Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I’m currently reading Keith Richards autobiography Life and good ol’ Keef has a nice turn of phrase and a frankness about his misadventures which is both entertaining and refreshingly candid for this type of memoir (the very best of which I would argue is Motley Crue: The Dirt – you may doubt this but it is seriously the most entertaining read about a band ever).

What strikes me most is Keith’s tales of growing up poor in Dartford. My parents, of a similarly impoverished background, grew up on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent and the stories they’ve told me of growing up sound vaguely similar to Keith’s (minus the dead hobo). Undoubtedly times were hard and kids up to mischief or trying to make a bob had a freedom that children growing up today (in weathly Western countries at least) could never have.

Reading Life, I get this weird sense of nostalgia for a culture when Keith Richards was seen as one of the most dangerous men in the world and just wonder whether we’ll ever see anyone like him again. Maybe that’s impossible because he was riding the wave of 60’s rock n’ roll but those childhood misadventures and hardship made Keith to some extent - even his teeth were a result of the childhood fear the NHS gave him of dentists. I’m not saying we should impoverish and terrorise children but I wonder if the hard men of rock, those that bring danger and mystery to the equation are a dying breed. Most likely, we’ll see a new type of rock n’ roll thug but I just don’t want to live in a world of Nickelbacks, I want rock music with soul, wit and danger. I want to feel that excitement and fear again…


Monday, May 30, 2011

True conversations of music nerds: Albini

An email this morning from CW entitled What the FUCK?!!!!!!

CW email: http://mariobatalivoice.blogspot.com/

What is happening here? I'm confused, shocked and suddenly feel very old that my rock heroes are morphing into Martha Stewart. Have a little looksies at the profile of this blog. And then tell me something isn't right with the world.

What's next - an Albini Home Shopping Channel?

JH response: Man's gotta eat...


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Explain it to me: Battles

I have a number of friends who love Battles and on paper I should like them too. Crazy rock moves with John Stanier on drums - what's not to love? I adore John Stanier as I've seen him play with Helmet, Mark of Cain and Tomahawk and I'm always blown away by how mighty he sounds while playing like an automated powerhouse (with bonus swing). So why is it everytime I listen to Battles I either go meh or actively dislike it?

I've listened to that new song a few times and it's just ok. Looking at the video above, it's obvious there's a sense of humour to this but the funny vocals and go nowhere songs just leave me cold. Atlas? Please. Tonto? Yawn. No doubt they're all fine musicians but what am I missing? Do you have to see them live to get it or am I just a moron? Can someone explain it to me please?

And Battles, for the record, you guys wear your bass and guitar way too high - not cool.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

RIP Gil Scott Heron


Understanding Kyuss

I was miles behind you in understanding Kyuss.
You said put your preconceptions aside, all your politically correct diatribes
And just get in to the music, forget the fact that they're probably losers
You live in a Datsun? I don't understand the words on the album.
But I don't need a lyric sheet. Doug, doctor and Terry.
There's a bond that we all share if you don't understand then I don't care
Then I don't care.

Understanding Kyuss
Understand me understand me understand everybody needs a sense of irony

Camped by a river somewhere, car stereo still night air
Crank it up I really like this bit, fuck that riff sounds really sick
Fat fat with the strings tuned low, understanding isn't just what you know
We know nothing but we understand plenty you're never getting back those records you lent me.

Understanding Kyuss
Understand me understand me understand everybody needs a sense of irony

Understanding Kyuss, The Fauves, 1996

Did I miss a meeting? Why is it every person on the planet now knows who Kyuss are because no one seemed to have heard of them when they were actually playing. The reason I bring this up is because an old uni buddy contacted me a few weeks ago and sent me the following message:

Hey you need to get to kyuss lives. They were pretty fucking awesome last night at coolangatta. Just a heads up.

We were both big Kyuss fans in the 90's and amongst our friendship group, their albums were passed around like sacred documents. Now I had intended on seeing the reunion show but the problem was they had originally booked the Metro (a room that takes about 600-800 people). Figuring no one really knows Kyuss, I'd just get a ticket at my leisure. The show sold out in about an hour. They then moved the show to Luna Park, a MUCH bigger venue and the place where I last saw Queens. So no problem getting a ticket now except that sold out as well. In the end, I resigned myself that I had missed the show.

When I first heard they were doing the Kyuss Lives shows, I was a bit hesitant considering Josh Homme wasn't on board but in the end I decided it's probably the closest I'd get to seeing them live. Matt recently pointed out two things: a) in his post about Wire, sometimes a band can exist in spirit when a member is absent (I'm not sure if this applies to Kyuss but I was willing to be forgiving) and b) in his comments on Truckfighters, he pointed out all the bands that have come in their wake but none of them have really reached the heights standard that Kyuss set. I'm a little more skeptical about talk of recording a Kyuss Lives album. No doubt I'll buy it though - sucker.

What surprised me is that they sold out so quickly. I really had no idea that Kyuss or even a Kyuss knock off band would be so popular. But as I type this I'm listening to Welcome to Sky Valley which just sounds superb. Now I'm here I know that I'm probably going on a Kyuss bender for a few days.

The reason I put that Fauves song up the top is that it perfectly captures my memories of being a Kyuss fan - it was a secret bond between friends and I remember long car trips where everyone was singing along to Thumb or trying to learn Space Cadet on guitar. I'm actually glad that they've reached a bigger audience posthumously.

As I said recently I've explored many bands in this genre but none of them are really a patch on Kyuss. While they are unrelentingly heavy with a low end that is subterranean, the music is driven by a dark psychedelic groove. It is the devil's music that you can dance to and as the Fauves points out 'Fuck that riff sounds really sick.' Just listening to Blues for the Red Sun now - fuck, it does sound great. What is also surprising is that it doesn't sound dated in the least, it just sounds heavy and cool as fuck.

Sorry for the self indulgent post but my lord, Kyuss are amazing. Just a reminder.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Mark Lanegan vs Johnny Cash

Lanegan – adj: something deep, dark and fucked up yet sparkling with beauty.

