Monday, January 30, 2017

Song of the day

"Circumspect Penelope", by Look Blue Go Purple.

Number one son and a friend of his do a weekly radio show on the local community FM station, 2XX. Each week they have a different musical "theme". Last Sunday it was "Cats". My uninvited contribution was, had to be, "Cactus Cat", by Dunedin scenesters Look Blue Go Purple. Neither of them had ever heard of either band or song, but it proved to be a popular choice and was played on the show.

Coincidentally, late last week The Guardian, in honour of the imminent appearance of a new album by DN legends The Bats, came up with a list of 10 of the best Flying Nun songs. I am generally sceptical of these kinds of thing, but in truth it is a pretty fair selection; over half of the songs might well have made a similar list of my own had I ever been bothered to put in the effort. (Maybe one day I should.) Okay, so I have never seen what others evidently do in Straightjacket Fits, and I confess to not yet having figured out exactly what The 3Ds were up to. But the important thing for our purposes here is that (bet you didn't see this coming) "Cactus Cat" was on the list.

And whilst I can't argue with that, I can, I think, argue, that, good and all as it is, it would be ever so slightly edged out of any such list of my own by an earlier LBGP song, "Circumspect Penelope", an exemplar of the melancholy charm of the minor chord. Watch the clip. It never gets old. I wonder if that organ is the same one as appears on practically every Flying Nun record of the era. If so, somebody should put it in a museum: it would generate the same chills (no pun) as did the EMS that was on display at the "Bowie Is" exhibition.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Song of the day

"A Portrait of Jason", by Ultimate Painting.

Everything goes better with reverb: number 147 of a continuing series.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

They also served

Having successfully gotten through the first couple of weeks of January unscathed, I foolishly thought to myself something like, well, at least it's not like last year. And now, as if on cue, we have lost in quick succession Maggie Roche, one of three sisters who recorded as The Roches, and Jaki Liebezeit, best known as drummer for the German collective Can. (They say bad news travels in threes. I'm a bit alarmed as to who might be next.)

First, condolences, obviously, go out to friends and family members. I don't ever feel entirely comfortable putting these kinds of posts out in the public sphere, and yet I also feel that, in the case of people whose work has had a profound effect on me, it would be nice to say a public thank you.

I imagine that most of you think of Can when you hear the name Jaki Liebezeit. Okay, I do, too. But his tentacles stretch much further than that. I think I would be right in saying that my first exposure to the man would have been on the "Snake Charmer" EP, from 1983, a kind of evil twin to Robert Palmer's "The Power Station" from a year or so later. It wasn't until I belatedly tumbled down the Can rabbit hole, many years later, that I made the connection. Curiously, it turns out that "Snake Charmer" was also the point at which, again unknowingly, I made my acquaintance with Arthur Russell, who wrote the lyrics for "Hold On To Your Dreams" (which, I know now, is a *very* Arthur Russell song title). It may not be the strongest advertisement for the drumming talents of Jaki Liebezeit (for that, I would probably send you to "Halleluwah"), but it's a pretty dank piece of music, and Jaki is right there with you.

Maggie Roche, on the other hand, holds a place in my heart on account of one song. Many have been the days when "The Hammond Song", by The Roches, has been the only song that could help me navigate my way through this strange and confusing world. It was produced by Robert Fripp, whose otherworldly guitar anchors it, but really the song is all about the voices. I hope you enjoy it. (I suspect I may be drawing from the well of this song quite a bit over the next four years.)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hypothetical mixtape: February 2016

"Of what went on there, we only have this excerpt."

"I Miei Ricordi", by Marco di Marco. Fender Rhodes. Upright bass. Drumming as light as a feather. What more could you want as the mercury creeps into the high thirties? (Yes, that would be Celsius.)

"See Saw (Club Version)", by Jamie xx + Four Tet. And so, in January 2017, enigmatic pop music trio The xx re-emerge with their third long player. It's a tricky balancing exercise for a band to be able to move away from what made them distinctive in the first place without becoming merely ordinary. Early indications, to these ears, anyway, is that they might just have gotten away with it. The new album kind of triangulates the first The xx album with Jamie xx's "In Colour", which is a fair place to have landed. In the meantime, here's a "Club Version", whatever that might be, of a track from "In Colour", with assistance from Four Tet. That got you interested.

"Razrushitelniy Krug", by Kedr Livanskiy. Swoon.

"ESC (Prins Thomas Remix)", by Lauer. Evidently this gets played in "DJ sets". You got me.

"Sisters (Boards of Canada Remix)", by Odd Nosdam. This month's obligatory Boards of Canada remix. To be honest, after the first couple of seconds this doesn't carry too many overt traces of the Boards themselves, but it's got an enticing hint of mystery about it.

"Retox", by Essaie Pas. Yes, this has "DFA" written all over it. Also "coldwave", "minimal wave", "synth wave". So many waves. I know, we've heard it all before. But when has that ever stopped me?

"Can't Hold Back (Your Lovin')", by Kano. If you ask me (as if you would), this hits some kind of sweet spot between peak Chic and early-eighties funk/electro. Boom.

"Let's Groove", by Earth, Wind and Fire. Because it was there.

(Bonus: album cover of the month.)
"If You've Got It, You'll Get It", by The Headhunters. And then this happened ...

"I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun", by Nuyorican Soul. We don't often step into the mid-nineties Latin Jazz revival. No, I can't explain it either. Anyway, welcome. From here, you can either go forwards to the 4Hero remix, which throws some (it says here) tasty drum'n'bass into the blender, or backwards to the 1971 original, by Rotary Connection, featuring Minnie Riperton on vocals. Either way is fine.

