end up with a seamless listen?

There's only one way to find out.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Song of the day

"Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)", by Kool & The Gang.

It might just be me, but when I hear the start of this song I can't help but think I'm listening to one of Jemaine's "let's make lerv"-type songs from "Flight Of The Conchords".

As a friend once said, there are not enough "O"s in smooth.