Adventures of a University Finalist

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cut Your Hair

Stigers

Curtis Stigers - Secret Heart (Concord, 2002)

Curtis Stigers - It's So Hard Living Without You (Randy Newman)
Curtis Stigers - Hometown Blues (Steve Earle)

No, don't run away! Curtis Stigers is no longer your MOR, sub-Michael Bolton, enemy but rather your swingin' hip daddy friend. Like Top Cat but without the love of purple waistcoats. I've been trying to explain as much to my good companion in blogdom, Jefito, but he just wouldn't believe me so I've had to resort to this.
For a start, I would like to reiterate the claims of our ominpresent friend, the AMG guide, when I say that Stigers' records for Concord are not an unholy trinity of jazz, pop, and blue-eyed soul but rather a straight jazz record although more in the Harry Connick Jnr vein than Thelonious Monk. The band is balanced toward the intimate rather than any foolhardy big band gestures with a simple setup of drums, bass and piano with Stigers flexing his chops on the tenor sax for the two originals on the album, 'How Could A Man Take Such A Fall' and 'Swingin' Down at 10th and Main'. Yes, those with any trace of inductive logic will have realised that this is mainly a covers album or what people prefer to term "an album of jazz standards". However, when you find that Stigers has tackled Randy Newman (as he has done on all four of his Concord releases), Steve Earle, Ron Sexsmith and Dave Frishberg then you come to realise that this is a more exacting trawl through "The Great American Songbook" than you'd normally expect.
Take for example 'Hometown Blues' which was originally a bluesy jug band stomp that bordered on skiffle and has been reinterpretated as a swing number, keeping the high tempo and deprecating sense of humour refreshingly intact. It also highlights the strengths of Stigers who is neither an oppressive technocrat in his delivery (Michael Buble is a prime culpirt of this syndrome with his cultured, charisma free style) nor one to oversing his part and tread all over the band's toes as it were. One could never label his vocal stylings bland either for, although they may not include the vocal tics of some of the greats, Stigers seems to be occupying the same space as O.V. Wright and Sam Cooke. He clearly has a smile on his face throughout the song and it shows in a clean, nuanced, and enigmatic performance.
The delicate and respectful treatment of Randy Newman's beautiful 'Livin' Without You' (retitled on Stigers' album for some reason) is just aching with restrained passion and guile. You can see the smoke masquerading as fog in the air causing the eyes to water in pain and grief from the Guaraldi piano intro. By the time, you've reached the third line of "The subway shakes my floor", you've stopped whatever earthly distraction you were engaged in and begun to listen intently which is something that Newman with his dryness and rasping lisp of a voice has never always been able to achieve in my personal opinion. What makes me so enthusiastic about this as a record is the refusal to drag these fantastic lyrics into a melodramatic tupour but rather allow them to breathe and speak for themselves; a bold move which a lot of vocalists just don't have the guts to do. It's the equivalent to skimming stones across a lake, on a dew stained early morning, leaving behind soft ripples across the water's surface. Something has been changed but without destroying the fabric from which the artist is working. I hope that you all enjoy Stigers' lovingly constructed change of pace as much as I do.

Buy - Curtis Stigers - Secret Heart
Visit - Curtis Stigers

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Final Four: A Little Bit of Faith

Todd2Prefab
MercuryCave

4. Mercury Rev - Everlasting Arm
3. Prefab Sprout - Jesse James Symphony
2. Todd Rundgren - Sometimes I Don't Know What To Feel
1. Nick Cave - Into My Arms

Blimey. Here we are at the end of the series in one final spurt (ooh, you are awful but I like you)! To be honest, it's a relief since my brain was aching from agonizing over these final choices and the rash choice of the Bungle boys; I love 'em but sometimes chronological bias can be a hindrance to any such list. Sadly, I am completely and utterly wiped from my 9-6 shift at the book shop (yes, I got a job and isn't it ever so glamorous) so none of these remarkable songs are going to get the writeup that they deserve. All I'll say is that (a) 'A Wizard, A True Star' must be purchased by all of you after which you must lay down in your psychedelic pads with oversized headphones, a drug or soft drink of your choice, and an open mind; you will touch something resembling Jesus (I'm sure that it has a beard and doesn't mind the aforementioned beard being stroked whatever it is), (b) 'See You On the Other Side' is the best album that Mercury Rev have ever done , (c) 'Jordan: The Comeback' means that memories of Paddy McAloon dancing with giant hot dogs and GM vegetables should be banished forever in favour of daily worship, and (d) Nick Cave: Toto, I don't think we're in Caulfield anymore.
Finally, go to Jefitoblog to find part two of my Otis Redding Idiot's Guide. Free mp3s and ice cream for the first twenty to get there via this link!

