26.12.10

bananas


1 Drake - Over 2 Wavves - King of the Beach 3 Kanye West - Runaway (SNL performance) 4 Die Antwoord - Zef Side (YouTube version) 5 Die! Die! Die! - We Built Our Own Oppressors 6 Willow - Whip My Hair 7 Parades - Loserspeak in New Tongue 8 Otouto - W.Hillier 9 Duck Sauce - Barbara Streisand (video version) 10 Warpaint - Undertow 11 David Guetta - Memories (ft Kid Cudi) 12 Cyst Impaled - Spectral Bus 13 Crystal Castles - Empathy 14 kyu - Sunny in Splodges 15 Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

23.12.10

twenty ten ten

Things are often said better by others, so in the spirit of Yeezy's infinite guest spots and as a half-assed concession to Nick Sylvester's particularly convincing call to left things unsaid on the Internet, I've pulled a quote from others more eloquent alongside my own thoughts on each of my top albums for 2010.

10 Warpaint, The Fool
If music were vapor, Warpaint's would be a smooth, tasteless black and grey haze, clouding your latenight thoughts and sending you into a sublime stupor. This album is just the perfect concoction of mood and style, constantly aloof, perfectly crafted, sexily austere. Album highlight 'Undertow''s masterstroke is a lifted line from Cobain, "what's a matter, you hurt yourself" - though it has no debt to anyone, be it Nirvana, Interpol, Joy Division, or any others you might care to name. They simply they slide off - "open your eyes and see there's no one else".
And so yes, it is cosmopolitan stuff, its sexiness an entirely stately thing that is built into the very DNA of the music. If it is sexy, it does not give a fuck, in other words. -- Clayton Purdom

9 Drake, Thank Me Later
On first blush I wasn't very taken with Drake's melodrama, but after overhearing 'Best I Ever Had' again recently I decided to make a return, stumbling on the perfect time and place for Drake in the process: at night, through laptop speakers. Because even though Kanye has been called the pinnacle of emo-rap or pain-pop, next to Drake, West seems like a stony ascetic. Drake's whole MO on his 2009 So Far Gone mixtape was these ambient-laced beats over digi-croons about how hard his not-gansta-but-still-rich-rapper life is. The lyrical sentiment hasn't changed much - he's just added to it with musings on how he might be thanked and remembered - but musically, his debut is much tighter, less of a drift - switching from meandering chills to properly sequenced, well constructed pop in the disguise of hip-hop. And to the extent he maintains the same woe-is-me drama and synthesises it with just really great hooks and lines, Thank Me Later deserves a thank you right now.
@tabloidsores: Drake's a synthesis of early 00s emo-rap, the lessons of Kanye's 808s and Heartbreak and post-weezy mixtape hype

8 Owen Pallett, Heartland
Just like Kanye West and Drake, Owen Pallett is obsessed with thematising the act of creation itself. But whereas for Kanye this means an aesthetics of ego and for Drake a lyrical preoccupation with his own uncertainty over 'making it', for Pallett it's a far more academic affair - a bristling, lavishly adorned concept album about the fiction overcoming its creator. Or, as Pallett explaions it, "a narrative [of] one-sided dialogues with Lewis, a young, ultra-violent farmer, speaking to his creator". It's already getting crazy I know, but consider this: on the first album Pallett slaps his own name on (dropping the Final Fantasy moniker at the threat of libel, or ridicule, or both), he kills himself. Well Lewis kills him, in 'Tryst with Mephistopheles', driving an "iron spike into Owen's eyes". Triumphant, he sings:
I draw a bruise on your brawny shoulder,
Scratch my fingers over your tattoos
The author has been removed
Pallett takes Roland Barthes a tad too literally here, but the irony is that he is the one doing all the killing, Lewis belongs entirely to Owen. And in the end the former cannot help but re-erect the latter, not at least given how much 'Owen Pallett' there is all over this album - brimming with his best arrangements and some of his most playful and clever moments yet. Yet that's also why this album is so great, because it works as a piece of music as much as it does as a concept. A rare union, and a joy to listen to.
If this all sounds too much like homework, it's worth re-reemphasizing that, whatever his protests against casual poignancy, Pallett has crafted an absorbing gem of a record, one that delivers substantial emotional payloads by means of incredibly intricate pop music. Rather than striking a blow against emotionally captivating music in favor of the album of ideas, Pallett makes a compelling case that the two need not be antagonists -- Matthew Cole

7 Joanna Newsom, Have One On Me
Joanna Newsom has gone from eeking out sly but poignant little solos (The Milk-Eyed Mender), to constructing flourishing, expansive longform pieces (Ys) to something that's is kind of like a combination of the two of them - Have One On Me is like an intricate set of little rococco monuments all pieced together into something much bigger, and longer, but happy too - like a casual sprawl. There's a sense that Newsom is taking her time here, and she's asking us to do the same - by all means I'll oblige if it means that at almost every corner I get to be struck and taken along by some beautiful little gem of a moment. Everything on here just sings, a celebration of confession.
Have One One Me, in all its unprecedented Tolkienian sprawl, may be a two-hour love letter to the guy who wrote fucking “Dick in a Box.” Someone more ambitious than I will have to take on the [massive] task of analyzing that one -- David Greenwald

6 Die Antwoord, $O$
Many people I think would be too embarrassed put this album anywhere near their top ten for the year, what with it's ridiculously dodgey sexual politics, KLF / The Manual style genesis, and, let's face it, abundance of dud tracks - most of which were thankfully exorcised from the American release, replaced by the quite good 'In Your Face' and fucking rad 'Evil Boy'. But $O$ deserves it's place here for two reasons. The first one is pretty simple, a lot of these songs are just fucking great - sick beats and hooks, Ninja's crazy flow, how great Yo-Landi Fi$$er sounds swearing in Afrikaans. The other is just how hilarious and inspiring the whole cook-up itself is, the detail with which they went about concocting a backstory and aesthetic, not to mention the fucking commitment - Watkin Tudor Jones has literally embodied his Ninja persona, marking his body with prison tatts to complete the street look. Then there was their intensely savvy use of the internet, willingly turning themselves into a meme for everyone outside South Africa. But after the curiosity wore out, there remained some highly original and catchy music. It won't last, it's not meant to, but it was fun riding the Zef zeitgeist all the same in 2010.
Ek wonder hoeveel mense besef hoe ongelooflik goed hierdie musiek vervaardig is -- Johan Swarts

