Saturday, June 27, 2015

Twenty minute psych monster jam of the day

"Funeral Funk 49", by Heron Oblivion.

My eyes! My eyes!

(Featuring, on the drums, Meg Baird. If we can't have new Espers material, this will be just fine.)

(via Doom & Gloom from the Tomb)

Song of the day

"Sweater Day / Shelter", by Zwanie Jonson.

Sitting snugly at the end of Robag Wruhme's masterful Kompakt mix CD "Wuppdeckmischmampflow" (which is probably both the least pronounceable and most replayable mix I have ever heard; I especially love the way he works "Dexter", possibly Ricardo Villalobos' finest invention, into the proceedings at various strategically located places; and whenever "Angel Echoes" comes on, Adrienne says "Who is this?" -- always a good sign) (it also has a lovely cover photo)

is this gently bucolic pop song that could have been made in, let's say, 1971, but is in fact a cunning facsimile of same by a modern-day German musician who goes by the name of Zwanie Jonson. Information is scarce, or maybe I just don't know where to look, but it may well be that it hasn't been released anywhere else. I, for one, am very happy to have made its acquaintance. I hope you will be, too. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Do you remember rock 'n' roll radio?

The Internet, as you already know, has turned much of what would, in previous times, have been lost to history into a kind of permanent now. If you wanted to find newspaper articles about whatever, you used to have to spin through miles and miles of microfiche, trusting to luck that you would land on what you were looking for (if it even existed), until your head spun so fast you fell off your stool. (I have done this.) Now you can type a few words into Google and, hola!, your work is done.

I sometimes wonder if this is a good thing.

However ...

It does have its advantages. Radio, for example. Radio has always been, even more than newspapers, an inherently ephemeral medium. Voices from the past, now gone. Mac Cocker and George Wayne on 2JJ. The Sunday evening reggae show on same. Helen Thomas in the mornings on 3RRR. Steve Cross, regularly surprising you on a Friday afternoon. John Peel, obviously. (There are a few recordings of Peelie floating around the ether, like voices from beyond a well-tended grave.)

Imagine if you could click a button and go back in time to listen, again, or if you missed it the first time around, to someone in a studio talking into the air and playing a few records. I can't think of anything more exciting, but at the same time I also can't think of anything more frightening. Where would I start? Holy cow, I would probably have to live forever in order to get through all I would want to listen to.

And then what happens to now?

My head hurts.

Rather than freeze up pondering the imponderable, let me draw your attention to something out there that is worth your while, and, as long as you promise only to listen to each session once, won't leave you a wizened old pensioner by the time you are done.

Earlier this year, a Pitchfork review, by Philip Sherburne, of a record by Lena Willikens, whom I had never heard of, caught my eye, for reasons I cannot now recall. I finally got around to reading it, and was intrigued by his reference to a series of radio programmes she had done. There was a link. (There is always a link.) I followed it. And I am so glad I did. (Thank you, Philip. Oh, and thank you, Lena.)

This is radio as it used to be. A few songs you know. Many songs you wished you knew. It's better, in its own way, than putting your entire collection on shuffle, because your entire collection is you, and Willikens is not you. But you may well end up wishing you were her.

Complete playlists are available for each show, if you must, but I suggest her oeuvre is best absorbed by pressing play, going on with whatever you are doing, and letting it wash over you. Just like the radio. Remember the radio?

This link should get you to a Mixcloud page from which all shows are available.

To put you in the mood, here are a couple of songs that she has played; one I own on seven-inch but had (embarrassing admission) forgotten about; one I had never heard of.

The one I own: "The Man In The Dark Sedan", by Snakefinger. The single is resplendent in a Mark Beyer cover (like the Zornette (heh) record I wrote about a couple of posts ago).

Snakefinger has worked with The Residents. He has also covered Kraftwerk's "The Model".

Mullet warning:

The one I had never heard of: "Sunset Scenery", by The Dragons. Pink Floydish psychedelic noodling from 1967. The Dragons may be unknown to you, but if you are the wrong side of fifty you probably remember The Captain & Tennille. Believe it or not, The Captain, aka Daryl Dragon, is one of these Dragons. Strange but, evidently, true.

Set the controls for the heart of the sun:

Song of the day

"You Never Show Your Love", by Jessy Lanza.

Jessy Lanza has a new song out. Well, it's not out until next week, but the internet is the internet.

Her 2013 album, "Pull My Hair Back", was one of my favourites of the year and is still going strong. She was last seen (at least, on these pages) singing a couple of songs on the very fine "Our Love" album, by Caribou. She has also been working on some songs with Morgan Geist, so, y'know, I've got my ears pinned back for those, too.