Buy - Mercury Rev - See You On the Other Side
Buy - Prefab Sprout - Jordan: The Comeback
Buy - Todd Rundgren - A Wizard, A True Star
Buy - Nick Cave - The Boatman's Call

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Break From Our Scheduled Programming

Mew

Mew - ...and the Glass Handed Kites (BMG, 2005)

Mew - The Zookeepers Boy

As promised here is a review of those lovely Danish boys Mew and their performance at the Brighton Concorde 2. As a result, I won't be going too much into the logistics of the boys' new album. That can wait for a time when I actually possess it's post-modern disco prog pop in my clammy hands. The 'Heaven' dixie shooter will recommence tomorrow hopefully.
Picture the scene: yours truly and his good friend from the old stomping ground, Saint Dominic of Horsham, are driving through the futuristic metropolis of Brighton bellowing at each other regarding acid nebulas, time signatures, the vast inadequacies posed by the freshly printed AA map, and pondering why a speed camera just flashed us when I was actually under the speed limit (promise on Sir Cliff's life). Finally, weary and parched we reach the neon boulevard by the sea, park several leagues away from the Concorde, and slowly trudge whilst discussing whether government issued photo ID cards are rquired for entry to the venue.
When we finally set foot inside the clean yet also remarkably dingy place of musical birth, we make our way to the bar to buy water and cola made from the finest virgin's blood (why they couldn't get regular Coke is beyond me - Branson, you have much to answer for in regard to your sub-par soft drinks... and the whole train hoopla too) only to be pestered by well-intentioned souls proffering scratchcards, mailing lists, and snazzy gold buttons to be placed on garments for aesthetic pleasure to one and all. After escaping the overexaggerated throng that had built around us we wondered to gaze upon the rather poor merchandise and the support band's vast array of equipment. Layered keyboards, two basses, several guitars, a Roxy Music switchboard arrangement for Eno wannabes and a rather sparse drum kit for a band that was supposed to be "prog". Having suitably admired the arrangments, we settled down as the PA blasted out 'Songs for the Deaf' from start to finish and, ultimately, were pissed off when 'Do It Again' was unwelcomely interrupted by the arrival of the mythical support band. Pure Reason Revolution are noveau darlings of the media with pleasant write ups from The Fly, The NME, and Uncut. Pure Reason Revolution represent an ironic melisma of noise. The presence of two guitars is always welcome in a band that represent themselves as progressive as one sees a rosy vision of Powell/Turner soloing pitching between the wistful melodies and bit between the teeth aluminium canters. Instead they sought to drown each other out with a cornucopia of useless effects whilst the bass rumbled at such a heart imploding frequency that this battle soon became insignificant. Innovative maybe but atonal violin spatter, Pat Benatat lookalike bassists, the lack of any audible climaxes to any of their songs and no fruity bouquets of cheesy guitar solos left this well dry of both humour and zest. The fact that they said bugger all to the audience other than hello and goodbye didn't really help this charisma charity fund in waiting.
So once PRR had plodded off following their 30 minute stint which was either a very long medley or five unformed chunks of witless experimentation hopelessly seeking for a tangible hook, we waited for Mew. Off went all the excessive equipment, up went a white screen behind the stage, and on strolled the Danish bacon. Lead singer/rhythm guitarist Jonas Bjerre is the cross between an androgynous alien and a porpoise with his angelic countenance fractured by his over large mouth and his accompanying pure diamond falsetto. The bassist Johan Wolhert, an eerie ringer for Viggo Morternsen with his 11 o'clock stubble, unkempt locks, and bandaged wrists, is the band's mouthpiece outside of the musical numbers. Lead Guitarist Bo Madsen is certainly a presence, switching between eerily still during 'Am I Wry, No?' to hyper kinetic in 'She Spider' sawing at strings arryhmically as his hair fell over his face and his body twisted into uncomfortable spasms. One of the moments of the night was his introduction of the band's new single, 'Special', as "Pornographic, y'all" in his best Star of the Confederacy voice. The drummer, Silas Graae, looks like Scott Gorham causing time to rip sevenfold giving the keyboardist a killer Phil Lynott afro. If the band had kicked into 'Rosalie', all would have been complete for Mew to destroy the world in one fell swoop. Instead, they ripped through 7 of Frengers' 10 majestic tracks hitting them all on the nose, especially 'Eight Flew Over, One Was Destroyed' which somehow allowed new dimensions offered by the song to enter my conscience creating a magnificent set of zirconium encrusted tweezers which Zappa and his kin would surely have been proud. That's the thing about Mew; they're a band that is simplistic in approach which seeks to become the cream of the crop by praying upon its strengths. In doing so, they become so unidentifiable because they are so individualistic. The only band that I can really compare them to are Scritti Politti. There's the enigmatic frontman with the soulful falsetto croon, the dadaist lyrical constructs, the refusal to readily identify with current trends, the recognition of the key rules governing the creation of a brilliant pop song, and the ability to bend those rules. There's also the fact that they're both so goddamn good.
The live set was tight and welcome in its reliance on songs that the band knew that the band would recognise regarding the fact that the new album isn't out until Monday here in the UK. The only songs they played off the new record were the two singles, speckled disco egg 'Special' and 'Apocalypso', the Supernaut instrumental opener of 'Circuitry of the Wolf', the J Mascis collaboration of 'Why Are You Looking Grave?', and the rainbow kissed, indigo imprint of 'The Zookeeper's Boy' which should be the successor to 'Wood Beez'. J Mascis, you say? Sadly, the bloated voice of deprivation didn't turn up but was broadcast via the mixing desk. Thankfully, he sounded as gravelly and uninterested as usual so the experience wasn't ruined. And neither are Mew, mad scientists the lot of them, still ready to force us to drink slimline tonics, read William Burroughs, and find out where the wild things really are.

