Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hypothetical mixtape 2.05

"I'm back in the saddle again ... I'm baaaaaaack ..." -- from a song by Aerosmith.

"Gonzo", by James Booker. Back in the very dim and very distant past, I did a one-hour radio show of a Wednesday night on a country community FM station. It was copious amounts of fun, subjecting the farmers and other unsuspecting locals to sixty minutes of largely post-punk and other anti-social musics. But as an introduction to the show each week, I tried to find something of an instrumental nature, which caused me to range a bit wider than my usual suspects. (You could, of course, cheat, because you were the one setting the rules: "L.A.", by The Fall, for example, is perhaps not strictly instrumental.) The point being, if I were to, by some miracle, find myself in charge of the airwaves again, this would be a no-brainer candidate for starting off my first show.

"It's A Better Than Good Time (Walter Gibbons Mix)", by Gladys Knight & The Pips. Of course, on radio, if you ever needed a toilet break, you would have to find something of a suitable length to cover for you. I wasn't aware of Walter Gibbons back then, but he is, clearly, the right man for the job. Extended disco tracks (and Arthur Russell was perhaps the master of this; as, in a different context, nowadays, is Ricardo Villalobos) play this trick where, around the time a normal song would start fading out, you start to lose your focus, until you no longer even notice that the song is actually still going, until, however many minutes later, the song snaps back into your consciousness just in time for it to end. You can try it with this 12-minute gem.

"Do On My Feet (What I Did On The Street)", by Dewey Terry. From 1972. From an album called "Chief". That's all you need to know. Which is handy, because it's all I can tell you.

"Woman", by Jeff Liberman. At first glance, this sounds like standard mid-seventies blues-rock guitar wankery, but there is something profoundly weird -- if not downright disturbing -- going on that you can't quite put your finger on. (And possibly wouldn't want to.) Bonus: album cover of the month.

"Cajovna", by M. Efekt. A bunch of likely Czech lads hitting a groove circa 1987. We have the collapse of the Iron Curtain to thank for being able to listen to this. Yes, you should be grateful. And if I was still on the radio I would totally be opening the show with this one week. Bonus: seven-inch single cover of the month. Is that too many covers of the month? It is not.

"Mechanical Fair (Todd Terje Remix)", by Ola Kvernberg & The Trondheim Soloists. In which there is absolutely no hammer dancing to be seen. Or heard. (Monty Python humour. Ask your grandparents.)

"Stone In Focus", by Aphex Twin. Having been a disciple of Aphex's "Selected Ambient Works Volume 2" for some years now but not being of a particularly curious disposition, I was (to say the least) surprised to discover this extra track, available only on a couple of random iterations of the album but not (of course, I may be wrong about this) otherwise. That it is entirely gorgeous, albeit in a somewhat cold and harsh electronic way, only makes its absence from my CD that much harder to bear.

"33A1", by John Bender. On the subject of cold and harsh electronics, there is also this. (Relax. It gets warmer after a couple of minutes.) I understand the criticism of "minimal" techno; but I don't accept it. And, while this astounding piece of music predates minimal by, what, 15 or so years, it certainly bears many of its hallmarks, and it hits me in a similar way. Maybe it's just my grounding in seventies dub reggae, but with tracks like this, as with the best dub, it really does feel like less is more. (Hands up, too, if it reminds you of Penguin Cafe Orchestra.)

"Pressing Matters (Robag's Pinvoldex Sull NB)", by The Cyclist. More of those good ol' cold and harsh electronics on display here, but with a lightness of step that you might not have thought possible. This serves as the regular reminder that I seem to require that I need more Robag Wruhme in my life.

"Doctorin' The House", by Coldcut. Because why not. If you were a recording artist, film producer or television showrunner whose work was not sampled in this song, you must have wondered what you had done wrong. (I maintain, somewhat selfishly, and certainly not without reservations, that lawyers have taken a lot of the fun out of modern music. The days that you could pilfer the catalogue freely in order to create new and fresh art were good days.)

"Starry Eyes", by The Records. When oldies radio has songs like this on high rotation, I will be proud to call myself an oldie.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Song of the day

“Turn Around”, by Dungen & Woods.
Dungen and Woods - Myths 003
Dungen are a band that, over time, have perhaps so perfected their own sound as to have become almost invisible. It seems that they may have recognised this, as their most recent releases have been drawn from some incidental music they did for a 1926 animated film, together with an album’s worth of remixes of same from Prins Thomas (admittedly this turns out to be much more Prins Thomas than Dungen).

