The return of the Blobby nightmare.

May 28th, 2016 by David Gerard

“Although popular, the character was not well received critically.”

“It has been named as one of the worst songs ever recorded.”

An MTV critic said that Blobby “tried to kill music… with what might be the worst song of all time”;[3] the track is regularly voted as such.[4] Rupert Hawksley of The Telegraph ranked it as the worst Christmas number one in history, arguing that Blobby “set the bar so low with this bizarre single, it’s hard to imagine that it could ever be usurped”.[5] Daily Record writer Euan McColm named it the third-worst Top 10 single of all time,[6] while Gemma Wheatley of the Daily Star called it the third most-annoying track ever written.[7] It placed first in an HMV public poll of the worst-ever festive songs,[8] and second in a VH1 viewer survey of the worst number one singles of all time.[9] The track also came sixth in a Channel 4 poll of the 100 worst pop songs in history.[10]

Wikipedia on his critical legacy.

Art of Noise play “Close To The Edit” live, 2004.

May 27th, 2016 by David Gerard

Holy crap, I didn’t think this was even possible.

(Nobody ever thinks of Trevor Horn as a shit-hot bass player.)

(Being one of those drummers is definitely the most fun job for this performance.)

Se Delan: Drifter (2016).

May 23rd, 2016 by David Gerard

The press release page (includes album stream) says “dark, alternative, new wave” and studiously avoids the word g*th, but OH COME ON. 1992 in black with songs; Curve doing early eighties Cure. ’80s goth rock of the sort with a drummer rather than a drum machine, with lots of goth rock female vocal stylings you could probably pick the sources for with a little effort.

se delan drifterThe music is done by the guy from Crippled Black Phoenix, which this is nothing like and is way more interesting than. The singer’s previous was Killing Mood. Neither is particularly metal but both got attention from the metal world. They seem to have arrived at something indistinguishable from ’80s goth rock the long way around.

Their first was in the same area as this, but this second is more focused. Drifter is a nice slab of this sort of thing and eminently suited to repeat listens.

Reviews: Airbag, Metroland, Suns of Thyme, Virus (2016).

May 21st, 2016 by David Gerard

When I was Official Shitworker on Lemon, we christened the review round “dogshit patrol,” after the regular Arlo cleanup. I promise I’ll stop before I start thinking of it that way here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Elektroklänge: Mechanische Tänze Nos. 1-4 EP (2016).

May 20th, 2016 by David Gerard

elektroklange mechanical danceThe entire point of Elektroklänge is wanting to be Kraftwerk when they grow up. Not an uncommon aspiration, but not a bad one if you can pull it off, and they do okay. This is their first record for Alfa Matrix and you can preview it here. It’s one four-bar figure in five lengthy variations (in four languages) and sounds like a train. Every electronic band has a train song. OMD even had two. Elektroklänge have one, “Approach to Tokyo”, as a B-side here and also over on their Soundcloud, along with their first single. This is a good band and I was pleased to see this was out.

The ultimate hold music.

May 3rd, 2016 by David Gerard

Spotted in The Register:

I get 20 sales calls a day at least, as our organization is relatively large. All of them are unsolicited, and they use shady tactics to make it past the receptionist.

So yesterday, in the middle of a team meeting, an emergency call came through the IT support hotline, interrupting our meeting. One of our help desk guys picks up and it’s a sales guy claiming that he had just been chatting with me, the IT Director, and wanted to be transferred through so he could “finish the conversation.”

This was obviously untrue, as I had just arrived in the office, and I don’t take sales calls. The help desk guy asked if I wanted him passed through to my voicemail, and I said: “I’d prefer that you transfer them straight to hell instead. In fact, we should have a special queue called Hell, playing the most obnoxious music over and over again.” The guys start joking: “It could be playing Barney.” “It could be playing ‘The Song that Never Ends’.” “It could be playing a detuned or desynchronized version of a Smash Mouth song.”

Our seasoned help desk vet says: “I have just the thing!” and plays the most god-awful song I’ve heard in my life. Everything in the department stops, and then everyone busts out laughing. We are actually a well-oiled IT team – we’ve worked together for years. My background is in film soundtracks and audio production, and my senior network admin’s is in broadcast radio audio engineering.

We all just suddenly started working on it like we would any other problem – our help desk guy is converting the song to WAV, our senior netadmin is logging into the phone system and downloading some audio editing software, and I started working on the synthetic voice. I had actually been writing an automation the day before using PowerShell, Microsoft’s built-in management scripting engine. I had found a speech synthesizer module built into every version of Windows, and I had been running it against groups of remote computers so that they would all begin speaking at once – it was kind of creepy.

