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.