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.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Song of the day

"Daylight", by The Pattern Forms.
The Pattern Forms is Jon Brooks, of The Advisory Circle (and one of the masterminds of the Ghost Box label), and two dudes from The Friendly Fires.

Ghost Box have made an art form out of burying personality under layers of what tends to be called "hauntology" but what breaks down as overdosing on British children's television shows of the sixties and seventies, "The Wicker Man", and old-school BBC public service announcements, and turning all of this (and more) into pieces of music. What they haven't done too much of is actual, honest to goodness songcraft. (There are fleeting glimpses of this across their two seven-inch-single series, but still largely obscured by the concept.) 

(I am making this sound like negative criticism. Actually, it isn't. They do what they do consistently brilliantly.)

The Pattern Forms come to us still dressed up in inverted commas, but here it's the sound of mid-80s British music, in all of its high-production-values majesty. (Think Tears For Fears, Talk Talk, and any number of records the product of expensive studio time with Fairlights, and go on from there.) And, in "Daylight", they have come up with an honest to goodness pop song, with heart and soul, and complete with chorus that, if you were there the first time around, will bring literal tears to your eyes. You have been warned.

First Impressions

So, like everybody else around here, I have listened to the two new LCD Soundsystem songs.

If I am good at anything, it is NOT judging records on the strength of one listen. Sometimes, even 10 (or even 100) is not enough. Often enough, down the track I can no longer remember what I first thought. Here, then, for my own future reference, are those first thoughts.

"Call The Police".

All I've got for this, really, is a pull quote. You want it, it's yours.

"I don't mind that James Murphy got the band back together. It's just a shame that the band was U2."

"American Dream".

Having blown the entire budget on "Call The Police", LCD find themselves stuck with some sick (NOT in the sense of "fully") OMD synths circa 1980, and have some fun doing what they do best: slapping down something that sounds remotely like a song with what gives the impression of minimal effort or pre-planning but, knowing James Murphy, was no doubt quite the opposite. "An unlikely hit."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Song of the day

"Open Soul", by Tomorrow's People.

Floating Points is probably the most significant musical discovery I have made over the past 18 months. I don't know precisely what it is, but everything he turns out sounds to me like some sort of perfection. But not satisfied with making his own particular musical magic, Mr Points has seen fit to reissue what would appear to be a pretty obscure 1976 soul-disco album from some otherwise-unknown Chicago band of (literally) brothers.

I can't speak for side one of said album, but this song, which comprises the entirety of side two, is twenty minutes of the best kind of seventies insanity. Nothing stays in the one place for long except the rhythm, which is relentless. Give that bass player a medal. And the drummer. And the rhythm guitarist. Oh, and let's not forget whoever provided the vamping electric piano, which is all over everything. And everything, as Radiohead once sung, is in its right place. I don't know if Floating Points established his own label solely to be able to release this monster jam, but I couldn't blame him if that turned out to be the case.

It's a four-day weekend, so you have time to listen to this.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Song of the day

"Sunspots", by Julian Cope.

In those long lost days of 1984, following the dissolution of his band The Teardrop Explodes, but before he became something of a latter-day druid, world expert on all things Krautrock and Japrock, creator of heavily psychotropic- and/or magick(sic)-influenced multi-disc concept records, published author, archaeologist, and possibly much else besides, Julian Cope released two brilliant and still, I think, criminally overlooked albums of finely crafted, inventive yet earworm-heavy psychedelia-tinged pop songs, "World Shut Your Mouth" and "Fried". Cope, I think, had the idea that he wanted to be a star, and after these two albums failed he took a bit of time off, returned with a larger budget and with songs containing bigger (and louder) hooks, but stardom yet eluded him. In the traditional narrative of the damaged rock musician, that would be the point at which he fell off the edge of the world as most people know it, but looking at the series of photos adorning "Fried", with a seemingly naked Cope looking fairly comfortable and relaxed under a tortoise shell, one suspects that by 1984 he was, just possibly, already occupying a space slightly out of phase with that occupied by the rest of us. Looking at the vastness of his body of work, it doesn't seem to have held him back. And "Sunspots", which popped, unbidden, into my head this morning, and which I am, as a human being, ashamed to say climbed no higher than number 76 on the UK singles chart, is about as good as it gets.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Song of the day

"Two Arrows", by Real Estate.

This song starts off like some kind of Paisley Underground throwback (not a criticism). It breathes a lot more than a Real Estate song usually does. (It is also in the direction of twice the length of a typical Real Estate song.) Around four minutes in, something locks into place. You know those songs that go round in a seemingly endless circle, looping back on themselves so often that, no matter how often you have heard the song, you have no idea when it is going to end? "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", from "Abbey Road", might be the ur-text for this type of song. It can be an almost stressful listen, in its own way, as you know the song is going to abruptly cut out but you can never be quite sure when. "Two Arrows" does exactly the same thing. (One assumes this isn't coincidental.)

(You kind of wish The Velvets' "What Goes On" did the same thing, instead of fading out; although there is an argument that fading the song out, rather than cutting it out abruptly, leaves a stronger suggestion that the song does, in fact, go on forever. (It's nice to think that somewhere "What Goes On" is continuing to motor its way ever onwards.))

