Monday, February 28, 2011

Song of the hour

I don’t know much about Toad the Wet Sprocket except they have a stupid name. I was recently transferring my old itunes account to a new computer (song by song – long story) and came across this tune which I haven’t listened to in years. I remember seeing the video on Rage a millennia ago and falling in love with it. I have a real weakness for songs with strong backing vocals/melodies (from the Beach Boys to Hole’s Malibu – gorgeous backing vocals on that one) and I think that’s the thing that really strikes me about this song. Above anything else, it’s just a beautifully sullen little pop gem. I can only think of one other Toad the Wet Sprocket song but to be honest, I think this is the only one I need.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Music stalker

What does your itunes say about you? I work in a building where multiple shared libraries can be accessed and listened to but it almost feels a little dirty and stalkerish to check other people's music libraries out. There are a bunch of things in my itunes that are remnants of bad taste from the past or bands I never listen to but imported for some party playlist or because I was feeling nostalgic. I guess I don’t care whether people think I’m a Jack Johnson fan or not but to any casual observer of my itunes library, they may think I’m his biggest fan. I’m not but his songs remain in my itunes for no apparent reason.

This leads to the libraries I can access at work. One is a tasteful collection of Antony, Sufjan, Bon Iver and Beirut which is peppered Good Charlotte, Silverchair and Killing Heidi. Looking at it objectively, it makes no sense but the real story is that it is one of my co-worker’s itunes which has been used by his son hence the terrible teenage bent of much of the music in the library. However, a new library has appeared recently which has me somewhat perplexed. It has some great music on there (mainly punk bands) but I’m not sure how a collection that has Cannibal Corpse and Discharge in it can also have the Bee Gees and Gloria Estefan. Either they have the most eclectic music taste in history or that was one hell of a party. I’m currently trying to work out who owns the library so I can ask them about it. I’ll keep you informed.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

True conversations of music nerds: Queens apologist

Text messages sent last night:

ZD: At soundwave. Just watched queens mail in their set. Iron Maiden on now. What am I missing?

JH: That they're hilariously bad but the maiden heads will lap it up anyhow. They are funny. Apparently Josh was too ill to play NZ.

ZD: Not too ill to neck a bottle of vodka on stage tonight.

JH: Purely medicinal I'm sure.


What Do You Look Forward To?

In a recent post, I was lamenting the musical prospects for 2011 and then Radiohead, Mogwai and PJ Harvey pop albums in my lap. So in that spirit, here's a list of new musical exploits that I'm looking forward to in 2011...

Cat Power - TBC:
I recently heard from a Cat Power concert attendee that she played some new songs which were amazing and 'worth the wait.' Despite rumblings the album might not come out until 2012, I'll immediately buy any album she releases.

Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys:
I've been a recent convert to Death Cab and think they're pretty good. Apparently their new album is going to be less guitar-centric and using more synths. So I guess this year we finally get a new Postal Service album.

Bob Mould - See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody: As a big (BIG!) Bob Mould fan, the idea of an autobiography sounds amazing. If my superficial knowledge of Mould's life is anything to go by, it should be a cracker. Small town (NY) boy move to Minneapolis and forms seminal melodic punk band Hüsker Dü with Grant Hart and Greg Norton. Mould and Hart try to outdo each other in the songwriting department and also struggle for leadership of the band creating one of the most fertile songwriting battles since Lennon-McCartney. Wracked by addiction and infighting, the band splits acrimoniously after the suicide of their manager. Mould goes into the wilderness and produces the autumnal solo album Workbook, a largely acoustic based album a thousand miles from the Hüskers. Mould also forms Sugar, a power pop trio that rode the wave of grunge to give Mould some well deserved credit/cash for a movement he had a hand in influencing. Outed by Spin magazine in 1995, Mould has gone onto have a successful solo career post-Sugar in both rock and also dj'ing bear parties around the states - go Bob.

The thing about Bob is that even though he seems quite mellow now, when I first started following his career he seemed like the most intense person on the planet. Seriously, the most upbeat thing about his second solo album Black Sheets of Rain is the title. So if the autobiography captures any of the drama of these years at all, it will be a very insightful and moving account of life in the music underground. The book is co-written by Michael Azerrad who wrote the amazing Our Band Could Be Your Life, an account of punk and hardcore in the 80's (seriously, it's worth buying for the Butthole Surfers chapter alone). I was a little surprised by this as Mould comes off as a little unsympathetic in that book but whatever, at least he's not Greg Norton. I thought Hart and Mould hated each other but they seem like best buddies compared to Hart's appraisal of Norton recently (and Frank Black for that matter - sensitive Pixies fans beware).

Foo Fighters - Wasted Light: While I'm crapping on about Bob, he makes an appearance on the new Foo Fighters album (above) which I find very exciting. The other reason I'm excited is because whenever Grohl plays with Josh Homme, he tends to come back and make hyper aggressive Foo Fighters albums (the last one being One by One after drumming on Songs for the Deaf). The rockin' White Limo already appears promising so bring the RAWK!

Queens of the Stone Age - TBC: OK, so recording hasn't even started (although songwriting has) and recent live shows have apparently been underwhelming. But the re-issue of the first album has got Josh Homme back into his robot rock mindset and a near death experience has apparently made him approach life in a vulnerable and reflective way. Should be interesting.

Gillian Welch - TBC: She hasn't released an album since 2003. Could this be the year?

Radiohead - The King of Limbs 2: Radiohead conspiracist theorists are speculating that there is a Amnesiac-esque companion album to the King of Limbs. Good luck with that but I like your thinking.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Past is prologue

The last few days we've been cleaning out our office. Amongst the thousand year old files, outdated equipment (zip drives! floppy discs!) and random detritus, we found a box of personal stuff owned by the former manager. Just to show how long she had been here, in the box was a Walkman with a Fugazi/Shellac tape in it. The weird thing is I'm pretty sure I had the same combination of albums on a tape some time in the past.

