Monday, 29 July 2013

Vale JJ Cale

US Roots guitarist JJ Cale shuffled off the mortal coil a couple of days ago, aged 74.

To be honest, I had no idea he was that old! But his legacy is inescapable and fascinating.

If you ever wondered where Mark Knopfler got the idea to sing in the style that he does, listen to JJ Cale. The two men played guitar similarly too, although Mark could shred with the best of them, JJ kept his style deliberately simple, never overplaying his solos, but rather choosing the notes (and the precise number of them) to suit the song in question.

He was also a technology whizz. He regularly overdubbed most, if not all the instruments on his recordings, augmenting them with drum machines and other gizmos. And of course, over the top is that laid back southern drawl, half spoken, half sung, in a hushed tone similar to that of a late night conversation, so as to not wake the other occupants of the house.

The reason I describe his work as deceptively simple is because while it sounds so, it really isn't. He was a meticulous craftsman, but he made it sound easy. Others covered his songs but more often than not, the arrangements are thick and heavy, in stark contrast to JJ's own versions. However, at their core, the songs are fascinating.

For further listening, check out Lynyrd Skynyrd's version of "Call Me The Breeze" and Eric Clapton's remakes of "After Midnight" and "Cocaine".

He will be missed. RIP.

Below is a Five Piece Pack of JJ Cale's finest moments.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sunday Sessions: Juli


"1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die".

Pretty presumptuous name for a book, right? I mean, how can you possibly know that those 1001 songs are the best ever and that you should measure how complete your life has been by how many of them you've heard?

Despite the facile nature of the title, there are a number of books based around this theme: 1001 Albums, 1001 Movies et al. The content of which almost always amuses the hell out of me. I find it fascinating to see what is there, what's missing, and what the writers have said about the content that has been deemed necessary in its inclusion.

While many of the albums in the 1001 Albums book I either own and/or have heard of, there were many in the 1001 Songs book I hadn't heard, including this one. Something of a major European hit by Juli called "Perfekte Welle".

The reason I hadn't heard it is because rarely do songs sung in German get radio play in Australia. The last one I can think of was possibly something by Rammstein, or even "Sich Offnen" by Not From There, circa 1997. Nor would I purposely go looking for songs sung in a foreign tongue.

I'd heard an interview with an Indigenous artist recently (whose name I can't remember) who advised listeners not to be afraid of songs sung in language (other than one's own). With that in mind, I checked out "Perfekte Welle" and was blown away. Not only does the lead singer have the voice of an angel, but how often do you hear songs from Germany sung in German about Surfing? Hardly ever.

The tune just floats along gorgeously and despite the fact that I don't really understand the language all that well, I find myself singing along regardless - such is the addictive nature of the tune. Intrigued, I had to find a translation. as such the lyric is actually quite inspirational. Take a listen below.


Here's the original:


The English translation:


Enjoy!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Skunk Anansie




Remember when Alanis Morrisette released "You Outta Know" and how frightening that brash and defiant vocal was? How she made men cringe with fear at the thought of ever doing the wrong thing by her and how she empowered women?

That's nothing.

Enter Skunk Anansie, stage left.

One of the more interesting and in-your-face female-fronted bands I can think of has to be Skunk Anansie. The British band were formed in 1993 and soon after their first gig, they were signed to a record deal.

Lead singer Skin has an unusual voice, and it was quite deceptive at first for a lot of people when we first heard it. She could sound sensual and seductive, and she could let rip with a full throat-ed roar that was as alluring at first. Having only heard her on Triple J (commercial radio wouldn't touch them in 1995, and still won't), there was no visual, so my mates and I thought she was blonde and sassy, like Fiona Horne from Def FX. With that in mind, a good friend of mine got the shock of his life when, after a night on the grog, he settled down to watch RAGE on the ABC and the video for "I Can Dream" came on. The first image was of Skin - bald, aggressive, staunchly proto-feminist and liable to do awful things to you if you got on her bad side.

Skin didn't want to be a sex symbol. She wanted to be a symbol for the empowerment of women in the face of patriarchal dominance. She wanted to (and did, in my opinion) break stereotypes.  She carried herself and her message in such a way as she left you in no uncertain terms with the exact idea of what she was all about. On record, she did so with passion, fire and sheer determination. It leaps out of the speakers at you, such is the bracing nature of her music.

The band, while being all male, pack the sonic wallop you would expect behind such a strong front-woman. Subtle synths but with full-throttle guitars and charging rhythms. None better is that demonstrated than on the track "The Skank Heads".

