Friday, 14 December 2012

100 LPs Shortlist #25: Foreigner - "Double Vision"

Foreigner: Double Vision

Here's a comparison for all the hipsters and the Gen-Y kids: Foreigner are to the late 1970s and 1980s as Nickelback are to the early 21st Century. For a lot of people, they are bland, boring, uninspired, insipid, generic, ordinary, cookie-cutter, and any other adjectives you can think of that hint at a band turning out the same old faceless crap as a number of other similar bands do, designed to sell as many records as possible.

And, like Nickelback, a hell of a lot of people like Foreigner's music. So you think everybody in 1979 was playing "London Calling" and "Unknown Pleasures" in their car and at parties? Buuuuzzzzzzzzz. WRONG! This was the stuff that people were playing then, and it sold millions of copies.

Unlike Nickelback however, Foreigner have moments where they can actually write a good song. They also have a singer who can carry a tune with considerable skill, even if Lou Gramm has a similar hairstyle to Nickelback's awful frontman Chad Kroeger.

I have some history with this record. With hindsight, it marks the time early in 1992 when I should have spent an extra three bucks and purchased Metallica's self titled LP on double vinyl - or something similar that would have some collectors value by now - instead of this from the same half price bin in my local record store. However, for a period, I gave this album a good whack at the time, and really I can't say my opinion of it has improved all that much.

Still, there are some moments here that are worthy of consideration. On most of the tracks, however, the lyrics can, at best, be described as insipid. But, at least in most cases they are carried along by some nice guitar riffs and some soaring vocals from Lou Gramm.

When Gramm steps back from the microphone and lets guitarist Mick Jones (not the Clash guitarist, sadly) have a go, that's when the album takes a nose-dive. Of his two songs here, one is barely passable ("Back Where You Belong") and one is purely execrable ("I've Been Waiting So Long"). Even the formless and pointless instrumental "Tramontane" trumps this pile of crap.

The easy option is to blame commercial, classic rock radio for playing the hell out of "Hot Blooded", but then if the song wasn't so catchy and accessible, they wouldn't play it at all. Despite some of the lyrics being cringeworthy, that guitar riff is classic. I bet you're humming it in your head as you read this.

"Blue Morning, Blue Day" is a lost classic - the layers of sounds, the riff (of course), the interweaving piano and synth lines and descending melody line are moody and broody. "Double Vision" has another great riff, along with "Lonely Children". Both chug along with some compulsion making them worth a listen.

"You're all I Am" has a history with me that I really don't wish to revisit. It is one of the band's earlier attempts at power-ballad grandeur that they would go on to etch into the brains of millions of listeners (some unwillingly!) in the 1980s.

The rest of the tracks I haven't mentioned are ok, but they are really nothing special. They're average slabs of arena-ready rock that don't really stay in your head after they've finished playing.

I class this album as a "stepping stone" onto other things. You can't work out that something sucks until you've got something to compare it to. As one gets older and their tastes develop, one either tends to reflect back on records from the past with rose coloured glasses or with abject horror and embarrassment. I reflect on this album with neither; I thought this was only really a 6 or 7 out of 10 record from the outset. There are songs on here that I genuinely like, but I'm happy to listen to them divorced from the LP they originally belonged to...

The album, via Spotify, is provided below. Have a listen and make up your own mind. Leave me a comment if agree, or don't agree on my assessment of it. Either way, enjoy.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

100 LPs Shortlist #24: The Kinks - "Lola vs Powerman and the Money-go-Round"

It's amazing the lasting impression some people leave on you. Oftentimes I remember people by their taste in music. Most of the albums in my 100 LPs shortlist I can remember not only time and place where I first heard them, but also who introduced me to it.

Once upon a time I had a high school girlfriend, whose father was Scottish. I've always believed you could learn a lot about a person from their music collection. With that criteria in mind, then ol' Jimmy must have been a nutter* - His taste ranged from Highland accordion sounds of Jimmy Shand through to the Sex Pistols!
* no disrespect intended.

He was an easy bloke to get along with. He loved his music, and that was half the battle won as far as I was concerned. He'd crack me up with his stinging critiques of my then-faves Pearl Jam and Guns n' Roses. He'd regale me with stories of the time he saw The Kinks in Glasgow at the height the "scream" years: when the noise of the hysterical screaming girls was so loud you couldn't hear the band.

Obviously, having seen the band live as a young working man, he'd probably have one or two Kinks records kicking about. Aside from a greatest hits compilation LP, "Lola vs Powerman..." was the one LP of the bands voluminous discography that he had. In the early 90s, Kinks LPs were available but they were not commonly stocked in stores. Even so, this album struck me as an odd and obscure choice. I'd never seen it before in a record shop (not that that means anything), nor had I heard anything from it aside from the two radio singles "Lola" and "Apeman". Looking at it, I thought the front cover looked like crap. Jimmy insisted, as he often did in his thick Glasgow brogue, that it was "brilliant".

It turns out that the man was an astute judge. Upon deeper listening and through further reading, this record really is brilliant. It is rich in sonic detail and scathing in its commentary on the reality of life in the music industry.

The songs, mind you, are also great. You could take a track out here and there and it will still be listenable, but it makes more sense within the concept of the record. A lot of the songs are hints of the stylistic direction the band was to take in the future. Songs like "The Contenders", "Denmark Street" and "A Long Way From Home" have country leanings which would take root in the albums that came immediately after this one, like "Muswell Hillbillies". "Powerman, "Top Of The Pops" and "Rats" are scorching rockers. "The Money-go-round" is a hilarious little music-hall styled track about who gets the spoils of royalties and the like. "Strangers" is a song so beautiful it may just be the best song the band has ever written.

Over time I played this album many, many times since then and even now I still find so much to gain from listening to it. And every time I play it, I still think about when and where I first heard it, who I was with and what we may, or may not, have been doing at the time...

Meanwhile, time goes on, the tape I recorded it on wore out and I bought the CD reissue with bonus tracks. People come and go. Relationships end. I haven't seen Jimmy (or his daughter for that matter) in well over 10 years, but I recently heard through the social media grapevine that he died last year - well before his time, in my view. I present the "Powerman..." LP for your listening pleasure below, in tribute to him.


Kinks, The - Lola vs The Powerman and The Money-Go-Round by David Kowalski on Grooveshark

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Long Forgotten Art of the Mix Tape Pt 2

Around about the year 2000, I was signed up to a e-mailing list (remember those?) for followers of a band I liked at the time.  A member of the mailing list asked for interested people to swap mix tapes with him.  I took the bait and signed on, just to see what would happen.

I sent the first one to this guy.  It was all Australian music - recent stuff on side A, classics on Side B.  He sent one back with an interesting mix but all stuff that was being played on national station Triple J at the time.  I asked a few times for feedback on the first one I sent, and about all I got in return was something like "I've heard most of those songs before.  I really wanna hear some stuff that I've never heard before".

I didn't really get a feel for the kind of music this guy liked.  I really wanted him to give me a clearer indication of whether he liked Side A or Side B of my original tape more, and his tape seemed fairly homogeneous in terms of style and age of music. In general, for the follow up I had very little to go on.

I decided to pick examples of music from the furthest reaches of my collection, where no two songs were alike and the genre would change rapidly from one song to the next without warning.  It was designed to show off the length and breadth of my collection; to give him an example of the direction our compilation conversations could go in.  What you ended up with amounts to something like "The Music Appreciation Lesson From Hell".

Starting with late 1960s funk, we went through 16th Century lute music, surf, Delta Blues, Avant-Jazz, Reggae, Hardcore Punk, Jazz Fusion, African-Funk, Indian Classical, Avant Garde Mouth Music, Prog Rock, Icy Synth explorations, Hick country, 1930s British Pop, Latin Rock and more.

I used a 120 minute cassette.  I recorded all the selections to two Minidiscs (one for each side of the tape), and made the necessary fades, edits and sequence changes on the disks before recording them to tape.  I carefully annotated each song in a letter and sent it off in the post....

...this was the tape that killed the deal.  I never heard back from him.  Either it never reached him, or he listened to it once and freaked out so badly that he would never get in touch again for fear of another insanity-laced sonic barrage.  I've since lost the annotations, but I kept the Mini-discs and later, circa 2005, added bonus tracks and burnt them to CD for my own listening pleasure.

The one thing that we can be sure is that my music collection in 2000 is pretty tame compared to what it is now.  Still, I think it's a pretty impressive feat to make such an eclectic collection and to have it frighten the hell out of people...well, I don't know that for sure, but it sounds good, so I'll stick to it.  I'm sure Henry Rollins would approve.

Here for your appraisal is an online version of that Mix Tape.

Some tracks appear in alternate versions, such as "Survival" by Osibisa, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly and "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson.  One song that originally appears on the tape "El Cielo" by Sky (The band featuring classical guitarist John Williams and Herbie Flowers) doesn't exist on any of the streaming services that I can find, so I have substituted it for a bonus track that I added to my CD copy "Kreuzspiel for Oboe, Bass Clarinet, Piano and Percussion" by Karlheinz Stockhausen.


