Friday, December 29, 2006

All time top ten - #4 - Bitches Brew

In 1970, Miles davis seemed to have lost relevance. 11 years ago, with Kind of Blue, he had provided modern music with a genre-defining moment, a statement of musical intent that redirected jazz for future generations and established himself as the premier jazz man of the 50s and 60s. However, in 1970, rock music had well and truly arrived. Hendrix had demolished 'Star Spangled Banner' onstage at Woodstock, the Beatles had spent nearly ten years bending conventional notions of popular music, Captain Beefheart had set new standards of experimentalism, possibly inventing Prog-Rock with the insane Trout Mask Replica and now Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones were taking the Blues and rocking it within an inch of its life. Jazz need a kick in the pants to remain current and important. And Davis provided it.

Bitches Brew is a law unto itself. Genre barely counts, it almost seems unfair to label it as a jazz record. The rhythm section is almost conventional - well, as conventional as two bass players and a veritible army of percussionists could be - but that's where comparisons to pre-existing jazz music ends. Horns and woodwind swirl in cacophanous harmony, keys dance around the backbeat, drawing on influences as diverse as The Doors and Thelonious Monk, all the while, all sections of the band retained the improvisational stylings that Davis pioneered in 1959. Over three days anger, confusion, and exhilaration had reigned in the studio, and the sonic themes, scraps, grooves, and sheer will and emotion that resulted were percolated and edited into an astonishingly organic work. This Miles Davis wasn't merely presenting a simple hybrid like jazz-rock, but a new way of thinking about improvisation and the studio. Both lauded and savaged by critics, many of whom took offense at the use of an expletive on a record cover, Bitches Brew invented fusion, defied definition and opened the eyes and ears of an entire generation of musicians.
First, there's the slow, modal, opening grooves of "Pharaoh's Dance," with its slippery trumpet lines to John McLaughlin's snaky guitar figures skirting the edge of the rhythm section and Don Alias' conga slipping through the middle. The keyboards of Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul create a haunting, iffing groove echoed and accented by the two basses of Harvey Brooks and Dave Holland.
The second half of side one, the title track, was originally intended as a 5-piece suite, but only 3 made the final cut. Polyrhythmic, ebbing and flowing, climactic and cataclysmic, it is possibly the most awe-inspiring piece of jazz ever recorded. Those who could carry on would find side 2 no less dazzling. Opening with the now famous 'Spanish Key', and allowing McLaughlin a four minute interlude, Bitches Brew powered on to it's rightful place in the pantheon of musical classics. And over the top of all of this, Davis' muted horn floats, swims, gallops and marches, setting the pace when required, while happily sitting in the shadow, allowing the band's talents to come powering to the fore.
Music has possibly never been so audaciously conceived while being so perfectly executed. A true moment in time. Mile Davis never had to worry about being relevant again.

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Love!

In the seasonal spirit, I thought I'd list some classic Christmas records that people can grab if they need to get in the festive mood:

1. 'What do you get a Wookie for Christmas (If he Already has a Comb)? - I don't know whta is on this or who it's by. But it deserves a mention.

2. Sufjan Stevens - Songs for Christmas: I don't know how prolific one man can be (unless you're Ryan Adams) but going on the fact that this is a compilation of 5 years of Christmas EPs from Mr Stevens, with both originals and reworkings of forgotten carols, it's a fair assumption that most of it's gold.

3. Ringo Starr - I Want to be Santa Claus: If you're going to go kitsch, bloody well do it properly, I say. Rockin' Rudolph is, of course, included.

4. Bootsy Collins - Christmas is 4 Eva: Christmas is time for a party, right? If your answer to this is a resounding 'Yes', then no Christmas record will shake your arse more than this. He really does turn the water into FUNK!

