Sunday, November 19, 2017

Song of the day

“Graveyard”, by Dead Moon.
I have a Dead Moon memory. It has to be false, because the dates don’t add up. Or it might be two memories rolled into one. Or my head might be all messed up. Too much Dead Moon will do that to you.

So anyway, it goes like this.

Back in the summer of 1987-88, when I was living in a miner’s cottage in Korumburra, a house with ceilings so low I had to duck whenever I walked through a doorway, a house that I managed to cover every surface of with my records and comic books, a parcel landed on my doorstep. It was a parcel from the United States, stuffed full of records that Doctor Jim, medical-man-about-town, purveyor of records of quality and distinction, and my good friend, had bought on what I think was his inaugural record-buying jaunt to the US. I wasn’t immediately sure why he would have sent them to me (maybe he didn’t want them falling into the dubious hands of the shoeless man-in-black known only as Moose, who if I remember rightly -- which, again, I might not -- was his housemate at that time), but after pondering the question for a couple of days I decided somebody might as well be listening to whatever was inside, so I opened it and was on my way.

My memory tells me that the first two Dead Moon albums were in the parcel. That can’t be right, because one of them only came out in 1989. And I can’t verify when in 1988 the first one came out, but for it to have been included it must have been released somewhere around 1 January.

Whatever. Somehow or other I was introduced to Dead Moon. And somehow or other Doctor Jim was involved. In the context of the late 1980s, it was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience. The cover and the labels were all in black and white. The recording was in mono. (Mono! At the height of the digital/CD era.) The music seemed to have taken a long running jump from 1968 and flown non-stop to 1988. “In The Graveyard” is a fine album. Dead Moon were a fine band. “Graveyard”, the first song on that album, might as well have been The 13th Floor Elevators. (That is intended as a compliment.) They started as they meant to go on.

Rest in peace, Fred Cole. Your work here is done.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chicks with machines

Chicks with machines are where it's at.


"Black Origami", by Jlin.

Here is a record that demands of even the seasoned music listener a mind that's open to new ways of doing things. It is born out of "dance music" but seems (to me) to have more in common with some of the newer composers and other folks mucking about with the pristineness of digital sound. It doesn't have the immediate human warmth of, say, a Fennesz, coming from more of a maths-and-science tip, and working exclusively in a sound-world that would be unrecognisable to someone teleported from the pre-Robert Moog era, but a bit of digging beneath the surface suggests that there is a person in there somewhere, pulling on the levers. Try "1%".

"Distractions", by Ikonika.

This is Ikonika's third album. Like Jlin, she seems to appeal (or at least has in the past) to the kind of person who writes for The Wire magazine, but unlike Jlin, she is also comprehensible to your older blogger. Like, hey, you can tap your feet. Well, sometimes. Note, in particular, the last track on the album, "Hazelfield", which features on vocals the unmistakable Jessy Lanza. There. That got you interested.

"Dust", by Laurel Halo.

Laurel Halo, like Ikonika—and Jessy Lanza—is a Hyperdub recording artist. Like The Go-Betweens (now there's a comparison I bet you weren't expecting), each of her records to date seems to have been an inverse/negative reaction to the one that came before it—bouncing between lyrical pop music, hard-edged beats and obtuse abstract expressionism. On this new album, though, the experimental and the human take roughly equal prominence, sometimes within the one song. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Jelly".

"Halo", by Juana Molina.

And then there is the new album by Juana Molina, the (it says here) former television comedian who converted to the more treacherous path of experimental electronic musician at some point in the 1990s and, perhaps because she liked what she heard or perhaps just to piss people off, stuck with it. I'm not entirely sure I can hear incremental development in what she has done across her several albums to date—she seems to have been one of those lucky people who find their sound straight away—but it's so appealing, and open ended, that her career, if that's what it is, would appear to have some way yet to run. Strictly speaking she may not entirely fit here, as her palette is not limited to machines (for that matter nor is Laurel Halo, if you check the credits, but you could have fooled me), but everything, even her voice, is so heavily treated that you would be hard pressed to tell which is which. One could more or less pick any song off the album at random. Here is "In The Lassa".