In my world, Lanegan is an adjective and hearing him sing a Johnny Cash song makes believe simultaneously that the rapture actually did and didn’t happen last Saturday. If there is a clarion call to the apocalypse, it has to be dark seductive tones of Lanegan singing The Beast in Me, Cash’s dark exploration of the inner demons that can tear a life apart (written by his ex-son in law - awkward). But surely if there is some benevolent force in the Universe, that this cover even exists shows that the end of the world is not nigh but a place of beautiful miracles. What the hell? Did someone spike my cup of tea this morning?

As a bonus, the track Jacob’s Ladder is all fire and brimstone and as the tale goes, we’re all doomed to hell on Earth – way to bring the joy Mark. Both are great tracks and more remarkable because The Beast In Me is off the Hangover 2 soundtrack and Jacob’s Ladder is from some video game called Rage. If Lanegan is wasting songs like this on promotional fluff, here’s hoping his next album is a dark masterpiece. The thing about Lanegan is that even though he’s all dark, brooding and mysterious, he’s the hardest working man in rock. Every year seems to be a bounty for Lanegan related material but I would dearly love a new solo album in the Bubblegum variety, it has been some seven years since his last record.

Lanegan is one of those artists in the true sense that his music moves forward regardless of fashion or commercial considerations – it just is, some timeless evocation of raw beauty, darkness and hardship. Whether it is the soundtrack to the old west or some post apocalyptic video game or whether he’s aping Iggy on Sideways in Reverse or getting evil on Idle Hands, Lanegan’s dusty baritone cuts through it all. There is never any doubt about who is in control and who is the master of darkness. Lanegan is the man.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Queens of the Stone Age vs True Blood

Two of my favourite things together at last. Even though they're probably only using this song because it has witch in the title, I get a little weepy watching it. Bring it!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It’s out there: Death Cab for Cutie: Codes and Keys

So this is the new and exuberant Death Cab for Cutie? Sounds much like the unhappy and downtrodden Death Cab to my ears (apart from the high on crack joy of Stay Young, Go Dancing). As such, I’m not going to review the album now because having listened to it a few times, I feel like there are some beautiful gems here but it is an album that will take a few more listens to wrap my head around.

As a relative newcomer to the charms of Death Cab, I think my unfamiliarity with their earlier albums makes me hesitant to pass judgement on where it sits in the pantheon of their records. However, Death Cab’s last album Narrow Stairs was widely acknowledged as their most miserable but it had a sonic density and immediacy that gripped you from the first listen. Codes and Keys is much less immediate and while the songs seem to breathe more than the claustrophobic grasp of the previous album, there are fewer songs that stand out. Sure, You are a Tourist and Underneath the Sycamore have the sugar rush of Death Cab’s best singles but the joy for me has always been in the darker album cuts which seem slightly muted here. Again, I think familiarity will bring make it better.

On first listen, St. Peter's Cathedral and Unobstructed Views have a stately grandeur and the title track sounds like a sped up version of Band of Horses’ Factory (which, strangely enough, I wrote about earlier in the week). The aforementioned Stay Young, Go Dancing is an unashamedly heart on sleeve profession of love for life and I presume Zooey Deschanel. When Gibbard croons “When she sings, I hear symphonies” it makes me wish I enjoyed She & Him half that much.

This is a pretty solid record but I’m going to reserve full judgement until I’ve had more time to enjoy it. The album is streaming on NPR.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arcade Fire: Culture War/Speaking in Tongues review

Arcade Fire - Culture War by ListenBeforeYouBuy
Arcade Fire - Speaking In Tongues by ListenBeforeYouBuy
After The Suburbs, I find it hard to judge Arcade Fire songs in isolation because the strength of that album is how it works as a whole and how songs that sound slight in isolation take on a grander quality in the context of the album. These two tracks, Speaking in Tongues and Culture War are the two bonus tracks on the deluxe version of that album which will be released soon and again, in isolation sound like passable Arcade Fire numbers. They are beautiful in their way but aren’t remarkable or stand out in the oeuvre of the band. They are no call to arms like Wake Up or Keep the Car Running that stand alone but run along the more loping tunes that are the backbone of the Suburbs.

If Culture War was left off the original mix of The Suburbs, I would imagine it’s because it sounds like a downbeat, dirtier cousin of the title track. The rollicking roll of the song and guitar line are both reminiscent of The Suburbs but misses the falsetto beauty of that song’s chorus. Beyond that, it is a sweet evocation of the limitations of popular culture - “I know these crumbs they sold me are never going to last” Win Butler coos at the beginning. Isn’t Win Butler too young to be so jaded or has rock stardom prematurely aged him?

Speaking in Tongues is not the Arcade Fire’s first dalliance with Talking Heads having faithfully covered This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) some years ago. However, having a track featuring David Byrne immediately makes you realise that Win Butler shares vocal similarities with the head Talker – mainly, the subtle strain in the upper registers and the emotive timbre which always made Byrne such a compelling singer. I’m less sure what this song is about but obviously communication (or lack thereof) is at its heart. The little whoops and backing melodies towards the end of the song are pure Byrne and remind us that Talking Heads influence is wide ranging and pervasive.

Both songs are low key but worthy additions to The Suburbs story. It’ll be interesting to see how they are incorporated into the album proper and whether they add to the narrative or detract. Either way, it’s good to hear some new Arcade Fire even if the music is slightly sedate.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Why have I never heard of this band?

Why have I never heard of this band? Who is in charge here? I need to hear them immediately.


Love you live...

Inspired by Matt’s recent posts about Hammerbox and Everclear, I started thinking about the best live shows I’ve seen. A great show can be a magical thing and it’s often a combination of elements that coalesce into a cocktail of awesomeness. For me, that list may include:

a) Any band being ‘on’ and playing a devastating show

b) Being at the height of your fandom when you see a gig

c) Seeing a band/artist you’ve loved for years but haven’t had the opportunity to see before (a common occurrence for fans in Australia)

d) Never heard the band/artist before but having that feeling that your life has just being changed.

e) Something special happens that night either on stage or with the venue

f) It ties in with a memorable moment in your life.