5 Die! Die! Die!, Form
How is it that these three Dunedin ratbags, who tour relentlessly across Oceania, America and Europe, live barely above the dole-line when back home in their NZ hometown, and do themselves regular tineal damage at said shows (one memorable gig vocalist Andrew Wilson sung half his set head shoved in the floor-tom), manage to continually produce such brilliant albums? 2007's Promises, Promises focused their abrasive, kinetic punk ethos with an emphasis on songwriting and emotion. Form continues this combination but adds to it a new layer, heavily indebted to shoe gaze, a swirling, stormy, mood, an almost reflective patina. And it all comes to fruition on single 'We Built Our Own Oppressors', which feels like the culmination of everything Die! Die! Die! have been working towards. I listened to that track on constant repeat when it first came out, a month or two before the album, arm-hairs bristling everytime. I feared I'd drained that song's energy in those heady first days, but when Form arrived and it rolled around again I discovered that this band's well cannot run dry. There is too much life in it, sweaty, torn-up, im/mature, but it's all there, fuel for an eternal fire.
Form contains a sound most unlike many other bands on the planet. Their hyperactive rhythms inspire vivid imagery of movement, of change, of progress -- Andrew McMillen

4 Parades, Foreign Tapes
This is like a dream. Where did it come from? Aching, clamouring, soaring, and above all wildly ambitious, Sydney's Parades dropped easily the most surprising and arguably the strongest debut of 2010. Like a kaleidoscope projected widescreen in a darkened theatre, this album is unambiguously joyous and beautiful, but glitters with an enigmatic magic all of it's own. Foreign Tapes is destined to take its place among the greats of Australian underground pop.
Foreign Tapes is like a carnival, a fairground in lights. It’s one of those records where magic and mirage can come true like in the Flaming Lips and the music of Iceland: colours slip and fade and explode neon again, little soft bombs of sound gently burst. Great possibilities exist, a real sense of wonder runs through it. But great drama also waits -- Chris Johnston

3 Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles was great, but Crystal Castles is another thing altogether! Subsuming their glitch-tics into something much more ambitious, this album is fucking transcendent. It's cloudbursts, stars glittering, beautiful. That's right, a pretty Crystal Castles album. Of course Alice Glass is still screaming away in there, there's chop cuts, but harshness here always gives way to bliss. Gauze isn't just for covering up cuts.
beauty and clarity -- Ian Cohen

2 Sleigh Bells, Treats
I am 100% behind this album. You don't have to work hard to get it, in fact it's genius lies exactly in how simple, even dumb, it's idea and execution is. Literally: mix peaking hip-hop beats, ridiculously large guitars and some babe singing like a bratty yet motivational teenager to her fellow teenagers (and let's face it, we're all teenagers when we're listening to Sleigh Bells). The result: Treats - really yummy treats! Lot's of treats! It's easy, it's big, it's fun, it's also entirely unique and unrepeatable.
There’s a moment [on] “A/B Machines” when a condensed, almost inhuman scream bursts through a half-second gap between guitar breakdowns. It’s a small gesture, one that seems pretty insignificant on a cursory listen, but for me this says it all: here the band has taken an intrinsically repellent sound, something universally associated with violence and pain and just general badness, and have made it enormously satisfying. And not satisfying in the sense that a lot of traditional noise music can be, nor obliquely satisfying like confrontational Dadaism. This isn’t “challenging but ultimately rewarding” ... Sleigh Bells render noise legitimately delightful. This stuff is genuinely, earnestly satisfying, in the same way all great pop music is: these songs, simply and purely, sound fucking great -- Calum Marsh

1 Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
For a long time, Kanye West redefined hip-hop, with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he transcends hip-hop. Not only that, he makes hip-hop transcend itself -and he does so by vacuuming everything around him, musical, political and emotional, into the centripetal force of his producer's maw. This album is unequalled in its omnivorous voraciousness, but just as much in the singularity and consistency of its aesthetic. Equally paradoxically, Kanye West is ravenous, he is all over this album, and yet at times what's most striking is that at times it's as if he's barely even there. This is the master project of the producer, the conductor, who speaks through other people's voices, verses, samples, in order to construct their art (and in the case of West, also an edifice to themselves). When he returns to his own voice, it's so often found wanting in its unadorned state, so that it's pushed through vocoders, distortion effects and so on, the recorded voice pushed beyond the limits of the 'natural' so that he might do justice to the excess that defines emotion. And yet he relents even here, knowing just one man cannot do this job (and West is exceedingly honest about his talents, his talentlessness is what fuels his talents - he recently told MTV "I do have a goal in this lifetime to be the greatest artist of all time, [but] that's very difficult being that I can't dance or sing"). So he relents, turning back to Justin Vernon to milk the sweetest, most hair-raising moment of the album for the opening of the astounding closing track. Kanye making the white-boy Auto-Tune of 'The Woods' even more impassioned. Speaking through others voices so that we all might hear what's vital. Can we get much higher?
Kanye West loves music. Only someone who loves music with every fiber of their being could put every fiber of every music they’ve ever loved into the music they make and have it make such ineffable sense. These six-minute bangers are haikus. Kanye West loved music better than any other artist this year and I loved his music better, too -- Chet Betz



25.11.10

lost in the world

At 23, I'm discovering what it means to be a fan. Sure, I've enjoyed various different things intensely before, but I've never had that singlemindedness that attends the fan's relationship to his object of obsession. That object, of course, being none other than the work and persona of Kanye West. I've been doing all those things a fan does with his favourite texts - endless repetition ('Kanye megamix' playlist is on constant rotation), contextual research ("what the hell is 'Chi-town'?"), continual discussion with fellow converts (happily, my housemate - with whom I watch the 'Runaway' video every couple of days with), etc.

