Saturday, March 26, 2016

Hypothetical mixtape: May 2015

We iz on a roll.

"Fade Into You", by J Mascis. I'll now say a thing I never imagined saying: J Mascis appears to be growing old gracefully. Here, he tackles the Mazzy Star standard, and just for now you can't imagine it being done any other way.

"Diamond Dogs", by Beck. I can't quite make up my mind about this version. Still. Bowie, y'know?

"TV Set", by Spoon. Being the third in our little trilogy of cover versions, this time Britt Daniel does a mighty fine Lux Interior impersonation. In fact, I would have a hard trouble identifying this as Spoon in a blind tasting test.

"What She's Done To Your Mind", by The Rain Parade. The first, self-released (or so it is said), single by Dave Roback's earlier band (see "Fade Into You", above). It still sounds as fresh as a daisy. Oh boy the world was ready for jangly guitars in 1982. (See also, in another part of the same continent, REM, and, on the other side of the world, The Smiths.)

"I Know You Rider", by White Eyes. And this is the type of music that those latter-day exponents of the jangle might have been listening to: except that this, though it was recorded in 1969, wasn't actually released until 2015. No, I can't believe it either. (Curiously, delayed release (not quite that delayed, though) also happened with The Byrds' version of this same song, which didn't appear until 1987.) Download (at time of writing, anyway) still available here.

"Super Cool Funky Lady", by Laid Back. Not doing a whole lot that's positive for the cause of feminism, admittedly, but you can't deny the groove.

"I Can't Kick This Feelin' When It Hits", by Moodymann. There is a song in here. It has been submerged by unseen forces. Every so often it channels all its strength and pushes its way to the surface, only to be knocked under again. On and on it goes. Will the song drown? Will it survive? Will it survive but be traumatised for life, spending large chunks of its disposable income thereafter on therapy sessions? It's a worry.

"Black Dot (The Horrors' Tom Furse Remix)", by Seeland. Seeland sits somewhere on the periphery of the Ghost Box alternate universe. One of its members used to be in Broadcast. Some of its record covers have been designed by Julian House, aka The Focus Group. You know how it is. 

"Aruarian Dance", by Nujabes. I probably wouldn't have given this piece of gossamer a second listen had I not fallen head over heels, some years ago, for a mashup of (what I now know to be) it with Amerie's "1 Thing". They were made for each other. (YouTube comment of the month: "Is this shit the wii console music?")

"Humpty Dumpty", by Placebo. Can you add what sounds like a wah-wah effect to a Fender Rhodes? The heck you can. You can also add a horn section for good measure. Go right ahead. Nobody's going to get hurt.

"Elevator Operator", by Courtney Barnett. If this was 25 years ago, I would be all over Courtney Barnett like some kind of unpleasant skin condition. So I'm happy for her success, because "kids these days" deserve the chance to be influenced by the kind of small-scale but big-hearted music that was such an influence on me all those years ago. (Sigh.) But I do worry about what her unexpected worldwide success means for what she does. (We all saw what happened when Peter Jackson tried to turn "The Hobbit" into something it was never meant to be.) Still, for now we can be thankful for small mercies like "Elevator Operator", a song about the elevators in the Nicholas Building. In the mid-1980s Russell, Roger and I rented some office space on (if memory serves) the fifth floor, and kitted it out as a studio/rehearsal space (but we were only allowed to use it on weekends). I fell by the wayside fairly early on, but the others went on to make some really pretty good music there. (My main memory, and perhaps a cause of my demise, was of standing around for hours on end as the other two tinkered with equipment.) The building, back then, was tenanted by small businesses in the nature of jewellery repairers, coin and stamp merchants, and, you wouldn't have been surprised to find, private investigators wearing trilby hats and chain smoking. The elevators were truly frightening: metal cages that rattled and clanked their interminable way between floors. You felt compelled to thank your lucky stars when you reached your destination in one piece. (There was also the equally frightening Pipe Records, and its clientele, in the corner of the arcade. We were still, at heart, innocent boys from the country.) Unlike the protagonist in this song, I don't think we ever went up to the roof.

"Mainline", by Black Ivory. The kind of string-sodden disco epic I can never get enough of.  If The Bee Gees hadn't taken out a monopoly, this could easily have found a place on the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack.

"Home Is Where The Hatred Is", by Esther Phillips. Can a song as harrowing as this also be beautiful? It would appear so. Written by Gil Scott-Heron.

"Poupee De Cire Poupee De Son", by France Gall. Next stop Eurovision!

"The House", by Le Volume Courbe. I thought I could hear echoes of My Bloody Valentine's "Soon" within the veins of this song, so it should have been no surprise when further research revealed that Kevin Shields did indeed have some kind of a hand in it. Nevertheless, it is a song that can be appreciated on its own terms.

