Saturday, May 30, 2015

New Yorker advert of the day

Pugs weren't born yesterday, you know. Here is an ad from the New Yorker from June 1965. And look -- they haven't changed a bit!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Song of the day

"Shaker", by Yo La Tengo.

It seems wrong, if not against my religion, to pay for music more than once. Not that I have never done it. (And I've never felt unclean afterwards.) The two Brian Eno box sets, "Instrumental" and "Vocal", contained many songs I already owned on vinyl. I shelled out for the CD editions of "Marquee Moon", "Adventure", "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts", "Fear Of Music" and "Remain In Light" because, well, I had to. Heck, I have even bought "Loveless" on CD twice (the first time cost me one dollar, and the second, the two-disc remaster, only cost me ten).

But "Extra Painful", by Yo La Tengo, is sorely tempting me. A remaster of the original album (a lot of early nineties records could benefit from one of those). A second disc of bonus material. A download code for, like, twice as much bonus material again. You kind of just know, with Yo La Tengo, that any drop-off in quality is going to be barely perceptible to the human ear.

"Painful" was not my first exposure to Yo La Tengo. I bought "New Wave Hot Dogs" when it came out, possibly only because of the name, but in any event I have never had cause to regret it. But "Painful", when (not coincidentally) Ira and Georgia first joined permanent forces with James McNew, was the point where the sum became more than the many (already impressive) parts. "Painful" is close to a perfect album, although it turns out to have been only the first of many.

Plus, "Extra Painful" contains "Shaker", a song that didn't appear on the album and would have done no damage to the album's overall quality if it had. That's how strong they were then. (It's also how strong they are now, for what it's worth.) Any similarity to "I Wanna Be Your Dog" only makes it that much better.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

This goes with this: power-pop edition

Big Star look like this:

The Sunnyboys look like this:

Big Star sound like this:

The Sunnyboys sound like this:

Just sayin'.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: July 2014

Autumn is winding its inevitable way towards winter. The sun is shining, the seemingly interminable strong winds have abated. Let's listen to some tunes.

"Pharaohs", by Tears for Fears. Where better to start than the High Eighties? Soft-focus drum machine, extremely elegant piano, tasteful (naturally!) synth washes, and some very David Sylvian-esque electric guitar shadings, bound together by what sounds like (update: is!) the BBC Shipping Forecast. As The Go-Betweens almost sang but didn't quite, tasteful's not a bad word.

"Coup", by 23 Skidoo. If you thought you had heard this song before, even though you don't know 23 Skidoo from Adam, it may be that you are a fan of The Chemical Brothers.

"Every Morning", by J Mascis. So this is what a Dinosaur Jr song would sound like if you scraped away all of the sludge. You'll believe a man can fly. (I have no idea where that came from.) (Consumer advisory: you can listen to the song below, or you can go here to watch a fine video of the song, starring the one and only Fred Armisen.)

"Here Comes That Sound Again", by Love De-Luxe. Alan Hawkshaw was one of the leading lights of the British "library" music scene, making speculative film and television themes for anyone who might want one. Hence, particularly if you are British, you almost certainly have heard his work, even though you probably don't know it. What I didn't know until now was that he stuck his finger in the disco pie at the end of the seventies and pulled out this remarkable plum: seventeen minutes of spot-on disco propulsion. It starts big, goes HUGE in the chorus, drops back for, what, ten minutes?, and, just when your energy starts to flag and your eyes start to wander out the window, here comes that chorus again. BOOM. 

(Bonus: album cover of the month oh yeah.)

"Rain Code (Fennesz Remix)", by Jensen Sportag. Apologies to the original artist, but for me this is all about the remixer. Fennesz here is playing with our emotions (and with electricity) in a similar manner to last year's stunning "Becs" album.

 "Mental Kombat (Ric & Mso's Sneaky Chic Soup Remix)", by Sneaky Tim. As with the previous track, we are here because of the involvement (as one of two remixers, so we better apologise to M/S/O as well) of Ricardo Villalobos, who has been slightly quiet, at least by his standards, of late. Either you intuit Villalobos or you be bored stoopid. He tweaks the beats, ever so subtly, over inordinate lengths of time. If you said life was too short I wouldn't, in all honesty, have much to come back at you with (well, except "You Are Wrong").

"James Brown", by Nancy Dupree. A school teacher and a bunch of enthusiastic kids tell the story of James Brown – in the style of James Brown! Complete with "Good God!"s.) You need to hear this.

"Mighty Cloud of Joy", by Mighty Clouds of Joy.  We like a big, thumpin' soul tune around here, oh yes we do. Here's one right now. Carl's verdict: that's a great voice.

"Play That Funky Music", by Dan Boadi and the African Internationals. Yes, I know you really want to tack the words "white boy" onto the end of the song title, but don't. Just don't. This track is from 1977. It runs along a parallel path to disco, but you can't really call it disco, it's just classic African grooves, really. (From Ghana, I believe, but details are scarce.) The Hammond solo is something we can all appreciate. The recorder solo? Not so much, maybe.

"What Happened Before They Took The People Away?", by Top Drawer. Is this Southern boogie? Is Kentucky even in the South? Hey, I'm not a geography nerd. As music transitioned from psychedelic pop music circa 1967 in the direction of the hard rock sounds of the early seventies, there was no shortage of bands helping that transition along. Top Drawer was one such band, and one of many such bands largely lost to history until the crate diggers of Century 21 noticed some loose threads and pulled on them to see what would unravel. (Blessed be the crate diggers.) Songs like this are too good to be forever ignored, is what I'm saying.