The Long Forgotten art of the Mix Tape PT 1

Image source: Hometown Hip Hop

At the moment, BBC 6Music is celebrating 50 Years of the Cassette. Also, they presented a nice program on The Disappearing Art of the Mix Tape.

These programs really got me thinking just how much I miss receiving mix tapes, or Mix CDs or mix-minidiscs as much as I miss making them.  They're not wrong in calling the process an art-form.  There is a lot of effort and preparation that goes into making one of them.

In the days of Tape, and Mini-disc for that matter, you had to record all the songs in real time. On tape it wasn't easy to change the order of the songs, so you needed to predetermine the running order before you start.

Oftentimes, you were left with a small amount of tape at the end of each side and you'd hunt high and low to find the perfect short song to fill the gap.  This used to happen to me all the time as I always had a rough idea what I wanted to include and in what order, but I'd create the tape on the fly.

I think of the idea of a mix tape as a personally custom made product for someone whom you have a great deal of respect for.  Indeed, the amount of time spent on creating the perfect selection of songs just for the listening pleasure of that person is, in my view, a wise use of your time.  Then of course, there is the selection of the compilation title, the artwork (if any)...


In the 1980s, the music industry tried to tell us that "Home Taping is killing music".  Dubious legal status aside, personally I think that mix tapes did more good for the music industry than almost anything the industry at large ever did for music - even now.

Mix Tapes were in fact a musical endorsement - or an advertisement, if you will - from a hardcore music fan to someone else.  The selection of music therein was personally chosen for the recipient as the creator thought the music was worthy of a listen.  The added bonus for some people was that they may be exposed to music that they'd probably never listen to otherwise, and with it comes the seal of approval from someone you trust.  That selection of songs would, in many cases, inspire the listener to purchase the music for themselves in an effort to delve deeper into an artists catalog, after having a small taste on a mix tape.  Or, you would hunt down the album especially as the tape would eventually wear out, or even break.

With Mini-disc and CD there is still a lot of thought that goes into the track selection, but the sequence can be fluid, or indeed changed and reset before it is committed permanently to the media.

These days, iTunes, Spotify, Deezer and other streaming services have taken the "media" out of making mix tapes.  You get the same music, and indeed you would get to hear more music and different sorts of music than you would normally, but you don't get the lovingly crafted product in your hands than you would with a mix tape.  It just lacks some of the romance, and the coolness factor.  Plus, you can have an online playlist that goes for many hours at a time.  At least with a tape you were limited to 90 minutes, or 120 if you were really keen.

I've long retired my Mini-disc player and my tape-deck.  I've kept some tapes for posterity, and the devices to play them on, and one day I'll resurrect them for the sake of nostalgia, or for shits and giggles.  Still, it's another form of communication that is being lost amongst the digital shuffle of today's busy online world.  Sure I miss making up tapes for people, but most of my mates and I would have trouble finding enough time to make one properly these days!

C'est la vie, I suppose.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

R.I.P. Dave Brubeck

It is with a heavy heart that today I reflect on the genius that was Dave Brubeck. One day away from his 92nd birthday, he passed away of heart failure on the 5th December 2012. The man had a good innings, to make 91, but it is still sad to think that one of the greats is no longer making music.

Before the hyperbole gets overpowering, let's look at Dave's accomplishments. Probably his biggest accomplishment is that he introduced jazz to many generations of audiences who previously would never have listened to a jazz album. There are a lot of people who know of only one jazz piece and can hum the first few bars flawlessly: that piece is "Take Five".

Dave was derided for most of his early career as being a white-bread version of the real (read: "African American") thing we know as Jazz. He was derided by classical musicians in conservatories for playing Jazz. And yet, he developed a grass-roots following among hip college students by playing ceaseless shows on college campuses. Some colleges went as far as locking up their hallowed grand pianos as they dare not let the fingers of a frivolous jazzman touch the instrument, and they let him have an out-of-tune upright to play on instead. Regardless, his famous Quartet wowed the audiences wherever they played.

Dave also introduced the concept of odd time signatures into Jazz, which was something that had never happened before. Most jazz is played in common time (4/4) or waltz time (3/4). Dave turned a swinging tune in 5/4 ("Take Five") into a top 10 pop hit and a standard in the hearts and minds of people all over the world. He paved the way for later sonic adventurists like The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever to try playing in ambitious time signatures.

He also introduced harmonic and rhythmic ideas from other cultures into his work, thus creating a form of "World Music" before such a term was invented. The classic "Blue Rondo a la Turk" borrows a tune from Mozart and applies a Turkish rhythmic pattern in 9/8 before retreating into a swinging 4/4 section and then back to the hectic rhythms of the first section. It is, to this day, compelling, exciting music that still gives me goosebumps some 20 years after I'd first heard it.

Prior to Brubeck, my image of jazz was of four or five blokes at a market day or a community festival, all dressed identically in straw botas and red-and-white striped shirts all bashing out bland and faceless trad-jazz with no invention to it. Either that, or it was the big-band swing of Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller. Brubeck showed me that jazz was so much more than the done-to-death stylings of Glenn Miller's "In The Mood".

I'd heard "Unsquare Dance" on a retrospective chart-hits style radio show once when I was about 13. I had never anything like it. It's a piece in 7/4, but the rhythmic idea of the piece is so straight forward that it hooks you in immediately. These days pretty much every music student in high school listens to this piece to learn about time signatures, but my first hearing was outside of that environment and it blew my little teenaged mind. Brubeck became the standard by which I'd heard jazz from then on. Anything I could find that had a Brubeck song on it I relentlessly pursued. The more of his work I heard, the more I felt that Jazz was a music worth listening to, and that one just had to find the right strain of it. In my case West Coast Cool, small ensemble, jazz-rock fusion and post-bop were my styles.

I have collected many Brubeck records and all of them are great listens. Not one sounds the same as the next. "Time Out" is obviously the go-to record for anyone curious about his music, but its explicit sequel "Time Further Out" is equally as worthy, and I would advise not listening to one without the other. He has made many other great albums in the form of genre experiments such as:

  • "Dave Digs Disney" where he takes on pieces like "Someday My Prince Will Come"

  • "Gone With The Wind" where he tackles classics from the deep south such as "Camptown Races", "Short'nin Bread" and "Ol' Man River"

  • "Brubeck Plays Brubeck" which is a solo piano album of improvisations around various themes - no doubt this was a major inspiration to the work of Keith Jarrett.

and culture studies on albums such as:

  • "Jazz Impressions of Japan"

  • "Jazz Impressions of Eurasia"

  • "Jazz Impressions of New York"

as well as the copious live albums on college campuses and other odd locations, such as the late 1967 LP "Jackpot" which was recorded with a dubiously tuned piano among the poker machines in a Casino.

Whether I want to be musically stimulated and challenged, or whether I want to be entertained or I want to chill out, Brubeck's work is perfect. There is so much to gain from listening to his work. The world of music, and indeed planet Earth in general, is a better place for his contributions.

Thanks for the music, Dave. May you rest in peace.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

100 LPs Shortlist #23: Stone Temple Pilots - "Tiny Music..."

In defense of the Stone Temple Pilots...

...early in their career they were chided and derided for being a third-rate Pearl Jam knock-off.  This is somewhat true, especially when using their first LP as exhibit A, your honour.  To be fair, the record had a few good moments, but it was largely a pretentious and overwrought affair, as if they were trying too hard to prove a point.  It also contains a track called "Wet My Bed" which in my view is one of the greatest wastes of studio resources ever, but the less said about that, the better.

Their second record, "Purple", blew the band into the stratosphere, and rightly so.  They stripped back their pretentions, lead singer Scott Weiland found the soul in his voice and the De Leo brothers proved themselves able to create timeless riffs and melodies.

Onto album number three, whose full title is the ridiculous "Tiny Music...Songs from The Vatican Gift Shop". Given the widespread reporting of lead singer Weiland's appetite for hard drugs at the time, just from the title you could almost assume this would be a document of a band imploding under a narcotic haze.

What prevents this record from being so is the genius behind the compositions.  Rob and Dean De Leo really shine on this album, with chunky riffs and ever more elastic grooves which make the album so enjoyable.  Of course, Scott's lyrics indicate that an intervention would be forthcoming; his lyrics are so impenetrable I defy anyone to explain what they mean.

After all, what the hell does "So keep your bankroll lottery, eat your salad day deathbed motorcade" actually mean anyway?  One could probably add that to the long list of nonsense pop lyrics along with "Oom-papa-ooh-mow-mow" and "Dah-doo-doo-doo De dah-dah-dah".  Lucky it bounces along throughout "Tripping On A Hole In A Paper Heart" on the back of a cool descending melody and a beautifully crunchy guitar line and a galloping rhythm.