And of course this has gotten out of control in the past week or so with the release of Yeezy's masterwork - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It's getting perfect scores in reviews all over the place, and I'm not sure I'd go that far, but at the least it's the most ambitious, voracious, egotistic, political and emotional thing he has done yet - and all that is saying something. I've been devouring these reviews, desperately longing to add my own voice to the tidal wave of acclaim and discussion, but up until now I simply haven't been able to muster the courage or even barest ability.

At first I thought this was because the album was so colossal, so definitive and defining of such big things - art, pop, celebrity, hip-hop, relationships, distortion - that I just wasn't up to the task. Where would one begin? How could I possibly even hope to do justice to this beast? To match up to even it's weaker moments (which it has, of course, but that's one of the things that makes Kanye so great - his brilliance and his inexactitude are mutually defining)?

(I could say many things for sure, most of them disconnected tidbits - about how the production on the album shows evidence that he just couldn't help himself, his maximalist tendencies swallowing up every possible voice and sample he could find, adding more and more even after the completely acceptable cuts of the tracks we heard on the Runaway video (the 'so high' of Dark Fantasy case in point, shoved in between another vocal itself). About it's intense black consciousness, evident at every turn, moreso than ever before in West's rapping - as a unifying thread through the album, right up to the Gil Scott Heron sample that closes it off, 'Who Will Survive in America?' About it's incessant thematising of failure, musically and lyrically - how he feeds off the fuck ups in his own story to fabricate an epic tragedy, how he pushes his voice through filters and modulators til it's past the brink of legibility, as a statement of emotion, how everything breaks down but then just builds itself up even higher on the rubble. These are all interesting points, but they are not well-made, and they have been made better by others.)

But then I realised why I couldn't talk, also why I will try again but probably fail - because that's what being a fan is. Being a fan deadens your critical faculties when it comes to the object of your fandom. 'But doesn't fandom make you want to understand more the thing?', you might argue - and of course it does, but what I've found is that this desire for understanding is matched at every point by being overwhelmed by the thing itself. Fuck it, by the music - by these songs, whose titles I just want to start typing out as if they possessed some kind of incantatory force, as if you would just feel the same way that I feel when I hear this shit. But they don't, you won't (you might?), and what one can't speak about, one must pass over in silence - and it's a kind of relief, a bliss. I've submitted myself to this album, and I'd be damned if I would even try to put into words just how this music makes me feel.

18.11.10

japan four

Ghoul - '3Mark'

This is ridiculously good. Finally this group look like living up to their name; there's a muscle and colour depth to this track that their previous recorded forays - skittish if enticing one, two minute synth scribbles and vocal snatches - lacked. One might level a 'dubstep 101' at '3Mark', but I'd argue it's offering dubstep a place to go beyond its own border, a post-dubstep if you're okay with wanky prefixes. Sure, there's the obligatory glitchy basebeat and chipmunk vocal mirror, but there's also a palpable cleanliness and determination that a lot of dubstep lacks. It's as a poppy a dubstep track that you'll ever hear in this regard, yet one that maintains the enticing schematic quality of Ghoul that always gives the song room to breathe and burrow.

There's also a sense of the arbitrary or serendipitious about it - a nonsensical title, like it was randomly culled from the lettering on the bottom of some consumer electronics item or the strings of a webpage script - a vocal hook, that never quite provides the crucial second half of its own dictum. 'Choose life, / over...', 'over...', 'over...' - the fact that Ghoul never answer their own question is an indication of the group's philosophy, their sense of experience as stochastic, of music's ability to do justice to that which cannot be worked out.

16.11.10

whoa


Finally!,… a ‘kids’ mixtape that doesn’t feature MGMT’s ‘Kids’!!!

11.10.10

a minor place

Ah, moments, those little moments in music - they are the quintessence of the art, when things come together in perfect unity, expressing an emotion, an idea, a force, in the space of seconds. Often the entry of a song into the realm of the amazing hinges on such a moment, or moments, which form a fulcrum in the flow of sound and lyric that blasts open the meaning of the composition to shine forth in glorious harmony. Sometimes, though, they are disharmonious, antagonistic - they reveal the previous lines of the song to be a kind of ruse, a ploy, a trick, and split it at the seams to bare its true meaning.

Spencer Krug, of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, has always been a man of moments; I'm sure you can name your own artists or songs whose moments just slay you. But I come to this post today thinking of a different musician and a single moment: one Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Will Oldham, and that crucial turn in his masterful 'Hard Life', the closing track of Master and Everyone.

For the first few minutes, the song ambles along, a fairly pretty, subdued country pastiche, as Oldham and his vocal partner Marty Slayton meander through platitudes such as "And it's a hard life, for a man with no wife / Babe, it's a hard life, God makes you live" in that typically country way, where the emotion behind the lyric is one step removed from the voice itself, which remains composed. This continues, the sparse acoustic - the album itself is marked by a palpable spareness - gently strumming along.

And then it happens, around 1.59 - there is little forewarning, the bars immediately preceding have followed the established structure. But there it is, the slightest of chord changes, and the most poignant of shifts in the voice of Oldham himself, as his voice, always slightly rough, takes on an unmistakeable tenderness and sense of longing, the ends of words stretching out, as he sings:

But I ain't breathing, let me breathe
Let me go, let me leave
I don't know, but I might lose
I might bum, might blow a fuse

And then on the next verse, an electric guitar - both warm and cold in its tone (think of the same sound Oldham and Matt Sweeney achieve on Superwolf) - accompanies the acoustic, as Oldham becomes more insistent and yet somehow sadder, "So let me go, lay it down / On my own, let me drown", his voice taking on a an almost canine longing. And in a few dozen seconds, Oldham has somehow turned the mood of the universe around, and this is all the more amazing for the subtlety with which he does so. There is no hystronics or abrupt gear shifts here, just a slight tilt of the scales, a shift in the breeze, that brings with it an ocean of meaning.

