Saturday, May 31, 2008

Review: The Cannanes

Do you know that feeling, the one that you get when you are totally sure that there is something happening, but not only that, but that also the something that's happening has maybe been happening for quite sometime, that there are peole who have known about the something (and they didn't tell you--why didn't they tell you, what did you do wrong?) and that the something has been really interesting and possibly really beautiful too; and all this time, maybe since about 1984?
I've been having that same feeling lately!!! Ohmigod!

This feeling has been centered around a band from Melbourne, Australia (this of course is not that new; everyone who knows me is well (and occasionally painfully) aware of my complete and utter dependence on antipodean music). This band, however, has been around since the aforementioned year, and I've only just (a couple weeks ago) become aware of them. They are The Cannanes.
They have produced over forty albums. They have appeared on dozens of compilations. They have never ever (like, not once) appeared on any mix tape that has been given to me. And at the moment I feel a little stung.

The Cannanes slipped onto my radar quite by-the-way, when two things occurred. The first (chronologically) was that I came across the Dark Beloved Cloud website while I was trying to track down anything by The Magick Heads. As far as I am aware, only Flying Nun and DBC have put out TMH releases, so I was super stoked to find them. I have mentioned before (and will undoubtedly do so again) DBC, and how great their catalogue is, and  it made me join their Singles Club (see below for more). Well, one of the mini-CDs that was due to be released was one by The Cannanes, and while it didn't actually mean anything to me at the time, the name found its way into my head. I placed my order with DW and eagerly awaited my treasures.
Meantime, Stewart from 555 Records sent out a note about the Boyracer/Mytty Archer/Cannanes 7"-split, which I was apparently one of twenty-five people to subsequently order. Seriously, people, go to 555 and buy some gorgeously lo-fi indie-punk records. Right now; did I mention the hot-pink Boyracer vinyl?
Anyway, due to obsessions with other bands I found myself unwittingly targeted by two releases by The Cannanes.
Then I followed the link from Stewart's myspace to the Cannanes myspace and listened to the smattering of songs therein esconced, and fuck, i was smitten. I then became very eager to receive said parcels.
So then within a couple days I got the packages in the mail.

CANNANES/MYTTY ARCHER/BOYRACER split 7" (55548/7JF05; (I have #11))
For those unfamiliar with Boyracer and Mytty Archer, they are both Stewart Anderson and Jen Turrell (who are also married, and who are also 555 records, etc etc,), except that sometimes Anna Winfield plays for Mytty Archer (for whom Jen writes) and sometimes Boyracer (which is, essentially, Stewart) has contained one or some of its forty-plus former members. They share one side of the split, with a pretty, breathy, Mytty Archer song, "Too many lovers" starting slow and mounting to a frenzy of drums and buzzy fuzz before plumetting down to a simple guitar line and Jen's whispered vocals. "Supremer Queener", a more frenetic number by Boyracer comes hard and fast on "Too many lovers"'s heels, with furry staticcy tone and tortured high notes riccocheting off a meaty drum and vocal pop arrangement.
Then the needle abandons its groove, you get up, slightly dumbfounded, and walk over to your turntable, where you turn over the record, drop the arm down again and, if you're like me, you've put the record on before reading the inner sleeve, and so you are surprised by the familiar, if gentle, strains of the Blue Oyster Cult. With nimble guitars and a smoky trumpety thing that sounds like it's being piped in somehow from another time and place, possibly by TARDIS, and possibly from the never-was Paris of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (although it is actually a pump organ played by Stephen O'Neil). The song rambles on from melody to discord and back again, veering into feedback, zagging off the fragile vocals of Frances Gibson, dueting with herself and an eery tenor recorder. 

