I was thinking how I would frame my end of year list because so much has gone on with me this year that music almost seems like a footnote of a rather tumultuous year. I noted this concern to the always erudite Adam through twitter to which he responded "Let the list reflect the mess. No-one's got it all covered, and responses devoid of emotional angles (explicit or hinted at) are dishonest anyway." So here goes, excuse the self indulgence.
This has been a traumatic year for me for so many reasons and while I recognise what a position of privilege I have compared to many in the world, the hits have continued to come over and over again. As such, my normal music consumption was derailed while I dealt with the fall out of various dramas and I think that’s reflected in the music I’ve chosen this year. Had things gone more smoothly, I think this would have been a very different list. As usual with this list, I am listing the songs I’ve actually listened to a lot rather than narrowing down 'the best.' These are just songs I like and looking at the plethora of lists out there, little on mine corresponds with the outside world. But fuck all those fashionable wankers.
As such, I will share with you my top eleven songs to start with. Eleven you ask? It's eleven because in any year that Bob Mould releases a record, it is pretty much guaranteed it will be my favourite record of the year. I am a hopeless fanboy and if you don't believe me, here's a picture of the playlist I made after the first single from Silver Age was released -
I. AM. NOT. KIDDING. As such, here's the singles list:
11. No Chance – Unsane
There is something comforting and familiar in the righteous, unrelenting anger of Unsane. I am under no illusions that this is mood music but listening to this makes me want to smash stuff and scream at the sky. It’s a slow, grinding pulse that drags you under the murky depths from which they arose – hey Unsane, don’t go changing, we love you just the way you are…
10. The Full Retard – El-P
I have to admit there has been little hip hop in my diet this year but one album I did really like was El-P’s Cure 4 Cancer. While there’s better songs on the record, I find this is the perfect single with it’s incredibly inappropriate Meet the Feebles-esque video (sorry my feminist friends) and irresistible hook. Political correctness be damned though, this is fucking great.
9. Demons – Sleigh Bells
I really enjoyed Reign of Terror but this is the song I came back to time and time again. At first, it seemed like a pretty standard reading of their rock n' cheerleader aesthetic but when the final threat in the last third of the songs appears, that's where it takes off and becomes real. As Alexis starts to sing in her little girl voice "And you will answer to no one else but me", it seems quaint but when the backing vocals kick in, the little girl has a baseball bat and is swinging it at your head.
8. Ekki Mukk – Sigur Ros
No miserablist's list is complete without a Sigur Ros song. This particularly song glides on a melody so slight it's barely there but it moves the way clouds do on a slow afternoon. In the right mood, it can lift you to ecstasy while in the blink of an eye, it can be devastating - all without a single comprehensible word of English...
7. Freedom at 21 – Jack White (could have been Sixteen Saltines - tough pick)
I always have trouble with songs that sound like they women-hating rants and this one walks a fine line but I think it’s ok because Jack White comes off as more than a chump than the victim of a feminist conspiracy. Great imagery (“cut off the balls of my feet/made me walk on salt” – ouch) and an insistent riff, Jack White is far from played out (I wasn’t a fan of that last Dead Weather record). Also, bonus Josh Homme cameo in the video clip.
6. Notes on achieving orbit – Future of the Left
I could have chosen any song off the excellent (and totally not Pitchfork approved) The Plot Against Common Sense but this track stands out as the perfect distillation of the Future of the Left aesthetic. Musically, the bastard child of the Jesus Lizard and Shellac (but beholden to neither) while Falco sings about the vacuity of popular culture in his off kilter, obscure way. Let’s face it, any song starts off with the lyrics “Where were you when Russell Brand discovered fire?” is going to be brilliant.
5. Laura – Bat for Lashes
This ballad of old timey drama and sorrow is simply iressiatable. While I can’t say I was entirely enamoured with the Haunted Man, this song is, indeed, haunted and exceptional in both its simplicity and emotion.
4. Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings – Father John Misty
While I’m not a Fleet Foxes fan (or even particularly fond of the whole animal band phenomenon), this song is immaculate in every way. It just rolls on a resigned emotion that gnaws its way into your synapses and all year I’ve been unable to shake its grip. Somehow it’s one fo the few songs that seems to sound better the more I listen to it and even though I didn’t like the entire album, I bought it on vinyl for this one song (a pretty expensive single – I know, I know). It also helps that the video features a batshit insane Aubrey Plaza who is acting in a way which somehow correlates with my current internal turmoil – it’s just less less sexy when it’s some old dude acting weird so I keep all that craziness locked deep inside.
3. King Fish – Sun Kil Moon
One day, Mark Kozelek will decide to kick out the jams and release an album of Crazy Horse-esque rockers. That will be a great day but until that happens, we will have to rely on his occasional detours into Neil Young territory. Like the long lost ghost of Cortez the Killer, King Fish tells the story of devotion through loss with no sense of redemption or consolation. While everything moves at a languid Kozelek pace, that guitar solo has a sting to it and if the line “And say that I love you/before your body turns cold,” doesn’t get you, you’ve never been in love.
2. R U Mine? – Arctic Monkeys
After years of trying to find their way from their signature sound through flirtations with desert stoner rock, the Arctic Monkeys finally got the balance right to create this gem for Record Store Day. Basically making the best Queens of the Stone Age song since Songs for the Deaf, they embrace everything that makes Queens great: high drama, high stakes, monster riffage, falsetto and sexy come-ons. I’m sure when Josh Homme heard this, he thought to himself “You learn well young padwan.”
Sorry I haven't written in a while. I've had writer's block so I have been dedicating most of my time to reading books and listening to music. But I haven't forgotten you - here's a quick round up of things that have been orbiting my musical brain recently.
1. Refused live
So last night I got to see Refused which was as incredible as I could have imagined. We arrived before showtime and it was a pretty interesting crowd. As my buddy and I took our seats, he remarked "wow, it looks like everyone is an extra in the punk rock scene of a big budget movie." And so it was, the mostly older punk set had gone to a lot of effort to get dolled up for the evening. Hilariously, to my right were two guys who took their fashion choices and demeanor from Ian MacKaye circa 1984, all black, bald heads and straight edge seriousness. As Refused literally tore the venue apart these two lads sat impassively looking bored. I think one of them may have tapped his toe once but that was about the level of enthusiasm they could muster. I have to say I was glad I got seats. I'm a small guy and when the band got going in earnest, from my vantage point above the standing crowd it looked like the most berserker out of control bunch of lunatics I've seen - hard pressed at the stage front with one of those violent tornadoes of bodies in the centre. Enthusiastic sure but those couple of bloody noses I saw coming out at the end probably spoke of how aggressive it was.
I make these observations because I'm only coming to grips with how amazing the show was. As the anticipation for showtime started to grow, the stage started to glow in tune with a growing wall of feedback before the band launched into the shape of punk to come behind a large sheet emblazoned with the band's name. As the sheet fell to reveal the band in full flight, the Enmore Theatre literally groaned under the weight of energy from the band which was fed back by the crowd. It was essentially a greatest hits set (as it were). For me it was almost surreal watching this band I'd listened to for years who I thought I'd never see were there before me - I couldn't quite believe it was happening. It's very rare I see a band and wish I'd learnt the drums but I did last night. Refused are anchored by the percussive fuck off ferocity of David Sandström - every great band has a great drummer and holy shit, Sandström is one of the best I've seen - intuitive, powerful and swinging - amazing. The guitars sounded like a sonic assault while Dennis Lyxzén's distinctive howl and James Brown dance manoeuvres were mesmerizing. The band seemed humbled by the ecstatic reception they were receiving and genuinely excited to play Australia.