5. It's a tie for the fifth!
Colonel Sanders - Christmas with Colonel Sanders! vs. The Six Million Dollar Man - Hear 4 Exciting Christmas Adventures! May they forever fight to the death. You be the judge.
Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Stand Up! by Blue King Brown

In the fine tradition of Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Michael Franti and even Public Enemy, Melbourne (having started in Byron Bay) band Blue King Brown succeed in combining potent, heartfelt social commentary with some damn fine grooves that can't help but fill a dance floor with their new release, Stand Up!. Clearly influenced by their Samoan roots, BKB have pulled together Reggae, roots and salsa rhythms to contribute another worthy entry to Aus music's growing alumnus of roots artists making some world-class sounds, including The John Butler Trio and Ash Grunwald. Be it advocating indigenous land rights on 'Water' or oppression of native peoples everywhere on 'Come and Check Your Head', Blue King Brown never cease to hammer the crap out several forms of percussion, as part of one of the country's funkiest rhythm sections, that'll keep feet tapping well into 2007. The band recently picked up the APRA Songwriters Award and Best Alternative Group at the 2005 MusicOz Awards. released on their own label 'Roots Level Records', Stand Up! is neither rooted in the past or desperately trying to sound 'now'. Sometimes great music can be nothing more than the result of a passion for something totally unrelated. Expect to hear this record pumping out of cafes over the summer; and fair enough too, I have every expectation that this will become my summer album of 2006/07.

3 1/2 stars

Labels: ,

St Kilda Bastards

I really detest going to gigs in St Kilda (barring the always brilliant Espy). This is not a standpoint I have arrived at lightly, as some of the venues are wonderful, well designed, welcoming places that always provide a great environment for bands to perform and connect with the crowd. Said crowds, however, need a lesson in 'how-not-to-be-a-complete-twat-at-gigs'. Urgently.
Last night I rocked up to see Augie March at the Prince of Wales, an august venue with a proud history of live music, and the scene of some of my best music memories, such as Coldplay (pre crap) in 2000, George in the same year and The Cat Empire a number of times. Having seen Augie March a number of times also, I knew what to expect and it was always going to be heartfelt and entertaining, if a little ramshackle. But such a great band rarely fails to please. In fact, the previous time I had seen them was at the HiFi in Melbourne a few months earlier, which was far and away the best Augie gig I have been to. And here's the thing. The music itself was not really much different between that show and last night. The difference was the crowd. At the HiFi, the audience hung breathlessly on every word, stayed silent during the quiet songs and applauded madly every time a song finished or something cool happened. It was a great crowd, genuine fans who were there to see the band.
Unlike last night at the Prince.
Pretentious, toolbag, disrespectful wankers abounded at the place that on Saturdays turns into 'OneLove' nightclub, aka the Ecstasy capital of Melbourne. During what would have been the highlight of the night, the woozy, literate and beguiling 'The Keepa', half the crowd decided to hold conversations. Whatever they were talking about, it's reasonably certain that it wasn't about the wonderful sound texture created by the band in a live setting. More likely it revolved around haircuts, alcohol and the OC. Wankers. Then, along came 'One Crowded Hour', and suddenly, the whole place came to life! Young women stopped chatting long enough to sing along (mainly just to the chorus) and then clap and cheer madly at the end. No doubt they then bought a T-shirt on the way out and are today wearing it proudly proclaiming themselves to be 'real fans' who 'liked them before they were popular'. Fuckers.
Anyway, if a band you like is playing more than one gig in Melbourne, see them in the city, Fitzroy, Brunswick or Northcote (or even Belgrave - go Ruby's). Leave the scum where they can congregate and be 'cool' together.
As for Augie March, good show guys, hold your heads high, there was at least one bloke in the cowd who paid attention.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Everything All the Time by Band of Horses

