Saturday, March 18, 2017

Song of the day

"French Press", by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.

It is gratifying, from a distance of 19 years and 660 kilometres, to still be able to recognise a Melbourne band when you hear one. You know that this scene has continued to bubble under in the old town, because you have been keeping an eye on bands such as Twerps, Beaches and The Crayon Fields. But only from a distance. And nothing that you have heard has quite knocked you off your feet as this song does.

It is also gratifying to know that, as your body starts its inevitable descent into senescence, and your mind starts taking a little longer than it used to to recall concrete nouns (don't worry; we're not quite there yet), you are still able to feel the same adrenaline rush that you used to get in those long-lost days of, say, the late 1980s, and that you are still able to fulfil every parent's role of embarrassing your offspring by spinning around the room with your hands above your head, and/or going the full air guitar. (Hint: don't try both at the same time. You are not as young as you used to be.)

There is a moment about three and a half minutes in, where you would normally expect a song of this type to abruptly end, leaving you needing to immediately play it again, when instead it suggests, momentarily, that it might be about to take off into "Daydream Nation" territory, before it returns, by way of a 90-second guitar-driven coda that leaves the song, and you, with nothing left to give. And then you have a lie down.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Song of the day

"The Highest Flood", by Forest Swords.

Well, I wouldn't want you not to know that there is a new Forest Swords song out there. Hard to believe it's been three and a half years since "Engravings". It's still on high rotation in these parts. I'm trying to keep my expectations within reasonable limits regarding what might come next, but honestly, this is very good. I think I hear a tiny bit of This Mortal Coil in there, but that might just be me.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Song of the day

"Valve (Revisited)", by Visible Cloaks & dip in the pool.

Visible Cloaks work with the kind of hyper-digital soundscapes that can be found on the James Ferraro record "Far Side Virtual", which The Wire magazine named album of the year a couple of years back, or which would (at least in one's dreams) work perfectly on the soundtrack for the upgraded "Bladerunner" movie that is, I'm told, on its way.

It is -- or for me it is, anyway -- music that can be difficult to really "feel" (although maybe that is the/a point; I think I described the Ferraro album somewhere, or maybe I just imagined it, as the audio equivalent of a Jeff Koons painting). There is a barrier that one needs to break through in terms of, well, finding the human in the music. (Or even, I hear you say, finding the music in the music.) Yet I find myself drawn back to "Reassemblage", the new Visible Cloaks album, and their first for Rvng Intl, perhaps feeling the pull of its very faint but unmistakeable allusions to the sounds Japanese artists in the orbit of Yellow Magic Orchestra were making around the early 1980s (which, you will remember, is when MIDI first appeared).

The second song on the album is called "Valve". It's hardly right to describe it as a "song" at all. Above, I used the word "soundscape". Whatever that might mean, I think it fits here. Woodblocks and sounds from nature intermingle with some very digital sounds that could never exist in nature. Occasionally, something that the casual listener might recognise as "music" drifts by. (Also: is that a rubber duck?) A disembodied and disassembled Japanese voice helps you on your way, but then you are on your own.

Anyway, it turns out that "Valve" reappears on the CD and, ahem, digital versions of the album as a "bonus track", "Valve (Revisited)", where it is utterly transformed into a pop song of real human emotional warmth; the voice reveals itself to be that of Miyako Koda, one half of dip in the pool, a Japanese duo who have, it turns out, been making music since (surprise!) the early 1980s. Further digging reveals that dip in the pool actually released an album on Rough Trade in 1986. (There, that got you interested.) (Smiths and Woodentops aside, my gaze had largely been averted from Rough Trade by then, so dip in the pool passed me by at that time (and at all times since, up to approximately yesterday, to be honest). I am about to embark upon the work of making up for lost time.)

To the extent that "Reassemblage" reveals its secrets very, very gradually, the sudden appearance of "Valve (Revisited)" is a revelation. As its own song, it certainly cries out to be listened to, but it is also a useful exercise to do so on the back of everything that has gone before it on the album. If you can't do that, the following clip takes the first minute of "Valve" itself and then segues into "Valve (Revisited)". It approximates the effect of coming out of the album into the latter, but reduced to a three-and-a-half-minute exercise, which in today's time-strapped world is an admirable public service.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Song of the day

"Life During Wartime", by Talking Heads.

"We've got computer
We're tapping phone lines
I know that that ain't allowed"

Every song has its day.

(Clip from "Stop Making Sense". Not my favourite version of the song, but you have to be impressed by what David Byrne can do, right?)

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Hypothetical mixtape: March 2016

Dang, I seem to have fallen a year behind again.

This time around, let's skip sublime and go straight to ridiculous.

"Louie, Louie", by The Sandpipers. From a 1960s that time forgot, here is a version of rock'n'roll bedrock made to sound like "Guantanamera". It has been drained of all life. Its reason for existing is no longer evident. It is like a slow-motion car accident from which you cannot look away. And so you stare, spellbound, at something that's like a thing you recognise but also, like, not.

"Fran Andra Hand Till Stranderna I Nice", by Gryningen. This seems to have been cut from the same cloth: you know, the kind of gem you might find hidden on some Phase 4 Stereo lp you found at a garage sale. But -- surprise, surprise -- it's some Swedish dude from the 2010s. Go figure.

"Da Klagar Mina Grannar", by Charlie & Esdor. If you ever thought you needed to hear more damaged-psych clatter from Swedish hippies, embellished by excessive quantities of free-form sitar, (a) boy have you got problems; and (b) this is for you.

"Ganglat Fran Valhallavagen", by Kvartetten Som Sprangde. Yet more psychedelic Swedes, this time from the early seventies and therefore with something of a prog-rock bleedthrough. I'll be honest with you, I could probably listen to this all day. In fact, I think I might. (No wonder this column is so far behind.)