For example, my number one gig is Queens on the Songs for the Deaf tour. I don’t think there’s anything as special as standing second row watching your favourite band at the height of their powers play your favourite album while PJ Harvey dances at the side of the stage. Sometimes a show just clicks and it transcends the ages. Anyhow, these are the shows that live large in my memory:

1. Queens of the Stone Age – Metro Theatre, Sydney, 2003

2. Bob Mould – The Zoo, Brisbane, 2002

3. Sleater Kinney - Gaelic Club, Sydney 2002

4. Mogwai – Newtown RSL, Sydney 1999

5. PJ Harvey – Enmore Theatre, Sydney 2001

6. Superchunk – Livid Festival, Brisbane 1994

7. You Am I – Livid Festival, Brisbane 1992

8. Built to Spill – Petersham Bowling Club, Sydney 2008

9. Jesus Lizard – The Globe, Sydney 1998

10. Dirty Three – The Metro, Sydney 1999

All are memorable for different reasons ranging from Superchunk having a terrible gig technically but being all the more entertaining for it to seeing the Dirty Three on a combination of flu tablets and beer and starting to hallucinate to the music. Shows that just miss out are Faith No More (1995), Jawbreaker (1995), Fugazi (1997), Shihad (about 20 times), Mark Eitzel (2008) and Metallica (2010, such a good time). The one thing about all those shows, they all sounded amazing (except Superchunk) so tip your sound woman/man at the door.

Then there are the disappointments such as Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Iron and Wine, Stereolab and Sigur Ros – the main crime being that they were boring or bad. Oh and those fucking gigs I was dragged to being assured me a good time – Steve Malkmus and the oh so pretentious Tortoise. If I wanted to spend the night watching an aloof dude twiddle on his guitar while ignoring the relentless screams for Gold Soundz, I’m sure I could have arranged that at home. Tortoise’s ploy of refusing to play until the room went silent seemed like bullshit to me and then they played their monotonous post-rock to the Wire (magazine) set who were having orgasms at every xylophone solo – dull, dull, dull…

Anyhow, just thinking on it. I don’t get out to shows too often at the moment but of the hundreds of shows I’ve seen, it makes me think of all the enjoyment, nourishment and positivity music has brought to my life. I think we can all agree, music rocks. But also here's hoping my favourite concert event is yet to come...


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Revisiting Band of Horses - Infinite Arms

I was quite big fan of the first two Band of Horses records even though this was met with some derision from my punk friends - "Band of fuckin' ponies more like." However, I was quite disappointed at the release of their third record Infinite Arms. I knew they had gone through some line up changes and while the sound is similar, the expansive scope of the music seemed somewhat diminished. While their lyrics would never give Dylan a run for his money, there was always a unstated lovely romantic quality to their work. Infinite Arms didn't have this, it seemed like a watered down imitation of the previous records but with no substance, hooks or joy to be had.

The one song that broke through this was the single Factory - a lilting pop song that would, as my girlfriend pointed out, be perfect for a compilation. Listening to the album again this morning, one after its release it actually seems to have gotten worse with age. There is no bite, no emotion and the whole thing is a just meanders from unmemorable track to the next. I'm not quite sure what it is but I think the horse/pony comparison is probably the most appropriate comparison I can make. The horses have bolted and all that's left are my niece's my little ponies. Disappointing.


Saturday, May 21, 2011


So apparently the world will end at 6pm today which is good to know because I really didn't want to go shopping in the city if I could help it. The last thing I want to be doing on my last day on Earth is shopping for new underwear. If it does happen, I'll be a bit pissed as I'm going on holidays in a few weeks but whatever. Frankly, I'll be more impressed if fire and brimstone rains from the sky as earthquakes strike each city at 6pm in each individual time zone (very orderly).

Anyhow, however you are going to enjoy the end of the world with, remember to pick good music. Here's a link to my end of the world playlist post for old time's sake. It's been swell and if I survive, anyone up for some post-Rapture looting is more than welcome to join me.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Tell them what time it is!

I was recently having a conversation with a friend of mine who was complaining about the reissue of Fear of a Black Planet on vinyl. His exact words were “I can’t believe they released it as a single record again.” He’s right. A vinyl record fits about 20 minutes per side but any album longer than that requires the music to be compressed making it sound tinny and pinched. Black Planet, at just over an hour, has never really been that enjoyable to listen to on LP. Other notabvle offenders from the 80's was the original pressing of The Joshua Tree which was fifty minutes long.

When I was a kid, tapes and records had about eight songs on them and I didn’t think about it twice. The recent release of Radiohead’s King of Limbs was met with the derision because it was too short (instead of it being lame) but in 1987, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at a thirty-three minute record (coincidentally, Sleigh Bells debut album clocks in at thirty-two minutes and I don’t feel bad about that at all). I always think of that Bob Mould self titled record (1995) where the final minute and a half of the record is the sound of a needle bumping until someone takes it off. That additional time takes the record to thirty-nine minutes which is the ideal time for a vinyl record (I’ve never found that record on vinyl so if someone can hook me up, much appreciated). I guess Bob was making a statement about cds and vinyl or maybe he just thought it sounded cool.

I guess my questions is this: have we been conditioned to expect too much music and have artists been robbed of making a concise statement? This was brought home to me when I read an interview with Kate Bush on Pitchfork where she says:

Pitchfork: The Red Shoes came out in 1993, the heyday of the compact disc. Were you recording specifically for that format?

KB: Yeah, that's absolutely right. It probably was my first album that was specifically a CD as opposed to vinyl. Red Shoes was a bit long-- which was also a part of this whole problem with the change from vinyl to CD. I think that put a lot of strain on artists, actually. With CDs, you suddenly didn't want to let people down so you tried to give them as much as possible for their money. [laughs]

When you love an album it’s natural to desire more and more music but I’m not sure that necessarily makes it better. You see it with a number of re-issues that feature songs from the recording sessions that were originally left off the record. Most of the time, those bonus tracks at the end of the album add nothing and are just annoying because the natural conclusion to the album is ruined.