1.10.10

feel right


19.9.10

from little things...

counter-anthems

Anwyn Crawford has written a piece for The Age about alternative national anthems, and her mention of the continued misinterpretation of Cold Chisel's 'Khe San' got me thinking about what you might call counter-anthems. There are quite a few instances of this in Australian pop history that I absolutely relish; songs that speak of national injustice and the dark side of the Australian condition, but that like 'Khe San' end up being received in a state of hallucination as to their actual content. I'm thinking especially of Powderfinger's 'Like A Dog', an otherwise forgettable track thick with cliches - generic 90s crunchy guitar riff, intercom vox on the bridge - that nevertheless throws some brutally pointed lines at Howard's racist treatment of Aborigines; and Presets 'My People', that confuses dance floors and detention centres, globetrotting romances with heartbreaking political exile. It's the sight of a crowded room of inebriated revellers shouting along to this last track, in particular, that always throws me.

It's not surprising either that these sorts of songs tend to be high-spirited, chorus-driven rock and dance tracks, it's as if the force of the music itself overtakes the possibility of reflection on their lyrical musings. This itself probably makes their political impact all the more powerful, in a sense, or at least more attractive from where I'm standing. Rather than the (generally) earnest, sickly prosetylising of the traditional protest song, these songs mask their true intentions behind an insistently catchy chorus or overwhelming beat; politics by stealth, massaging the subconscious perhaps, if not it in the blissfully unaware audience then hopefully at least in that undefinable thing known as the national psyche...

23.7.10

dream factory

Saw Inception last night, quite simply a brilliant, epic movie. I can't remember the last time I watched a film that captured the experience of the 'cinematic' (as opposed to the merely visual) so well, in all the aesthetic dimensions this entails. The soundtrack, with it's ominous, brass-heavy score that impresses its weight on you. The performances, in which the actors didn't really have to do much considering the scenery and narrative basically overwhelmed whatever performance they gave, but they were nevertheless lean and accomplished (plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt's star turn from teen dork (10 Things I Hate About You) to ultra-slick sidekick is inspired, perfectly cast). The plot, which is schematically complex but not so much that you're ever lost - it's spatio-temporal structure replicates the diegesis itself so at all times you know what 'level' you are on, even if Nolan can't help himself and occassionally push this question (most brilliantly, frustratingly in the final scene).

Indeed, space and time are probably the two main preoccupations of the film as a whole, thematically and stylistically. The film flips and flops between conceiving of the subconscious as a mindscape or as a series of memories and events, and beyond that as a horizontal expanse or a vertical one. Regardless, within the experience of the film itself what is most fascinating is that the audience awareness of time alternatively telescopes and dilates in the exact same way that the characters explain dreamtime - five minutes of sleep feels like an hour in a dream, and if an agent pushes into a dream within a dream time exponentially increases, and so on. This effectively replicates the effect of cinematic time and space - many have realised that sitting in a darkened theatre, immobile, with giant sound and light filling our perceptual field is quite similar in many ways to a dream state, and in the two and half hours of Inception we effectively undergo many more hours and days of experience - through the usual editing but also through the more complex editing of different temporalities in the film - the plot of most of which takes place in the few seconds it takes for a van to fall off a bridge - a slo-mo shot that Nolan periodically returns to with great relish.

In many ways, one might conceive of Inception as an allegory of the process of filmmaking itself, about which I might have more to say later, but for now, why not read a highly technical and enlightening interview with Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister on the making of the film:

http://www.theasc.com/ac_magazine/July2010/Inception/page1.php

17.6.10

heads will roll

26.5.10

but then i find, just the right thing

Music always meets us at a certain time in our lives, and sometimes it's the perfect time. There was a time when I needed Children of the Wave's Carapace, when I needed Wilderness, and lately Noah Symons' Great Earthquake has just found me and lifted me right where I needed to be. It's not like I'm some narcissist when it comes to everything I listen to (though I wonder who isn't to some degree), but that certain kinds of chance encounters between one's mood and the music one finds to listen to at a particular time are often the times when I get most out of my relationship to it.

Great Earthquake's Drawings is an album of a similarly nocturnal, restrained and mainly 'instrumental' mood to the music I mentioned above, and it's resonated perfectly with my current feelings of ambiguity, of quiet solitude and a small, almost comfortable melancholy - a word I've always associated with a kind of happy sadness, a sadness that is never quite grief, or a happiness tinged by the realisation of what it lacks. Drawings is the perfect music for my current time of coming and going, of beginnings and endings, and it helps me feel my way - not think - through the things I'm currently going through. It illuminates - that is, throws a light on - my situation, my feelings, and for that I'm eternally grateful. In its cyclical drum patterns I find a kind of resigned drive, in its piano accordion that very bittersweetness that so grips me, in its plaintive guitar a plaintive state. It's that kind of later, quieter post-rock that isn't quite post-rock that I've always been drawn to, felt emotionally nourished by - a post-rock with far more heart and sense of wonderment than the serpentine and po-faced technicality the genre often descended into. Recalling expatriates Because of Ghosts in its evocation of the very slim distinctions between hope and sadness, a song like opener ‘Clap Clap’ has that very Australian sense of tone that always rests in melancholy. It's where I rest my head tonight.