"Il N’y A Rien Au Monde Que Je Ne Ferais Pas Pour Cette Fille", by Les Sultans. Speaking of psychedelic pop music circa 1967, here we have some psychedelic pop music circa 1966. The French have a reputation for not always "getting" popular music, but between cavern dwellers like this and those ye-ye girls, I think we can say that the mid-sixties were not like that. It's a wonder Wes Anderson hasn't used this song in a movie. Yet. (Literal translation? "There is nothing in the world at what I do wouldst not for this girl." Adrienne, this song is for you.)

"One Way Track", by Bernhoft. If I said this sounded like Renee Geyer singing "Love Will Keep Us Together" as re-rendered by Pharrell Williams, would you hold it against me? Listen to it once or twice, you might hate it. Listen to it a third time, and you will be irretrievably hooked. It's not too late to turn back.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

YouTube of the day

Well I'm not sure how long this will be allowed to remain online, so we had better do this while we can. It's the final scene from "20000 Days on Earth", the Nick Cave mockumentary (docudrama?), which I wrote about a few months ago. It contains footage of the Bad Seeds at the Sydney Opera House performing "Jubilee Street", the song which, I think, is the pinnacle of late-period Cave. (Of course, I have been wrong before.)

What makes it so powerful, though, is the way the filmmakers intersperse the concert footage of that show with the fleetingest fragments of Cave shows over the years, from the Birthday Party onwards. It's a bit like watching Nick Cave's life flash before one's eyes, and it is especially moving for those of us who have been with him across that unfeasibly long span.

Here, "Jubilee Street" builds, and builds, like a prowling, monstrous thing, complete with strings, a children's choir, a full complement of Bad Seeds (take note, the less hirsute (by a wide margin) of the two guitarists, the one on the left, is none other than Mr Edmund Kuepper; take note, also, Barry Adamson is tinkling the ivories up the back), and Cave, like an emperor, ruler of the stage, and (you realise) the only one moving, except for Warren Ellis, who is every bit the coiled rock guitarist.

To observe the full experience of the song as performed, you may choose to watch the clip below. (You can also buy it as a song, with way better audio, as the B-side of "Give Us A Kiss", a song that otherwise only exists as part of the film.)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Song of the day

"You Sexy Thing", by Hot Chocolate.

First Gough. Then Malcolm. Now Errol. It's like the seventies are dissolving before our very eyes.

Rest in peace, you sexy thing.

Bonus beats:

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Song of the day

"Wordy Rappinghood", by Tom Tom Club.

Ever since pieces by Mary Norris started appearing on the New Yorker web site, I have had the sense of having discovered a kindred spirit. There is much for me to thank her for. She pointed me in the direction of Palomino Blackwing pencils. (They changed my life.) She has frequently validated my choice of career at moments when I have had doubts as to the worth of dedicating oneself to, shall we say, finessing others' use of the English language. She has been, for many years, a part of the invisible team of people (or are they elves?) responsible for nailing down, hectic week after hectic week, the finely wrought prose of the New Yorker magazine itself, one of the few repositories of the written word where I can completely relax in the knowledge that what I am about to read is going to be (a) right, (b) spelled correctly and (c) put together in properly structured sentences. (Although last week, while reading, as you do, a long piece about an 82-year-old nun who broke into a high-security US nuclear-weapons facility, I fell upon a typo (of the missing "little word" variety). Curiously, I immediately felt a sharp pang of empathetic sadness for Mary Norris.)

And now she has written a book, "Between You & Me", which the very kind young people with whom I work gave me as a birthday present yesterday. (Thanks, guys.) Usually, when I am given a book, it takes a while before I feel ready to start in on reading it; or I am halfway through some door-stopper or other which ends up taking a year out of my life. But this time, the planets have aligned, the door-stopper has been put back on the shelf, and I am into it.

Early in the first chapter, I read the following sentence: "I had a traumatic experience with the word ["weird"] in fourth grade."

I am going to like this book.

I, too, had a traumatic experience with a word when I was in primary school. I can't remember which grade, but I remember which classroom I was in, so I think it must have been grade five. (I don't think I got to the end of the spelling book during my previous go-round in that same classroom, in grade two, although I probably could have; I was rubbish at pretty much everything, but I could spell the legs off a table.) At the bottom of the last page of the Victorian Education Department spelling book, on which page lurked, coiled and ready to trap the innocent, the most difficult words Victorian primary school children could possibly imagine, sat one final word, "it's". Just "it's".

The idea was that you would hear a word, write it down, and check the book to see if you had spelled it correctly. How hard could "it's" be?

I knew that the answer to (the phonetically pronounced) "its" was meant to be "it's" because I had already visited the last page of the spelling book; I had no fear of "difficult" words. But (unusually for me at that age, when I was scared to say boo to my own shadow) the word "Why?" formed in my head, and it would not be denied. "How do I know?", I wanted to know. "How do I know if it's an "it's" or an "its"?" My teacher was unable to answer this. For the first time in my life, I had an awareness that the adult world was fallible. The answer I ended up getting was along the lines of "We know that the answer is "it's" because that's what is printed in the book." But that wasn't an answer to the question if the question, as it could only be, was "How do you spell (the phonetically pronounced) "its"?"

Had I been confident and articulate enough to frame a response to this, it would have been along the lines of "But it can be spelled in one of two ways. I can't know if I am spelling it correctly unless I know the sentence in which it appears." But I was neither confident nor articulate, so instead of saying anything I just sat at my desk feeling sad.

I often find myself saying, not entirely seriously but not entirely not seriously, either, "I'm not like other people". Looking back, I would say that that was the moment I became aware of it.

As the song says: "What are words worth?"