Monday, December 27, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Turn Me On, Dead Man

Please forgive the lateness of this post, but "Yesterday", as we all know, was the 44th anniversary of the death of Paul McCartney. Often referred to as "one of the four Beatles" in recognition of his contribution to the band's great success, McCartney died of auto-erotic asphyxiation at the age of 24.

Ten Great EPs

To say that the EP is becoming a lost art is stating the obvious. More to the point is the fact that I was born in the wrong time to appreciate them. There are probably many classic EPs from the 60s, 70s and 80s that have been lost to the ravages of time. I've probably absorbed some of them through reissues and compilations, and if that's the case, you probably won't see it in this list. This list is for EPs I enjoy in their own right, on their own terms. There are some obvious ones I've left out, and in most cases I've done so to allow space for some less appreciated EPs.

Alice in Chains - Sap (1992)

For most of its existence, Sap has been most readily available with its successor Jar of Flies as a 2CD set. Both are mostly acoustic and make great companions. Jar of Flies is an excellent EP and well deserving of being included in this list, but I chose Sap because it is the more concise of the two. Ignoring the goofy secret track, Sap is four tracks long, each of them excellent. It's hard to pick out a single highlight when presented with the anesthetising dirge "Am I Inside", the melancholy "Brother", the almost bluesy "Got Me Wrong" and the supergroup singalong "Right Turn".

Augie March - Waltz (1999)

Waltz obeys the two rules of releasing a second EP before your debut full length: it has to be better than the first EP, but also has to leave room for the LP that follows to refine your sound even further. Having said that, "Rich Girl" and "The Mothball" have seldom been surpassed. By anyone, I mean.

Boards of Canada - In a Beautiful Place in the Country (2000)

After the classic, more than hour long Music Has the Right to Children, Boards of Canada proved they could work in a more limited space. In contrast to the serene nature of the music, the EP and track titles and the artwork were inspired by David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.

The Breeders - Safari (1992)

EPs typically don't sell well, and this 12 minute one, released a year before The Breeders' breakthrough Last Splash LP, didn't fly off the shelves. However, it become a cult favourite and matters greatly to me because within it is my favourite Breeders song "Don't Call Home", an initially mostly acoustic number that climaxes in a squall of noise.

Deerhunter - Flourescent Grey (2007)

Deerhunter is one of the few bands around these days that really understands the EP format and how to best utilise it. The sound is appropriately somewhere between the second half of Cryptograms and Microcastle, and the title track is arguably the best song the band had written up to that point.

Gomez - Machismo (2000)

Gomez followed the overlong Liquid Skin with a concise EP whose character was unlike its predecessor or any other Gomez release. The title track uncovers new ground with its use of samples and effects, but it's the 13 minute Meddle-esque closer "The Dajon Song" that elevates this EP to exceptional status.

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls & Marches (1981)

Arranging for the six songs that comprised the original tracklist of this EP to all appear on a single release brings to mind the setup of The Usual Suspects. It was a very strong lineup to begin with, but then Rykodisc reissued it two extra tracks, including the band's debut single "Academy Fight Song". An EP just isn't supposed to have two songs of the caliber of "Academy Fight Song" and "That's When I Reach For My Revolver", but then Matador reissued the EP again in 2008, adding another two tracks, this time putting all four bonus tracks at the front. It's more of an album than an EP that way, and it's almost as good as their debut LP Vs, and despite its relative obscurity and lack of easy availability, of theoretically wider appeal, leaning as it does closer to the punk side of post-punk.

Radiohead - My Iron Lung (1994)

Every Radiohead EP after their debut LP is a roundup of b-sides and/or other unreleased tracks, but that's usually not a problem when you're talking about a band whose castoffs are better than most band's album tracks. The songs span a few years; the very Sonic Youthy "Permanent Daylight" had plenty of time to have been included on Pablo Honey (and would have been one of the best songs on it if it had), while "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong" looks ahead to the atmosphere of OK Computer.