I pull up that script from the day before and started creating the text that would be turned into the voice you hear in the recording. We were sending material back and forth, and our senior netadmin was handling the sequencing and mastering. Literally every person in our department was contributing in one way or another – it was really a team effort, and I’m proud to have built such a strong collaborative, business-oriented team (haha). We decided to start off with the audio at one-quarter volume, and then we ran it a 100 times through an amplifier plugin in order to break the digital clipping barrier and create that “nails on chalkboard” effect.

We edited and snipped the audio, pitched shifted a few things, and generally set out to make literally the worst recording ever. Once finished, we uploaded it to the phone server and created the queue to repeat eternally. We assigned it extension number 666. Once in the queue, any button you press once in this queue restarts the recording. Our new department policy is: when sales people call they are to be transferred straight to hell.

I’m working on a follow up script that will notify us via email when someone breaks a record for holding the longest – we’ll see which companies want our business the most, and I only hope that I can reach out and touch these salespeople in the same way that they touch me every day. We threw this up on Reddit, but also shared it with our friends.

Extension 666 was the extension used most in our office yesterday.

I’ve spent thirty years listening out for the most obnoxious and intolerable sounds available. The music that will ruin your world in thirty seconds. I like to think I know a thing or two about this general field of endeavour, if you will. I’d mark this as a contender. Be sure to turn it up.

“Without Real Strings or Fish”, Shriekback

April 23rd, 2016 by Lev Lafayette

shriekback-wrsof-webFor a band formed in 1981, Shriekback have certainly had a couple of notable breaks in their productive career; there was a four year gap between the more commercial sounds of Go Bang! of 1988 to the experimental and despairingly largely ignored Sacred City of 1992. Then there was a long gap from then to Naked Apes and Pond Life in 2000, an album which was showed great diversity of style and their trademark eerieness, but still lacked the famed early slap-bass and thumping tempo. Nevertheless it set off a small revival with five albums released between 2000 and 2010 – and then another long break until Without Real String or Fish in March 2015. Since then they have also released another compilation and collection of old oddities, The Island of the Hopeful Monsters.

Without Real String or Fish is without a doubt, a return to the Shriekback of old. Unlike their previous album, Life in the Loading Bay – which is a fine album in its own right, albeit in a different style – this comes out punching with ‘Now Those Day A Gone’, with a fast tempo, heavy bass and drum, and, in their characteristic ‘big band’ style, powerful backing vocals. It sets the scene for a number of slower, more ethereal tunes with complex instrumentation, including ‘The King in the Tree’, and ‘Soft Estate’. ‘Woke Up Wrong’ is heavier, faster, and interestingly has some jazz piano added to the mix, but a really impressive tune with plenty of electronica, vocal changes, and a light industrial sound is ‘Beyond Metropolis’. Famous for their lyrical content (how many others have included ‘parthenogenesis’ in a dance track?), one cannot help to think they’re teasing with their constructed words in this song with such gems as; ‘Exnovotechnikageopolis’, ‘Chromosoniradiopolis’ and ‘Intoxivinopharmanarcobibendopolis’.

Lest anyone would think they were being paid by the letter rather than having a bit of fun should put to rest, with its numerous historical and political allusions, in a Leonard Cohen-style ballad, ‘Ammonia Tree’, which including the clever reference to “teutonic plates”. With its pun in the title, ‘Recessive Jean’ follows up with a strong bass introducing and leading to some nice creepy effects, itself a lead to ‘Horrors of the Deep’ a beautiful melodic piece, which is like Nick Cave plus ‘Underwaterboys’. It is certainly one of the best tracks on the album and leads well to the subsequent ‘In The Pylons’ providing a spectral instrumental continuation of the theme which finishes with ‘Man of Foam’ with an interesting piano and bass combination. Interestingly, the final two tracks ‘And Everything Like That’ and ‘Bernadette’ are not the strongest on the album, albeit the latter has some nice Western-gothic elements.

Overall however this is superb piece of work with a few absolutely stand-out pieces and with a consistent high-quality throughout. To be sure, there is little here that will appeal greatly to mainstream tastes who will fine their sounds too eldritch and their lyrical content too disturbing, but for those who know and love Shriekback deeply, this is something that will generate great appeal, with its appeals to their evolutionary themes, grounded other-wordliness, and lyrical genius. There are no real weak points on this album, and as a result it should eventually receive favourable critical recognition.

George Matzkov’s tracks from lost 1980s Perth alternative bands.

April 12th, 2016 by David Gerard

George Matzkov, Perth scenester, Stems roadie and founder of Zero Hour Records, is putting out a book, to be released soonish: Way Out West: The West Australian Alternative Music Scene 1976-1989. To accompany it, he’s got a Soundcloud of tracks from cassettes and records of the day. If you’re from those times you’ll delight in this.

I threw up on Lux Interior.

April 2nd, 2016 by David Gerard

I threw up on Lux Interior.

It was mid-1986, at the Red Parrot in Perth (name and logo blatantly nicked from the New York club of the same name) in Perth. I was nineteen and had been going out to see bands and drinking in earnest for six months. The Cramps had played (the Canterbury Court Friday 22 August 1986 show, I think) and went there for after-show drinks.