The night predictably built towards the first encore of New Noise, their most well known song in Australia. I have been to the Enmore Theatre a number of times but I'd never seen it like this - I could have imagined the roof caving in such was the intensity of that moment where the right band, right song and right crowd collide in ecstasy. Probably one of the top ten concerts I've ever seen and when I got home, I couldn't sleep for hours, just reliving the experience and totally wired. A great, great show.
2. Soundgarden - King Animal
For a while now, I've been saying that a Soundgarden comeback album would be a bad idea. I'm glad to be proven wrong because it is nowhere near the clusterfuck of awful that I thought was coming. But that being said, there is nothing remarkable about it either. Realistically, it feels as if this album could have been record six months after Down on the Upside, they really have stood still In that respect. Upside was a disappointment and this isn't much better, it is listenable and enjoyable in spots but it's definitely not memorable. For me, Soundgarden will be forever defined by the caustic dissonance of Badmotorfinger ad the epic swing of Superunknown - this isn't close. This isn't the same ball park. Shit, this isn't even the same game.
3. Deftones - Koi No Yokan
Deftones are one of my favourite bands and even though they strayed for a few years (self titled, Saturday Night Wrist), even at their worst they're never less than interesting. After the perfect singular violent focus of their last album Diamond Eyes, the band have injected more dynamics into Koi No Yokan which swings with an intensity in line with their masterpiece White Pony. I'm sure you'll see that comparison a lot but I don't't think it's anywhere near the forward thinking, sideways shifting robo metal headfuck that makes Pony so brilliant. I've only had this a couple of days and it'll take me a while to digest where it sits in the order of Deftones merit but there are some great tracks on here: the smash and grab of Poltergeist compared to the majestic sweep of Rosemary but there is nothing weak on here. I'm going to dedicate my weekend to this and I feel pretty good about that. No doubt more to come on this record.
4. Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man
I have to admit I was a big fan of her previous album Two Suns but this hasn't really grabbed me. The singles Laura and All Your Gold are the obvious highlights but for all the plaudits being poured upon it, I'm yet to hear it.
5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
I've long been a fan of Godspeed but I am the first to admit that I thought Yanqui U.X.O was a flat and listless affair. Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! soars in a way that you rarely hear in music much these days. The dynamic waves of sound that turn on the most intricate whispered moment to a barrage of distortion is as captivating as anything else the band has ever done. Best consumed as a whole, Godspeed have produced a truly great album that reminds you why tags like post rock were invented and why they are ultimately, totally redundant.
6. Beth Orton - Sugaring Season
I've always been a fan of Orton's voice and Sugaring Season sounds like she decided to make a purest 70's folk album. This isn't a bad thing as the lush arrangements act as backdrop pushing her voice to the centre of the album. Mournful, gentle and elegant, it really is a lovely album.
I'm sure there's more stuff I've been listening to but that's the few things that come to mind. Anyhow, that's the news. Keep on rocking. Back soon.
Sorry for the lack of updates, I'm in the wilds of Indonesia but there should be a rash of comment coming when I return home (new Godspeed!). In the meantime here's a conundrum I've been dealing with. My eight year old nephew just got his first guitar after expressing an interest in learning to play which is awesome. As such, for Christmas I'm going to make him a compilation of influential guitarists (with some notes and easy lessons) but as I've started working on it, it is fraught with difficulties. Observe:
1. The music has to be palatable to an eight year old so it's not like I can throw on some Zappa, Sonic Youth or Slayer (or Black Flag for that matter). Not that I would use any of that music, finding music which is interesting from a guitar point of view without being alienating to a young listener is an interesting challenge considering the most challenging stuff he's probably heard is the Foo Fighters.
2. Do I go classic guitar (Hendrix, Clapton, Page) or do I go by pioneers of genre (say your Tom Verlaine's of the world)? Genre seems much more interesting and I could throw in some old blues shit too but my guitar education was the classics until I found my own sounds and interests. Also, genre trips on problem number 1, it's written in a musical dialect which can be difficult out of context.
3. Should I just stack it with guitarists I like? (Homme, Mould, the Mogwai boys etc) then it becomes less an exposure to influential guitarists and becomes a Jonathan-centric mix cd.
Anyway, just something to think about. Whatever happens, it's probably going to have Black Sabbath on it...
On the weekend, I met up with my old friend John E, journeyman musician and musical scholar. Apart from discussing the possibility of him being my PhD supervisor (of course the rough title for the thesis is Bob Mould, punk rock and notions of difference), we were discussing how you can fall out of love with bands. For him, he fell out of love with Cat Power after You Are Free when she turned to Memphis. Despite my recommendation of how great her new record is, he isn't going there, it's too late for him, the romance is over and nothing will convince him otherwise. This got me thinking about Band of Horses.
I bought Mirage Rock a week ago and couldn't bring myself to listen to it. I loved their first two albums but for some reason the last one, Infinite Arms, really grated on me. No matter how many times I listened to it, I couldn't get into it and eventually I became weirdly offended by it. So when it came time to listen to Mirage Rock, I couldn't do it and made me think maybe my love was lost forever (also, reading a couple of dud reviews didn't help). However, after the conversation with John, I went home and put it on and much to my surprise, I think it's pretty good.
Now, let me qualify this in that I don't think that album will change your life or rock you to your core but I can't help but smile and find a lot to enjoy on this record. Somehow Band of Horses have placed themselves somewhere between being an alt country Shins and pure classic rock. If that sounds like your idea of hell, there is nothing here for you. But if you've ever sung along to America's Horse with no name without shame when it's come on the radio, that might give you some idea where some of this is coming from.
I think the first single Knock Knock was done a disservice by it's Wes Anderson-esque video which I found distracting and unnecessary (it's a different version from the one posted above). Just listening to it on headphones make its obvious why it's the single, just a good time sing along. A Little Biblical and Feud are two excellent rockers that harken back to the more expansive sound of the earlier records while Dumpster World is kind of goofy but fun nonetheless. Slow Cruel Hands of Time and Heartbreak on the 101 are two exquisite songs of heartbreak and loss that resonate deeply and are the emotional high points of the album. The Neil Young-ism of Long Vows is pretty pronounced but it is ultimately fun.
Maybe it was only me who had fallen off the Bandwagon (oh snap - puntastic) but this album has a really lovely energy to it. While it is often unrepentantly familiar and derivative, there is something incredibly joyous about this album. The love is back it would seem.
I've been struck down with some hideous ongoing flu/plague/possible whooping cough type thing for a month and while I have been lying in my bed in a perpetual state of misery, it has afforded me the chance to go youtube diving. These are the things I'm considering:
Good Heavens is basically the lead singer of the redsunband with the original Wolfmother rhythm section (don't hold that against them). They sound pretty good to me but I think I'd have to hear the whole album to make a proper judgement.
Alt J seem to be everywhere at the moment (posters, magazines etc), I thought I'd give them a listen. Although the video is great, I'm not so sure I'm sold on them. I think it'll take a few more listens for me but I think there might be something there.
I've seen JSBX a few times, most memorably when they sat in with RL Burnside at a festival. While generally reviled since Plastic Fang (I actually really liked that album), if there was any form to return to I think this sounds like a rockin' good time to my ears. Definitely enough for me to buy the album and you know, they kind of pioneered the whole guitar, drums, no bass sound that everyone made a million off (Black Keys, looking at you) so they deserve some respect.
I have a lot of time for Bat for Lashes, one of the few heirs to the Kate Bush throne who isn't so beholden or indebted to her that it becomes parody. I think all the songs for the new album released so far have sounded brilliant and this one released yesterday doesn't change that opinion. Personal taste here but definitely one of the most interesting artists recording at the moment.
Finally, a blast from the past, after listening to Kellie Lloyd's album a bunch of times, I've been listening to Screamfeeder a bit. So here's a Aussie 90's classic filmed on the top floor car park of the Brisbane Transit Centre. I have spent many an hour in that bus terminal for a variety of reasons so hooray for nostalgia...