Buy - Mew - ...and the Glass Handed Kites (out on the 26th of September in the UK)
Visit - Mew
Watch - Tickets for the Current UK Tour

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A New Zealand Pop Outfit That Aren't Crowded House in a Top Ten!? Sacrilege!

Mutton

The Mutton Birds - Rain, Steam and Speed (Shhhhh! Records, 1999)


The Mutton Birds - Pulled Along By Love

Good day to you all! I have returned from pastures of peat and moss refreshed and ready to roll on the continuation of this rather pleasant series. Since I left, I have received a very welcome set of packages from both Kelp Records (containing the new Acorn and Greenfield Main albums) and Not Lame (my Clubhouse membership bundle including a snazzy purple t-shirt and 'International Pop Overthrow Vol. 8'). I'm in negotiations to set up an interview with the founder of Kelp and frontman of Greenfield Main and Rhume, Jon Bartlett, as soon as I sort out all this Skype business. I've also given my good friend Jefito the first part of my Otis Redding Complete Idiot's Guide which you can read right here. It's been a very busy couple of days.
Along with all that fuss, I've also rediscovered a lost member of my rather vast CD collection that was picked up for a ridiculously cheap price and then hidden next to Gay Dad never to be gazed on again... until the day I decided to refresh my CD changer for the long trip to Derbyshire. Hence, four days later, I was driving down the M1 back to my lovely lady's abode screaming bloody murder at the car stereo as I just couldn't remember what the blasted CD was! Richard Hawley? I didn't own any of his records! Sparklehorse? No, too vibrant! So with track 8 whirring like a demented dervish on my mental gramophone I pulled into the Leicester services, ripped open the boot door, and discovered that the tiny piece of unidentifiable alloys that had vexed me for so long was in fact the pop genius Don McGlashan and his band, The Mutton Birds.
Now I've given up album reviews for a while so that I can increase my output on Adventures... so a long discussion of the delights of 'Ascloseasthis's cooing feedback loop, the threadbare picking on the folky 'Jackie's Song', and the tearstained nostalgia of 'The Falls' will have to wait for a time when we're all gathered around a splendid fire with brandies in hand and cigars in blistered maws. Over the recent weeks, I've begun referring to certain songs as archetypes; song's with such tight structures and heart imploding melodies as to form a blueprint upon which all other substandard works attempt to build. Wire's 'Outdoor Miner' is such a song. 'Pulled Along By Love' with its economical lyric structure of A-B-A (although with some minor deviations) is a revelation where each word is judged on a its own merit. The imagery raised by McGalshan's statement that "They're buttoned up against it/All the king's horses and all the five cents" goes beyond the witnessing of a simple meeting of two people on a train platform. Metronomic tin pan drum clicks and backwards piano set out their stall as McGlashan begins to move beyond the physical in a push toward the theoretical. Are the two mother and son? Are they lovers who have been long apart? Or are they simply strangers caught in a moment; a bubble captured for all time from which they will never escape. It's a fascinatingly voyeuristic character piece that wishes to wear the mask of a romantic anthem to rival the likes of 'Put Your Arms Around Me' or ' It's Only Natural'. To be blunt, it wears that mask all too well slipping in and out of the masquerade as it pleases buoyed by its exultant chorus which seeks to espouse that life is determined not by a spiritual force but its more popular, secular alternative. That's not to call the song anti-faith in any sense; rather, it is a pure celebration of what of the greatest things in life and, as a result, is a warm musical blanket to wrap oneself in. That's something that someone can always do with even when treading carefully through the Kingdom of the Man himself. Hell, if I end up in purgatory, I'd want this song to be the one to be put on its permanent rotation system. I can't get enough of that intro that manages to maintain a balance between a Spiritualised amphetamine haze and a wholesome acoustic stomp.
Tomorrow: To be honest, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring in at number 4. However, I will hopefully have a review of my visit to see Mew at the Brighton Concorde the day after. Bring on the Scandinavian prog about zoo keepers, spiders, and creepy old men!