Finding this stuff was like stepping back in time. When you move into a new job, you can look at the previous person's itunes and snigger that Jack Johnson is on there. Finding these tapes is like finding a pre-historic itunes but in this case, the music taste is pretty awesome. This is pure nostalgia for me. There was a whole period of my life that revolved around music taped on 90-minute cassettes. Having ateended uni in North Queensland, any trip to Brisbane by bus was at least 24 hours long so you'd make sure you'd have sufficient tapes and batteries to last the arduous journey. I remember at one point, I had Sugar's Copper Blue on both sides of a tape so I could just turn it over and listen to it over and over again without having to rewind it. Another time, I remember having some herbal medicine on a particularly long trip to Sydney (the bus broke down for four hours somewhere just outside of Buttfuck Nowhere, NSW) so I leaned back and listened to OK Computer while watching swirling patterns on the back of my eyelids.

This was a time when all my friends and I would make tapes for road trips. One particular memorable one started with the Knightrider theme followed by Trans Europe Express by Kraftwerk - two songs that go surprisingly well together. That tape was fantastic, it had Get the fuck outta dodge (Public Enemy) and Heatwave (by Martha and the Vandellas) as well. Somehow making playlists and mix cds has never really caught the magic of making tape mixes. I think it’s mainly because rewinding songs is pretty monotonous so when you gave a mixtape, you were pretty assured that whomever you gave it to was going to listen to it all the way through. The convenience of cds and ipods (play a song again with the push of a button) has undermined the intent of a good, well thought out compilation.

Post Walkman, I never was a discman type of guy - I kind of made the leap from the Walkman to no music to ipods without really embracing the portable cd player. I found they skipped too easily and cds always got damaged as soon as I took them anywhere.

Then ipods came along and I have long said that I believe it is the single piece of technology that has had nothing but a positive effect on my life. I must admit that apart from the advantage of storing whole cd libraries on ipods, they have one significant advantage over the Walkman. When a Walkman's batteries started to run low, you could hear the music getting slower. Subtly at first until it worsened into slurring blur of the music you love grinding to a distorted halt. At least when ipods run out of batteries, they just stop, you don’t have to listen to your favourite music die.

I miss mixtapes but in the age of the ipod, I ain't ever going back.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

5 seconds of heaven

Five Seconds Of Every #1 Pop Single Part 1 by mjs538
Five Seconds Of Every #1 Pop Single Part 2 by mjs538

And I thought I was a music nerd...

So the story goes that Hugo Keesing created a mix tape called Chart Sweep which had a five second snippet of every number 1 charting 45 released from 1956 (the birth of the US Billboard charts) until the early 90's when the 45 chart was phased out. Apparently the tapes have been in circulation privately for some time but have recently been added to soundcloud and a few other sites. Listening to them is quite a revelatory experience, in terms of the music you know subconsciously and how much of it brings back memories of childhood. What really blows my mind though is the sheer commitment/insanity it would take to compile this. Mr Keesing, I bow to you sir.

Of the two parts above, the second is the most interesting to me because it starts in about 1981/82 with Down Under and ends with Whitney Houston's I will always love you - roughly when I was aged 9 to 19. I can recognise and sing along to pretty much most of these songs which shows how popular music can infect the deepest recesses of your brain like a virus. Even in the late 80's and early 90's where I was pretty much dedicated to metal music, I recognise all these songs including Michael Bolton, Milli Vanilli and Roxette as well as obscure bands like PM Dawn (maybe this says more about me than the music here).

Apart from showing the ubiquitous nature of popular music, it also shows homogenity of the charts because a lot of these songs sound very similar. When Prince and EMF appear, it's almost jarring because they sound so different. There was also a lot more hip hop based songs than I remember at the time which provides some hilarity - hearing Sir Mixalot's Baby Got Back sandwiched between Mariah Carey and Madonna makes it sound even more weird and brilliant. That being said there was far more Huey Lewis number 1's than I care to remember.

The other thing I noticed is that during the 80's there are a large number of English artists charting in America which I don't think happens as much these days with the US charts being largely dominated by US artists. On that, even as a five second snippet, Duran Duran's A View to a Kill is not only the worst Bond theme of all time, it could rate as one of the worst songs of all time and in terms of the quantity and quality of the company here - that's quite amazing.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Movie music 2

Since writing the blog entry yesterday, I've been thinking of my favourite use of music in films. One of my favourites is Where is my mind? in the final scene and credits of Fight Club. Just after Edward Norton shoots himself in the head you can hear the can hear the distant coo of Kim Deal before the song kicks-in in earnest. I'm sure every Pixies fan who sees the film for the first time gets goosbumps when the song starts - I know I did. Perfect song for the perfect scene. I think it might have ended badly if they'd used Nickelback instead...


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I wannabe the movie music dude

I have a confession to make about my ambitions in life. Everyone has a dream job and mine has evolved over time. You know, it's the usual novelist, then rock star to leader of a powerful drug cartel. But to be honest, there was one job that I've always thought would be phenomenal. When I was a kid, before I became obsessed with music I was obsessed with film. One of the first dream jobs I ever thought of was to be the guy who picks the music that is played during films. Not the score composer but the dude who picks the rock song that plays as John Cusack makes out with some random woman drunkenly towards the end of a rom-com and then immediately regrets it because his true love is waiting.

I was reminded of this ambition not too long ago. As a fan of metal, I have a casual relationship with Tool and A Perfect Circle in that I occasionally listen to these bands and enjoy them (Maynard is an exceptional vocalist for this kind of music). I'm not saying they're good (although they are good at what they do), they just fulfill some metal deficiency I often find in my musical diet. Anyhow, as I'm a movie fan too I often watch a lot of trailers on the Apple trailer site - pretty much watching anything that appears whether I'd see it or not. I remember watching this Resident Evil trailer and despite the fact I will never see this film and can never remember hearing the Perfect Circle song before, I thought 'geez that sounds/looks awesome.' It made me actively find the song (The Outsider) and listen to it a bunch of times.