Unless you live in Australia, Screamfeeder are one of the greatest bands you've probably never heard. Buoyant rock with that distinct Australian indie sound, they exploded out of Brisbane but never really cracked the big time which is a shame - their greatest hits album reads like a secret history of the best pop tunes written in the last twenty years and I think it might be safe to say I may be the only person on the planet who thinks their 2000 album Rocks on the Soul is one of the great lost classics of Australian modern music. In terms of dynamics, their secret weapon was always bassist Kellie Lloyd who brought a sweet urgency to the brash exploits of main man Tim Stewart - here aresomeexamples (if they're on spotify, go check them out).
So it's no surprise that I've fallen deeply for Lloyd's solo album Magnetic North (I'm a bit late as it was released a few months ago). The album is a greater extension of her Screamfeeder work, a set of accomplished and compelling tunes grounded in passion and thoughtful playing. Opener How to get there slowly builds to a guitar freak out which is somewhere between Crazy Horse and Dinosaur Jnr but simultaneously sounds indebted to no one. My favourite track Insect wings on ice might sound like a throw back to 90's girl bands but it transcends this with a searing structure and my favourite line on the album, "...and they didn't throw rocks at you on your wedding day."
What makes this album interesting is its structure because while it isn't implicit that there is a concept or grander narrative, the songs move as if they are part of a greater story centred on a dark heart linked by a four song suite about darkness and night. We are made of stars is a desolate, accusatory ride through the night which leads to the piano and percussive clatter of Constellations. The following track Tu Viens Ici Souvent tumbles through crisis on the back of a lilting piano and cello while Your heart is a hunter builds from that darkness into a a exultant outro where Lloyd sings "Let the night come through." Whether by accident or design, (I might be reading too much into it), the songs link together in a soulful and arresting way.
Foxes down a hole returns the album to lighter, more familiar ground but there really is a sense that this is a record of an artist stretching herself. The final track, Your call is important to us, is an instrumental which has more in common with the Dirty Three than it does the Lloyd's day job in Screamfeeder. This might not be a record for everyone but despite my slavish devotion to Bob Mould's new record, this album is still getting some plays in between which is something of a miracle given how much I love Silver Age. This comes highly recommended and can be bought from Lloyd's website here. Go get it kids...
It's always a good day when I get a new Bob Mould record. Mr Post Man delivered my shiny new copy of Silver Age today. Gratefully, Merge records always provide good extras including poster, sticker, Silver Age patch and Merge Smapler (Red Kross, Magnetic Fields, Wild Flag etc...)
Oh my, oh so pretty and a lyric sheet too. Joy!
This is what The Descent looks like played at 33 1/3.
My devil hand approves. So, so good. Oh and there's this.
Listening to Sun, I am reminded of a simple fact: whether it be indie guitar pop, folk, soul, electronic music, death metal or any genre of music that comes to mind; if Chan Marshall chooses to pursue it, it will always sound like Cat Power. Every piece of music she has released is united by her voice, a glorious husk with a honeyed sheen, unfathomable power and endless emotion. Sure, she favours the minor keys in her writing but even on the sprightly Latin piano, scratch guitar effused Ruin, she sounds indelibly like no one else recording music today. Born out of the ashes of a messy break up, Sun is a triumph and an easy contender for best album of the year.
The expectations of Sun are high as it's is Marshall's first album of original material since The Greatest and they are met and exceeded. For me, I felt that Cat Power's move from indie darling to soul queen was a fantastic move and those records (The Greatest, Jukebox) reinterpreted soul into something modern but immutably linked and respectful of tradition. Sun abandons this sound for a more eclectic, electronic sound which perfectly bridges the gap between the earlier spare records and the soul sounds of late.
Lyrically, the album is best summed up by the opening four lines of opener Cherokee:
Never knew love like this The wind, moon, the Earth, the sky (Sky so high) Never know pain like this Everything dies (Then die)
The lyrics veer from total melancholy to total ecstasy but while there is an overriding sense of loss that shadows much of the record but it never feels heavy or a bummer, it feels revelatory as if Marshall is fighting it with all her might and scratch sunlight through the black veil of night. There are moments of pure exuberance and power amongst the darker moments.
Always on my own is probably closest to the Moon Pix days but everything moves with that repetitive sway that characterises Marshall's music - repeated melodies and guitar lines that snake into the brain. Marshall has always been an underrated guitar playing who creates hypnotic guitar lines but Sun speaks loudly as an all rounder as she plays all the instruments on the record. There is something of a mad scientist approach with left-of-field sounds which flit seamlessly in and out of songs which can raise an eyebrow until you realise how totally inspired they are.
The songs range from absent space disco of Real Life and Manhattan to the fuzzed out rock of Peace and Love while the title track sounds like latter day Depeche Mode. Peace and Love is my favourite track, a distant cousin of The Greatest's Love and Communication - only angrier but relying on the same underlying urgent repetition. Probably the most talked about song here will be the Velvet Underground crawl on Nothin' but time, a ten minute bass heavy drone with Iggy Pop playing Lou Reed to Marshall's Nico. It feels less like a homage but an embrace of their unhurried space and sorrow, a place that suits Cat Power well. The song is a plea for understanding, forgiveness and rebirth and it is gorgeous.
There are no weak tracks on this album which is immediately accessible and comforting. The music washes over the listener in waves and rewards repeat listens. If Bob Mould's Silver Age wasn't released this week as well, I'd say this would be my favourite record of the year. We'll have to see how that plays out in the next few months but this album reinforces that Marshall to be one of the most captivating and interesting artists making music today.
(It seems the formatting killed blogger yesterday so here's the review without it).
In a recent interview, Bob Mould talked about how being a guest on the Foo Fighters tour reinvigorated his approach to guitar music. As he says in the interview:
(The Bob Mould Band and Foo Fighters are) doing some shows together in Europe, so that will be fun. I love hanging with those guys. That had a lot to do with “Silver
Age” is what it is too.
It had a lot to do with “Silver Age?”
Just in terms of getting up in front of 15,000 people and playing rock. It's sort of like, “Oh, that's right, I'm really good at this; I did this for years.”
No doubt touring Copper Blue in it's entirety also helped because Silver Age proves that Bob Mould is, in fact, 'really good at this." Silver Age isn't the long lost Sugar album people have been claiming but it is definitely in that realm and rocks with a purpose and intensity that is only glimpsed in Mould's subsequent solo work but never really the focus anymore. If anything, it sounds like a joyous stomp through old ground. If I can give you an example of what I mean, when PJ Harvey released Uh Huh, Her, she said something along the lines of it was her attempt to recreate Rid of Me but from the perspective of a mature women with fifteen years extra experience. I'd argue that Silver Age is the same, it sounds like a Sugar record but written by someone with twenty years more experience.
The secret of a great Bob Mould song is that the chord changes, melodies and pace all interlock in an intuitive and joyous collision that somehow make the songs sound timeless, familiar and exciting. I think Silver Age is a more fluid listen as it has been constructed with Mould's touring band of the last five years and the sound is locked in like only a band who are comfortable and trust each other can sound. You can almost see Jon Wurster's goofy grin behind every beat (the drumming is stellar) and bassist Jason Narducy's sympathetic backing give the album cohesiveness and focus.
First single, The Descent, is the easy highlight here, a perfect pop song that sounds as great as it does on first listen but there isn't a dud in the collection. Opener Star Machine starts innocently enough but once the guitars turn to smoking lead and the chant of "You said!" starts, it is perfect in every way. This is followed by the title track which brims with zest and anger that puts many modern punk bands to shame. Steam of Hercules is a blissed out float of a pop song somewhere between the Beatles and My Bloody Valentine and is a song type we haven't really seen from Bob since the Sugar days. Angels Rearranged verses sounds like a muscular REM while the closer First Time Joy soars on an ebullient
outro. Even songs that sound like lesser highlights on first listen slowly give away their charms such as the chiming guitars that round out Briefest Moment and the half time collapse of Keep Believing.
