Saturday, December 30, 2017
"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.
Thursday, December 28, 2017
Saturday, December 23, 2017
It still hasn't happened yet. Maybe just one more listen ...
It's weird. I fell head over heels for "Lost In The Dream" the first time I heard it. What's the difference? I don't know. Somehow this one feels more like the sum of its parts than the massive achievement that those parts seem to imply.
So "A Deeper Understanding" gets its own category. I don't know: Asterisk of the year?
Meanwhile it has been one of those years where the quantity (and quality) of essential new music is overwhelming. Certainly it is impossible to reduce it all down to ten albums. And yet that is what we are here to do.
Ten Albums Up On Top
"american dream", by LCD Soundsystem. But I already told you that.
"Unfold", by The Necks.
"Hot Thoughts", by Spoon.
"Reassemblage", by Visible Cloaks.
"50", by Michael Chapman.
"Kelly Lee Owens", by Kelly Lee Owens.
"Modern Kosmology", by Jane Weaver.
"Crack-Up", by Fleet Foxes.
"Compassion", by Forest Swords.
"Haxan (Versions By Prins Thomas)", by Dungen.
And then we also have ...
Revenge Of The Beloved Legacy Acts
"In Between", by The Feelies.
"Slowdive", by Slowdive.
"How Did I Find Myself Here?", by The Dream Syndicate.
"Silver / Lead", by Wire.
"Reflection", by Brian Eno.
"Only Once Away My Son", by Brian Eno and Kevin Shields.
"Legend Of The Wild Horse", by Emily Haines And The Soft Skeleton.
"French Press", by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.
"Party", by Aldous Harding.
"Thirty", by The Weather Station.
"Hazefield", by Ikonika (with Jessy Lanza).
"Happiness (24 Inch Version)", by Crooked Man.
New Old Music
That would be "Hitchhiker", by Neil Young.
(Although I am also very much enjoying the greasy-hair-and-body-odour 1971 vibes emanating from the latest "Warfaring Strangers" compilation, "Acid Nightmares"; and I have put aside for Christmas, unheard as yet, the Light In The Attic compilation of late sixties / early seventies Japanese folk and rock music, "Even A Tree Can Shed Tears", which I have sufficiently high expectations for that I am confident they can never be met. (Why do I keep doing that?))
Because I have found myself once more making slow (but enjoyable) progress through Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Trilogy" (the end is in sight!), I haven't read very much other than High Court judgments and page after page of the New Yorker this year. Nevertheless, two graphic novels stand out:
"Hostage", by Guy DeLisle.
"My Favourite Thing Is Monsters", by Emil Ferris.
Even (or maybe "especially") if you have been reluctant to pick up a "comic book for adults", I urge you to read both of these books. I don't think either of them could exist in any other form, and the stories they tell deserve to be read.
And with that, I bid you adieu.
Saturday, December 09, 2017
Neither of these albums is likely to appear on anybody’s 2017 best-of lists, but I defy you not to feel better about pretty much everything after listening to them. Maybe they should be available by prescription.
Bonus beats: Veronica Falls’ take on The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s “Eighteen Is Over The Hill”.
Tuesday, December 05, 2017
This would have been a fair pick for song of the day anyway, given the recent high levels of precipitation across the south east of the country. But it also, lyrically and perhaps also sonically, captures the mood of these strange times in which we find ourselves.
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Thursday, November 23, 2017
So often, the frustrated "teen idol" changes tack in the interests of demonstrating some new-found maturity. So often, such attempts are, in their own way, no more listenable than the stuff they made their name with. "Teen idol" is maybe the toughest pigeon-hole to fly out of, and it was perhaps inevitable that David, like so many others before and since, never really did.
This, however, is a David Cassidy song I can get behind.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Saturday, November 18, 2017
"Black Origami", by Jlin.
Here is a record that demands of even the seasoned music listener a mind that's open to new ways of doing things. It is born out of "dance music" but seems (to me) to have more in common with some of the newer composers and other folks mucking about with the pristineness of digital sound. It doesn't have the immediate human warmth of, say, a Fennesz, coming from more of a maths-and-science tip, and working exclusively in a sound-world that would be unrecognisable to someone teleported from the pre-Robert Moog era, but a bit of digging beneath the surface suggests that there is a person in there somewhere, pulling on the levers. Try "1%".