So what’s better, an album featuring lot’s of music but having poorer quality control or an album that is short but near perfect (although I am yet to find a perfect album)? I know a lot of albums that could be tightened up but is that to their detriment as well? With digital, the length of an album is limitless really but is more music a good thing? I don’t know the answers but I wish when they re-released vinyl records they would make them doubles if it goes over 45 minutes… Just sayin'...


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bon Iver vs the World

This is my review after a few listens of the new Bon Iver album last night - I'm hoping time will change my mind. It's up and down on youtube at the moment so be quick to catch it.

So, a day after the new Bon Iver song is released, the full album has leaked and Justin, I think we have a problem. Did you ever have a favourite shirt that had a stain on it that just ruined it? That’s how I feel about this album because on first listen I was really enjoying it until the final track when the heavens unleashed a torrent of clusterfuck. The final track, Beth/Rest, re-frames everything that came before it and makes the album considerably worse. (Katie has already discussed this track extensively here.)

How so? Well, in my review of Calgary, I mentioned that atmospheric indie tracks occasionally come off sounding like low-fi recreations of In the air tonight. Yes, I mean Phil Collins. Beth/Rest takes those 80’s idioms that made Phil a super star and revels in them, flaunts them and beats you with them. Richard Marx airy keyboards? Why not! 80’s flange guitar? Sure thing! Phil Collins vocal melodies? Bring it! Is that a frickin' clarinet solo? Fuck yeah! This is all undertaken with no irony and it is multiple shades of awful - it is diabolically bad. Seriously, it sounds like track 8 on the St Elmo’s Fire Soundtrack.

How this ruins the rest of the album is that once you listen back to the earlier tracks, you start to hear those influences on every track. Those multi layered vocals that Bon Iver revels in suddenly start to sound like Peter Cetera. Who? Watch the full glory of the Glory of Love here! (UPDATE: Even Rolling Stone agrees with me on the Cetera thing). Wirey guitar lines that seemed understated now sound like they’re from the best Hall and Oates track you never heard. Everything sounds different and to be honest, much worse.

If I can put it another way: this is an M. Knight Shyamalan-like album. However, instead of finding out that the lame twist ending is that it’s the planet killing people or the village is in the modern day, you find out the record is a love letter to the worst 80’s pop music you ever heard. You couldn’t really hear it on first listen but now you know the ending, you can’t hear anything else.

Now that I’ve done my hysterical-hyperbolic overreaction to that song, I can say that if you can get past these elements, there is some joy to be found here. The low key meditation of Wash. is peculiarly beautiful and when slide guitars shimmer towards the end of the track, it elevates into something special. I think Holocene is probably the strongest track here, just because it belies it’s environment and aches in a way that only Bon Iver at their best can. Minnesota, WI, with its unexpected use of horns, works just because it shouldn’t.

My favourite Bon Iver song is Brackett, W9 off the Dark Was The Night compilation. It is a song that has the full band sound as opposed to For Emma, Forever Ago solo vibe and I was looking forward to the new album to see how the band sound would play out. For me, it didn’t work and Beth/Rest has placed the album into a context that makes it hard to listen to. I imagine this record will receive knee-jerk universal critical acclaim (go on, Pitchfork, give it 8.3) but listen to that song and tell me if you can take it seriously. This is an album I wanted to love but I’m sorry Justin, I think you need to get back to his cabin and take a good long hard look at yourself.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On James Blunt

Everyone I know hates James Blunt and as he is currently touring Australia, the country seems awash with his MOR schlock. Goodbye My Lover was only beautiful when Bryn sung it on Gavin and Stacey. I figure they probably played that You're Beautiful song at the Royal Wedding reception as Kate Middleton seems like a James Blunt kind of girl. But there is one thing that has always stuck with me about Mr Blunt after seeing him interviewed by Andrew Denton in 2006 - he is a stone cold killer. Before becoming that crooner your mum likes, Blunt was a NATO Peacekeeper in Kosovo and as he recounts in the interview:

ANDREW DENTON: If you had to, were you prepared to kill?

JAMES BLUNT: I was a reconnaissance officer during the bombing campaign and very much involved during that phase of the bombing campaign. I think there are moments in one's life where it's very clear what you should be doing. We went to a place where there were soldiers who were murdering people. We went and reasoned with them and said, "Stop murdering these people," and they carried on murdering them. Eventually you say to them, "If you murder them, we'll use force," and they continued to murder them, and at that stage the power of reason has gone and so you have to carry out your threats.

So when you think about criticising James Blunt in the future, just remember, he can fuck you up.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bon Iver - Calgary

For Emma, Forever Ago took a while to grow on me. On first listen, although I liked it, I found it almost impenetrable. By the third listen, I was suddenly overcome by the beauty of that record and it transformed into something much more tangible while maintaining its initial ethereal majesty. I’m not sure if it’s the familiarity with Bon Iver or the song itself, but Calgary seems much more accessible. As with the best of his work, the song is based around the voice which sounds as unique as ever. As soon as Justin Vernon opens his mouth you know this is a Bon Iver track. This is a good thing here as too often these low key tracks that start with just vocals and keyboards can end up sounding like indie versions of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight. Thankfully, Bon Iver has some pretty tight quality control so what could have been a pretty banal song about a man laying with his lover is beautiful and haunting. Once the drums and guitars kick in about half way through it’s impossible not to love this song. As with the best of Bon Iver’s work, this song creeps up on you until it’s embedded in your heart.

Updated: I was so wrong about this track and album. The horrifying truth is here.


Monday, May 16, 2011

What becomes of the broken hearted?

I’m not ashamed to say I like sport (stop reading now!) and I generally support teams that are losers (Rabbitohs, Cowboys, England). My childhood football (soccer) team is Stoke City FC. Stoke-on-Trent is where my people are from, it’s where I grew up and being a fan of the local football team is conferred on you from birth.

