Thursday, June 30, 2011

A song a day: The Jesus Lizard - Then Came Dudley

Speaking of the Jesus Lizard, one of my favourite memories of any gig ever is when I saw the Jesus Lizard in this small club in Sydney. There were no bouncers and half the crowd seemed to be on the stage. One particularly ardent fan was this six foot girl who kept trying to capture David Yow and kiss him. Eventually Yow had enough and managed to grab her in a wrestle hold (an under the crotch bear hug type of thing) and hurl her into the moshpit. He then promptly dived in after her. The funny thing was he managed to sing the whole way through without missing a single lyric or drawing for breath.

I think of that moment every time I hear the first line of Then Comes Dudley:

That woman's crazy,
She's the mistress of a man who's crazy too

Ain't that the truth.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A song a day: Tomahawk - God Hates A Coward

I love this song for multiple reasons:

A: The riff sounds like a lost Jesus Lizard classic and shows how much muscle Duane Denison had in the band. Patton collaborations tend to be over run by his voice but I think Denison's imprint is all over Tomahawk.

B: Whether he's playing in Helmet, Battles, the Mark Of Cain or any other band, John Stanier always has a mighty, mighty drum sound.

C: Great lyrics surrealist lyrics from Patton and a shit hot chorus.

You either get it or you don't but this combines so many elements of the music I love that it could plausibly be perfect.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A song a day: Joe Pernice - Bum Leg

I tend to think Joe Pernice gets forgotten in the pantheon of great song writers but he has been churning out consistently great records for years now. My favourite song of his is Bum Leg because there is something beautiful in the way Pernice's understated (and undoubtedly great) voice recounts this tale of violence and flight. The song starts:

I got this scar above my eye
from the dirty little shit
who tried to love me underneath the bridge
I broke a bottle on his ear
as the sun was pouring down
I never stopped to see if he was dead

The protagonist recounts his ailments and woe as he is on the run from his past, "I'm a ghost I'll be fading with the light." With Pernice's vivid lyrics and the alt-country sounds that underplays the drama, this could be the ugliest beautiful song ever written.


Monday, June 27, 2011

A song a day: Clint Mansell - Welcome to Lunar Industries

If you don't know Clint Mansell, he was the guy Bono stole the whole Fly/Zoo TV thing from. As lead singer of Pop Will Eat Itself, Mansell was rocking that type of post-modern take on media years before U2 got around to it (as well as the vinyl suit and shades). Since PWEI split up, Mansell has been keeping himself busy by largely doing soundtrack work for pretty much every Darren Aronofsky since Pi. I'm particularly a fan of his work on The Fountain soundtrack that featured Mogwai but my favourite pieces are the Lunar Industry themes from the Moon Soundtrack.

If you haven't seen Moon you're an idiot because it's a low budget sci fi masterpiece directed by Duncan Jones* but that idiocy can be rectified by a trip to any local dvd store. As soon, as the major piano theme kicked in when I was watching the movie I knew that I had to have the soundtrack immediately. I find the music so haunting and moving that it has this weird effect where it almost puts me in a trance - I just become calmer and meditative. That being said, I gave a copy of this to a friend who said they wanted to slash their wrists after listening to it. Yeah, it's that good.

(*Yeah, I purposely didn't mention that Duncan Jones was related to a more famous musician named Jones so no need to be a smart arse about it).


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Neko Case & Nick Cave: She's not there

Sure it's a song we've heard a million times but with Neko playing angelic to Nick's loverman drawl, it sounds pretty awesome. A lot dirtier than I would have imagined but, personally, I love it. You can hear the track here. Too bad I'm in the middle of nowhere for the new season of True Blood though...


Review (sort of): See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould

It’s hard to know where to start writing about See a Little Light because I cannot review this book objectively. I am a Bob Mould fanatic and unapologetic about that. I think most people have one artist in their life that they love more than any other. You buy every record, you read every interview you can get your hands on, you study the artwork and liner notes and the music is the soundtrack to your life. Through the highs and lows their music is there. For me, that is Bob Mould. If you have any doubts about this, here’s an example of my fandom: I used to take 24-hour bus trips across Queensland to visit my parents in uni break. My walkman was equipped with a 90-minute tape with Copper Blue copied on both sides and I would play it continuously. Each time it finished, I flipped the tape and started again – 24 hours, no sleep, just pure Bob. I guess this isn't really a review, just my initial response after finishing the book.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this book now and all of them say something along the lines of ‘this will definitely appeal to hardcore fans’ (cue the slow clap – all those years at journalism school have finally paid off). That’s a given Captain Obvious but I think that the book has further reach than that not just because it is a rock memoir but also the tale of a flawed human being trying to make sense of his world.

Of course, there is a giddy rush of hearing about the creation of some of my favourite songs but the book is most compelling when Mould retraces his steps through the personal and public decisions he has made. Some of it is shocking but he is nothing less than candid about his drug use, depression and faults – the whole, messy human experience. Many times through Mould’s story, you catch yourself thinking “why Bob why?” as he makes another bad decision but he bares all this before the reader, admits his mistakes and takes the blame. But that’s the catch, when I start to think that (“Oh my God, why Bob!”), I quickly get transported back to all the bad decisions I’ve made which are inexplicable in hindsight but made in good faith at the time– we all have those moments, they’re just not played out so publicly I guess.

