Tag Archives: Rock

Little Richard: Here’s Little Richard

Little Richard_Heres Little Richard

Little Richard: Here’s Little Richard
Specialty (1957)

Number 988 of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before you Die.

Here’s another record distinctly tied to my childhood. Dad may not have admired Little Richard as much as Jerry “The Killer” Lee-Lewis, but he played the guy’s records consistently.

Of all the 50’s rock n roll my dad introduced me to as a child, Little Richard was especially fascinating to me. I can’t help suspecting that my as yet untapped gay identity responded to Richard’s unusual sexuality. His lightning rod flamboyance and outrageous stage manner. He was strong, crazy, lithe and filled with the threat of violence like a lioness.

Listening to these songs now, it’s the energy that strikes me as phenomenal. His voice is a complete beast – guttural and ecstatic like a preacher losing his mind at the pulpit. Even if you’ve never seen Richard in action you’d be hard pressed not to imagine this man writhing and convulsing and flailing around on stage. Could this guy really have played the piano properly while doing that?

It’s also hard not to think about his homosexuality in the context of today. These songs are all about girls, girls, girls. Back then he was living a heterosexual life, a product of his time, but I wonder how he felt deep down about singing these songs. How does he feel about having sung them today? How did he get away with rocking that eye liner and that hair? It’s freakin’ awesome when you think about it. Liberace was so ridiculously in your face, but Little Richard had style and panache.

Records like this help me understand why rock n’ roll won’t die, and why generations of musicians have appropriated its sound well into the 21st century. The urgency, the fire, and the craziness have transcended time in an era where we chew things up and spit them out at the speed of sound. I realise I haven’t actually described what this record sounds like, so to speak. But whatever. Go listen to it for your self.

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HEALTH: Death Magic

HEALTH_Death Magic

HEALTH: Death Magic
Loma Vista (2015)

I know this record came out in August last year, but when has this blog ever been up-to date with what’s going on?

I’ve been following these guys since stumbling across their 2007 debut album in the Aquarius Records newsletter. I finally saw them live this weekend and they absolutely slayed me. Not many bands can blow the lid off an afternoon festival slot but HEALTH did just that. What’s more, there was something nonchalant about the way they put every other act on the bill to shame. Brilliant.

HEALTH started out as an anxious carpet bombing of the musical landscape, and evolved into a pop band seeking respite in the primal world of experimental music. Like a hormone ridden teen, HEALTH have to deface every pretty sound they make with something abrasive and dirty. On Death Magic they’ve perfected that tense stand off.

The production is uber polished, pristine and glistening like top 40 music. The drum tracks are huge and completely dry, totally ready for stadium arenas and Super Bowls. Every track throbs with synths that are crisp and sharp as blades. Danceable 4/4 beats abound.

And then, there’s the sudden blast beat attacks and inhuman shrieks; ambient background noise that blankets everything in dread and drama. Central to the mix is Jake Duzsik’s androgynous falsetto, calmly singing about bombs exploding, guns going off, and the inevitability of death. He delivers lines like, “We die. So what? We’re here. Let Go,” with a calm conviction that feels both perverse and comforting.

The morbid humour that underlies Death Magic‘s shiny racket is reflective of the band’s native Los Angeles. A glamorous, kale and quinoa surface that barely conceals a grimy underbelly filled with disastrous plastic surgery, prescription drugs, Brett Easton-Ellis and sex scandals. HEALTH are a candy coated arsenic pill. All vibrant colours hiding rats in the shadows.

Digging: Magic Dirt

Magic Dirt: Signs of Satanic Youth
Au-Go-Go Records (1993)

Magic Dirt_satanicSadly, on August 21st Dean Turner, the quiet-achieving bassist and part founder of  Australian rock legends Magic Dirt, succumbed to cancer. He was only 37.

Not to focus on the local music industry’s loss, let’s praise a band that shaped an exciting era in Australian music. In particular, Melbourne’s scuzzy indie rock scene of the 90’s, when this gem of an EP hit the iconic shelves of Au-Go-Go records.

In a shroud of beer and bong smoke, Magic Dirt burst forth from Melbourne’s far outer suburbs, wrapped in Blast First/Geffen era Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr fuzz. Amplifiers were shredded, guitar strings were broken, and every 15 year old that saw Magic Dirt on stage during this period lost their shit inside dingy clubs during sweaty all-ages gigs.

Grunge had well and truly exploded in ’93, and while Magic Dirt maintained the second-hand, unwashed appearance that was all the rage at the time, they steered away from Metal infused Punk and trawled through cobwebbed corners of sonic deconstruction and pop hooks instead.

At the time of this EP’s release, Magic Dirt derived inspiration from Sonic Youth and other fragmented guitar bands of the time. Track three, Touch that Space owes a lot to the Youth’s Silver Rocket, the way its fuzzed out hook crashes into exploding amps and then winds itself back into a killer crescendo. Meanwhile, the haunting Supertear is lyrically reminiscent of Kim Gordon’s prose on female anxieties.

However, Magic Dirt were always more rooted in Blues and early rock n’ roll than Sonic Youth have ever been. They were unafraid to throw a wah-wah solo into the scree, and as a front woman Adalita channelled Suzi Quattro against Kim Gordan’s praying mantis allure. And where Sonic Youth has always been a guitar band, Dean Turner’s warm, slinky bass playing is an integral element of the Magic Dirt sound, which anchored the band in 70’s inspired stoner rock.

At a time in Australian music when indie bands were dropping EPs and singles left, right and centre, Signs of Satanic Youth rose above the racket. It was moody, slightly un-hinged, melodic, rocking and noisy. And in case you missed the point, it ended with a 36-minute drone of reverse-played guitars to remind you that this wasn’t your average rock band.