The Red Parrot had been running a promo on Fridays where they offered a large cover charge and then your drinks (rank piss) free! As a young idiot, I took full advantage.

I was doing a fanzine so I knew all the local band scenesters. So i was hanging out in the band room, as you do when you’re ligging. I felt a bit unwell. BLUUUUUHHHH

I did not find out until 2012 on Facebook, twenty-six years after the fact, that I had thrown up literally on Lux Interior. The most rock’n’roll moment of my life, and I missed it.

(I was promptly ejected. The doorman was kind enough to hail a taxi for me.)

I couldn’t drink beer for about three years after that. I was on the Strongbow Cider in bottles. Which was at least as fuckin’ rank, but I did singlehandedly get the Seaview Tavern in Fremantle to stock Strongbow Draught, the one with the red label.

(I would hope this would be the sort of moment one could tell one’s children about, but mine has been primarily a gamer since she was two. Pretty musically talented though, which is unsurprising given her parents, a rock critic and an actual talented musician. We’ll see how the interests go.)

Jesus and Mary Chain “Psychocandy” 30th Anniversary

March 29th, 2016 by Lev Lafayette
Goth Live

Jesus and Mary Chain at the Forum It is rather frightening to think that it’s now over thirty years since Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain graced the airwaves. Well, frightening to people of a certain age such as this reviewer. Telling everyone how absolutely ground-breaking the band and their debut album was is comparable to an elder describing how the music world changed when Big Joe Turner released Flip, Flop and Fly. Feeling old yet?

But yes, it is now more than thirty years since the black-clad brothers and friends from East Kilbride appeared on the scene, shyly hiding behind dark sunglasses, and screaming feedback with unexpectedly melodic instrumentation. Psychocandy received justifiably overwhelmingly favourable reviews from the critics and a surprising degree of mainstream coverage. The initial reactions were justified, with more later compilations rating it among the best albums of all time (e.g., Rolling Stone‘s 2006 list). With an established fan base subsequent albums were also quite successful, but with the band splitting in 1999, only to reform for live shows and compilation album releases.

A Psychocandy 2016 Tour event was held on March 7th in Melbourne at The Forum, which is certainly one the city’s better venues (the night previous had the band perform at 170 Russell Street, which is also pretty good). The rich late-noveau styled building of The Forum is decorated with neoclassical statues, the layout allows for comfortable seating at the back and standing space for more enthusiastic at the front. The floor is angled, so people at the back have a good view of the performers, the place is well-ventilated, speakers as well distributed throughout, and the even the drinks are at a reasonable price. As readers would know by now, this reviewer considers the venue to have importance at a live event, and promoters should pay some attention to it.

There were two support acts on the night, Grinding Eyes and Alvvays. The Sydney-based first band were certainly in the style of things to come, with some really good darkwave progressive sounds . The latter, a relatively new Canadian five-piece who were also engaging in their own independent tour, were somewhat reminiscent of The Clouds, playing a jangly guitar-heavy sound juxtaposed with the clear vocals of Molly Rankin.

With the iconic album-cover backdrop, the Jesus and Mary Chain set started with several songs that were not part of Psychocandy, starting with April Skies, and including well-known songs such as Blues from a Gun, Some Candy Talking, and Reverence. They were all performed extremely well to a very enthusiastic crowd. The band themselves, never known for being particularly animated on stage – a figure emerging from smoke is more their style – were far more subdued. One could even be forgiven for thinking that even after these years they still suffer from stage fright.

Through this part of the set and quite notably the first several songs of Psychocandy it must be acknowledged that the sound was a little flat. This was somewhat expected – a band that relies on heavy use of feeback in a venue this large is a challenge for any mixer. It seems that they took the safe option and truncated the sound, resulting in timbre that equates with the oft-made comparison with The Velvet Underground (especially Black Angel Death Song).

But bravery apparently won out at the mixing desk, around the time of Taste of Cindy and Never Understand, as the familiar screeches and howls were brought forth. From that point onwards the night was raised a notch in passion which continued to the end of the night. There was no need for an encore for a set which had already run for over two hours. The Jesus and Mary Chain, after thirty years, performed their classic debut album in a great venue with exceptional acumen, emotion, and intensity

Godzilla Black: Press The Flesh (2016).

March 27th, 2016 by David Gerard

Godzilla Black: Press The Flesh“Formed by two frustrated drummers” tells you about sixty percent of what you need to know. The rest is descended (through similarly-influenced ’80s indie rock, then the stuff that was left after grunge imploded) from the heavier ’60s psychedelic rock, rather than prog. The promo track “First Class Flesh” is reasonably representative. A bit of gratuitous quirk, but not enough to spoil it. The music is solid and the playing is spot-on. This is the really pretty good stuff. I liked this more than I thought I would: “harmonious chaos” indeed. Your loved ones will ask what on earth this racket is. There’s a nice interview with them from earlier this year too. To be released later this week.