Lyrically, it's usual Mould fascinations with love, loss and life but until I get a good look at the lyric sheet, it'll take some time to digest. However, both Star machine and Silver Age seem to be railing against the vapidity and class system of the music industry - we can definitely say age has not wearied him or his anger. As I said, there isn't a weak moment on the album and as a statement of intent and rock classicism, Bob Mould has served up a master class to his many, many progeny. Being a Mould fan, I could never have imagined this record would be this good but it is even better than I could have hoped. Most of all, this album is fun to listen to and promises much listening
pleasure in the years to come. The full album is streaming here.
The news that Paul Ryan likes Rage Against the Machine but not for their lyrics is like saying you like pornography but not for the fucking. Unless he was singing along imagining 'fuck you, I won't do what you tell me' was the new slogan for corporate America, this guy is an idiot. My mood just gets worse and worse today... I know you can like a band's sound but not their lyrics but c'mon, Rage Against the Machine?! It's pretty hard to ignore someone barking revolutionary slogans at you for an hour. Tom Morello's rebuttal is here and interesting to note the Republicans have just released his tax returns showing he pays fuck all tax even though he earns shitloads of money. What. A. Surprise. I'm logging off the Net for a few days before my brain explodes...
I woke up in a bad mood this morning and it got darker when I read that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich of Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years jail. I make no secret of the fact I am a rampant leftie and am truly lucky that I can make 'outrageous' political statements like Tony Abbott is Satan and George Bush is a war criminal without going to jail. Sure, I might get beat up in the wrong crowd but incarceration, that's a whole other thing. The thing is, whether you're left, right or indifferent, you should be outraged by this because my crazy opinions are probably no more crazy than yours but at least (I assume), you're free to make them.
I can't begin to understand the complexity of life in Russia and while Putin pretends that it's a democracy (it isn't) and not a police state (it is), the sentence is an attack on both political activism and art. Were these women being disrespectful to the Church? Not at all. To Putin? Obviously and whether there were words to the judge or she just knew the 'right' thing to do in a tyrannical state, these three young women (aged 22, 24 and 30) will most likely serve two years in jail no matter what Bjork thinks. This will be the rub for me, once the initial outrage dies out they will languish in a Russian jail (which in my imagination does not sound like a holiday camp) without the ongoing support, activism and advocacy they deserve. I'm not sure how it can be sustained but I liked Kathleen Hanna's idea of the world being filled with Pussy Riot bands (Pussy Riot NYC, Pussy Riot Sydney, Pussy Riot Tokyo etc...) Whatever the answer is I'm on board.
Imagine if every punk band in Reagan's 80's faced similar consequences or if Riot Grrl had been violently crushed? This is as much about music, art and expression as it is about politics and if this doesn't make your blood fucking boil, then stop reading my fucking blog.
Sometimes in life music acts like a real lifeline and at the moment, I desperately need a new Bob Mould record. Is it sad that I've been endlessly listening to the one and a half minute previews of the record on iTunes? Probably but now we have our first taste of the record and it's pretty great. Mould has said that he's been inspired by revisiting the Sugar catalogue and that's evident here coming across like the lead single File Under Easy Listening should have had (no disrespect to My Favorite Thing, a great song in its own right). The power of a great Bob Mould song is that they are incredibly straight forward pop-punk songs which you can pump your fist to while crying about your lost love. Mould always walks on the maudlin side and the lyrics here are pleading for forgiveness for some transgression as he wails "Can I try to make it up to you somehow?" The guitars pop, the backing vocals sigh and the whole thing rocks in a manner that brings joy to the heart, there's nothing more to be said.
While I fell in love with Feist's Metals record last year I made no secret of my dislike of A Commotion. It just sounded forced and weird but guess what? Mastodon might have turned that around for me. This is vaguely awesome and dude, the drums, the frickin' drums... Nice.
Life is a little complicated at the moment so I'm taking a break from blogging but if you're wondering what I'm listening to, most of it sounds like Unsane... It looks like there will be a rash of new records to talk about soon with new Bob Mould, Band of Horses, Cat Power, The Antlers (got it, still thinking about it), Redd Kross, Aimee Mann, Deftones, Pinback, Soundgarden (eek!) and Slayer (yeah, I'll listen to it) so I'll be back to chat about that shit soon.
PS that new(ish) Pinback song True North is good too and Antiquiet report Queens won't be releasing a new record until 2013 so I've given up on that little pony.
I was down the local markets, flipping through some old vinyl and came across the Big Chill soundtrack. The Big Chill was massive film from my childhood with a soundtrack that was ubiquitous as it was instrumental to the film. The conceit of the film is a bunch of thirty-somethings spend a weekend together after the suicide of a friend* and basically act like a bunch of arseholes. The music in the film is a selection of 60's tracks which were the soundtrack to their university years and the whole thing plays like a sickening exercise in nostalgia. The pivotal music scene is all the merry middle class people dancing around the kitchen to the Temptations' Ain't too Proud to Beg. It played into that whole 80's thing that music will never be better than anything than what was produced in the 60's.
Anyhow, it got me thinking that now Gen X is asserting control over the movies that are being made, sooner or later someone will make a modern update of the Big Chill (if it hasn't been made already, I bet someone's thinking about it). I was thinking about how weird that music would be in that context - all that 90's angst compiled into a soundtrack to mid-life nausea. Do we want to see a bunch of thirty somethings dancing around the kitchen to Beck's Loser or sitting drinking whiskey while listening to Radiohead or playing air drums to Smells like teen spirit? No we don't and if anyone wanted to compile that soundtrack, it already exists - it's called the Singles Soundtrack. Matter of fact, you might as well get Cameron Crowe to direct a sequel to that film called Couples and we can watch how my generation is every bit as dickish as the baby boomers. I'm sure this will happen and it makes me think I should be working in the film industry. Shit ideas - I cater.
*Fun fact: The dead friend in the Big Chill is Kevin Costner who originally had some flashback scenes but they were edited out. As such, Kevin only appears in the film as a corpse at the funeral - his most convincing role to date (thanks for the joke that's been told a million times, Captain Obvious).
You should listen to this. I have no idea who the Owls are but they obviously love Queens of the Stone Age and in the absence of anything new by Josh and the boys, I think this will get me by. I mean the song is called Better off deaf for crying out loud...
A couple of months ago I took a day off work and decided to watch some films a friend had lent me. It had been my plan to watch 13 Assassins but that didn't work so I thought I'd watch the Hangover 2 in spite of myself. My lord, is that film an piece of fucking shit - totally racist and a fucking disgrace (that's my movie review right there but I should have expected it). Anyhow the best part of the movie was the opening credits featuring this Danzig song. To be honest, I know very little about Danzig apart from some Misfits songs that were floating around when I was in high school and that song he wrote for Johnny Cash. Other than that, I don't know shit although I believe the rule of thumb is don't listen to anything after Danzig 3 (I don't know how I know this). Whatever, all I'm saying is Danzig is a hole in my musical knowledge but I like this song - I think it has captured an atmosphere of dread that is palpable. It sounds real, too bad I didn't act on it and turn that movie off earlier...
Kate Nash has a new song Under-Estimate The Girl which has blown the minds of the English music press because it's a sloppy little rock number made by someone who normally makes shiny pop tunes. Read this slightly crazy NME article which says the song is simultaneously "one of the most punk records ever, and it's brilliant for it" and also "career suicide." I think everyone should calm down. It sounds ok to me and I can't really see what the fuss is about. But then, I own a couple of Bikini Kill records...