Over their next few releases, Magic Dirt polished their noise into a shiny fibreglass wall of guitars. The major label records they released during the last decade secured them a mainstream audience at the expense of the creativity and mayhem found in their earlier work. However, 2008 saw Magic Dirt release the highly experimental Roky’s Room (featuring members of Grey Daturas), Beast and Girl all of which harked back to earlier times, when their pop was decayed, sludgy and bad for your teeth. There was excitement around the band again.

As such, it’s sad that we mightn’t get to see what they were capable of in this next phase of their career. If this is your inspiration to pick up some Magic Dirt albums, dig way back to Signs of Satanic Youth for a glimpse into Australia’s 1990s underground, and to understand why more than 16 years on this band weren’t slowing down.

New release: Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth: The Eternal
Matador (2009)

The Eternal

The last decade has been a little up and down for Sonic Youth, who are possibly one of my all time favourite bands. Murray Street and Sonic Nurse sounded like a group on auto pilot, while the free-form guitar noise on their self released SYR series of recordings has been far more daring. In fact, I’d say that until they released the stripped back and punkish Rather Ripped in 2006, Sonic Youth seemed to be channeling far more energy into the SYR series than their mainstream albums. Perhaps this had something to do with their fading ties to the Geffen record label, because The Eternal has been released on the quasi-indie Matador and they now sound refreshed, energised and unshackled.

It’s difficult to write about a Sonic Youth album without referencing any other of their 16 standard releases, which isn’t going to help anyone who might not have heard Sonic Youth before. But let me say this, if you’ve never heard a Sonic Youth record The Eternal is probably a great place to start because it encapsulates a number of stages in their career.

Sonic Youth albums have always carried their own individual identities, but The Eternal is a chameleon that conjures up qualities inherent to a number of their records. We get Dirty’s skewed take on grunge; the guitar based wig outs of Daydream Nation; the dreamy pop of Goo; the urgency of Sister; the noodling improv found on A Thousand Leaves, and the succinct energy of Rather Ripped.

Spanning such a scope, The Eternal is a dizzying rush of power pop bent into amorphous forms where guitars shift effortlessly from muted chug to tightly coiled shrieks. The addition of Mark Ibold (ex Pavement) on bass provides a bouncy and sophisticated low-end that differs in sound from the rest of Sonic Youth’s catalogue. As usual, vocal duties are shared around the band which inspires a number of moods and styles; Lee Ranaldo takes inspiration from 70’s rock on Walkin’ Blue and What we Know, while Thurston Moore pumps out garage punk numbers like Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn and No Way.

But it’s Kim Gordon’s tracks the truly standout here. On Malibu Gas Station she explores celebrity excess via lyrics like “A tough cross to bear, oops no underwear”.  It opens with a wandering arpeggio and then leaps into gear like a convertible racing into the sunset, leaving a trail of blonde hair and spliffs.

Kim also stars on The Eternal’s moody closer Massage The History, which rests on an acoustic riff straight out of Thurston Moore’s Trees Outside the Academy solo record. She coos and croons along in a husky whisper that could easily curl toes, while sparsity builds into a sensuous wash of chiming guitars. It’s a dreamy number and the perfect ending to a consistently rocking album.

I’m playing The Eternal a lot right now, I think it’s fucking great. Other reviews are suggesting that it’s good but not their best. Personally, The Eternal is nudging its way into my list of favourite Sonic Youth albums. And that’s a fucking big call.

New Release: Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand: Tonight
Domino (2009)

pe_franz_ferdinand-tonight
Disappointment. That’s how I feel about this album.

I know that the band, and plenty of fans too apparently, felt that their last record You Could Have it so much Better was rushed and impeded by record label pressure. Franz were expected to pump out a new set before the hype around their debut died down, and some say this was a downer. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I think You Could Have it so much Better was catchier and stronger than even their self titled release.

The boys in Franz have banged on in every recent interview about how happy they are with the songs on Tonight, and how creative and inspired they felt during its three year conception. Sorry guys, but it only takes one listen to realise how laboured and lifeless this record is.

What I loved about Franz Ferdinand’s last two records was the mania and ramshackle nature of their sound. They were exciting because at any moment their schtick might fly off the rails and explode into a beautiful blaze of surf-guitars and ooh-ahhhs. Plus, you could dance to it.

For their third offering, Franz Ferdinand have polished the life out of their sound and slowed everything down to a dreary mid-tempo plod. The drums have been given an electronic makeover, the guitars jangle when they should zing. And worst of all, everything’s been doused in computerised blips and bleeps.

The band have also said this is their experimental record. Forgive me, but experimental doesn’t mean using keyboard sounds lifted directly from Phil Collins, and putting delay effects on your vocals. Case in point is Live Alone with its Blondie bassline and chiming keys that strive for Heart of Glass but end up smelling like ass. Kapronos’ banal paint-by-numbers lyrics don’t help matters either – “I wanna’ live alone. Because the greatest love is always ruined by the bickering, the argument of living. I wanna’ live alone.”

The low light comes on the reworked first single Lucid Dreams, which starts as a jangly pop-rock song and ends 8 minutes later as a Chemical Brothers styled big beat stomp. What were they thinking?

Every band releases a dud at some point in their career; it’s human to fail sometimes. I think the problem here is that Franz Ferdinand really seem to believe in what they’ve done on Tonight. Where as they used to take the piss, they’re no longer in on the joke. The best bands come out of these periods by channeling their mistakes into a future that’s fresh and exciting. Here’s hoping that Franz Ferdinand are merely shedding some skin.