one faint deluded smile

Monday, May 31, 2004

my morning

up too early as the cat decided to throw up. a quick lather, select a few cds and wait on a cold, windy railway station. happily, the train is cozy and warm and there are no snorers or farters to make the trip even less enticing. tried to read "Green Mars" again (note to sci-fi authors - just write one great book and resist the tempation to treat the story as an undending possibility for sequels) and then slipped on the headphones to let "the necks" soothe me to sleep. boy, they can keep that groove up all day and that's for sure. woke up quickly at the less than delightfull sydenham, eyes encrusted with the coma i've just had. decided to brighten my morning by trying the hard edged 80s pop of sctitti politti and so tapped my toes and walked in time to old favs like "the word girl" and "hypnotise". the bus before mine (loaded with young people heading to, no doubt boring, factory jobs) was staffed by a novelty driver. he wore a hat in the style of 2nd world war officers and had ill fitting white gloves. he goaded the people to be happy with his ranting and raving. as he left, he yelled out good naturedly about "any more out there, mind the gap, here we go" and so on. made me smile at least. scritti definitely helped my bus trip but i can't help feeling they really needed some sort of real emotion in their work. like all great pop is sounds kinda fake and glossy. (and, hey, david bowie - your "low" era gated, reverbed snare sound is getting boring). sydney harbour from the bridge was magnificent as always and further on the lane cove river was slightly fogged up whilst the flour factory next to it eminated a fragrant fog of it's own.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Necks - The Boys

The Necks are an extraordinairy Australian band comprised of three jazz musicians playing a monolithic version of improvised music that is incomparable to anything I've heard elsewhere. It's a drifting, repetitive, fluid, rhythmic improvisation that starts live with one member thinking of some theme or riff or pattern to play and which is expanded upon by all of them until, around an hour later, you're hearing something completely different to what was first initiated. And, yes, you've even taken a god-damned musical journey with them. It can be completely rivetting stuff but is fraught with all the same problems that improv brings into play.

They've released a slew of live concert albums, the best of which is Piano, Bass, Drums where their normally quiet and laid back style is left in the back seat as the trio simply hammer the beats and leave that foot pedal down on the Steinway. At times it sounds like six people up there and I really wish I'd been at Sydney's sedate Basement night club just to keep the applause going for longer. They've also released about the same number of studio recordings where the same improv idea is expanded upon with over-dubs and more compositional stucture. Almost all of these are spellbinding but Hanging Gardens is my favourite of the moment with an almost drum'n'bass pulse and a lighter feel than some of the others. And they've also done a few film soundtracks including the recently re-released The Boys.

This was just about the only Necks record I hadn't acquired, which was solely due to the fact that I really disliked the movie. Not that it's a bad film - far from it. But the claustrophobic feeling of impending doom that permeates every frame affected me so adversely that I could barely stand to watch it. And, because the music really enhances this oppression, I could. likewise, barely stand to listen to the music afterwards. One hint of the main theme and I quickly turned it off. Luckily my memories of the film itself have faded enough for me to get the cd now. This not only rounds out my collection of Necks material (sans a few bits and pieces) but it's such a stunning suite of tracks that I'm embarrassed I hadn't purchased it before.

In many ways this is the best thing they've ever done. The pieces run from dark, plodding chunks reminiscent of stripped down Wire, Rhys Chatham or Sonic Youth to the almost trademark piano and organ led pieces where the rhythm section oozes the kind of ennui and evil that the film portrays so well. And, best of all, it includes a lot of material that isn't on the soundtrack itself but which was made for possible inclusion or extends the themes they'd already created.

I've no idea why they've decided to release it again at this point in time (maybe a DVD release of the film is imminent) but I'm glad I've gotten over my disgust long enough to hear one of their best cds.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Notes on Some Recent Acquisitions 23rd May 2004

The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter : An exquisite 2 cd compilation of Baxter's best ethno-forgeries. Ridiculously easy to listen to but the orchestrations are concise and fluid.

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours : Emminently ignorable in 1977 (at least it was for punky me) but everyone else knew better. A grand old dame of sophisticated pop.

Goldfrapp - Black Cherry : A fabulous re-iteration of the beauty of massed synths (see below for more)

Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Minder : thanks to Jay for letting me in on this lovely release. Her voice is just fine for me but, yes, it does grate over time. I really like this new avant folk stuff - it never seems as worthy as the old style folk... and that's a very, very good thing. Vetiver's self titled isn't as interesting as this one but still has some lovely tunes.

Click here for the full list.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Goldfrapp - Black Cherry

Weren't this band trip-hop or something on their first album? I think I heard one song and lumped it into the same category as Lamb and their ilk - pleasant but essentially innocuous pop for dinner parties. Another Sade for the 00's.

I never would have investigated their new album if it weren't for K-Punk's short piece relating the single back to Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" (almost everyone's favourite proto-techno track). And there are similarities - melodically, lyrically and beat-wise - which makes "Strict Machine" a fascinating listen. It's good enough to stand on it's own (for those people with no musical memory past 10 years) but for the rest there's a pleasing frission between the old and the new. Like all the best pop it does feel like an update, rather than a slavering copy.