Skunk Anansie's first record "Paranoid and Sunburnt" in 1995 tackled the issues of racism, neo-Nazism, patriarchy, and sexuality as a commodity. That in itself would make for a challenging listen, and it can be at times. The themes were no less prevalent in their subsequent LP "Stoosh!" in 1996, but they were softened slightly on that release.

The band upped the ante again on "Post Orgasmic Chill" in 1999 - with a bigger sound, more ambitious song structures and some of Skin's most abrasive vocals yet - before calling it quits around 2001. Skin made a solo album "Fleshwounds" which was more of a rave/dance style release, before the band reunited in 2009 for a few more records. The reunion records haven't been as intense but have carried a lot more melody in place of the aggression.

Below is a selection of 30 tracks from their five albums to date, sorted in Chronological order.

Welcome to the jungleland that is the work of Skunk Anansie.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sunday Sessions: Bill Lloyd

This Sunday sees the east coast of Australia having some unseasonally warm weather lately. So I wanted to share a great summer track by the great Bill Lloyd.

Bill Lloyd was one half of a country duo called Foster and Lloyd who were supposedly quite popular in country circles. I've never heard of them, but that doesn't mean anything.

Bill made a number of solo albums with a more rock feel. The first, Feeding The Elephant, was issued in 1987 while Set To Pop was issued in 1994.

The opening track from Set To Pop is this absolute lost gem of a piece called "I Went Electric". I doubt there is such as thing as a perfect pop song, but this song has to be a contender for that description.

See what you think - let me know what you reckon.

ENJOY!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

You think I'm Psycho, don't you mama?

Beasts of Bourbon - The Axeman's Jazz

You don't normally think of the genial Tex Perkins as a figure of dread...or at least I don't. His solo work and sublime vocals with the Cruel Sea are at turns haunting and inviting, and usually a lot of fun.

However, Tex first came to the notice of certain sections of the public at large in the Beasts of Bourbon, a kind of motley crew of players in the Sydney underground rock scene who were determined to be an even more rambunctious and wild band than anything that came before them.

They made records sporadically and their first album, "The Axeman's Jazz", is the stuff of legend. Depending on who you talk to, the recording session was recorded and mixed live to tape with no overdubs, fuelled by over 70 beers, and was done and dusted in two hours - largely because the band members were passing out in a drunken (and god knows what else) stupor. The engineer was paid $100 which he then took up to the (Kings') Cross to score some dope with.

The single "Psycho" from the album was written by Leon Payne, a blind country singer and songwriter from the American south. I don't know if he ever recorded the song himself, but it has been recorded by a number of others, namely Elvis Costello. Elvis' version is utterly tame and not at all threatening. Tex, for the entire recording by the Beasts, sounds like he's about to jump through your stereo and cut you up into little pieces. Indeed, in the video below, he looks every inch the deranged serial killer.

The listener feels a number of conflicting emotions for the protagonist of the song. It is possible to feel both empathetic and horribly repulsed for the character and his depiction of his sordid activities. It is clear that the subject of the song needs help, as he clearly seems not to know why he does some of the things he does. He sounds genuinely troubled by the fact his mother thinks he's a nutcase, and yet, can't seem to control his actions when he becomes enraged.

Tex delivers this with a frightening menace that begs both sympathy and abject fear. It takes a rare charisma as a frontman to deliver that, and Tex nails it. The creepy slide guitar running through the piece adds to the melodrama, cutting a deep dark undercurrent to the music.

Take a listen for yourself below. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Five Piece Pack #1: Darren Hanlon

If you were to introduce someone to the music of an artist they've never heard of, what five songs would you choose? Would they have to be their most absolutely essential tracks? Or just great songs worthy of note?

Welcome to my the Five Piece Pack, introducing the works of Darren Hanlon.

The thing is most people, outside those who were listening to Triple J around 2002-2006 would have heard of Darren Hanlon. He is a Queensland born, sometimes Sydney based singer songwriter who has a major way with words. I'm a sucker for great songs with lyrics that make me think, with clever imagery or with great rhythmic flow. Darren Hanlon routinely employs all these strategies and has come out with some lines that could be quoted throughout the ages.

"...Call it coincidence but whenever we're together you're on top of the world while I'm under the weather..."

"...I tried to tell crossword girl how do I get one across while you're always two down..."

"A kiss sent down a phone line can come out sounding like a bug being squashed..."