Buy - The Mutton Birds - Rain, Steam and Speed

Friday, September 09, 2005

Oh No.. Mike Love's Crashed The Party at Number 6!

Beach Boys

The Beach Boys - Holland (Capitol, 1973)

The Beach Boys - Only With You

Many people see The Beach Boys are this horribly misinformed dialectic of Brain, the genius, vs. the rest of the group: the cynics, the unenlightened heretics to the gradiose aesthetic that Brian so rigorously sought. This has led many to brand Mike Love as a self-righteous prick, scorn the band's Brother output (other than THOSE Van Dyke Parks collaborations), and go back to listen to Pet Sounds or Smile for the umpteenth time. Of course, Mike Love is an arrogant prick but then again so are most rock stars and they're often applauded or encouraged in their endeavours (*cough* Pete Doherty *cough*). Yeah, he was the man behind a hell of a lot of crap sometimes with my most personal grievance being that his California Saga knocked Fataar and Chaplin's superior 'We Got Love' off the Holland album into an undeserved obscurity (if you've not heard it, check pout the live cut on 'In Concert', it's a definite highlight) but too often others have been forced to share the backlash to his various follies.
People also forget that Love's defining nasal whine graces many of the band's earliest and best known hits, something that may not have happened if Brian or even Carl had taken over that particular duty. Another thing, you're prepared to do harmony on a track after just returning from a long world tour and a fireman's helmet is thrust into your hands with the earnest proclamation that it must be worn during the recording. If it was me, I'd have laughed too. Too many times people are placed on this false pedestal where they are expected be exemplary human beings in order to pursue their art. In my opinion, that's a crock and has led to alot of The Beach Boys output to be scorned due to some absurd personal vendetta against a nitwit with a gigantic ego and a unhealthy interest in the teachings of the Maharishi. How come Lennon never had to put up with this shit?
Onwards to the actual song. Co-written by Love and the group's fatalistic romantic, Dennis Wilson, with the main vocal duties handed to the group's best singer, Carl, it's probably only the third best track on the album behind the South African imposters' 'Leaving This Town' and Carl's composition, 'The Trader'. However, its lyrical kick, accompanied by Carl's immaculate performance, mean that it will always have a special importance to me. "Loved so many things/that I feel that I've only felt with you/only with you", what a kick off. I'm already getting a little blubbery so I'm going to have to turn the song off before this becomes a Defcon Four Tissue Alert. Yes, it's sentimental. Yes, it's a little bit corny. However, it also honest, direct, and just plain gorgeous with its simple piano chords and the usual trademark harmonies that he band are so well known for. Put your prejudices aside and just dive on into its cool, cool waters.
Next week: I'm goin away on the Thursday so have not yet put together a plan as to what I'll do with this series. I may take a week off to work on my Otis Guide. I may receive my Not Lame CD in the post and write about that. Also, I want to revamp the site first and the first thing that has to go is that awful header. So anyone who wants to do a new one for me with the name simply being 'Adventures..." and maybe utilising this heaven theme, send them to t_d_williamson@yahoo.co.uk and you will get a goodie bag from me filled with lots of tasty musical treats. I'll make the deadline next Sunday and if no one fancies the challenge then I'll accept my fate as one of the less beautiful blogs and get back to my writing.

Buy - The Beach Boys - Carl & the Passions/Holland
Buy - The Beach Boys - I Can Hear Music (a superior compilation of Beach Boys tracks that feature Carl as the lead)
Buy - VA - Caroline Now! (Marina Records' Beach Boys tribute album with Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake doing a magnificent take on 'Only With You'

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Number 7 With A Bullet

Otis

Otis Redding - Otis! The Definitive... (Rhino, 1993)

Otis Redding - Day Tripper (Live)