I think this is the main reason the story is so compelling because Mould is introspective and relatable, a stark difference to the Keith Richards book I reviewed a little while back. Richards was all lear jets, drugs and Jamaican recording sessions – fun but all surface, I had no sense of who that guy was. One thing I’ve admired about Mould is that he is always forward looking, rarely re-tracing his steps and it seems that this is the same of his personal life so as the book goes along, it seems that the events he is recollecting are as much a surprise to him as they are to the reader.

Mould was a sensitive and intelligent child being raised in an abusive and dysfunctional family situation. He retreated into music and later, substance abuse, to cope with his familial disconnect and feelings of anger and depression. He was further isolated by knowing he was gay in a virulently homophobic community. Mould is candid about his emerging sexuality and his family problems and like many kids, seeking solace in music was an obvious lifeline. Mould escapes the straitjacket of his small town for college falling in with Grant Hart and Greg Norton to form seminal punk band Hüsker Dü.

This is the start of an emergent theme in the book – community. Being outsiders, both from their parents, peers, whoever it is, Mould and the arts/music scene he was part of created their own communities and urban families (families of choice as opposed to families of origin as Mould puts it). Throughout the book, Mould recounts the details of three distinct communities – the 80’s music scene in which Hüsker Dü were pioneers; delighting in the camaraderie and success of the alt rock explosion of the early 90’s and his search for identity and self acceptance in the gay scene in his later life. It is this section that is most lively and Mould obviously relishes detailing the learning process of being an out and proud gay man with all the experimentation, sex and fun that provides. Keith Richards may have more money but it seems like Mould was having infinitely more fun.

It’s unsurprising that Mould’s outing was held back for so long because he feared a backlash from his regular fans. He was essentially outed by Spin magazine that said they would reveal this fact with or without his cooperation (although I have a vague recollection it was alluded in the British magazine Select at least a year earlier). Mould was worried that it would change the meaning of the songs for his fans because he was singing about men. As a fan, this was no problem and I distinctly remember being blown away by it because I never noticed that the majority of his songs up until that time did not refer to gender at all and how clever that was because it made them so universal. Mould recounts more reasons to be apprehensive of the scrutiny of his sexuality (his alienation from the larger gay community, his concerns for his family etc…) but I think most fans would follow Bob no matter what.

As for Hüsker Dü, it is illuminating to hear Mould recount his side of the saga. As a Mould fan, I discovered his music through his solo albums and as this was my level of entry, the solo and Sugar years have more resonance for me personally. That’s not to say I don’t love Hüsker Dü, but I wasn’t conscious of them during their existence so I’m not some misty-eyed nostalgic hoping for a reunion (which if this book is anything to go by, will never ever happen but I’d probably prefer a Sugar reunion anyhow). But as I wasn’t there, it’s great to hear the stories from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Mould, repressing his demons through a variety of drugs, is driven and ambitious to make the band work and succeed. Both he and Grant Hart are on a solid song writing roll producing several strong records in a row largely pushed by the momentum they have created through sheer force of will. Through this, Mould created these poignant emotive songs that expressed the things he couldn’t express in his daily life. The band disintegrated in haze of bad feeling, drugs and death and the acrimony between the band members lives on. The slow deterioration of the band is a cautionary tale of how a group can implode spectacularly.

The post Hüsker period is of most interest to me personally as at that time I was voraciously reading everything I could find about Mould at the time. Matching the records, my recollection of interviews from the time and events that I’d read about was fantastic as a long time fan as well as putting Mould’s personal descriptions to the names I’d read many times in the liner notes. While a huge Sugar fan (Copper Blue is my all time favourite album no question), I always thought the second record (File Under Easy Listening) was weaker and Mould admits as much here recounting his brush with mainstream success. Certainly his interviews around the time of the Hubcap record hinted at but didn’t fully reveal the personal turmoil that he was going through during the making of the record. I remember him saying that the track Thumbtack was about something that happened to friend of his but in the context of the relationship breakdown he was going through at the time, it seems infinitely more personal. More amazing is that the version on the record is the first take - phenomenal song.

The Modulate period is also interesting as it is obvious that the critical pasting he received for it as well the cool reception from fans (myself included although I warmed to it after seeing the songs live) bruised Mould who had until that time never really had bad reviews before. However, it appears to be one of the most important records Mould made in terms of rejuvenating himself creatively and while he admits it is rudimentary and unpolished, the songs are good (a while back, Matt wrote a passionate defence of that record in the comments section of my last post about Bob and is well worth reading). The subsequent solo albums that I rate quite highly (although sorry Bob, Body of Song is way better than Life and Times) reveal a man growing more comfortable with himself and his legacy.

Again, the book is compelling in the human drama of Mould personal and professional relationships. Sometimes distant, sometimes uncompromising, sometimes totally clueless – Mould’s recollections show a decent man trying to make sense of a life born of turmoil and the eventual acceptance and peace he has achieved. It is revealing that his biggest regret is the friendships he lost through carelessness, neglect or misunderstandings – something I think we can all understand. For many years, Mould was an uncompromising soldier of the punk revolution and anyone not on board with the mission was dismissed – that drive led to both success and failure professionally and personally. That being said, it is nice to hear Mould talk warmly about his current life and happiness.

