one faint deluded smile

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Eighteen Again

I have yet to hear a more beautifull, mesmerising, delicate piece of music than Steve Reich's "Music For 18 Musicians". For me it truely is the pinnacle of 'minimalism' - extremely complex but deeply emotional as well.

On the train to work yesterday my brain was sparking weird flashes of light, my nose was deeply clogged and sleep was just a vague longing from hours before. So I started listening to the lesser known Ensemble Modern version and, after 15 minutes of slow drifting, my head dropped towards my chest and I managed to sleep away the pain.

So - it's music to make you sleep - that can't be much good for anything else, then, surely? Luckily it matches Eno's view on Ambient to the nth degree - you can ignore it (or use it for relaxation or whatever) but it also bears repeated, intense listening.

On the way home I had a choice of various new cds but I returned to the same lovely piece with an almost feverish desire to 'get it'. Ofcourse, being the musical pleb that I am, all those crochets and quavers and interlocking time signatures just went right past me. There were things I'd noticed before that became clearer like the gorgeous cluster of chords played on vibes that herald a key change but, mostly, I just let it envelope me all over again.

And yet again - I enjoyed it so much I played it almost twice on the same trip as I shifted between views of the ocean or bush and the book I was occassionally trying to read.

mp3: Excerpt from the 1st performance (whooee - legal)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

You've Got To Know Your Limitations

Well, I never. My 50mg daily download limit has been reached for the very first time. So that's why pics dissappear from blog entries.

In the meantime you could help to write a Belle and Sebastian song.

Monday, October 25, 2004

So Very Green

As I've posted hither and yon...

Can have started to release newly remastered versions of their albums. The 1st 4 (Monster Movie, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Soundtracks) are available now via Mute in the UK and elsewhere soon to follow.

All previous releases / re-releases of these albums have used the original digital transfers from the time when they were first made available on cd... and they've always sounded piss-poor. But these re-issues sound f*ing brilliant. There's no real messing around with the thrust of the original mixing - they just sound punchier, more urgent and just plain "there".

Oh, and no bloody tape hiss - hear that Brian Eno : this is how quality remastering should sound.

The booklets are pretty good: lots of never before seen pics and quite lovely round-cornered jewel cases (see the pic above). But it seems like they've missed the chance once again to add some sort of definitive text. And they haven't included any extra studio material! The 2 wonderfull singles from the Tago and Ege era aren't anywhere to be seen even though they've never been officially released on cd at all.

But these are just minor quibbles. I'm fairly biased as i've hardly ever gone a month in my life without playing Ege Bamyasi at least once but hearing these updated versions makes me want to play them again and again.

Judge the difference in sound quality yourself :

mp3: I'm So Green (original master)

mp3 : I'm So Green (new remaster)

Then go and buy them yourself.

Visit: Spoon Records
Visit: Holger Czukay

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Just Arrived

a short apnea - just arrived : improv with rocky tinges, the best bits of hours of jams selected and augmented with other instrumentation. hey, just like can or this heat except there's no tunes, dammit.

crosby & nash - crosby-nash : some songs sink into a quagmire of m.o.r. but most remind me why i like their songwriting and singing so much. no one writes harmonies, and melody changes that are as surprising as Luck Dragon.

donovan - beat cafe : his voice still contains that sly wink and the breathy vibrato and the jazzy band (there goes danny thompson again) create a perfect backing. too bad most of the songs are based on blues riffs or progressions.

mandarin - fast present future : modern rock music - nothing more and nothing less. crafted well, produced simply, played with feeling and skill. but, at the end of the day i still feel there's still something missing.

ray manzarek - the golden scarab : stilted funky blues with prog-rock tendencies and the occassional latin rhythm flourish topped up with (not meant to be) hilarious lyrics and ray trying to sound like jim. i likes it!

juana molina - rava / segundo / tres cosas : my new favourite singer songwriter (see below).

parkins / mori - phantom orchard : lilting, dreamy pieces with magnificent harp playing. unfortunatley a couple have been ruined by bad samples.

