The Velvet Underground — Ocean

Lou Reed at his chilling, decadent best.

Fans often say that Lou’s work with the Velvet Underground is better than (so) much of the work he did after, and is still doing. Citing either the glorious decadence of the VU catalogue or the simply better song- and band-craft, Lou consequently gets pretty riled in interviews when the Velvets are mentioned. Obviously for Lou, he’s pissed because critics glorify his past over current projects, fearing they’ll be talking more about former in the great annals of music history. I must say that I side with the fans; with the exception of Transformer and maybe even Metal Machine Music, I don’t think Lou’s solo work has much of the energy or crafted smarts of his VU catalogue. The songs are better, his singing was definitely better, and the music more powerfully singular back then. I’d even speculate that the phrase ‘I like your old stuff better than your new stuff’ was inspired solely by Lou Reed’s situation. Oh Lou, what to do. Continue reading “The Velvet Underground — Ocean”

ABBA — The Visitors

When the glorious 70s slipped into the cool 80s, Abba put out their last album. Welcome to some serious art built on divorce, sadness
and savvy.

This is an album that has a long personal history for me. Firstly, I am a child of the 80s who can remember the 70s turning into a big new number. Which means I’m not intimidated or dazed by 80s production values, synths and pompous drum sounds, or the odd spot of chintzy disco. My first record, for reference, was a cheesy disco compilation. Also, my father worked in the Persian Gulf in the late 70s and brought back an impressive stack of bootleg cassettes of everything that was on the charts then. A lot of it in questionable taste, of course, and I’m sure in retrospect he bought so many Abba and BoneyM and Kenny Rogers tapes only because they were so very cheap. But these tapes were my first big musical experience, and I sat around for hours tucking into catchy melodies and dancy beats and even DJing my own compilations. I was also inadvertently picking up a lot of English, as I discovered a year or two later (having moved to Australia from Holland) and finding I could recite lyrics from memory and with sudden, uncanny understanding. Continue reading “ABBA — The Visitors”

The Cannonball Adderley solo on ‘Flamenco Sketches’

I’ll always love Cannonball over Coltrane. Jazz sin!

Despite all the banging on about Kind of Blue‘s modal improvisation and the fact that “Flamenco Sketches” is very clearly modal, it is nonetheless one of the most perfect pieces of jazz ever recorded. In part because it is pure improvisation set in ultimate structural harmony. It’s free soloing over an organic and conducive ensemble where everything sounds together. The furthest remove from indulgent jazz noodling and ego-exercises on a technical scale; this is emotional and affective music where the means and message merge to become Art. It’s gentle, contemplative and meditatively sparse yet reassuringly intimate. The emotional contour takes in warm groove in one mode and the soul’s weathering of the storm in the next, before returning again to the comfort of late night. It is one of the great extrapolations of the blues ballad form; the heart of music laid bare with grace and maturity. Continue reading “The Cannonball Adderley solo on ‘Flamenco Sketches’”

James Ellroy – Underworld USA Trilogy

The Slow Review panel work through American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood's a Rover. We are exhausted but elated at the master of crime, conspiracy, complicated conscience and filing.

By Adam Rivett & Rino Breebaart

Adam:
Item! Picked up an imported U.S. hardcover of Blood’s A Rover at Readings on Friday night — the local paperback has been delayed for some reason. Fifty bucks, but so be it. Read 200 pages yesterday — fucking great. Any fears of a drop-off are as yet completely unfounded. Plus it’s got his greatest narrative coup, a genuine motherfucker of a trick. Don’t want to say too much, but I wanted to applaud, laugh out loud and damn him for his daring SIMULFUCKINGTANEOUSLY. The prose has a little more breathing room that Cold Six Thousand while still being uber-tight and rapid.  Once I clock off, I’m running back home for another extended session with the Demon Dog; current brutal headache hopefully containable. Continue reading “James Ellroy – Underworld USA Trilogy”

Obit: David Foster Wallace

Writer, novelist, teacher. 21 02 1962 – 12 09 2008

Contributing author: Adam Rivett

1. Writing/Ethics

Please bear in mind this is a delayed and indirect response to DFW’s dying; that I wanted to write something critical/writerly as opposed to the usual obit-minded gush and hyperbole; neither some sarcastically styled imitation by way of excessively footnoted ramble, nor a personal-reflective fan-letter with woodwinds and strings. Continue reading “Obit: David Foster Wallace”

Robert Wyatt ― Maryan

One of Robert’s great, subtle, riverine songs.