Among its 12 tracks there are two short instrumental throwaways, but the actual songs are killer.  It's all smooth sailing with 6 amazing songs in a row starting at track 2 ("Pop's Love Suicide") and kinda hits the breaks a bit at "Art School Girl" which is the first really odd excursion on the LP.  Its schizoid nature is split between an odd-Bowie-esque pop section, a Noise-pop excursion that would be at home on a My Bloody Valentine LP and a rather empty, dreamy sequence.

The mellow songs on here are revelatory - the warm jazz-inflected tune "And So I Know" is very different from what we normally expect from STP, and "Adhesive" is a stadium anthem in waiting.

Track 12 is "Seven Caged Tigers" and it has the aforementioned "elastic" groove to it.  A mate of mine at the time used to refer to it as "glide" music - to this day I have no idea why.  This could be the ancestor in terms of sound and feel to later mainstream pap like "Cumbersome" by 7Mary3.

The influence of David Bowie on this album is everywhere.  Lyrical references to "Station to Station" as well as borrowing from the Glam stomp of the Ziggy Stardust era are all over this album; none moreso than in the lead single "Big Bang Baby".  You have to get your influence from somewhere, and there are worse places to start than Bowie, I can assure you...

At the time of release, it stood out as being different in its sound and approach.  A lot of lesser bands pilfered the sound and style of this record without actually adding anything of substance to it.  In my view, this is the Pilots high point, and it was the last time they were so thoroughly consistent on an album.

Check out the LP below in Spotify.  Enjoy.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

November 2012 Playlist

It's the first day of the new month. In the northern hemisphere it is the beginning of winter. Down here in Australia it is the first day of summer and it is a hot one!

This means that the latest monthly playlist is now ready to roll. It's perfect for random play, with a healthy mixture of classics, fun tunes, new tunes and the most obscure songs ever.

212 songs, 12 hours of music including but not limited to:

  • an Amusing parody of two distinct bands all at once by Beatallica
  • Classics from Cream, Roy Orbison, Todd Rundgren and Focus
  • Single b-sides from Daddy Cool, Blondie and Kyuss
  • Thrashers to bang your head to by Zeke, Impulse Manslaughter and Sunk Loto
  • Latest release tunes from Soundgarden, Alt-J, Bob Evans and Django Django
  • Stuff to make you smile from the Arrogant Worms, Songs to Wear Pants To and Heywood Banks

and heaps more.

Remember, if it wasn't worth your time, it wouldn't be here.

Check it out and, most of all, Enjoy!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Stereo vs mono

With the recent reissue of the Beatles stereo catalog on vinyl and the mono versions being prepared as we speak, i thought it'd an ideal time to discuss the difference between stereo and mono vinyl.

It is still quite common for vinyl collectors to see both mono and stereo copies of the same albums among the racks as they shop. In a lot of cases, the mono versions of some albums sell for a substantial amount more than the stereo versions of the same LP. The question many modern listeners ask is what's the difference and which is better?

As far as what's better, well that's a matter of opinion.

The fact that two different recordings exist of certain vintage albums is more of an indication of the state of technology at the time. For a while the only tape available to record on was one track tape. By the time the Beatles recorded Revolver the recording was done on 4 track tape. Different sounds could be added to different tracks; and each track could be sent to either the left or right speaker depending on what the engineer wanted. By the time tape was discontinued in recording studios in the early parts of the 21st century, you could get up to 128-track tapes. These days, with computers and digital audio workstations, you get an unlimited amount of tracks. The only limit is in what the computer and its processor can handle.

The one track tape provided one sound source. On a two speaker sound system the same sound is output by both speakers equally. Multi-track tape could create stereo, which allows different sounds to be spread across both speakers. However, it required studio engineers to make two masters of every album - one mono and one stereo, and thus twice the work. This is one of the reasons that stereo records were more expensive than their mono counterparts.

From the advent of the LP in 1948, mono was the standard as that was all that was available. Stereo was available in the late 1950's but it caused massive confusion among music fans. Stereo records could not be played on mono players as half the sound in the record grooves wasn't picked up. You had to have a stereo technician rewire your tonearm in order to play the stereo record properly on a mono system. So it was during this time that records were issued in two versions - one stereo and one mono.

Plus, some early stereo mixes sound ridiculous. Some stereo mixes (such as on Cat's Squirrel" from the first Cream LP in 1966) had long passages where all the sound is playing in the right channel for over 30 seconds before any sound comes out of the left speaker! Granted, these were the days before headphones, so you'll often find instruments in one channel, voices in the other in stereo records of this vintage. This makes for interesting listening, but it can be frustrating. Other times it's drums to the left, bass to the right, which also makes for a disparate listen.

At the same time, the vinyl 7-inch single and 7-inch 45RPM EP were kept in mono all the time. Singles were regarded as cheap and disposable, and as such there was no need to release two different versions. Of course, stereo mixes of singles were made, but were not released unless on a stereo LP.

In 1969, stereo LPs were regarded as the standard, and the mono LP was done away with altogether. The last version of a Beatles album to be issued in Mono was the "Yellow Submarine" Original Soundtrack LP. Singles were still released in mono until the mid-1970s, largely because Radio was still broadcasting in mono on both the AM and FM bands.

When stereo became the norm, it also became commonplace for record labels to re-issue their old mono tracks on records adjusted with a "fake" stereo, which involved either adding stereo reverb or splitting up the frequency ranges in each channel: pumping up the bass in the left channel while cutting the bass and boosting the treble in the right. It sounds positively awful and you'd be advised to steer clear of anything that says "Electronically enhanced to simulate stereo"

A lot of purists claim that the mono mixes often sound fatter and meatier than their stereo counterparts. I tend to agree, however I find that some mono recordings are recorded very "hot", to the point of tape saturation. They're mixed in such a way to cram in as much sound as possible into a narrow bandwidth and as such can sound as they they have less clarity in the mix. Instruments can get lost in a mix in this environment. For this reason I can't stand the 1960s era works of Phil Spector.

At least with stereo, the music has room to breathe across a broad sound spectrum. After all, I have two ears, I like to use them both at once. Even if some of the early stereo mixes are ridiculous, I find good stereo mixes a lot of fun. I like being able to isolate certain instruments in each channel, and in some cases, the stereo mixes will show up mixing and mastering errors.

(Homework: manipulate the balance knob of your Hi-Fi system to find the mastering error in the stereo mix of "Eleanor Rigby" on the Beatles "Revolver" LP).


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Garage Rock Nuggets

Lenny Kaye's iconic collection "Nuggets: Original Artyfacts of the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968" turns 40 this year and a new tribute album is being issued next week where up-and-coming Australian Bands cover 18 songs from the album's original release. It has the equally verbose title called "Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations of the First Psychedelic Era".

Since the release of this album, there have literally been thousands of like-minded compilations from all over the world, digging up the most obscure 60s singles from all corners of the globe. In some cases these old records have been rescued from landfills and transferred to digital because the original masters have long since disappeared or have been erased.

The question is why are there so many garage rock records to recycle? It's an interesting question, but a very simple one to answer.

The Beatles took everybody by surprise. No one imagined they'd be as huge as they were. The record industry was caught on the back foot but they could see opportunity coming. Rock music became a cash cow and nobody wanted to miss out. Anybody who looked and sounded like the Beatles or Stones were given the chance to make records because no one knew what would be the next big thing, and everyone wanted to be have the newest music sensation on their hands. Tiny labels sprung up overnight to release music by (supposedly) hot new bands. This made for a hell of a lot of records produced in a small period of time.

Of course, the path to fame wasn't all paved with gold. Many bands ended up making a few singles, and even then they may have only sold a few hundred copies. You were extremely lucky if you were given the chance to make an album. In a lot of cases, LPs by smaller groups sunk without a trace, ensuring instant collect-ability. The short supply of original vinyl meant that these records do actually go for hundreds, even thousands of dollars between collectors and dealers.

Clearly, not all these records were going to sell in large quantities die to the fact there were just so many of them to choose from. These records may have been under-appreciated at the time but they have been retrospectively praised and lauded as lost classics in some cases. A lot of bands fell by the wayside the development of pop music in the 1960s was the most rapid it has ever been before or since, with The Beatles as standard-bearers. Young hopefuls tended to be less talented and less able to keep up with the rate of change. Some bands had more enthusiasm than talent and as such sounded to raw for radio to even go near, let alone for people to hear and buy their records.

The original "Nuggets" compilation was mined for songs to cover by the next generation of punk bands in the 1970s and served as the inspiration for newer bands in the 1980s such as REM. Reissue specialists Rhino Records have expanded the original 27 track "Nuggets" album into a 4CD boxed set of obscure American tracks which is essential listening , as is the companion volume "Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969" which has a lot of good Australian and British obscurities on it.

Other series that are highly recommended are:

The "Pebbles" 30 volume series
The "Rubble" series
Back From The Grave (on Crypt Records)
Garage Punk Unknowns (on Crypt Records)
So You Wanna Be A Rock and Roll Star - an essential 3CD set of Australian nuggets from the vaults of Festival Records, compiled by Glenn A. Baker.
Ugly Things - a collection of Australian nuggets from other labels compiled by Glenn A. Baker on Raven Records.

plus various label retrospectives released by
EMI America,
Decca UK and many others

Monday, 19 November 2012

Lou Reed and Metallica

"Are you seriously going to write about this album now? After all this time?" I hear you ask.

