Monday, July 10, 2017

Song of the day

"All Cats Are Grey", by Nouvelle Vague.

"Nouvelle Vague". It's French for New Wave. You would have thought the idea of arranging post-punk songs in the style of sixties French pop-music forms would have had a fairly short life span. It comes across as a particularly nineties kind of conceit (as, indeed, the above album cover suggests), good for a couple of records (and a couple of laughs) before its creators wandered off to other pastures.

And yet here we are, and I am as surprised as you are to discover that Nouvelle Vague's fifth album was released at the tail end of 2016. (We missed the fourth one, from 2010, which was made up largely of covers of French new wave songs. Theoretically, that could by then have been of more interest than listening to them continue to mine songs that are probably better known by anyone who isn't actually French. I should probably check it out.)

So, has the law of diminishing returns kicked in on this new album? Obviously, the element of surprise is long gone. But they seem to have stuck resolutely with what they know best. It might be a gimmick, but it is not a gimmick without substance. Or heart. Okay, maybe Cocteau Twins isn't a perfect choice to lead off the album (their take on "Athol - Brose" might confirm any suspicions you may have had that Cocteau Twins were long on sonic artistry and atmosphere (and that otherworldly voice) and short on traditional song craft), but The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" works surprisingly well, and one imagines Brian Eno being tickled by the appearance of the slightly misnamed "No One Is Receiving", given how far adrift from post-punk and new wave "Before And After Science" sounded when it came out (Talking Heads anagram "King's Lead Hat" notwithstanding -- and is it a coincidence that this version sounds not entirely unlike the solo records David Byrne, with whom Eno would shortly be working, would one day release?).

But we are here today for their take on "All Cats Are Grey", a song from The Cure's never-bettered "Faith" album. As a general rule I prefer my favourites to be left well alone, but I can make exceptions, and this is one. The thing that jumps out at me is how closely this version is aligned to the quieter moments on Radiohead's "A Moon Shaped Pool", and in particular "Present Tense". Which, if you think about it, makes some kind of intuitive sense, Radiohead and The Cure being bound together by a particularly English strain of miserablism, coupled with occasional outbreaks of extreme musical gorgeousness. It only took a group of French retro-curators to make the connection.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Hypothetical Mixtape 2.01

Aaaaaaand, we're back. Eighty fresh minutes of music that was lying around on the Internet, waiting for me to pick it up, brush off the dust, and make sense of.

"Forty-Nine Reasons", by Julius Brockington. Well, this is a nice way to kick these playlists back into gear. From the get-go, it signals that it's going to be some kind of epic slow jam. Its fluid introduction quickly coalesces into a (trigger warning) flute-driven monster. The flute, in turn, gives way to a piano that sounds like it has seen better days. It is a song that is, maybe, at its best when the intensity is dialled right back, but you need the intensity to be able to make that call, right?

"Down By The River", by The Undisputed Truth. The real undisputed truth (see what I did there?) is that I still haven't heard too many covers of this Neil Young landmark. You will, until the song reveals itself, think you are listening to a rather faithful cover of "Breathe", by Pink Floyd. This (a) makes me want to listen to "Dark Side Of The Moon", a feeling that I have been confronted with considerably more often of late than I ever expected and that, even more surprisingly, I am entirely comfortable with, and (b) turns out to be entirely a good thing. Even when you realise it isn't "Breathe", that feeling never really goes away. Can I also just say that the guitars on this song are somewhere beyond outstanding.

"The Mexican", by Babe Ruth. Concluding, for now, our little sojourn into the 1970s, some indescribable prog-thrash fronted by what sounds, to these ears, like a close relative of Suzi Quatro. I didn't know I needed this in my life.

Bonus: album cover of the month.
 "Cry Later", by Hater. Fast-forward to the year 2017. Music sounds like this now. Except it also sounded like this in the late sixties. And the early eighties. And the end of the eighties. And the nineties. And so on. Guitars, bass, drums, a girl singer. Never gets old.

"Lip On The Floor", by Duck. Imagine if The Jesus and Mary Chain were influenced, not by the Phil Spector-produced girl groups of the sixties, but by Suicide (who were, themselves, not uninfluenced by the exact same sound) and/or by assorted Sheffield electronic bands from the end of the seventies.  Oh, look, Duck are, it says here, from Sheffield. Something must be in the water. Clearly, this is meant to be listened to loud. No, louder.

"Flower Glass", by Hand Habits. Don't let the similarity of the melody through-line with, well, actually let's just let that go unmentioned. In this context, it is a melody that allows you to melt without shame.

"Running Waters Wide", by The Hanging Stars. I believe we have had The Hanging Stars on here once before. What's not to like? If nothing else, The Hanging Stars have a very excellent graphic designer. Which may sound like damning with faint praise, but isn't meant to be. Also: bet you didn't think you would hear piano like this on a 2016 song. (And oh, those vocal harmonies. Plus, is that the second appearance of a flute in this playlist? Code red! Code red! No, wait, maybe this time it's a recorder.)

