Sunday, November 19, 2017
Saturday, November 18, 2017
"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".
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
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
Saturday, September 16, 2017
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.
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.
Saturday, September 09, 2017
"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
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.