THE CANNANES, Grassy Flat mini-CD (DBC250)
I got this four song EP from Dark Beloved Cloud, and so it is only 3x3 inches in diameter, and while it has a pretty scribbly line drawing of birds on the disc, there is no track listing. There is however, a sweet collage of string, dinosaurs and giraffes, made by Brittany (with a heart at the end) that serves as the cover.
So "track 1," as I shall settle for, kicks off with a pounding drum beat, and you're like "oh, shit!" After about a couple seconds , though, this winding gorgeous tone (like a melodica or a recorder maybe) starts looping around the place and we're off, with lovely vocals and various winds playing tag over a driving bass and subtle guitar track. It's a really beautiful song, and I really should email DW about getting a track listing, but since I'm me, i'm thinking that now in the middle of my post. Oh well.
Track 1 slowly grinds to a halt, and the mood shifts to Track 2 with a residual twang against steel strings being replaced by a pipe organ drone that seeps into the ears. The lovely vocals slowly and sadly add themselves to the mix and then are joined by a haunting echoing trumpet. Frippering around the peripheries of your audible range come the tinkles of a glockenspiel or xylophone or something, gently lightening the heavy brew stewing in your head. Track 2 drifts and swells through layer upon layer of reverb and drone and loop for over eight minutes (and actually feels a little like some of the more desperate songs on The Magnaetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, particularly the one's sung by Claudia Gonson--except wayyyyyy longer than a typical Stephin Merritt composition).
One feels lulled by Track 2, and the synthetic beat that kicks off track 3 comes as an awakening (whether rude or not would depend on an indivual's mood, i think). The plaintive vocals and simple chords (and eventually the ubiquitous trumpet) set up a great little set-piece of indie recording that harkens to early K records stuff, The Weakerthans, Destroyer, the Dunedin sound, whatever. It finishes off with a meandering bass line and twinging on the guitar strings until it flops down in a heap.
The final track (Track 4) is a snappy jazzy number that definitely recalls Calvin Johnson in the Beat Happening-era, as well as other indie duos like Auckland's The Brunettes, and the Holly Golightly - Dan Melchior Desperate Little Town album. The rollicking little finale barely breaks a minute-and-a-half, but it's a tonic to the longer dirge of Track 2, and creates one more character in an ensemble of very different tracks.

Now I have to track down more of this stuff.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Heavenly [kiwi]pop hit

I forgot to put the link in that article for the Flying Nun documentary.
So here it is.

Hey, pass me the pesticide

Once upon a time, in the far south of the world, there was a man with a guitar, an attitude, and a pair of jandals.
He rejected the constructs and clichés of manufactured fame and pressed to his antipodean heart the skinny ghost of DIY punk rock.
His name is Chris Knox.

Born in 1952 in Invercargill, a city as far south as you can get on the South Island of New Zealand, Knox made his way up as far north as Dunedin, where he started what Flying Nun records refers to as "Dunedin's first punk band," The Enemy. His subsequent band Toy Love actually managed to produce one full-length, two live albums, one EP and three singles between 1979 and 1980. Dig up a copy of "Cuts", a two-disc greatest hits volume put out by Flying Nun in 2005 (if you can find vinyl of anything off Flying Nun, buy it immediately, it's rarer than rocking horse droppings), and listen to "Don't ask Me." It sounds so hard and good, and favoribly comparable to anything happening in London and New York (such as Television and The Soft Boys, for example--put it on a mix tape with "I Wanna Destroy You", and it will sound totally fresh and raw. and between them, there's thirty years passed). "Swimming Pool" is another gem that should be in every primer on Punk rock. It reflects on what was going on with the Kilgour brothers at about the same time, and you can practically see the sonic umbilicus reaching ahead a few years to The verlaines and The Chills. Toy Love was one of the seminal bands in New Zealand and Australia (where the band spent much of their two-year existence), and their influence would spread with its disbandment. Bassist Paul Kean became a member of Clean bassist Robert Scott's new group The Bats, and Chris Knox and guitarist Alec Bathgate would form the two-piece indie legend Tall Dwarfs.
The Tall Dwarfs (no, that's not spelled wrong) took little loops often put together by Chris on his four-track and made a range of inspired songs with minimalist structures--there are echoes of Young Marble Giants, The Clean, Neutral Milk Hotel; there are songs that are sweet and endearing, softly pained, utterly ridiculous, and really, really fucking vicious. "Pirouette", off 1990's "Weeville" features a high whining guitar drone backed up by a frenetic tap-tapping rattle of (one assumes, jury-rigged) percussion and a growling rhythm guitar loop. The earnest, pained lyrics denounce conformity and banal cliché as a fever-pitch gradually builds. The violence, anger and scatological sociological assaults are part and parcel to Knox's approach to music, as is his insistence that the music, the making of it, the artists' integrity, comes before anything else. Burned by Toy Love's exprience with big business music, Knox became a resolute practitioner of home recording and lo-fi techniques and aesthetics.
This course of action was to provide Knox with a lot to do, and was to become the backbone of New Zealand's burgeoning punk scene.
As aficianados know the legendary label Flying Nun was formed, in Christchurch by Roger Shepherd, circa 1981, it was partly in order to put out The Clean. As The Clean began to garner local respect, Knox determined that he would be damned if this was going to happen around him without his involvement.  Chris' grandmother had passed away, and with inherited money, he bought a four track and became the main engineer for Flying Nun. In 1981 he and Doug Hood recorded "Boodle Boodle Boodle" for The Clean, and after it's November release it became the first "hit" for the label.
Chris also was a talent scout and distributor for the label, roaming the South island with his four-track and bearing the Flying Nun standard. His taste was eclectic, but resolutely anti-pap. He believed so stridently in the down-tech method of doing things, and so fervently rejected the musician-as-businessman ethos that he caused some trouble for the label and some of its more ambitious acts, but on a label that could not even afford to press the records it had recorded, Knox' efforts ensured that when the money was there they would have something amazing to press.
There is a fantastic documentary about Flying Nun that anyone interested in this period/region of punk-pop absolutely must see. I've been unable to find it anywhere outside of youtube, and watching it in nine seperate sections is a little grating, but well-worth it (the archival footage of The Chills is terrific, and the interviews with Knox and Shepherd are, to a DIY junkie like myself, nothing short of inspirational).
In the inroduction to "Almost", a compilation of songs written for albums but not included for some reason, that was put out by Dark Beloved Cloud, Chris writes the following: 