"Touch Blue", by Scraps. In which some sick beats fool me into not expecting that the synth chord sequence that follows is about to reduce me to tears. God damn. It's only pop music, but really it's also only everything that fucking matters. Oh, sorry. I got a bit carried away there.

"Twist Your Arm (Lindstrom And Prins Thomas Remix)", by Ten Fe. Nice to see these two old dudes working together again. This one screams "EIGHTIES!". Put it this way, if you like Talk Talk, you're gonna love this, I think.

"Dub Be Good To Me", by Beats International. I am particularly struck, at this distance, by the mounful harmonica, straight outta Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds circa "Your Funeral My Trial".

"Chopping Dub", by Prince Jammy. From one classic riddim to another; this one you might think you know from The Clash's "Justice Tonight / Kick It Over". Or, y'know, you might not.

"Scrying In Water", by Jenks Miller & Rose Cross, NC. This be drifting of the highest order. It may run for 20 minutes, but nevertheless I find myself coming back to it over and over again. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there are parts of it that remind me, in the nicest possible way, of the records Brian Eno was putting out in the early 1980s: I'm thinking "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks", and "The Pearl", with Harold Budd. Technically it bears no relation to those records (and it reaches parts that they never attempted to reach), but emotionally, well, maybe it's just me. Anyway, Three Lobed had the good sense to put this out, and you would be a fool to ignore Three Lobed.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Song of the day (2)

"Let It Be Unknown", by Endless Boogie.
If you have ever thought to yourself, "Somebody should write a song that rhymes "nickel" with "Don Rickles"", well, this song is for you.

(Sorry, but I can only find it online as part of the whole album. Song starts at 8:25.)

Song of the day (1)

"Avalanche Alley", by The New Pornographers.

This almost sounds like it could be a Wire song of recent vintage. Except that you can't imagine Wire, those perennial wrongfooters, coming up with something that becomes as exhilarating as does this song, which, I can almost guarantee, will have you doing pinwheels around the living room until you realise that you are actually way too old for that sort of thing and that you are therefore an embarrassment to everyone around you. But it felt good for a while there, didn't it?

Bonus beats: the same song, live on KCRW. Have to say, some of them are starting to look like Old Pornographers ...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Song of the day (2)

"Another Day In The Sun", by The Moffs.

While digging through the Compactus looking for songs fitting the theme of "days" (tomorrow on The O-Zone), I stumbled upon a forgotten nugget from a forgotten (but not entirely -- see below) Australian band from the latter half of the 1980s -- a place and time where giants walked upon the land. Feedtime. The Cannanes. The Lime Spiders. The Widdershins. Beasts of Bourbon. The Cosmic Psychos. Died Pretty. The Apartments. The Eastern Dark. And this is probably only just scratching the surface.

While a lot of the above drew on the sounds of underground pop music, garage punk, so-called "psychobilly" and the like, The Moffs, at least on this song, seem from this distance to have been drawing more from the well of dreampop/shoegaze and the paisley underground. If these terms mean nothing to you, you might, nevertheless, find this song a joy to listen to.

And if it whets your whistle, there is much more goodness to be found on these two excellent collections. Pin your ears back.

Bonus beats:

If you are of the younger generation, this cover version by contemporary pop pickers Jagwar Ma (with Dreems; who teaches these kids to spell?) might be more to your fancy.

Song of the day (1)

"Conversation Piece", by The Chills.

And speaking (we were, weren't we?) of the beloved Dunedin sound, hands up if you knew that at the start of this year The Chills released, seemingly only as a promo single, a cover of a very old David Bowie B-side?

One would infer that the intention was to mark the anniversary of Bowie's passing. (One would also have to say that all of those memes about Bowie having been all that was holding the fabric of western society together would appear to have been proven correct.) In any event, even if it was intended as in the spirit of Bowie's occasional early "novelty" singles, it turns out to be a moving, and powerful, tribute to the man. The fragility in Martin's voice, e.g. when he sings "scattered on the floor", is hard to listen to. From one national treasure to another.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Song of the day

"As Does The Sun", by Look Blue Go Purple.

Speaking of the beloved Dunedin Sound, there has never been a better time to note the chronically underrated contribution to same of Look Blue Go Purple, given that Flying Nun has just released an extensive compilation CD, entitled, cleverly, "Still Bewitched" ("Bewitched" being the name of their first record), comprising the entirety of their three EPs (which, when they drag me off to the nursing home, will be among the last things that I discard, and even then I will make damn sure they go to a good and appreciative home) plus a delicious live cover of "Codine" and a selection of live but unrecorded originals (note, especially, a song called "Eyes Are The Door") which are, as might be expected, pretty raw in terms of sound, but as songs complete in and of themselves, such that what we really need is a LBGP cover band (or maybe the girls themselves?) to record them properly and, if karma is an actual thing, perhaps give them the hit single they almost but never quite had.

(That may be the longest sentence I have ever attempted. Kids, don't try this at home.)