However, going all electro synth-pop does seem to be a cynically motivated shift in style considering their past efforts. The cognescenti may think that the electro revival finished 2 years ago it's still bubbling up into the mainstream.

But maybe I should revisit "Felt Mountain" just to see if my first thoughts were right.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A Fair Bit Of Nothing

There's hardly any great music I've acquired recently but here's some notes on a few anyways:

Bell & Sebastian - a couple of well recorded live boots from Paris and Belfast. You forget their nationality when you listen to the songs but that lovely Scottish brogue comes through in some quite lively audience interaction. The Belfast concert has some terrific cover versions including one of The Boys Are Back In Town.

John Cale - Music for a New Society. i'd read that this one was as good as his Virgin years material but it's just a bunch of dirges instead.

Magnetic Fields - "I". I... certainly wont be getting another album by Stephen Merrit. He reminds me too much of the singer from the Crash Test Dummies for me to like them too much.

Nautical Almanac - The CD With The Record Grooves In It. The picture in The Wire made me get something of theirs: a tall stringbean guy with thin hair, moustache and beard, eyes open wide and with a wry grin and an impish woman, tousle haired, half asleep with a great big grin. they just look so much like... well, my friends making music in the 70s and 80s. and the music is as i'd expected... just like a modern version of the N-Lettes. I'll probably never listen to it again (it is rather hard going).

The Residents - Fingerprince. Lent to me by a friend who saw that I'd received a few of their older things recently and thought this would round off their stuff in my collection. I can honestly say I've never owned this record but, amazingly, I knew every single second of it (or at least the parts which were released on LP in 1975). I could predict when a certain change was going to happen and could hum along to it almost perfectly. I have no idea why this should be so. It must have been owned by someone else in a share house I also lived in who loved it to death and imposed it's melodies on my brain.

Todd Rundgren - Liars. Somewhat of a return to his melodic best but it's covered with these awfull sounding digital synths and the tunes never reach the heights he's previously reached.

Monday, May 10, 2004

My Steey Dan Thing

Steely Dan were a ubiquitous presence in my late teens and early twenties. Sweating heavily under another day of piledriving sunlight, I'd switch on the radio - 2SM probably - and it'd be "Reeling In The Years" or "Do It Again" repeated just one more time. They were the perfect soundtrack for Australia's far too comfortable lifestyle and so, of course, i rejected them as laid back perfectionist 'session musicians' (said with a pathetic sneer). But I never hated them or the music, really. They were just... there. A vague but pleasant background noise to hum along to.

A little later and they were still around but a little more in the foreground. I was at Art school doing 'Electro-Media'. My lecturer was a gigging jazz organist and he just loved everything they did. He got a copy of "Aja" as soon as it came out and a troupe of us listened to it in the studio control room on great speakers. He was completely, comically dumbstruck but half way through the 2nd side he calmed down enough to point out musicianly things like how tighly locked the drums and bass were. Soon after that and my first real love was a great fan as well. They became the backdrop to our furtive, delicious car rides to and from Bondi.

I never bought one of their LPs because, by then, Radio Birdman had come into my life and the Detroit sound would stain me for quite a little while. But I didn't know that Steely Dan had sunk into me like oil on a rag. Now I own all their releases - even the last couple, dissapointingly unmelodic as they are.

And, except for "Aja" they're all a bit patchy. Strewn about the absolute classics, like "Dr Wu" or "Bodhisattva" are a bunch of songs that are half interesting at best and, at their worst, are just a bunch of laid back perfectionist 'session musicians' playing with dull precision.

The 1st cd I bought of theirs was a pretty good double best of comp but it never had all my favourites and wasn't long enough by half. So now I've made another 2 that puts together all the songs I might even sing in my sleep:

disk 1
01 Any Major Dude Will Tell You 03:02
02 Bodhisattva 05:10
03 Cousin Dupree 05:18
04 Peg 03:41
05 Show Biz Kids 05:05
06 Your Gold Teeth 06:36
07 Kid Charlemagne 04:19
08 Babylon Sisters 05:36
09 Doctor Wu 03:46
10 Fire In The Hole 03:12
11 Reelin' In The Years 04:08
12 Black Friday 03:21
13 King Of The World 04:52
14 My Old School 05:29
15 The Royal Scam 06:17
16 Sign In Stranger 04:13
17 I Got The News 05:06

disk 2
01 Dirty Work 02:57
02 Do It Again 05:38
03 The Fez 03:45
04 The Last Mall 03:30
05 Any World 03:41
06 Almost Gothic 04:00
07 Barrytown 03:09
08 Black Cow 04:27
09 Rikki Don't Lose That Number 04:27
10 Josie 04:15
11 Kings 03:38
12 Deacon Blues 07:08
13 The Caves Of Altimira 03:25
14 Hey Nineteen 04:46
15 Home At Last 05:23
16 Parker's Band 02:40
17 Razor Boy 03:05
18 Two Against Nature 06:10
19 Bad Sneakers 03:19