Band of Horses, a new indie collective formed from the Ashes of Seattle underground heroes Carissas Wierd, popped up this year with their debut record, Everything All The Time, and since then, the critical adulation has been incessant: featuring heavily on many end-of-year best of lists, along with glowing comparisons to My Morning Jacket and Neil Young.
All that being said, I'm quite clearly about to attempt to debunk all of that, so I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like this record. I did, it's very good. But, quite frankly, I don't understand where all this ejaculatory praise is coming from. Everything all the Time sounds to me like a second rate Shins record (a second rate Shins record still being superior to a great deal of music by lesser mortals), with vocalist Ben Bridwell sounding just a bit too much like James Mercer, not just in sound quality, but grammar, sytax and inflection. The same jivey, energetic rhythms abound, without many of the more wistful flourishes The Shins are known for.
EATT, though, is not without its own neat touches. Everything's a bit, well, heavier, and there are some really terrific songs, not least of which is the oh-so-indie-anthem 'Wicked Gil', which would not have been out of place on My Morning Jacket's 2005 epic, Z.
But the greatest sin committed by these guys is that they're just so, well, damn INDIE! The opening track is called 'The First Song', in one of those self-referential, 'oh, we're way too cool to come up with a song title because indie bands are all about the MUSIC, man'.
Dig it.
Good on Band of Horses for making a really good record. But let's keep our penises in our pants, otherwise every time a bunch of guys who like to strum electric guitars like they're acoustic and back it with a banjo come along, we'll be caught in the trap of anointing them saviors of some long-forgotten form of music that no-one previously gave a fuck about anyway. And then we'll be NME.

3 1/2 stars

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Good songs

Good songs have been many this year, and normally I refrain from compiling a list of the best of them, but for some reason I feel compelled to - so here's the top 11 (I just couldn't pick the last one, so call it a tie for tenth).

11. Welcome to the Black Parade - My Chemical Romance
Emo comes of age! Despite containing a verse so awful and mind-numbingly boring I nearly switched off before the song finished, The Black Parade contains the most awesome, Queen-inspired musical excess this side of Muse with a chorus that practically demands all listeners to pump their fist in the most convenient direction (generally up) with force and repetition.

10. I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News) - Eagles of Death Metal
Containing far and away the best guitar solo of 2006, this positively stinks of sweat and rooting. And it's SO great. Stealing blatantly from 60s hit 'Summertime Blues', EoDM have ripped it a new arsehole, greased it up and stuffed it full of god knows what. Rock on.

9. Ta Doleur - Camille
The French Bjork came out of nowhere in Australia with this piece of quasi electro/quasi vocal gymnastic, totally cool piece of avant-garde-ism. Camille actually makes farting noises and still sounds in tune. Amazing. And so danceable.

8. When the Sun Goes Down - The Arctic Monkeys
Followed closely by unknown classic off the same record 'From the Ritz to the Rubble', 'When the Sun Goes Down' is everything that is great about the Monkeys' debut encapsulated in 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Tales of whores and pimps on the streets of Sheffield, cockney lyrics, references to Sting and the Police and the BEST riff in about 5 years, magic in its simplicity, if 2003-2005 were the years when the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party brought rock back to the dancefloor, 2006 told the new wave to fuck off and let the Monkeys work.

7. One Better - Les Claypool
Funk - circa 2006 for Mr Claypool. Dispensing with extraneous instruments (i.e. guitars), Les decided he could do more on HIS 6-string than an army of budding Van Halens and created the quirkiest and coolest release since Primus. 2006's best song about the Space Race.

6. {Explain} - Sarah Blasko
Sarah Blasko threatened to make a classic on her debut, and delivered with this moody piece of operatic drama-ballad, despite the appalingly pretentious parentheses. Clarinets and oboes must be the most under-utilised instruments in the world.

5. Mojo - Peeping Tom
The most subversive pop single since Gorillaz' Clint Eastwood took everyone by surprise in 2002. With Mike Patton's crazy beat-boxing and the smoothest jazz/pop style around, it's probably the most under-rated song of the year.

4. Black Swan - Thom Yorke
Singers need to learn to swear as well as Thom Yorke does. When he says 'this is fucked up/fucked up/this is your blind spot/it should be obvious/but its not' you know he damn well means it. Like the best Radiohead songs of recent years, Black Swan finds the elusive balance between electronic experimentalism and old school rhythms and melodies. Terrific, heartfelt and morbidly depressing. Just how we take him.

3. Dirtywhirl - TV on the Radio
No song title has ever captured to perfectly both the sound and the 'feel' of a song as this one. Swirling guitars, a thumping, tribal rhythm and a vocal melody that you can't help shouting along with ('Commander!/Controller!/I found you!'), TV on the Radio are the shit.