I have blogged a couple of their songs before, but I don't think I have yet given you this one. As good and all as "Cactus Cat" and "Circumspect Penelope" are, at a certain time of year and a certain time of day, in certain weather conditions, I am inclined to think this is the pick of them all. (To wit: just before the winter solstice, as it darkens, on one of those days when the sun never really comes out. An open fire is desirable but not essential. I have never been to Dunedin but those are the kind of conditions I imagine these songs being conceived in.)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Song of the day

"Party", by Aldous Harding.

As of today, this is the most breathtaking song I have heard. I shouldn't say "ever". Possibly ever. The clip below shows her performing it live in the studio for NZ television. It misses the multitracked vocals of the album version, which are what really push the song (and the listener) over the edge. But it still captures something that, by rights, should be impossible to capture.

And I know that too much water has flowed under too many bridges for me to still be looking for traces of the beloved Dunedin sound in records coming from New Zealand, but maybe, just maybe, if you close your eyes and listen really, really hard to the album version (which I would urge you to do), there is something here, even if it is only in the piano towards the end of the song, that might remind you of Peter Jefferies.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Song of the day

"Bill Is Dead", by The Fall.

The bad thing about being me is that I have been compelled, against my better judgment, to spend way too much time observing, to the point of obsession, the unfolding spectacle/tragedy of the president of the United States of America.

The good thing about being me is that over the past week I have been able to veer between (again, most likely against my better judgment) yet another trip down the Grateful Dead rabbit hole (a series of May 1977 shows that have just been officially released for the first time) and a trip down a very different rabbit hole, and one which I haven't descended for some time, that of Mancunian institution The Fall.

It was only two weeks after these particular Grateful Dead shows that The Fall played their first gig. And yet to judge by the mellow, laid-back nature of this particular iteration of the Dead ("Dark Star" would seem to have been retired; there is little if any sign of space noodling) (actually, the one noticeable gesture towards modernity is the extended "Dancing In The Street" that closes off the first set of the fabled 8 May show at Cornell, which most likely would not have existed in this particular form had it not been for the advent of [sudden intake of breath] disco; although the observation I read that it leaves for, ahem, dead everything on the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack is, surely, rather wide of the mark), the thing called Punk Rock hadn't yet (if it ever did) invaded personal Dead space. (One interesting discovery, or realisation, that my sojourns into the dark realms of Grateful Dead have led me to, however, is that there is quite a bit of Dead in Television's "Marquee Moon". I feel I am a better person for being able to notice this. I could also be wrong about both of those statements.)

As has happened each time I dive headlong back into the land of the Dead, after a few days random songs of theirs start keeping me awake at night. It was with some relief (and exhaustion), then, that I stumbled upon The Quietus's recent survey of personal-favourite Fall songs, produced to celebrate Mark E Smith's sixtieth birthday. Aside from the rather unflattering (but then is there any other kind?) photo of The Man Himself, it is an excellent piece, with a fine selection of songs (I can't, off the top of my head, think of any that are missing -- [brief pause] -- actually that's not true at all) and some perspicacious observations about them and/or personal reminiscences, the latter of which are frequently what make these kinds of thing succeed or fail.

The songs are listed alphabetically, and I recommend going through the list from "Before The Moon Falls" to "Words Of Expectation" in the order presented. Why? Because it demonstrates an unexpected unity of purpose for a band that has existed for forty years, seen innumerable lineups, and been through good times and bad. Every non-casual listener would have a sense of their favourite eras and also of the years that they would rather disown. This selection, in this sequence, will happily debunk all such ideas. Myself, I switched off between the end of the eighties and the end of the aughts, during which time other things got in the way: relationship; "career" (ho ho); children. So, when I returned to The Fall fold, I felt I had missed way too many records (and had heard way too many tales of woe) to ever catch up, leaving me with a 20-year black hole that this article has, in a stroke, chastised me for ignoring. (In fact, I intend burning myself a "wilderness years" CD comprised solely of the selections from this era that appear here.)

Everything here contains that unbottleable Fall magic, in one way or another, but the song that stands out at this moment is "Bill Is Dead", from "Extricate" (which came out not long after I jumped off the train). It is, and I can't believe this word belongs anywhere near a Fall song, gorgeous. In fact, it is such an atypical Fall song that, this being The Fall, it is actually a typical Fall song. (If you have read this far, you will know what I mean.)

But wait, there's more.

Philip Harrison's write-up of "Garden" makes reference to Hacienda footage of that song from 1984. I am now going to force you to sit down for the ten minutes it takes to watch this through. (Full screen, if you can. I don't know why it's better, it just is.) It reveals one thing that Jerry Garcia and Mark E Smith both recognised: the power of a two-drumkit lineup. It is also a rare example of an already great song that pushes itself to be even greater. (Which, to belabour the point, is also the reason people keep diving head-first into three-hour-long tapes of Grateful Dead shows.) (Now, about all those live Fall records ...)

And, because I can't help myself, the greatest Fall video ever. Maybe the greatest music video ever.