andy partidge - fuzzy warbles 5 & 6 : how many of these can there be? his vaults seem endless. still and all, some of these demos sound better than the final recordings and i think they're the best of the fuzzy series so far.

the red masque - feathers for flesh : very serious modern prog-rock with slight goth leanings. quite enjoyable if you disregard the words.

soulwax - any minute now : some fairly good songs ruined by absolutely awfull over-saturated production - slam the compression on and leave it there. makes my eyes water. so does their web site but at least that seems a bit interesting.

susanna and the magical orchestra - list of lights and buoys : luscious semi-ambient vocals and arrangements from norway. gets a bit cloying after a while but it's always heading towards some sort of impossible beauty.

the temptations - psychedelic soul : apart from the 'hit' songs (Cloud 9, Ball of Confusion, I Can't Get Next To You, et al) there's very little here that I enjoyed. the psych quotient is never really that high and the social conscience lyrics date the lot very badly.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Repeat and Sing

At first glance there's very few similarities between Robert Wyatt and Juana Molina (except, ofcourse, for the glorious fecundity of hair). One the one hand you have a 60 something paraplegic ex-jazz-rock drummer whilst on the other you have a 30 something Argentinian ex-commedienne. But all you have to do is listen to the some of their songs and the differences don't seem so great.

Wyatt's life changed when he drunkenly fell out of a 2nd floor window and broke his back. He then released his finest solo album - "Rock Bottom" - and, even though he continues to state that the songs bear no relation to the accident, the record sounds imbued with sorrow and pain and love and a little bit of anger. His many, many releases since then have always contained some of these raw elements.

Molina's life changed when she made a conscious decision to stop being one of the most popular stars on Argentinian TV and return to her first love - music. She'd released a cd of quite lovely alterna-pop before becoming South America's answer to Jennifer Saunders (or so I've read) but the 2 releases since that time - "Segundo" and "Tres Cosas" have a desire to confound commercial expectations.

Apart from this link (yes, I know, it's tenuous, grasping at straws and a poor attempt at erudition), it's obvious that they do share a love for repeating chord patterns and drones. And, most importantly, the addition of melodies above these that shift and shiver unexpectedly. I think their work methods may enforce this too. They both experiment / record at home and maybe it's the luxury of having time that allows them to explore the nooks and crannies of a few lovely chords.

This Wyatt track comes from his most home recorded product "Old Rottenhat" which I disliked at the time of it's release, mainly because I'd grown tired of his style. But, in many ways, it matches the quality of his earlier Virgin recordings:

mp3: Robert Wyatt - Gharbzadegi

This Molina track comes from "Segundo" and starts with some gorgeous bass rumblings. Yes, it's about a barking dog:

mp3: Juana Molina - El Perro

[please note that both of these tracks are longish so may take some time to download]

All of Robert Wyatt's records are currently available and have been lovingly remastered. My favourites are still "Rock Bottom" and his collection of 80s Rough Trade singles "Nothing Can Stop Us". Juana Molina's records have been released worldwide now, probably by her US label - Domino.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Buzzing, Humming

They've been making music since 2000 but I've only just heard Radian. I could be bláse and say that they're yet another German band doing the post-rock thing but that'd be too easy. They're definitely traversing the same area as Kreidler, To Rococo Rot and Tarwater who can sometimes make me jump around with joy but who can also fill me with an ennui so pervading that I dread putting on their latest creations.

Radian's "Juxtaposition" is so tame and polite that I want to reach out and slap them about the cheeks to wake them from their snoozefest. But then they come up with a track as good as "Rapid Eye Movement" that makes me want to keep listening. It starts up with a buzzing, droning, fuzzed up burr that cuts to some syncopated precise drum patterns and a two note bass (the ghost of Ganger survives). Some holding pattern electronic washes and zooms and then the buzz is back finally cut by a gloriously fake bent guitar note and lovely harmonics:

mp3: Radian - Rapid Eye Movement

Now, that repetitive drone is a very lovely sound indeed and is the only reason that synthesisers were created to my mind. Way back in the early 80s you could make sounds just like that. Check out some early recordings by SPK or Throbbing Gristle who seemed to patent it. Or you could buy yourself an Arp Odyssey and apply the ring modulator : but gently does it - too much of a good thing and you sound cliched. However, some poor chaps were stuck with cheaper Roland synths which still sounded lovely but which were designed as keyboards more than sound generators. Luckiliy, a buzz was still available:

mp3: Ya Ya Choral - God's Buzzsaw

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Hey, Mr Policeman

Family had a six or seven year journey from the height of London's flower power, through roots and prog rock and onto... somewhere entirely unique.