There are a few things I was interested in which weren’t touched on. At one point around the Modulate time, Mould was talking about producing songs to accompany a kid’s book but I wonder if that was some blind whimsy. Given his reluctance to be a father but his partner‘s (at the time) desire to start a family might have something to do with it (and its subsequent absence from the book). I also recall at the dissolution of Sugar, Bob said he had an expectation that bass player David Barbe would contribute more songs for the second album but from the autobiography it doesn’t come off like that at all – maybe that was press speculation. Also, when I saw him play he play in Brisbane, he played this awesome song called Weak with desire – when the hell is that song going to be released? (Yeah, I have a bootleg of the show but it’s not the same). Why did the blog end? Questions, questions, questions…

Sorry, I lost myself for a second there. Again, I am an unapologetic fan. I would safely recommend this book to anyone who is vaguely interested in music or the alternative music scene. However, if you are a long-term fan, I’d recommend listening to the audiobook. Here’s why: I am currently in Borneo (seriously) and the only way I could get my hands (ears) on the book was to download it from itunes. So over the last few days I have been in hiking through Borneo rainforest during the day and for a few hours each day when I wake and just before I go to sleep, I’d listen to Bob recount his life. This is probably the strangest circumstances I can imagine hearing this story but I’m glad it happened this way for two reasons. The first reason is that I’m a voracious reader and would probably have knocked the book over in a couple of hours. Listening to it over twelve hours has made me really savour the details on offer here and really think deeply about the story being told. Secondly (and more importantly) hearing Bob’s voice, you can subtly hear through his sighs, breaths and tone what excites and exhausts the man. And there is a lot in both categories – the sighs get heavier every time Grant Hart comes up that’s for sure.

So, go and buy this book and then buy a bunch of his records. To be honest, I have tried to convert many people to Bob over the years – with some successes and some failures. The thing that I think I love about Bob’s music is that there is an integrity, purity and emotive base that shines through the music and speaks directly to me. There is very little I don’t like but it always seems legitimately coming from a place of passion regardless of my opinion of a song – Bob never phones it in. It is these things that underlie this memoir and make it a great book.


Postscript: In the acknowledgements, Bob thanks his fans who have stuck with him and says “the nights you spend with me, the stories you share of your first exposure to my work, the meaning it holds for you in troubled times, I am always humbled and honoured to be a small part of you lives.” I have to say it got a little tear from me because I was one of those intimidated fans inarticulately blurting out how much Bob’s music meant to me when I met him. He was really lovely and kind and I’ll always be grateful how gracious he was making me feel less stupid and validating everything I felt about the man and his music.

Oh and I really need to go back and listen to Flip You Wig – I haven’t listened to that in years, I'm more a New Day Rising kind of guy. Oh yeah, if anyone can hook me up with the limited edition of Copper Blue (I last saw it on sale for $500, I’d be eternally grateful.) Also great to hear Bob giving props to Jon Wurster from Superchunk – great drummer. I could go on and on…


A song a day: Screamfeeder - Hi Cs

Screamfeeder started as the Madmen in Townsville in the late 80's. I knew a lot of people who knew them but they had headed to Brisbane to become Screamfeeder by the time I moved there in '92. So whenever I heard about Screamfeeder there was this certain reverence because they were a) local boys/girl done good and b) local boys/girl who got out (although technically I think the girl, Kellie Lloyd, joined the band in Brisbane). Townsville is a funny town in the deep north of Queensland, it 's very transient where people come for a while and then move on. I only knew a few people who had actually grown up there and most of them left. There are a few poor souls trapped there forever, damned to years of eternal hot summers where people go mad and become alcoholics. Anyhow, Screamfeeder are perfect exemplers of 90's Australian indie rock. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in an alternate universe their Singles compilation would be actually called No 1's because there are so many great songs that should have been number 1 hits. While they have better tunes (seek out Bunny), Hi Cs is one of their poppier numbers which always sounded so great live that I thought it could be my song for the day. Seek them out if you like your power pop powerful.

(Fun fact: My ex-girlfriend lived around the corner from the 7-11 in this video. We have not spoken in 16 years - good times).


Saturday, June 25, 2011

A song a day: U2 - Acrobat

It's easy to make fun of U2 these days but back in the 80's there were few bands that were releasing albums of lasting quality who cracked the mainstream. That's why you still hear them on the radio as opposed to Big Country. Whatever you may think of Bono or the declining quality of their releases, U2 have earned their place in the pantheon of great bands from 80's/90's regardless of what Henry Rollins may think. I don't like all of it but I like a lot of it.

I have long contended that their greatest album is Achtung Baby - not because it was a radical reinvention for them as is widely claimed (because it wasn't, adding distortion to a U2 song is not revolutionary) but because the focus of the album is incredibly personal. Lyrically it is much more introspective talking of self doubt, trauma and hurt in a very personal sense. Of these songs, Acrobat is my second favourite* because it plays to all of the band's strengths - Larry and Adam lock into a solid foundation which allows the Edge to refine and go stratospheric with the signature sound he'd been working on for the previous fifteen years. Bono comes to the party with some great lyrics which talks more of the distance between action and belief while being defiant in the face of personal contradiction. While many focus on the lines "don't let the bastards grind you down", the most telling line is in relation to title of the song:

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that

We all have contradictions - some on a small scale and some can be played out on a world stage but Acrobat catches the spin between what we want to be and what we are.