19.4.10

donkey peacock goose

At first it was very difficult as we really didn’t know anything about opera. We’d never been to one. I didn’t even know what the word libretto meant. But after some studying, and just getting used to opera’s essence of pretentious and dramatic gestures, I found that there is a lot to learn and play with. In fact, our ignorance gave us a positive respectless approach to making opera. It took me about a year to become emotionally moved by an opera singer and now I really do. I really like the basic theatrical values of opera and the easy way it brings forward a narrative. We’ve approached this before in The Knife but never in such a clear way -- Olof Dreijer.

For the most part, The Knife's Tommorow, In a Year opera is an admirable failure. One cycle, however, stands out most clearly as a brilliant achievement, a synthesis of all that makes The Knife and opera and experimentalism worthwhile - 'Colouring of Pigeons' (available to stream here). This 11-minute epic recombines operatic voice, Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer's unmistakeable voices, alternatively gamelan-esque and martial percussion, and deeply moving cello and halldorophone into what is more or less a classical opera song refracted through the structures and dynamics of dark house. This is what makes the track so gripping - The Knife force all the melodramatic elements of an opera song through the prism of their equally melodramatic and atmospheric electronica. It's a perfect match, made all the more perfect by the formal experimentation and minimalist arrangements the track is formed in. Each genre illuminating one another in perfect symbiosis.

8.4.10

The artistic arc Joanna Newsom has displayed across her three albums is just beautiful, each work builds on and consolidates her aesthetic whilst introducing some amazing new element. I've heard lots of people arguing that Have One Me is a caricaturing and popularising of her style (i.e. she's sold out) but I actually think it's quite distinct. Anyway:

- The Milk-Eyed Mender's defining element was just that every song is timeless and amazing, and how it creates absolute beauty out of odd smallness. It's just this chick who sounds like nothing we've (but others probably have) heard, playing on a harp these beautiful songs.

- Ys was brilliant for the decision to do an album of extended songs, that spun out into cohesive, holistic musical and literary tapestries - just try not to get lost in Emily.

- The best thing about Have One On Me is that it's really composed of a series of little and intensely exciting to listen to moments - the songs are good, sure, but they are good because they are peppered with these bristling moments - that line, that vocal change, that progression, etc. Take 'Have On One Me', whilst it's of similar length to the songs on Ys, it's really quite different, it's just like a little treasure chest of moments: .50 as the harp starts to wind up; 1.10 'in the night, in the niiight'; 1.26 as harp resolves itself; 1.38 as the 'chorus' (?) comes in!; etc. etc.

There's very little else I wanted to say, just to get this down here. Joanna Newsom: amazing.

19.3.10

kill yr. idols

I have a personal bias against rock, classic rock, that is borne of the Boomer generation, and the continued reverence of it by my generation. It is regressive to constantly re-hash and pay tribute to our parent's (and grandparent's) tastes. The cult of Springsteen is the prime example here. Rock ideology is one of success and fame, white male charisma, counterculture as money spinner, etc. etc. But mostly, it's just sad because it means we basically confirm that old "back in my day" bullshit ourselves, by being like, "yeah - the past is where it was at musically, let's just play blank homage to it".

As such, my bias is not just a typical 'indie kid' stance, and this article by Zach Baron at Slate drives that home - in many ways, the indie and rock ideals have crossed - a certain version of indie is now the cultural mainstream, and it's bands and style are taking on the same bullshit myths and cultural centrality as the Stones, Beatles, etc. Reading this article kind of depressed me then - should I be holding up indie as the alternative when now it clearly isn't?

Nevertheless, two issues present itself here.

First, is Baron's claim that
There are very few successful young bands today that don't play some variant or descendent of indie rock. And the alternative musical culture that spent most of the '80s and '90s as the exclusive property of college students, critics, and independent labels is now a fairly uncontroversial, major component of pop music in general.
really that accurate? Is pop not still defined by, on the one hand, (electro) pop in the vein of Britney, Kesha, Gaga, etc. and hip hop and R&B on the other hand? Indie might be encroaching, but I think it's a slight delusion to argue that very few bands are successful without an incorporation of indie rock. As such, even if indie is dead (as an ideal - definitly not as a commercial genre, in fact that stage of its life is moving into full swing), then I still hold out genuine hope for more general pop as a potential site of generational difference and definition.

Second point, and further to the first, is that the success of indie is, as I said, a certain version of indie - namely 90's indie-rock. That's why Baron focuses on the Pavement reunion, and not say the success of Animal Collective (which is an entirely different story). And really, what we're seeing then is just the latest in the canonisation of a generation's music - no longer Boomer rock but now Xer indie. The trouble is for Gen Y basically to reject both.

16.3.10

talk like that

Intelligent music critic Nitsuh Abebe has a new column on Pitchfork, 'Why We Fight', that looks at discourses and conversations we have around pop. His first post begins to dive into the very thorny question of where the music ends and the discussion begins, and how the latter increasingly impacts the former with everything online:
Because on the web, there's no such thing as silent dismissal, the invisible shrug of this-is-not-for-me: everything's verbalized. Casual dismissal-- "this bugs me," "I can't stand that voice"-- starts to look more like active criticism. People snipe or worry about whatever seems to be at issue, even if what's at issue has more to do with our arguments than what's happening in the music.

Beyond that, it seems to me that Abebe is grappling with the very thorny issue of how exactly to
write about music. Clearly his notion of criticism transcends mere evaluation (criticism as consumer guide), but as soon as issues of representation are brought in, then with it comes the question of whether pop (I'll leave out indie for now) should even be amenable to intellectual discussion. Or, to put it more simply, isn't it just about the music maaaan? Of course not, but whether picking the eyes out of popular texts either by constant bitching - "simply locating what's different or notable about a given act and then chipping away at it, finding the most efficient way of mocking it, ferreting out the exact interpretation of what's happening that best allows us to critique it" - or by treating it as a given semiotic system just waiting to be unpacked, as academics do, really amount to anything different is another question. I cannot say in any way, shape or form that I'm not guilty of this exact thing, but I think criticism (mine included), needs to find a way to incorporate intellectualised discussion with appreciation for - and moreover, articulation of - the pure affective force of pop, and music more generally.