REM - Chronic Town (1982)

This is probably the most obvious selection here, but justifiably so. Chronic Town is such a clear portent of what was to come that you'd swear REM recorded it after their third album, put "1982" on it and surreptitiously slipped it into record store shelves. If there's one criticism I have of Chronic Town, it's that the mix is a bit timid and reluctant to put the band's obvious talent on full display. Peter Buck's serpentine arpeggios, Mike Mills and Bill Berry's secretly hard working rhythm section and the enigmatic mumble of the young Michael Stipe are all here; Chronic Town isn't a record of a band searching for its sound, it's a record of a band that has found it and is ready to improve on it.

Spoon - Soft Effects (1997)

As great as A Series of Sneaks is, it just doesn't have the energy of Telephono. Soft Effects, released in between those two albums, definitely does. It traverses the entire sphere of the Spoon sound of the time, from the terse pop song "I Could See the Dude" to the fuzz-heavy "Get Out of the State".

Friday, December 3, 2010

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
This is the first Swans album in over a decade. I don't know what their earlier stuff sounds like, but this album sounds like what might have resulted if Iggy Pop had a twin brother, a crazy, reclusive preacher who came out of hiding to record a hardcore album.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

He also cooks

I don't know about you, but I could use some comic relief after that last entry.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eels - El Hombre Lobo/End Times/Tomorrow Morning

Eels - Tomorrow MorningEels - El Hombre Lobo

Eels - End Times

Eels' 2005 double album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations was an improvement over Shootenanny (what wouldn't be?), but was also further evidence that Mark Everett's best songwriting is behind him. There's a good single album in there somewhere, but even it doesn't compare to Souljacker or Daises of the Galaxy, let alone the amazing Electro-shock Blues.

The reason I've decided to tackle these three albums all at once is that I've completely ignored Eels from then until now. The main reason for that is simply because I lacked faith that El Hombre Lobo and End Times would actually be any good, and the critical consensus backed me up. There's slightly more to it, though. A dead friend of mine was huge Eels fan. The first three albums were undoubtedly among his favourite albums, and he even find redeeming features in Shootenanny. He owned the live album Oh What a Beautiful Morning and saw them live in Perth, where he lived the last five years of his life. He was truly an acquired taste as a friend; prone to extreme exaggeration and unpredictable in mood, swearing profusely when someone screwed up his McDonald's order, yet stoically enduring the leukemia that took his life three and a half years ago. Blinking Lights was the last Eels album he ever heard, and it continued his tendency to identify with Everett as a kind of cosmic punching bag. Sure, we had other musical taste in common, and his death would not have stopped me from following any artist still producing high quality work, but in the case of a band experiencing diminishing returns, it just solidified my disinclination to keep following their work.

Self-plagiarism is nothing new to Eels, but El Hombre Lobo is different in that it equally borrows from 60s and 70s classic rock. "Prize Fighter" is interesting for just how well it recreates the guitar tone of mid 60s Rolling Stones, if little else. Elsewhere you can hear echoes (or just plain rip-offs) of The Kinks and The Stooges among others. The quieter numbers tend to recycle chord progressions as far back as Beautiful Freak. "Fresh Blood" is the undeniable highlight and the only really original song on the album. It takes the album's garage aesthetic and instead of being consciously bluesy or otherwise retro, slowly builds a dark mood over an ominous beat that wouldn't be out of place sonically on the perennial touchstone for Eels' darker side, Tom Waits' Bone Machine. Besides that, El Hombre Lobo sounds as hastily assembled as it was.

End Times is an improvement on El Hombre Lobo, but I had higher hopes for it. My favourite Eels songs overwhelmingly tend to be the ones inspired by Everett's personal turmoil. I guess I'm profiting from another man's misery, but Electro-shock Blues is my favourite Eels album, and that one was recorded after the death of Everett's entire immediate family. I don't know what circumstances, if any, prompted the darker tone and sparser arrangements, but it's not as productively miserable as I'd hoped.