Now, here's the weird thing. Objectively, I think that movie looks like a pile of shit but I think the music makes it seem better and more exciting than if it wasn't there. The other thing is I tracked down the original music video for this song, which is TERRIBLE, and I think if I'd seen that first, I would never have liked the song.

I know I'm being Captain Obvious when I say there is an incredibly complex relationship between images and music but this is a case that genuinely stumps me. In isolation, neither of these things would have particularly excited me but together they make a tasty concoction that tastes nice, smells good and even though it's probably bad for me (like a mars bar: caramel awesomeness + chocolate seduction = heart disease for Jon), I can't deny that I like it.

Music is a powerful medium and often the circumstances in which we listen to it shape our relationship with it. For example, that song that reminds you of that girl/boy you broke up with because you used to listen it together or the song when they played when England got knocked out of the world cup (again). What interests me about popular culture is the way music is used to artificially create that moment that often naturally by virtue of music being part of our lives. However, it can be a tricky thing. A badly chosen song can kill a scene in a movie but the right song can make it memorable and moving in ways that just the raw footage never could.

The other reason I bring this up is I often listen to music and think, that’d be awesome in a movie. After writing about Mogwai the other day, I went on a Moggy bender and so much of their music would slide seamlessly into a movie. Even though that’s a cliché (music for movies that don’t exist yadda yadda), I think it’s a credit to a band that they can make music that endlessly arouses a visual reaction, I’m not sure how to phrase it but some music gets me dreaming about the world in a film like way.

To be honest, I think I’d be pretty good at picking music for movies but I think the underlying desire for doing this is inherently selfish. I probably want this job because I think I have superior music taste to everyone else and I could infect popular culture with excellent songs that I love.* Plus, it's the only job I can think of which utilises all the useless knowledge I have about music.

*As a side note, someone at Channel 10 has this job and has been very sneakily dropping in excellent music into some pretty banal programs. Both the 7pm Project and Sports Tonight have amazing music at times. Who knew?


Monday, February 21, 2011

The greatest punk cover never made...

I love a good cover song, particularly when some band rips the beating heart out of some great song and stomps on it. One of my favourite covers of all time is Helmet covering Bjork because it is soooo bad. The vocals are hilariously shit as apparently there is far more art to Bjork's vocals than I first thought. Alternately, one of my favourite bands Jawbox gained a short bout of recognition for covering Cornflake Girl which is equally terrible but not in a good way. They were a fantastic band but that cover just sucks the life out of that song - too earnest, too bad.

Anyhow, there was a spate of young punk/emo bands in the '00's who gained fame by doing sped up covers of famous songs (it was kind of like hair metal bands doing ballads in the 80's). Remember that band that covered the Boys of Summer? No? Neither do I but they were famous for a full five minutes. Or those endless bands covering Michael Jackson - hilarious... Geez they were shit.

Anyway, if you are in a young punk band looking for the perfect song to cover, I have the solution - Counting the Beat by the Swingers. It has all the perfect elements for a punk makeover: a wicked walking bass line, guitars that need distorting, woo-woo's and a section of la-di-da's begging for a punk singalong. If you can divorce the image of the song being used in a Target ad, I sincerely think you could get famous covering it. Just think about it...

Seriously - it'd be awesome.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

In defence of Mogwai...

Do Mogwai need defending? Probably not. I'm sure these Scottish lads would take on all comers if it got down to a fight but I feel I need to defend them. The reason for this is that I read a lot of music press and as time goes on, it seems that Mogwai are often maligned for existing longer than some people would have hoped - releasing albums that are perceived as not as revolutionary as their early works. I think that's crap and here's why.

I remember the first time I saw Mogwai was at Newtown RSL in 1999. It was one of those occasions where I didn’t really know too much about the band but my friend said I really, really had to go and see them. I’m glad I really, really went because this was one of the most memorable gigs I’ve ever seen. This was just before the release of Come On Die Young and they were playing songs from that album and the ep called ep (later re-named ep+6). The most enduring memory I have of the night is them playing an epic elongated version of Rage: Man. As the waves of distortion heaved and swayed around the anchoring piano line, it seemed as if the band were levitating as the music became more and more intense. I still get chills thinking about this.

At the time, I’d heard a bit of this kind of music before (I shudder to say Post-Rock) – mainly Tortoise who I confess did little for me. However, Mogwai had this visceral edge that trod the line between mournful beauty and unrelenting brutality which made me a convert instantly. I purchsed their back catalogue and eagerly awaited each new release. However, I started to notice after the release of the My Father, My King ep that people started to get a bit dismissive of them. I remember spouting off the joys of Happy Songs For Happy People to be met with ‘it sounds like Mogwai by numbers’ as well as reading some pretty average reviews. Anyone revisiting that album might be surprised to find that some of Mogwai’s most moving and beautiful music is on that record but you wouldn’t know it from most fans of the band. They keep blathering on about Young Team and Like Herod. Don’t get me wrong, both are amazing but my question is just how exactly can Mogwai not be a disappointment to these people? As perfect as some people may think these albums are, musicians (or humans for that matter) cannot stand still in time (unless they're AC/DC).

Mogwai mine and explore a definite sonic landscape and while their palette is pretty broad, you can always pick a Mogwai song. As such, their sound is defined while constantly evolving within this template but that doesn’t seem to be enough. When Young Team came out it was probably pretty revolutionary (10 minute songs! No vocals!) and no matter what they do they/the fans will never be able to replicate that first rush of discovery. The music on the later albums is not groundbreaking the way the early stuff was because it’s already been done – BY Mogwai. However, that doesn’t make those albums any less beautiful or worse than the early ones – it just makes them NOT the early ones. Seriously, do you want them to release a barbershop album or something?