Yes, I say. Due to the almost universal howl of condemnation that greeted the album upon release, it would have been hard to be as objective as I would have liked to be.

Metallica and Lou Reed have both had a long history of testing the patience of their respective fanbases. But I don't think fans of either artist were expecting this - a record blending the two extremes together in an avant garde context, over 2 cds and over 90 minutes of music in only 10 songs (the last one, "Junior Dad" towers in at over 19 minutes - longer than either act has released on their own).

What you end up with is a very tough record to listen to. And while it's no "Metal Machine Music" (Lou Reed's polarising 1975 double LP of wall-to wall sonic noise), I doubt there's been a record since that has pissed people off so violently. Almost overnight, it became an Internet Meme and the online outrage and vitriol lasted for weeks.

Part of - well, most of the problem really - is context. The audience has a lot of research to do before this record even begins to make sense.

Lou was inspired by the "Lulu" trilogy by German playwright Frank Wederkind . The plays revolve around a young female dancer who falls into poverty, violence and prostitution and ultimately lives for encounters with rich men and deviant sexuality. Lou has made a career of singing about freaks, junkies, hookers, trannies and other ostracised fringe dwellers. These plays fit in well with his previous repertoire. But really, who, aside from PhD Literature students has ever read the works of an early 20th century German avant garde playwright? And how many Metallica fans do you think are going to read Wederkind's source material to make sense of this collaboration?

Sure, Metallica have been inspired by classic literature before on songs like "One". But you didn't need to have read the novel to get the message. With "Lulu", one probably should, but from what I hear it's almost as gruesome and painful as Lou's off key groaning.

Back onto the point about context. How many people are fans of both Metallica and Lou Reed? I highly doubt there are many people whose musical tastes overlap the two artists.

Musically, Metallica swoop, lurch, stagger and stumble woozily, like an inebriated Yeti who has just been hit on one eye with a champagne bottle, behind Lou Reed's obviously deranged and deeply emotive poetry. He reminds me of a street-corner rambler, standing on a milk crate warning of the impending demise of mankind. He rants along with a super heavy barrage of noise behind him. The two don't seem to ever line up in a purely musical sense - it almost feels as though the awkward juxtaposition of the two styles was as deliberate as it sounds accidental.

If nothing else, this project is ambitious. I, for one, do not begrudge either Metallica or Lou Reed their ambitions. In fact I applaud them, because without some ambition, art will not advance and it won't develop either. But there's a difference between ambition and execution. All the ambition in the world isn't going to make this album any more listenable.

Lou Reed has even gone on to say that this record is for "literate" people. Fair enough, I suppose. However, placing the premise and the concept of your artwork above and beyond the grasp of your core fan base is not a smart move either, as it smacks of arrogance. The minute you position yourselves above your audience or make them feel like lesser people is the moment you will be cut down to size. This may go a long way to explaining why there was much backlash. Music fans don't like being made to feel stupid.

Doing something different is part of every artists nature. The problem is when you have an audience that is not prepared to - or unable to, for some reason - follow you and to understand what you are trying to achieve. Also, with such ugly subject matter serving as inspiration, it would be very difficult to come out with something that wasn't off-putting or disagreeable with many people. It's hard to see this project as a winning situation for anyone except the artists themselves and their artistic inclinations.

My view? Good on them for having a go and trying something different, for "spreading their wings" as James Hetfield put it in an interview with Dmitri Erlich in Interview Magazine. But all in all, "Lulu" kind of ends up feeling like this Lynda Benglin abstract piece: You stand back, look at it and go "ok, now that we've done it, and it exists, what the hell is it and what are we supposed to do with it?"

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Soundgarden's "King Animal"

These are the days of hipsters, indie rock writers and hip new records that are impenetrable to most lacking cred.

Pop music in the mainstream is reduced to a formula. New singers are scouted in front of millions of screaming kids on humiliating TV shows. New bands won't get a look in at record labels unless they sound like the latest band who has just sold 20 gazillion records. Pop stars create controversy for the sake of it, lapping up the additional ticket sales as a result. Most new music can appear to sound all the same...

...and just when you start to feel jaded, a new Soundgarden LP comes along.

Soundgarden split in 1997. A lot has changed in the world since then. Indeed the members mostly haven't been idle - drummer Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam. Chris Cornell did some solo work and then formed Audioslave with the last three members of Rage Against the Machine. These ventures seemed only to enhance and re-amplify the greatness of their previous albums like "Superunknown" and "Badmotorfinger".

Don't get me wrong - Audioslave were cool, but the plodding heaviness of the Rage rhythm section lacked the intricate, dynamic, elastic groove that Soundgarden could conjure on their good days.

This new album is everything Soundgarden is known for - odd time signatures, intricate arrangements, stellar musicianship, an almost telepathic synergy fueling the interplay between the band members, and all of it done with a minimum of flash and ego.

There might not be a song on here that's as instantly memorable as "Spoonman", and Chris Cornell's voice is extremely raspy these days, but musically the band are on the money. They're tight and the song structures are concise, filled with all the Soundgarden hallmarks without sounding pastiche.

Juxtaposed against any of the other "hip" indie and rock acts of now, it's a real breath of fresh air. It's just what I needed to hear right now.

Below is the new record on Spotify, interspersed with commentary on each song by the Band members.



image source Gold 104.3FM Melbourne.

This morning the news that INXS had broken up was everywhere - it was inescapable. Apparently it was announced during their performance on the last night of their tour supporting Matchbox 20 in Perth last night.

It remains to be seen if this is a complete retirement announcement or an announcement of the David Bowie, sleep deprived "last show we'll ever do" type at the end of the 1973 Ziggy Stardust tour. 

Either way, is it surprising?, not really.

For any kid growing up and coming of age in the 1980s, INXS was a mainstay of your music library. They rocked hard, like all Aussie bands were required to do in those days, but had enough swing and groove to make the girls dance, thus boosting their profile enormously. It also helped that frontman Michael Hutchence carried himself with the swagger of an Adonis, but that's another story...

They conquered the world in the 1990s and became a truly global band, before their Michael descended into tabloid fodder, tawdry sex scandals with other peoples wives and, finally in 1997, his own untimely death in a bizarre accident gone wrong.

By the time they released "X" in 1990, I was over them. I'd moved on. They had a few great singles during that time, such as "Heaven Sent" and the unusual but highly inspired Ray Charles collaboration "Please (You Got That...)". When Michael died, commercial radio and TV in this country went nuts, having 24 hour coverage of the scene and a constant stream of teary tributes from female fans.

Since then, in my view, the band existed on its past glories and became a parody of itself. They tried a host of new singers. The first of which was ex-Noiseworks frontman Jon Stevens, probably the best fit for the band out of any of subsequent singers to fill Michael's shoes. They tried to plug the void Michael left with Terrance Trent D'Arby (which thankfully didn't last long), karaoke caricature JD Fortune and the new Irish chappy Ciaran Gribbin. Unfortunately, none have really matched up to the larger than life Michael Hutchence.

One of the special aspects of the band was lost in 1997 and the band never recovered. It wasn't that Michael was a great singer - he was no Caruso, but neither should he have been. Like Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil, he had a limited vocal range, but it was expressive. It was the perfect fit within the band's sound. He used it to the best of his advantage: for the group, the music and the song he was singing at the time. It suited what they were doing, and he had the charisma to carry it to the world.

Still, albums like "Underneath The Colours", "The Swing" and "Kick" deservedly belong in any collection of classic Australian music. Songs like "Don't Change" still sound as fresh as they day they were recorded.

Below is a link to a Grooveshark playlist of some of my selections from the long back catalog of loving memory.


INXS - In Loving Memory of... by David Kowalski on Grooveshark

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Magic Bones

Thanks to the guys at the Aussie Playlist, here's a bit of brand new tuneage from Melbourne.

The Magic Bones' latest release is a double A-side that has two blistering tunes, with a combined time of under 4 minutes. "Once You Forget" is a stomping rocker with some very forthright lady vocals. While "On The Spot" is a driving and tuneful number that hits all the right spots for me. It reminds me of Ocean Colour Scene at their most "rock", which is no bad thing!

This is a release that is screaming out for a 7-inch release. Currently it's available for $2 on their Bandcamp page. The band are also getting spins on Triple J Unearthed radio too.

Check them out. The Magic Bones are ones to watch. Recommended.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

100 LPs Shortlist #22: Extreme - "3 Sides To Every Story"

1992 - I was 16, in year 11 at high school. Hormones were running riot and playing havoc with my emotions. Extreme was part of the perfect soundtrack for my life at the time.

I discovered the band through a mate of mine about 18 months before this album was released, with their second LP "Pornograffiti", and along with this album, the follow-up 3rd LP, I played the hell out of these two albums, and continued to well into the mid-1990s when I really went off this style of rock and went more alternative.