"Distractions", by Ikonika.
This is Ikonika's third album. Like Jlin, she seems to appeal (or at least has in the past) to the kind of person who writes for The Wire magazine, but unlike Jlin, she is also comprehensible to your older blogger. Like, hey, you can tap your feet. Well, sometimes. Note, in particular, the last track on the album, "Hazelfield", which features on vocals the unmistakable Jessy Lanza. There. That got you interested.
"Dust", by Laurel Halo.
Laurel Halo, like Ikonika—and Jessy Lanza—is a Hyperdub recording artist. Like The Go-Betweens (now there's a comparison I bet you weren't expecting), each of her records to date seems to have been an inverse/negative reaction to the one that came before it—bouncing between lyrical pop music, hard-edged beats and obtuse abstract expressionism. On this new album, though, the experimental and the human take roughly equal prominence, sometimes within the one song. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Jelly".
"Halo", by Juana Molina.
And then there is the new album by Juana Molina, the (it says here) former television comedian who converted to the more treacherous path of experimental electronic musician at some point in the 1990s and, perhaps because she liked what she heard or perhaps just to piss people off, stuck with it. I'm not entirely sure I can hear incremental development in what she has done across her several albums to date—she seems to have been one of those lucky people who find their sound straight away—but it's so appealing, and open ended, that her career, if that's what it is, would appear to have some way yet to run. Strictly speaking she may not entirely fit here, as her palette is not limited to machines (for that matter nor is Laurel Halo, if you check the credits, but you could have fooled me), but everything, even her voice, is so heavily treated that you would be hard pressed to tell which is which. One could more or less pick any song off the album at random. Here is "In The Lassa".
But the pick of the bunch, and one of my favourite albums of the year, is this one. Yes, it is "electronic music", but it is electronic music with a beating human heart. Think all the way back to Kraftwerk. Think back not quite so far to Telefon Tel Aviv, say, or Junior Boys, or Darkstar, or Andy Stott, or Forest Swords. There is nothing abstract or intractably "difficult" going on here, only good old-fashioned music. Not your grandparents' music, maybe not even your parents', but yours. "Arthur" might be the song that everybody has been talking about (and you can't help thinking that Arthur himself would be looking down approvingly), and "Anxi" might burn with the power of one thousand suns, but I am taking you right to the end of the record, and the ten minutes that make up "8". It's like being submerged in a warm bath of zeros and ones.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
But all of that lasted about as long as the first opportunity I had to buy the record. I caved.
The thing about Murphy is, his instincts have always been good. That, and his reference points, which obviously he wears on his sleeve, are almost always around 95 per cent the same as mine. (To the extent that one of the songs is called "Other Voices", which, aside from also being the title of one of the songs on my Cure album of choice, was the name I belatedly gave to the radio show I did in the latter part of the 1980s.)
That, and he knows how to craft a tune. Let's just say, there are many recent records that I have listened 20 times as often as I have played "American Dream", perfectly good records all of them, but in respect of which none of the songs have managed to find their way into my subconscious; whereas a few short weeks in, I am already being woken up at three in the morning by the songs on "American Dream". A few of them haven't yet broken through the roll-call of influences to become their own songs. (For example, "Change Yr Mind" still seems to come from a not-all-that-alternative universe where Brian Eno wrote "No One Receiving" for Talking Heads to record for their "Remain In Light" album, while David Bowie's "Lodger" was playing in the room next door. (Actually, it is pleasing to report that the ghost of "Lodger" is all over this record, because I no longer feel like I have to whisper the fact that it has always been my favourite Bowie album.)) But they will. They always do. Heck, even "Call The Police" has gotten completely under my skin.
What can I do? I surrender.
Getting the band back together was, it should have come as no surprise at all, a work of (that word) genius; a masterstroke.
Let’s just listen to "I Used To". Somewhere in there is a Roland Jupiter 4, an instrument I have had experience with: possibly one of the least manageable, most user-unfriendly synthesisers known to man. So that's a thing. But, and I can't believe that I am saying this: man, if ever a guitar solo could be so perfect that it actually makes the song, it is this one. There. My credibility is shot. Like I said, curse you, James Murphy. You win this round.