Future of the Left have made the news recently due to their Pitchfork fightback* which strangely might be a boon to them. The true believers (such as myself) felt vindicated that the integrity of their favourite band was defended so valiantly by main man Andy Falkous step by step dissection of a lazy review while a whole bunch of Pitchfork doubters discovered a great band. I have no hesitation in saying that Pitchfork got it wrong (hey reviewer, I paid for my copy of the album) because The Plot Against Common Sense is a the joyous punch in the face that you'd expect: at turns difficult, literate and unrelenting, it is never less than captivating.
Future of the Left are a musical force driven by Falkous's singular take on the world that is bitingly funny and cynical yet laced with a sincere undercurrent. For all the absurdist non-sequiturs, social satire and railing against capital, the casual listener may miss the burning passion, intelligence and pathos that underlies the music all of which can happen within the space of a two minute song. Case in point, album highlight Beneath the Waves an Ocean starts off like a bad joke with the line "Three men walk into a cafe," but the song ends with the conclusion "No way you'll ever find peace, you'll ever find peace with the name they gave you." This doesn't sound like a joke, it sounds like brutally real admonishment. Anchored by a claustrophobic Jesus Lizard-esque bass riff, it is excellent.
Humour and music can be tricky because a joke song can date quickly and genuine humour can be misconstrued. The humour on The Plot Against Common Sense is rooted in a deeper sentiment and even the excellently titled Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop gets to the heart of a creatively bankrupt entertainment industry churning out sequels and reboots with increasingly diminishing returns. All the songs are driven by an underlying punk heart; I am the least of your problems is a number 1 hit in an alternate universe that cares about good music while Polymers are forever is a re-imagining of robot rock for an ADD generation. Other highlights include Goals in slow motion and Notes on achieving orbit while the only weak link is Cosmo's Ladder, a difficult piece based on a keyboard lick that ultimately goes nowhere.
What's it all about? I learnt my lesson from the Pitchfork debacle to try to discern meaning from Falkous's lyrics but there is no doubt the band err to the left, distrust capitalism and most likely hate the royal family (that's just a guess but I hate the royal family so maybe that's wishful thinking). However, whether you understand the greater narrative or not, there are enough lyrical nuggets with fist pumping rock moves of joy to keep anyone happy. Maybe I'm getting older but the latest and greatest bands seem pale and shadowy while Future of the Left deliver music with power, urgency and purpose. It might not be for everyone and that's ok, because not everyone deserves music this good. Fuck 'em if they don't get it.
*My hunch on the Falkous-Pitchfork take down has less to do with a bad review and more to do with the reviewer saying that his heart wasn't in it and he was phoning it in. I'm not sure what record that guy was listening to but you can hear nothing but passion on this abum so Falkous was rightly pissed off.
So Bob Mould announced he has a new record in September which has me pretty psyched. So psyched I am secretly thinking of flying to the States to see one of the shows on his tour (he's playing new stuff plus Copper Blue in its entirety). Anyhow, through the dark powers of Satan I have obtained a bootleg of the Copper Blue show in London on the 1st of this month. Kudos to the taper as the sound is solid and it sounds like a great show. However, the real highlight is that it contains four new tracks in pretty great clarity: Star Machine, The Descent, Round the City Square and Silver Machine.
So, how do they sound? Well, it's been a few hours with them now and the lyric interpretations are speculative but they sound great. Star Machine sounds closer to the Body of Song stuff to me than anything else and appears to be a critique of celebrity culture and the thirst for fame. Built on a riff which is like a sped up, rocked out Circles, it certainly pushes all the Bob pleasure buttons. Better still is The Descent, a rocky relationship song which was on youtube a few weeks ago which is a short, hectic sugar rush. Round the City Square was also part on that youtube clip which strangely (probably incorrectly) reminds me of Warehouse era Hüskers - most likely Ice Cold Ice once it kicks in. Finally, Silver Age is just a classic Bob rocker but he sounds capital A angry on it. Not sure about the lyrics, it's either about a bad relationship or young punks calling Bob old. Either way it sounds great.
Should I wait for the album proper instead of listening to shitty bootlegs? Yes. But I justify it in the knowledge that if I lived within a thousand miles of any of the shows at the moment I'd be there (so I'd hear these songs live) and Bob's already got my money safely in his pocket. Shit justifications but I don't care - excitement abounds...
Everyone’s banging on
about the Japandroids record being the album of the summer and it kind
of is: big choruses, woo-hoo’s and driving tunes (despite it being
winter in Australia). However, I’d contend that Superchunk’s This Summer
actually sounds like a better song of the season. The Japandroids are
in such a hurry to get to the beach it’s like they’re on a speed binge
and grinding their teeth to nubs with their big rock moves. This Summer
feels, surprise, like summer because it is a leisurely cruise with an awesome mix
tape in the stereo, your girl on your arm and nothing but clear skies
ahead. It’s all cold beer, sweaty seats and a low key nostalgia that
pretty much everyone can relate to. The song is just the right pace with
the requisite feedback key change (classic Superchunk move) to indicate
exactly when to pump your fist in the air prior to the solo. I hate to
say it but these punks are ageing with grace and perspective that is
both befitting the vintage of the band and shock, horror, making them more relevant that a
lot of the younger indie bands around these days (we all got old). The 7inch is backed
with a cover of Bananarama’s Cruel Summer which sounds like exactly how
you’d imagine it, it’s ok but perfunctory (Superchunk do good covers but
they’ve done better than this). As far as I know, this is the only
Superchunk release this year so go get it Chunk-heads (I just checked
and it’s on Australian itunes so I guess that mean’s it’s everywhere).
To use a well worn phrase I am totally too old and uncomfortable to use,
this is the summer jam you’ve been waiting for...
Mark Kozelek looks like an unassuming guy, he could easily pass as one of the men who work at the car repair place near my house. However, that unassuming nature is washed away when he says "hello" and launches into Ålesund. For Kozelek's fans, it is about the voice and when it is live before you it is a wonderful and miraculous thing. With nothing more than a nylon string guitar and slight reverb on his voice and instrument, that voice that defines Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon is pure, upfront and powerful. That voice can sell the cheesiest lyrics and bring gravity to highest stratospheres - it is captivating and grounds the evening even when it gets awkward.
The tracks from the new record sounded a lot brighter on stage. Album highlight That Bird Has A Broken Wing rolled with a melancholic anger while a powerful rendition of Elaine was the closest to rock Kozelek strayed. Track Number 8, took on a wistful heaviness live while the fluffed UK Blues towards the end of the set was hilarious. The Spanish inflections of the Admiral Fell Promises material was probably the definition of acoustic shredding. Fittingly, he played Australian Winter in the freezing venue in our winter (while last night's 9 degrees may seem like nothing in some parts of the world, it's positively arctic to us).
Leaning heavily on the new record and Admiral Fell Promises, the night was punctuated with hilarious asides and awkwardly funny stage banter that belied Kozelek's miserablist image. The good natured insults of Australia ("How can you download my new album? You guy's only have dial up.") was well received and there were plenty of laughs to be had. The majority of the crowd were genuinely in awe and even the inevitable requests for songs were endearing and respectful. One brave fan yelled "Carry me Ohio, if you want, it's up to you" (it wasn't played). Mark himself tried to start a conversation with two girls in the front row which degenerated into awkwardness as the drunk girls spoke unintelligibly to bemused and slightly needy musician. I guess all those references to one night stands on the new record are from experience. However, that interchange led to a medley of Danzig's Thirteen, Summer Dress and the aforementioned UK Blues which was amazing.