The reason I bring this up is because I’ve been reading some pretty begrudging reviews of their latest album Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will (one of the greatest album titles of all time I would contend). A lot of the reviews mention how lame the last few albums are but I think that’s bullshit and I’m calling it as such. In the eyes of the reviewer, they are lame because they didn’t re-write Like Herod five times. To be honest, some of my favourite Mogwai songs are from the latter albums and even though I have a special space in my heart for the first albums (and especially the ep), my taste has moved on (as has Mogwai’s music). In fact, my favourite Mogwai song is from the much maligned The Hawk is Howling (4.5 Pitchfork? Fuck off you wanker!).

The first song off this record, I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead encapsulates everything I love about the band in a single song. Plaintive piano, waves of distortion that lead to the an ecstatic and moving release. Seriously, at 3:06 the song starts to build for almost a minute until it breaks at 3:56. Every time I listen to it I get chills - essentially, they have created the perfect Mogwai moment in that 1 minute of space for me. The release is so heart breakingly beautiful that I can’t fathom why these albums are derided as they are. I listen to Mogwai often and I can’t say that any of their records sounds like they’re phoning it in. Music by numbers does not seem to be an option for this band, everything bleeds with exploration, graft and beauty.

Anyhow, without being too much a blabbering fan boy, my eventual point is that when I hear these songs I still get the giddy rush I always did when listening to Mogwai and I can't quite understand why the later albums are not embraced as much as the earlier ones. The music is good (if not great), is that not enough?


I'm still digesting Hardcore but here's my favourite later Mogwai songs:

I Know You Are But What Am I?
Ratts of the Capital
Auto Rock
Emergency Trap
Friend of the night
I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School
Terrific Speech


Saturday, February 19, 2011

True conversations of music nerds: mistaken identity

Dragged to an evening watching the American So You Think You Can Dance with friends.

SYTYCD Judge: You did admirably in what was an impossible task. You had a yeoman's job.

JR: What's a yeoman?

JH: Isn't that the lead singer of Regurgitator?

JR: You're so right.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Radiohead just made a million bucks

Let's face it, the boys in Radiohead are smarter and more talented than you and me. Just accept the fact and move on (I might be prettier than the bass player though but even that's debatable). In the middle of the night (Australian time), Radiohead released their 8th album with minimal promotion. No doubt they made a million bucks while I was sleeping. While everyone in the music industry is scratching their heads about how to deal with this damned internet contraption, Radiohead have smoothly dealt with the transition in technology with minimal fuss.

I won't go into the In Rainbows 'pay-what-you-want' thing here. Everyone knows about it, talked about it and then were surprised that an album they got for free was so good (although, I admit I paid £5 for it). What we didn't realise was that Radiohead were conditioning us for the release of the next album where they insist we pay for it. And you know what? I bet a lot of people did.

The reason I think this is because the current generation of popular culture fans want their music and films instantly. I used to make some lame joke about how everyone's favourite food must be toast because everyone's so impatient they want their food now! Toast is probably too slow these days and everyone just eats the bread without bothering to toast it anymore (if they're not eating raw grains). This is how music feels these days - if I want it, I should be able to download it instantly. Any conventional music release is going to be leaked online before it hits the stores - record companies can't control this. Most albums leak a few weeks before the release date where rabid fans download it and then 'forget' to buy the official product. To be fair, a lot of people probably buy the album too even if they've downloaded it but I'm sure there's a whole generation of tech savvy five year olds who think music was always free.

What Radiohead have cleverly done is stage managed the inevitable leak in that if you want it first you have to get it from them (rather than the Pirate Bay) and you have to pay for it. I'm sure as the album went live, a large number of people were too impatient for the inevitable torrent and paid for it. Conversely, I'm sure another bunch of people checked the page and went "£6? OK Radiohead, just because I like you."* I think by directly embracing the concept that music is released digitally first Radiohead is reaping the rewards of the modern music buying public.

When I told my girlfriend this morning that Radiohead had released a new album over night, her first reaction was, "where is the build up?" But in internet terms, a couple of days notice is a huge build up to a major release like this. I'm sure all the bean counters in the Radiohead camp are sitting there watching waves of money roll in and everyone is very happy (except EMI who supported and built the Radiohead brand until they were big enough to jump ship). The need for million dollar advertising campaigns are a thing of the past for bands like Radiohead when stupid music bloggers like me do the work for them (where's my percentage?).

Essentially, Radiohead have responded to how listeners consume their music and have tailored their releases to suit these patterns. It's not rocket science unless you work for a major record company. That being said, releases like this would only really work for bands with a following the size of Radiohead. I'm sure if I had a crappy no-name punk band, a tactic like this wouldn't work but those bands make money from touring rather than record sales anyway so is that even an issue?

And the album itself? It sounds like Thom has gone back to his Neu and Can albums again - all glitchy stuff with some nice bass lines. Being a Kid A fan, it sounds good to me but so far the highlight is Codex, a piano based ballad (a song type Radiohead have mastered and seemingly perfected). Question is: are you going to buy it?

* Radiohead were always reticent to release details of how much money they made from the In Rainbows experiment. I guess by selling the digital copy for £6 gives us some insight into the median price most people were willing to pay. My guess would be £5 and they've added an extra quid for some cream. Good work boys.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

When hipsters attack: Arcade Fire


True conversations of music nerds: death of a hero

JH: So Gary Moore died.

SC: Yeah, I heard that and thought about you.

JH: Yeah he was the first musician I really loved. I bought all the albums and would buy magazines just if there was a mention of him. I listened to some music of his after I heard - it wasn't as good as I remembered.

SC: Yeah, I listened to some early U2 the other day and came to the conclusion that it might be bad.

