Sunday, April 29, 2012

Soundgarden - Live to rise

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...


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mcluskey do Dallas is ten years old

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.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts quick review

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...


Monday, April 23, 2012

Santigold - Master of My Make-Believe review

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 transcendent You'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.


Ty Segall and White Fence - Hair Review

Last year, I fell pretty hard for Ty Segall's Goodbye Bread, a record that felt timeless and effortless. While mired in classic rock, it shuffled to its own ragged beat. Listening to Hair, I'm afraid Segall might be a one trick pony because while the songs here are strong, the influences weigh heavier on this outing. I love my nuggets era garage rock as much as the next guy but Hair seem slavishly devoted to recreating the sound without adding anything new. I mean, they have a song called Easy Ryder - c'mon boys, try a little harder.

Actually, my statement about loving garage rock is a slight lie: I must say I respect garage rock more than I love it and my fellow record nerds who bang on about the Seeds, the Sonics and 13th Floor Elevators are usually met either disdain or dismissal (seriously, you sound like a broken fucking record). As such, Segall has fallen victim of my personal prejudices (music is subjective after all) and I have to admit I was bored. The songs are serviceable with a few highlights - The Black Glove/Rag clatters with attitude, insults and purpose while opener Time purrs on the back of a acoustic heart once it gets going. Tongues also resonates with its bass driven groove and gnat like guitar stings. However, aside from that, there is little that is memorable. Maybe I need to give this a few more listens but on the first pass, I have to say I find it a bit disappointing and there is nothing which will change your world here. Luckily, Segall is so prolific, he'll probably have a new record in the near future to love.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jack White - Blunderbuss Review

I find Jack White an interesting character in the pantheon of rock as any mention of him will inevitably lead to a dissection of the White Stripes asceticism - it was all drums and guitar man. Live, that was true, apart from the odd organ/piano song, it was the Jack and Meg show but pretty much since Elephant ten years ago, the records became more and more complex. Anyone thinking that purity ran through the White Stripes catalogue is deluding themselves as there were overdubs a plenty (oh my, studio trickery) and Get Behind Me Satan/Icky Thump embraced a broader palette of instruments. The guitar/drums concept was the hook but since the latter day White Stripes, Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, White has been been embracing diverse instrumentation for well over a decade. Still, everything I read in the build up to this record is talking about how it was essentially the White Stripes without Meg and how different it sounds - I call bullshit on this assertion. There is nothing shocking or unexpected on this record, it sounds like the Jack White solo record you would expect him to make, mired in music history but inspired and vibrant.

The other thing I find fascinating about Jack White is that his music never feels forced and the journey from his muse to record appears to be unclouded by overthinking or artifice. His music breathes and while I think the primitivism asserted by many fans is overstated, I can't deny that there is something naturalistic about his music. The record starts with the fantastic 1-2-3 punch of Missing Pieces, Sixteen Saltines and Freedom at 21. All three songs ride distinctive riffs but rather than rush at you, lay back in a groove and drop in and out with space to seduce you rather than hit you over the head.

This was always my biggest criticism of the White Stripes: while great, seeing them live or prolonged listening to their records felt like you were been yelled at for hours. Blunderbuss feels more relaxed and less hurried to make its point. The first single Love Interruption and the title track are both lovely. In particular, Blunderbuss sounds heartfelt and embraces the Nashville sound White clearly loves - it is gorgeous. Another highpoint of the record is the use of female backing vocals which are used to great effect throughout. Lyrically, White is funny and evocative but there is also sadness, there is some sting here:

She don't care what kind of wounds she's inflicting on me
She doesn't care what colour bruises she's leaving on me
She's got freedom in the 21st Century...

Sadly, the album starts to wane towards the end and this is in part by White being more conventional. You've heard a thousand different versions of I'm Shaking; Trash Tongue Talker sounds like a Jack White parody while Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy wafts on a familiar trope. This run of songs drags the album down. Fortunately, the record recovers with On and On and On which sounds like White covering something off Beck's Sea Change - again, gorgeous and restrained. Take Me with You When You Go finishes the album with a gentle piano waltz that morphs into a rock out - it's kind of silly but undeniably fun.

