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.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Song of the day

"No Trace", by The Bats.

It is, of course, entirely coincidental that the very same week in which the United States inaugurated an Administration that is demonstrably bat-shit crazy, The Bats (you see what I did there) released a new album into the wild. The comfort provided by the latter has acted as a necessary counterbalance to the anguish dredged up by the former. It should be required listening.

"No Trace", as far as I can gather, was the second song to appear before the album was released (we used to call this "the second single", back when times were simpler and the position of President of the United States carried with it prestige, decorum, and even a modicum of civic responsibility; heck, how long until us old-timers start to feel nostalgic for George W Bush?). It is, simply put, another in a long line of classic Bats songs. It sounds simple enough, but the closer you listen, the more layers of guitars you can pick out. It is an impressive sleight-of-hand that nowhere do they collapse on top of each other; nowhere does it sound like Too Much Guitars.

It's been six years since their previous album. Here's hoping the planet hasn't been destroyed by madmen before they get a chance to make another one.

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.