JH: Yeah, it's weird. I must admit I felt really sad about it. I guess it's like your first childhood hero dying. Was U2 the first band you really got into?

SC: Yeah, mostly U2 and I guess Midnight Oil before that.

JH: So I guess it's like Bono dying or Peter Garrett joining the Labor Party...

SC: That bad huh?


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Crappy jobs in music

Dave Grohl's mic - now you see it, now you don't.

There are a number of crappy jobs in music – groupie, drug procurer, A&R dude, Bono’s tailor, jazz musician and Dave Grohl’s mic roadie. When Grohl isn’t foo fighting or counting his Nevermind royalties, he occasionally gets behind the drums to pound out some more dollars.

A while back, I saw him play with Them Crooked Vultures and I noticed that when he sang backing vocals while playing drums, his microphone magically swung to his lips when he needed to sing and then swung back when he didn’t need it. At first I thought he had some amazing automated mic pedal which brought it in and out as required. However, as the night wore on, I noticed that a roadie sat at the foot of his drum kit and dutifully swung the mic in whenever Grohl had to sing. I imagine that’s a great view of one’s the world’s best rock drummers but I can also imagine some downsides of this namely:

a) listening to the same set day after day without actually participating apart from swing a mic might get tedious. I don’t remember Josh Homme thanking the mic roadie.

b) being showered in Grohl sweat. You couldn’t probably sell it on ebay but I imagine it would generally just suck and be pretty stinky.

c) If you’ve ever played with a live drummer you’ll know that the drums are an exceptionally loud instrument (especially when played by a hard hitter like Grohl).
Even with earplugs, surely that must hurt somewhat.

So, if you’re currently lamenting your place ion the world, remember, you could always be covered in Dave Grohl sweat as you hang onto his microphone. It could be worse…


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

True conversations of music nerds: No vacancy

At work - discussing music with a workmate. Yesterday...

JH: Did you hear the Arcade Fire won album of the year? Amazing.

WM: Who are the Arcade Fire?

JH: Oh they're great. You'd love them. Do you want to borrow some?

WM: No. I can't take any new music.

JH: What?

WM: I've reached my quota of bands. I can't remember any new ones, I have no room in my life for new music.

JH: Look, I can barely remember all that philosophy and shit I learnt at Uni. I just replaced it with other useless information. For example, I can remember a bunch of Enrique Iglesias songs. Why don't you just forget some other stuff? What about your children's names? You can live without them right?

WM: Um... no.

At work - discussing music with a workmate. Today...

WM: Is that PJ Harvey?

JH: Yeah, it's her new album. It's pretty great.

WM: I'll have to get a copy off you.

JH: Hold on. I thought you had no room for new music.

WM: Duh! I already know PJ Harvey. I said I have no room for anyone I don't know about.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Song Logic - buy this book

A little while ago I mentioned that my internet associate and fellow music nerd Rino Breebaart had released his first book named Song Logic (which you can buy here). I got my copy in the mail today and have read three quarters of it already (I had an electronic version but decided to wait for my print edition to really devour it). I'm not going to review the book here but I have no hesitation in recommending you buy Song Logic and here's why:

1. I think Rino and I have many similar ideas about music. Where I go off into expletive riddled rants about music, he articulates his thoughts with clarity and composure. Further, there's a depth here which is like a savvier Greil Marcus before he disappeared up his own arse. This is seriously good writing about music and if you're a music fan with a sense of history, there are many thought provoking pieces here.

2. Reading these essays makes me immediately want to listen to the music being talked about. Rino is a classicist in many ways but not in that snobby kind of way - the writing is aware of the inherent contradictions of liking U2 (damn you Bono!).

3. Rino is a self-published so essentially he's an indie rock band in the publishing world - support local music/writing.

4. He has a chapter dedicated to the merits of ABBA. This is the second such essay I've read this year (the other being in Chuck Klosterman's Eat the Dinosaur). Rino's is the better of the two.

5. Reading this book has reminded me of a whole bunch of things I had forgotten or not thought about for a long time. Some of these things are:

a) I will argue to the death that Achtung Baby is U2's best album.

b) That being said, the Edge was so boring in that film about guitars. However, I really love Adam Clayton's bass line in Helter Skelter.

c) I will argue to the death that Kid A is Radiohead's best album.

d) That being said, In Rainbows is better than you think it is.

e) I once met Owsley at Glebe Markets. He berated me about the sound quality of some Grateful Dead live albums (long story).

f) Jimi Hendrix is undeniably awesome but I prefer the Radio One compilation to any of his studio albums.

g) The Ramones ruined my hearing in 1994.

h) Really, are Abba that good?

Any writing that makes me think this deeply about music is worth reading. Seriously, you should buy a copy.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

And the winner is... aw shit!

Anyone who knows me knows I love music awards shows. Generally the worse the better (ARIAS, MTV, Grammys etc) because they can't help but pick the lamest or the worst of the bunch and the musical performances are either hopelessly mimed or badly performed with multiple sound problems. I particularly love the Grammys because they notoriously get it wrong. Nirvana lost alternative album of the year twice - Nevermind to Out of Time and In Utero to Zooropa (U2 - how alternative!). They finally won for the posthumous Unplugged album. Too little, too late for Kurt I'm afraid.

Music award shows confound me over and over again by making weird choices and picking either the most diabolically predictable, lame artist over someone genuinely brilliant or going batshit crazy at the last minute and doing the unexpected. Nine times out of ten, you can predict the winner but every once in a while things get a little crazy.