I've played my favourites amongst their albums to many, many people and the majority think they're either awful or dull. This mainly lies with Roger Chapman: his voice can be grating - a mixture of heavy vibrato and bluesy growl - and his lyrics sometimes verge on the neanderthal. But the weird thing for me is that they are the only blues influenced rock band that I really love. Others from this era (Led Zep, The Who, et al) have moments that I like but never really captured me like Family did and still do.

In the end it all comes down to Charlie Whitney's concise, elegant songwriting and the easy playing style of the musicians.

"Music In A Doll's House" is a small psychedelic gem with typical late 60s sonic inventiveness and a hint of the playfullness that they used throughout their career. None of the other albums sound remotely like this and so it's not one that I come back to very often. But the 3 or 4 standout tracks make this as good as many of the more fancied releases of the time like The Zombies "Odyssey and Oracle".

I've missed out tracks from the next 3 albums (Entertainment, A Song For Me and Anyway) because this period of the band doesn't excite me much at all. They play in a rocky progressive style that I always regarded as sub-standard. You should know, however, that these are the albums that made Family big in the UK, especially the song 'The Weavers Answer".

Bassist John Wetton was what initially drew me to Family. His muscular playing in King Crimson was one of the highlights of that band for me and so I had to check out his previous career. "Fearless" was the first album he performed on and he seems to have changed their slightly dirge laden earlier style into something much more melodic and perfectly arranged.

mp3: Save Some For Thee

"Bandstand" is often stated as the band's apex but, although it has some of their very best songs, the quality fades out too much towards then end. Poli Palmer's up front synth lines were another reason I wanted to buy one for myself.

mp3: My Friend The Sun
mp3: Bolero Babe

Wetton and Palmer left after "Bandstand" but the core of the group played on until their final release "It's Only A Movie". They were augmented with more good musos including Tony Ashton, who would have some fame later for his part in the hit "The Resurrection Shuffle". I actually think this is a better album overall than "Bandstand" but don't tell the fans that.

mp3: It's Only a Movie
mp3: Boots 'n' Roots

Buy their albums:
Doll's House +

Thursday, October 07, 2004

3 Women

Female singers often affect me more directly than their male contemporaries. I can listen to a million Joni Mitchell tracks before I want to hear one by Neil Young, and I like old Shakey quite a bit too. It's probably a musical indicator to the continuing state of my interpersonal relations… but don't get me started on that.

Here are 3 women that I've adored.

Christie Allen - Goosebumps
Countdown was the premier Australian pop show of the 70s and 80s and was watched by every music loving teen / young adult in the country. At 6PM on Sunday evenings I'd gather with friends and watch avidly to see if they'd play even one good song. Instead you'd put up with all the stars of Oz Pub Rock, all the newer bands that Molly Meldrum (our loveable embarrassment) was pushing that week and the latest hits from overseas. For every great Abba or Kate Bush track you'd get a dozen awful things like Rose Tattoo's "Bad Boy For Love". Christie seemed to come from nowhere at the time but this (admittedly very, very stupid) song just grabbed us and wouldn't let go. I think we really just loved her ridiculous performance where movements emulated the lyrics - grabbing her stomach for the "you give me heartbreak, guts ache" line, etc.

Unknown - To Moro
On a bus in Greece in the Spring of 1985 the driver switched on the radio, let out a yelp of joy and surprise, turned it UP and sang along to this song - as did half the bus. Yes, a real homegrown Greek pop hit and one I loved immediately too. I heard it everywhere after that and, after much gesticulation and bad mime, someone finally wrote down a scrawl of Cyrillic letters which I hoped was the name of the artist and song. I took it into an Athenian record store and was given a cassette that did indeed contain this track… amongst 2 other good songs and a lot of sub-Streisand wailing. By the end of the next week I could barely stand it. But that's the transitory nature of pop after all. I never found out how to pronounce her name at the time and have kept this mystery unresolved to this day.