"Gonul Dagi", by Baris Manco & Kurtalan Ekspres. At the self-same time, weird musical excursions were also, uh, "happening" in Turkey. If this song hasn't been sampled, the samplers haven't been doing their job properly.

(Bonus gratuitous lookalike gag: Hey, look, it's the Turkish Lemmy.)
"Ad Gloriam", by Le Orme. You may also know this from the soundtrack to "Ocean's Eleven", where it was rejigged by David Holmes. "I didn't know that, Wayne."

 "The Visit (She Was Here)", by The Cyrkle. The other things hippies couldn't do was spell. Byrds. Beatles. Cyrkle? On the other hand, seven-inch B-sides were their bread and butter. Viz:

"Move With The Season (Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Reanimation)", by Temples. My guess is that Temples would be one of the seemingly countless number of bands that appeared in the wake of Tame Impala, with inevitably diminishing returns. This sort of post-psychedelic Britpop is easy on the ear but it can struggle to generate much excitement (at least at our house) if it doesn't have the X factor that someone like Kevin Parker can bring to it. Enter Beyond The Wizards Sleeve, the living embodiment of 21st-century UK psychedelia. It appears this is one component of an entire album's-worth of Temples "reanimations". Curiously, Temples' second album was released, like, literally yesterday. Spooky.

"Alphaville (Todd Terje Remix)", by Bryan Ferry. So this is where the idea for Ferry's star turn on TT's "It's Album Time" album came from. Even when you know it's him, it's still kinda hard to fathom. Mr Terje, on the other hand, he's all over this, in the best possible way. A couple of minutes before the end it morphs into an discourse on "Music For 18 Musicians". Or maybe that's only in my dreams.

"Don't You Wish You Had (What You Had When You Had It?)", by Ruth Copeland. Co-written by The Clinton That Did Inhale. Guitar, I would appear, by Eddie Hazel. And such the voice. I am a better person for having learned of this record's existence. Also: some of the best use of parentheses in a song title.

"What's A Girl To Do", by Fatima Yamaha. Thoroughly beguiling piece of electronic pop music from 2004 which, seemingly, refuses to die. You will, of course, swoon when the voice of Scarlett Johansson, from "Lost in Translation", appears out of nowhere.

"Planet Sizes", by Steve Mason. In which the erstwhile Beta Band member reminds listeners of how that band was able to make even the trickiest of pop songs sound oh so easy. I'm not sure he hasn't done himself a bit of a disservice here, though: combining an utterly gorgeous song with an utterly gorgeous video, at our present stage of human evolution, is probably more than we mere mortals can absorb in one go. I know: watch the video with the sound off, then listen to it with your eyes closed. That might be the best of two very fine worlds.

"I Don't Mind", by Psychic Ills. You already know how I feel about Hope Sandoval (*sigh*). Combining her voice with psych-haze stoners Psychic Ills is a thing I can get behind. They dial it right back, she fits right in. It's like an earlier pairing, of Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell, only -- well, I was going to say "only better", but that would be unfair. It's all good.

"Herd of Creeps", by Sunwatchers. You won't believe your ears. And yet here we are. Warning: may induce headaches in the unsuspecting.

"Stereoscope (Steve Hauschildt Remix)", by Christina Vantzou. To bring us back down to earth at the end of a long and surprising (to me, anyway) playlist, why not some Steve Hauschildt magic. I haven't given him anywhere near as much oxygen on these pages as he deserves (to wit, precisely none). He has been doing some excellent work out there on the ambient/experimental/electronic fringe, nowhere better than on his 2016 album, "Strands". This track is a presumably roughly contemporaneous remix. Whereas the original is all ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, the remix is all ladies and gentlemen we are floating in a warm bath of amniotic fluid.

Friday, March 03, 2017

YouTube of the day

"Private Hell", by The Jam. Live.

Until I saw this, I had no idea precisely how good a guitarist Paul Weller is. My estimation of him has just gone up maybe tenfold.

I saw The Style Council in Melbourne many years (decades) ago, but I must admit I spent the entire concert focussed on Mick Talbot's electric piano and wondering whether it would actually topple over, given the pounding he was giving it. (Plus, as this actual footage reveals (I love the internet), Weller wasn't playing guitar; he had too many moves to bust.)

Also: note the similarity between the letter "P" on Weller's guitar and the Portishead logo. Coincidence, surely.

Also: I want his glasses.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Song of the day

"Postcard #17", by Jens Lekman.

Jens Lekman is rock'n'roll's premier empiricist poet. He observes, he takes notes, he constructs: not theses, but vignettes. Or maybe we could call him an investigative journalist of the heart.

Like all poets [full disclosure: I know no poets; but you know what they say], he has in recent years, I suspect, had his share of  introspection and its consequences (he spent 2015 writing and recording a song a week to see if he could even still write songs; of course he could, but it's easy for an outside observer to say that); so it's nice to see on his new album, "Life Will See You Now", a return of his earlier confidence (see for example our old favourite, "You Are The Light"). The production on some songs might be slightly more professional-sounding (thanks, maybe, to co-producer Ewan Pearson), and I am having early adjustment issues in relation to the rock-band-style sound of the rhythm section on some songs (I'm sure that will pass), but it's just really, really nice to be have this album in my life right now.

 "Postcard #17" began life as one of those 2015 songs; the version on the album is virtually identical, but for the slightly buffed-up sound. I wonder if some of his time living in Melbourne might have rubbed off on this song. Every time I listen to it, I have an almost overwhelming sense of: a single-fronted weatherboard house in, say, Northcote or North Fitzroy; the late-afternoon light slowly fading through the trees; a fireplace; a cup of tea; a kitten. That piano line is, as the song says, "fucking ridiculous". It's that kind of song.