I've discussed "Pornograffitti" in depth here. "III Sides to Every Story" was a concept album in an era where the term "concept album" was a dirty word. It carried the connotations of pretentiousness and of a sort of artistic snobbery. Of course, it's hard to dispel a notion like that when the concept of the record is so intellectually heavy and problematic from the outset. As such it's probably the one of their original releases that has dated quite horribly in the ensuing years.
The album deals with the concept of war, all the while employing the idea that there is "three sides to every story". In this case there is "Yours", "Mine" and "The Truth".

"Yours" comes from the side of those with the money, and of course the governments and the dyed-in-the-wool servicemen who love what they do. It tries to state their point of view - that peace is futile, war protesters are really fence-sitters, war advances and protects America's overseas interests and provides profits for those who provide the weapons to the forces. Therefore it must be good, right?

The "Mine" side begins at track 7, after more than 30 minutes of thumping rock to state the case of the "Yours" side. The music, understandably, is mellower and more melodic, and it deals with the issues that surround families and those left behind by people who serve in combat.

Finally, "The Truth" is dished up in an extravagant 21 and a half minute, three-part suite, ostensibly adding an element to the argument from the viewpoint of our heavenly father.

Heavy stuff, hey? Phew! And we haven't even started to talk about the music yet.

"Yours" starts off out of the blocks with "Warheads", some solid rocking happening here. Then they introduce their groove riffing on "Rest In Peace" which is a great track. They tried this one out as a single - not a good choice, as it is more of a set piece within the concept.

Track 3 "Politicalamity" has a hard enough title to say let alone to try and explain it - the concept starts to unravel here by trying to be too clever

Track 4 "Colour Me Blind" is a track about tolerance and equality that really belongs somewhere after track 8 in the "Mine" section.

Next is "Cupid's Dead", another set piece that is weighty in its concept but with a tight, taut groove to it. It falls flat in the last section when they introduce a rap section.

"Peacemaker Die" spells out what a lot of arch-conservatives must think sometimes but are too afraid to say in a public forum. It becomes totally overblown and also a bit tasteless when they juxtapose Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech over a chorus of "Peacemaker Die, Peacemaker Die".

Track 7 starts off the "Mine" section. "Seven Sundays" is a gorgeous song but it is ruined with horrible synthetic strings and a horrible sounding digital piano. It tells of soldiers hanging out with their loved ones on their days off. The awful keyboards just ramp up the cheese factor.

Track 8 is a track called "Tragic Comic" which I have always found to be trite at best. The less said, the better.

Track 9 is "Our Father" which is a great punchy rocker, bittersweet in its subject matter by echoing the words of a child watching his/her father go off to war. It is genuinely quite touching.

Track 10, "Stop The World" gets philosophical and ponderous, and if it wasn't for some beautiful guitar playing it'd be unbearable.

Track 11 "God Isn't Dead?" is melodramatic in the extreme (no pun intended). Real piano and real strings this time (did the budget for these run out when recording "Seven Sundays"???) It is quite magniloquent but also quite beautiful. Strange combination!

Track 12 on the Cassette and vinyl is missing on the Cd as it makes the album too long for one disc, but it is a track called "Don't Leave Me Alone" which at almost 6 minutes only adds to the bloatedness of the album proper. It's already bloated enough as it is! Adding it in to the album now through the magic of MP3 and it kills the flow of the record.

And now, onto "The Truth", a lushly orchestrated 3 part suite starting with a languid piece called "Rise and Shine" with some rather awkward lyrics ("A song for love, even abhor"???) but then again, there's time for everything under the sun, right?

Part two is where things get serious. Never before has a song about soul searching and meta-cognition been so strident and yet catchy! "Am I Ever Gonna Change" is indeed a great track but at least it turns the spotlight on oneself, thus giving the opportunity for a bit of humility to be demonstrated.

Part Three is called "Who Cares?" and this is where we get really lofty. You're always on shaky artistic ground whenever you try to put words into God's mouth. I don't think they really hit the mark here. Although, other bands have done this subject matter in less overblown styles and have had more impact. At over 8 minutes it gets tedious being lectured to after a while. The question of "Who Cares?" is never resolved in the song by the way, but it kind of hints towards an obvious answer...

Extreme always had a capacity to be grand in the way they made records, and their second album backed up their ambition with great songs and a tightly focussed narrative. "3 sides..." has good intentions but is a bit of a muddled overblown mess. There's some great music here but sometimes it's hard work finding the gems among the swathes of bombast that surrounds them. The concept gets lost when its on CD because it is clear that it should be on 3 sides of vinyl, with a defined break in between. But then, even on vinyl they didn't even get it right.

No matter what your opinion is, or mine for that matter. The truth is that the record buckles under the weight of its own pretensions. I highly doubt I thought about it quite like that as a teenager, but that's the view I have given 20 years of distance from it.

Anyway, take a listen and make up your own mind. There's still a lot of good songs here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Try this at home, will ya?

Recently I pondered songwriters who have such a great turn of phrase that they just make you sit up and take notice. They write lyrics that are forthright and that make you think. I heard a song recently that did just that, and I think it may have just crashed into my top 10 songs of all time, somewhere near the top. It went like this:

"We sing love songs in C,
And we do politics in G,
We do songs about our friends in E Minor,
So tear down the stars now,
And take up your guitars,
So come on folks and try this at home".

The song is by a British singer named Frank Turner. He has styled himself as the new Billy Bragg, which is no bad thing in my view. Moreover, he's the Billy Bragg for Generation-Y, and also for late GenX-ers like me who still have enough fire in the belly to still get pissed off at some of the world's stupidity. Frank himself would rather have himself regarded as a "skinny half-arsed English country singer", but I think that's selling himself short.

This song tells it like it is - forget the image, forget the labels, forget the style, just play the damn music and stop self-agrandising. Get off your butt, be your own rock star, be your own songwriter. Write the music you wanna hear.

"...'cos there's no such thing as rock stars
There's just people who play music,
Some of them are just like us,
And some of them are dicks..."

The song itself is fiery and passionate. It's a statement of intent. This is the roots of punk rock. If this doesn't get you fired up then nothing will.

"...The only thing that Punk Rock should every really mean,
Is now sitting 'round and waiting for the lights to go green..."

Brilliant stuff. Enjoy.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

October Playlist on Spotify

*image credit Barry Gruff

Ok groovers. Here's the latest in musical excellence from The Sound and the Fury, with a summary of musical travels during the month of October.

Within this list you'll find:

  • obscurities from Tangerine Dream and Tumbleweed; 
  • Renaissance period Lute pieces written by John Dowland as music for the British Royal Family;
  • Classics from Slayer, Toto, Nat King Cole, The Grateful Dead and Robert Johnson; 
  • Great new tunes from Voice of Reason (formerly ...and The Magical 8-Ball Band), Calling All Astronauts and Killer's side project Big Talk; 
  • Classic laughs from Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers; 
  • Insane electric jazz from Billy Cobham and John McLaughlin; 

and a hell of a lot more. It's 15 hours of the wildest musical ride of your life. Put it on shuffle, turn it up and, most of all, Enjoy it!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

My First Record

There's been a bit of discussion on twitter about our first records. Here's mine, purchased at 8.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Turn of Phrase?

Great music is more than just a combination of words and music. Sometimes it's all of that and more. Or less, depending on the circumstance.

Good songwriters will often come up with lyrics that will make your head spin; that will make you think; change your perception on something or some issue maybe, or write something that seems such an obvious lyric, but then take a sharp left turn. They'll do it in such a clever way that you often come away from it somehow changed.

So, who are all the great songwriters, particularly those who can turn a phrase better than most? And what are their finest examples? We're not talking about the hacks who trade in "Moon/June/Spoon" style rhyming couplets and cliches of the nature either.

For example, Bob Dylan has written many lyrics that make me sit up and take notice. To get you started, here's one of a long list of my favourites, from "Desolation Row":

"...Yes I received your letter yesterday,
About the time the doorknob broke,
When you asked me how I was doing,
Is that some kind of joke?
All those people that you mentioned,
Yes I know them. They're quite lame.
I've had to rearrange their faces,
and give them all another name..."

Now it's over to you. Post a comment and I'll post more of mine choices later...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Peter Gabriel's "So" turns 25.

Peter Gabriel - So

Coming up shortly is the re-release of one of many landmark albums of the 1980s, the fifth album from Peter Gabriel - "So".

Most people older than me will cite "Solisbury Hill" as the song that they instantly think of when they think Peter Gabriel, if they don't think of something from his time in Genesis. The radio always bashes out "Shock The Monkey" and "Games Without Frontiers". For me, "So" was my first introduction to the man and his music and it remains a powerful statement of intent.

This is an album that was at the vaguard of its time in terms of its use of technology. Peter was never one to shy away from new innovations. (He even used a novel invention on this album for the first time in his solo career: an album title!)