Woods, on the other hand, are a band that have perhaps so perfected their own sound as to have become, not invisible, but predictable. Their songs tend to inhabit a clearly defined song structure that by now is so embedded in my brain that whenever a new Woods record comes out, it takes me a while to decide whether I like it (so far, so good) because each new song is, in its own way, the same as some other Woods song.

Neither of these things is intended as criticism. Both bands have much still to offer, and I will be more than happy to keep listening. However, possibly the best news so far to have come out of 2018 is that, in March, an EP is coming out that will showcase the results of a 2017 collaboration between members of Woods and Dungen which took place during Marfa Myths. We now have this taster. From the vocals alone, as well as the overall structure, it is easily identifiable as a Woods song, albeit a Woods song that happens to be backed by a particular Scandinavian melancholic psychedelia that, well, I can't really say “you could only get from Dungen”, but that is definitely the Dungen sound. (What is that sound? Imagine if someone spent a career trying to recreate The Zombies' "Odessey And Oracle", only with their own songs.)

I am, I have to say, pretty excited about this.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Song of the day

"Smile", by The Fall.

Even though Mark E Smith went through so many Fall members that if they all turn up to his funeral they will need a bigger church.

And even though Fall albums have appeared on more record labels than you even knew existed.

And even though (not unrelated to the previous point) there is a ridiculous number of rarities collections and live recordings out there, most of which are of dubious provenance and even more dubious quality.

And even though there were more eras of The Fall than there have been of human evolution.

And even though no two Fall fans would ever be able to agree on what were the best of those eras.

And even though the sound quality of the band's John Peel sessions frequently trumped that of the actual records.

And even though, in recent years, Smith has sounded more like a drunk uncle crashing a 21st birthday party than the singer in a rock n roll band.

And even though, looking at recent photos of him, you find yourself wondering how he even made it to sixty.

And even though to be a fan of The Fall meant having the patience to sit through fallow periods, sometimes (depending, perhaps, on where you came in) lasting for a decade or more.

Despite all of these things, for those of us captured by their inexplicable brilliance there remained, to the very last, and, as often as not, contrary to all common sense, a genuine sense of excitement, a thrill, every time a new Fall album landed. Sometimes the thrill might have lasted only until the first three or four songs had been endured; but we never lost that feeling.

Like the singer who pulls the plug on the lead guitarist half way through a song, it feels as if the arc of The Fall has been suspended, suddenly but permanently, while it still had a long way to travel. All we can do now is look backwards; which is not a thing The Fall ever did.

So, "Smile". It beats crying.

(They say that John Peel was The Fall's number one fan and booster. Here is film of him being just that.)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Song of the day

“Holiday House”, by Peter Lillie And The Leisuremasters.
I first became aware of what might be called the “Carlton scene” when as a young boy I bought a copy of “Horror Movie”, a seven-inch single by a band called Skyhooks, who had captured the attention of some of the more adventurous boys at Fish Creek Primary School (a pretty small number), largely on account of their smutty lyrics, but, in my case, on account of the sound of the guitars. “Horror Movie” to this day gets my pulse racing, but it was the b-side, entitled “Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)” that really captured the imagination of a farmboy dreaming of a life of adventure.

A few years later, when I had started to listen to Melbourne’s 3RRR-FM, I found myself drawn to unknown (to me) entities with names like Eric Gradman’s Man And Machine, Whirlywirld, and Tch Tch Tch (easy to pronounce, typographically fiendish to denote: see the embedded graphic below), 
under the direction of one Philip Brophy, who would, even later, be an important part of my weekend routine as co-presenter, with Au Go Go Records impresario Bruce Milne, of a wonderfully free-form afternoon radio show on 3RRR called “Eeek!”.

By the time I moved to Carlton, in 1982, direct from Fish Creek, the Carlton scene, if there ever really was one, had already fragmented into several of the many tiny shards that made up the Melbourne post-punk contingent (if Pete Frame was still around to do his Rock Family Trees, this would give him an enormous challenge), and in turn started joining hands with the above-ground.