*My favourite song off Achtung Baby is Love is Blindness because the Edge plays one of the most devastating solos committed to tape. True story.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A song a day: Azure Ray - Sleep

What did MOR bands do before Grey's Anatomy? Surely there isn't a huge market for music that fits perfectly into a scene of two doctors looking at each all doey eyed across someone's bleeding body on the operating table. Before Grey's, did Snow Patrol fans just stand and watch the band while weeping silently to themselves? I'm sad to say that Azure Ray fit perfectly into the category 'music that could appear in the background of a TV show'. Who knows, they probably already have but I'm too lazy to google it. Azure Ray are a duo whose trade is wistful music for the heart broken. That being said, I must be a sap because I fell in love with the song Sleep many years ago and still listen to it often. With haunting harmonies, this is perfect late night or break up music. I'm sure one day I'll flick channels on TV to a scene showing McDreamy looking wistful while this song plays in the background. I guess that's ok because it is genuinely beautiful.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

A song a day: Das Racist - Hahahaha jk?

Josh Homme once said something along the lines of that he took nothing seriously except his music. When I listen to Das Racist, I get the same vibe because while their lyrics are funny as hell and the music is fueled by self-knowing samples, there is an underlying seriousness that never makes the music disposable. I guess the chorus maybe addresses this:

We're not joking, just joking
We are joking, just joking
We're not joking.

The main sample of Hahahaha is the theme to Days of our lives but once the song kicks off, this isn't funny but provides the perfect skeleton for some old school hip hop ambiance. While there is some low key hip hop boasting like "Call me Dwight Schrute the way I eat beats" the rhymes are considered and clever. In particular, I love the section where they say "We not racist, we love white people! Ford trucks, apple pies!" and then go onto list the accomplishments of white civilization - namely junk food that is perfect for the munchies. As stated, this is funny stuff but underlying the joke is some serious hip hop.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A song a day: Nine Inch Nails - 1,000,000

Everyone has an opinion about Trent Reznor and I think that's because his music divides people. Some people love it and some people hate it - there doesn't seem to be much middle ground. I saw him once in the crowd at a festival in the 90's. He'd come out to watch Tool and seemed pretty happy until some punters noticed him and stopped to say hello. He disappeared pretty quickly but the two things I remember is that he was shorter than me (and I'm pretty much a hobbit) and he has one of the most angular noses I've ever seen. Seriously, the videos and photos do no justice to that thing, side on it looks like it could open cans. Anyhow, I like a lot of Nine Inch Nails because it is a) self indulgent, b) moody, and c) often rockin'. 1,000,000 came off the giveaway The Slip record and I like it because I always find Nine Inch Nails at their best when they're stripped back. I think the leaner the band, the tauter the music and there isn't an inch of fat or mercy in this song.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A song a day: Jawbox - Excandescent

Far from their Dischord roots, Jawbox's 1996 self titled final album was filled with their most commercial sounding music to date. It is ironic that they got vaguely well known for a really shitty cover of Cornflake Girl because they are a band with some remarkable tunes. Excandescent is probably one of their poppier numbers that a lot of people don't care for but it is a song that I return to again and again. Good shuffling riff, good singing, good chorus, good everything until 3:11. At 3:11, the band launches into this fifteen second break down which is so low down and brutal that it transforms the song from merely good into something magical. I know Jawbox have better songs but I don't think I listen to them anywhere as much as I listen to Excandescent.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Pitchfork gives Bon Iver 9.5

If ever there was a test, this was it. If ever there was a shark to be jumped, this was it. Un-fucking-believable.

A song a day: Peter Gabriel - Digging in the Dirt

Artists often use their personal problems as an inspiration but I can't recall anyone being as brutal as Peter Gabriel on the album Us. While it had a couple of 'fun' tracks (limp Sledgehammer clone Steam and the totally lame Kiss That Frog), the rest is a frank exploration of the turmoil he was suffering from the break down of two major relationships and his growing alienation from his children. Digging in the Dirt is musically much like any track off his commercial breakthrough So except the lyrics are much, much darker. They voice two distinct parts of his character - the quieter one conveys his desperate need for understanding through examination of his subconscious motives ("Digging in the dirt, stay with me I need support") and the second voice conveys the inarticulate rage of a man out of control ("Don't talk back/Just drive the car/Shut your mouth/ I know what you are").

The song treads the line between the two narratives, the inner monologue examining the past hurts and primal emotions that have led him to being the person he is and the second is the man in real life, beyond reason, the uncompromising result of his fear, hurt and anger. While the song is ultimately a plea for understanding as he works through his issues, it also shows the emotional limitations of the narrator. Unsurprisingly, the images in the video show Gabriel being consumed by the wilderness, being buried alive and smashing shit up as well as plants that grow to make the word 'help' and 'heal'. As a first single, this shows that being Peter Gabriel in 1992 was not a happy place to be at all.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

A song a day: Neko Case: I Wish I Was The Moon

It is long established that I have a thing for red heads and I think it’s ok to admit that up front and get it out of the way. We’re all attracted to particular types but the reason I say this is because the colour of Neko Case’s hair has nothing to do with my admiration of her (ok, maybe a little). If you needed proof that Neko Case possesses a voice that somehow captures the echoes of a the great American folk/country past while remaining timeless and otherworldly, I’d recommend listening to I Wish I Was The Moon. Somehow this song feels like it could have been written in either 1810 or 2010 and not sound out of place in either century (in fact, it was released in 2002). This song aches in a way that makes you hug your loved ones that little bit tighter as the loneliness that resonates through every line is devastating. Above it all, Case’s voice cuts through the music like a lighthouse cutting through fog – it is an instrument of such beauty, soul and gravity that every cliché I can think of falls flat, it is the singularly most beautiful female voice in modern music.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