There is a special, resonant magic that happens when a song’s lyrics and melody mingle and merge. Take the gently meandering poetry of “Maryan” off the Shleep album. The lyrics unroll and bend with the melody like a river unrolling to its delta. There’s a tonal consistency to the song, a timelessness like a drone with downstream force ― addressing only its own flow (cue Wagner’s Rheingold prelude). It’s a beguilingly complex-as-simple song structure that comprises a long melodic verse, and some equally long instrumentals over basic but unexpected chord changes. There is no chorus, and then the verse is repeated ― the last word ‘Maryan’ stretching and rising in extended harmony. But it’s one of the longest verse-melodies in the business ― I think only Prince’s “7” comes close in duration ― and there too a distinct chorus is lacking, unnecessary. The lyrics and words pitch and bend to conform with the colourful melody just as the sound and vibe of the song remain harmonious with the natural setting.  Continue reading “Robert Wyatt ― Maryan”

Prince ― Diamonds and Pearls

I miss P so much… we all have to be a little extra funky now – to pick up the slack.

I can say, without equivocation or pimply hyperbole or puffed-up superlative, that “Diamonds and Pearls” is one of the greatest pop songs of all time. No question. It’s got it all: funky tight rhythms, catchy melodies, affecting and natural choruses, light but definitive hooks and the surest pop touch (the kind of pop mastery that Prince would barely shrug his shoulders at). Chintzy synth lines, call and response harmonies, soul-pop vibes and trademark Prince guitar licks. Add the supremely tight & varied changes ― indeed, about four times the amount of changes you’d expect in a regular hit, including a major key change and turnaround. And it never seems to waver for a second, every part interlocks and leads to the next, every drum fill & lick sits tight in the groove ― it’s perfectly crafted and flowing. It’s an ecstasy of tight song arrangement… with slick and layered production values and ferocious bottom and snare attack. I remember an interview with Michael B saying they nailed it in a single take in Japan or someplace; which, considering how long it’s taken me to get the bass part down, is testament to superior musicianship. Listen to the subtle bass-behind-the beats play from Sonny T at 1:20 (‘Which one of us is right…’) to about 1:40 ― supremely funky and deep in the pocket. The pompous key change to D# at 2:06 leads to tight funk at 2:24, repeating the opening bass riff. Sonny’s work is amazingly nuanced at every point; it’s not until you play along that his pacing and emphasis come out clearest. Compared to the rather straight-ahead “Cream”, “Diamonds and Pearls” has all the intricacy of a Swiss timepiece. Pure pop with deep grooves and soul stacked on top. Catchy as all hell. Saccharine and sincere. Bright and sassy with a silken trim: pure Prince.

What makes Elvis great?

Notes on the Big E with a focus on the 68 Comeback Special.

The question is heavily rhetorical ― to me it’s self-evident, redundant. But for my many colleagues past who’ve heard me warbling about Charlie Hodge and Cadillacs and blue Christmases, or who think he’s a kitsch joke in a gawky suit, I always like to run through a little pop-list of angles on the Big E.  Continue reading “What makes Elvis great?”

Beethoven — Symphony #9, 3rd movement

A genial plateau of near-religious, sublime music melding lightness with gravity. Sublime is the operative word ― I don’t generally go for Hegelian definitions of The Sublime, but if I was pressured to analogise the cool, abstracted air of Sublimity and had sufficient leeway of criteria, I’d tick the box marked Beethoven and lock in this Adagio (molto e cantabile). Continue reading “Beethoven — Symphony #9, 3rd movement”