(For example, at that time there was still a piece of graffiti on a wall in Carlton proclaiming the greatness of The Jetsonnes, who had by then reinvented themselves as Hunters & Collectors; and Ian Cox, who was our Nicholson Street neighbour a couple of years later, had moved away from bands like Essendon Airport (along with Robert Goodge) and Equal Local in order to provide saxophone support for Kate Ceberano in I’m Talking.) (Further research reveals how chock full of Venn diagrams the Melbourne music scene of these times was: Cox also appeared on one song on an album called "Skippy Knows", by Whadya Want?, which also featured, on another track, Michael Sheridan on guitar, thus demonstrating that there was one degree of separation between the pop music of Kate Ceberano and the noiseniks who were released by Dr Jim’s Records (the titular proprietor of which label once appeared on an episode of Rockwiz with, you guessed it, Kate Ceberano). (With one further degree of separation, we can even trace Ceberano to Sydney trio The Necks, as Sheridan also played with Necks drummer Tony Buck in multinational “underground industrial” (it says here) group Peril, another of Dr Jim’s stable of stars.) (Whadya Want? also included David Chesworth, part of the "Clifton Hill scene" and (yet) another member of Essendon Airport, and Philip Jackson, who was in Whirlywirld and Equal Local. I think I'm getting dizzy.) (It goes on: Adam Learner, of International Exiles, who shared a seven-inch single with The Jetsonnes, went on to play with Blue Ruin, one of my gig-going staples of the later 1980s.))

But before I disappear up my own bum entirely -- What? It's too late? Hey, you should see what I edited out -- I should probably get to the point.

Somehow, Peter Lillie And The Leisuremasters make up a disproportionate share of my seven-inch-single collection. (Admittedly, it’s not that much of a collection; it fills a shoe box.) But the two records of theirs that I own continue to get a regular spin at home. It gave me more of a thrill than I expected when I convinced Number One Son to play “Holiday House”, the b-side of one of them, on his own radio show on 2XX a couple of weeks ago. (It was like stumbling upon a photo on the Internet of the Henry Maas-era Black Cat Cafe. I have also done that.)

A little fossicking around reminded me that Peter Lillie, sans Leisuremasters, had already taken up space in the inner recesses of my brain with a song called “Samurai Star”, which, I recently discovered, featured everybody from The Birthday Party who wasn’t Nick Cave or The Paunchy Cowboy. It’s a curious song, sounding, unexpectedly, more like The Sports than like “Hanging Round The House” and “Holiday House” (or, for that matter, “Homicide/Division 4”, the other of their singles that I own). Looking a little further back, it turns out (surprise!) that Lillie was a part of the Carlton scene in his own right, being a member of The Autodrifters with Johnny Topper (another 3RRR lunimary), and, not only that, but being the author of a song that might also lay claim to being the quintessential 1970s Australian song: “The Birth Of The Ute”. And before that, he and Topper were in the Pelaco Brothers, one of the few groups I can think of named after a neon advertising sign, and which also included, amongst its members, one Joe Camilleri, and one Stephen Cummings. (And, while we are here, we should also mention the High Rise Bombers, a group that fragmented into, on the one hand, Paul Kelly and the Dots and, on the other, The Sports (with the aforementioned Cummings).) (A handy musical compendium of the Carlton scene was released a couple of years back under the title “(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton”, which, over the space of two discs, manages to take you all the way from Daddy Cool to Eric Gradman.)

It wasn’t actually all that hard to convince the lad to play “Holiday House”. I mostly just needed to point out to him its use of the 1970s slang expression “it’s grouse”, meaning really good; and to note that this is the only song I can think of that uses the word, and that I can’t recall “grouse” ever having made a come-back. (It's long overdue.) That, I think, helped make it the type of marginal historical time capsule he seems to find fascinating. The cover design is also of its time; Melbourne’s arty types then were seemingly obsessed with a rose-tinted idea of pre-Whitlam Australian culture, all beach houses, EH Holdens, seashell ash trays and Laminex furniture: essentially, nostalgia for a time that may never have actually existed. (See also the paintings of Howard Arkley.) Musically, too, it harks back to a kind of pre-Beatles Eylsian Field of simpler and better times. But that, too, was the tenor of those times: a post-punk fairyland where former hippies were moving to Belgrave to make experimental music; rockabilly rebels and bluegrass throwbacks crawled out of the least expected corners; and a lanky and intimidating fellow from Caulfield Grammar sat on the steps of the Missing Link record store in Flinders Lane, scaring away potential customers.

Sorry. I’m drifting off again. 

You could have saved yourself a lot of time by just reading this Facebook tribute.

But you should listen to this song. It’s grouse.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Hypothetical Mixtape 2.04

To start this one off, we are jumping back in time to the second half of the 1990s, when Grumpy Warren's Record Paradise was the shopping destination of choice, a place where you might just, if Bruce Milne didn't get there before you, pick up some lovely vinyl specimens from the lounge and library music era. (You also learned that not every Martin Denny record was what you were expecting. So be it.) Those were good times.