"Not halfway, I want you to go all the way now". And with these words, Otis Redding records the greatest Beatles cover of all time knocking that recent Live8 Sgt Pepper shambles into a wide brimmed hat. Why these words? Well it's not just the instrumentation because Clarence Carter would nick the rhythm for his own inferior cut 'Funky Street'. The horns are aggressive, the bass line tempered, and the drums propulsive but no more than other prime cuts. The Mar-Kays and The MGs (I'm not completely sure which play on this live recording but I'm leaning toward the former) were both supreme backing outfits, both rightfully recognised as legends of Southern Soul, but they're merely the foundation for the greatest soul singer of all time. Cooke was more of a cleaner proposition that the Big O with every vowel enunciated, and every note struck with a warm smile and glad tidings. Gaye could be called similar but in his metaphysical pursuit of the sexual, the id, he lost some of his power utilising his voice more as a n instrument to further the groove that he had manufactured. Gaye could be considered as the precursor to the manufactured emptiness of the standard offerings of nu-soul in its loss of priorities. Otis never searched for a mood or any form of wallpaper aesthetic. He sang from heel to crown, putting his body on the line for his music, not through hedonism or drugs but rather letting the music flow through himself as he twisted and contorted like a puppet.
Don't bother tracking down the studio cut of 'Day Tripper' off 'Complete & Unbelievable...', it sounds too polished and restrained for its own good. Here with the man is in his element he tears up the stage from the minute he opens up his mouth. The track begins with the regulation bass line tapping along with the horns working against it with a simple counter melody. The crowd are clapping innocently along in time with the beat expecting a charming by the numbers run through; relief from the rest of the Otis experience with his "knock you on your butt and rub your face in the dirt" power ballads and "dance until you get cramp in every inch of your body" dancefloor stompers. Those audience members are sorely mistaken.
At the end of the opening assault (AKA the chorus), Otis hollers "Do it NOW!!" and the horns unleash a blistering punch at his command and not even Otis' silky remonstration of "Tease you a little bit y'all" came pull them back from the threshold. They've been pushed into a rut of loud, salty blasts of air that propel the band toward the boil. At the start, it was a merely lukewarm run out but within half a minute Otis has turned them into white hot soul-diers ripping up boundaries and spitting out the pieces in sizeable chunks. Its a transformation but one that occurs continuously in sets by the man. The band begin to start at the right tempo but after Otis kicks it becomes bedlam with numerous crescendoes, constant tempo changes, nonsense adlibs, extensive Van Morrison style verbal marathons... the works.
This live version of 'Day Tripper' was my first real contact with the work of Redding, beyond standards like 'Dock of the Bay' and 'Hard to Handle', and it's been true love every since with a Jefitoblog Idiot's Guide now in the works. My favourite song by the great man is 'Pound and Hundreds' with 'Chained and Bound' and 'You One and Only Man' close follow-ups but when I'm chilling with a sloppy wet martini in the Seraphim Bar, this cut will always be the one to get my head nodding with recognition as well as my feet vibrating against the barstool's metal haunches. The Big O may have passed from this world into the Elysian Fields 38 years ago but his gentle Georgia spirit should be both remembered and revered in these trying times.
Tomorrow: Dennis & Carl team up to wilt the tulips with their delicate hymn to the finer sex. Also, thanks to Ben from The Samaritans Are Engaged for pointing out the presence of a certain Mr Waits in Dave Gilmour's Desert Island Discs selection. I always thought that Floyd should stay in the vein of 'St Tropez's elegant whimsy rather than their wretched take of progressive music but you can;t fault Gimour's tastes in music. Delicious.

Buy - Otis Redding - Otis! The Definitive...
Buy - Otis Redding - Remember Me

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

La Huitieme Chanson au Paradis

Lowell

Lowell George - Thanks I'll Eat It Here (Warner, 1979)

Lowell George - 20 Million Things

Just before he himself would push up the pretty lil' daisies, Little Feat's frontman Lowell George would release his first and only album, 'Thanks I'll Eat It Here'. The recording of this lost (and later rediscovered) classic happened during an acrimonious break between Little Feat members with various drug habits escalating and musical differences being espoused regularly. George's well of song was drier than Noel Coward's humour and he was achin' for a little time free reign with his musical friends to work things out. Richie Hayward, Little Feat's drummer, would play on the album and Fred Tackett, member of the Pure Prairie League and future Feats member, would write two cuts but that was the only involvement with the band that George would have during that period.
Lowell George could be said to be a lot like Brian Wilson; both were drugged up, obese, and stone cold geniuses. The one major difference is that Wilson has never made a half-decent solo cut whereas George's album is one of the greatest roots rock albums ever put onto vinyl up there with 'Eat A Peach', 'The Captain and Me', and even the Feats' own 'Sailin' Shoes'. The album includes four standards by peers such as Allen Toussaint, Ann Peebles, Ricki Lee Jones and Jimmy Webb (Webb's song 'Himmler's Ring' should be heard to be believed in all its musky cabaret glory), however, it is a George original that is the album's real highlight. That song is '20 Million Things', the 70s equivalent to Webb's 'Wichita Lineman' with its use of a working man's toil as an astute analogy for the pitfalls inherent to the pursuit of love; the distraction and the folly.
It begins softly with two acoustic guitar working against each other, tangling together like a langorous strain of ivy reaching toward the stars, until that wonderfully familiar creak of the collapsing wood leading into George's muffled curse. Enter a soft piano performing a slow tempo stroll and we're off toward musical heaven as George tries to give him cracked chords a workout but only finding a marked shift toward the melancholy. The guitars continues to shift and strain against their limitations continuing their delightful motif before we reach the chorus' opening call of "It comes from moment to moment/Day to day/Time just slips away" where the piano moves toward an uplifting chord sequence and the heartfelt harmonies provide a splint for George's wounded heart. I believe that the part of the song that will always have me coming back is when George finally reaches the song's core with his plea that "I have 20 million things to do/20 million things/but all I can think about is you". So simplistic yet so undeniably lovely. There are just these touches throughout the song that are so earthed in the human condition that they border on the soulfulness of Cooke, Womack and the Big O. For example, the second verse were the lyric calls for George to utter the line "That rocking chair I was supposed to fix/ well it came undid" manages to cram in so much longing, regret, and grit that I nearly always reach for the dial to move the song back ten seconds so I can hear it all over again. George can joke about his pain though for as we reach the coda's end we hear that same crash of timber accompanied with his mutter of "Oh no I did it again". It realises that such concerns are a cycle with the role of the balladeer never ending. So in honour of that I've had this song on repeat for the last twenty minutes and I'm nowhere near becoming tired of its restless beauty. I can't wait to see how it will hold up when it faces the challenge posed by eternity.
Tomorrow: The Georgian gentleman shows everyone else how to perform the Fab Four.