Update: the whole album is now available for preview on their Bandcamp. Give it a listen. This is a shockingly good record.

The fall of The Fall

March 25th, 2016 by Lev Lafayette
Live Post-Punk

This review has been sitting in the ‘to post’ box for a while, for reasons that will become evident. The Fall are, of course, probably the most prolific post-punk bands with some thirty studio albums and an enormous collection of live and compilation albums to their near-forty year history. This output of music is only matched by the number of performers who have graced themselves as members of the band, now approaching seventy with only sardonic and contrary front man Mark E. Smith being a consistent feature of the group, once leading him to apparently quip “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, then it’s The Fall” – ‘citation needed’, as they say. It is, however, worth pointing out that the current line-up is the most stable that has been ever been witnessed in the band’s existence with current members Mark E. Smith, Elena Poulou, Dave Spurr, Pete Greenway, and Keiron Melling all being members for several years and newcomer Daren Garratt being a recent addition rather than a replacement.

With the release of their thirtieth album Sub-Lingual Tablet The Fall scored a gig at the Foxtel Festival Hub, in Melbourne on October 23 and 24, 2015. The album itself has received average-good reviews and of course the band has an enormous range of material to draw upon, so expectations were quite high. Alas the venue, as is often the case, proven to a critical flaw in what otherwise could have been a good concert. To put it bluntly, the hot wooden box and fire hazard with appalling acoustics that makes up the Foxtel Festival Hub is possibly the worst venue to see anybody perform. True it is possible to get a reasonable sound out of the place, as the Pop Crimes concert of a year prior showed. But it does requires some very attentive mixers and a tactical positioning of speakers.

This was not the case at the concert of October 24. You could see the performers doing their utmost best, a credit to them, to try to create the enticing sounds that The Fall are well known for. Even Mark E. Smith’s characteristic anti-melodic voice however failed to carry against the wall of noise generated by the twin towers of speakers. Try as one might to placing oneself in several locations in the hall over the night, there was no location which provided sufficiently clarity – and this was evident in among the fans who attended as well. Many were enthusiastic to see these venerable heroes of their age, and many were grimacing at the sound quality; the intersection between the two sets was large.

The concert itself was relatively short by modern standards; a mere ten tracks with a two-track encore, of which approximately half came from the most recent album which isn’t really a high point of the band’s standards. True, some tracks show some promise as a experimental b-side (e.g., Dedication Not Medication), but the best performances came from other sources such as the opening Wolf Kidult Man, Bury, and the closing Mr. Pharmacist. But overall, this certainly counts as the worst concert that I have been to in several years with very few redeeming features; poor sound, poor venue, poor choice of songs. Despite the time that has passed since the concert itself, these comments are still accurate: “the heart has its own memory and I have forgotten nothing”.

Records that have not stood the test of time: Models: Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight (1985).

March 13th, 2016 by David Gerard

This album, which I played a few days ago for the first time in thirty years, is what the kids these days describe as a “hot mess”. A pile of good ideas mashed in with a pile of terrible ones; the result desperately pretends to work.

The Models started in Melbourne in 1978. They had a certain charm and a way with a new wave pop tune; their early stuff is well worth a listen.

After years of selling no records, they finally pleased their surprisingly patient record company with 1983’s The Pleasure Of Your Company. The single “I Hear Motion” was their breakthrough hit. The Pleasure Of Your Company is really quite a good album and stands up okay thirty years later.

The next two singles off The Pleasure Of Your Company didn’t sell well. So they did the 1984 standalone “Big On Love” as a direct chart assault (and it sold okay). It is … not as good as I remember it. I loved this when it came out. I remember it as being much more mechanical and dance-industrial than the actual record in front of me. You can hear what I mean, can’t you? Tell me you do.

They got competent management, in the shape of INXS’ manager Chris Murphy, and moved from Melbourne to Sydney. As Wikipedia puts it, “under the influence of Murphy, they reassessed their direction and moved towards to a more radio-friendly format.” i.e., sounding a bit more like INXS.

Their keyboardist, Andrew Duffield, wasn’t so on board with this, so they fired him. The problem there was that Duffield came up with most of the tunes.

So they got James Freud, who joined in time for The Pleasure Of Your Company, to write a bit more. Freud had replaced the previous other good songwriter, Mark Ferrie. The trouble there was that Freud was … not that good.

So, another pre-album single while they desperately tried to write an album’s worth of acceptable songs without the writer of good songs on hand! “Barbados”, sung by Freud (rather than band leader Sean Kelly) (and one of the last co-written with Duffield), did very well (national #2). It’s a pleasant piece. Lightweight, but works well.