"Alcoholic", by The Black Fire. "Cream" was one of a number of Italian library music albums released on, I believe, Flirt Records. The covers of these records (see below) contained some of the best font design this side of a Stereolab record. (It was also released by another Italian label at around the same time with a different cover, striking in its own way but with much more dodgy lettering. See the embedded Bandcamp player.) Whichever cover you prefer, I can't see anybody not fully embracing the sounds within. "Alcoholic", apparently, was used as the opening music for the kung fu film "Operation Cobra". Sounds about right.

"Time", by Ju-Par Universal Orchestra. "Time", as in, "Now is the time for love". How seventies is that? If you were wanting to soundtrack your next fondue party, you need go no further. No extra charge for the tastiest electric piano.

"Melting Pot", by Booker T And The MGs. Not as obscure as the previous two songs, and not exactly coming from the same place, but (a) it's not "Green Onions" and (b) you can surely dig it. "Melting Pot" also existed as a single, but I can't see why anyone wouldn't take the full eight minutes, seeing as how it's on offer. It has quality oozing out of every orifice. Sorry.

"Fly Away", by Hashish. And, to prove that the whole lounge/library flame is still burning to this day -- at least in Sweden -- we have this. 

"Play With Fire", by Takkhalha. What else we like is cover versions of Rolling Stones songs from unlikely locations. Such as Iran. Taken, in this case, from a 2010 Spanish compilation. We are very grateful for their efforts, although you should be aware, as Discogs points out, that "All releases are unofficial".

"Blind Man Can See It (Extended Version)", by James Brown. This is taken from the 2003 reissue of "In The Jungle Groove", itself a compilation of earlier James Brown tracks, put together in 1986 to capitalise, it says here, on JB's status amongst the students of the hip-hop groove. The original "Blind Man" appeared on the "Black Caesar" soundtrack, in 1973. However, at 2 minutes and a bit, it was never going to be enough. Now it is. Also note: the cover of "In The Jungle Groove" was, uh, borrowed for a compilation called "In The Christmas Groove". And with beats this thick it might be Christmas all year round.

"They Came For Us", by Zig Zags. Being a repetitive groove of a very different kind. If you have never found yourself thinking, I wish it was still 1974, then you can probably move to the next track. As for the rest of you: sweet dreams!

"I Only Bought It For The Bottle", by The Orielles. Hey, kids! Punk rock! It looks like a seven-inch single but it is actually a digital file. That's progress, I guess. But wouldn't you want to hold it in your hand, and watch it spinning around on your turntable? A word of warning, though: the chorus is so big it could actually kill you. And don't even get me started on the sound of the guitar. Song of the year? Whoops, too late.

"Desert Raven", by Jonathan Wilson. I guess it must have been around this point that the drugs kicked in. It won't surprise you to learn that Wilson is based in Laurel Canyon. I feel like we've been here before.

"アイレ可愛や", by Mari Hamada. From 1997. With musical accompaniment by Autechre. Yes, I'm as surprised as you are.

"Relax Your Body (Ricardo Villalobos Remix)", by DFX. To my ears, the original of "Relax Your Body", from 1989, sounds largely like something that The KLF did much better. Twenty-seven years later, it fell into the hands of Ricardo Villalobos, who worked his usual dark magic on it, so that, voice-over aside, it bears little or no resemblance to the original track (or to anything else, for that matter). What maintains one's (or, at least, my) interest across its 19 and a half minutes is the recurring, deathly slow sequence of piano notes, which threaten, but never quite manage, to coalesce into an actual melody. If the kind of creepy interior scenes done so well by Urasawa had a soundtrack, it could be that piano.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Song of the day

"California Dreaming", by Denial.

Enough time as passed since the "minimal/synth wave" revival that Veronica Vasicka can now make a dignified re-entry into the world of archival compilation. This she does, early in the new year, with "The Bedroom Tapes". "California Dreaming", by Denial, is the first offering from this new record to be released into the wild.

One thing I can never have enough of is cover versions of "California Dreaming". Still, I have never heard one quite like this. It's like an aural approximation of "The Day The Earth Stood Still", from someone who had never seen the movie but liked the title. Notably, it was originally released in 1982 on Sydney's M Squared label. But I can't say I was ever even aware of its existence. Until now.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hypothetical Mixtape 2.03

And a one and a two and a one two three four. Yes, it's another random collection of songs found on the internet at one time or another.