"Juggernaut", by Stan Hubbs. What sounds like an emergent transmission from the depths of some mid-seventies drugs haze turns out to have actually been made in 1982. It was released by way of what is now called the "private press", and disappeared without trace. (Understandably, though; who in their right (or wrong) mind would have wanted to hear this in 1982? (See Rain Parade entry, above.)) It goes to show that what goes around does indeed come around: this song fits the current, ahem, zeitgeist like a slightly dishevelled glove. Bonus: album cover of the month. Obviously.

"Everywhere", by Fleetwood Mac. It is easy to forget that Fleetwood Mac continued to release records after "Tusk". Here is a reminder. (Warning: contains high-eighties production values.)

"Imperfect", by Perez Prado. Moogs on the loose. (The YouTube gives you a bonus track, "Ciliegi Rosa", with which you may be familiar, and which is crazy crazy.)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

This goes with this (sincerest form of flattery edition)

In the blue corner: "Ljoss", by Forest Swords, from 2013 (is it really that long ago?), and very specifically the sound he conjures up around the 53-second mark.

In the red corner: "The Catastrophist", title track from the new album by Tortoise, and very specifically the sound they conjure up around the 1:35 mark.

Of course, both sounds could have been arrived at independently. But it would also be kinda nice to think that, just maybe, the Titans of the thing that gets called "post-rock" (although it is in fact neither) have been listening to the music being made by the new generation, and absorbing its lessons (some of which lessons the new generation most likely absorbed from Tortoise in the first place).

Tortoise may never make another "Djed". (Talk about building a rod for your own back.) But their music since then has never been anything less than fascinating. And, of course, highly listenable. (The new album? There are vocals! Shock! Horror! Does that make it post-post-rock? Or maybe pre-post-rock? (Would that be "rock"?))

You be the judge:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Music writing the way it used to be

Ian Penman writes at a reasonable length about John Fahey.

You know you would want to read that.

Penman asks an important question, one that it is easy to get tied up in knots trying to answer, or at least to answer in a way that your average music obsessive can feel entirely comfortable with: 

"Is it better to endure bad art for the spotless ideology it promotes, or to continue to swoon before sublime art made by awful people?" 

A part of me suspects that if such people were less awful, the art they made would be less sublime. Is it worth it? I suppose I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think it was, but heck, I also know it's not okay just to ignore the human damage that can be left in its wake. (Why couldn't I just have liked, I don't know, Perry Como? (Although for all we know, he may have had some skeletons of his own.))

Fahey might or might not have been one of the bad guys, and he would appear to have suffered a(n un)fair amount of damage of his own, but "sublime" is as good a word as I could have found to describe the sounds he was able to tease out of a guitar. Here is an example:

Or, if you want to go long, there is also this (a lot of life would appear to have been lived between 1969 and 1978):

Song of the day

"Four (Darkstar Remix)", by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm.

The riff from "I Wanna Be Your Dog" has been put to good use many, many times, but perhaps never quite like this.

(Now is perhaps an opportune time to mention Darkstar's most recent album, "Foam Island", which might be described as social history with a musical accompaniment, but is actually much more engaging than that makes it sound. You should check it out.)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Song of the day

"Right Said Fred", by Bernard Cribbins.

This song is my childhood. There may be more credible / "worthy" ways to acknowledge George Martin's contribution, but, heck, how many songs would have travelled through more radios and television sets?

It was also the punk rock of its day: no frills, no nonsense, no solos; it got straight to the point, and then it got out of the way.

George Martin also produced "Rain", by The Beatles, three of the most perfect minutes human ingenuity has ever created. You probably won't find that on YouTube, but the chances are you have it at home somewhere.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Song of the day (the elasticity of time edition)

"So Jackson: Step In / Out (Jori Hulkkonen Edit)".

Being an "edit" of a song you might remember from the different world that was 1982. (Watch the clip. Joe comes across as a post-punk Peter Allen. Which I suppose he was, really.)

"Edit"? What it is is a simple pop song dissected, forensically analysed, and teased out for 43 minutes. Yes, you read that right. Is such a thing even possible? More to the point, is such a thing even listenable?

Well, yes, it is, actually. The mind can play tricks on the unsuspecting. By seven or eight minutes in, you find yourself starting to wonder if it might be time to move on to the next thing. But you don't, because somehow you can't, and all of a sudden you find yourself being dragged back into the light, only to discover that 30 more minutes have passed. Not only that, but by that point you can't even imagine wanting the damn thing to ever come to an end. But, of course, it does, by which point "Steppin' Out" will be stuck in your head for days. (There are worse things, believe me.)

It's not a thing you would probably -- if you are, ahem, "sane" -- want to come back to particularly often, but you will want to come back to it. Let's say once every couple of months or so. It's like colonic irrigation for the brain.

(Don't ignore the download button.)