Here's an example: presuppose for a moment that the genre of alternative music had a definable sound. I'm not going to be prescriptive here, just listen to whatever springs to your mind and that's the definition of alternative music. Now, I give you a list of five albums:

* Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
* Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
* The Black Keys - Brothers
* Broken Bells – Broken Bells
* Vampire Weekend – Contra

In your mind, using your definition of alternative music, rank these albums as the most alternative to the least. For me, the exact order is Arcade Fire (alt-rock), Broken Bells (alt-pop), Vampire Weekend (alt-shitty Talking Heads rip off), Band of Horses (alt-country with their worst album to date) and the Black Keys (alt-soul-blues). As such, in my definition of alternative music, the Black Keys are the least alternative of these bands because even though it's a couple of white guys playing blues music (how novel!), it's far from the blues punk of John Spencer and closer to the blues purity of the White Stripes (both in form and band).

So, of course, let's make it a competition. Let's make it the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2011. Who has made the best alternative album? And the winner is... The Black Keys. Aw shit. Again, the Grammys do not fail me by inexplicably picking the Black Keys over the Arcade Fire. I think there is an easy argument to be made that the Arcade Fire are the most obvious choice for best alternative album. Seriously... the Black Keys?

But just to fuck with my head - the Arcade Fire did win today - ALBUM OF THE YEAR! Aw shit.

So, the most prestigious award of the night does not go to Lady Antebellum (who?), Eminem, Katy Perry or Lady Gaga but to Merge Records artist the Arcade Fire. I can't even wrap my head around this because it seems so strange yet so awesome. The popular vote would have been for Eminem which is usually how this goes but the Grammys have confounded my expectations once more. This year they went for batshit crazy over predictable but at least that is kind of cool for a change.

Can anyone explain how these things work? Surely there's a mathematical formula to working this shit out...


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Peej saves...

In my last post, I was lamenting the slow start for music to 2011. Of course, as soon as I hit publish I got an advance copy of PJ Harvey's new record and I can say 2011 has officially begun for me - it is a great album.

I have an interesting relationship with PJ because even though I am a big fan I don't automatically love all her albums - there's at least two I can't stand. I never really warmed to Rid of Me (sue me) despite its classic status and even though there's a few great songs on Uh Huh Her, it seemed regressive and unnecessarily reactive towards the success of Stories from the City. To be brutally honest, I don't think I listened to White Chalk all the way through - just not my cup of chai. That being said, Dry, To bring you my love, Dance Hall at Louse Point, Stories from the City and especially Is this desire? are total class. While I might not like individual albums, I appreciate she is an artist that makes very different music from one album to the next - a trait that can be fascinating, surprising and infuriating. You're not dealing with endless variations of three chord boogie rock here.

Saying PJ Harvey is otherworldly is like saying Limp Bizkit are shit - so obvious it's redundant. However, I feel that there is something especially weird and transcendent going on in Let England Shake. At first listen, the album seems unremarkable and straightforward but the second time through reveals a radical change in both style and content of the PJ's music. It's there but it's subtle - stylistic changes that add rather than detract or overshadow the music itself. As the title suggests, it is a very parochial album but in the sense that it explores the dark alleys of modern England along with the shiny surfaces. War is the most common theme along with dislocation and England's place in the world. The images are striking and fierce which is counterpointed by the sleepy and strangely benign compositions. Weirdly, to my ears, some of the music sounds like it could could come from World War 2. I don't think anyone is going to confuse PJ for Vera Lynn or The Words That Maketh Murder for Roll out the barrel, but it is more in the tone and content that the songs echo an earlier time while maintaining a certain ageless quality.

It's also strange to hear PJ sing music that is so stridently political when her oeuvre is often defined by intimate and personal stories. Some may argue that the personal is political but this album is very much focused on the social and human cost of war. The other difference on this album is the use of samples. Given the singular vision of PJ's previous work, it is disconcerting at first to hear her distinctive voice mix with other voices and sounds. The sampled trumpet call to arms on The Glorious Land sounds out of place at first listen but subsequently it makes more and more sense. The jaunty vocals that form the chorus of The Words That Maketh Murder are a joyous counterpoint to lyrics like "I've seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat."

While the album is certainly dark, it is infinitely more accessible and interesting sonically than the austere White Chalk. I've only had the album for 24 hours but I can quickly hear it becoming one of my favourite PJ records. That alone is enough to say that 2011 is a good year for music. Yay.


Friday, February 11, 2011

January wrap up...

So, yeah, my whole approach to music is that I hope that I'm yet to find my favourite band or album of all time. I'd hate to be one of those people sitting around living in nostalgia. You know the type, "the last great rock album was Sticky Fingers" or "I don't think anyone will top Fear of a Black Planet" or "Metal died the day Dokken split up." Fuck that! I constantly read about music reviews and listen to new albums in the hope that I'll find something wonderful and life changing. But I have to say, January 2011 has been a total bust.

I've listened to a whole bunch of new albums and nothing has stuck with me. The one album I had in my sights was the new Iron and Wine album which I would contend is near unlistenable. Sorry dude, I know you've got the beard but if I want prog-psych-folk-80's pap I'd smoke a bong out of my arse and asphyxiate myself while listening to Jack Johnson's last album. When I'm looking forward to the new Foo Fighters album (primarily because Dave Grohl does a duet with Bob Mould), you know it is not a promising year musically.

So, the biggest surprise of January? Pitchfork gave the Dismemberment Plan a 10 for the reissue of Emergency and I. Don't get me wrong, it is an amazing album but I remember when they were releasing records and couldn't get arrested. In fact, I think most 2nd hand record stores had a Dismemberment Plan section (along with the Jawbreaker and Jawbox sections)*.

Then last week they gave Ride's Nowhere 9.5. Again, another great album and having listened to both of them again, I'm starting to get that painful feeling in my gut "maybe I'm too old for new music." Despite 2010 being a great year of new music for me (Arcade Fire, Deftones, Grinderman, the National etc...), 2011 is starting very, very slowly. Maybe it's too early in the year but is there any good new music yet? Anyone?