A song a day: New Order - Crystal

When talking about New Order it seems mandatory to speak about Blue Monday, Joy Division and Peter Hook's bass sound. While they're crapping on about that, they're missing some of the best pop songs of the last thirty years with tracks like True Faith, Regret and Touched by the Hand of God. That being said, my favourite New Order song is Crystal, a latter period song that appeared on Get Ready. To be honest, I have no idea how well this album did or if it's that well known outside of New Order fans but the whole album is pretty solid. Anyhow, Crystal starts with an irritating vocal solo by Dawn Zee, the band's touring vocalist until the drums and magnetic guitar riff kicks in. There is some beautiful alchemy going on as the band embraces an indie rock vibe which is perfectly accompanied by a subtle version of their signature electronics. Hooky plays it low key until after the first chorus when at 1:56 he kicks in with a signature bass line that drives the song into further awesomeness. The song explores the nature of relationships and how brutal they can be starting with the line "We're like crystal, we break easy" and exploring the imperfect and obsessive nature of love. At least that's what I think it's about but when a song is this good, it doesn't really matter, it just carries you to your own conclusions.


Friday, June 17, 2011

A song a day: Sepultura - Ratamahatta

For all their detuned brutality and cookie monster singing, Sepultura overcame cultural divides and thrash metal pigeon holing to be a major force in metal in the 90’s. No other song in their repertoire ably communicates this than Ratamahatta which can be summed up in one word: drums. The South American drumming accompanied by a classic two note metal riff defies logic, intellect and taste – if you don’t air drum or at least throw the occasional devil horn during this song, you just don’t like music. There is nothing polite, thought out or contrived in this song, it merely wrestles primal urges to rock to the ground and unlocks your monkey brain in seconds. And the lyrics? Who knows what that’s about – it doesn’t even matter.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

A song a day: Sugababes – Stronger

The Sugababes have produced more pop hits that I have liked than I care to admit. They came to my attention with their first hit Overload and really captured my heart with the (Gary Numan) Cars cribbing Freak Like Me. All I can say is that they just appealed to my love of pure pop girl bands (yeah, I like Destiny’s Child too – wanna fight?). Stronger is one of those classic female empowerment songs, a low key I Will Survive whose key lyric is essentially ‘fuck you buddy, I’m stronger without you,’ Sure it helps that they’re all a bit cute but the reality is that the low key strings and bass of the music plays to the strengths of their voices which have real emotion over the autotuned automatons of many female pop groups. A manufactured girl pop band that has soul? A rare thing indeed.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A song a day: The Beat – Mirror in the Bathroom

Remember in the 90’s/00’s when there were all those terrible wannabe ska bands? My lord did they suck quantum amounts of arse. Everything they ever wanted (and failed) to be can be summed up in Mirror in the Bathroom. Snaking bass line that makes you move your feet, saxophone that doesn’t suck, ska guitar that ducks, dives and stabs at odd moments. To be honest, I’ve never really being to sure what this song was about – mental illness, narcissism, oral hygiene, who knows but this song is all ska shaking ass from go to woe. Sure, they are better known for Sooner or Later but Mirror in the Bathroom was the true dark heart of ska.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A song a day: The Jam – Going Underground

It’s hard to imagine now but as a child of the 70’s and 80’s the notion of nuclear war seemed to be a constant threatening reality. The constant vilification of Communism combined with nutjobs like Reagan and Thatcher in power only added to the paranoia. With popular culture producing films like The Day After, Red Dawn and that crappy Sting song about the Russians loving their children too, I’m often surprised we’re not living a post-apocalyptic Thunderdome. Of the songs dealing with this topic – the arms race and the helplessness in the rise of the conservative right, Going Underground is my favourite. Apart from being a roaring kick in the guts musically, it shows what a great lyricist Weller was at the time. People naturally move to the Clash (for good reason too) but the spiky end of the class war always came from the Jam.


Monday, June 13, 2011

A song a day: Velvet Revolver – Slither

Anyone who denies that Appetite for Destruction is one of the greatest debuts of all time is just a moron. Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steve concocted the perfect amalgamation of blues brutality, punk knowledge and metal edges to be momentarily the most threatening band on the world. It was impossible to confuse them with hair metal – they sounded dangerous, drug fucked and ready to fight which is exactly what they were. We all know the story since then, the bloated egos, the acrimony, the ridiculous nine minute ballads and the endless bullshit but for that one album they were the perfect weapon. I can’t say I’ve heard much (if any) of Velvet Revolver’s three albums apart from this single. What is great about this song is that it sounds like Slash got his mojo back and created a snaky riff that could be off side two be off Appetite – hit the wah pedal and turn that Marshall stack to eleven, it’s Slashtastic. And if you close your eyes and think on it, you can imagine Axl singing this song and pretend that the promise of 1987 wasn’t lost before it had even begun, or at least until the November rain started to fall.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

A song a day: Never Tear Us Apart - INXS

There's nothing I hate more than a 80's ballad with a cod sax solo. This could only be made worse when it's by a band who has systematically pissed on, robbed and burnt down their legacy and self respect after the death of their singer - enter INXS. Despite everything that went wrong since Michael Hutchence's death (the endless cash in's, the reality show, Terence Trent D'Arby), I cannot bring myself to hate this song because it is romantic in a way only romantic ballads could be in the 80's. Maybe it's the video set in Prague, the bracing guitar line that cuts through it or the sentiment by a band at the height of their commercial powers, there is something divine about this song. I can understand why I'll be dismissed as cheesy for liking it but in may ways it is perfect. Don't fight it, just embrace it.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

A song a day: Japandroids – Art Czars

Released as a seven inch post-Post-Nothing, the song speaks of disillusionment with the scene, man(™). What I love about this song is it starts of a stark jagged riff and then cuts into pure pop-punk bliss but there is plenty of sting in both the music and the lyrics as the Japandroids bare their teeth. While the assailant in the song is unnamed (it could be the man or scenesters, hipsters, soccer mums, milkmen…), the lyrics show a real venom.