I'm constantly amazed by those who actually seek fame. I can't think of anything much worse... a little more exposure would be nice..."

Most Amercians these days would be gobsmacked to even contemplate this sentence. But turn the tube on to one of those soul-numbing shows like Entertainment Tonight or something, and cringe with me at the vapid celebrities and their controlled, haunted privilege. Watch the sycophants rend each others' flesh to get a better spot at the trough where they suckle the shit from these bloated swine. Witness the vultures of the paparrazi hordes swarm over these people as they try to scratch back even a fragment of normalcy. Then there are the multitude of "reality" shows where people abase themselves for a tiny taste of precious fucking fame.

Artists want to interact with society at large, it's what we do, but when creative people suckle at the tit of Commercialism and Capitalism, and do a little more to kill their competition--to make art-making a competitive blood-sport especially--they betray more than themselves alone. They destroy everything we all are working for.
Chris Knox makes good music. He also provides a great example of what can be achieved with a delicate balance of ego and humility (not necessarily mutually exclusive traits).
Go out and listen!

Monday, May 19, 2008

i ♥ new music; part i

there are few thing i love so much as getting new music. if i've gotten jazzed up about it from a mix-tape (or one of these new-fangle muxtapes) or from a myspace page or on the radio aor even if i haven't actually heard it but heard something by someone else who likes it and has name-dropped it or if a band opened or was supported my another band and i haven't checked out that band or heard of them and this goes on for a while. i'll stop.

i found a copy of 'loose in the air' by the double in a used bin at sonic boom last summer, and i've never heard the double, but i bought it because of this:

"y'all catch the double? did you catch the double? they're going to be in stadiums this time next year, so i hope you caught the double. they're really fucking awesome, it's good to have them."

this is john darnielle at a tmg gig in san francisco in 2005. the double was not on the bootleg, but this snippet remained in my head until i was sifting through used records. now jd is undeniably catholic in his music taste, and while i can't honestly say i've enjoyed all the bands i've heard him enthuse about, i will certainly give due consideration to his recommendations. which is why i bought it.
and y'know what? it's really pretty good. very slanted and enchanted, if you know what i mean. shimmery geetars and yelping vocals bouncing off the walls with the occasional falsetto on 'idiocy'  sound like the pretty bouncing baby bastard resulting from a rough drunken night involving stephen malkmus and graeme downes.
but i don't like kimya dawson, i'm sorry, john, i don't.
maybe i'll write about barbara morgenstern sometime, she's another positive tmg-discovery.