I was thinking about this when reading Robin Jame's wonderful post on 'Single Ladies' and the way she couched the discussion:
BeyoncĂ© is an amazingly talented artist who plays around in very subtle and nuanced ways with “serious ideas” – all while singing some damn catchy hooks. It’s REALLY HARD to make delectable pop that also problematizes ideas in ways that are interesting to academics.

And I wondered to myself, 'is that what pop music
should do? Make itself "interesting" to academics? Isn't this kind of depressing?'

Anyhow, I'm not sure if this whole issue is just one that anybody thinking about pop music in a theoretical or philosophical way inevitably comes up against, but I'd very much appreciate anyone's own experiences and take on the whole thing, please, to help clarify my own.

I'll leave the final word to Philip Brophy:
Time has well passed for the need to analyse pop culture, as if it were a frustrating closed system of signs proliferated through each wave of subcultural commodification. Pop culture is too pervasive, rampant, eclectic and polyglottal to unravelled and remade into an academic macramé pot holder.

14.3.10

don't stop / can't stop

Have you ever had that experience where you're in a hyper-audiovisualised location, usually a city bar or garish chain store, and there is the latest robo-pop/doof playing over the speakers, filling every bit of space that hasn't yet been occupied by commodities, whilst numerous flat-screens in the same place play a video music channel with the sound turned down? It's a crazy, aberrant synaesthetic experience, listening to - as I found myself, a few days ago - say Ke$ha's 'TiK ToK', whilst watching the video clip for Ne-Yo's 'Closer', but one that strangely seems to make sense. Recreate the experience for yourself below, and see how it actually took me a good ten or twenty seconds to realise that I wasn't listening to the audio of the video but an entirely different song:

Listen to this...


... Whilst watching this:


There are strangely a number of quite logical audio-visual connections in this song, to the point where they seem kind of interchangeable on one level: shot cuts seem to roughly follow the beat, Kesha sings "don't stop" as Ne-Yo mouths "can't stop", handclaps sound out on 'TiK ToK' as they appear on the video... I'm not entirely sure what this might point to - the ultimate formal similarity (both musically and visually) of all pop? Or simply a forced intertextuality? Either way, weird coincidences.

24.2.10

talkin' bout my generation: SLAM Rally, Melbourne, 2010

I've been thinking a bit about the whole rally yesterday, and after posting my initial elatedness to Facebook my friend mentioned his cynicism about the whole endeavour. I pressed him on why exactly he was a bit jaded, and he duly listed the reasons, which I'd like to use as a bit of a launching pad for my own thoughts on the whole event. Please bare in mind that I'm not targeting any of this at anyone in particular, and I understand that my arguments brush over many of the subtleties of the whole schamozzle, but I felt like I had to at least air my reservations.

Here's my friend's list of gripes:
1... The people loudly retching and complaining during the short free-jazz piece that was performed, EVEN THOUGH several of the speeches had just taken great care to praise the diversity of Melbourne's music scene.

2... Every part of every speech where people were prodded to BOOOO. I mean Christ ~ we're adults, legitimately protesting; not 6-year-olds at a skeezy pantomime....

3... The Socialist Alternative douchebags trying to co-opt the rally, sullying the power of the number in attendance and diluting the unity of the message.

4... The backward-focus of most of the speechmakers. There were definitely some exceptions (Pikelet, Tim Rogers), but it seemed like most of the speakers were more focused on talking about some amazing gig they saw in 1976 than talking about Melbourne music's *future* -- which is what is at stake.

5... The inflated estimates of how many people were there. It was a big fucken turnout, but there is *no* *way* that there were 20,000 people there. (And they're the more conservative guesses ~~ Amanda Palmer claimed upwards of 70,000.)

6... The low-sitting shame and disappointment that comes with knowing that this rally will almost certainly succeed ... (I'll be astonished if we don't see a direct effect of this in liquor license policy in the next 6 months) ... while the just-as-big rallies for climate justice have led to absolutely nothing. Why can this succeed where the far-more-crucial one was doomed to fail?

...

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood. I did like the rally, by and large, and I thoroughly support its cause.

Stuff just annoyed me, that's all.

Some great points in there, and I have to say I more or less thoroughly agree with his ambivalence, and especially with points 1 and 4. My major issue was how there was this sustained undercurrent about the 'authenticity' of live rock music as opposed to other forms of musical participation and creative expression in Mebourne. I find it kind of sad that it was the proponents of this bloated rock myth - the Boomers and the Xers collectively known as "Melbourne's rock royalty" (a phrase that couldn't be more apt) - that mostly held sway in the speeches, and who set the tone for the rally, as some kind of repairing of this great big rock establishment in Melbourne. If you don't believe me, look at the performers (the RockWiz orchestra of old dudes) and the speakers, all generally in the Xer or Boomer category (Rick Dempster, Paul Kelly, Irine Vela, Jon Von Goes, etc.), or better still the 'supporters' on the SLAM home page. And it's sad that most of the indie kids (i.e. young, Gen Yers) were mainly happy to go along with this narrative and fold their own cause into that of some nonexistent rock utopia that apparently existed in Melbourne in the 70s or some other ill-defined era. So whilst I agree with Crikey's Charles Richardson that the generation gap was overcome, his positive spin on the whole thing is as much depressing as it is a show of intergenerational solidarity:

"Yesterday's rally in Melbourne in defence of live music is as good an occasion as any to proclaim the death of the generation gap. The crowd ranged from teenagers through to the oldest of the boomers, now in their 60s; they may not listen to the same bands, but they share the same musical sensibility and a determination to defend it. Rock has won this battle."
Rock certainly has won this battle, and if it's not on the terrain of popular music that we can differentiate ourselves from our parents, then on what basis can we? The indistinction of our generation to that of our parents is fucking depressing sometimes.