Stoke City is the second oldest team in England and for the first time they made the FA Cup final in 148 years if existence. Even though I moved house that day and was destroyed physically, I stayed up until 2am to watch the game. It’s history now but they lost 1-0 to the trillionaires at Man City. However, I have to say it is the first time that I have had so much pride and investment in any sporting event – the weight of the loss was crushing and I was choking back tears (Lord knows what my Dad felt as he flew from Australia to the UK to see the game – I’ll speak to him this week). Anyhow, I was devastated.

Anyhow, it made me think of this video (only a minute long and hilarious). When you think of music and sports, it tends to be Nickelback playing as you watch footage of people thumping each other – ROCKIN’OUTWHILETHATGUYRIPSTHATGUY’SHEADOFFAWESOMEYEAH!!!! But then there are the plaintive songs that play to the misery of defeat like Stop Crying Your Heart Out. Apart from being a Man City fan (bastard!), Noel Gallagher seems to excel in writing songs that work for heartbreaking moments in sport. However, while he’s probably still drunk from celebrating their win on the weekend, he’s also making a mint from the poor Stoke fans who are probably listening to this song right now. And maybe that’s the cruellest blow of all, lining the coffers of a Man City fan… Kerching.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Undiscovered continents

Two exciting discoveries today. I went to visit a friend with links deep within the dark heart of the music industry and they had a copy of the new Gillian Welch album which I listened to once during the visit. The Harvest and The Harrow is it's name (the internet already knows this) and it sounds pretty fantastic. It's safe to say Welch and Rawlings haven't gone electro-clash and the album sounds similar to the previous records. On first listen though, the songs sound stronger than on Soul Journey and I think this may be a possible contender for album of the year. No I don't have a copy. No I won't upload it even if I did.

The second discovery was I finally got around to listening to the last Wire album Red Barked Tree. I'd listened to it once when it came out and liked it but never really got back to it. Listening to it today was a revelation. The album sounds like a descendant of the more commercial 154 sound and it is great. The band sound more refined and relaxed than on their other reunion records but listening to the lyrics they are still as angry as ever. "They clip their speech, they clip your wings" and "Please take your knife out of my back," are just a couple of examples. Best songs for me are Please Take, Bad Worn Thing and Two Minutes. They're playing with the vigour of a band half their age and it just fucking rocks. Nice one lads.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Moving trucks

I apologise if the blog has been a bit nostalgic and reflective this week but I think that's a byproduct of me moving house this upcoming weekend. As such, I've had no time to listen to new music and have spent a lot of hours sorting through my possessions in preparation for the temporary move burb-ward. As such, blogging may become slightly more sporadic while I move but one last thought on music and time. When I was in my final year of high school, Nevermind came as a bolt out of the blue. In a world of popular music dominated by Phil Collins, Mariah Carey and Dire Straits, Nirvana reaching number one seemed like a win for the good guys. Compared to the mainstream, it was a primal howl of defiance and alienation which united the 'kids' against the old fogies of rock. It felt like a reclamation of the musical discourse - wrestling it away from the music industry and press who seemed content on endlessly championing the 60's and MOR schlock. It was an exciting time because there was just a glimpse that things could change.

Of course, there was no revolution. Capitalism is a self correcting machine so even the most primal howls of nihilism railing against the running dogs of capital could be consumed, diluted and distributed at K-Mart. Listening to Nevermind twenty years later (yes it is TWENTY years), it sounds like a great pop record which is good to singalong to while packing and cleaning. I'm sorry Kurt but your art is now the soundtrack to my domestic chores. We all know Kurt couldn't stand the scrutiny of the press in the 90's so who knows what he would have made of the age of social networking and blogs like this. Still, those opening chords to Teen Spirit still raise the pulse slightly and if you haven't seen the video above, it's well worth checking out for the definitive version of that song.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Such a sensitive soul...

UPDATE: I take all I've written below back. Fuck this guy - he is fucked and that's the end of it. Here's why I say this.

Last night I watched the first episode of Angry Boys, the new comedy by Chris Lilley of Summer Heights High and We Can Be Heroes fame. Lilley’s humour is to go far beyond the realms of political correctness and finding the tacit contradictions and humour in those dark places. Sadly, despite being proclaimed as genius by many, Angry Boys wasn’t particularly smart, engaging or even funny. As I watched the show, my girlfriend summed it up perfectly when she said, “Why are you watching this? It’s just shit.” She was right. The show just came across as crushingly unfunny, homophobic and sexist. Any skerrick of social critique was lost in a joyless embrace of being anti-PC for no reason and nothing about the situations being explored was illuminated in a witty way. I get what he was going for but he failed as far as I was concerned and it felt like a poor cousin to the previous, much better shows.

Now I’m no prude. My favourite comedians are those of the Bill Hicks, David Cross and Fear of a Brown Planet variety – pushing boundaries, crossing lines and finding humour in a fucked up world. Why am I telling you this on a music blog? Because the way I feel about Angry Boys is how I feel about Tyler, the Creator.

If you don’t know Tyler, he is the de facto leader of the Odd Futures hip hop collective and just released his first album Goblin. The album sounds amazing –downbeat hip hop that is both challenging and exhilarating. The problem is, much like Angry Boys, the content is un-pc in a way that is not enjoyable or that I can even justify being ok with. Unlike Lilley, I’m unsure how much of the images of violence, rape and homophobia are there for shock value or what Tyler actually thinks. I know that's to be excepted in hip hop but it's almost too much here. Tyler says none of it is serious but at some level it is. One of his most recent tweets was “Just walked into Abercrombie with my sister cause she wants a shirt. It smells like faggot in here.”

Even though I love hip hop, I know I am not the target audience for this record and it is speaking of an existence that is far removed from my own and that’s ok. I’m not about to become part of the PMRC brigade because of Goblin as it seems every few years we go through the same story of is Eminem a pathological woman hater or does Marilyn Manson incite violence or are NWA sexist or does Elvis promote promiscuity blah blah blah. I have always been of the opinion if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it which is probably what I’m going to do here. On an intellectual, political and emotional level, it is straying into areas that (even as art) are challenging and provocative for me to justify as being ok to listen to. I'm not sure if this is anything worse than I've heard on any other hip hop album but it really got to me listening to this record. As I said the music is good but when I read all the breathless enthusiasm from Pitchfork, Spin et al, it makes me wonder if I’ve become too sensitive… probably. That being said, Sandwiches is a great song….