"Ariadna", by Kedr Livanskiy.

Not every Russian is up to no good. I seem to recall that Kedr Livanskiy appeared on one of my hypothetical mixtapes a while back. The new album of hers, which I am still in the process of absorbing, is at the very least notable for including "ACDC", a song that features British national living treasure Martin Newell. No, I can hardly believe it either.

"Kelly Lee Owens", by Kelly Lee Owens.

But the pick of the bunch, and one of my favourite albums of the year, is this one. Yes, it is "electronic music", but it is electronic music with a beating human heart. Think all the way back to Kraftwerk. Think back not quite so far to Telefon Tel Aviv, say, or Junior Boys, or Darkstar, or Andy Stott, or Forest Swords. There is nothing abstract or intractably "difficult" going on here, only good old-fashioned music. Not your grandparents' music, maybe not even your parents', but yours. "Arthur" might be the song that everybody has been talking about (and you can't help thinking that Arthur himself would be looking down approvingly), and "Anxi" might burn with the power of one thousand suns, but I am taking you right to the end of the record, and the ten minutes that make up "8". It's like being submerged in a warm bath of zeros and ones.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Song of the day

"I Used To", by LCD Soundsystem.
Curse you, James Murphy. There I was, all feigned uninterest, ho-hum, whatevz, meh about this whole new-LCD-album thing. I had snarky things to say about the first of the "preview" tracks, "Call The Police". (Viz: I don't mind that he got the band back together; it's just a shame that the band was U2.) There was no way I was gonna cave.

But all of that lasted about as long as the first opportunity I had to buy the record. I caved.

The thing about Murphy is, his instincts have always been good. That, and his reference points, which obviously he wears on his sleeve, are almost always around 95 per cent the same as mine. (To the extent that one of the songs is called "Other Voices", which, aside from also being the title of one of the songs on my Cure album of choice, was the name I belatedly gave to the radio show I did in the latter part of the 1980s.)

That, and he knows how to craft a tune. Let's just say, there are many recent records that I have listened 20 times as often as I have played "American Dream", perfectly good records all of them, but in respect of which none of the songs have managed to find their way into my subconscious; whereas a few short weeks in, I am already being woken up at three in the morning by the songs on "American Dream". A few of them haven't yet broken through the roll-call of influences to become their own songs. (For example, "Change Yr Mind" still seems to come from a not-all-that-alternative universe where Brian Eno wrote "No One Receiving" for Talking Heads to record for their "Remain In Light" album, while David Bowie's "Lodger" was playing in the room next door. (Actually, it is pleasing to report that the ghost of "Lodger" is all over this record, because I no longer feel like I have to whisper the fact that it has always been my favourite Bowie album.)) But they will. They always do. Heck, even "Call The Police" has gotten completely under my skin.

What can I do? I surrender.

Getting the band back together was, it should have come as no surprise at all, a work of (that word) genius; a masterstroke.

Let’s just listen to "I Used To". Somewhere in there is a Roland Jupiter 4, an instrument I have had experience with: possibly one of the least manageable, most user-unfriendly synthesisers known to man. So that's a thing. But, and I can't believe that I am saying this: man, if ever a guitar solo could be so perfect that it actually makes the song, it is this one. There. My credibility is shot. Like I said, curse you, James Murphy. You win this round.

Album of the year? There's no point teasing out the suspense. Yes.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Song of the day

“Kendra’s Dream”, by The Dream Syndicate.
Of all of the many things I never imagined I would find myself doing in 2017, very close to the top of the list would have been listening to a new Dream Syndicate song featuring vocals by Kendra Smith.

And yet here we are. 