Buy - Lowell George - Thanks I'll Eat It Here

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Number Nine Song in Heaven (Notice a Pattern yet?)

Bungle

Mr Bungle - California (Slash Records, 1999)

Mr Bungle - The Air Conditioned Nightmare

Yes, I know that following the 'Girls of Porn' Mr Bungle are all going to hell. Competitions to put the most disgusting swear songs in a song as possible will do that to you. For that matter, if that whole coveting and worshipping of false idols part of the Commandments is true then I'll probably be joining them in the administration of nipple tweaking and Chinese burns. However, with this whole exercise I believe that it would be best to exercise wishful thinking.
So why Mr Bungle? Well, 'California' was probably the first record that I ever really loved when I was first getting into music six years ago and as such can be seen as catalyst for my "eclectic" modern tastes. All the songs on this album can be found on old mix tapes in some form or another due to their sheer adaptability. I'd later go on to get their all too bizarre eponymous debut and hate the thing (mainly due to the breaks between songs consisting of four minutes of Metal Machine Music feedback) but I'll always be able to come back to this Zappa-lite confection. It's truly impossible to describe how Mike Patton (lead singer of Fantomas, Tomahawk, and, of course, Faith No More) and his cohorts manage to control such a melange of styles into such a smooth set. Songs canter from loungecore through heavy metal to torch songs in under four minutes without taking a breath or missing a step.
My favourite of these exhaustive explorations of the musical psyche is 'The Air Conditioned Nightmare', a monastic journey out of Bavarian forests into the teenage wilderness of Jan & Dean's Surf City before finally riding against a silhouetted Boston skyline. There's machine gun riffs, a soft coda of native percussion and animal clucks whilst Patton croons, and an ultimate overwhelming feeling of catharsis. It's so pure in its sheer likeability with none of the instrumental quirks played for laughs or to show off a uniform studio prowess. Every touch and every note is required for the song structure creating a four minute rock operetta as far detached from the fatty excess of Queen or the coyness of early Bowie as possible. I adore it and can't imagine life without it.
Tomorrow: Amazing solo Feats as our man George finds out that his new job as a handyman ain't all that it's cracked up to be. See you then!
NB: I forgot to upload the mp3! Apologies but you must allow for the occasional screw up by yours truly. I am only flesh, blood, bile, water, and other organic matter. On a happier and less disgusting note, my sister found this delightful page of Elliott Smith Either/Or demos.

Buy - Mr Bungle - California
Visit - The Musical World of Mike Patton

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Number Ten Song in Heaven (Part 1 of 10... obviously)

Waits

Tom Waits - Alice (Anti, 2002)