Tomorrow Morning surprisingly bucks the trend I mentioned above and is the best of these three albums. The title implies a clean break from the past, and appropriately it's musically and lyrically the exact opposite of End Times. It takes a couple of tracks to get going, but coheres into the most consistent Eels release in a long time. It's no masterpiece and it's unlikely that there will ever be another one under the Eels name, but it's hardly a blight on that name either.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Extempore #5: Paul Hester

Not long after Mark Linkous' suicide this year was the 5th anniversary of the suicide of Crowded House drummer Paul Hester. Every time I see the odd bit of footage, I can't help but think how obvious it was that he was in trouble. He just seemed too happy, as suicide victims often do. Hindsight is 20/20 and I'm not saying anyone in particular failed him, but it's just a shame.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tame Impala - Innerspeaker

Just when you think Australian music's fixation with everything "retro" couldn't produce anything worse than Jet, you were right, at least for now: Tame Impala takes not sucking to extremes I haven't heard from an Aussie band since Dappled Cities. If you like the sound of Hendrix-style fuzz, delay and the EHX Small Stone with the colour switch up, you're gonna love this shit. Think of John Lennon joining the Jimi Hendrix Experience, taking the lead vocals and sharing the songwriting, and that'll give you some idea of what to expect. That sounds like the greatest thing ever, right? Well yeah, but more importantly, Tame Impala is a band, not a jukebox; they use their chosen aesthetic as a platform from which to launch their original ideas rather than compensate for a lack thereof. And just when you think that aesthetic isn't going to sustain itself long enough, they come up with an interesting innovation such as the brass-sounding guitar in "Alter Ego" which brings to mind Curtis Mayfield's Superfly soundtrack soaked in a particular narcotic that would be a cliche to mention. Basically, holy shit.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Extempore #4

For the 50th post on this blog, I would just like to say that ZEPPELIN ROCKS!!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Les Savy Fav - Root for Ruin

Tim Harrington's antics at Les Sav Fav shows are legendary. The first five rows will often get wet, and I ain't takin' about water. The former webmaster of We Want the Airwaves Back, a 5 foot nothing Asian chick, briefly interviewed him immediately post-show for the zine and claims that when she said she couldn't hear him, he grabbed her by the head and spoke directly into her ear. At the show I saw, played in an alley at the Laneway Festival in Sydney, he stripped down to his underwear (dressy by his standards), revealing himself to be covered in fake sunburn and rambled incoherently for a while. During "Rome", he ran through the crowd (directly past me), climbed onto a wall and proceeded to abseil down it with the aid of one of the plants growing at the top. I'm told he didn't stick the landing as well as he appeared to and actually landed on a friend of mine nowhere near capable of supporting his weight. What does he have against short people? Anyway, it was the best festival set I'd ever seen until Neil Young played at the 2009 Big Day Out.

Even when he screams, which he's been doing less and less often these days, Harrington seems so much more restrained and thoughtful on record. Les Savy Fav's music has increasingly emphasised melody since Go Forth, but "Sleepless in Silverlake", which gently floats over the bassline for its duration, would have been inconceivable back then. Still, Root for Ruin rocks harder than 2007's Let's Stay Friends, and does so straight out of the gate with the up tempo "Appetites", which inexplicably borrows its closing phrase "I love you to the max" from Silver Jews' "Punks in the Beerlight".

Root for Ruin continues the holding pattern that Let's Stay Friends started, but is propelled along with the enthusiastic force of Les Savy Fav's early albums. Let's stay friends!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Richard Thompson - Dream Attic

Things haven't changed in the two minutes since I posted that Autolux review; I'm still pissed off about the state of modern rock music. Now a 61 year-old has come along to show all those mediocre practitioners of what passes for rock these days how it's done. They should be fucking embarrassed.

Granted, Richard Thompson is a fucking awesome 61 year-old. As the guitarist for Fairport Convention and a prolific solo artist since, he's made his Stratocaster squeal more times than you've had hot dinners. He's particularly known for transcendent live performances, and while Dream Attic isn't his first live album, it is his first comprised of all new material. I'm making it eligible for my yearly Top 10; right now it's number one and will be tough to budge.