Next single was “Out Of Mind Out Of Sight”, establishing the album theme. The song was made of hooks, it had all the right pieces in all the right places, and radio loved it and it sold a zillion copies (national #1, single-handedly pulled the album to national #3). In 2016, it sounds a rather shakier proposition than in 1985. You can hear everything it’s doing and it’s not doing it so well. But it sufficed at the time.

Out of ideas, they rewrote the previous hit. “Cold Fever” is fucking terrible. All the not quite right pieces in not quite the right places. It sold some copies on the back of the hit, but not for its own sake.

The rest of the album is about that standard or worse. It’s forty minutes of desperation to fill space. It turns out firing your main music writer can cause problems.

They stumbled on, their fame having long outstripped their songwriting ability. Next album Media is not worth your time. The half-decent single was “Evolution” and that’s a bunch of pieces shoved together pretending to be a song. I saw them live around this time and it sorta worked with the whole audience on your side desperately willing you not to suck, but it didn’t really even hold up at the time. The best thing about Media was that the B-sides of the 12″ singles were the good 12″ mixes of the singles from The Pleasure Of Your Company.

Andrew Duffield did a self-released album, Ten Happy Fingers. Unfortunately it’s not an outburst of unleashed genius, it’s ehh OK, ideas without a band.

Sean Kelly did the Absent Friends, who were ehh OK on a rather better-funded level. (Duffield also participated.)

And James Freud’s 1989 solo album Step Into The Heat. Oh my goodness. $750,000 up in smoke. Yeah, not a songwriter of note.

So yeah, get a copy of The Pleasure Of Your Company, it’s pretty good. I particularly recommend “God Bless America”, a nice example of that particularly ’80s genre the post-apocalyptic pop song. You kids, living without the expectation of nuclear flaming death at four minutes’ notice. Lyrics and videos like this entirely fit the mainstream zeitgeist of the day.

The Charlatans – Modern Nature

December 30th, 2015 by Lev Lafayette

As one of the great British indie synth-rock bands (hey, just call it “Madchester”) of the 90s, The Charlatans, left an indelible impression on those who encountered them. Three of their studio albums reached #1 in the UK, in that period, (Some Friendly, The Charlatans, and Tellin’ Stories), and four of their singles were in the top 10 (‘The Only One I Know’, ‘One to Another’, ‘North Country Boy’, and ‘How High’), along with a string of others that also fared damn well indeed.

Alas the 00s were not so kind to them. Whilst their five albums all charted (‘Wonderland’ in particular reached number 2), they lost talented keyboardist Rob Collins in a car accident, and drummer Jon Brookes from a brain tumour. None of their singles from the period reached the top ten, although clearly there was still plenty of talent; ‘Blackened Blue Eyes’ for example is certainly an superb piece of work in production, lyrics, and narrative.

But they did struggle to find their place again. The otherworldly and powerful sound from a band who produced ‘The Only One I Know’ from 1990 would require great creativity and invigoration twenty five years later. Alas, despite rapid success in the charts by many who want a revival of The Charlatans (for good reason), their new album, Modern Nature, does not include these features.

What is provided is a range of slow-moving eighties-style indie-pop songs. As a style this is fair enough, and has the occasional ethereal vocals, such as the excellent ‘Talking in Tones’ open track and much of ‘I Need You to Know’, and some rather convivial constructions. Released as a single, ‘So Oh’ has some good construction and a catchy tune but not much else in substance. ‘Come Home Baby’ almost belongs in the category of lounge music. Considered as a whole, this is a very average album and not the great revival that many may have hoped for.

Last Words (EP) by Muzzle

December 24th, 2015 by Lev Lafayette
Indie Rock

muzzlelastwords“Last Words” (2014), is the debut EP for young Fremantle independent rock band, Muzzle, with three-piece Daniel Panizza on bass, Daniel Prince on drums, and Luke Hoehn providing rhythm guitars and vocals. With some coverage by national broadcasters, JJJ, the band’s cross-genre sounds will appeal to many who have derived great delight from eclectic sources. The cover art of the album by Alex Aitken is a fairly simple affair, a rhinoceros beetle (chalcosoma atlas, I believe). Not a creature native to Australia, but it does remind one of the cover of “Mezzanine” by Massive Attack (yes, they did use a stag beetle – for goodness sake, how many entomologists are really reading this?).

The opening track ‘Lock Up’, starts with a positively thumping bass introduction by Panizza, before moving into some very hard and fast guitars, reminiscent of the early Dead Kennedy’s, juxtaposed with Hoehn’s distant vocalisations which are almost like the more artistic parts of Joy Division. This is followed by by ‘Lemonade’, which has a slower alternative rock introduction with careful constructions, gradually building to a heavier and faster sound, with a rather charming short metal guitar solo no less before breaking into punk chords and finally a return to the introductory tempo. Again the vocalisations come across are distant, but in this case often shouted rather like many of 90’s grunge bands (e.g., Nirvana).