Wanderlea - Mane Joao
A couple of years ago, Stereolab's official website was re-designed with pretty, moving graphics and a pastel colour scheme that suited them down to the ground. They also added a radio page where a diverse range of current favourites would be placed. This song was in their first stream and, luckily, came after some difficult pieces that gave me an upset stomach. It contains some of those gorgeous Bossa Nova style chord changes, melody twists and horn arrangements that I love so much but updates the rhythms into an off-kilter, jazzy funk. But it's her delivery that makes it so great - clipped, brisk and sexy. Ms Wanderlea has been around for a long, long time, singing with all the greats of Brasilian music and, as far as I can make out, is still performing today - what a trooper she must be.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

There Aint No Room For Your Sweet Head

Noosha Fox was one of the most sultry looking woman (of slavic descent) I'd ever seen (until I met the lovely Drosma Bebris a year or two later). It's the long face and the overall skinnyness, I suppose, that made her so attractive. Never mind that she's really named Susan Traynor who was probably born and bred in Bognor Regis or some other UK hell hole. But just look at that kinky 70s hairstyle! The early, trip-hop Goldfrapp looks very similar, methinks.

Ofcourse, her voice drew the millions to her - high pitched but full toned and slightly nasal. And as sexy sounding as a 70s woman could be. The fact that the only major single the band (yes, it was an actual band, not just a solo artiste) released contained an obvious longing for a 'roll in the hay' under difficult circumstances could only make her more alluring.

Buy the re-released CD at Cherry Red records whydontcha.

The original version is still quite timeless in many ways. UK white boy funk with a killer chorus line and that damned guitar solo streamed through that most ugly of effects - the Frampton Talk Box. Spittle aplenty and don't the roadies know it.

The No Night Sweats version contains no funk whatsoever and instead ramps up the techno / electro tones (the rhythm effect always reminded us of Prince Planet walking) and combines that with an overblown delivery only our mothers could love.

Apparently There Were 12

It must have been 1983 when I found this LP in one of Sydney's 2nd hand record stores. I was playing in my psuedo-cabaret-electro act "No Night Sweats" at the time and was always on the lookout for songs that we might be able to add to the show somehow. Ofcourse it had to have some ironic edge else we'd die of the seriousness of it all. We'd already covered Slapp Happy's "Who's Gonna Help Me Now" and Noosha Fox's "S-S-S-Single Bed" and, later, would do a version of an old gospel tune "When Was Jesus Born". I thought that some mid 60s German pop music might be so bad that we'd actually love it and this turned out to be very true indeed. At least on my part. I'm fairly sure that Patrick never cared for it much at all and I played the best tracks to anyone that would stand still for a few minutes to a mostly puzzled response.

Geschwister Jacob - So ist ein Boy is probably the best track on the whole thing. Some clumsy, robotic drumming and bad soul music brass overlayed with a catchy melody sung in a very twee, "oh, isn't life great" fashion. They must have been quite well known in some sort of German drinking club scene as this page can testify. It ends, as it should, with the righteous phrase "so ist ein boy... yeah!" Great stuff, dear ladies of the Rhine.

Lill Lindfors - Es konnte Liebe sein is a close runner up in the popularity stakes. Once again it's vaguely like soul music except there's no swing at all. In fact, the oompah really starts to take over. At least it has a terrific chorus - and don't they know it as it's repeated ad-infinitum. Amazingly, Lill Lindfors seems to be still on the scene.

Margret Furer und die Penny Pipers - Gammel Shake starts off all semi-smoky ambiance like an pasty version of "Cabaret" then jumps into the chorus a few times where the descending chords are almost like glam. But don't worry, the oompah isn't far away, though, with the rough vowel sounds and bad drumming just driving it along. I know nothing at all about sweet lost Margs.