Thompson's albums don't always start auspiciously, and so it is with Dream Attic. "The Money Shuffle" is a decent mid tempo rocker, but little more. Later on, however, the album becomes the best showcase in over a decade of Thompson's serpentine guitar solos. His most popular templates are there: the uptempo rocker ("Demons in Her Dancing Shoes"), the folk throwback ("Sidney Wells"), the mournful, glacially slow dirge ("Crimescene, "If Love Whispers Your Name") and the ridiculously catchy pop song ("Big Sun Falling in the River", which sounds a bit like "Wall of Death"). That is to say that that Thompson doesn't really break any new ground here, but his songwriting and performance are in such fine touch that it doesn't matter.

The deluxe edition comes with guitar and vocal demos of all of the songs - mostly acoustic guitar, vocals and nothing else. It's like having an alternative universe version of the album.

Richard Thompson - Electric

Autolux - Transit Transit

It's been six years since Autolux's debut Future Perfect helped make 2004 one of the best years of the last decade for music. It wore its influences of the past proudly while pointing to a future golden age of rock music that unfortunately never happened. Were it released today, it would still show up the watered down crap that passes for rock these days, and, presumably, slip under the radar and not inspire anyone to do anything about it.

Transit Transit doesn't start with Carla Azar's speaker-shaking drums. She holds back for the most part this time, but she's still what elevates Autolux from solid to compelling. Transit Transit is slower than Future Perfect and could use maybe one "Turnstile Blues", but it's never ponderous and is one of the most interesting albums to come out in some time. It's Kid A to Future Perfect's OK Computer in a sense, and veers off into Sergeant Pepper's-like tangents were its predecessor was more straightforward. It will be a vital album to sustain me during the impending long, mediocre season of rock.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Phil Selway - Familial

Until now, a Phil Selway solo album sounded like the punchline of a bad Radiohead joke. But now it's happened, and Radiohead members who haven't released something under their own name are now in the minority (get cracking, Ed and Colin!). Unfortunately there's not a cheap laugh to be had, because Familial isn't half bad. For starters, the boy can sing. He doesn't have anywhere near the range of Thom Yorke, but he wrings everything out of what he does have. His voice always has a hushed, Sam Beam-like quality, but he knows - probably due in no small part to Yorke - how to change the character of his voice to suit the song. He's also a decent guitarist and, although it can't be said that none of Familial's ten songs uses the same template as another, he has incorporated enough variety in the sparse, entirely acoustic arrangements that the album doesn't wear out its welcome. Familial is no Eraser or Bodysong, and let's face it, nothing is going to make the wait for the next Radiohead album more bearable, but as far as solo albums from the drummer go, it's one of the best.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nirvana - Icon

I've left that image its original size so you can see the tracklist and thus the pointlessness of this new Nirvana release. Apparently done raiding the vaults (for now), Geffen has once again turned to re-releasing the Nirvana songs we already know. With 20th the anniversaries of Nevermind and In Utero coming up, it seems likely that Geffen will reissue them and probably remaster them as Sub Pop did with Bleach. That's fine, because it's overt. Nobody will deny that they're going back to the well for a quick buck. Just make the reissues look pretty and maybe throw in a live disc and we'll happily fork out for more heavily compressed copies of albums we already own. In the meantime, why not liberate some bootlegs? Live at Reading is fantastic.

These are all the official studio versions, with the exception of the last two, which are culled from the equally widely available Unplugged in New York album, a trick Geffen already pulled on the self-titled compilation from 2002. These versions are all making at least their third appearance on a Nirvana CD (almost all of them having been released as singles) and at least one officially released alternative version exists of each of them.

The redundancy of Icon is one thing - a compilation by definition isn't going to offer you much that you can't hear anywhere else - but more importantly, it fails to adequately summarise Nirvana's career. The acoustic "About a Girl", as is the case on the live album from which it is taken, is the only track from Bleach included; so much for any young prospective fans hoping to get an idea of Nirvana the indie band that drove from its small logging town to Seattle to record an album for $600. So how about the effect that being blasted into the public consciousness had on the band musically? Unfortunately you only get a glossy cross section of In Utero. They left out "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" because it isn't one; ditto "Milk It" and all the other abrasive songs that hinted at what Nirvana album #4 might have sounded like. For all its faults, Nirvana acknowledged the existence of the 1992 odds 'n' ends collection Incesticide, but the same can't be said for Icon.