The evening had a simple theme: purity. One man and a guitar singing songs that are moving and immediate. There are no tricks, gimmicks or props to hide behind and as unassuming as Kozelek appears on stage, there is something fearless about his work. A great, great performance.
A while back I wrote how Pitchfork had become the new corporate music media, dictating tastes, sales and no doubt, their content is influenced by their commercial concerns. How could they not? (that terrible Bon Iver record got raves and two days later they announced he was curating the Pitchfork Festival - be still, my cynical heart). Anyhow, here's what I wrote back in October. My main concern was that a bad review could literally cost a band sales and this week we've seen the shit hit the illiterate fan when Andy Falkous, lead singer of Future of the Left wrote a rebuttal to a middling review on Pitchfork of their new record The Plot Against Common Sense. It is hilarious and well worth the read.
If you don't know it by now, Andy Falkous is smarter and funnier than 99.99% of people on the planet Earth and as such, I think it'd be wise not to fuck with him. His response positively bristles with anger and I think it is legitimate. I think it speaks to the larger issue that I grapple with writing about music - most musicians put their blood, sweat and meagre finances into releasing a record and some fuckwit on a blog like mine can tear it down with little thought to the consequences (well, there's no consequences on mine because about three people read it). I'm not saying that everyone should stop saying Coldplay are rubbish or Nickelback aren't hideous V-like lizard creatures masquerading as humans trying to destroy the Earth with their shitty grunge, but with the internet all the shouting seems to be in one direction (ha!). Very rarely do you hear musicians speak back and less so against supposed taste makers like Pitchfork.
Being a fervent FOTL fanboy makes me side with them in this and while I think it would be a fruitless exercise to bite back at every shitty review you receive, I was struck by the similarity of the reviewer's Sigur Ros review a few days apart from the FOTL one (laud past achievements, appear knowledgeable of the entire catalogue and then give back handed compliments of the current work - for an object lesson in this, read my Sun Kil Moon review!). When talking about music, it's very easy to get caught in the middle, repeat yourself and just never commit to anything but the criticism itself.
As I write this, I'm listening to The Plot Against Common Sense and it is excellent - probably not as immediate or propulsive as Travels with myself and another but the more I listen it, the songs gnaw at me until I can't get them out of my head (I'll write a review eventually). It isn't always easy music but when an album features a song called Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop, you probably know whether you're going to like it or not (for the record, that song has a great pay off outro from it's stop/start assault at the beginning).
Sure it is hypocritical to be writing this (I'm part of the problem no doubt) but I know I'm a hypocrite so I don't really care. It's just entertaining to see someone considerably more literate than myself eviscerate their foes. Is there an easy answer to any of this? Art is subjective for sure but you don't have to be a prick about it when you don't like an album.
I have never been a fan of Regina Specktor but when this song came on I suddenly paid attention. Peddling an earthy urgency that Tori Amos has long lost, this is a endlessly gorgeous. Strangely, it sounds better when you're not watching the video.
I'll keep this quick and start by saying this, if you hear a more beautiful song than Ekki Múkk this year I'd like to hear it. I think I've written before about how I drifted away from Sigur Rós over the years and I found that my disinterest in them grew out of them becoming more conventional. Basically from Takk onwards, that album slipped into a conventionality which was both comforting but ultimately fruitless. I didn't listen to the band to hear Icelandic takes on pop music, I listened to them because I can remember the exact place I was sitting when I first heard Svefn-g-englar and remember thinking, Holy fuck, what is that? Happily, Valtari steps back towards the more exploratory roots of the band and sounds like it should be, an otherworldly exploration of inner space. Every cod music critic on the planet has their list of descriptors and superlatives for Sigur Rós but I find writing about how great this music is pointless. Somehow, it speaks to me in a very personal way, conjuring images and feelings that are very feel utterly unique - this isn't music to unify, it is music to get lost to and I sincerely hope that you do. This is a great record.
The weight of expectation can be a terrible thing for a record and I have to say, I am guilty of it as anyone else. Sun Kil Moon's last record Admiral Fell Promises haunted both my dreams and travels of the world. A simple nylon acoustic and voice record, the songs explored unknown territories of longing and loss. At first, the flamenco flourishes almost seemed cheesy but played into part of a greater narrative of each song, twisting and informing ways beyond the lyrics. I love that album and unfortunately Among the Leaves enters my brain with wildly unrealistic expectations based on that record. It is an entirely different album to Admiral Fell Promises and I'd lie if I didn't feel let down by it. This is not saying it isn't a good record, it just isn't the record I wanted and that is an entirely selfish and unreasonable thing but it is a very human thing. But then, this is a very human record with its foibles and inconsistencies laid bare so it feels ok to admit this up front.
What kind of man travels and sings? No kids, no food to bring home in his trunk Home to a stable family with a picnic table
I'm not sure what the difference between Mark Kozelek's and his alter-ego band Sun Kil Moon but there is an insatiable restless that haunts Among the Leaves. The wanderlust of the traveling troubadour is caught in all its minutiae both good and bad - the boredom, the one night stands, the thankful fans, the sleepless nights, the travel and the hipster doofuses all caught through Kozelek's poetic eye. It is no doubt a record written on the road as his work often is but this plays out like a online tour diary to song. I have no doubt that the stories recounted here all happened and the plaintive wandering of Kozelek's life comes across as strangely moving yet somehow unsatisfying. The above quote from album highlight That Bird has a broken wing is probably the most telling - the constant movement and flux seems to be wearing him down but still he continues. The tracks can be poignant or even weird, I'm not sure how many musicians have written a song about getting their guitar fixed (Song for Richard Collopy).
I find this record slightly difficult because the songs themselves are excellent but there is a slight flatness to the listening experience. All of the Sun Kil Moon records have been immaculately sequenced and I think this may be a problem as there is too much similarity between the tracks to give them a true dynamic. That being said, any new material is Kozelek material is welcomed and again, my expectations may play a part in the downbeat review. I think this one might be a grower but at this time of writing, I like it but don't love it and I desperately want to love it. I'll check back later in the year and see how I'm traveling with it.
There are many types of rock music but The Cult trade in the kind that rocks for the sake of rocking. For all the musical drama and heartfelt lyrics, the Cult's choice of weapon (I know, I know) has been in making arena ready rock that makes you want to drop to your knees, raise your devil horns aloft and thank the Buddha for good old fashioned rock n' roll. Some 4000 years into their career they have released their best album since Sonic Temple which means this is the best Cult album since 1989! And if you ever cared about such things, there is plenty to love on this record.
It's no secret that The Cult hit a golden patch with the triumvirate of awesome in the 8o's with Love, Electric and Sonic Temple and Choice of Weapon seems to be conceived on taking the best parts of these three records. For example, intellectual property lawyers would have had a field day with the She Sells Sanctury-esque riff of The Wolf if the band hadn't written it themselves some 27 years ago while Honey from a Knife might as well be called Son of Wild Hearted Son as both songs seem to have the same chorus. Lucifer rocks like it's track 12 off Sonic Temple while first single For the Animals sounds an updated version of the the primal stomp of Electric.
While this may sound like a case of revisionism when the album is this enjoyable it doesn't really matter. Choice of Weapon barrels along with an intensity and purpose that is both bracing and unexpected. It is a BIG sound and Billy Duffy wails like a man half his age and while Ian Astbury is still prattling on about Native American spiritualism (still sitting strangely knowing he's from North West England), it's oddly endearing and lovely. Not all of it works - torch ballad Life > Death wouldn't be out of place on an Elton John record while the time shift on Amnesia is more grating than innovative. For the most part, this is a breezy, good time rock record that you don't hear that much anymore.