*Second hand cd stores in the 90's to early 2000's were always assured to have multiple copies of Hole's Live Through This, Green Day's Dookie and Live's Throwing Copper. If you don't remember Live that's because they suck.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

The greatest rhymes of all time

Chase the Dragon - Beast of Bourbon
Rhyming souvenir with Kampuchea is pure genius but the entire first verse is gold:

I brought back a souvenir
All the way from Kampuchea
A plastic bag up my ass
And soon the goods will all come to pass

Oh Tex, you could never really get any better than this...


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Robot Apocalypse Is NIGH!

He will make you dance.

As a child, I was enthralled with the Terminator universe. Human-like robots sent from a future where machines (Skynet) had pretty much wiped out humanity. The terminators had been sent back in time to destroy John Connor, the eventual leader of the resistance against Skynet. Like any respectable sci-fi fan, I lapped it up and wondered what that future would be like. However, yesterday I read a news article that reveals that machines from the future have infiltrated the present and will no doubt be sowing the seeds of humanity's destruction.

Don't believe me? Exhibit A. Reality star Kim Kardashian was invited by Prince to dance on stage with him. However, when she got on stage she couldn't dance and eventually Prince asked her to leave. Therefore, Kim Kardashian is a fucking terminator from the future sent to destroy us. Not being able to dance to Prince is like saying no thanks to air - you just can't do it. Prince is the king of jiggy-dance action and regardless of how untalented a dancer you are, EVERY human being on the planet can dance to Prince. In fact, I would contend it is impossible NOT to dance to Prince.

Want even more proof? Had you even heard of Kim Kardashian a year ago? Matter of fact, what does she even do? Why is she suddenly ubiquitous without having a single redeeming attribute? Answer: robot from the future planted to kill us all. Remember, I did say that the robots were almost human-like.

We have to accept that Skynet is amongst us. At the very least, it is trying to destroy our sense of self worth and good taste. We must be vigilant. Therefore if you see anyone looking like this:

or this:

or this:

or this, remember to shoot first - the robots will be less forgiving if you give them half a chance.

If you're unsure, put on Purple Rain and see what happens - Prince is our last chance for survival.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Vale Gary Moore

In 1985, I freely admit that I had terrible taste in music. Largely influenced by my older brother’s extensive tape collection that featured all the teen staples of the time – Zeppelin, Neil Young, Dire Straits, John Cougar, I was slowly forming my own taste for music which was mainly bad heavy metal. At that time, I had some Hits of ‘85 compilation. I seem to remember it had some George Michael and Genesis on it but what stood out for me was the Gary Moore song Out in the fields. For some reason it tapped into my early adolescent penchant for melodrama, squealing guitar solos and anthemic choruses. I clearly remember playing this song over and over, running around our rumpus room (wow, we had a rumpus room!) and playing air guitar solos on top of couches. I’m sure my parents must have thought they had a freak on their hands but the seeds of my unbridled love affair with music were being sown in that infantile show of joy.

Not long after this, rock music became an obsession for me and Gary Moore was an integral part of this. I bought every album on cassette or vinyl. I had obscure Japanese imports and was feverishly devoted to his style of guitar playing which was often a lot better than the songs they were being played in. Moore was an obsessive follower of Peter Green, a blues guitarist who was in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac – this influence always moved through Moore’s own music. Even though Moore could play a zillion notes per second in a solo, his music always had a style, tunefulness and fluidity that bared the soul beneath the technique (he also gave amazing 'guitar solo face' too - you know what I mean). Further, albums such as Wild Frontier and After the War flirted with Celtic influences in ways similar to Thin Lizzy, a band he played with in the 70’s with long time friend and collaborator Phil Lynott. The lyrics to his songs were often cheesy and awkward but Moore was always a literal heart-on-sleeve kind of guy that it was so earnest and so honest that you could never be that critical. You just sang along while warming up your fingers for the next air guitar solo.

I think Moore is best known in Australia for his Still Got the Blues album. This was a successful stylistic shift for him after his rock albums as he reverted back to the music he loved as a child and worked with a number of his heroes (Green, Buddy Guy, Albert King) to produce a bunch of reasonably well received blues albums. I was a blues fan but Moore was a rock guitarist for me so I never really embraced this even though it brought him a lot of success and it was a style he continued until his death. I got moved by other music – bands like Faith No More, Hüsker Dü, the Pixies and Jane’s Addiction. Then Nirvana came and changed everything and I can’t say I really listened to Gary Moore again apart from the occasional fling of nostalgia when I found an old cd or tape when I stayed at my parent’s house.

It was inevitable that my tastes would change but somehow this obscure Irish guitarist spoke to a kid developing his music tastes on the other side of the world and at that time, I loved it. I loved it in a way I would love musicians in the future – Pink Floyd, Bob Mould, Radiohead, Queens of the Stone Age. These were not bands I casually listened to but with whom I had unhealthy obsessions and intimate relationships with. This is the music I could listen to over and over again – listening to the same album ten or twelve times in a single day and it is the soundtrack that forms part of the narrative of my life.

And really, that first intense musical relationship with a single artist started with Gary Moore. So waking up today to hear he passed away has left me feeling sad which is slightly odd because while I think it’s natural to feel that way, it was a long time ago too. Part of me feels bad that I never saw him live and strangely, that I abandoned him – that I couldn’t be that thirteen-year-old devotee forever. I guess no one ever can be but whether I want to intellectualise it or not he is part of my musical DNA, part of my childhood and probably the first of my childhood musical heroes to die. Rest in peace Gary and long may you shred.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Movie review: Lemmy

Motorhead make music that moves forward regardless of trend. Much like AC/DC, they just play 60's rock n' roll heavier and faster. Beneath the thrashy aesthetics and rasping vocals lies the beating heart of Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Lemmy says as much in this movie and if you've had more than a casual listen to Motorhead you can hear these influences in spades (ace of spades HAHA - ahh what a jerk). But they have been a constant since their formation, churning out proto-punk thrash rock n' roll for anyone who cares for such things. At the centre of this phenomenon, Lemmy has stood tall as the ugliest and most irresponsible diabetic in rock.