Granted some attempts fall flat, but are noteworthy for the attempt, like this one from "Punk's Not Dead":

"...in the morning she says 'Never Mind The Bollocks here's your cup of tea'..."

Musically, his songs are structurally simple and the arrangements are usually very sparse and dry; the effect being that the vocal isn't crowded out by excessive layers of instrumentation. The melody is plaintive but effectively for this sort of song.

While these songs may not be as cerebral as the Go-Betweens or as emotionally overwrought as Mark Seymour, I feel these are songs that deserve a wider audience. Darren is certainly an unusual songwriter in the his works are a lot less cookie-cutter than many others I could name, but at least they're not off-putting in an esoteric sort of way. They're quirky and slightly off-kilter, yet warm and inviting.

Check out Darren Hanlon for yourself below:

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Latest from Sutton Althisar: "Devotion"

"Devotion" is the latest single from Sydney-via-LA based indie musician Sutton Althisar.

Yet again he has given us a direct melodic pop song wrapped in an odd arrangement that lifts the piece far above the mediocre.

If there's one thing Sutton doesn't want his music to be, it's straightforward. Quite frankly I don't blame him - too much music available these days has been oversimplified to the point of being unchallenging. Sutton is deliberately setting himself apart, developing music by carefully crafting layer upon layer to create rich soundscapes that are unique and deep enough to be immersed in. This not music suited to the shopping centre PA - this is music for quality sound systems, designed to reproduce in finite detail every little electronic blip and subtle nuance. This is music that requires the listener to pay their full attention to the music - anything less is to deny the track the respect it deserves. Conversely, denying this music your attention means you will miss the sweet melody of the vocal line bubbling underneath the swirling synths and, more generally, miss out on the actually enjoying the piece properly.

It's good to see an artist striving hard to make music for the ages, not just music for the here and now; a body of work that will still sound great in 20 years from now.

Over at Sutton's bandcamp page, the single is available with a bonus b-side (the unusual and sonically clashing "The Ghost"). It's available at a pay-what-you-wish price, so race on over and get into it.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Sunday Sessions: Promises

Promises - Promises

Who the hell are Promises?

A lot of people will remember their lone hit "Baby It's You" from 1978, but does anyone else know anything about them? There is precious little written about the band anywhere.

On the strength of this one great song, I picked up their self titled LP on vinyl recently for $1. As an album, it makes a great single: one amazing song ("Baby It's You" which opens the LP) with 9 B-sides (i.e. lesser tracks that don't quite match up to the promise (no pun intended) of the opening track). "Baby It's You" really is atypical of the rest of the LP, which is fairly bland, disco-esque pop that was so common of the day. Promises squandered, I reckon...

Maybe that makes them destined for one-hit wonder status purely for that reason...

Still, they at least have one great song to their name. I can think of plenty of other bands that can't even claim that much (Nickelback, I'm looking in your direction...)

Friday, 12 July 2013

1986

They say if you can remember the seventies you weren't really there. In a sense, the eighties are the same. 1986 gave us three songs that I remember being only moderate hits, but in retrospect they say more about the social circumstances and state of the world at the time than a lot of other releases that same year.

In 1986 Australia (and the world) was in a massive bear market in its economy. Everyone seemed flushed with money and were more than glad to spend it. History shows that the money that fueled the hedonism of the period was actually funded by bank credit, thus creating a blowout in wages and sending inflation skywards. Yet there was still an insatiable demand for credit and this drove up interest rates to an untenable (for some at least) level of 17% in 1989. The credit demand was also part of the reason that the stock market crashed on October 19th, 1987, and this drove us into "the recession we had to have", so then-federal treasurer Paul Keating kept telling us.

Still, in 1986, credit and decadence were the best mates of many young adults of the period...so they tell me. In 1986 I was 10, so what would I know? Most of this I have gathered retrospectively.

Along with all this fun, of course no one saw a credit crisis looming. Those who engaged in promiscuous sex and drugs at the time could never have seen the other problem looming...AIDS.

The The - "Infected".

Given that "the big disease with a little name" as Prince once called it, was all over the news at the time, it's hard to think of this song as anything but a statement about it. I mean, the very first lyric in the song goes "Infect me with your love". What else are you going to think? Given that the disease is also transferred by intravenous drug users sharing needles the lyrics could support both lines of thought...