A lot of people are making noise about producer Bob Rock (who seemingly disappeared after St Anger but it turned out he was producing 311 records instead) being behind the boards again and sure, the template laid out on Sonic Temple looms large. However, all that means nothing if the tunes aren't there and there are a tunes a plenty. With all that I've written this may sound like some nostalgic trip to memories past but it sure doesn't feel like it - it feels vital, rocking and most of all, fun.
Oh hi. I've been busy and probably will for a while but here's a quick run down of stuff that's passed by my ears recently:
Ryan Adams - itunes sessions: I have to admit I was in love with Ryan Adams' first two records until I saw him live. This was back when people were still yelling 'Summer of '69' at him but that night turned me off because he played without interest or passion but somehow played for three fucking hours. I left after two but it was a poor night. Anyhow, I found his records to be a process of diminishing returns although I recently won a competition (weird) and received a copy of Ashes & Fire which was ok. ANYHOW, I say all this as a preface to say I was a fan but not a huge one now and basically bought this to get a copy of his exceptional cover of Black Sheets of Rain. It is a phenomenal reading of this song but every song on this sounds like an acoustic reinterpretation and they are undertaken with sensitivity and passion. His own songs now resonate with a maturity and weariness that their younger counterparts lack. I think I might have to investigate Ryan's recent output a little bit closer.
Silversun Pickups - Neck Of The Woods: I don't know a lot about the Silversun Pickups except they get compared to the Smashing Pumpkins a lot. I can see that in the ambition, walls of guitar and the self-editing (if Billy Corgan's best song is on disc 2 of Mellon Collie I've never heard it, I could never get that far on that record) but that's about all. The singer's voice reminds more of Ken Stringfellow from the Posies than Corgan and there is a lot more subtlety than the Pumpkins could ever muster. I'm still working through the album but opener Skin Graph pounds and sighs like New Order covering NIN while first single Bloody Mary (Never Endings) is swoon worthy goth pop. I'm not sure if this is a record that'll last for me but whenever I put it on, I think, yep, this is pretty good.
Garbage - Not your kind of people: Don't ask how I got this but here it is. Anyhow, I think Garbage always had their place but this record was kind of hard to listen. The Garbage aesthetic seems to be dictated by the studio boffins in the band - everything feels meticulously constructed that there is no room for spontaneity or grit. I know they've never touted themselves as a garage band but that distance from jamming it out in a garage feels palpable and distancing on the record. I have always maintained they're a good singles band and there are some nice tunes here but I'll doubt I'll listen to it again. Insert the old standard if you liked them before, you'll like this here...
Ben Salter - The Cat: I kind of knew this guy back in the day when he was doing Smashing Pumpkins covers in local bands. It's lovely to see that he's made a career out of music and this record is pretty good. He's very much rooted in that Australian indie sound which is probably best exemplified by Gareth Liddiard's solo records. Yep, that's about it really...
Anyhow, that's about it. Sun Kil Moon and Sigur Ros are next on my list to do list. Until then...
I make no secret that Sugar's Copper Blue is my all time favourite album but I'm grappling with this dilemma. Some English record company I've never heard of is re-releasing all of Sugar's records in deluxe packs with bonus tracks and dvds. The thing is there is nothing new here for me because I own all the eps, bootlegs and various compilations the bonus tracks are taken from. Sure, I don't have the dvd's but is it worth re-buying your favourite albums just because they're in fancy packaging? I mean, I own this stuff, isn't that enough? And then, it's not like I even own Copper Blue in one format, I have it on vinyl, cd and tape? Tape WTF! Do I have to be a completist? Do I have to buy it again in some possession obsessed Western consumptive frenzy?
The answer is probably yes. I find myself circling UK Amazon and checking the exchange rates. I think wistfully of the copper embossed special edition of Copper Blue that came out and I baulked at paying $60 for and now see it on ebay for $250. I keep thinking to myself I can't let that happen again. I also think that I am entirely mad but I am futile to resist. What the hell is wrong with me? This is some kind of illness. Does anyone else have a record or artist whose albums they can't not buy? Am I the only one?
I make no secret of being a nerd and really, for nerds like me, it's a good year. The Avengers was good (if overlong) and the new Dark Knight Rises trailer looks amazing. Having loved the Dark Knight and Inception, I'm betting on the Christopher Nolan delivering the film of the year for me. However, the dark horse for my nerd affections is Prometheus and looking at this trailer, it might give the DKR a solid run for its money. Holy shit, that looks awesome and terrifying...
It seems weird that I stumbled across Gravenhurst for the first time a few weeks ago and this week a new album comes out. As such, The Ghost in the Daylight is the first length album I've heard by them and it's actually pretty great. When I say them, I actually mean him as Gravenhurst is one guy named Nick Talbot who pretty much plays everything on his records. Talbot is an artist prowling the dark edges of our consciousness and the music and lyrics are at turns isolated, haunted and despondent. The immediate comparison in sound might be Red House Painters if Mark Kozelek had a fascination with shoegaze or Nick Drake if he lightened up a little - just a little.
While the music is largely pastoral, there is the occasional interjections of fuzzed out guitars that elevate and disturb the music like little squalling earthquakes (see The Prize and Islands). A closer comparison would be distinctly Australian: I'm pretty sure he's never heard of the band Art of Fighting, a Melbourne indie band that have quietly released angelic indie pop for the last fifteen years or so. There is a great similarity in both tone and sound between these bands even if it is coincidental but that's not a bad thing.
Lyrically, it's a bummer. A Miniature seemingly explores the investigation of a murdered girl and to give you an idea the chorus is the line, "Stained with the prayers from ships that sink like the hearts of the lonely when nobody cares." While the lyrics are downbeat they are never less than beautiful and the strongest song here, The Prize floats on the hook of "Still the ties that bind us blind us to the emptiness of the prize." Coming off like a more angelic Carry Me Ohio, it barrels towards an orchestral psyche guitar freak out coda which is beautiful and unexpected.
The Ghost in the Daylight can stray into territory which is slight and forgettable but mostly it is grounded in a melancholic heart which is drunk on the sadness of our existence. I can't say this is for everyone but if you like the sad songs, ever loved Nick Drake or in the mood to get foetal and lost in memories of regret and loss, this could be your perfect companion.
Every work day I catch a bus past the Enmore Theatre, a pretty famous venue in Sydney. Often you'll see fans milling around the street before you get to the theatre and I like to play the game "guess the band?" based on the fans. Usually, they're easy to pick by their t-shirts, age or demeanor (emo!) but the crowd I could honestly not pick was the one for famous guitar wanker Steve Vai. It was an odd podge of fans in Fender shirts and various states of age and dagginess. Guitar fans are a weird and eclectic bunch. I know this because I was one as a teenager: slavishly learning to play the instrument after school while reading numerous guitar magazines which were dedicated to metal or Hendrix, Page and Clapton. Guitar fans are opinionated weirdos whose weirdness and arrogance is only beaten by 99% of people who work at guitar stores (I hate those guys - standing around, preening their mullets while talking about shredding until they feel they might condescend to help you). It is a weird culture (did I mention it is weird?).
Therefore I am oddly intrigued by Spin's list of their top 100 greatest guitarists of all time because they are obviously fucking with us but in particular fucking with guitar snobs. At number 100, they listed Skrillex and at number 10 they listed Jam Master Jay. If you look at the comments, the guitar fans are out in force "No Page? No Hendrix?" they wail, "The Editors should just kill themselves" they scream. The list compilers have hit a nerve in the guitar community and while those inclusions are patently ridiculous and do nothing more than underline how arbitrary and stupid these kind of lists are, there is also something refreshingly beautiful about it too.