Tom Waits - I'm Still Here

So why the grandiose gesture of a ten part series? Well, I was getting a bit sick of doing four song blocks and that I didn't have the time or inclination to devote my time into each tune equally. Thus, I am now trying out a new period of economy SVC style to allow my creative juices to flow and my record collection to not be used up by the end of the month. Hence, the theme of my personal Top Ten songs that will be playing in Heaven when I get flattened by a diaper truck or mauled by a grizzly bear. I know that its egotistical to think that you guys care a jot about my choices since I'll be having to fight tooth, nail, mace and plank of a wood with a nail in it, for jukebox rights. The fact that God invariably gets dibs will complicate matters even further and I hear that he's a Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, and John the Baptist fan so we may be all shit be out of luck unless we get Nat King Cole to step up to the big white grand piano and play some requests.
So if the worst comes to the worst, and drunk on wine straight from the disciple's private vines we finally force Nat to crack his knuckles and let ebony and ivory glide beneath his fingertips then I'll request this Tom Waits ditty. Taken off the concept album, Alice, hidden between the drowned phlegmmy rasp of 'Reeperbahn' and the delicate sea shanty cum aquatic ballad of 'Fish and Bird' it clocks in at merely 1 minute and 49 seconds; every second of which is filled with a contained, opalescent beauty. I've chosen this forgotten gem in particular over the many other highlights of Waits' distinguished career (I consider songs such as 'Kentucky Avenue', 'Picture in a Frame', 'Frank's Wild Years', and 'Old Boyfriends' among other as superior to this tune in the all-time rankings) for personal reasons.
I will always remember that day when I came home from walking my English Bull Terrier, McGinlay, only to find not only that no one was home but I had forgotten my house key. Luckily, the side gate was open and we moseyed through it into the back garden to sit on the sun lounger and wait for my parents return. This was before the Golden Era of the Ipod so I had two irritating little earphones wedged between the hardened earwax connected to my beloved Minidisc player (he's taken a few knocks over the years and now sits forlornly in a bedside drawer waiting for the new pretender to his throne to kick the proverbial bucket). On this particular day, 'Alice' was rotating happily on the player and I had particularly enjoyed manfully skipping down the back lanes whilst 'Table Top Joe' careened off the roof tiles into the bluest of skies. I hadn't ever really gotten through the album before due to various interruptions and its difficult schizophrenic pacing. However, God obviously had a plan for me that day so that I would finally put up, shut up and listen to the entire album in all its Gestalt glory.
So we have the picture of me with sunglasses on, eyes closed, legs spread out and music playing. I'd finally twisted, turned and shimmied through 'Reeperbahn's' many pitfalls of ominous clinks and bangs accompanied by Waits' impersonation of the Mad Hatter on a cocktail of methadone and copious quantities of gin. So far, so wonderfully chaotic. One had not reckoned with that sound of the piano wafting in as light as a feather clearing the haze of my own foggy stupour before the middle eight hit knocked me off the lounger like bulldozer covered in particularly soft cushions. For the woodwinds had joined the march of the gin blossoms at the same time as Waits attempting what could easily be mistaken for a high note with his utterance of "Someone turn the lights back on/I'll love you 'til all time is gone." Now, at this point in my life I hadn't had anybody to hold in such a fashion. I had suffered my adolescent rejections and they still stung but only as much as any emotional splinter. As a result, I had no right upon this earth to feel any tears roll down my cheek as I frantically scrabbled at my glasses so that I could run my sleeve across my scarlet tinted cheeks. But that's exactly what happened. Why? I have no idea. Waits is an alchemist - turning what others see as lead into gold through the deftest and most knowing of touches. He'd be a superstar if he didn't look like a tramp or actually gave a flying rodent about such material things. Then again, if he did then he wouldn't be the man that we know and love today.
Tomorrow... I haven't decided. I'll plan it all out and then I can leave tantalising clues from whcih you can try and derive the next entry... or completely ignore as I would. FYI: The Graduate, despite his genuine hatred of most crosswords, only buys NME to find out the new clue that Trevor Hungerford has found for Cud. The man seems to have a never ending list!

Buy - Tom Waits - Alice
Visit - Tom Waits

Friday, September 02, 2005

This Vicious Cabaret

McComb

The Triffids - Born Sandy Devotional (Mushroom, 1986)

The Triffids - The Seabirds
The Triffids - Estuary Bed
The Triffids - Lonely Stretch
The Triffids - Wide Open Road