The album is at once a product of it's time, and yet it sounds timeless. Sure it possesses some of the hallmarks of the production techniques of the time, such as huge gated-reverb drum sounds and swathes of synth-washes, but they are tastefully applied by producer Daniel Lanois. Tasteful inasmuch as they don't overpower the strength of the songs...

...and what songs they are. I first heard this album when it came out, around age 9 or so (now I'm showing my age!) and it was as powerful to me then as it is now. The record kicks off with "Red Rain" which is as impassioned as any song he ever wrote. Far from being a straight pop song, its layers continue to reveal themselves the more you listen to it. It's a kaleidoscopic view of the artist's soul.

We then take side-trips through neo-soul and funk ("Sledgehammer", "Big Time"), balladry ("Don't Give Up", "Mercy Street"), charging rockers ("That Voice Again"), world music ("In Your Eyes"), and arty-wierdness ("This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)") all across the album's 9 tracks, although only 8 if you own the vinyl. The Laurie Anderson collaboration "Excellent Birds" has been dropped off on the LP, which is a shame, as it is a real highlight. It is a quirky experiment, but it is compelling to listen to.

Like some of the bigger albums of the day, it could have used a little judicious editing ("Don't Give Up" could use that extended ending being lopped off) but that's nothing major. Hell, even Mark Knopfler would have trimmed down most of the tracks on "Brothers In Arms" to remove the superfluous playouts!

Still, it is a record that is at once mature but with moments of child-like fun; intellectual, but never to the point of being exclusive; clever but not smart-arsed.

Here then is the album for you to check out, on Spotify. The reissue should be out next week. Enjoy.

Did the record industry deliberately kill off the vinyl record?

Recently there was a story on the Music Week website indicating that the record industry sabotaged the vinyl LP to make us all move over to CDs. They made good points about sound and quality , but during the 80s, I only had crap turntables to play records on, so I didn't know the difference.

As a consumer of music, then as now, I can say that I honestly believe this was the case but for different reasons. You can read music week's arguments above, but mine go like this:

1. The record industry seemed to market the CD as more attractive by adding extra tracks and tampering with the content on vinyl.

From the mid-80s onwards, certain albums were marketedly different in their vinyl configurations from the CD. In fact, it was quite common for notes to be on the vinyl sleeve saying "The CD and cassette contain extra tracks not available on vinyl" as it is on the back of John Mellencamp's "Scarecrow" LP.

Other albums would include substantially less music on vinyl than on CD, citing the reduced playing time of the LP as the problem. When daryl Braithwaite had a massive career resurgence in 1988, the first LP he released ("Edge" in 1988) has 10 tracks on vinyl, and 14 on CD. The album wasn't long enough to be a double LP, but then it was probably just long enough to fit on a single LP without compromising sound quality.

2. They made crappy sounding vinyl by squeezing too much onto the LP.

On that note, the more music on a record, the poorer the sound quality. 27 minutes at the absolute tops per side before the sound quality decreases too much. Neil Young's "Ragged Glory" LP is 63 minutes long, and it was crammed onto a single LP. My second hand vinyl copy was slightly worn when I got it, and the music was in danger of being drowned out by the surface noise of the vinyl. Ditto the first "Mr Bungle" LP, which stands at just over 70 minutes.

Then at the other end of the spectrum, you had "Beyond Salvation" by The Angels, a solid 49 minute album on 2LPs! You had to change sides every 10-12 minutes! A waste!

3. Quality control standards slipped markedly.

The amount of defects in the vinyl, little pieces of junk being pressed into the vinyl that can't be cleaned away causing a permanent skip on the record, were commonplace in the late 1980s. I have a few records that suffer this unfortunate condition and there's little you can do about it.

4. In some cases, vinyl editions just weren't pressed at all.

Around 1990 you started to see some albums just weren't pressed on vinyl at all. The marketing on TV and in magazines would just say "Available on CD and Cassette". Any vinyl you were able to buy of certain records wasn't even pressed domestically - it was imported. My copies of Guns 'n Roses' "Use Your Illusion" were both purchased when they were released, but they were both pressed in Germany for export.

5. After 1991, they just stopped pressing vinyl altogether in Australia.

At this stage, you were forced to buy a CD or cassette - these were the only two formats available and for an album there was at least a $10 price difference between the two (the CD being the more expensive). This left only indie labels and dance DJs making vinyl - the domestic mainstream industry did away with it. Small labels like Phantom and Red Eye in sydney kept pressing vinyl until about 1993, but they outsourced their work to the major label pressing plants. Eventually the majors pulled the plug on their pressing plants...

You could still get imports, but only specialist shops dealt with them. In rural NSW where I grew up, local record stores didn't even bother with vinyl - they'd give you strange looks and tell you either "don't bother" or "it'll be too expensive and it will take 6 months to get here from overseas".

6. Price-gouging for singles, and the introduction of multi-formats for collectors

Buying singles in the early 1990s meant that singles were around $5 on vinyl, cassette singles likewise and CD singles were $7.95. All of a sudden, you could then buy CD singles of (then) new bands like Pearl Jam for $1.95 - why would you wanna buy a $5 vinyl equivalent then? As well as releasing singles on a variety of different formats and loading extra content onto them. At one point, a single would be released by a major band on 7" plain stock sleeve, 7" picture sleeve, 12" with bonus tracks, Cassette, CD, sometimes coloured vinyl. The companies expected the hardcore fans to buy them all, and some did. Not all of us had that luxury of course.

These days the prices have all but turned around. I can get the latest Green Day album "Uno!" on CD for $15, but the same store will supply an imported vinyl copy of the same album for $38. Go figure...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

James Blunt in Retirement

James Blunt

James Blunt has recently made a statement to the press that he is retiring from music. Twitter went nuts at the news, generally saying "he won't be missed". It's always a bit harsh to criticise someone quite like that, but when you consider the crimes against music he committed (in my opinion), who can blame them?

He had an unusual career, inasmuch as he was first solider in the British Army, serving in Kosovo in 1999 and then turned his hand to music later in life.

If one was to trade on stereotypes, ex-army types should make music like this:

well, that's how we do in in Australia anyway. God bless The Mark of Cain. But this ex-army guy chose to go all "Sensitive New-Age Guy" on us.

Personally, I don't blame James Blunt entirely for songs like "You're Beautiful". I blame Coldplay for opening up the music industry to all these sissy bloke bands who sing in really high voices, trying to be sensitive but doing so in such an emotionally detached way that it just rings hollow. James wrote music to fit in with the Snow Patrols and Maroon 5's of the world and their fans.

His first single "You're Beautiful" was the earworm from hell. It was everywhere and it lodged itself in your brain and you couldn't get rid of it. Then the follow-up "Goodbye My Lover", which was as hideous a song as you could possibly get. My standard response to the song was "no wonder she left you, when you sing crap like that".

Thankfully, he followed up that record with a soulful second LP called "All the Lost Souls", which avoided the pitfalls of the first record - in short, it was almost as wussy, but at least the first single from the LP "1973" wasn't altogether cringeworthy.

Subsequent albums came out to an ever decreasing fan base, so the cynic in me would suggest that this announcement is a ploy to boost sales for a few months in the run-up to christmas. Maybe he was feeding the online trolls. Whatever the reason, he's had his day in the sun and he gave it his best, even if I didn't always like his work. I respect the man for bowing out gracefully, even if it's probably the most un-rock'n'roll way to end a rock'n'roll career. Enjoy your retirement, man.

Vale Eva Cassidy

Eva Cassidy

Most people can remember the first time something significant happened in their lives - your first kiss, your first concert, your first car. Occasionally people even remember the first time they heard a person sing or a band they particularly love and they remember the emotion and the impact it had on them. Eva Cassidy is one of those artists that has such a massive emotional impact on people the first time they hear her sing that it is rarely forgotten.

...although it wasn't for me. I heard a piece of hers on a recording of the late night ABC music program Rage in the late 1990s. She sang a solo, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar version of "Over The Rainbow". I was unmoved at the time. I thought it was pleasant enough, but not enough to stop me fast-forwarding through the clip.

A few years later (circa 2003), I had occasion to come across a CD by Eva, called "Songbird". I found it in my mother-in-law's collection and I thought it was an odd CD for her to own, given Eva's stature in the indie/alternative music world. I borrowed it and listened...

Context is everything and nothing all at once. I can still remember where I was, what I was doing, what the weather was like, what car I was driving, and what I had to do after I first put that "Songbird" CD in the Cd player in my car and heard her version of Sting's "Fields of Gold". The wave of emotions that I had contained during that turbulent period of my life came flooding out. I had to pull the car over to the side of the road and weep. The impact was cataclysmic. The emotional reaction I had was so strong that I couldn't contain it. I became a fan of Eva Cassidy that very day.

To this day I can't listen to Sting's version of "Fields of Gold". Yeah ok, he wrote it. But his recording feels like a publishing demo next to Eva's pure, siren-like delivery.