Do I think I can do better? Yes I do. My own tracklist follows. Normally I would make it chronological, but I don't think that's necessary for a band with only three studio albums to its name, plus given how overplayed the Nevermind singles are, I found it necessary to separate them in order to make them most effective. This is not a fan's mix, but a genuine attempt at a compilation that provides a cohesive listen while fairly representing the band's catalogue. It should stand alone as an enjoyable listen for anyone who likes it but doesn't wish to pursue the band's music any further, while providing those who do with a good idea of what to expect.

1. Aneurysm (BBC session version)
2. Blew
3. Smells Like Teen Spirit
4. Heart-Shaped Box
5. Negative Creep
6. In Bloom
7. Dumb
8. Dive
9. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
10. Lithium
11. About a Girl
12. Come As You Are
13. You Know You're Right
14. All Apologies

"Aneurysm" archetypal Nirvana and is a b-side on the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" single. The version in my tracklist, however, is a 1992 BBC session recording included on Incesticide and is considerably superior. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" arrives early on and the listener has already heard three singles before the halfway mark. "Dumb" showcases a "kindler, gentler" Nirvana. "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" represents the abrasiveness I mentioned earlier and for that reason appears when the listener will have already committed so as not to scare them off. This tracklist provides a balanced selection of tracks(4 songs each from Nevermind and In Utero, 3 from Bleach and 3 non-LP tracks) and can't be said to be a self-indulgent and obscure knee-jerk reaction to Icon - nine of the fourteen tracks have been previously released as the A or B side of a single. For that matter, nine of them appear on Icon in one form or another. It could be leaner, but three more tracks is a small price to pay to get it right.

In conclusion, my proposed compilation rules, while Icon is a piece of shit cash cow that you should physically avoid looking at in music shops. Whether you're a Nirvana-curious pre-teen-to-mid-twenty-something or a Gen X-er who never caught on back in the day and for some reason wants to rectify that now, you're too good for it.

Nirvana - In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition)
Nirvana - Nevermind (20th Anniversary Edition)

Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R (10th Anniversary Edition)

What is there left to say? It was number 9 in my Top 50 Albums of the Decade and was the dying breath of American hard rock. There's no remaster job on this release, so you wouldn't buy it to replace your original CD or your eight track from the 70s or OKeh Records wax pressing from 1930 or whatever you have. No, the carrot here is a decent bunch of b-sides and a very decent Reading Festival set. Nice, but a DVD would have been nicer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Extempore #3

Did MTV think it could fool anyone by adding some metal and gangsta rap to VH1's playlist and calling it MTV Classic?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Arcade Fire - The Surburbs

The last two Arcade Fire albums both featured in my Top 50 Albums of the Decade - Funeral at #4 and Neon Bible way back at #47, and I wonder now if I was too kind to the latter. Neon Bible raised the emotional stakes and it was hard not to know that while listening to it. Fortunately, The Suburbs reveals a more relaxed Arcade Fire - a relative term if there ever was one. They're still carrying the weight of the world, but it doesn't seem as though it's going to crush them at any minute.

The Suburbs is The Arcade Fire's longest album to date, but that extra space is used not to make a grander statement than ever before, but rather the give the band room to breathe. When you've got sixty-five minutes to play with, you don't have to pour your heart and soul into every second of it. It also gives them room for some interesting genre excursions. "Month of May", the band's most punk-oriented song, is more diversionary than anything else, but oddly, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)", a heavily disco-infused song featuring Regine Chassagne on vocals, is one of the album's standouts.

The Suburbs is unlikely to rise to classic status and I'm unlikely to object to that. It does indicate, however, that The Arcade Fire is determined not to live in the shadow of its one accepted classic.

Extempore #2

Steel drums: fun to play, horrible to listen to.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Extempore #1

If people had any goddamn sense, Metric would be the biggest band in the world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber is a vapid, androgynous automaton.