Josh Homme remixing Grinderman = HOT!

There are some things which are just hot – the cast of True Blood, Jimmy Page’s guitar tone, Satan’s after party venue etc. You can add another thing to that list of hotness – Josh Homme remixing Grinderman’ s Mickey Mouse and The Goodbye Man. Did I get a little weepy when I read that combination? Yes I did. Did I get a little aroused listening to it? Yes I did.

The thing that works for this track is that Homme tends to deconstruct rather than build up when he is remixing (check out his meditative remix of DFA 1979's Black History Month). The first section is just a ticking clock and Cave’s crazed vocals telling a tale of possible incest. Even when the band kicks in, Homme has pared back the instrumentation to its bare bones making it sound somewhere between a psychedelic rampage and the Cramps white knuckled rock n’ roll.

The other thing that Homme always does is make sounds that lend themselves to visuals (if you’ve never heard Spinning in the Daffodils by Them Crooked Vultures, have a listen and tell me he wasn’t watching Inglorious Basterds when he wrote it). Listening to this song, I was reminded of the graveyard acid freak out scene in Easyrider. Maybe that’s just my imagination but that’s where I found my thoughts. Now I think of it, I often find myself thinking about that scene - I really need to watch that movie again.

Sadly there is no embed for this but it can be listened to here and the original is above. Hot.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

School of Rock

Yesterday at work I put on Beck’s Sea Change in the background while undertaking some menial task. My younger colleague (he's about 25 I reckon) and I had the following conversation:

YC: Who’s that?

JH: Beck. It’s his break up album.

YC: Never heard of him.

JH: You’ve never heard of Beck?

YC: Nope.

JH: What about Loser? You must have heard that song?

YC: I don’t think so.

(JH starts playing Loser)

YC: Oh I think I might have heard this.

JH: What about this one?

(JH starts playing Devil’s Haircut)

YC: Nope, never heard that one.

This made me feel old. However, I’ve often spoken to him about music and his favourite band is the Red Hot Chilli Peppers so I don’t feel too bad. But it did get me thinking about my relationship with music and the musical mentors I have had.

Back in 1993, my world was being rocked by grunge – Nirvana, Pearl Jam and yes, I must confess I even liked the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magic. This was my second year of uni and I’d made friends with this Post Doc in Marine Biology from the US called Dr Rob* (that’s what we called him). He was in his late 30’s and had bought all this music with him from the States because he said at the last minute, he got strangely nostalgic and patriotic and bought all this American music over like the Band, the Stooges, Grateful Dead etc... He introduced me to lots of music and was a very influential figure in my music development.

However, he took total umbrage at my liking of Blood Sugar Sex Magic. One day he came round with all these tapes and cds and did a track-by-track deconstruction of that album. It was devastating to watch. He’d play a couple of minutes of the RHCP track and then pull out the corresponding song from his collection it sounded like. Funkadelic featured largely but I distinctly remember him playing Breaking the Girl and then playing a Jethro Tull (?!) song which was exactly the same. Even I Could Have Lied was a total rip of Maggot Brain. In that afternoon Dr Rob had totally changed my opinion of that album and blown my mind.

Back in 1993, I thought of Dr Rob as a wise old sage of music, a teacher and arbiter of excellent taste. I now see that he was just a guy who loved music and wanted to share it with people with similar interests. Now I’m Dr Rob’s age, I know a lot about music but am constantly learning, finding new music and being exposed to the artists I missed or didn’t understand when I first heard them. Like Dr Rob, my expertise is from just being alive for a while and having an interest in music. I guess I don’t feel so bad about feeling old because my young friend doesn’t know about Beck, it just means I’ve been around longer and heard more stuff.


*Dr Rob was a huge Iggy Pop fan and my favourite story of his was when he saw him in New York. Dr Rob was down in the pit and between songs Iggy pointed at him and said “Hey! Hey you! I like your hair!” and then started the next song. I think that could have been the greatest day of Dr Rob’s life.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Lady Gaga vs the world

I knew one day it would come to this and I think I'm about to enter a whole world of pain...

Matt wrote on his blog yesterday about his underwhelming experience watching Lady Gaga's Monster's Ball concert and I have to admit I agree with him in principle. It definitely got me thinking about Gaga and my ambivalnce to her (thanks for the inspiration, Matt). Make no mistake, I unashamedly love good pop music but so far have yet to be seduced by the charms of Gaga even though I'm constantly been told I should be. Herein lies the rub for me, great pop music hits you in the face, makes you raise your arms to the heavens in praise and start shaking your arse. I don't need to be told it's great, I already know it's great by the end of the first chorus - think Beyonce's Crazy in Love. Great pop music announces itself and so far, Lady Gaga, regardless of her politics or style, has not.

Now this is slightly unfair because I think Telephone has an insanely catchy chorus but I think for me, the hype far outweighs the actual music. For example, prior to the release of the Born This Way single, it was touted as a new gay anthem which would replace I Will Survive (I think Elton John actually said this). The problem is I Will Survive became an anthem for the gay community because they adopted it, not because they were told to. Regardless of the community or subculture, music will be championed by the people who listen to it rather than what any record industry press release says so this approach seemed presumptious to me. I actually like that Gaga has written an anthem with LGBT themes and has given generously to LGBT causes but if it is a question of music having resonance with a particular audience, that is decided by that particular group. That being said, it’s not hard to imagine Oxford Street rocking to the sound of that song at 3am so maybe my scepticism is misplaced.

The question of Gaga's image is not important to me in some respects because what she is wearing or her videos seem neither revelatory, revolutionary or that inspired. Perhaps they might be totally mind blowing for mainstream audiences but anyone who has paid any attention to Grace Jones over the last 30 years or attended a student fashion show knows there is nothing new here.