That's why I think Evelyn Morris, AKA Pikelet, (though her speech was a little twee) had it most right out of them all - focusing on the current thriving music community that Melbourne is supporting right now. So I totally agree with my friend that the misty-eyed nostalgia that dominated most of the speeches was probably not the best place to air that kind of stuff. What is at stake is the future of Melbourne's music scene, right now, not whether a couple of old Boomers can play to their rich mates in Melbourne's inner suburbs each Thursday night.

Considering the first point regarding the show of unity, what annoyed me most about the whole rally probably, was the slamming of Melbourne's DJ and dance culture, especially from that guy that spent three or four minutes of his speech deriding the 'soulless' club scene and its 'faceless', drunken adherents. There is this really unhelpful binary being set up - and it's also potentially a class division, as Anwyn Crawford mentioned on Twitter - between pre-recorded music/dance/nightclubs/violence/drunkenness/problems and live music/rock/pubs/peace/community, which anyone from either side (if they are even willing to pick a side) will tell you just isn't true. All this talk about "notorious nightclub zones" and "the pilled-up douches at the King Street discos" is not only offensive to people that go to these places and actually enjoy themselves without glassing each on the street afterwards, but it also misrepresents the actual problem (not nightclubs but punitive liquor licensing laws).

There is both shittiness and awesomeness across all scenes in Melbourne's hugely diverse and quite massive music culture in general. That's why I think a show of solidarity could have been achieved much more fully if we embraced all forms of music making, listening and loving in this town instead of either: singling out nightclubs as 'beer barns' full of idiotic hoons, or jeering old Wilbur when he and his mates got up to rock some free-jazz. Because if there was anything that the speeches did at least drive home to me was that it isn't just the 'indie/rock' circle of venues and section of the music industry, but the 'contemporary music' industry in Melbourne as a whole that is at stake here. 'Contemporary' is the adoptive term I'm using, as I can't think of something better that doesn't necessarily discriminate against 'pre-recorded' music, which can still involve inherent performative elements by DJs, dancers and, of course, the fans and patrons dancing all night long.

Regarding my friend's points 2 (infantile crowd response), 3 (pseudo-Marxist wankers) and 5 (inflated estimates), though, I have to say these things probably just come with the territory, stuff like that is inevitable whenever you're assembling this many people for this kind of cause. The inflation of figures are because people want desperately to think that the march was the most earth-shattering, historical event ever to rock Melbourne's CBD, plus also because nobody really can accurately count exactly how many people rocked up. I bet every figure bandied about thus far emerged initially as a guesstimate by some journalist, organiser or random Facebook friend and then did its rounds, accruing ever more ludicrous numbers until we get to Amanda Palmer's ridiculous suggestion of 70,000 people.

As for the booing and jeering, well that's probably to be expected - mass crowds tend to act fairly stupidly, and the nature of that congregation means only very simple emotions of a limited range can be expressed en masse when prompted, really only either approval (claps, cheering) or dismissal (booing).

The Socialist Alternative rocking up is hilarious - not only are you always going to get those divisive, misguided people at anything like this, I find it quite amusing that - if they were there in support of the whole thing - they were basically rallying for the government (the state) to keep their hands the fuck out of business (or at least wind back their regulations) so a bunch of Melbourne pubs can continue (or attempt) to make shitloads of money from punters. Of course, that sort of thing is generally good for us - i.e. anyone who has a cultural or financial interest in the productivity of the scene and its places - but if you consider the fact that the rally was also yet another confirmation of the institutionalisation and mainstreaming of rock music then SA might be exploring more agitative and revolutionary pathways for social justice, or just staying the hell away.

And point 6, well I guess my only answer - though it's probably not enough - is that it's far easier to mobilise people for such a comparatively softer and less challenging cause (keeping pubs open) than something like global warming, which actually takes concerted, long-term, difficult effort on behalf of those who believe in it (not to say that this whole live music fight hasn't expended the energy of many tireless and brilliant individuals working in front and behind the scenes to push the cause).


So like my friend, I am left feeling majorly ambivalent about the whole SLAM Rally. Of course, I agree that Melbourne's music community should be provided with the conditions under which it can flourish, and I was bouyed by the turnout of quite a diverse group of people (in the crowd at least) that support this very same sentiment, but like my mate, I just don't know if the whole thing was framed and executed in exactly the right way.

I think, then, that the defining image of the day was probably the Coalition members, staffers and suits up above us all on the Parliament steps, because their placards ('Brumby's liqour fees killing live music'=positive response; 'Liberals love live music'=booing) and even their very appearance summed up the contradictions of the whole thing. The Libs were just doing what they do best - opportunistic vote-grabbing - or at least attempting that, until they were predictably lambasted by nearly everyone there. But in the end, it's probably the Liberals that come closest to what the organisers - and perhaps even the protestors - want. Following that, the sense of confusion about the whole thing is summed up by protestors slamming politicians just as the whole event is designed to get politicians onboard - institutionalisation in the false veil of counter-culture.

Part of me also wonders what Melbourne's music might be like under conditions more similar to that of Sydney or Perth - the amazing privilege and taken-for-grantedness of this privilege we have here all too often breeds complacement, uncreative bands and music, just as much as it of course has the potential to nurture super-creative ones. Nevertheless, might our art not flourish under more dire circumstances, or is there a way for oppositional, unique or even just interesting music to be made in such conditions of plentitude?