The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street (Deluxe Edition)

The Rolling Stones made Exile on Main Street for somebody's sins, but not mine. It's a double album in the same way that London Calling and Daydream Nation are double albums: they don't fit onto two sides of vinyl, the dominating format at the time. Double albums often come at the peak of a band's creativity, a time when to put out another dozen or so songs seems like a facile endeavour - it's surprising that the late 60s produced as few as it did, it being at time when an album a year was standard.

Exile on Main Street is many people's favourite Rolling Stones album, but I'll take its predecessor, the concise ten song set Sticky Fingers over it any day. Exile lacks the restless eclecticism of London Calling and with Keith Richards as chief songwriter, doesn't play host to the warring personalities of its members as does The Beatles (The White Album). It doesn't even bother with a concept, as The Wall did, and not much of it is given over to experimentation. Pared down its best tracks, Exile makes a very good single album, but still not one that matches Let It Bleed or Sticky Fingers. "Tumbling Dice" vs "Brown Sugar"? No "dice". "Sweet Black Angel" vs "Wild Horses?" Fuck off.

The Deluxe Edition comes with a bonus disc out outtakes. The quality is surprisingly high for such a disc and demonstrates that the Stones weren't the best judges of their own material; Exile could have been improved by replacing some of its duds with some of these songs, especially "Plundered My Soul".

You might be wondering why I hate Exile on Main Street. That's a question I can't answer, because I don't hate it. I actually like it quite a bit. I just like some other Rolling Stones albums a hell of a lot more.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: The Way to Go Out/Under One Roof/Natural Selection (DVD)

"But I know you want more!" as Tim Shaw would have said 17 years ago, and as it so happens, although I've reviewed all 14 CDS in the Horn of Plenty box, there are still the 2 DVDs to go.

The Way to Go Out (1985) is an appropriately raw-sounding show, originally released on VHS as well as CD. It's not for casual fans, but it's a good one to have if you love The Jaws of Life as much as I do. You could probably find better bootlegs on the internet these days though.

Under One Roof (1998) is a Sydney show from the band's farewell tour. The sound and picture are superb and the set is a decent representation of the band's entire career. Mark Seymour's voice had smoothed out considerably by this point, but he was able to revisit his 1984 self and belt out a convincing "42 Wheels".

Natural Selection contains every promo video the band ever did. Whoop-dee-doo. It's best for multiple sittings if you're likely to get weary watching 18 videos by the same band. There's not much else to say except to note that "Carry Me" is same version (both the audio and video) as that featured in "The Way to Go Out".

Well, now I've reviewed the entire contents of the Horn of Plenty box. I'm going to go to sleep for a month.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: Cargo Cult/Mutations/Spare Parts

We're into the odds and ends now, but that's by no means a bad thing. Cargo Cult (2008), exclusive to Horn of Plenty, rounds up three EPs: World of Stone (1981), Payload (1982) and Living Daylights (1987 - a tribute to Timothy Dalton's first outing as James Bond from the same year, perhaps?). The CD actually contains a fuckup: it stars with "Run Run Run" instead of World of Stone's title track, then crams "Watcher" and "Loinclothing" into one track. That EP is a dry run for the slightly better structured Krautrock-aping style of the debut; the title track basically repeats itself until it passes the seven and a half minute mark. Payload (1982) is presumably made up of Fireman's Curse outtakes, but the latter two songs would have been more than welcome there. It's a sonically fascinating EP more than anything else, and Doug Falconer is at his heavily percussive best. Fast forward five years and Living Daylights gives you even more options besides the Fate tracks for imagining how much better What's a Few Men? could have turned out, or perhaps Human Frailty if they'd waited a bit. "Inside a Fireball" is some catchy shit right there, and either album would have benefited from its presence.

Mutations (2005) shares its name with a Beck album that was disingenuously marketed by Geffen as not being "officially" the next entry in his catalogue. Hunters & Collectors' Mutations is accurately described as such, however, given that it is a b-sides and rarities collection. It's better than most, too. "I'm Set Free", unlike "Run Run Run", is a Velvet Underground cover, and a creative one at that. "Know Your Product" is more perfunctory and a more predictable choice of cover; just as The Saints probably felt obliged to cover Motown classics when they availed themselves of a horn section, Hunters in turn probably thought it was a waste not to cover the horniest of Saints songs. "Mind of an American" is a disappointing way to finish off the collection. It's an unimaginative jab at US foreign policy - better leave that to Midnight Oil and stick to local concerns.