The new song? It's good. Trust me. It's got -- what's that thing again? -- sick beats.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Of Human Feelings

RIP Ornette Coleman.

Back in the far distant past, before John Zorn established his own record label and proceeded down a superhuman path of releasing his own music however and whenever he likes (with the help of a Macarthur grant, thus presumably reducing somewhat his need to generate any kind of sales revenue and allowing him to keep his ideas and their execution the product of his work and his work only (and how often do you get to do that?)), he somehow managed to convince an actual major label to release records like "Spillane", "The Big Gundown" and "Naked City", records that, if nothing else, served to alert people like me to the existence of Zorn and his own peculiar take on this thing called music.

One of those Nonesuch releases, "Spy Vs Spy", comprised two drummers, a bass player, and two alto saxophonists blowing the almighty fuck out of the works of Ornette Coleman. My first exposure to this screaming beast of a record was at the Carlton shared household occupied by two distinguished gentlemen by the names of Dr Jim and Moose. Jim, saying little more than "Listen to this", sat me down in front of his stereo system and pressed play. Any cobwebs in my brain were instantly and violently exfoliated, my nervous system collapsed, and, after two or three songs, I was a sobbing ball of damaged humanity, curled up in a puddle on the floor. Actually, when I recovered from the initial shock my jaw dropped to the floor, my eyes bugged out, an inane grin appeared on my face, and all I could say was "Fuck". (I did a similar thing to our resident 15-year-old alto player this morning; his response was largely the same, but without the expletives. He then left the room.)

(Note also the Mark Beyer cover art. You can't say John Zorn never had his finger on the pulse.)

Needless to say, the first thing I did upon leaving Chez Jim & Moose was buy myself a copy. The element of surprise has never again been quite the same, of course, but I find that getting it out every couple of years or so, when there is nobody else in the vicinity, and playing a few songs at excessive volume is both cathartic and therapeutic.

This is the first thing you hear when you press play:

What Ornette himself made of it all is not something I have ever been able to discover.

"Spy Vs Spy" wasn't my first exposure to Ornette Coleman. I had, coincidentally, recently picked up, on CD, a couple of his "harmolodics" recordings (from which a lot of the pieces on "Spy Vs Spy" were drawn). They were, and continue to be, fascinating documents of a musical idea that is as impossible to fathom as the most ornery post-modern literature, but, like the novels of William Burroughs, if you listen to enough of it in one sitting it starts to make its own kind of sense, especially if you can get your brain into a state where you don't try too hard. These are recordings that manage to be at the same time stunningly lyrical and an abstruse tangle. One thing is for sure: if you resist the (not unreasonable) temptation to throw them away after one listen, they certainly provide long-term value for money. You will keep coming back to them.

(The other Ornette album I have, this one on vinyl, is "Of Human Feelings", which I bought on the recommendation of one David Brown (hi, Dave). (I was lucky enough to find one second-hand; it wasn't readily available then or, I suspect, now (although the Japanese have reissued it a couple of times on CD).) I haven't listened to it for ages, as my turntable has not for some time been in action (note to self: must try harder). My recollection is that it is positioned at the vector of free jazz and disco, but that could be the most ridiculous thing I have ever written. Jazz writing really should be left to the experts.)

Anyway, all of this may be more about me and John Zorn than about Ornette Coleman, but he was an important figure in modern music, if not exactly a household name, and his passing shouldn't go unacknowledged.

Next up: James Last. (Only kidding. But do you have any idea how many records that dude sold? Like, Ornette Coleman by a factor of several zeros.)

Monday, June 08, 2015

Hypothetical mixtape: August 2014

I have to say, I quite like this month's selection. It almost works as a playlist; at least, it does until it goes completely off the rails at the end.

"Herbin'", by Tony Hatch & The Satin Brass.

"Indian Reservation", by Hugo Strasser Und Sein Tanzorchester. What better way to start than with a couple of choice selections of early seventies tracks from the kind of el cheapo selections piling up on the vinyl junkheap as could, once upon a time, be procured in quantity at Grumpy Warren's Record Paradise, in St. Kilda, just up the road from the Galleon.

Bonus: album cover of the month. The suggestion that this feisty German combo could take on both "Paranoid" and "Black Night" is very intriguing. We'll come back to that. Perhaps.

 "En Alabama", by Léonie. You just know that there is going to be a Serge Gainsbourg connection to this beguiling little song. And there it is, in the credits: "Co-written by J. Cl. Vannier." Maybe Léonie is Melody's little sister.