2. One Crowded Hour - Augie March
It's not experimental. It doesn't break taboos, push envelopes or blaze trails. It's just a song. But for a band to take what has been done a million times before and do it this well is deserving of high praise. Glenn Richards' standard poetic, convoluted lyrics are driven along by pure beauty of sound before a climax that belongs in a porn film.

1. Sixteen Straws - The Drones
Reworking an old Australian convict shanty - 'Moreton Bay', a tale of hardship within the penal colonies - shouldn't be this good. Driven solely by a plucked acoustic and gentle harmonica, the tale of a prisoner and his Faustian pact with 15 other convicts belongs in the annals of Australian musical lore, as bloody as Nick Cave and as touching as, well, it shouldn't BE touching, but somehow it is. Not for a second over its nine-minute running time does it let your attention falter. Expect to find yourself short of breath.

Honourable Mentions
I feel Like Going Home - Yo La Tengo, Roscoe - Midlake, Chips Ahoy - The Hold Steady, Juicebox - The Strokes, Assassin - Muse, Go-Go-Gadget Gospel - Gnarls Barkly, 19 20 20 - The Grates, Not Yet - The Veils, On Your Living Room Floor - Ground Components, This Mess - Wolf & Cub

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, December 11, 2006


Well, as it's fast approaching the New Year, and by now, pretty much anything good that should come out already has, making space on the shelves for numerous pop starlets and fading rap-rockers to release best-ofs that successfully compile the cream of careers that span 2 (maybe 3) records. As a result, I feel confident enough to release my top ten records for 2006, figuring that anything that comes out now that might make the list, I probably won't have time to listen to.

So, straight into it:

10. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Pure soulful, intelligent, verbose and genuinely touching ROCK. The Hold Steady confirm their reputation of being the hardest drinking, hardest rocking rhodes scholars on the rock scene today. Have I said Rock enough? This record is rock as rock should be. Rock.

9. Yo La Tengo - I am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Would have made this list on the strength of the title alone, thankfully Yo La Tengo have backed up such wonderful inventiveness on the cover with THE record for musical eclectics everywhere. Equal parts bouncing pop ('Beanbag Chair', 'Mr Tough', 'The Weakest Part') psychadelia ('Pass the hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind', 'The Race is On Again', 'Daphnia') and swirling beauty ('I Feel Like Going Home'), IANAOYAIWBYA has something for everyone. And it's all great.

8. Peeping Tom - Peeping Tom
God Bless Mike Patton. The man who can keep pop music fun, interesting and still very, very good! While few songs this year have come out that are better than lead single 'Mojo', Peeping Tom truly comes into its own when Patton's now famous collaborations kick in. Be it Dan the Automator, Danger Mouse, or a kick-arse Norah Jones, there is always a surprise around the corner.

7. Ground Components - An Eye for a Brow, a Tooth for a Pick
Fun, individual and with two of the year's best covers, along with the years best hip-hop/rock crossover, Melbourne's Ground Components have rewarded the patience shown by local fans in taking several years to launch a debut by putting out such a wonderfully inventive and totally cool record. We will see more of them.

6. Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Let's face it. We were all terrified that, left to his own devices and without the O'Briens and Selways of the world to say 'No Thom, that just sounds weird', Yorke would make music that sounded, well, weird. How wonderful it was to be surprised with a record that, while including the now-trademark skitters, glitches and scratches, also had some of the most glorious melodies, soaring harmonies, and one of the world's sweetest voicest at the peak of its powers. We can only hope next year's return to Radiohead will be as rewarding.

5. Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
Wow. The bigger, louder and more apocalyptic Muse get, the better they seem to be. While perhaps not topping the insane magnificence of 2000s Origin of Symmetry, BH&R displayed Messrs Bellamy, Wolstenholme and Howard showing almost every other band in the world that whatever they did, Muse probably did it better. From the ultra-sexified 'Supermassive Black Hole' to the thrash-metal-with-melody 'Assassin', the flamenco styled 'City of Delusion' and everything in between, Muse continue to conquer the world, one cataclysm at a time.

