Friday, August 25, 2006

I'm Jack of This

Paris Hilton has cut an album. Seriously, how can we expect to take the music industry as a whole seriously anymore? Things like health, education and employment have for centuries been far more easily accessible for the wealthy and elite, but now, it's been proven that, if you have the money behind you, you can buy songs. Successful songs. Stars are Blind, her first single, actually isn't too bad. The problem is, it has nothing to do with her. She bought a songwriter, numerous producers (A-list ones at that) and enough software to make her sound like an asthmatic Whitney Houston (in tune, but weak as piss), and made a hit record. It is now official. To be successful in the music industry, you now require ZERO talent. Just a pre-existing profile.
The most worrying thing of all is the perception of Hilton as role model to young girls. The same woman who is on countless mobile phones performing sex acts in front of a camera is idolised by hundreds of thousands of (mainly American) young women. I guess the new aspiration is to be born wealthy and act like a twat. Touche, Paris.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Of Whales and Woe

I'll be open and honest with you. I am a bass player. Not particularly good, mind you, but I play a bit and know enough to be a bit biased when listening to either a Primus or Les Claypool record. The man is a freak. Listening to one of his records usually elicits a reaction somewhere in between outright awe at his prowess and downright devastation due to my profound lack of said prowess, generally incorporating both at once, in a very Orwellian, doublethink-style manner. Opening with Back Off Turkey, one would be forgiven for thinking that Les has gone completely nuts, even by his own standards, but after 2 minutes of vocal yelps and half sentences over half complete music lines and a repetitious rhythm, suddenly the bass starts slapping, and One Better begins. And it is the funkiest, wildest ride to be heard this year. Indeed, for many years. Of Whales and Woe is Claypool's 5th solo album, and in a nutshell, it's Primus withouht the backing band. There is minimal guitar, and Claypool plays drums himself, and this spare nature allows his amazing bass skills to come very much to the for, whether it be on the ultra funky, ultra sly and ultra quiry One Better, or on the equally funky but way quirkier Filipino Ray, or perhaps the strange jazz lounge-on-acid trip of Vernon the Company Man.
Replete with Xylophone, odd percussion and distorted brass, woodwind and strings, the album's lack of convention is it's clear strength, allowing a truly unique musician on top of his game to carve a very unique path for himself.
If you play bass, or love Primus, this is for you. If not, you probably won't get it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

From the Vault - Cast of Thousands

Recently I was given as a gift the fantastic critical list '1001 Albums you must hear before you die', the purpose of which is quite self explanatory. Now, with any critical list, there will be disagreements, and I tend to avoid attacking these lists with a great deal of vigour, understanding the intrinsically subjective nature of music. However, on that list was missing 2 absolutely seminal records of the past 5 years (in their place, I might add, was Destiny's Child's Survivour). One was the Shins' Chutes Too Narrow, and the other was this.
Cast of Thousands was a bolt from the blue. Having established some critical acclaim with the overrated, yet Mercury award winning Asleep in the Back, Elbow's sophomore effort was anticipated with some trepidation. Would it be more gloomy, undergratuate (yet admittedly, very beautiful) doom-rock, or something else? The answer was the latter, in the most emphatic manner possible.
Opening with the jumpy, neo-radiohead beeping that has taken over the world, 'Ribcage' quickly morphs into a pounding, repetitious gospel number filled with swelling choral sounds more at home in a US baptist church than a quintisentially British love song.
In fact the opening 5 songs are nothing less than essential. 'Fallen Angel' with it's buzzsaw bass and glorious mid-song breakdown, 'Fugitive Motel', all desperately longing strings and heart-tugging lyrics 'I'll blow you a kiss/It should reach you tomorrow/as it flies from/the other side of the world'. These are followed by one of the most devastating one-two punches in modern music. 'Snooks (Progress Report)' is a tribal drum-driven ode to something about dodgy friends or other, while 'Switching Off' is undoubtedly the centrepiece. With frontman Guy Garvey singing like he's underwater, Elbow deliver an astonishingly touching portrait of undying love, with a chorus that could bring the most mean-hearted to tears.
The jazz-lounge menace of 'I've Got Your Number' can still send shivers up the spine when the fingernails-down-the-blackboard organ kicks in, and the crowd at Glastonbury singing along on 'Grace Under PRessure' is always thrilling (hence the title of the record.
This is, without doubt, one of the highlights of British music for the past 25 years, and that's saying something.
Absolutely essential.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Peeping Tom