25.1.10

watching you run

you want a man full of love
more dangerous ways
you're guarding your ground, that i'm sure of
you're cutting your gold with grey
and you're showing your pinkest parts in my absence
and telling nine lies in the moonlight
and you're showing your pinkest parts in my absence

you slip on the yoke like it was a cute top
and drag a frozen lake full of fish and whatnot
across a living bed of flowers
and you leave it laying heavy on the bed of ours

do you see a cold floor in your future?
or do you sleep sounder when the sheets are sour?

you wanted a man, i showed up
and gave you a rib from my cage
that rib went bad, you let 'em all rot
replaced with tattooed snakes
may your bones turn to rope and go limp inside you
if you were burning me boy you'd get ice
may your bones turn to rope and go limp inside you

you slip on the yoke like it was a cute top
and drag a frozen lake full of fish and whatnot
across a living bed of flowers
and you leave it laying heavy on the bed of ours

i lit a match and watched it throw shadows
while you grew a hell on the top of our kingdoms

and you are
your father's daughter
and i am (i am)
no runner

study an affair and contemplate how a complicated train of events that ends in a final result of men's flesh becoming stairs

--Why? & Themselves, 'Canada'
(corrections welcomed)

are you swimming in her pools?

I once asked a musician friend why so many of his songs were full of references to the sea. “Because it’s big and you can put all your problems in it,” was his succinct and profound reply. If there was ever another artist to explore the vastness of the ocean (and thus of life), and the beautiful and terrible associations it calls up, it would be Spencer Krug. His work up until now is littered with references to the briny deep, but whereas for my friend, I suspect that the ocean is a cleansing, if sometimes dangerous, thing – something to wash away life’s troubles with that bracing feeling we all experience when we finally give in and put our head under the water even though its cold – for Krug the ocean is nothing short of polluting. Indeed, if we’re all throwing our problems in it, if it is the collective bathing pool of humanity from our dawn, then it’s a very dirty thing indeed:

I don’t really want to swim with you
I don’t really want to swim with you
I don’t want to swim swim swim
In the water you claim all has been through
Sunset Rubdown, ‘I’m Sorry I Sang on Your Hands That Have Been in the Grave’
(possibly apocryphal)

When you think about it, that last line is entirely true – I remember a great bit of trivia I once read somewhere that if you pour a cup of blue dye in the sea, then in a thousand years it would be spread throughout the entire ocean. Everything moves through this water, and whilst it gives life, for Krug that fact is a disgusting one. Effluent and bottled spring water are all the same thing in the end. There’s something possibly Freudian here, like this fluid were one, big mucousy discharge from a certain place, circulating the drier, safer parts of our world.

Nevertheless, Krug cannot help himself, and he goes back in for a dip, most recently and brilliantly on his solo effort, the stupendously titled Dreamland EP: marimba and shit-drums, under the Moonface moniker. For both musical and lyrical reasons this single-track, twenty-minute piece is perhaps the most gripping and interesting thing I’ll hear all year. Musically, it’s simply amazing how much pathos and excitement Krug can pull out of something that otherwise signifies Calypso beach party! – here the marimba becomes a fast-paced death knell, constantly rising only to be met with as much force by treated drums straight out of bad 80s synth-pop. If ever a piece of music reinterpreted the mood and aesthetics of an instrument – well, two instruments – this is it.

Lyrically, Dreamland is ostensibly a narration of Krug's dream journal – and it sure has that hazy, irreal atmosphere of dreaming – where we find Krug “hanging out in the tower / The tower overlooked the sea”, surveying his surreal and dark landscape of spiritualists, chameleons and glass guitars, looking for someone or something. No matter how reluctant he might be to go in there, he's only going to find it by searching the waters, so he prepares himself to dive:


(Dreamland EP cover)

At least he won’t swallow anything if he keeps that snorkel on, unless it flows over the top and down the tube like it sometimes does if you don’t push out whilst going down. He spots her!, after futilely looking where he probably knew she wouldn’t be found:

All through the sky, all over the ground, I was looking for you
You were dipping in the water like a beauty
Did you think about your man out in the whirlpool sea?

He’ll have to go after her, and there is little hesitancy to return to shore, as the marimbas quicken their pulse – if that was already possible, giving the absolutely lightening rhythmic rate they bang up:

Above the dirty harbour water
Half a mile from the shore
A cannon fell out of the sky
Now it sits upon the dirty ocean floor
Girls already in their swimsuits
They are sitting on the pier
I will swim to them like a fish
I have ridden on these waves
I will be there in no time
.
I have ridden on these waves
I have crashed into the shore
I have rolled along the dirty ocean floor

As the gated drums accentuate his journey back to land, we find that Krug has been through it all, he has felt, smelt and probably tasted the absolute despicable depths of humanity at the bottom of the sea, what he found there we do not really know. All we know is that the tide that brings us in will always take us back out. Whether we like it or not, we “are bound to the water / like creatures on a leash”.

spent that on a necklace

Kanye’s discography is defined by the Sandinista! (1980) principle, the almost universal understanding that there’s a truly great record in there somewhere but it’s up to the listener to slog through roughly 2/3 of poorly executed shit to compile his or her own personal masterpiece. --Lindsay Zoladz

12.1.10

(con)temporary

I just want to be positive for a minute and say: sub-genres are SO GREAT. They’re one of the best things about music. These little sceney bubbles of everyone batting round an idea, running with it, trying to cash in, trying to imitate, not caring about being original, not caring about being ridiculous, just this mad goldrush sprint to work through something - it’s brilliant. Especially as no matter how stupid things get the ideas never get used up: every sub-genre, even if it dies out after a couple of years and gets snarked on, is a packet of possibilities, a music DNA branch ready for someone to mess about with years and decades later. They all matter.

And for the fans they’re amazing too. Of course they look stupid from the outside: that’s what ‘outside’ is for. Ones that look great from the outside just become ‘pop’ I guess. Following one from the inside though, appreciating why one ridiculous blog hype is great and other one is crap, and figuring out what you love about a style, not to mention justifying it to the world (and of course maybe making it yourself) - it’s just a really good experience. If you’re a critic I’d say it’s an essential experience. Seeing all these little scenes and never really getting invested in any of them is like going to Disneyworld and just wandering around not actually going on any of the rides because, oh, that queue is too long and that one looks like it would be over too quickly. --Tom Ewing