People seem to put their first album, "Days of Wine and Roses", on a pedestal. I'm certainly not going to argue with that, but speaking only for myself, the second side of their follow-up album, "Medicine Show", gave me a way out of the three-minutes-good, two-minutes-better mindset of much of what I was listening to back then. I had had the good fortune of being able to pick up 2JJ of an evening, floating in and out of the AM airwaves depending on the weather conditions. A couple of the night-time DJs there had tastes that straddled pre- and post-punk, so in many ways I had the best of both worlds. I was obsessed with Television's "Marquee Moon", without  having the good fortune to find out what it was until many years later. So the long tracks at the end of "Medicine Show", like side two of the second Roxy Music album, filled an important vacuum, while also, I can now see, teaching me what I needed to know in order to better appreciate the music, primarily from the States, of the present moment: your Ryley Walkers, Chris Forsyths and so on. Curiously then (and disappointingly), "Medicine Show" seems to be the one Dream Syndicate record that isn't presently available. 

Kendra Smith, meanwhile, walked away from the Dream Syndicate after "Days of Wine and Roses", teamed up with Dave Roback under the name Opal to put out the most underrated, and possibly, with the passage of time, the most important, album on the SST label, made a couple of frequently astounding solo records, and then, apparently, went back to the land, leaving music behind. Until now.

2017 has been a thoroughly bizarre year in so many ways, not many of them positive. But then you get something like this. It may be my imagination, but the music here, and in other places on this album, also seems to slot very nicely into the same groove that I'm picking up on the new Slowdive album, with maybe a bit of MBV rolled in. Or perhaps that's just me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

They also served (a continuing series, unfortunately)

1. Holger Czukay.
So, the first Holger Czukay record I acquired came as an incentive to take out a subscription to Melbourne radio station / institution 3RRR, in what must have been 1984 or 1985. It was "Der Osten Ist Rot". At that point Can were just a name to me, albeit a name that seemed to be a reference point for pretty much all of the music that I liked. My good friend Russell (still miss you, buddy) had a copy of "Ege Bamyasi", which, from the record cover on, I found totally incomprehensible. Czukay, though, I was aware of independently from Can, mainly thanks to the "Snake Charmer" EP (with Jah Wobble and some guy from U2, and which was also, I now know, my first exposure to Arthur Russell) and, more importantly, his work on David Sylvian's early solo records. "Der Osten Ist Rot" was a record that, as with "Ege Bamyasi", was perplexing, but it was also, in its own way, charming.
At some point I found a second-hand copy of "Movies", Czukay's first solo album, from five years earlier. "Movies" made a lot more sense to me. At least, it had a structure: each side featured one shorter, ahem, "accessible" song followed by a lengthy, well, something less accessible but nevertheless fascinating. It probably remains the best way in.
Many years later, Czukay for me has blended into the fabric of a lot of what I listen to. I know Can, not as any kind of expert or afficionado, but I can at least hear why they are so highly regarded. I know where the use of dictaphones and shortwave radios in music comes from. I know that there was a sharp sense of humour behind everything he did, even what sound like the serious bits. I also know he created an entire galaxy of music, only a few of the beautiful stars in which have as yet been visible to me.
Here's a song you might know.
2. Grant Hart.
At some point in 1986, and for the next couple of years, my musical diet shifted, for reasons I couldn't explain then and can't now, except to say that I had no choice, to a steady intake of: Minutemen. Big Black. Butthole Surfers. Feedtime. Dinosaur Jr. Einsturzende Neubauten. Sonic Youth. And, possibly towering above all of the others, Husker Du. (Then, in 1989, in what I now see was frighteningly close succession, but which seemed forever at the time, Adrienne appeared and my father departed, and what I drew from a lot of that music I no longer needed.)
The thing Husker Du had, and which I had perhaps been missing without knowing it, was an overwhelming sense of melody, of how to (de)construct a nice tune. A tune buried under a ton of noise and aggression, admittedly, but a tune nevertheless. There was noise, but there was almost always beauty within the noise. In another universe, Husker Du could have been all over everything.
The other thing about Husker Du, it turns out (you couldn't learn much from either radio or magazines in those days), was that they were a paradigm example of what can happen when two fiercely creative individuals, each with his own outlook, ideas and aspirations, work collectively towards a common end. (See also: The Go-Betweens.) The union might not be pretty; there might be personal damage; the enterprise is more likely to burn out than to rust. The history of Husker Du is of two such people, who climbed up to spectacular heights but destroyed their relationship in the process. The story is, actually, terribly sad. You can't listen to the records now without dwelling on the pain that went into making them. But the music itself somehow remains as uplifting as it ever was, and if anyone is finally able to orchestrate reissue rights for the albums, it might finally sound as it should always have sounded at the extreme volumes it should always be heard at.
Here, again, is a song you might know.
3. Harry Dean Stanton.
Favourite father-and-son moment: when, during "The Avengers", I was able to lean over to Carl and whisper, "Hey, that's Harry Dean Stanton". (To which his response was, "Who?")
Intentionally or not, Stanton had a habit of appearing in movies which, for me, were as much about the music as the film. (I do not include "The Avengers" in this.) Thus I continue to associate him with music that, really, is nothing to do with him. Maybe. Which means that whenever I listen to Ry Cooder's remarkable soundtrack to "Paris, Texas" (which, I have to say, is one of the great films), or to, say, "TV Party" or "When The Shit Hits The Fan" or "Institutionalized" or one of the many other fine and upstanding songs from "Repo Man", or Dylan's "Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid", or Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle's charming "One From The Heart" soundtrack, I am also seeing HDS's gnarled visage.
And so will you, as you close your eyes and listen to this.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Song of the day