"Mamshanyana", by Batsumi. This is labelled as South African jazz. The music was made in Soweto in the dark days of 1974, but (or should that be "because of which"?) it could hardly be more joyous. It also bears a striking similarity to "Astral Weeks", although that must surely be coincidental. And they have a very funky drummer. That often helps.

Bonus: album cover of the month.

"If I Could Tell You", by Nev Cottee. I don't know why this reminds me of "Dark Side of the Moon". But it does. From Nev Cottee's first album, from 2015. He put out another one this year. I really know nothing about him, beyond this song. If this was my day job, I would deserve to be fired.

"Hey Boy", by She-Devils. It's on Secretly Canadian. But they are actually Canadian. Why keep it a secret? This song reminds me of many things. All of them good.

"Shooting Star", by Harper Simon. It is unfathomable to me that this was made in 2009 and not smack in the middle of the 1970s. It is also unfathomable that this is the first song Harper Simon released. In the annals of great debut recordings, this at least deserves an honourable mention. Also: everything sounds better with pedal steel. (Oh, and a trigger warning: Harper is the son of Paul.)

"Spanish Sun", by Sunbirds. In which a German jazz drummer possibly invents (another trigger warning here) "fusion". I highly recommend that you allow yourself to be swallowed up by the wah-wah pedalling, and, of course, the obligatory electric piano. And whatever the heck else is going on here.

"Nite And Day", by Al B. Sure!. I know it's wrong, but I just can't help it. "Nite And Day": it's a little bit Barry White, a little bit Scritti Politti, and a whole lotta eighties. (And yet another trigger warning: the World Trade Centre appears in the video.)

"Psychic Driving", by Soft Metals. So it only took me six years to find this song, even though it presses every one of my buttons. C'mon guys, a little help here.

"Catallena", by Orange Caramel. Well, this is weird. Oh, it's K-Pop.

"Animaloid MV II: Tragic Comedie", by Apogee & Perigee. This, too, may be accurately classified as "weird". It's from Japan circa 1984. Apogee & Perigee would appear to have been Jun Togawa, a musician and performer who, along with the better-known (to me) Phew, provided vocals for an Otomo Yoshihide album, "Dreams", for John Zorn's Tzadik label in 2002. (There's not a lot of John Zorn in this track.) The proto-J-Pop vocals are provided by Miharu Koshi, which allows us, as we like to do, to provide a connection to the seemingly ubiquitous YMO, as she has worked with Haruomi Hosono, whose name also appears in the credits of this LP (which, it would appear, is a concept album about two robots who travel through space with their dog).

"Straight For The Sun", by Yorishiro. Yorishiro sounds like a Japanese name, but these days who can tell? Bandcamp says that he/she/they are from Madrid, Spain. You know what? It doesn't matter. Chill. Which is what these sounds would ask you to do.

"9 Elms Over River Eno (The Field Remix)", by The Orb. And speaking of chill. The Orb, latterly of Kompakt, continue to operate in their own, uh, sphere, seemingly untainted by the outside world. Here, an external influence sneaks in to mess with them, in the guise of The Field, who has been relatively quiet of late. The gorgeous little melody line, which is hinted at in the original but drawn to necessary prominence in this remix, might as well have, as the name suggests, been collected as it floated down the river Eno (albeit at a faster clip than Eno would have sent it off at).

"In The Air", by Michele Mercure. A 2017 reissue of an obscure 1986 album reveals much that possibly sounds better today than it did then. Has anyone ever considered why the rise of crystalline synth sounds, MIDI, and digital recording techniques, coincided with the drop-off in Brian Eno's solo work? Maybe, as with the more or less contemporaneous introduction of digital methodologies to dub reggae, he thought it had all become too easy, thus taking all the fun out of it and giving rise to dangerous "what's the point" kinds of thoughts. (Of course, Brian Eno has latterly been very much back in the game, with, in particular, "Lux" and "Reflection" (and, maybe his crowning achievement, the iPad edition of the latter, which allows Eno's unmistakable ambient sounds to continue literally forever, as one senses they were always designed to do).)

And we finish this mixed bag of goodies, as we sometimes like to do, with a trio of fine Jamaican dub reggae tracks from the latter half of the seventies. There's not much that can be said here; it's all good.

"Plantation Heights", by Dillinger.

"Don't Cut Off Your Dub", by King Tubby And The Aggrovators.

"No, No, No", by Augustus "Gussie" Clarke.