Thursday, March 12, 2009

Random walk

I don't know about you, but I find it nigh on impossible to resist the temptation to skip tracks on the iPod until something I know and like comes on. Which means I keep failing to pay attention to new tracks, and thus the pool of songs I do like gets no wider.

So, in an effort to rectify, here's a random walk through my iPod where I've actually, like, paid attention to the songs. Only the first 20, mind — I’ve got work to do...

1. 2000000 – Modeselektor, Happy Birthday

“Deux zéro zéro zéro zéro zéro sept”, raps the French fellow, in French (quelle naturellement). But Modeselektor are very much German, beloved of Thom Yorke and mentastic gurners everywhere, and quite possibly the most exciting electronic band in the world. The duo have an incredible knack for supercrazy, superstupid beats, flipping manically from spastik break-beat to grinding techno in the space of a few lunatic bars. So, despite the fact that I haven't the faintest idea what the fellow’s rapping about with such frenetic abandon, this is a thrilling start. Can we keep it up?

2. Sea of Sand – Guy Gerber & Shlomi Aber

A bog-standard beat — not the most promising of beginnings; but then, this being a minimal tech classic, what else would you expect? Gradually, though, little whirlpools of sound start interrupting and smearing across the beat, and little riffs and gaseous loops waft across your cranium. Once the whole contraption's in motion, it’s a joy to behold. You know how William Poundstone once pointed out that to run a self-assembling universal Turing machine using Conway’s cellular automata, you’d need a grid as big as a galaxy? Well, this song is that grid.

3. Meadow –Thomas Brinkman

Yeah, OK, so we start with a morass of little clicks and crickles, standard laptronica and... HOLD THE PHONE… who’s this stentorian dude? “Up north there is a meadow”, he intones with more reverence than a meadow typically warrants, while the music drones menacingly over the gurgling sound of a waterfall. At 1.45 something new threatens to happen but decides against it. Most of the drama here comes from the wide dynamic range, as startling synthetic gurgles, whooshes and other unexpected sonic events keep breaking the clicky reverie. And then, at the three minute mark, comes a Depeche-y beat, and the whole thing goes downhill gently, although odd little guitar riff-clanks remind me of Young Gods. Nice cloud-break at the end.

4. Broken Promises – Quiet Village, Silent Movie

Taken from the wonderful Silent Movie, this could almost be the queasily lush start to some lost Isaac Hayes masterpiece. The album doesn't seem to getting as much suction as it might out there in the real world. Too exotic? Not beige enough? Whatever: superfantastic.

5. Heart of Heats - !!!

This takes me straight back to the Playground Weekender in NSW, at which !!! were the undisputed highlight. They were an unbelievably funky giant octopus except with as many heads as arms. Or half as many arms? The overdriven or overcompressed bass really makes the song.

6. I’m in love with the Night – Dawn Landes

I largely defer to this man. Love the “Falling” tremelo'ed guitar. She’s got a lovely lilt to her voice too – reminds me of Laura Cantrell’s, always a good thing.

7. Young Bride (Cassettes Won’t Listen remix) – Midlake

Compared to Erol Alkan’s magisterial rework of Roscoe, this, to my untutored ears, is bland in the extreme, if you'll pardon the oxymoron. Reader, I skipped it.

8. What’s the Excuse this time? McAlmont & Butler

The partnership of Bernard Butler and David McAlmont was big news in the early Britpop years, before deadening dadrock ruled the roost and a pop savant with unabashedly orchestral pop leanings and a heroically flamboyant Prince-channelling androgyne suddenly couldn’t get arrested. But, by and large, these are still fabulous songs, songs I'd love to hear get covered, resurrected. How about Amy Winehouse doing a version of “Yes” as a comeback single?

9. 2 Nocturnes, Op. 37//ii G – Frederic Chopin

Supremely lovely piano song, with a central descending phrase that reminds of something I can't put a name too.

10. So Haunted – Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours

Love the transition from skinny-trousered rock band verse to neon ultra-chorus. Glorious.

11. Ecstasies in the Open Air - Sir Richard Bishop

A blissful instrumental mostly played on acoustic and electric guitars with some lovely synths burbling away happily. Vaguely Beatles-y – you could imagine this being composed halfway up a mountain in Rishikesh.

12. The Wrong Coat for you, Mt. Heart Attack – The Liars Drum’s Not Dead

I can barely get my head round the bonkers concept the liars employed on Drum’s Not Dead. Or, I should say, I can scarcely credit the chutzpah. Two characters, Mt Heart Attack and Drum, er, battle it out and have adventures across the album. This is one of the lovelier cuts; submerged and faintly disconcerting, illuminated by the deep ocean flare of that subaqueous, ever-descending riff.

13. Boutique – Andy Stott – Merciless

Again with the dull techno! Enlivened a little with some classical piano flourishes, but still. Would sound better in a club, for sure, but I'm not in a club innit.

14. After the Flood –Talk Talk – Laughing Stock

This is how it should be done. Brushed drums; spectral organ chords; the patter of rain; the quivering, Reich-like harmonica; the distant squeal of guitar; Mark Hollis at his most ecstatic. Ten-ish minutes of pure bliss. Whenever I get tempted to write about one of the very greatest albums ever made, I remember that Nick Southall has already said everything that needs to be said.

15. Where We At – Henrik Schwarz/Ame/Dixon

This track has been lionised elsewhere: three scene superstars, a brilliant monologue cum rant over a stately glide through its many movements, and therefore it reminds me a bit of Underworld.

16. Hafssol – Sigur Ros – Hvarf/Heim

The DVD is an overwhelming experience, like pretty much everything else about Sigur Ros. They exist to be oceanic; and this song obliges with its vasty deeps and joyous expansions.

17. Supernatural Superserious – REM – Accelerate

A return to the charts for REM — but a return to form? A return of the block chords of Monster. Is that what anyone really wanted? Overmastered too – it really was much the loudest track in the list, along with Cut Copy; but that’s hardly a surprise – you never really got the sense that REM were all that wedded to sonic superbity, or that they wouldn't bow to the current trend for mixing hot just to get the damned thing on the radio. That said, a pretty good tune. Goes a bit cack at the two and a half minute mark.

18. Sleeping Beauty – Patrick Watson

Sounds like the start of Radiohead’s Nude, all gorgeous sonic foam and bubble, before an arpeggiated pattern cranks up and Patrick’s vocals float over a hothouse of strings, strange whale feedback.

19. Past the Long Black Land – Colleen - Les Ondes Silencieuses

Using ancient and half-forgotten instruments, Colleen creates a very spare sound-world with just some wheezing strings and the plucked harpsichord alike she’s playing. It’s haunting, exceptionally sparse and finally moving. Just don’t put it on at a party.

20. Necessary Evil – Edgar ‘Jones’ Jones

A fitting note on which to end, a tight little soul shake-down with Jones battling a whole battalion of backing singers and a strutting sax ripping up the place. Police siren too! Always good.

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