one faint deluded smile

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Lani, Sergio, Janis and Me

Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 made the most perfect, sophisticated, soul-less music of the 60s and early 70s. Their Brazilian tinged, easy listening updates of soft pop hits and bossa nova classics are alternatively exhilarating and soporific.

Their version of "Mais Que Nada" outstrips any other version I've heard because it seems in a constant state of driven excitement whilst containing absolutely no feeling or meaning. It's completely ignorable if you want discreet background music but also worthy of more intense listening and it's even great to jump around to (whilst no-one is looking, obviously). Mendes' fantastic, stripped down arrangement and semi-rigid piano chords push the song's brisk pace to the limit whilst vocalists Lani Hall and Janis Hansen sing with a pristine clarity that's touched by a little edge of throatiness. Their tonal quality isn't quite as robotic or bland as singers used by other 'soft' arrangers (percy Faith, et al) but it's still completely devoid of personality.

And that, for me, is what makes it so great.

The 1st 3 albums released on A&M are probably the most consistent and have the tunes which resonate best with the vocals but later LPs like "Pais Tropical" also have moments where the sickly dross parts and another wonderfull track shines.

But "Stillness" from 1971 is possibly their best. As they didn't have an original thought in their collective head, it reflects the times in a ridiculously dumb fashion: by covering a flock of folk-rock releases. Their versions of Joni Mitchell's 'Chelsea Morning' and Buffalo Springfield's 'For What Its Worth' are so strident and metronomic that a stupid smile was stuck on my face as I listened on the way to work this morning.

I know it's not to everyone's tastes but, please, buy them and ignore them. You'll be surprised how much you may even grow to adore them.

Absolute Hits and Misses

Apple - An Apple A Day: I think this was someone's idea of a pop-psych joke. 2nd track 'Doctor Rock' is an all-time bad taste classic: "doctor rock is the rockin' doc" indeed.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus: Loathe as I am to admit it, these 2 cds contain the most digestible Cave I've ever heard. That probably means that his long term fans will hate them.

Elvis Costello - The Delivery Man: All those C&W starlets can't help you now EC. Please give up.

Deep Purple - Deepest Purple: On my recent holiday I taught my 'nephew' to play the riff 'Smoke on the Water' on guitar. This was amazing as (a) I can't play guitar and (b) he's only 9. This is my gift to him for eternity.

Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection / Captain Fantastic... : As always, one great track and a couple of OK songs mixed in with the absolute maudlin madness that is EJ.

Herbie Mann - Do The Bossa Nova / Latin Fever / Memphis Underground: Surprisingly lots of bad musicianship on these unaccomplished but rather pleasant fol-de-rols.

The Monkees - Head OST: Too many drugs, too little time, too far up the celebrity ladder to really acheive anything weird.

Tom Waits - Real Gone: Throaty rumblings galore and barely a tune to be discerned.

Brian Wilson - Smile: Apart from the truely glorious complete songs already released on Beach Boys albums (but maybe not so fully realised) there are just far too many bits and pieces to make this really fab.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Sydney Post-Punk on FBI Radio

Sydney Post-Punk on FBI Radio

FBI Radio's 'Sydney Retrospective Show' is broadcast on Tuesday nights at8-10 PM.

Next Tuesday - 21/09/2004 - the most delightfull subject will be 'Sydney Post-Punk'.

Blathering on incessently will be:

Phil Turnbull (ex Voigt/465, Wild West and No Night Sweats),John Laidler (ex Slugfuckers, 2 Johnnies, etc),Craig Wilcox (ex Slugfuckers, Goat That Went Om, etc)Peter Nelson (ex Wild West and critic / writer) andPatrick Gibson (ex Systematics, Ya Ya Choral et al)

So please tune in to 94.5 on your FM dial (if you live in the coverage range of "Sydney", apparently) - no internet radio unfortunately as it's far too expensive.

Friday, September 03, 2004

I'm With Stupid

I've gone on a bit of an Aimee Mann binge this last week. This was due to my partner Annette (thanks madam) who sometimes points out those bits of cardboard and plastic and aluminium that once were dear friends but which now just fill up the racks. She picked out "Lost In Space" to play for a long trip in the car (I suspect she was really looking for Joni Mitchell). When she arrived back home, slightly tired, she still managed to rave about "how could we forget this one" and so on. She'd been so immersed in the songs that the cd played one and a half times through before she relaized that she was hearing them for the 2nd time. My interest was defintely tweaked again.

Mann is one of those performers whose records I play constantly until I reach an almost sickening and complete saturation point. For a long time after that, playing them actually revolts me. Luckily, the memory of the disgust fades - just like the pain of a broken bone in many ways.

So I should have just listened to the tracks I love and let it be but I couldn't simply do that. Instead, to round off this all new obsesive Aimee experience I played all her solo albums again and again. I listened to all those 80s releases by 'Till Tuesday (sometimes irksome, sometimes proto-solo). I acquired some live boots (mainly dire with a quavering voice quite prominent). I even acquired some solo Jon Brion stuff (to see how important he is to her work - a bit but not as much as I'd thought he would be). I don't have anything marvellously insightfull to say about her, just some little points that make her special for me:

Her vocal delivery is complicated, intruiging and exasperating. It's so obviously drained and depressed and downbeat even when the lyrics imply some other emotion. It's slightly lazy and couldn't give a fuck but irritated all the time too - "yeah, i'm singin' this, so what?". When this fits in with the lyrics and the tune it works spectacularly well but, in some cases, it can seem like an affectation. I'm sure this isn't true - she's probably just singing the only way she knows how - but it's one of the things that sits in the back of my mind when a song seems to be treading water.

There are always at least 3 great tracks on each of her solo releases. These are songs that I truely feel are some of the very best old style pop music I've ever heard. Take "Bachelor #2": It has "How Am I Different", "Deathly" and "Susan", all of which affect me deeply for one reason or another. "Whatever" has "Fifty Years After The Fair", "Mr. Harris" and "I've Had It" - these last 2 have quite cloying subject matter but, never-the-less, they still manage to bring a tear to my eye (it's a bit like the effect old Hollywood tear jerkers have on me - what an old softy I am). And "Magnolia" has the sublime "Save Me" - a touchstone in the film and on the recording - which is as good as 3 songs rolled into one.

I suppose it's the off kilter melodies that make them so special but the meticulous production also helps. However, I'm completely ambivalent about the sound of and arrangements on the records. Many times, the glossy sheen and attention to detail (it's those damned 80s again) can derail even the best songs. But when she took a small path down a more grungey lane (in "I'm With Stupid") I feel cheated - "hey, where's the chamberlain"?

Luckily I didn't sicken myself with the Aimee Mann stick this time around. I may even take a couple with me on my short holiday next week...