The title track of the EP, ‘Last Words’ also has a slow introduction, and is far more melodic and ethereal than others. The dark progressive pacing laments rather like Archive does in ‘Lights’, builds, changes, and comes to abrupt yet perfect stop. The final track, ‘Breakaway’, has a charming indie-rock introduction, before transmogrifying into a heavy grunge style again with a metal solo, before returning to the introduction’s style, in a manner rather like the earlier track, ‘Lemonade’.

Overall Muzzle provides a good collection of sounds that will certainly have some appeal to fans of alternative rock, grunge, metal, and punk. The technical competence of the band is excellent with the two Daniel’s not missing a beat on drums or bass. The production qualities, whilst not first grade, where certainly adequate for a first EP. The weakness in the band is that their style will be insufficiently appealing to all the genres they touch, and there will always be a significant challenge in ensuring the tension between the different styles does not collapse into discord. Of course, the easier path would be to concentrate on just a single stylistic genre, with a few concessions to other styles – and whilst popular, that’s hardly art, is it?

“Air On A G-String” played on actual G-strings.

December 14th, 2015 by David Gerard

For science! Apparently, underwear has a four-octave range.

(yes I thought this was hilarious when I was ten as well)

(baby got bach)

Today’s links.

December 11th, 2015 by David Gerard

Doctor Who goes disco. Delia, we are so very sorry.

December 9th, 2015 by David Gerard

The Doctor Who theme has of course been done in every possible style. Today we have disco versions from Space Disco and Mankind. But the most instructive example is by Ron Grainer, the original composer. The version we know and love was of course arranged by Delia Derbyshire, who did so well with it that Grainer tried to get her a co-credit. But on this record, The Exciting Television Music of Ron Grainer (1980), we finally get to hear what Grainer would have done with the theme given a free hand. It’s … remarkable.

After that, you’ll probably want to cleanse the skull palate with Bill Bailey’s “Belgian Jazz” take.

(HT donjuan-auxenfers and ambiguations)

Reissues, past subcultures and the dead foot of the market.

December 8th, 2015 by David Gerard

Amanda Petrusich at the New Yorker writes a ramble on the reissue market. It’s not clear, but she seems upset these previously-unavailable classics are available again, because they’re available again for the wrong reasons.

The backbone of the reissue market is … me! And other middle-aged blokes whose tastes ossified at sixteen like most people’s, but we have money now. And boy do we spend it with untrammeled delight that the world has finally caught up to good music. We are the market for the box sets and 3-CD floor-sweepings-edition reissues.

FUC51’s essential point was sound — the middle-aged blokes are the dead foot of the market on the throat of vital youth culture — but they were incorrect to blame the artists, who are after all just doing the stuff they want to do. It’s people like me, and our money, that’s to blame.

Petrusich’s particular example is Cubist Blues, an utter obscurity by Alan Vega, Alex Chilton and Ben Vaughn that they jammed out in 1996 and issued on Henry Rollins’ 2.13.61 label. But note the timing: this was well after the pre-grunge burst of the indie rock scene, and just after grunge itself burnt out. But this was a record for post-punk and pre-grunge hipsters … who would only have known of Chilton through the ’80s reissue market, which was just as big a concern at the time. I remember the Charly and Edsel ads in Bucketfull of Brains.

Awareness of history is lost all too easily, even as we have unparalleled access to the works, and every generation must construct its canon, with lost classics and lost second-rate influences on first-rate artists. Canons are illusory, constructed after the fact to make shit just happening look like a story; a statement about the present. But not a meaningless one, after all: cool shit from the past that works in the present, works.

(I gobble up books of music and literary criticism and histories of popular music, but again quite a lot of it is constructing a story where one doesn’t exist. Real life does not happen in story form. Tracing histories of musical influence tends to this sort of teleology, when actually artists have always just taken everything they could from everything to hand.)

The particular button Cubist Blues, and its cohorts in this wave of reissues, presses is the one where the entire pre-grunge subculture vanished like morning mist the the moment the clock struck 1995, the Internet was invented and history started. Can you find ’80s or ’90s fanzines online? Can you fuck. Wish I still had mine to scan, and if you have yours PLEASE DO SO. In particular, if you have copies of Motorbooty or similar.

Alvin and the Chipmunks at 16rpm.

December 7th, 2015 by David Gerard

Retrospectively obvious, but this is what Alvin and the Chipmunks sound like at 16rpm: normal vocals with GRIND CORE DEATH SLUDGE DRONE music. That being how they were actually recorded. I think we’ve uncovered Sunn O)))’s secret past.

This is pretty awesome, but playing records at 16rpm generally is. Quite a lot of pop music benefits markedly from this. When I first bought “Blue Monday” (in 1983 at age 16) I played it multiple times a day for several months … at 16, 33, 45 and 78. Wore out my copy. (Then sold it second-hand at UWA to some poor bugger.) 16rpm “The Beach” (the B-side) is twenty minutes of top notch death disco. “Computer Games” by Mi-Sex also works amazingly well. (That link’s full speed, but I’m sure you can do the obvious with it.)