Damn you Stuart Maconie and your failure to index! There I was hoping to quote your marvelously off-the-cuff comment in Cider With Roadies that started my short, sharp descent into Triffidom but you had to go and spoil it. Never mind. It's an excellent book and can still be purchased for a veritable snap (or a "billy bargain" as we term it here in The Graduate household) so we'll forgive you for your lackadaisical attitude. Love the radio show too; the Spoken Word week was a favourite with the wondrous Monster Mash of Betjeman vs. Tilt-era Scott Walker. Blood dripped from the ropes and Voltaire floated down from the ceiling like confetti.
Away from Wigan's finest though and on to Perth's. The Triffids, faves of the late John Peel ('Lonely Stretch' and 'Wide Open Road' would both turn up on sessions for the great man), were the Ladies-in-Waiting of the Australian indie rock movement of the 80s spoken in the same breath of The Go-Betweens and the Bad Seeds but with never the same level of devotion or popularity. As the Bad Seeds were driven by a singular force, in the ghoulish shape of Mr Cave, the Triffids were a vehicle for one man's experience and accompanying vision. That man was David McComb. McComb died on February 2, 1999, due to complications after an innocuous car crash furthered by heroin abuse and a consistent heart problem. He left behind an extraordinary body of work that is exemplified by the album that many call his masterpiece, 1986's 'Born Sandy Devotional'.
As soon as the album's lead-off track, 'The Seabirds' begins anyone with a vague knowledge of The Go-Betweens will recognise the instant similarity in the rawness of McComb's voice as he intones the poetry of "No foreign pair of sunglasses will ever shield you from the light that pierces your eyelids, the screaming of the gulls". Nick Cave always preferred the vaudeville where he luxuriates in the roles of the carny, the ass, the saloon pianist, the undertaker; Cave immerses himself in character, yelping screaming, and howling to the rotted ceiling with equal amounts of grief and mirth. McComb prefers to looks toward the enigma of the inner demons that search constantly for a redemption that never existed and their relationship to the landscape that surrounds them. He is not one for the culture of the individual signified by the exquisite aerial photo of the Western Australian town of Mandurah which adorns the album's cover. McComb's lyrics speak of a fictionalised truth with 'Tarrilup Bridge', the album's one possible weak moment due to the child like vocal of Jill Birt, referring to the bridge which the protagonist drives her car off to end her life, being an excellent example of the lyrics' overall feeling of isolation and nihilism being a direct result of the physical landscape which they inhabit. In the masterful 'The Seabirds', as the protagonist swims out into the Pacific to meet his death, the sun burns his skin, the sea tosses him like a rag doll, the reefs cut deep into his flesh, and the saltwater causes further pain as it penetrates his wounds mixing with his blood. In the end, all that is left is his battered body, now torn up physically as it was emotionally, lying on the beach as the gulls stare at it unwilling to end his suffering. McComb by this point is exhausted willing only to bellow a piteous judgment of "So, where were you?" as the eyes sting with big fat salty tears. It's truly a composition that should be rightfully compared with some of the finer cuts on The Boatman's Call. McComb may never have had the temerity or sheer righteous gall to sing "I don't believe in an interventionist God but I know darling that you do..." he will still come up with some wonderfully whisky-soaked gallows humour of his own when he ask the question "Are you drinking to get maudlin, or drinking to get numb?"
'Estuary Bed' is almost a precursor to 'Where the Wild Roses Grow' with its steady doomed waltz telling the elegiac tale of a final coupling as it is remembered by the tortured raconteur. The coda of "Sleep no more/Sleep is dead/Sleep no more on the estuary bed" is beautiful but equally haunting as a multitude of voices rises from the silt fading into the ether with the lull of the vibraphone. Once again, images of the personal, sneaking out of your paramour's house over the back fence, are drowned by the overbearing significance held by the surrounding environment as the salt and mud creeps in to hide the indignity of the naked young bodies so well that they are only retrievable by memory.
'Wide Open Road' is everything that an anthem should be. Max Weinberg explosions of snare, rich echoes of guitar, rumbling unexcitable bass lines, and that rebel yell of a voice that is able to voice indignity whilst remaining unearthly dignified; it is often referred to a great lost single and was memorably played on The Triffids' behalf by Paul Kelly at Mushroom Records' 25th Anniversary Concert. Having already mentioned Weinberg, it's virtually impossible not to speak of the Boss himself and how he would have approved of the metaphor of the wide open road travelled down by McComb as he searches for his beloved and the man that she left him for. Of course, at this point Springsteen was mucking around with synths (don't get me wrong I lurve 'Tunnel of Love' despite its apparent musical faults but more on that at a later date methinks) so I don't think he would have noticed his populist working class philosophy being so expertly pinched. The song speaks of the McComb's passion as he cuts away all that was dear to him, his family and friends, whilst articulating this further through the taunts of the skyline. "The sky is big and empty... I yelled my insides out at the sun". With every empty horizon comes another promise unfulfilled, a recurrent theme in the album with Helios often acting as an antagonist looking to blister the aching heart as much as the worn skin.
So as a final note, I'd like to state that this brief, scattershot overview of what is an all too deep and complex an exercise as 'Born Sandy Devotional' can never truly do it justice. Maybe I'll write a thesis on it to keep myself occupied in this period of unemployment. Meanwhile, download these songs, tape up your jaw to avoid dislocation, turn out all the lights, put on the headphones, press play, and then just bask in the soft washes of sound coming in with the tide.

Buy - The Triffids - Born Sandy Devotional
Visit - The Triffids ("Dave's Influences" is especially interesting and I may just make a McComb compilation myself)