Mike Patton is the Shit. Over nearly 20 years, it is arguable that no other artist (with the possible exception of Bjork, who has guested with Patton before) has so consistently pushed musical boundaries and genres while still selling a heap of records, as he has. It really is unarguable that he is certainly the most prolific. Bungle, Faith no More, Fantomas, Tomahawk, and now this, the solo project, Peeping Tom. And this is no exception to his record of sheer quality and uniqueness. Collaborating with an astonishing variety of artists, from Dan the Automator to Norah Jones (who is dazzlingly, awesomely, potty-mouthed on Sucker), this record traverses some familiar terrain, the schitzophrenic, pseudo hip-hop insanity of opener 5 seconds, to the much more different (for Patton) in the oh-so-nearly-regulation pop of lead single Mojo. While it is almost a straight-up pop track, it is so, so, so much better than anything you'll hear this year by anyone we might categorise as a pop artist, that it may as well be a new artistic medium, let alone a separate genre. For the perfect balance between the conventional and the madcap, bizarre, and the otherworldly, look no further than this record.
Also, credit must go to the cover artists, who have come up with, by far, the best CD sleeve in many, many years.
Madness rarely sounds this good.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Live Monkeys

A couple of nights ago a mate and I caught a gig that very few Melburnians were able to attend (although many, it seems, wanted to). At the Palace we bore witness to the Arctic Monkeys, wonders of the new musical age, live.

Before I go on, I just want to congratulate The Grates for one of the best support slots I've seen in many years. Energetic, colourful, enthusiastic, and with some great songs that, having never heard them all at once, I'd never attributed to the one band. Nice work.

With a record as strong as Whatever People Say I am, That's What I'm Not to perform, and a crowd as devoted and rabid as I haven't seen since Metallica in 1996, it's really impossible to do a bad show, and the Monkeys performed a one-hour set comprising of all the songs off that record minus Red Light Indicates Doors are Secure, plus three new tracks, the (very tall) crowd chanting along faithfully to every cockney word and convoluted lyric.
As I said, this was a good show, but it lacked one absolutely essential ingredient which stopped it from being a great show.
This was, quite possibly, the most professional, polished and rehearsed-to-within-an-inch-of-it's-life set of music I've ever seen. Songs segued into one another a number of times, but not in a spontaneous, Cat Empire-like explosion of impulsiveness, but because it had been decided upon much earlier. Songs refused to divert from the original structure and sound, either through bold improvisation or premeditated decision. And it was this lack of chaos that held the show back.
The great thrill of live music isn't the crowd, or the banter from the band (of which there was precious little, and it was mainly unintelligble. Whether through mumbling or a thick Sheffield accent, I'll never know). It's not the songs themselves, which you've probably heard a number of times. It's the feeling, in the back of your skull, that at any moment, something amazing, or awful, could happen. That's the magic moment. To be there when something incredible happens.
One of my favourite live music moments was seeing Snow Patrol last year. During the big, climactic, centrepiece number, the big, ballsy ballad, Run, just before the soaring, triumphant, minute-long guitar solo, Gary Lightbody trod on his lead, cutting out the sound of the aforementioned virtuoso performance. The crowd stood agog as he kept playing, waiting as a roadie came out, re-amplified his instrument, and he continued. After the solo, the closing chorus was to begin, and, as one, perhaps as a show of support, perhaps because it was the only bit much of the crowd knew, the audience sung for him. All four blokes stood on stage with "I can't believe a bunch of tossers from Scotland are having their song sung in Melbourne" smiles on their faces. And it was glorious.

And it never would have happened on Wednesday night.