Bonus beats: here they are performing the same song live in the middle of last year, when it was a "new song", and where it heads off in a slightly different, but also very satisfying, direction.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hypothetical mixtape: April 2016

And then disaster struck. Well, not actual disaster. Nobody died. The computer on which all the random music I have internet-trawled resided (note the past tense), neatly parcelled into monthly playlists awaiting my delayed attention, had to be rebuilt, the result of which is that I haven't lost any music, but everything has been lumped together into an undifferentiated, congealed mass. Here, then, endeth the monthly hypothetical mixtape (which was never really monthly, or hypothetical; or a mixtape). I will try to find a way to keep doing these, in some form, as it has been an enjoyable exercise and a way of discovering the occasional wtf musical moment, and those, of course, are what it is all about. In the meantime, there is this.

"She's In The Wall", by Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions. Let's start off by what seems to have become the monthly Hope Sandoval song. This time it's her own band, and a song that, because she has been on a total creative roll of late, she seemingly couldn't fit onto her latest album. If you were a musician that would probably make you cry.

"She Wants To Disappear", by Plates Of Cake. If you ever imagined what The Clientele might have sounded like if they were a part of the Postcard Records roster (I know I have), this song is for you.

"Golden Vanity", by The Hanging Stars. Because everything sounds better when it sounds like it was written and recorded in 1967.

"Dejenla En Paz", by Tonchos Pilatos. Remember, if you build a wall between Mexico and the United States you will also be keeping out good people like Tonchos Pilatos. Which would be just wrong. 

Next up: a mini-mix of three stray Stereolab-related tracks; either I was bored, or listening to Cavern Of Anti-Matter sent me into a dangerous spiral of nostalgia. Who can say?

"One Wild Moment (Stereolab Remix)", by The Pastels. There is probably a Pastels song buried in here somewhere, but all I can hear is what I regard as Mouse On Mars-era Stereolab (you know, the "Dots And Loops" sound), which was not a thing for anywhere near long enough if you ask me.

"Explosante Fixe", by Stereolab. The "A" side of a "Chemical Chords"-era tour single. This is part of what at the time I regarded as Stereolab's "long tail", although in retrospect this era still has its charms, albeit they may be taking a bit longer to reveal themselves.

"Calimero", by Stereolab & Brigitte Fontaine. Released in the same year as the above Pastels remix, this struck me instinctively as sounding more like something from what I would call the Jim O'Rourke ("Cobra And Phases Group") era of Stereolab, although in trying (without success) to find the precise analogue to the backing track, I have been forced to conclude that (a) it might also be related to "Sound-Dust" and (b) this might well be the most mind-bending three-album run by any group in the history of popular music.

"Rashomon", by Takeshi Terauchi & The Blue Jeans. My discovery of this track, right here, is why I do this blog. Whatever the first two and a half minutes (a remarkable piece of music in its own right) leads you to expect you are being set up for, I can almost guarantee that you will be wrong. Try it and see.

(Bonus: album cover of the month.)
"Underground In Blue", by The Underground Set. As interpolations of "Love Is Blue" go, nothing can quite reach the might and majesty of Paul Mauriat's own disco version, but this unstable pile of Italian nutso gives it a fair shake.

"Nucleo Antirapina", by Bixio, Frizzi & Tempera. This seems to have been originally rediscovered (if that's not a tautology) by the estimable nineties label Crippled Dick Hot Wax. So incredibly well recorded that listening to it could actually kill you. (But don't let that stop you.)

"Zota Yinne", by Alogte Oho Jonas. So, this is some classic African-tinged roots reggae. It sounds so amazing (I almost had an accident when the horns first kicked in) that it could only have been made in ... Germany. In 2013. In fact, the only thing that might connect it to the 21st century is the copyright information: otherwise it is so authentically seventies that you have to suspect a set-up.

"Ono No Imoko", by Siuyoubi No Campanella. Because Japanese pop music.

"El Groove De Tu Corazon (Matias Aguayo Version)", by Ana Helder. Matias Aguayo has a reputation for doing things that don't sound quite like other things. I don't entirely know what to make of this song, if it is even a song, but it certainly fits that description. Uh, "enjoy".

"Threatened", by Lives Of Angels. Purely electronic sounds from, I would say, the earlier end of the 1980s. Well, mostly electronic: note the (at the time) subversive use of Young Marble Giants-style electric guitar for "tonal colour".

"The Linear Way", by Linear Movement. This is not the first time I have heard Linear Movement. In another universe, they might have been the band that I went to see at The Tote with almost religious devotion. (They are also very stylish.) Notwithstanding the previous track, you certainly did not need guitars in order to make an impact. It would all be lost to history now, if we didn't have the internet. (On the other hand, if we didn't have the internet Donald Trump most likely wouldn't be president. Gosh, that's awkward.)

"Crossing", by Midori Takada. You would be ignoring the elephant in the room if you didn't at least mouth the words "Steve Reich" when listening to this. Which is not in any way to diminish what is a sufficiently compelling, and mesmerising, piece of music on its own terms. By an extraordinary coincidence, the album this comes from, "Through The Looking Glass", is being reissued this very week on WRWTFWW Records, which is a very satisfying acronym.

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.

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.