Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mogwai - Rave Tapes

Down in my hole, listening to Rave Tapes again and again, all I can think is this: if they ever make another Tron movie, Remurdered makes the case it should be Mogwai doing the score rather than Daft Punk.  Electronic, menacing and rocking, it was everything that Daft Punk score should have been. Whatever the case, Rave Tapes is an excellent album of concise Mogwai compositions that are evocative and moving.

There seems to be a freewheeling thesaurus of cliches to describe Mogwai's music that writers use so I'm going to try and avoid them. Mogwai albums are stories that you create so in essence my analysis is mute. Dreary throw backs complaining they want another Like Herod will be disappointed but the album thrives on its conciseness - the band don't need ten minutes to convey a melody or an idea. The only real throwaway is the Satan baiting Repelish, a great track ruined by a spoken word recording played over the top (they've done this before and better - IGGY!). But everything else is affecting and bracing: you will find salvation in tracks like Blues Hour and The Lord Is Out of Control. You will be dragged under by Heard About Your Last Night and There is No Medicine for Regret. If anything the album gets better as it goes along. To be honest, there is a dud on here but I struggle to think of a bad Mogwai song.

If you've never liked Mogwai, there's nothing for you here and even if you did, familiarity may make you dismissive. Don't be. This is an album for immersion and multiple listens - get to it.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Best albums of 2013

2013 was a hell of a year for music. New Bowie, Pixies and My Bloody Valentine. New Arcade Fire, the National, Kanye West and Daft Punk. Yet none of them made my list... what a prick.

10. Mogwai – Les Revenants Soundtrack: For years Mogwai were described as a band that made soundtracks for non-existent films - something every single review will mention without fail. However, when they get the opportunity to score the moving image, the results are revelatory (such as Zidane). Les Revenants, an intellectual French zombie thriller, seems perfectly designed for the chilly sonic landscapes that Mogwai excel in. Twisted, dark and haunted, this soundtrack is never less than compelling.

9. Atoms for Peace – Amok: Even when Thom Yorke is getting funky it sounds self conscious and inverted. While there were discussions of Fela Kuti-esque jam wig-outs in the creation, Amok is laser focused and tight. For all the hooha made about the band line up (Flea, Waronker etc…), it sounds like a laptop album and I’m ok with that. People seem to rail against Radiohead (and Yorke in particular) these days but that voice can carry you places, strange beautiful places.

8. Violent Soho – Hungry Ghost: This is one of those albums I bought after hearing it in a record store – impulse purchasing on a single listen which is always a good indicator of something you’ll love. Somehow these guys have swallowed a steady diet of 90’s alternative music (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Soundgarden), smoked a lot of pot, drunk a lot of beer and coughed up an album of rock anthems that revels in their influences but aren’t beholden to them (remember that Dinosaur Jnr tribute band Yuck?). Sit back and let the majesty of rock unfold before you…

7. Boards for Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest: I think a lot of our formative experiences can influence our dislikes and likes in later life. For example, when I was (too) young I was exposed to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. I’m not sure I understood it all but Kurt Russell was possibly the coolest human being on the planet. The other thing I loved about Escape from New York was its score, a cold synth howl created by Carpenter and utterly molded by the technological limitations of the time. I own that soundtrack and still love it some thirty years later. Tomorrow’s Harvest is like a long lost son of that sound, simultaneously cool, gorgeous and desperate in it’s own way but fully realised for a modern age post-apocalyptic nightmare scape.

6. Coliseum - Sister Faith: Fuck all this sensitive soundtrack stuff, Coliseum are here to shake your foundations with a punch to the head and boot on your throat. I’d like to come up with some well thought out dissection of why this album is so great but sometimes you just have to accept that a crow is black - likewise this album just rocks. It just is. Don’t intellectualise it, that’s beneath you and a waste of time.

5. Superchunk – I Hate Music: I Hate Music is a pretty provocative title but it gets to the heart of the album’s themes – “I hate music, what is it worth? It can’t bring anyone back to this earth.” Like the Neko Case and Queens of the Stone Age records, they are dealing with themes of mortality, ageing and questioning the importance of their craft in the face of death. All three of these albums explore these themes in different ways but Superchunk do it with a feel good bounce with a melancholic undertow. While not reaching the exuberant heights of 2011’s Majesty Shredding, the album builds upon the Chunk’s late career renaissance.

4: Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You: As with Superchunk, Neko Case is dealing with death only through the prisms of depression, gender politics and anger. The acapella Nearly Midnight, Honolulu is probably the most confronting track, a plea for a child berated by her angry mother never to quit talking. The strains of Case's experience played through a familiar situation and her wish of a different outcome is as moving as anything she's produced. This is a theme played out again and again on this record, sometimes it is sad, sometimes it burns with a righteous anger but all with deft insight and through exquisite instrument of Case's voice.

