Thursday, February 20, 2014

Beck - Morning Phase



"This morning I lost all my defences"; "Please don't leave me on my own"; "Somewhere unforgiven, time will wait for you"; "ISOLAAAAAAAAAATION!"

I'm sensing a theme here.

Beck is a guy I'm aware of but don't really follow. There are only two that have really resonated with me on a deep level. The first was the good time party must-have Odelay which was the soundtrack for much of the 90's. Second was the his divorce record Sea Change, which is probably in my top twenty albums of all time - a grandiose slap in the face, an intimate howl of despair, it towers above everything else Beck has done.

Morning Phase is built on a similar foundation as Sea Change (pretty much every song) but by way of Mutations (Heart is a drum) with a hint of mid period Scott Walker weirdness (Wave). Sure it has that faux 70's psychedelic edge but this record is immaculately produced. It is gorgeous on every level and doesn't feel like a obvious throwback. The lyrical snippets above give you an insight into the mood of the record but it never feels as heavy or desperate as Sea Change. There's a sense of resignation here but without the drama. It's a long sigh of a record but beautiful in every way.

I'm not sure many people I know will get into this record but it is worth it if you like that kind of thing... and when I say that kind of thing, I mean sadness...

--

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sun Kil Moon - Benji



Mark Kozelek has mortality on his mind and death is everywhere. Family, friends and strangers alike are under death's sullen influence. While this might sound like a bummer, it allows Kozelek to trip through his memory and ruminate on all those things that we all dwell on - regrets, lost loves, bad moves and the general weirdness of experience. There are a lot of funerals on this record - two songs dwell on the death of his uncle and cousin who die in exactly the same circumstances (burning to death from an exploding aerosol in burning trash - Carissa and Truck Driver), there are equally strange diversions. The plaintive Dogs recounts a sexual history (presumably his) in frank and startlingly detail - the embarrassments, the missteps and weirdness that comes with intimacy. I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same is essentially a 10 minute recounting of that experience. From being blown away by the psychedelic scenes and regretting picking on a kid in his class, the song sprawls through the hazy recollections of that time. The final song (Ben's My friend) is about Kozelek attending a Postal Service concert and being vaguely annoyed at everything - it's pretty funny.

The central touchstones here seem to be I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love and I Love My Dad. There is a sense that all of this rumination on death has led to him to say things in song he probably can't say in person, those things we all find difficult to say. The song to his mother is fittingly sentimental while the the one to his dad recounts the tough love and awkward attempts at instilling lessons in the young Kozelek. Both are beautiful songs of dedication and love. They sentiment is only rivalled by the darkly angry Pray For Newtown, an track through the pointlessness of gun violence.

Kozelek has largely abandoned the need for choruses and recounts the tales with detail and wit without the need to stick to traditional song structures. That's not to suggest it is unlistenable or melody is absent, the songs present as tales you would hear around the kitchen table - full narratives, rambling and occasionally shambolic. It's largely an extension on the album he did with the Album Leaf (Perils from the Sea) which had similar tales with looser structures - here it feels much more intimate like Kozelek has revealed his heart and soul for all to witness. The album can feel slightly impenetrable on first listen but repeated listens reveal the bruised beauty within. In some ways it is an odd album, it is achingly personal but relatable on every level - it's Mark Kozelek's version of our own fucked up lives, moving and hauntingly human.

--

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

But there's this...



For the sparkly part of my twenties, Odelay was a constant companion soundtrack. As I got older, I moved onto Se Change which I still adore. Apart from that Beck does little for me but I love, love this song. It's just plainly gorgeous, there's no other word for it.

--

Monday, February 3, 2014

Some stuff that happened this week...

So the Grammys happened this week which is always sad. So out of touch and weird, Led Zeppelin bagged the best rock album award... LED FUCKING ZEPPELIN! Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of Stairway as much as the next guy but it is 2014. Everyone's had their say on the QOTSA/NIN debacle, was anyone truly surprised? I think nothing summed it up better than the Mackelmore vs Kendrick Lamar tweet:

Ok so the Lamar response was by amazing comedian Aamer Rahman but it gets to the heart of the Grammys, always choosing the safe, non-threatening and lame artist everytime.

Anyhow, I also blagged tickets to the Laneway festival which I found to be fun but also kind of sad. If this was the face of modern alternative, it was all very generic and uninspiring. There is a new traend in alternative in bands like Chvrches, Sky Ferreira and Naked and the Famous which sounds exactly like the 80's and when I say the 80's, I mean the lame 80's. While Chvrches were pretty, my discussions with my friend soon turned to Nik Kershaw, the Thompson Twins and Kim Wilde. The 80's were bad enough the first time, don't make me go back. Indie singer songwriters like Kurt Vile, Vance Joy etc seemed drawn out and samey. The only bands that got any heat were Frightened Rabbit and Savages. I certainly didn't rate Savages before but seeing them live has made me re-think that - their presence and sound was overwhelming and far better than the record - I haven't seen a band with such charisma in a while, the songs sounded raw, urgent and alive. I was converted. By the way, if you have the chance to see Lorde (who I admit to liking), stay home and listen to the record - not much room for improvisation or spontaneity when you play to backing tracks. The saddest thing was I missed Run the jewels by five minutes... damnit.

The highlight of the superbowl was apparently the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I'm sure that's in revelations as being a sign of the apocalypse.

Finally, U2 released a new single. They're one of those bands I grew up and I felt compelled to listen to it. While not as shit as their last album, let's just say there is no late career for renaissance for the boys. I can commend them on producing something not entirely rubbish I guess. It made me sad to hear the modern production flourishes - aural mutton dressed up as lamb. The expansive intimacy of the Joshua Tree or the playful melancholy of Achtung Baby are a long way behind them. I always think, maybe, maybe I'll hear that thing I loved as a kid but I got old and maybe I should move on from this sickening nostalgia.

--

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: http://chinapig.bandcamp.com/ 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.

--