Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sigur Rós - Valtari review

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.


Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves review

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.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Cult - Choice of Weapon Review

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.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Some stuff

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...


Friday, May 11, 2012

Fandom is stupid...

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?


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Nerd alert: Three minute Prometheus trailer

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...


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Gravenhurst - The Ghost in the Daylight review

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.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Spin's 100 greatest guitarists of all time 100% guarantee to piss off guitar nerds....

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.


Song of the day: Beastie Boys - Sure Shot