For a long time, the imagery of Motorhead (along with AC/DC, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols) was embraced by inner-city hipsters as some kind of retro-rock irony fest. I'm sure if any of these people had listened to say, Overkill, they wouldn't be all that impressed. The hipsters didn't really know the music, they just liked the shiny surfaces and this is how I feel about this film - it doesn't get to the heart of Lemmy, it merely loves the popular idea of Lemmy.

This is not to say the film is not entertaining (Lemmy tells great jokes - who knew?) and seeing Lemmy hanging out at the Rainbow, being on tour and recording is all good fun. However, the best rock documentaries (and in metal that would be Some kind of monster and Anvil) push past the mythology and explore the very human realities of being in a band. This is merely skirted around and almost alluded to here when there is ample time given to talking heads of the hard rock community and images of Lemmy hanging out. I think this is in part down to the editing - I think this film could have been a lot tighter and re-ordered some what. The more poignant material here is when he speaks of his family and upbringing which have been pivotal in his development as a musician and human being but this all seems to as a footnote to the aggrandising tales of booze, drugs and women. The mythology is important but the camera and interviews linger too long on talking about it rather than showing it. Any film about Lemmy shouldn't be a bunch of talking heads, it should be visceral like the music. And if it is going to be talking heads, it should be more personal than cult of personality.

That said, Lemmy is funny and engaging - his compassion and straight forward attitude to life is very reminiscent of the people I know from the Midlands (my people are from Staffordshire - my mum was born in the same place as Lemmy). I guess this is why I wanted more from this - a hard living rocker raised by his mother and grandmother after his father walked out. He fathered a son who Lemmy admits on camera is the most precious thing to him - the first time his son had heard him talk like that. He owns a slightly disturbing collection of Nazi artifacts as part of his obsession and encyclopedic knowledge of the first and second world wars. That Lemmy may not have been willing to talk more about this may have been why the movie is the way it is but when you call the movie Lemmy I'd expect it to dig a little deeper. I could have seen more exploration of that and less of Ice T reciting the lyrics to Ace of Spades.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Essential playlists: Special Sydney Heatwave edition

Sydney is currently in the midst of an inescapable soul-crushing heatwave. As we're about to endure a 40 degree day, here is a playlist that is a literal interpretation of what's it's like.

Water - PJ Harvey
Regardless of how much water you drink, you feel like you're in a constant state of dehydration. Walking to the corner store is like taking a forty mile march through a desert but this desert smells like trash rotting in the sun - joy.

Mosquito Song - Queens of the Stone Age
It's really hot so you open the windows and doors. Mosquitos come rushing in to feed on your heat paralysed body. So you shut the windows and doors again until the heat becomes so stifling that you have to open them again. Mosquitos come rushing in to feed on your heat paralysed body. Repeat to infinity...

Sleep - Azure Ray
Sleep is fucking impossible. Full. Fucking. Stop.

Heroin - Velvet Underground
As no one is sleeping and incredibly hot, everyone seems to be walking around in a smacked out stupor. Drooling and inarticulate - the heatwave is like everyone is on drugs. Bad drugs.

Hard Time Killing Floor - The Twilight Singers
While everyone is a little it smacked out, there is a certain irritability and anger simmering below the surface of everyone I talk to. I think another couple of days could result in a riot and Sydney will be reduced to a burning crater in the ground...

Pop Song 89 - REM
Almost every person I've spoken to in the last week starts off by saying "Geez, it's hot isn't it?" Really? I hadn't noticed. Of course, it's fucking hot. Stop mentioning it, I'm sick of talking about the weather... (how ironic given this post ho ho)

Bill Idol - Hot in the City
Well, duh.


Shit lyrics that are awesome

Holy diver, I'm a surviver
Feeling like DeNiro in Taxi Driver
With Jodie Foster and Harvy Keitel
Looks like I'm walkin' through a livin' hell

Just Another Victim - Helmet and House of Pain.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Vale the White Stripes

The White Stripes have announced that they have split up. I guess they hadn't released any new material for a while and Jack White has his fingers in a number of tasty pies so it's hardly a surprise. I really loved their albums but I saw them once at a festival and it just felt like I was being yelled at for an hour. I left with a headache and hearing loss from Jack's high end guitar. Oh well, in a world full of Nickelback, they were pretty awesome for a band with a pretty flimsy concept (red/white, brother/sister, guitar/drums etc...). Long may they live on in our hearts and hearing loss...


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How to make a hip hop video in two easy steps

1. Choose your location:
a: club; or

b: street; or

c: beach.

2. Choose which Hip Hop artist will make a cameo in your video:

a: B Real from Cypress Hill: or

b: Snoop Dogg; or

c: B Real from Cypress Hill: or

d: Snoop Dogg; or

e: B Real from Cypress Hill: or

f: Snoop Dogg; or

g: B Real from Cypress Hill and Snoop Dogg.

Oh yeah, depending on your style of hip hop you probably need some 'ladies' but that is discretionary.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How to make a 90's rock video in four easy steps

1. First thing you need to decide is the style:
a: Are you going to be all serious and film in black and white?; or

b: are you going to be all serious using a soft focus lens with accentuated colours and images that fall in and out of focus? (or you can combine A & B if you're really serious).

2. You have no option but to film your lead singer in half light.

3. Next is to decide on your imagery:
a: hopelessly literal symbolism of alienation;

b: pseudo religious imagery; or

c: put eyeliner on male band members to make them look 'edgy'.

4. Then you must populate your videos with people who are:

a: creepy; or

b: doing weird shit; or

c: wearing a hat; or

d: wearing a hat while looking creepy; or

e: wearing a hat while looking creepy and doing weird shit; or

f: seriously, dude, what the fuck are you wearing?