David and David - "Welcome To The Boomtown"

"Welcome to the Boomtown" is a more cynical eighties update of the Eagles' track "Life in the Fast Lane", but without the chugging good time music behind it. This track tells of a handful of people, their indulgences and their entitlements and the potential pitfalls. In a sense, this is a perfect song to chronicle the era. It at least documnented all the hallmarks of a boom period. I believe the use of the word "boomtown" is used ironically. Any lifestyle funded on credit for a long period of time will only end in a bust eventually...



V.Spy.V.Spy - "Don't Tear It Down"

While we're on the subject of money, property developers were using a lot of credit to buy up beautiful old city buildings, largely for their land value, demolishing them and building bland skyscrapers in their place. Admittedly some were in a state of disrepair at the time, but in hindsight the meticulous craftwork of tradesmen from years gone by was also demolished in the process. "Don't Tear it Down" was a strident protest song arguing for the heritage listing of many inner city buildings as opposed to knocking them down for the sake of urbanisation.



The 80s were clearly a lot more turbulent that people remember them to be, but at least with the aid of hindsight we can see that. Sometimes perspective is only gained once one is removed from the period being examined...

ENJOY!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

More Great tracks by Female Artists

Finally, here's the first part of my follow-up list of great Female voiced artists of the last 20 years. The original list was quite popular with the blogging public, but 20 entries is not enough to show all the great artists of the oast two decades, so here's some more.

"Cornflake Girl" - Tori Amos

Despite this being an absolutely sublime piece of music with a gorgeous Kate Bush-esque vocal happening here, I have no idea what she is singing about. Does that make this less of a great song? I think NOT!



"Perfect Family" - Diana Ah Naid

Tom Waits once said he loves pretty melodies telling him horrible things. No-one likes a divorce, except maybe a family court judge, so this song perfectly meets Mr Waits' criteria. It's a painful breakup song set to a bouncy summery melody.



"Treat Yourself Gently" - ISIS

Never has a lyric like: "I'm sucking your brains and your sucking my toes" sounded so sexy and appealing than it does in this great folk track from 3 lovely ladies from Brisvegas. This is an absolutely gorgeous piece of music that deserves way more attention on a national level than it did. It was heaps popular on 4ZZZ-FM and in Brisbane alternative music circles however...



"Connection" - Elastica

Elastica were swept up in the hysteria of Britpop in the mid 1990s thanks, in no small part, to lead singer Justine Frischmann being Damon Albarn's (lead singer of Blur) girlfriend at the time. The fact that she was also Brett Anderson's ex-girlfriend (she left the Suede lead singer for Damon) meant that all three bands hated each other. This was a hit from Elastica's wildly successful self-titled debut, but it's similarity to the Wire track "Three Chord Rhumba" landed the band in court on plagiarism charges.



"Ready To Go" - Republica

Yet another British band who rode high on the Britpop wave in 1995/6. This was by far their biggest hit, and little was heard from them again. This track has since been used in countless advertising campaigns, both here in Australia and overseas.



"Army of Me" - Bjork

This sub-industrial sounding track passed me by when it first came out. I always found Bjork's work too esoteric for me. I need to go back and listen to it again with fresh ears - from what I read her work is quite rewarding. This version features new backing from rockers Skunk Anansie. It kicks.


"Mercy" - Duffy

This demure Welsh-lady packs a powerful voice on this number. This one features a nice soulful groove conjured up by ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who produced this track.



"If Only" - KT Tunstall

Scottish songstress KT Tunstall will probably be mostly remembered for her hugely successful hit single "Suddenly I See". And while it is by no means a bad track, dig deeper and ye shall be rewarded. The aforementioned track was on her first LP "Eye To The Telescope". This track is a sublime piece from her equally sublime second LP "Drastic Fantastic" released in 2007.



"Challengers" - New Pornographers

The wonderful Neko Case, who was featured in the previous list, appears in this indie supergroup from Canada. For my money, Neko's contributions to New Pornographers albums have always been major highlights, and this one is no exception. This is the title track of the group's 4th LP, released in 2007.



"Come Away With Me" - Norah Jones

Norah Jones is still doing her thing apparently, still making great piano based music, but she doesn't get the media coverage that she did when her first LP was released on Blue Note records in 2002. This is the title track from the album and her sultry voice still gives listeners tingles down the spine all these years later.



"Don't U Eva" - Sarah Blasko

Sarah Blasko has had some remarkable success with her unique voice in Australia. Her first LP "The Overture and the Underscore" recieved plenty of praise upon its initial release and it remains a masterful piece of work. This is a performance of one of the most well known tracks from the album, from the SBS-TV program Rockwiz.