Album of the year? There's no point teasing out the suspense. Yes.
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Saturday, September 16, 2017
At some point I found a second-hand copy of "Movies", Czukay's first solo album, from five years earlier. "Movies" made a lot more sense to me. At least, it had a structure: each side featured one shorter, ahem, "accessible" song followed by a lengthy, well, something less accessible but nevertheless fascinating. It probably remains the best way in.
Many years later, Czukay for me has blended into the fabric of a lot of what I listen to. I know Can, not as any kind of expert or afficionado, but I can at least hear why they are so highly regarded. I know where the use of dictaphones and shortwave radios in music comes from. I know that there was a sharp sense of humour behind everything he did, even what sound like the serious bits. I also know he created an entire galaxy of music, only a few of the beautiful stars in which have as yet been visible to me.
Here's a song you might know.
The thing Husker Du had, and which I had perhaps been missing without knowing it, was an overwhelming sense of melody, of how to (de)construct a nice tune. A tune buried under a ton of noise and aggression, admittedly, but a tune nevertheless. There was noise, but there was almost always beauty within the noise. In another universe, Husker Du could have been all over everything.
The other thing about Husker Du, it turns out (you couldn't learn much from either radio or magazines in those days), was that they were a paradigm example of what can happen when two fiercely creative individuals, each with his own outlook, ideas and aspirations, work collectively towards a common end. (See also: The Go-Betweens.) The union might not be pretty; there might be personal damage; the enterprise is more likely to burn out than to rust. The history of Husker Du is of two such people, who climbed up to spectacular heights but destroyed their relationship in the process. The story is, actually, terribly sad. You can't listen to the records now without dwelling on the pain that went into making them. But the music itself somehow remains as uplifting as it ever was, and if anyone is finally able to orchestrate reissue rights for the albums, it might finally sound as it should always have sounded at the extreme volumes it should always be heard at.
Here, again, is a song you might know.
Saturday, September 09, 2017
"Thirty", by The Weather Station.
This is such a good song. And surprising. Your expectation (mine, anyway) is some kind of front-porch understated strummer, in the nature (v loosely) of, say, a Marissa Nadler or a Joan Shelley. (This idea may have been brought on by the black-and-white cover image.) Instead, here is someone with urgency in her voice, who surrounds herself with electric guitars (and flute!), who sings like an angel, and who even throws in an F-bomb for good measure. Plus, when the song really gets going it reveals itself to be a solid early-eighties-style power-pop banger, perfect for throwing pinwheels around the living room. And then it just stops. Dead. No baggage whatsoever.
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Question: what do Ash Wednesday and Joe Dolce have in common?
Well, Ash Wednesday, who was pretty much on the leading edge of Melbourne electronic music in the early eighties (you can read a pretty good overview of his career up to 2014 here), did the production work on a very excellent synth-pop song by Karen Marks, "Cold Cafe", which was released as a seven-inch single in 1981. The song also appeared on an Astor Records compilation LP, "Terra Australis", sitting just one track away from that Australian rock "classic" "Shaddap You Face", by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.
The Australian rock music "scene" having always been small and somewhat incestuous, it is quite possible that these particular paths have been crossed on other occasions or in other ways, but it was nevertheless a surprise to find these two seemingly diametrically opposed individuals on the one slab of vinyl.
(The track listing of "Terra Australis" is actually more bizarre than even the collocation of Karen Marks and Joe Dolce might suggest. The record also features such diverse talents as Mike Brady (whose "Up There Cazaly" also appears on the record, credited to "The Two-Man Band"); rockabilly rebels Crackajacks (featuring one Warren Rough, previously of The Autodrifters (with two of my own personal heroes, Peter Lillie (of The Leisuremasters and The Pelaco Brothers) and Johnny Topper (who, as far as I know, still does a regular show on 3RRR)) and later of Corpse Grinders); one-time member of Johnny Young's Young Talent Team Karen Knowles; and all-round household name Barry Crocker.)
I have seen "Cold Cafe" referred to (eg on the blurb attached to the following clip) as "OZ wave". I don't know about that. On the one hand, this was a pretty universal sound circa 1981. On the other hand, I think it's simply a fine piece of music and doesn't require allocation into any pigeon hole.