I'm really sorry if you're disappearing
You hear that sound? That's us cheering.
Here's your money back
Here's your punk rock back

Whether it’s the weight of expectation from the scene, record companies or their fans, I imagine Japandroids are not going to be pushed around.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Keith Richards - Life

I know I'm about a billion years too late to review this book but as I just finished it yesterday I thought I'd write a little bit on it. My reaction to this book is more a reflection of my internal conflicts that anything Keith Richards has written. On the one hand I want my rock n' roll outlaws, the men and women who push the extremes of behaviour and are the living embodiment of the dangerous edge of society. On the other hand, when you read about their exploits, the reality of what that actually entails can be confronting.

On a certain level, I related to Keith, from his days living poor in Dartford but where the ambition and obsession with music gives way to abusive relationships, violence and drugs it can undermine the romance of the rock n' roll mystique. While it's thrilling to read about Keith's contribution to writing some of the best-known songs in rock, once his life degenerates into abusive relationships, violence and drugs, it’s far less interesting. But what binds the book together is Keith’s devotion to music and that lays the corner stone of this memoir. Unfortunately, his disregard for many and often violent or poor behaviour shows a petty thug taking the shine off the myth (many of which are purposely shattered here).

Much of Keith’s tenure during the Stones height was as a high functioning drug addict and as such I would question some of his assessments in the book. For example, he writes how angry he was that once he got clean, Mick Jagger didn’t want to relinquish control of the direction of the band. Anyone who has had any dealings with people addicted to heroin knows that they can be less than dependable so I think if Jagger had steered the band for 10-15 years while Keith roamed the world on dope, it wouldn’t be surprising that he was reluctant to cede control. Sure, this is pure speculation but it’d be interesting to hear Jagger’s side of the story. There’s a number of points where Richards is angry or defiant in the face of pretty reasonable reactions.

Much is made of the relationship between these two men and as Richards points out, they are brothers rather than friends. Brothers can fight, be mean and spiteful to one another but still have a bind of loyalty and love where friendships often cannot handle such things. This is a good thing as Keith says a lot of less than complimentary things about Mick here. For example, his assessment of the Jagger solo albums is both brutal and hilarious making Mick sound like a limelight hungry egotist. Having heard those records I’d say that he’s pretty spot on here. Richards doesn’t pull any punches and it pays not to get on his bad side. Bill Wyman is conspicuous by his absence and most references to him are derogatory or dismissive.

The most perverse thing about the book is the sheer decadence of their lifestyle. No doubt the Stones were screwed out of loyalties in their time but the level of wealth here is almost comprehensible. When things got bad, Richards would often flee to Tangiers, New York, France, Jamaica as if it were like driving twenty miles up the road. While hanging out with Burroughs, Ginsberg and other cultural icons isn’t enough, the amount of money being thrown around plays against Richards street urchin pirate persona. There is no doubt that Keith (and the band) were unfairly targeted by the police for what they represented more than their actual crimes but Richards certainly didn’t do himself any favours. No doubt the cops were well out of order but when you’re under such scrutiny does it pay to travel with unlicensed guns or have an ounce of dope in your hotel room? Time and time again, his money, expensive lawyers and connections save Richards and if I had such resources I’d use them too. I’m sure it’s much easier to be a reckless thug when you’ve got millions of dollars to bail you out.

Now, I read this book as a latecomer to the Rolling Stones. Sure I knew all the hits from when I was a kid but when I seriously started reading and listening to music in the 80’s, the majority of the mainstream press talked about the glory days of the Beatles, the Stones and Dylan and how they would never be surpassed. As a teenager I railed against this rampant nostalgia and actively didn’t listen to these artists for a number of years. As such, it’s only in the last ten years that I’ve paid any serious attention to the Stones. As such, I doubt my reaction to book is a wrapped up in thirty years of loving devotion to the band. Is it a good read? Definitely but while Richards loves his wife and kids and at times, comes across as a decent bloke, the ultimate reaction to this book is that it’s the story of a pretty sketchy character. I’m not sure if that was what he was going for but for what it’s worth, when Richards focuses on the music, that’s when the book really comes alive.


A song a day: Helmet - Speechless

Hidden towards the end of the Betty album, Speechless is an odd Helmet number from their 90’s heights (ie before they went shit). Its oddness is that it has some swing to it despite the trademark Helmet attack. It was released at a time Helmet had created a machine like efficiency to their riffing that constantly undermined Page Hamilton’s claims that he was a classically trained jazz guitarist. Speechless is half pace Helmet with a distorted riff that verges on being funky – far from the dropped D jackhammer of Strap It On. It’s also one of the few times Hamilton decides to sing rather than bark. The vocals slip over Helmet’s icy facade and reveals something unique in their canon – genuine warmth and pathos.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