"Sunshine Lady", by Chris Smither. Hard to fathom how the album from which this song sprang forth could have languished in unreleased-record limbo for 30 years. The songs are fine. The musicians who played on it amount to a who's who of who's who circa 1973. Chris Smither is, like, the man. In short, they don't make records like this any more.

"Elinor", by Bob Lind. This song variously appears as "Elinor", "Elanor" and "Eleanor". There may be others. 1966 never sounded better than this.

"I Ride The Wind", by Lightdreams. Some kinda drugged-out post-hippie avant skeez -- heck, I don't even know. From Canada, would you believe.

"Sexspurt (Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer Remix)", by Kerrier District. Kerrier District is aka Luke Vibert. The others you know. Extreme down-the-rabbit-hole remix weirdness over 12 minutes. You have been warned.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Song of the day

"Let Me Get There", by Hope Sandoval and The Warm Inventions.
As they say in the classics, Hope Sandoval could sing the telephone book and I would most likely be curled up in a ball on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. Kurt Vile? I suspect that if he started working his way through the White Pages I would be exiting the room around the time he got to "Ab". (No disrespect; he is a very gifted tunesmith (n.b. not faint praise) and knows just how to land his voice in the right (if sometimes unorthodox) place.) So I am as surprised as you are that these two voices could mesh together as seamlessly as they do on this smouldering seven-and-a-half-minute number. It's like they are trying to out-chill each other. (And succeeding!)

And yet the real hero of this song is the guitar. Two guitarists are listed in the credits, so I don't know who to give the plaudits to. But you know who you are. Thanks, pal.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The return (sort of) of The Cannanes

One of the key moments of my life, pathetic as it may seem (and may in fact be), was buying a copy of "The African Man's Tomato", the first album by The Cannanes, from Au Go Go records, in Melbourne. As was the way, back in those primitive times, word travelled slowly. I heard about The Cannanes via months-old copies of the NME. I was intrigued by this group from Sydney, who, so far as I knew, had no exposure on Melbourne radio or in the Australian music press, and yet were forging an international reputation. The album turned out to be a fine thing. I don't know, in fact, where my life would be without it. It inspired a small number of us, living and working in South Gippsland, to publish a fanzine. We heard from The Cannanes. We met them. We felt way cooler than we (at least some of us) probably were. As far as we could tell, we had captured the zeitgeist. And we wouldn't even have known what that was. (I still don't.)

Well, almost 30 years later, The Cannanes are still with us. But the band that is captured on that first album is not entirely representative of what they would later sound like: a large part of the feel of that album came from Randall Lee, who would soon wander off into his own world of self-released cassettes under the names The Nice and Ashtray Boy. (He is still going strong, too.) So by the time of their second album, "A Love Affair With Nature", The Cannanes, to me, weren't quite what they had been. They were a little bit less multi-dimensional. Mercifully, though, what they still had was enough, and the core of Fran and Stephen (often augmented by the rough drumming and, arguably, even rougher songwriting talents of David Nichols) has burned steadily ever since.

So it comes to pass, as the wheel of history turns once, twice, turns again, and so on, that "A Love Affair With Nature" has been given a slightly unlikely deluxe reissue treatment. Perhaps befitting a record (and a band) that have never entirely sounded "of their time", it sounds perfectly suited to the early hours of 2017. I'm not aware that The Cannanes ever sold many copies of their records, but, perhaps as is (I suspect somewhat apocryphally) said of the first Velvet Underground LP and the first Sex Pistols concert, everybody who heard it/was there was inspired to go off and make music of their own, and so it is that their influence, it can now be seen, is surprisingly strong. (Either that or they, and everybody else, was listening to the same things, and drawing the same things from what they were all listening too. Sorry, that sentence was a bit of a mess, wasn't it?)

Brief pause while I look up the word "interstitial".

While it is, of course, nice to see "A Love Affair With Nature" back in general circulation (and a relief not to have to sit on the porch with a shotgun while guarding my own copy of the original pressing), the real treat, for me, with this reissue is that it includes the two seven-inch singles that the band released in 1988, between those first two albums. I had always thought they neatly summed up what the band was all about, in both the Randall years and the post-Randall era. Listening to them again now, I still think that. (It's nice to be right for a change.) In fact, if you only had room in your life for four songs by The Cannanes, it might as well be these four. As a service to the community, I have collected them all for you, and, lo, here they are.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Of The Year (Slight Return)

A non-military example of the Rumsfeldian unknown unknown: when I closed the books on 2016, one record was missing. I hadn't forgotten it. I didn't have an eleventh-hour change of heart. I simply has no idea it was even a thing.

So it is my duty to add to the previously published list another category: Best record released in 2016 that I didn't know existed until 2017.

By stealth, in silence, and under a smokescreen of teasing announcements for a new album by The Necks (10 February, apparently), Chris Abrahams dropped his first album purely of solo piano recordings since "Streaming", in 2003. It's almost as if he didn't want anybody to notice. If so, he succeeded. I found it by accident on Apple Music a couple of days ago (while trying to find out when the Necks album was coming out, as it happens). Heck, as we sit here now it's not even on Discogs.

I had the unalloyed pleasure of being at a Necks concert in Canberra a couple of years ago where one of the sets commenced with Abrahams, alone at the piano, thoughtful and pensive at first, but building into all kinds of runs, clusters of notes, and unexpected melodies, the sustain pedal his new best friend; the entire set was under his quiet command, but those first few minutes were priceless.

This album is like listening to seven variations on that same theme. It is worth your time.