i'm getting off-track.
today my eagerly-awaited package from dark beloved cloud arrived with sixteen new records in it!!!!
omg, i totally hyper-ventilated.
if you don't know dbc, and you are actually reading this blog,well brother get on it. it's a little indie label formerly of the big apple and now residing in verdant portland, oh-are. almost everything i've been listening to for the past several years is less than six degrees of seperation from dbc's catalogue: robert scott, franklin bruno, barbara manning, the cannanes, chris fucking knox, even. it's one of the only places you can even get ahold of records by the magick heads, a scott project with jane sinnott. i even found a copy of the clean's 1994 'late last night' 7" which is (a-side) brutally rocking, and (b-side) absolutely ridiculous. the clean are working on a new album, but haven't locked in distro yet (from what i've heard, and neither have the bats) which is a disgrace. someone should be paying them a shit-ton of money right now to do whatever they want. because they're one of the best bands ever.
so i haven't evn scratched the surface yet on this new shipment, but i had to drop down this blog after hearing the 3" mini-cd ep by the cannanes, 'grassy flat.'
it's simply gorgeous.
in a mailtruck somewhere between seattle and arizona is a split 7" with boyracer and the cannanes, and now i'm so stoked for it. like more than i wa last week when i orered it from stewart anderson. who you should check out. his band boyracer has existed in one form or another forever, and now he's rocking on solar power in the southwest. i first heard boyracer when the lucksmiths covered 'i've got it (and it's not worth having)'. stewart and jen put out small-batches of 7"s and he lamented recently that they languish in storage. so if you're reading this, go buy some of them. it's pure diy punk rock like the type oldsters-in-the-making like me grew up on: rough and ready with a sensitive side.
so i'm going to sign off now and listen to more of this awesome new music.

good tip

my myspace friends minisnap live in new zealand. they are a really really good band and you should finish reading this (or, well, you don't have to finish, but do as i say anyway, ok?) and then go out and buy their music and t-shirts and anything else. did you know they are 3/4 of indie/kiwi-pop legends the bats? i bet you didn't. do you know the bats? if not, i may not be able to help you, but i'll try. check them out first, especially 'fear of god', 1991, flying nun records. the first track, 'bogey man' is like everything you love by the smiths and the clean and the chills and rem and anyone else you thought was (emo-)cool back in the early nineties. 
if you know that, you know that bob scott is the bats honcho, but then you have paul kean (bassist from toy love) and mal grant backing up kaye woodward (mrs paul) singing her amazing songs in minisnap. they have two great little self-produced eps (march hare features a cover by the clean/the mad scene's hamish kilgour) and a full length. they are everything that is good about jangly indie-pop.
really. fucking. gorgeous.
so they sent out this little bulletin on mysoace that said "check out this video" and i got really really excited, because i really liked their video for 'new broom' and i was like, 'hey, awesome! new minisnap video.' it took me about three seconds to realize this was not the case, but i watched the video anyway, and it was this band called the dø. they are ostensibly a two-piece, although they obviously employ at least a drummer for shows. this song in th video was called 'on my shoulders', and it started with this super simple drifting little guitar sequence, with some whining synths in the background. suddenly this drum beat kicks in and a high, plaintive voice starts, in a voice stained with finnish vodka and sex, wailing "why..."
the voice is that of one olivia bouyssou merilahti, of french-finnish descent, and whose voice hits an anxiety-pitch of both little-girl-vulnerability and fervent, desperate, feral strength.
the video does nothing to allay this impression as merilahti, darkened eyelashes masking her squinted eyes, moves like a trance-afflicted doll through an urban-blight landscape with her partner dan levy. they duo stare disaffected at low-flying aeroplanes from the bed of a pickup (on backwards-run film) and the wind toussles merilahti's black hair and teases the slight wisps of blonde highlights at her temples. little tricks in the video, such as the pair moving forward (towards the camera) inside the stowage bay of a lorry, as the lorry moves forward (in the opposite direction) and creating the impression that they are moving in-place, add to the surreal immediacy of the song.
the dø make music in the same vein as indie-groove acts like leslie feist, but they have an endearing little anarchic twist as well. they remind me a little of the blow as well.
merilahti's feral-sensual scream coupled with  levy's beats set up a nice juxtaposition, all-in-all, and i intend to keep an ear on this pair.
thanks for the tip, k + p.


i like music.
this is where i will discuss what i like now.
and what i will like later, which will be "now" then.
and what i might dislike.
oh, and i may mention what i'm doing. sorry, 'bout that.
sweet, huh?
no? i know. sorry.
oh well...