A song a day: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – 10 x 10

Remember the first time you heard Date With The Night? A chainsaw of a guitar riff with vampy female vocals over the top – it sounds every bit as irresistible today as it no doubt did the second it was written. 10 x 10 is the last track off the astonishingly great Is Is ep, and is cut from the same cloth as Date. Instantly memorable riff, pounding drums and a vocal melody as catchy as a thousand baited fish hooks. A lot of people drifted from the YYY’s when they went disco on their last record (a mistake – that album is a real grower) but if you need a reminder of what made them great, listen to this. In particular Zinner drives the song with some blustery yet simple riffing punches you in the face but leaves no bruises – the perfect assault, just ask the cop with the phone book.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A song a day: Blur – Beetlebum

When my friends got hooked on heroin there was nothing pretty about it, definitely not as pretty as the 1:50 floating coda of Beetlebum. Largely acknowledged by the band as alluding to the stoned out malaise of addiction, Beetlebum is nonetheless a startling song of contradictions. The scratchy opening riff sounds too short and hard to be of much interest but once Albarn’s starts singing, the song is transported to a different place. The slinky bass hooks you in preparation for the transcendent falsetto chorus break that seems to float above the song’s chaotic musical heart. Whenever I describe this song, floating is the word I come back to – it starts as a claustrophobic crawl and then expands into a soaring dream. Maybe that’s what heroin feels like but I wouldn’t know because it fucking killed my friends so I wasn't stupid enough to try it.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A song a day: The Ghost Of A Thousand - Moved As Mountains, Dreamt Of By Sea

I bought this album based on it's cover without hearing a single lick of music. On the cover it looks like a post-rock band and with the title of this song, you'd think 'yep, post-rock.' To my surprise and delight, it's an excellent hardcore band from the UK and this song (along with Bright Lights) are a kick in the pants that only punk can give you when you're in the mood. I'm not sure if there's a movement in the UK at the moment (with Gallows etc...) but this stuff sounds pretty great to my ears. Some of it is reminiscent of Refused but without all the weird digressions that interrupted their records. There is nothing new here if you're a punk fan but this song and their entire album is great fun.


Monday, June 6, 2011

A song a day: Elliott Smith - Son of Sam

I think it would be predictable to pick one of those acoustic torch songs that Elliott Smith did so well but I didn’t choose this song to be wantonly unpredictable - I love Son of Sam. It’s this odd melange of styles – sweet guitar lines, honky tonk piano, soaring backing vocals and slightly threatening lyrics (unsurprising, given the serial killer subject matter). But what gets me every time is at the 1:40 mark where Smith unleashes a guitar tone best described as apocalyptic. Given the rolling beauty of everything before it, this 11-second solo that simply mimics the vocal melody roars and drags the song onto a higher plateau. We can all sit around and play Miss Misery until the xanax kicks in, or we can explore Smith’s true dark side as a sinister rock God.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Selamat tinggal

Well, my blog friends, tomorrow I fly to Indonesia to start what will be probably a six month trip through Asia and Europe. As such, regular blogging will be hard as I focus all my energy on enjoying this opportunity I have before me. No doubt I will be fretting, thinking and arguing about music as I travel through these continents because music is my passion and I figure if you're reading this blog, it's probably yours too. However, I'd like to thank the people who have stopped by to correct me, argue a point or just share the joy that is music nerdom - it's been fun and I've learnt a lot. I will be blogging about my travels here but this blog will continue for a little while yet because like all paranoid, cynical people, I am prepared for all contingencies. More on that tomorrow. Until I can get back and blog consistently, selamat tinggal for now (that's Indonesian for I have better taste in music than you).


Saturday, June 4, 2011


During the week, I had a farewell with a friend in the city. We went for lunch at a well to do pub called Mr B's which had excellent Japanese and Thai food (fyi: we had agedashi tofu, gyoza, emerald duck and katsu don pork). Before becoming a pub with all dark interiors, fine lines and middle of the week business crowds, Mr B's was formally The Mandarin Club, a run down betting/drinking establishment (largely populated by the local Chinatown community). On it's second floor, they had a ballroom that was hired out for parties and small local bands often played there. I saw a bnch of shows there of bands I can't even remember the name of - some great, some awful but all committed to their craft. There isn't really any venues like that in the city centre. While there are numerous pubs catering to the backpacker crowd with acoustic duo + drum machine playing all the hits you know and loathe, the small venues where small bands could play original music seem to be drying up - a victim of the evolving city and skyrocketing property value no doubt.

When I first arrived in Sydney, there were about five or six second hand record stores on lower Pitt Street all within walking distance selling quality vinyl and rarities. My lunch mate used to work at one of them and I'd come in on a Sunday and play records and hang out. That store is long gone and as we left Mr B's we looked at the corner where two of the record stores have been replaced by a single pub. As I walked by I looked at the the suits tucking into their lunchtime beer and pies where the indie and hip hop racks used to stand. I know everything changes but when that part of town was cheap, nasty and possibly dangerous, there was a culture of being able to walk from store to store, records in hand looking for that bargain record the shark second hand dealer had neglected or missed. Everything changes I guess but a little part of me misses that part of town. Goddamn I hate nostalgia and I hate getting old and talking like this...


