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.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

RIP John Murphy

I didn't know John Murphy personally, but I know people who did. The words that have been written about him since his death are eloquent of a warm and generous man. (This notwithstanding an outward appearance that you might think would send small children running crying across the road to the other side if they saw him headed in their direction.) But I will have to leave personal eulogies to others.

His music, it's probably fair to say, ranged far and wide, and frequently in directions that many listeners would choose not to follow. But he was true to his own vision, and it can never be said that he did not at all times maintain his integrity as a musician.

One of the many records that Murphy appears on, and one which forms a large part of my own DNA, is the self-titled EP by Whirlywirld, which was one of the first seven-inch records I bought upon graduating from children's records. I don't know now what possessed me. (Maybe it was the jetsetting glamour portrayed on the front cover.) It has, though, stayed with me, like Old Faithful, protecting the back end of my shoebox of (alphabetical) seven-inches ever since, getting dusted off every so often for a rewarding spin. "Window To The World" is the A side.

Bonus beats: if you only know one thing about Whirlywirld it will probably be "Win/Lose", which was a staple of 3RRR in the Good Old Days.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Song of the day

"Icecream Meltin' Mellow", by Pizzicato Five.

Recently I have been on a major Pizzicato Five kick. Probably this is not unrelated to the fact that the fifteen-year-old has spent the last two weeks in Japan, sending back infrequent and cryptic messages along the lines of "I bought this thing, I don't know what it is, I don't know what it's made of, but it's REALLY COOL". (I suspect he has, right there, summed up Japan for the non-Japanese in one easy sentence.)

But anyway it is always nice to revisit Pizzicato Five. There are always hidden surprises. Like this song. Its title, "Icecream Meltin' Mellow", almost perfectly encapsulates the sense of bitter-sweet melancholy that lies within its grooves. That's a pretty neat trick, given that English is not their native language. Plus, the song has everything over its six-and-a-half minutes: reggae grooves; scratching; rapping; and a full-on disco string section. What could possibly go wrong?

Bonus beats: Marin Mixes 1 and 2.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Song of the day

"The Yabba", by Battles.

As good a song as "Atlas" was (and still is; remind yourself), I have to admit that my love for Battles -- and love it certainly is -- has been somewhat qualified. "Mirrored", it is perhaps unfair but (for me) honest to say, suffered from not being "Atlas" x 10. Then, with "Gloss Drop", they were finding their feet as a trio, and the guest vocalist thing didn't quite allow for a solid end-to-end listen. (Props for putting Gary Numan to good use, though.)

Now they return with "La Di Da Di", and, by Jove, this time I think they've done it. This album is rock solid. No one track particularly stands out, and it may be a little on the long side, but with playing this good, and ideas this inventive, it's not that hard for the listener to stay focused. And it all works.

Plus, John Stanier must be the most efficient yet effective hitter of things since John Bonham and John McEntire. (Hey, look, it's the Three Johns.)

I'm throwing you the opening number, not least because at one point it adopts a fairly convincing reggae gait. (And partly because of the existence of this clip, of a live-in-the-studio version, which gives you a good idea of what they are on about; and with this kind of somewhat (let's be honest) academic rock music it can help to be watching what's going on.)

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Song of the day

"Messin' With The Kid", by Ed Kuepper.

Like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson, Ed Kuepper spends a lot of time revisiting, and reworking, his back catalogue. (I don't even know how many versions of "Eternally Yours" I own. You might say "too many". You would be wrong.)

Unlike at least two of the others, though, he has never taken the edge off that back catalogue by insisting on putting out an album of new material every year or so. In fact, Ed hasn't put out an album of new material since "Jean Lee And The Yellow Dog", in 2007. (News flash: a new Ed song, "Never Too Late", has just appeared, on the soundtrack album to "Last Cab To Darwin", along with an album's worth of instrumental swatches.)

Not that we have been starved of material in the interim. The revived Prince Melon Records has been working hard on a significant but elusive "Bootleg Series" of mostly live recordings by Ed, The Aints, and The Laughing Clowns. Meanwhile, two albums of "new" Ed material have emerged on CD in the last few years. "Second Winter" is a kind of alternate take on his early solo albums, sparse of instrumentation and heavy of atmosphere. Then last year he put out "Return Of The Mail-Order Bridegroom", another solo recording of older Ed songs and with a few covers thrown in (he bravely takes on "No Regrets", and wins).

The highlight of this album, for me, is "the return of" a couple of Kuepper/Bailey songs, from the time when dinosaurs really did still walk the earth. "Brisbane (Security City)" is from the third Saints album, the one where Ed started driving in a different direction from Chris Bailey. (Not coincidentally it was also the final Saints album to have Ed on board.)

"Messin' With The Kid", though, is why we are here. It stood out on the first Saints album, "(I'm) Stranded", for being something other than a three-chord maelstrom. As with Lennon/McCartney (or Forster/McLellan -- actually not so much with the latter), the joint songwriting credit can make it a bit difficult to discern whose songs are whose, but in later years, especially since the gradual rapprochement between Keeper and Bailey, Ed has reclaimed the song as his own, which possibly answers that question.

(As further evidence, in the intervening years Ed recorded, for the "A King In The Kindness Room" album, a song called "Messin' (Pt II)", which is musically pretty close to "Messin' With The Kid", but with different lyrics. It is instructive to play them one after the other. They are both fine songs.)

The original "Messin'" was full of the pent-up frustrations of youth. The version on "Return Of The Mail-Order Bridegroom", which was recorded a mere 37 years later, and which I have uploaded for you here, for a short time, and as long as nobody minds, demonstrates that it is a song that can outlive youth. Ed here drapes it in adult clothes, with an air of melancholy, of nostalgia, perhaps, for a couple of frustrated kids on the streets of Brisbane in the mid-seventies.