Spare Parts (2008) is the far less substantial and far more asterisk-ridden of the two rarities collections. Everything here besides the original 1984 version of "Throw Your Arms Around Me" is either a live recording or a remix. Meh.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: Living in Large Rooms/...And Lounges

Given Hunters & Collectors reputation as a live band, the Living in Large Rooms and Lounges 2 CD set (1995) is a valued possession amongst completists, a group that technically includes me now. The problem inherent in all live albums, though, is that the better they are, the more they remind the listener that they are no substitute for having actually attended the concert in question or one like it. People who have seen Hunters & Collectors live, a group which will probably never include me, will likely tell you that about these albums. Hell, the audiences at the two shows in question will tell you as you listen by way of their rapturous applause and sing-along shenanigans.

Living in Large Rooms documents a typical pub show from 1995. As such, the early stuff is fairly represented; the period of 84-89 accounts for roughly half the set. "42 Wheels" explodes through the speakers, demonstrating that the band was still capable of an extraordinary performance at this late stage of its career, and it makes me wish they'd included "The Slab" and "Inside a Fireball" among others. The later stuff demonstrates that the band was able to judge the relative merits of its own material, or at least its suitability to a live setting; see "Easy" in particular.

...And Lounges is a strange album indeed. An acoustic Hunters & Collectors show, eh? To paraphrase Dr. House, "that makes sense...if you don't think about it for more than two seconds". The conceit necessitates the balance to shift towards the band's later, more ballad-heavy material ("True Tears of Joy, "Courtship of America") and greatly renders inert the earlier stuff ("When the River Runs Dry" loses its electric thunder and "The Slab" makes no sense at all). "Betrayer" and "Holy Grail" sound fine, and of course it would have been baffling to exclude "Throw Your Arms Around Me", but I prefer the Human Frailty version. The most confounding aspect of the album is the inclusion of "Say Goodbye" as a secret track, having already included it in the main set as well as that of its sister album.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: Cut/Demon Flower/Juggernaut

Cut (1992) is a far better welcome to the 90s for Hunters & Collectors than it could have been. It's a conscious step away from the last couple of albums, with a harder sound and more interesting beats. "Holy Grail", probably the best known Hunters song next to "Throw Your Arms Around Me", is about the band's failure to crack the US market; helped by its tried and true chord progression ("More Than a Feeling" transposed to a different key), it's ironically the closest thing they had to a hit over there. Oddly, "True Tears of Joy" is, according to Wikipedia, the band's biggest hit, yet I'd never heard of it until I bought the box set.

Demon Flower (1994) ushers in the band's "ho-hum" period. Their lives show justified their continued existence well enough (see forthcoming reviews of Living in Large Rooms/And Lounges), but Australians, particularly the youth, were looking to You Am I, Silverchair and Powderfinger for their fix of local music. "Betrayer" holds its own amongst the best of the Hunters catalogue and claims some of the best brass work since the early days, but the most of the rest of Demon Flower is fair to middling at best.

Juggernaut (1998) is no improvement over its predecessor. Mark Seymour had by now smoothed out the gravel in his vocals to the point where he was hardly recognisable as the same that graced any of Hunters' early albums, so when the band steers away from the middle of the road to rock, it's not as effective as it once would have been. When they do make it work, such as in "Mother Hubbard" and especially "Wasted in the Sun", which combines the slow-burning intensity of some of the downbeat entries in the band's early catalogue with the pop sheen of Cut, it really works. However, this doesn't happen often enough throughout the album to distinguish it significantly from Cut or Demon Flower, nor make it a worthwhile sendoff for such a locally lauded and globally under-appreciated band.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: What's a Few Men?/Ghost Nation