3. Arctic Monkeys – AM: Since Humbug, the Arctic Monkeys have been trying to recreate themselves as sexy rock Gods with a too cool swagger but maintaining the wink and a nod of their earlier work. On AM, they succeed in spades making music that tumbles out of bed at 3am for slinky sexy times, seductive falsetto come on's and sonic blasts of pure rock. It's a great album but more surprising is the depth they achieve. For example, Number 1 Party Anthem owes more to Lou Reed than Josh Homme, an obvious homage that plays brilliantly despite its Transformer baiting. A great, fun record - do you need more?

2. Nick Cave – Push the Sky Away: Nick Cave has made mellow albums before - the haunting loss of the Boatman's Call or the elegiac hymns that inhabit No More Shall We Part. The problem with those records, as good as they are, they tend to lose Cave's sharper edges. While Push the Sky Away is mellow, some of it positively seethes with understated intensity. The throb of Water Edge or the understated freak out of Jubilee Street. Even better is Cave's lyrics, self referential, baiting, poetic and damning, Push the Sky Away is a late period Cave masterclass.

1. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork: Well, duh. Here's what I said about it before, it still holds up and gets better.

PS I have no idea what the fuck is happening with the formatting - sorry about that. --

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Top Songs of 2013

Yeah, I know I've been away for a long time. I've been working on a record label with my buddy John. I'm not going to implore anyone to buy anything but check it out if you're curious: And that's it for me being a corporate shill.

I was aiming for a top ten but just couldn't get it all down to that small number so it's a top 13 for 2013, sounds appropriate (edit: I totally forgot that Arctic Monkeys record but I'd probably go with Do I wanna know?, I can't be arsed re-arranging the list now). I thought about trying to write some critical analysis of why I like these songs but that sounds like a drag so here ya go:

13. Lorde - Tennis Court: Did I drink the Kool-Aid about a 16 year old musical prodigy from New Zealand? Yes I did. The Lorde album is actually a great listen but for some reason this song got stuck on a loop in my head.

12. (Tie) Violent Soho - Covered in Chrome/Royal Blood - Out of the Black: I guess this is what happens when kids grow up listening to Soundgarden, Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine rather than Phil Collins. Sure, both songs have a grunge heart but I think both bands have something going on. Bonus points to the Violent Soho video for somehow recreating every sharehouse experience I had when I lived in Queensland.

11. Nine Inch Nails - Satellite: Never underestimate Trent Reznor's sense of humour. Everytime I listen to this song, I imagine a boy band in white suits dancing along in an accompanying video. This is Nine Inch Nails as a Backstreet Boys song and it is oddly awesome and addictive.

10. Arcade Fire - Reflektor: When I heard this single I fell in love with it. Unfortunately, it's the only thing I fell in love on Arcade Fire's new album which I found to be a bloated directionless mess. Given the epic narrative that drove the Suburbs, the Reflektor album was kind of rubbish. That being said, this song is awesome.

9. The National - Pink Rabbits: There were a number of reasons I didn't fall in love with the new National record but this song clawed it's way through my skin and burrowed itself into my sad, sad heart.

8. Future of the Left - Singing of the bonesaws: Who knows what Falco is singing here but the Jesus Lizard bass chug and a line of abject non-sequiturs makes this the oddest, catchiest song of the year.

7. Neko Case - Local Girl: I think Neko Case is incapable of writing a bad song and I could have picked several from her new record. However, there is something gorgeous about the collision of melodies and clatter of a broken heart on local girl.

6. Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaVelle - You missed my heart: Given Mark Kozelek released at least three albums of new music this year, it was hard to choose but I keep coming back to this record. There is something something annoyingly twee about this song but I love it anyway.

5. Coliseum - Bad Will: Good old fashioned, no thrills rock n' roll your mother always hated. Raise your fist and say fuck yeah.

4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Jubilee Street: "I'm transforming, I'm vibrating, I'm glowing, I'm flying, look at me now!" I just find this song incredible, a single riff building to a Warren Ellis freak out all with a sinister lyrical pull - Nick's still got it.

3. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels: I am a bit rubbish when it comes to hip hop but I know what I like when I hear it. Apart from that Childish Gambino song, this is the song that really got me excited this year and yes, even dancing badly around my house. I mean listen to that bass riff - incredible.

2. Superchunk - Void: Old punks never die, their lyrics get more complicated.

1. Queens of the Stone Age - I Appear Missing: Well, duh.