Friday, June 3, 2011

Bob Mould top 10

I've been pretty excited for a while now about the upcoming release of Bob Mould's autobiography (non-Bob Mould fans, stop reading now - there is nothing here for you). The reviews have started to come out and for the most part, they are pretty positive. I was reading a review by this guy and noticed that he'd compiled a top 10 Bob Mould essential listening list. Not to say that this guy is wrong but he is wrong. Rather than list albums, here are the songs you should hear which cover all bases of Mould's career from punk pioneer to despairing misanthrope to super pop merchant (be aware that even when writing this I changed the songs about twenty times so this is less than definitive):

Something I Learned Today - Zen Arcade (Hüsker Dü): The opening track on the seminal Zen Arcade, this highlights Bob's hoarse growl before he began to sing rather than scream. It also highlights his buzzsaw guitar sound and even though Grant Hart's drums sound like he's playing cardboard boxes, the song has an urgency and passion that sets the tone for the entire album.

I Apologize - New Day Rising (Hüsker Dü): In the year between Zen Arcade and New Day Rising, Mould's singing voice is infinitely improved and with great backing vocals from Hart, I think this is the blueprint for Mould's pure pop songs in the future.

Up in the Air - Warehouse: Songs And Stories (Hüsker Dü): While a number of Hüsker fans hate Warehouse, I think there are some great songs on here. The simple guitar motif recalls the 60's pop Mould adored and the sheer joy that this song exudes is amazing. Although, when you listen to the lyrics it's pretty obvious Mould is putting Grant Hart down:

Poor bird flies up in the air, never getting anywhere
And how much misery can one soul take?
Trying to fly away might have been your first mistake

Yeah, those guys really hated each other....

Whichever the way the wind blows - Workbook (solo): Bob's first solo album was a million miles from Hüsker Dü and was filled acoustic guitars, cellos and strings. Rightfully revered by fans, what most people weren't prepared for was the final song Whichever way the wind blows. Whatever inner turmoil Mould was struggling with at the time, this song is a primal cry of nihilism - all jagged guitars that scream and fight for attention, it can be a tough listen. This song was the precursor to Mould's bleakest work, Black Sheets of Rain which took this template and ran it into oblivion.

Walls in time - The calm before the storm (solo): It'd be very easy to choose Too Far Down or Hardly Getting Over It as a prime example of Mould's ability to unleash a beautiful acoustic ballad but I've always found this song very affecting. It doesn't really have a chorus as such but it is a beautiful song about love and loss. This song was released officially on District Line a couple of years ago but the version on this bootleg with just Bob and his guitar remains the definitive version to my ears.

Changes - Copper Blue (Sugar): Mould struck gold with Sugar gaining widespread acclaim and actual music sales which befitted one of the best pop albums of the 90's. All ringing guitars and solid hooks, Changes is one of the best songs of the indie tide that turned at that time. It also highlights Mould's ongoing inability to release a good video.

JC Auto - Beaster (Sugar): The flip side of Copper Blue was the ep Beaster where the summery pop of the former was melded with the darkness of the Black Sheets era. I have a bootleg of this song and it sounds as if the band is either going to explode or start attacking the crowd, probably both at the same time. Frightening.

Best Thing - Body of Song (solo): I think Body of Song is probably one of Bob's most consistent albums even if he does use more of the electronics he's been favouring in the later DJ years. Best Thing is the quintessential Bob song, the major theme being I wanted to be with you, you didn't want me and now I'm sad - urm by the way, fuck off because I'm way to good for you anyhow.

Very Temporary - District Line (solo): This is a gem towards the end of the District Line record. Just pure pop perfection - a million bands couldn't write a song this good.

The Breach - Life and Times (solo): This song immediately struck me when I heard it. The narrative is essentially an argument between two people, one slightly calm and the other is mad as hell. The push and pull between the eventual eruption of rage is mesmerising.

Good old Bob, can't wait to read the book.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Just sayin': Adele

As I've said before, I'm a big fan of girly pop and for the last week I've been quite enamoured by Adele's record 21. Nothing pleases me more that her album is doing so well. While there are some lamearse songs on her album (mainly fluffy ballads that are sub-Beyonce/Christina strings and piano by rote), the best songs here are fierce assertions of female empowerment that embrace soul, blues and funk. Rolling in the Deep is a revenge fantasy with real malice - "Go ahead and sell me out and I'll lay your shit bare" is not really Katy Perry territory.

My favourite song, Rumour has it, is all soulful backing vocals, driving drums and handclaps with the chorus kiss off of "rumour has it he's the one I'm leaving you for..." What cuts above it all is Adele's voice - the thing is force of nature that recalls the classic 60's English pop singers - Dusty Springfield mainly but that's a pretty easy comparison to make. That Adele has struck a chord with this music which is so reminiscent of the music my Mum used to play when I was a kid makes me oddly happy. What makes me happier is that in a pretty sterile world of pop, this music has a bit of grit to it.

While I like the upbeat songs the most, there are some beautiful ballads here namely Turning Tables and Someone Like You. It's a shame she couldn't sustain the quality across the entire album (there's a really cheesy elevator version of the Cure's Lovesong - wrong on so many levels) but if you like a dose of quality pop, you could do far worse than this.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In the rock news today...

1. The new Antlers album is quite exceptional.

2. The new My Morning Jacket is quite good.

3. The new Arctic Monkeys album is quite bad.

4. Coldplay have a new single called Every tear is a waterfall. Who the fuck are they trying to kid with this bullshit?

5. Adele has apparently single handedly arrested the decline in record sales. That’s what happens when you release an album both me and my Mum likes.

6. Pulp have reunited. I guess being on the dole finally got boring.

7. Lady Gaga is an artistic visionary with the worst photoshopped front cover of all time. Either it is high irony or it’s just shit.

8. My Bloody Valentine have still not released a new album.