4. Augie March - Moo, You Bloody Choir.
Bugger me, it's been a great year for album titles, hasn't it. While The Augs have begun to flirt with commercial success to match the almost orgasmic rapture of the critical set, this hasn't resulted in any dilution in quality. While not as wilfully absurd and brilliant as 2002s Strange Bird, Moo, led by (one of the songs of the year) 'One Crowded Hour' continued to pave the way for Aussie bands to make smart, adult music that has no shame wearing its intellectual heredity on its sleeve.

3. The Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
While it would be so easy to take the uber-cool, NME option and turn on these lads from Sheffield, the beneficiaries of a hype-machine never before witnessed - anywhere - (and hopefully nowhere else ever again), another listen to their debut record confirms that it is, in fact, a dead set corker. Witty, punchy and with great melody and attitude, The Arctic Monkeys have, irrespective of the hype and the inevitable backlash, made one of the best albums of 2006.

2. The Drones - Gala Mill
You either love or hate Melbourne's The Drones. (Speaking of which, 3 Melbourne bands in the top ten! I'm not particularly parochial...actually yes I am, this is AWESOME!) And I love them. Steeped in Australiana, soaked in booze and misery, and buried under a pile of bush poetry and murder ballads, Gala Mill is utterly unfashionable and amazingly potent. 'Sixteen Straws', the tale of murder and survival in Australian convict settlements, is one of the most bloody, savage and heart-rending portraits of Australian history ever recorded. Imaginative, alive, dramatic and powerful, Gala Mill is one of the best Australian records in years.

1. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain.
I still don't know what the title means, but who cares. Return to Cookie Mountain is so full of amazing, mid-blowingly good music that it hardly matters, and there's no point trying to list highlights. Ditching the drum machines, picking up a rhythm section and bucketloads of pathos, emotion and groove, TVOTR have made a record for the ages. Art Rock as it should be. Brilliant.

Honourable Mentions:
Sarah Blasko - What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have, The Presets - Beams, Joanna Newsom - Ys, The Grates - Gravity Won't Get You High, Bob Dylan - Modern Times, Camille - Le Fil, Beck - The Information, Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

All Time Top Ten - #5 - Abbey Road

It's the perennial question. Which Beatles record? Which of course raises innumerable other questions. Are they really the greatest band of all time, the modern day Mozarts? If you struggle to choose between, Abbey Road, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Peppers and A Hard Day's Night, and you put Abbey Road at #5, should 6-9 be taken up by the others? John or Paul?
So first of all, yes, they're truly great. Mozarts? Maybe, only time will tell. the best ever? No. No-one ever will be. But they were great. And this (perhaps) is their greatest.
This was the record The Beatles truly recorded as a group of individuals. The final recording they made (Let it Be, while recorded earlier, was released in 1970 due to Phil Spector's production schedule), it was made at a point when the band were arely on speaking terms. As a result, it allowed the long-supressed talents of George Harrison to come screaming to the fore, with 'Something' and 'Here Comes the Sun' two of the most gorgeous arrangements the Beatles ever laid to vinyl.
Opening up the now utterly iconic cover, laden with 'Paul is really dead' clues, as many others were before it, side one doesn't reveal anything that significantly sets it apart from previous releases. There's the beautiful ballads, such as the aforementioned Harrison numbers, the children's song 'Octopus's Garden', the 7 minute long wig-out 'I Want You (She's so Heavy) and the slightly forward looking weird funk of 'Come Together'. Quality was never an issue, and it wasn't until side 2, when the 16 minute suite, made up of unfinished bits and pieces, blows all they had done before out of the water. Be it the startling 'Mean Mr Mustard', the melodic, floating 'Sun King', the achingly beautiful 'Golden Slumbers' or the hidden Beatles' classic, 'She Came in Through the Bathroom Window', and closing with 'Her Majesty', arguably music's first ever secret track, this was The Beatles: fractured, broken, dysfuntional, and yet still triumphant, powerful and magical.
A band as wonderful as The Beatles deserved a sensational swansong. It's hard to imagine a more glorious one than this.

Labels: ,