Eva's story is a sad one. She was a struggling independent musician, capable of performing many varied genres who never saw the success she clearly deserved in her lifetime. She died too young (age 33) of Melanoma, before the world at large had a chance to appreciate her beautiful music. Her music causes such a powerful emotional response from listeners that everyone who hears it for the first time can remember that profound experience.

Although my first time wasn't memorable, the second time was. The anniversary of Eva's passing occurs next week. I'm getting in early by sharing this with you: her sublime version of "Fields of Gold".

Vale, Eva.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Are Classic albums really Classics?

As per usual I have been reading a collection of music lists online over the break, and my curiosity was drawn to a rather interesting list over at the Faster Louder website called The Most Overrated Albums of All Time. Clearly this was a list designed to be contentious and outrageous all in one go, but I did find it rather thought provoking.

It says in the disclaimer of the list that
Your favourite album may appear here.

Sure enough, a few of mine did. To be objective, on some albums they made a valid case that the greatness is overstated, such as Metallica's Black album, the Chili Peppers' "Californication" and anything by Bon Iver. I'm also glad that somebody agrees with me that Kanye's "Dark Twisted Fantasy", anything by Silverchair and U2's Joshua Tree (while a good record, it's not a great one) are so overrated that it's beyond a joke.

However, this is not an article to discuss the pors and cons of the choices on this list. One point, made by Darren Levin in his critique of The Clash's "London Calling" LP (a sacred cow of a lot of rock critics) caught my eye and I thought it was worth discussing: something really such a classic if you're constantly hitting skip? – Darren Levin

Think about how many albums you have listened to in your time. Think about your favourites, your desert island discs, if you will. While they may contain some stellar music, how often do you skip over tracks? How often do you listen to most of the album and then turn it off halfway through side 2?

I confess there are many of my favourite albums where I find a few flat spots that I skip, but does that make them any less classic?

I must confess that while I regularly cite The Beatles "White Album" as a favourite of mine, I also have a habit of playing the LP all the way through and then turning it off in the middle of side 4...funnily enough that's right about the time "Revolution 9" starts.

Still, I reckon it's a classic. I just don't necessarily like Ringo's custom written lullaby at the end, nor John's most pretentious attempt at musique concrete. (I prefer Frank Zappa's attempts on "Freak Out!" and "We're Only In It For The Money"). That leaves me with 28 out of 30 songs that are killer tunes. That's enough in my opinion to justify it a classic.

Often times, we get bored, so we move on to a new album quickly. Sometimes, in our opinion, the band makes a call to include a track that disrupts the flow of the album, like on "Return To Earth" by Tumbleweed, when track 8 "Meanwhile" throws the entire album off course. Or when "Free Form Guitar" turns up in the middle of the first Chicago LP - they're interesting diversions, but were they really necessary?

What albums can you listen to from start to finish without reaching for the skip button? Add a comment below or Tweet me @sound_fury_pod.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

September Playlist on Spotify

OK, so it's the end of the month again. The time when the accountants of the world go into overdrive crunching numbers. Tomorrow (October 1) is a public holiday in NSW, so in honour of the day off, kick back and check out this month's listening party from The Sound And The Fury.

As with previous month's lists, this one takes in tunes from most of the albums I have listened to this month, from the common to the rare to the weird to the obscure, and all points in between. You may find some songs you love, other ones you've never heard that you'll love, or hate depending on your persuasion.

There's 233 tracks here in total, so there's bound to be something you'll love.

You'll find things here as erudite as Sabicas (aka The World's Greatest Flamenco Guitarist) to things as aberrant as Bolt Thrower.

It's a wild ride as usual. Put it on random and have your mind blown.

Sunday, 23 September 2012


Kirsty, over at My Home Truths is an old school friend of mine, and on her blog today she was reminiscing about clubbing in Newcastle in the 1990s. Predictably, I hated clubbing, but I loved my alternative rock and I remembered being a big fan of FACEplant during their heyday.

So who the hell were FACEplant? (upper case FACE is the correct way to write it, by the way)

Well, all the copies of the street press that I had from the period I've long disposed of, so I have no references and my memories are vague at best.

To the best of my memory, they started by winning a TAFE-sponsored battle of the Bands in Newcastle in 1993 and won some studio time at Platinum Studios.

This is where I come in - you see, I studied sound engineering at Platinum in 1994, and my first practice at mixing multi-track masters was on the FACEplant demos they recorded at that studio. At that stage, I got to hear "Rose Coloured Glasses" and "Lost Son Emotion" for the first time, and, subsequently fell in love with those songs.

Over the next little while, they gigged hard up and down the NSW coast and, when Silverchair hit it big in 1994/5, the 'Plant were touted as the next big thing out of Newy. They issued a professionally recorded, independently pressed EP called "Upper Case FACE" around March 1995 in a limited edition of 2000 copies. It sold out within a matter of weeks and a re-press was ordered. I'm at a loss whether one actually was released or not.

During the year their sound took a turn towards the dark side - they turned from the moody surf grunge into a darker, Alice-In-Chains-styled slow rumble. I saw the band at the Wild Christmas party in December 1995 supporting the Screaming Jets and I couldn't believe the change in their style - perfect moshpit stuff in retrospect, but I wasn't too enthused at the time (I thought they were waaay better than the flaccid 'Jets that night though).

Early in 1996 they were signed to Shock Records with the view to reissuing the earlier EP and some new material, but that never materialised (to my knowledge) and then in August they played their farewell show and another great local act disappeared without seeing the fame and fortune I thought they deserved.

Still, I have my cherished copy of "Upper Case FACE" that still gets a run semi-regularly, hoping to see them live again and maybe to hear some of their other recordings (if any still exist).

I decided to do a YouTube search for some footage of them today and, to my surprised delight, there's a bunch of live clips. Here are a few for your enjoyment.

Plant ya FACE!!!

Friday, 14 September 2012

100 LPs Shortlist #20: The Mermen - "Food For Other Fish"

The Mermen - Food for Other Fish

Surf music, at least in the way that Dick Dale first envisioned it, is cool. It has since been co-opted and watered down by acts who had a far more tepid approach (The Beach Boys and The Ventures, I'm looking at you!), however the core approach to the music was a fiery, aggressive style of guitar-based instrumental music with some echo-y guitar effects applied.

For some reason, out of the blue, Surf music made a resurgence in the 1990s. Dick Dale made a successful comeback with a more fired up sound on albums like "Tribal Thunder" and "Calling Up Spirits". His playing on those records was more ferocious than a player half his age (he was in his 60s at the time). A number of other bands came along at the same time - The Aqua Velvets and The Mermen are among those that spring to mind.

The Mermen (the male equivalent of a Mermaid, it seems) had been around for a few years by the time "Food For Other Fish" was released in 1994. They had honed their style in and around various clubs in California, refining a sound that is equal parts Dick Dale, Pink Floyd and Sonic Youth.

The longer pieces are spacey and atmospheric a la Floyd, coupled with small amounts of extreme digitally-processed guitar noise a la Sonic Youth. The energy they create on songs like "Honeybomb" is white-hot. "Ocean Beach" and "Be My Noir" are both gorgeously atmospheric. "Ocean Beach" has to be one of the best songs ever to get you pumped up for summer.

If anything should be criticised about the album is that it's a long record - 70+ minutes. However, it doesn't always feel like it's long - it's that enjoyable. As we lead up to Summer here in Oz, kick back and enjoy the sounds of The Mermen.

Mermen, The - Food for Other Fish by David Kowalski on Grooveshark

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Happy 100th Birthday John Cage

John Cage is one of the musicians who has always existed on the periphery of my little musical world. It was only during university in 20th Century Art Music class that I discovered his works and just how subversive they are.

I doubt that I have ever heard a musician whose works are both inspirational, confrontational and yet repellent all at once (except maybe Captain Beefheart). His music can be challenge the way you perceive music and musical ideas, and it can also make some people want to smash things.

The word that is largely associated with him is "visionary". Indeed, he tried hard to break the mold of conventional music concepts by breaking as many rules as possible. By working in areas of sonic territory that were previously uncharted, he'd made numerous advances in musical discovery, particularly in the field of electronic music. By also adding the previously unheard of element of "chance" to musical composition, he created music that is random and never predictable.

Visionary, in the sense that he changed the way a piano sounds in order to emphasise the percussive nature of the instrument. After all, a piano has hammers that strike strings, right? But instead of it being a melodic instrument in his mind, he brought out the percussive nature of it, by altering the tones of the strings by putting erasers and nails and screws and pieces of fabric in the strings, thus disallowing the strings to "ring out" as they normally would. This he called the prepared piano.

His most notorious piece, however, was 4'33. A piece that was complete silence. A person sits at the piano, and lifts the lid, puts the lid down, lifts the lid again, and then walks off.

How stupid, I hear you say. Well, really, the jokes on you. Because, so often we listen to music to hear a tune, or a beat. We don't really listen to the sounds around us, which, when they combine and collide together, can actually make some beautiful noises. Every time 4'33 is played, the music will be different, because of the different environment you are in at the time!