How so? The typical go-to guys (Page, Hendrix, Van Halen blah blah blah...) deserve their place in history because they were great but they often get mentioned because they were first. These top 100 guitarist lists are always at the expense of anyone post-1980 because everyone is obligated to include those guys who set up the whole rock God thing. With Spin dispensing with these obligatory crowd pleasing antics, it has opened up a number of interesting possibilities which they've actually exploited (apart from the out and out controversy courting by listing Skrillex and Jam Master Jay). For example, at number 82 is Kristen Hersh who wouldn't get in cooee of a list like this normally but the Throwing Muses have always been driven by her nascent and spiky guitar lines which are at times as odd as they are beautiful. I can't remember seeing d. boon in any list like this and it's always a joy to see PJ Harvey mentioned because she is a great guitarist who uses simple structures in the most complex ways. Other interesting inclusions from my point of view are Rowland S. Howard and Mick Harvey, Bob Mould, Duane Denison and Doug Martsch.
What distinguishes this Spin list from the usual guitar great lists is that it has:
a) moved beyond the historical element of guitar playing; b) focused on contributions and innovation rather than pure shredding; and, c) avoided blind current populism (if you ignore the Skrillex thing).
I think, in particular, b is most important. I mean while Kirk Hammet can shred, what has he really added to the vocabulary of guitar playing and do we need to see him again on one of these lists? That's not to say the list doesn't have its problems. It was obviously compiled by someone my age as it is weighs way to heavily on 90's indie players and there a number of innovative metal players who it would have been nice to have seen. But I enjoyed reading it and to be honest, seeing all those great comments ("Who put this list together? No, Malmsteen, Gilbert, Satriani, Petrucci, Eric Johnson, SRV, Hendrix, Clapton....") from the guitar head masses is actually very entertaining.Sure this list may have been generated to create controversy and page views but strangely, it gets a whole lot of stuff right. When the guitar nerds are offended, you must be doing something right.
So, I took Friday off work and went to see the new Avengers film - it was pretty good, entertaining at the very least. As the final titles started to roll, Live to rise started up so I decided to listen to it courtesy of Hoyts Cinema 5.1 surround sound system. The last new Soundgarden song, Black rain, sounded like a Badmotorfinger outtake because that's exactly what it was. Apart from the opening riff and Thayil crazed wah solo, this sounds like an Audioslave b side. And as a Soundgarden fan, I say fuck that. A while back I said I was happy that they had reformed to tour but was sceptical about talk of new recordings. Turns out my fears have been confirmed. Let it go lads, you have Badmotorfinger and Superunknown to peddle for the rest of your lives, don't sully your legacy...
Enough already with the maudlin shit. Last week at Record Store Day, I bought a copy of Mclusky Do Dallas (orange vinyl - so pretty) and it still sounds as vital and incredible as it did ten years ago. It is strange think that it is ten years old but at the time it was a sledge hammer revelation to me.
How so? Well, cast your mind to those heady days and we were having one of those "rock is dead," "no wait, it lives" moments. The saviours of rock in 2002 were the Strokes, the White Stripes, the Vines and Jet. It's always funny to me that saviours of rock n' roll always sound like retro rock and even though the Vines had those two singles that sounded like Nirvana, nothing by any of these bands sounded forward thinking or original as good as the White Stripes were (fun fact: I saw the Strokes support You Am I before they blew up - they were bad). On the flipside of the mainstream rock saviours you had Queens crushing it on the back of R and about to release Songs for the Deaf and Mclusky. Mclusky never got big but they should of but it's probably because their music doesn't aim to please or give a fuck about anything apart from being awesome.
For proof of that, the first single and song on the record is Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues which is essentially 1:51 punch to the face. It is a relentlessly abrasive, funny and fist pumping singalong. It then rolls in to No New Wave No Fun and Collagen Rock, all distorted bass and stringy guitars with screaming, profanity laden lyrics. If all those other bands were mining the 60-70's to save rock n' roll, the most obvious touchstone for Mclusky was the Pixies but they weren't playing homage, they were setting fire to the sound they loved.
I remember reading at the time they were pissed off with all the Pixies comparisons but when you have that sound, that scream and Albini producing, they could hardly have been surprised. Mclusky's not so secret weapon was that the music was serious, the delivery was impassioned but the lyrics didn't take any prisoners, was archly funny and at times, mean spirited. I think they knew they'd never make it on to the top 20 with songs such as Gareth Brown Says which starts:
All of your friends are cunts Your mother is a ball point pen thief Notoriety follows you Like beatings follow rain
Fame was never the intention. Mclusky operated outside the motives of the mainstream, they just produced vital music like a maniac jumping from a plane without a parachute or pants. The band imploded after their next album and the division is spiteful (watch this great video to see more). But Mclusky do Dallas is a glorious testament to a volatile rock band at their prime. To Hell with Good Intentions is a stone cold classic to this day (watch the band's glee at playing some cheesy pop show above) and while there are a couple of lesser tracks, this is a remarkably strong record with no filler. Of course, the glorious Future of the Left grew out of Mclusky and they are still producing fucking great records that peddle similar sounds but they're their own thing. Embrace Mclusky, we were lucky to have them for as long as we did.
Norah Jones? Are you fucking kidding me Jon? I am not. I must admit I know very little about Ms Jones apart from that her first album sold a bajillion copies (my Mum has a copy). However, her new album passed my ears a couple of days ago and I have to say it's pretty good. I'm working on the assumption that it is a departure for the artist but it has a few things going for it.
First thing to note: Danger Mouse is the producer and his dirty little paws are all over the production. Say Goodbye, Take It Back and Happy Pills amongst others sound like Broken Bells outtakes - this is not a bad thing.
The second thing to note: Norah Jones comes across as a less spiky and spirited Aimee Mann.
Thirdly: Little Broken Hearts is a pretty apt title as there is a lot of heartbreak and confusion on the record which makes it compelling and at times, very moving. I admit I like this because I like Aimee Mann but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Give me this one...
I was a big fan of the Santogold record because it somehow blended indie, pop and ska in a way which was both fierce and fun, probably best exemplified by the transcendentYou'll find a way. For all the rhetoric of Santigold (name change noted) being a musical visionary the lineage of her music seemed pretty obvious to me even I hadn't heard it in that form. There was a huge post-punk seam running through that record which seemed unusual because she was touted as an indie pop star but if you look at her musical history prior to her debut it turns out she was the lead singer of a punk band whose albums were produced by Bad Brains vet Darryl Jenifer. At the time I didn't know any of this but in retrospect, it makes sense that the album spoke to me the way it did.
Flash forward several years and the long delayed second album has arrived and it's a corker but not in the way I expected. If Santogold was influenced by post-punk sentiment, Santigold has moved onto her new romantic phase on Master of My Make-Believe. Surely I can't be the only person who listens to Disparate Youth or God from the machine and can imagine Simon Le Bon singing over these songs. Santigold recorded much of this record in the Caribbean and while a million miles of the cod-pseudo funk of Duran Duran and a bunch of white boys reclining on a yacht, on some of the tracks the atmospherics, pacing and synths do remind me of the 80's. I don't say this to be controversial but just to alert you to the sonic differences between this and the first album. The aforementioned tracks as well as The riot's gone, The Keepers and This Isn't Our Parade all draw from that musical pallet.
On the whole the album is reasonably subdued and runs on a downbeat melancholy vibe. these shadows is occasionally lightened by the clank and strut of staccato rhythms directly descended from the first record. Opener Go!, Fame and current single Big Mouth all ring with a percussive drive and funk that form peaks around the more melancholy songs. However, the drama in these songs is where the quality resides. For me, God from the machine is the strongest track, an oddly affirmative exploration of loneliness driven by a drum march and needling guitars. This song is indicative of the darkness on the record but it is not all consuming or suffocating, it is a sustained heaviness which is affecting.
While lacking the giddy rush of her debut, Master of My Make-Believe is a darker and ultimately fulfilling record. It's not for everyone but if you like your pop music with gravity and punch, this might satisfy.