The other thing that is touted quite regularly is that she is the next Madonna but I don’t think that’s true. The reasons for this are:

a) Madonna is a product of her time. With the evolving landscape of music and the music industry in the ‘80’s/90’s, Madonna was the perfect appropriator and vessel to capitalise on the music underground and take it to the mainstream – The Immaculate Collection is so diverse it could be a primer for 80’s pop. Her voice is reasonably indistinct but that is essentially her strength as it can be seamlessly married to any style without sounding out of place (check out Human Nature from 1995 where the backing track could be from a Snoop Dogg song but Madonna still sounds great). It’s a template Kylie Minogue has emulated with some success.

b) While both artists are calculated in the image they deliver, Madonna’s song craft and persona always seemed vaguely natural (except the over exposure of Erotica). Gaga’s image and songs appear to be calculated, designed and curated within an inch of their life so they lack any spontaneity or organic feel. Maybe that’s a product of the time we live in but Gaga’s work seems to be all surface to me (which sounds absurd when you’re talking about pop music and Madonna but there you go).

c) One plus for Gaga is that she writes her songs where Madonna is only as strong as her collaborators. However, while Gaga’s songs are catchy, I’m yet to hear anything as iconic as Madonna’s.

d) Not to be crude but I look at the Express Yourself video and Madonna is totally sexy. I find nothing sexy about Gaga. Is that wrong to say? (yes it is, you sexist pig!)

Maybe I’m wrong on this because Madonna has the weight of history behind her but I own both her greatest hits collections and those songs still sound great. Most often I put them on when I’m in a mood for something other than angst and generally, they are pretty great for road trips and house cleaning. In that weird mundane way, that’s why I don’t think Gaga has succeeded because Madonna infiltrates every part of my life from dancing to cleaning where Gaga seems far too self important and contrived to be, well, y’know, that much fun. However, here’s hoping she grows into the artist she aspires to be because there’s always room in the world for one more great pop tune.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

True conversations of music nerds: lamest joke ever

Watching Star Wars for the bazillionth time with my girlfriend. At the bit when the Millennium Falcon is being dragged by a tractor beam into the Death Star:

Death Star employee: Clear Bay twenty-three-seven. We are opening the magnetic field.

JH: The Magnetic Fields are opening? I wonder who else is playing.

GF: (audible groan)

JH: What? I love that band...


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Music bucketlists

Yesterday it was announced that the Cure would play three shows at the Sydney Opera House for the Vivid Sydney Festival. They will play three consecutive nights playing Three Imaginary Boys, 17 Seconds and Faith in consecutive order. This does beg the question, which night would you go to given the choice of the three nights? I'd tend towards Faith because that was the real beginning of the downbeat, moody stuff that defined their sound.

Katie pointed out that it could be incredible or terrible depending on how the band plays. Recent albums aren't really a patch on their definitive period and as some crueller people have observed that once Robert Smith got chubby, happy and comfortable was when the music started to decline. I'm pretty sure any genuine Cure fanatic would jump Smith's bones in a heartbeat regardless of what he looks like or what music he makes but I have too much affection for the band to be so mean about them.

The main reason why I'd want to see the Cure though is because I haven't seen them and they're on my music bucket list, essentially bands I'd like to see before I depart this mortal coil but haven't yet. There's some bands who I would like to see even if they are a half arsed, shitty reunion version of themselves - sometimes you have to take what you can get (except the Sex Pistols - that was weird and the current version of the Dead Kennedys who are touring without Jello). Most of them are older groups and I think that's understandable as most bands that are still touring regularly I've had a chance to see.

My music bucket list would also include AC/DC, Future of the Left, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Magnetic Fields, Motorhead, My Bloody Valentine, and Pixies to name a few. I haven't seen some of these bands out of pure bad luck - Motorhead and FOTL toured this year but I didn't get round to seeing them and I had a ticket for the Pixies last year and threw my back out at work and could hardly walk, let alone stand at a gig (that was the third time I missed them).

My bucketlist doesn't include bands which seem likely never to reform: Hüsker Dü, Jawbox, Jawbreaker, The Jam or those containing a bunch of dead people like Pink Floyd. Sure I have a list of bands I'd like to see if I created a time machine but that would be just silly to speculate on because a time machine cannot work in a space which contains no matter with negative energy density. Just sayin'...


Friday, May 6, 2011

By the power of HBO...

I'm one of those middle class people that likes HBO tv shows - Sopranos (oh my), The Wire (holy shit), Deadwood (Swearengen!), Game of Thrones (warming to it): what's not to love? I am particularly fond of True Blood because I don't believe vampires should shimmer in the light and look like they listen to too much Morrissey, they should be incredibly beautiful while ripping people's throats out and having lot's of sex. The show is incredibly trashy and all the better for it.

Anyhow, Anti record just announced for the new series opener HBO have commissioned Neko Case and Nick Cave to record a version of the Zombies She's Not There. And all I can say hells yeah! Listening to the Zombies, I think it might be heavy on the Nick with Neko on back up. Regardless, I think it might be something special - at least as great as Nick's duet with Shane MacGowan - only joking. I'm hoping it'll be amazing.

It must be great to have the luxury to say 'you know who'd sound great together, Neko and Nick. Maybe singing a Zombies song? Let's make it happen." For some reason, the film and television industry seem to be able to set up a artist collaborations that seems unlikely in the real word. Would I love to hear Nick Cave and Neko Case singing together? Absolutely but it had never really crossed my mind until I read the press release today but it makes perfect sense. Similarly, hearing Fred Schneider sing with Sleater Kinney on the Hedwig tribute album makes me a little bit gooey - I love that song.

My love of these kind of collaborations has been around for a long time. While I'm not sure anyone really needed to hear a duet between Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth, I was always slightly in love with records like the Judgment Night and Spawn soundtracks. The concept was pretty simple, get two artists from different genres and put them together to make music. Whoever decided to pair Slayer with Ice T deserves a medal because the result is just bug nuts crazy and hilarious. Did the world really need this collaboration? Well, yes it did.