He experimented with radio sounds.

He used the orchestra in unusual ways. He played 2 or more pieces together, to create a colliding soundscape that would be different every time it is played.

He really turned the music world upside down and on its head. For that I am greatful. We need more people like that to challenge the status quo of the music world.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Numbers/Maybe Dolls

Over at Mess+Noise they have printed a revealing interview with Chris and Annalise Morrow, the brother/sister team from The Numbers, a North-Shore based (read: Sydney) band from the 1980s, who, briefly were labelmates of INXS.

I won't reiterate what is an already wonderful piece, but the music they produced both as the Numbers, and in their later incarnation as Maybe Dolls, was sensational and is very much worth revisiting.

Here for your viewing pleasure is Maybe Dolls' first single "Nervous Kid" from 1991.

Friday, 31 August 2012

August Playlist on Spotify

Since its launch in June in Australia, I have been an avid Spotify user. It's handy to play music at work. It's perfect for listening to many of the strange and obscure records posted in John Peel's Record Library. It's great for sharing music and recommending songs to friends.

As I listen to a heap of music all the time, it is very easy to listen to something, like it a lot, and then forget about it and never revisit it. In order to prevent me doing that, I have started making playlists of highlights of albums that I have listened to during each month.

These albums include ones I have owned for years and have recently dug out to listen to again; albums played in the car; albums found in the John Peel collection; recommendations and tip-offs from friends and colleagues; buzz-worthy tracks from the web; bits of everything.

This collection, as it stands, contains 166 tracks and over 10 full hours of music. The songs may not be the best tracks on the album, but at the time they were the ones that caught my attention.

Probably the best way to listen to this is on shuffle/random. You'll hear everything from dub reggae to flamenco to indie to metal to avant garde and all the other points in between.

It's a wild ride, but it's so much fun. Enjoy!

Full list here:

1. The Names – Floating World
2. NRBQ – Who Put The Garlic In the Glue?
3. NRBQ – Howard Johnston's Got His Ho-Jo Working
4. James Brown – I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself)
5. The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
6. The Nails – Mood Swing
7. Najma – Zikar Hai Apna
8. Naked Prey – The Ride
9. Napalm Death – You Suffer
10. Napalm Death – Prison Without Walls
11. Raymond Naptali – Automatic Boom
12. Naked Aggression – They Can't Get Me Down
13. Nina Nastasia – Rosemary
14. Nation of Ulysses – Spectra Sonic Sound
15. National Head Band – Brand New World
16. National Health – The Collapso
17. Nazareth – Hair of the Dog
18. Pearl Jam – State Of Love And Trust
19. The Neanderthals – Arula Mata Gali
20. Nebula-H – To The Center
21. Nebula-H – Do It Now
22. Need New Body – Peppermint
23. Last Rights – Out Of Our Minds
24. Negative FX – Together
25. Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness
26. Bukka White – Parchman Farm Blues
27. Robert Johnson – Rambling on My Mind
28. The Dirtbombs – Earthquake Heart
29. Heywood Banks – Toast 2011
30. Heywood Banks – Bed Bath and Beyond
31. Hard Ons – Girl In The Sweater
32. Slobberbone – Gimme Back My Dog
33. A Rocket To The Moon – Single Ladies - Feat. Larkin Poe [Rainy Day Sessions]
34. Switchfoot – Dare You To Move
35. Rainbow – A Light In The Black
36. Blur – Chinese Bombs
37. No Doubt – Just A Girl
38. Paul Simon – Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard
39. Indigo Girls – Closer To Fine
40. Charlie Drake – My Boomerang Won't Come Back
41. Status Quo – Whatever You Want
42. The Smiths – Bigmouth Strikes Again
43. RUN-DMC – It's Tricky
44. Sweatmaster – Well Connected
45. The Mermen – Honeybomb
46. The Mermen – Ocean Beach
47. Wolfmother – Woman
48. Supergrass – Sun Hits The Sky
49. Cast – Alright
50. Nik Kershaw – The Riddle
51. Nik Kershaw – Wouldn't It Be Good
52. Cast – Fine Time
53. Paragons – Tide Is High
54. Archers Of Loaf – Harnessed in Slums
55. Weddings Parties Anything – Ticket in Tatts
56. Del Amitri – Stone Cold Sober
57. Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl
58. The Runaways – Cherry Bomb
59. OK Kings – The Bay Of Chicks
60. Oblivians – I'm Not A Sicko, There's A Plate In My Head
61. Oblivians – Blew My Cool
62. Something For Kate – The Astronaut
63. Owen Gray – Bongo Natty - Extended 12" Mix
64. Ammonia – Suzi Q
65. The Brunettes – Her Hairagami Set
66. Cee Lo Green – Forget You
67. Spiderbait – Word I Said
68. The Byrds – All The Things
69. The Byrds – Welcome Back Home
70. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Behind The Sun
71. I Got You On Tape – Spinning for the Cause
72. Buffalo Killers – Hey Girl
73. Rise Against – Whereabouts Unknown
74. Supertramp – Surely
75. Antibalas – War Hero
76. Def FX – Surfers of the Mind
77. The Easybeats – Women (Make You Feel Alright)
78. Two Door Cinema Club – This Is The Life
79. The Androids – Brand New Life
80. The Androids – On The Radio
81. Powderfinger – Turtles Head
82. Powderfinger – Up & Down & Back Again
83. Jah Levi World Fusion Project – Niyabinghi
84. The Oh Sees – Ghost In The Trees
85. Bad Books – You Wouldn't Have To Ask
86. Painted Willie – 405
87. Panta Rei – The Turk
88. Painkiller – Lathe Of God
89. Painkiller – Purgatory Of Fiery Vulvas
90. Painkiller – Blackhole Dub
91. The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset
92. Starship – Sara
93. Prince Far I – Praise Him With Psalms
94. Toots & The Maytals – Six And Seven Books
95. Robert Palmer – Some Guys Have All The Luck
96. The Pale Fountains – Unless
97. Pale Saints – Sight Of You
98. Paley Brothers – Come Out And Play
99. Triston Palma – Innocent Man
100. The Angels – Mr Damage
101. Bruce Cockburn – If A Tree Falls
102. Warhorse – St Louis
103. Grinspoon – Passerby
104. Days Of The New – Touch, Peel And Stand
105. Los Straitjackets – Aerostar
106. Ween – It's Gonna Be
107. Ted Nugent – Wang Dang Sweet Poontang
108. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Redemption Song
109. Scott McKenzie – San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) - Single Version
110. The Cactus Channel – Pepper Snake
111. The Cactus Channel – Boss Cat
112. Little Barrie – Surf Hell
113. Something For Kate – Survival Expert
114. Elvis Presley – Blue Suede Shoes
115. Spinal Tap – Big Bottom
116. Phil Manzanera – Mummy Was An Asteriod, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil
117. The Quadrajets – Big Honey
118. Quartz – Hustler
119. Duffy – Mercy
120. INXS – Need You Tonight - Mash Up
121. The Wonderfools – The Story Of Mr. Brainache
122. Boston – More Than A Feeling
123. Blondie – Hanging On the Telephone
124. Neil Finn – She Will Have Her Way
125. Peter Gabriel – Mercy Street
126. The Dead Milkmen – The Thing That Only Eats Hippies
127. A Wilhelm Scream – Australias
128. Oh Pioneers!!! – My Life as a Morrissey Song
129. Bad News – Bohemian Rhapsody (Take 2)
130. The Gaslight Anthem – Mulholland Drive
131. Stray – Natures Way
132. Dwarves – Everybodies Girl
133. Wire – Straight Line
134. Michael Penn – No Myth
135. The Church – A Fire Burns
136. Bloc Party – So He Begins To Lie
137. Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble – Crossfire
138. Ganger – Fore
139. Ganger – Cats Dogs And Babies Jaws
140. Models – Local And/Or General
141. The Gants – Road Runner
142. The Gap Band – I Don't Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance (Oops! Up Side Your Head)
143. Redgum – The Drover's Dog
144. Black Sabbath – Into The Void
145. Brad Sucks – Look And Feel Years Younger
146. Richard O'Brien – Time Warp
147. Paul Haig – Heaven Help You Now
148. Bob Hadley – Day After Pay Day
149. Hackney Five-O – Carmen Miranda
150. H.D.Q. – There Comes A Time
151. H.D.Q. – Leaving Home
152. Pepe Habichuela – El Dron
153. Peter Hammill – Vision
154. Hammerhead – Meandrethal
155. Kiss – Parasite
156. Made In Sweden – Big Cloud
157. Lonnie Mack – Wham!
158. Lonnie Mack – Memphis
159. Jimmy Barnes – You Can't Make Love Without A Soul
160. Golden Earring – Radar Love
161. John Barry Orchestra – James Bond Theme (From "Dr. No.")
162. Maceo And All The King's Men – Better Half - Original
163. The Whitlams – Charlie No.1
164. Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
165. Blondie – Atomic
166. The Jeff Healey Band – Let It All Go