What's a Few Men?
(1987) is the point at which Hunters & Collectors had completely transitioned from Krautrock fanboys to pub circuit mainstays. The almost Midnight Oil-sounding single "Do You See What I See?" is strategically positioned as the second track, and it still is, and was then especially, one of the band's biggest hits. What's a Few Men was re-released in the US as Fate, a calculated but unsuccessful move to try to break into that elusive market. The tracklist is also different: four tracks are missing, with four added in their place, and the tracklist has been shuffled around. The album's proper title is taken from A.B. Facey's memoir A Fortunate Life, and the title track is one of those missing from Fate, which is a shame; it stands out of context as a decent World War I song and is a better ballad than "Around the Flame". Also missing are the decent "Still Hanging 'Round", the excellent, bluesy "Give Me a Reason" and the so-so "Breakneck Road". Fate's extra tracks, appended to all CD versions of What's a Few Men? vary; "Back on the Breadline" and "Something to Believe In" genuinely deserved an Australian release (and, having said that Fate failed to appeal to the US market, "Breadline" did receive a lot of airplay on US alternative radio stations), but "Wishing Well" and "Real World" don't stand out here and I don't imagine they would if I were to recreate Fate with some iPod programming.

Ghost Nation (1989) starts with a bit of a red herring. The verses of "When the River Runs Dry" are led by the rhythm section, like in the old days, while the choruses are of the catchy variety that fans were used to by then. It was their biggest hit at the time, deservedly so, and another song on high rotation on many alternative radio stations in America. As with some other Hunters 7 Collectors albums, Ghost Nation starts off well but then loses momentum, but at the moment I consider it a notch above What's a Few Men?.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: The Jaws of Life/Human Frailty

The Jaws of Life
(1984) is the point at which Hunters & Collectors started fashioning their jams into traditional song structures. I'm totally on board with that; hmmm, what's that other band I listen to that's influenced by Can and Talking Heads and named after a song by one of them?

"42 Wheels" kicks off with - you guessed it - the sound of a car engine starting, bringing to mind the noise experiments of Sparklehorse a decade later, before that glorious rhythm section stomps out an almost "Rebel Rebel" type rhythm, accompanied by slide and tremolo guitar that goes on to punctuate most of the album. Highlights include the downbeat "Hayley's Doorstep" and an excellent cover of my favourite Ray Charles song "I Believe to My Soul" (shortened to "I Believe").

Human Frailty (1986) takes definite steps towards the Hunters sound that would pack the pubs throughout the remainder of the 80s and 90s, streamlining the songs into more radio-friendly fare. 1985 single "Throw Your Arms Around Me" shows up here and was again released as a single (not for the last time); though barely charting in the top 50, it became one of Australia's most beloved songs of all time, although it sounds out of place here, being Mark Seymour's first attempt at a sensitive pop song. Falconer's drumming is calmer here, but interestingly, Archer changed his bass style little, and didn't really need to.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: Hunters & Collectors/The Fireman's Curse

I got this recently for $50, which I'm pretty sure is about $150 cheaper than when it came out. It's ridiculous value, really - 14 CDs and 2 DVDs. Everything the band recorded over its 16 year career is in there. I intend to review all of it piece by piece, starting with the self-titled debut and its follow-up The Fireman's Curse. I was already familiar with these two albums, having bought the first (with the World of Stone EP appended) and downloaded the second, but the rest, barring certain popular singles, will be all new to me.

I was surprised to learn that Hunters & Collectors took its name from a song by Can from its late era that I haven't yet familiarised myself with, but the first two albums more than elucidate the connection. Hunters & Collectors is bookended by its two best tracks, "Talking to a Stranger" and "Run Run Run". Both revel in the locked groove motif of Can, but "Talking to a Stranger" filters it through Gang of Four, sounding a lot like "What We All Want", only better - a big call considering that that's my favourite Gang of Four song. Hunters & Collectors is one of the best Australian albums of the 80s - another big call, as that was a great decade for "Oz Rock" - and John Archer and Doug Falconer were together a greatly underrated rhythm section.

The Fireman's Curse is slight step down from its predecessor. It's less consistent and the lyrics are more oblique than ever (not that the lyrics were the point at this stage). Still, it begins and ends as strongly as the debut, and is probably already one of my favourite albums of 1983.

Sex, War & Robots