So, I imagine if I had the power of HBO behind me, I would be getting PJ Harvey and Tom Waits in the studio together to sing Hard Time Killlin' Floor Blues. Or could you imagine Mike Patton and Jonsi doing a duet together (actually Patton has sung on a Bjork tune so maybe that's redundant). Imagine the power, the power of HBO to make your dream collaborations become a reality... sigh.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

True conversations of music nerds: The meaning of twee

Having dinner with two friends (SC and K from Japan), discussing magic realism.

K: So why don’t you like Jorge Luis Borges?

JH: I find it all a bit twee.

K: Twee?

SC: Do you understand what twee means?

K: Not really.

SC: Twee is like Jonathan Richman’s second album.

K: Ohhhh right.

SC: You know that song Ice Cream Man? That’s twee.

K: Oh I get it now…


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fleet Foxes - Helpless Blues quick review

It's inevitable that most bands are going to be derivative of their influences and a lot of the time, that's ok. For example, I love the Neil Young-ism's of Built to Spill and Band of Horses and it doesn't detract from my enjoyment of them at all. That said, I can't stand Vampire Weekend because why would I listen to them when I own Talking Heads records. Similarly, I continue to struggle with Fleet Foxes because when you're dealing in harmony laden pastoral folk, the opportunities to be innovative seem to be less and less and the echoes of your influences drown out the music you're listening too.

I guess it's all a matter of taste but I find it hard to get excited by this new wave of folk because it's almost too reverential to it's forebears. Listening to Helpless Blues I couldn't help but think of Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I kind of hated myself for it because it's very easy to be dismissive of music by saying it sounds like someone else but not really taking the time to listen to it. But through multiple listens, I couldn't detach myself from that feeling. That's not to say there isn't joy to be found here - the unexpected acoustic rock out at the end of Sim Sala Bim is bracing and fun while the title track is actually a pretty great song.

I'm sure this album will be received with orgasmic praise by many because it'll probably sound totally new to anyone under 25 and a sheer nostalgia rush for anyone older. But for me, much of my music listening life has being railing against the lionising of the '60's - the constant taunt that music will never be better than Dylan, the Stones and the Beatles. I recognise how great some of that music is but not at the expense of the music being produced today. Fleet Foxes is just too close to their influences for me to really embrace them. However, if you liked the first album, I'll bet you a can of sprite you'll love this one too. Helpless Blues is streaming here.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Radiohead: King of Limbs redux

As discussed in my appraisal of the Supercollider/The Butcher ep, I thought it'd be fun to have a crack at re-ordering the King of Limbs with the new songs to see if I could make it a more dynamic listen. This is the track order I came up with:

Side A:
1. Bloom
2. The Butcher
3. Lotus Flower
4. Feral
5. Codex

Side B:
6. Supercollider
7. Morning Mr Magpie
8. Little by Little
9. Give Up The Ghost
10. Separator
11. These Are My Twisted Words

I think it gives it a bit more dynamic lift and flow and I'm sure that makes me the kind of fan Thom Yorke hates. Can anyone do any better? (apart from, like, y'know, Radiohead).


Monday, May 2, 2011

No comment


90's Fashion Flashback

I spent the last week with my Mum and strangely she had decided to hold onto a bunch of my band shirts from the 90's. I pretty much wore band shirts from the age of 16 until, well now, but in the 90's I didn't really have any other type of shirt (which seems a bit tragic in retrospect). Filled with holes and faded, it's weird to put them on now because even though I was an extraordinarily skinny guy for my most of my teens and twenties, they're all way too big and I favoured large and extra large for some reason which is a mystery to me now. Anyhow, here's some sentimental highlights from a much grungier time.

Land Speed Record Hüsker Dü bootleg shirt (circa 1992): I picked this up at the Valley markets in Brisbane and wore it to death. I actually went back to the market a few years later trying to find the guy who made them to get another. He was this washed out stoner-punk who said "oh yeah, I still have that screen at home. I'll print you one up." He never did.

Copper Blue Sugar shirt (circa 1993): My folks bought me this when they were visiting the UK and I loved that album so much I wore it until it literally started to disintegrate around my body. However, I'm still tempted to wear it now.

Betty era Helmet shirt (1994): I saw Helmet the day before my 21st birthday after taking a road trip from Townsville to Brisbane for the Livid festival. They were pretty punishing in the summer heat but I still have a recording of that gig which sounds great. I guess the design was a play on the whole X-Files thing which was huge at the time and I remember getting asked about that shirt a lot.

Superunknown Soundgarden shirt (1994): I saw Soundgarden at the Big Day Out that year and I left half way through because I was so tired. Little did I know that Superunknown (which hadn't been released at the point I saw them) would be my favourite album for the next couple of years. I must have bought it some time that year but can't remember where.

tu-plang Regurgitator shirt (1996): I was a big fan of Regurgitator and must have seen them about twenty times. I got this shirt free when I bought their first album. It is in perfect condition because I didn't like wearing white in the 90's.

However, regardless of which band it was, most of the shirts (except the white one's) ended up looking like this:


Sunday, May 1, 2011


Over at Pitchfork, there is some speculation that Fugazi may one day reunite to bring their singular brand of sonic awesomeness to the masses. Well, I think it's a very remote possibility when Ian MacKaye says,

"It is entirely possible that we will play again, and it's also possible that we won't. We have the desire to play, but there's a geographical issue. Joe [Lally, bassist] currently lives in Rome, and that makes it hard to practice. There's also a time issue. Everyone is super busy. You've got to remember that when Fugazi was actually working we usually practiced five days a week from four to six hours a day." (This was taken from a great interview with Mackaye on Approaching Oblivion).

He goes onto say "we would only play music together if we wanted to play music together and the time allowed it." If the will to play was there, I imagine the only thing I think going in our favour for a Fugazi return is that the righteous burn of their politics might be spurned into action given recent events both in the US and worldwide. I can't point fingers at US politics being anymore crazy than the Australian brand which has its own unique racism, hardline conservative ideologies and crazy people but Donald Trump, what the fuck was that about? Oh right. Anyhow, if there is any positive by-product of all this crazy political shit going on, please let it be a Fugazi reunion.