"Gonna Make You My Angel", by Ted. We must be in the Christian-name-only part of the playlist. First we had Léonie. Now it's Ted. Nothing fancy there, just "Ted". The song might remind you (and this may not be an enticing prospect, if you were a boy at a country primary school circa 1974, where all of the girls had been swept up in Rollermania) of the Bay City Rollers. But the significance of this song is twofold: first, it sounds like Eurovision, which is the way a song should sound at this time of year (and didn't Guy do well; I take back every mean thought I have ever had about him); and secondly, it is co-produced by a certain Benny and Bjorn, whom some of us may have had an aversion to for many years, but which we have long since overcome, to everybody's benefit. Sometimes things are popular because they are good. (Sometimes. This song was also recorded, under a different translation, by Mark Holden, with whom I doubt I will be making my peace any time soon. Look away.)

"I See Red", by Frida. And who follows Ted? It can only be Frida. You may know her as the red-headed one from ABBA. You can hear traces of the old ABBA magic here. Produced by Phil Collins. Hence the drum sound.

"Birds of Paradise (Dub Version)", by Peaking Lights. Imagine, if you will, a dub version of Kraftwerk's "The Model", put together by people who have absorbed the lessons of Public Image Ltd, The Slits and The Raincoats. I am entirely comfortable with that.

"Nag Nag Nag", by Cabaret Voltaire. This song, I now discover, was co-produced by Mayo Thompson, of Red Krayola, and Rough Trade's Geoff Travis. The funny thing about that is, it sounds as if it wasn't produced at all. Maybe that's a compliment. I don't know..

"The Soviets Are Coming", by Soul Syndicate. This is not the only time "Take 5" has been done in a reggae stylee. (Sorry. It types itself.) The first 20 seconds are outstanding in the way the song manages to wrong-foot the unwary listener not once but twice. It may not contain the sonic mindfreakery of my favourite reggae, but you can't deny its (or "it's") class. Don't miss the kinda-jazz electric-piano solo.

"Express Yourself", by Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. As heard in, oh, some old hiphop song. The version I am listening to is an outtake, released on a Rhino compilation in 2008, but, y'know, whatever. File with Archie Bell and The Drells' "Tighten Up".

"County Line", by Cass McCombs. I haven't heard all that many Cass McCombs songs, but I also haven't heard one that I didn't like. Maybe there's a lesson in that. You know I'm a sucker for the electric piano. And if the "woah woah woah woah woah" makes you think of "My Love", by Wings, well, where's the harm?

"Jesus Fever", by Kurt Vile. About the only things I know about Kurt Vile are (a) he used to be in The War On Drugs, whom I have latterly fallen for in a rather spectacular fashion, and (b) he has written and recorded quite a lot of songs. They can't all sound as timeless as this. Can they?

"Paper Dolls", by Real Estate. In which my favourite band (as of today, anyway), erm, "rock out". You know, like R.E.M. used to occasionally "rock out"? And it always kind of worked for them because you knew that (a) they really meant it but (b) they knew it wasn't really a style that suited them, which kind of freed them up to just, y'know, have a go. This is like that. And it is also further proof, if further proof were needed, that Real Estate's B-sides are better than most people's A-sides.

"Mahogany Dread", by Hiss Golden Messenger. I wonder what is buried deep within my psyche that causes little tears to emerge from the corners of my eyes whenever I listen to this song. Whatever it is, it's the same damn thing that gets me whenever I listen to that War On Drugs song I wrote about the other month. Do you feel it too? Do I, against my better judgment, really, deeply, miss the eighties?

"It's Good To Touch You In The Sunlight", by Castanets. Imagine, if you will, late-period Bob Dylan fronting Tindersticks. You can't? Well, I think you can. Listening to this might help you.

"Tunan", by Mammane Sani. Hammond sounds (well, "electronic organ") from Africa. It's like the old SBS promo said: "The world is an amazing place."

"I Tcho Tchass", by Akofa Akoussah. Remember when you fell in love with Cesaria Evora all those years ago? Well here's another lost voice in the wilderness for you. I can't even begin to pigeon-hole this stunning song. So I won't try. This blog post does an excellent job. Thanks, pal.

Really, this playlist should end here. There is nowhere to go after a performance as extraordinary as that. 

Especially not here …

"Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)", by Hazell Dean. Twelve big inches of Stock Aitken and Waterman. (I doubt they were ever better than this.) ("Better", of course, is a relative term.) (Also: in what universe did New Order not get a songwriting credit for this?)

"Sick Beat", by Kero Kero Bonito. And then there's this.