"Relapse" - Little Birdy

Vocalist Katy Steele has amazing vocal phrasing for her tender age, but she carries a voices that sounds like Norah Jones has inhaled helium. This is a great showcase for her insanely wide vocal range.



"Live Without It" - Killing Heidi

Killing Heidi were alternative rock poster children back around the turn of the millennium. And they literally were children - vocalist Ella Hooper was literally around 16 when the band was discovered by Triple J unearthed. Her youth in this clip is marked by her long black dreadlocks. She has since matured into a lovely lady who is always bubbly and bright in interviews, and has a killer voice.



"Perfekte Welle" - Juli

Surf music from Germany? Yep, I kid you not. This track is sung completely in German, and the title does literally translate to "Perfect Wave". It has a killer melody and a killer video. I'll talk about this one more in future posts - it is such a great song.



Until next time: ENJOY!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Frankie Big Face - "Air Traffic"

This is only going to be a brief post tonight as I have been spending too much time up late recently.

However, it has been ages since I was involved with Songfight. I submitted a few entries circa 2001 but I've never kept up my contributions, largely due to lack of time and lack of creativity.

Songfight is a creative community who write songs with a given song title in a short amount of turnaround time. As you'd expect, some of it is stellar, some of it less so. All of it is written and performed by unsigned and alternative musicians, and all of it is worthy of some attention.

Also, recently I've had to jettison most of my local copy of the Songfight archives due to hard drive problems and space saving (there's in excess of 50 gigabytes of free music available on the site that I will now have to download again. Boo hoo!)

One of the more prolific contributors (whom I hope to discuss more in future posts) to Songfight is Frankie Big Face. His pop sensibility is as sharp as a knife and he has managed to contribute some excellent tracks to the competition over the years. His first non-Songfight album "Smile if you Absolutely Have To" has some killer tunes on it, and this one is one of the most hardest rocking: "Air Traffic".

"Air Traffic" is the opening track on the LP and it contains a solid rock riff played in 3/4 time of all things, with a real Keith Moon-styled drum part played underneath it. You've never heard waltz time rock so hard.

Check it out, and if you like it, rock on over to the Frankie Big Face website, download the album for free and ENJOY!


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Reality TV


image source: The Verve Life

One of my biggest pet hates has to be Reality TV.

I hate the vacuousness of it, both in the contestants, the largely pointless premise the shows are based around, and the fact that people swallow up the dreck they serve hook, line and sinker.

Winners of the contests are chewed up and spat out by the industry machine. Literally, people become celebrities here today, and then they're gone tomorrow. It's depressing.

Allan Wills, over at The Verve Life summed it up beautifully when he says:

"...it’s a scam being perpetrated right in front of me, and the victims are both the participants and the viewers."

"...It’s hoodwinking on a global scale."
Reality TV has been around for years to some degree. However we have seen a major proliferation of shows with all kinds of noble but poorly executed ideas proliferate in the 21st century.

At the turn of the century, Reality TV seemed to be revolving around the talk show circuit in the US, where the freaks and trailer trash of the world paraded their dirty laundry on air to millions of people. It's like watching a car crash - it's awful, but compelling enough that you can't look away. And Jerry Springer and Oprah Winfrey were/still are the king and queen of the format.

The song below, written by a great indie musician from Boston named Monty Smith, who goes by the name of Brick Pig, wrote this great slag-off to vacuous celebrity culture back in 2001 as part of a competition known as Songfight. The song is called "Secrets" and it is probably more relevant today than it ever was. In just under 90 seconds he articulates rather cleverly the hatred I feel for this type of television, and as it's such a great song, I wish to share it with you.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Audio Cumulus on Soundrop.FM


Introducing my first steps into a custom automated radio-styled streaming system - AUDIO CUMULUS!

Audio Cumulus basically means culmination of my music tastes into one place. The new station is available via Soundrop.fm and is best heard via the plug-in app available for free through Spotify. It is also available through Soundrop's web player however, this relies on YouTube clips being available for each song, and this is not always possible.

It is also available as a free app for iPhone. The Android version is not available as of yet.

Head on down, lake a listen and let me know what you think. There is only a maximum of 260 songs on there currently, as that's the maximum allowed. Let me know in the comments - is it good or bad? Is there a better service that integrates with Spotify? What service do you use (if any?)

Enjoy!