"Thirty", by The Weather Station.

This is such a good song. And surprising. Your expectation (mine, anyway) is some kind of front-porch understated strummer, in the nature (v loosely) of, say, a Marissa Nadler or a Joan Shelley. (This idea may have been brought on by the black-and-white cover image.) Instead, here is someone with urgency in her voice, who surrounds herself with electric guitars (and flute!), who sings like an angel, and who even throws in an F-bomb for good measure. Plus, when the song really gets going it reveals itself to be a solid early-eighties-style power-pop banger, perfect for throwing pinwheels around the living room. And then it just stops. Dead. No baggage whatsoever.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Song of the day

"Cold Cafe", by Karen Marks.

Question: what do Ash Wednesday and Joe Dolce have in common?

Well, Ash Wednesday, who was pretty much on the leading edge of Melbourne electronic music in the early eighties (you can read a pretty good overview of his career up to 2014 here), did the production work on a very excellent synth-pop song by Karen Marks, "Cold Cafe", which was released as a seven-inch single in 1981. The song also appeared on an Astor Records compilation LP, "Terra Australis", sitting just one track away from that Australian rock "classic" "Shaddap You Face", by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.

The Australian rock music "scene" having always been small and somewhat incestuous, it is quite possible that these particular paths have been crossed on other occasions or in other ways, but it was nevertheless a surprise to find these two seemingly diametrically opposed individuals on the one slab of vinyl.

(The track listing of "Terra Australis" is actually more bizarre than even the collocation of Karen Marks and Joe Dolce might suggest. The record also features such diverse talents as Mike Brady (whose "Up There Cazaly" also appears on the record, credited to "The Two-Man Band"); rockabilly rebels Crackajacks (featuring one Warren Rough, previously of The Autodrifters (with two of my own personal heroes, Peter Lillie (of The Leisuremasters and The Pelaco Brothers) and Johnny Topper (who, as far as I know, still does a regular show on 3RRR)) and later of Corpse Grinders); one-time member of Johnny Young's Young Talent Team Karen Knowles; and all-round household name Barry Crocker.)

I have seen "Cold Cafe" referred to (eg on the blurb attached to the following clip) as "OZ wave". I don't know about that. On the one hand, this was a pretty universal sound circa 1981. On the other hand, I think it's simply a fine piece of music and doesn't require allocation into any pigeon hole.