You can do this in Audacity with the transcription toolbar. Load your victim, double-click on the playback thing, set it to play at 0.37 of full speed, hit the green triangle next to it.

(I wrote this and started playing “The Beach” at 0.37x and seeing how long before the wife killed me. Made it to 7:00 on the original! Which is 19 minutes of this stuff. Longer than I expected. Dead now. But so worth it.)

Access denied: The media in a world where they aren’t the gatekeepers.

December 6th, 2015 by David Gerard

John Herrman at The Awl laments the difficulties of the media in a world where they are no longer the gatekeepers of social knowledge. Nothing here isn’t obvious with a moment’s thought, but he does go through it in some detail: how celebrity gossip journalism, politics coverage, sports coverage and even rock journalism (the part where I throw my head back in laughter) don’t know quite what to do when people don’t routinely use the mass media as their window on the world, instead gorging on assorted other channels that aren’t even media organisations.

(and of course, note that all of these are actually practiced as celebrity gossip journalism.)

Herrman doesn’t have a solution; he tentatively suggests the professional media could move to doing explainers. This is literally what Vox was set up to do, specifically to compete with Wikipedia on the kind of article where there’s an event and Wikipedia rapidly assembles the best available overview of the subject: “the world’s first hybrid news site/encyclopedia.”

Wikipedia-but-not-as-good turned out not to be so hot a commodity, particularly as such topic pages had failed to quite be the Golden Ticket in previous years. But this is why early Vox articles looked like ersatz Wikipedia, with “fact cards” for infoboxes and so forth (with the fatal flaw that you couldn’t hit “edit” to fix the typos) and why Vox’s articles are so often (a) rehashes of everyone else’s coverage a day late (b) opinion pieces on everyone else’s coverage of the previous day.

There is a cultural place for media of record, even if the economics remain ghastly in a world where Craigslist took away the classifieds. (If you read any site whatsoever with ads on, run an ad blocker so you don’t get virused.) The BBC still exists and does something like journalism, for example. Wikipedia reifies the notion of media of record with its reliable sources policy, which in practice is used to sort out internal editorial arguments. (And anyone who’s ever been quoted in the media will laugh hysterically at the notion that the shoddy first drafts of history are “reliable sources”.) So we’ll be stuck with the idea for a while, even as they’re terrible at it and know they are.

This is life in the Silver Age: the Great Cultural Fragmentation continues apace and the assorted industries have to catch up. I am inclined to consider this a fundamentally good thing that is making the world a better place in pretty much every way. I note again Steve Albini’s claim that these are the best of times for the actual musicians, as surprising as that might seem, even given the actual problem, which is a surfeit of non-professionals whose work is good enough. That is, the force that’s taking out the professional media.

(Anyone else remember the previous Vox? SixApart’s attempt at creating a walled garden blogging platform with photos and videos and stuff that was very like a cleaned-up version of their other acquisition at the time, LiveJournal? I had for a while, but it turned out nobody could comment on it without a Vox login. Promptly self-hosted and it was all much nicer, thanks. As a walled garden blogging platform with media, that Vox was pretty much Tumblr several years early. Tumblr being where I saw this story. HT David Severa.)


December 5th, 2015 by David Gerard

The Music Theory Song!

December 4th, 2015 by David Gerard

Just in case you forgot all this stuff, here it is doing everything the words say as they say it. By David Swenson. The lead sheet.

How to cook squid ink calamari risotto the Blixa Bargeld way.

December 3rd, 2015 by David Gerard

From ’80s German TV show Alfredissimo. The other dude is Alfred Biolek. You can tell how old it is by them quoting prices in marks.

Imogen Heap doesn’t make the blockchain hype make sense either.

December 2nd, 2015 by David Gerard

The big name in recent “blockchain” (Bitcoin) hype is Imogen Heap. As far as I can tell, it’s still the case that nothing about this is going to work.

(Rocknerd passim: blockchain hype, another blockchain hype.)

The particular snake oil they’ve sold Heap — who is not a stupid person and has considerable bitter experience in music industry fuckery — is Smart Contracts. These are in fact the worst idea ever, for a number of reasons, which is a separate rant. (Dr Strangelove is the story of an unstoppable smart contract going wrong.)

In this specific case the snake oil is that smart contracts on the blockchain (which in this case is the Ethereum blockchain rather than the Bitcoin blockchain, but that doesn’t matter) will mean that Heap will be paid a penny shaving every time someone looks at her music.

Problems with this:

  • Nobody in the extant music industry has any interest in this working.