It's a satisfying end to a good record but like most Jack White productions (whether the Stripes or the Dead Weather), there's bound to be some songs that shine less brightly. However, don't be deterred, this is a quality album and if you have any love of White's distinctive take on rock, blues and soul, you'll get a lot of joy from Blunderbuss.


Record store day

Today was Record Store Day so I celebrated by going out and buying vinyl. I started the day by going to the Glebe Record Fair, probably Sydney's biggest vinyl event of the year. Technically, it's not an independent record store but a number of stores have stalls there so I reckon it's ok. If I had any illusions that vinyl collecting had become a cool thing to do in the last twelve months, I estimate that there was probably two or three times the crowd there this year than last and it was pretty hard to get around and harder to look through the bins. Even worse, the stall holders have gotten wind of it and there was very few bargains to be had as they'd jacked up the prices on just about everything - good on them for making money but the sheer joy of finding a bargain seems long gone. However, I managed to pick up the Cure's Japanese Whispers, Low's C'mon and Kraftwerk's the Man Machine pretty cheaply. Not a great haul but ok...

I then went to Redeye which is one of the few shops in Sydney that gets the Record Store Day special releases. Being in Australia, they get the records which are left over from the US and the UK so there often isn't a huge choice. I particularly wanted to get the Arctic Monkeys R U Mine 7inch (that song gets better and better), the Feist/Mastodon split 7inch and the Ryan Adams 7inch which featured two Bob Mould covers (here and here) - both great. Unfortunately, they'd sold out of the Monkeys and the Ryan Adams and Feist records weren't available in Australia (just checked ebay - the prices are already extortionate). In the end, I'd got there too late as the clerk said there was a line to get in at 9am, I think I was still in bed at that point. Still good news for the record stores though. Anyhow, I did pick up Mclusky Do Dallas on orange vinyl which is pretty sweet. Still a great album after all this time but my record store day was less fruitful than previous years. Whatever, I've got next year to look forward to.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Michael Jackson is missing

Hey hey, I just saw this poster on the way home and thought it was kind of sweet that they named the rabbit Michael Jackson because it had one white paw/glove.

Anyhow, I have been absent from blogging of late mainly because I went to Korea for work and unlike a lot of business trips I've seen, I actually worked my arse off with little downtime. I had one afternoon where I got to go record shopping. There is word out there that there is good vinyl shopping in Seoul but I only managed to get to two shops. The first one, Purple Record, had an eclectic mixture of Western and Korean records. I didn't venture too far into the Korean stuff because I have no knowledge of it and while I've heard that there is some interesting indie and punk coming out of the country, I erred on the side of caution. The second hand section had a shit load of hair metal and a shit load of funk. While I sighed with nostalgia at the Gary Moore records I wasn't in the mood to buy that stuff but while I was tempted to buy some funk stuff, the records I wanted (Maggot Brain, Mothership Connection etc) were a little too scratched for my liking. I did buy some new Western records because they were cheap (Stones Beggars Banquet, Explosion in the Sky, Jonsi and Alex etc) but it wasn't as stellar as I'd read about. The second store I went to was part of a book store and the selection was pretty dire. I will return one day though and have a full itinerary of records stores to go to, I just didn't have time this visit.

Aside from that, I got to listen to a shitload of K-pop. It is everywhere as you'd expect although I didn't expect the taxi from the airport to have a dvd playing the latest K-pop hits as soon as we set out (I also don't expect taxis to have wifi but I can live with that). It made me appreciate it a bit more and I have been writing something about it, pretty much that it's good pop music but the hysterical hipster championing of it is slightly creepy. Anyhow, maybe I'll finish that some time.

Oh and thanks to Matt for putting me onto the Coachella live stream, I pretty much missed everything I want to see but there are whole concert replays of Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys and Explosions on youtube at the moment. I caught Justice this afternoon though but I'm not really sure how I feel about that. I also missed Refused but surely an Australian tour is in the pipeline... surely...


Monday, April 2, 2012

Song of the day: Sun Kil Moon - Sunshine in Chicago

Live on the road with Mark Kozelek lamenting how the girls were cuter when he toured with Red House Painters. Sad and funny...