  • If you strike out as an independent with this, you cannot get the hashing power to protect against the people who would fuck with it, whether for business or lulz.
  • Try to work out how to actually buy a copy (or whatever right to a copy you’re buying) of “Tiny Human”. (Answer below, but I urge you to go looking first.)
  • They’re promising digitally controlled “limited edition” releases with this mechanism, but DRM still literally defies mathematics.
  • This will not scale ever ever ever. (c.f. Bitcoin again.)

How to buy the song, since there is no easy guide available: it’s nearly fucking impossible to actually buy this song, and involves buying Bitcoins then exchanging those for Ethereum. The instructions look easy, but the trick is that even getting hold of the Bitcoins involves either sending stupendous amounts of government identification, dealing with crooks or both. Once you’ve done all this, you get a download key.

(Note also that the purchase process is ridiculously buggy even if you understand all this cryptocurrency bafflegab.)

The fatal flaw here is that we already have endless filesharing networks that are vastly easier than this. Remember, iTunes made it by being easier even than those. You could also do what everyone will do and play it on YouTube.

Unsurprisingly, sales figures for “Tiny Human” are unavailable. Update: I was wrong, they’re fully available. $95.81 in sales! (HT FlacidPhil at Reddit)

LA punk zines Slash and NoMag scanned, courtesy Circulation Zero.

December 1st, 2015 by David Gerard

Ryan Richardson has put up lots of old archival material before, and his latest is Circulation Zero, on which he plans to make available the complete runs (or, at worst, the complete interesting runs) of ancient punk rock history. First up are complete PDFs of Slash (the zine that begat the record label) and NoMag from Los Angeles. Scans as PDFs, as simple as it gets. (Hundreds of megabytes each, be warned.)

I don’t want to shock you or anything, but pop music is an industry.

November 30th, 2015 by David Gerard

The Atlantic is perturbed and depressed that pop music is created by an industrial process and wants you to be too.

Pop has been a factory literally since day one. The Brill Building was legendary in its day. Since before day one: “Tin Pan Alley” had been a cliche rather than a real place for decades before pop music as we know it started.

The only difference now is that nobody outside the industry knows who Martin Karl Sandberg is (yeah, the Atlantic got his name wrong), but that’s a very minor marketing decision; if it would make more money to make him a star, that’d happen instantly.

And in conclusion, y’all need Bob Stanley.

(HT Glenn Murray via Lionel Lauer)

Dammit Yahoo, stop giving the game away.

November 28th, 2015 by David Gerard

Yahoo posted their writeup on Rihanna’s Anti just a little early.

The main difference from the good old days is that we didn’t write up a literal plugin template. But really, if you need to hear the typical mainstream album to review it (with a quick ten seconds per track skim to check, if you have time) you’re just not sufficiently in touch with the kids.

Yahoo Mic Rihanna "Anti" Review

Baron: Torpor (2015).

November 1st, 2015 by David Gerard

baron torpor 300Torpor is squarely an attempt to recapture early ’70s English folky progressive rock. With vaguely sci-fi lyrics. (Their self-description is “Neo-Monastic Byzantine Pastoral Kraut-Drone-Lettuce-Rock”, but the only “Kraut” bit is that it’s prog.) The correct comparison is slabs of whimsical prog rock vinyl from forty-odd years ago of the sort that aspired to be on John Peel in his hippie days. Guitars, drums, organ, recorder. LOOK AT THAT COVER PIC. LOOK AT IT.

The press release places Baron as prog folkies into synthetic Celtic mysticism — “the wind beaten rural landscape and the stories of magic handed down through generations of tellers.” Back in the real world, every square inch of England is catalogued and curated (compare Australia, where wilderness still actually exists) and every drop of Celtic mysticism that makes it through to popular culture is as made-up in living memory as the goddess Eostre. But y’know, we all have to construct our historical launch pads.

The music itself is pleasant and competent (and better than that sounds). The playing is good, the instruments sound good (and making this sort of thing sound right is vastly easier in 2015 than 1970). Not big on memorable tunes, but the music flows well and, a blessing, doesn’t run on quirks. Love of the form keeps them down to forty-two minutes that split neatly into two sides. This album turned out way better than I’d been expecting.

There’s a Quietus review which is vastly more positive than mine. But it does appear that if you like this sort of thing then you’ll like this one.

If you’re gonna do martial industrial music, at least make it really gay. Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft.

October 15th, 2015 by David Gerard

DAF were a Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) band, covering the time from when NDW meant hideous post-punk noise to when it meant cheesy pop. Funnily enough covering a similar arc themselves.

The sound (of the good albums) is a Korg MS-20 running off a 16-step sequencer, Robert Görl on drums and Gabi Delgado (a Spaniard, whose family moved to Germany to escape Franco) shouting in German and being a sweaty macho leather fag over the top. It’s precisely what you want in the repurposing of martial sounds, i.e. someone pointing and saying “dude, this is gay as hell.” This was just the ticket in 1981.

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