Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Musical memories and discoveries

I started writing this as a reply to Pete's comment in the Cold Fact post, and then realised it was probably worthy of a new post of its own.

I made a statement in that post that music rarely does it for me as much as it used to. Pete made the following comment:

I think too that we tend to romanticise that part of our life a bit much, and it may be that your memory of the music's effect at this time is a bit clouded... but then again, I agree, it ain't what it used to be.

I agree that it is human nature to romanticise the past when thinking about musical memories and discoveries. But there's still no denying the fact that music still doesn't do it for me as much as it used to.

Ahh the memories...

There was this cool library in the Union Building at Monash Uni where you chose a record from their collection, gave it to the attendant, and spent an hour or so just kicking back on the couch with earphones, listening to the record. A great way to kill time between lectures. The first time I heard The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead and Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True was in that library at Monash. I'd never even heard ANY Elvis Costello at that stage, and in hindsight this probably wasn't the best album to get into him, but I'll always remember hearing it in that library. While it probably wasn't as exciting at the time as I am now making it out to be, it's still a fond memory nevertheless.

Discovering Beatles in the mid-late 90's was another big musical turning point. Of course I knew their hits, but I didn't really know their albums that well. There was of course the infamous Beatles night. But I also have a fond memory of copying Rubber Soul and Revolver off Brett on to 2 sides of a 90 minute audio tape. I remember there being something wrong with one side of the tape near the start, so from Taxman until halfway through Yellow Submarine, Revolver didn't quite "sound right". I could still make out the tunes, but the pitch was off and it sounded slow in parts. It was only when I bought the CD a few years later that I got to hear I'm only sleeping and Here, there and everywhere as they should be heard. These are now 2 of my favourite Beatles songs.

But now I have all the Beatles albums. I know them all so well. Despite the fact that they have many great albums and songs, the discovery has been made, and the magic is gone. Never will listening to The White Album thesedays recapture the magic of hearing it for the 3rd or 4th time, when I was just beginning to realise how brilliant it was.

Discovering Elvis Costello was another adventure. A friend (Adam) had lent me his best-of CD in an attempt to get me into his music. He also lent me his album Brutal youth. I tried and I tried but I simply couldn't get into it. Eventually I gave the CDs back to him, and resigned to the fact that I'd never get into his music. As mentioned earlier, eventually I gave a listen to My Aim Is True at Monash uni. Even then, I didn't get into him.

Many months down the line, I suddenly got an urge to listen to some Elvis Costello clips on Amazon. I listened to the low quality clip of Indoor fireworks, and after only listening to a 30 second 64kb/s clip, I couldn't get the song out of my head for a week. I had to buy his greatest hits CD. I did, and I loved it. I'm not sure what I missed the first time. In the next few months, I had to buy all of Elvis Costello's albums. Now I have them all. He is still one of my favourite artists, but the magic is gone.

And that's the problem with music. It takes time to discover it, but eventually the magic will go. And it's not often that I get that magical feeling again. It seems that as I hear more and more music, I compare it to other things I've got in my collection. The chance of a particular album or artist standing out from the crowd diminishes over time.

I think I can summarise it with the following line:

The potential for getting that giddy feeling from listening to music is inversely proportional to the amount of music one has already been exposed to.

Sorry for nerding it up, but it's true.

It's not every day that I get to discover a band as amazing as The Beatles, and that's what I really miss. But every now and then, an album comes along that brings back that feeling of discovery. Cold Fact was one such album.

I'd be interested to hear about your musical discoveries, and whether you agree with what I've said here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Cold Fact

It is quite unfortunate, but music doesn't have the same effect on me as it used to. Even though great albums come and go, they never seem to stir the same emotions as they did in the past, like when I heard The Smiths for the first time. Or when I took a risk with The Stone Roses and was absolutely blown away. Or the feeling of hearing opening track The everlasting from This is my truth tell me yours for the first time (when I borrowed it off Pete). Music was really exciting back in those days; I didn't have anywhere near as many CDs as I have now, and it felt like there was so much to discover. The possibilities were endless.

Every now and then an album comes along which takes me back to those days where music truly felt exciting. Cold Fact is one such album. When listening to this album for the first time, it felt like I had discovered the holy grail. It's a real paradox of an album. It feels simultaneously of its time and timeless. It feels like the album you have known your whole life, yet at the same time you know you have never heard.

Sixto Rodriguez (who generally performed by his surname only) has created a vibe on this album that is hard to describe but easy to love. His vocals are haunting, his lyrics are surreal, his music is so early 70's but it has aged so well. He sounds like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen's more accessible cousin.

But even those descriptions can't do this album justice, it truly is something you need to hear for yourself. Like so many great albums, it's the intangible quality to this music that makes it so good. There's the reverb-soaked fadeout at the end of Sugar man. The way that he can make songs like Crucify your mind and Inner city blues sound so bloody cool despite the fact that the music can almost be considered cheesy. The urge you get to press play again after the final bars of Like Janis fade out. The little cracks and pops from the vinyl to CD transfer which just add to the charm of this magnificent work.

I can't throw enough superlatives at this album. It's an album which needs to be experienced, cherished and loved. It deserves the coveted title of lost classic. In a perfect world, this album would have been as big as any of the Beatles' albums. It would be in more homes than Dark side of the moon. But in a way, being so unknown makes it even more exciting.

If this review has in any way made you curious to hear this undiscovered gem, head down to your local JB Hi Fi (if you are located in Australia) and pick this album up. You can get it for $12.99, and I have even seen it for as low as $9.99. I'll even give you the Jiggy Money Back Guarantee (TM)*.

And if you love this album, please reply to this post and comment on it. Nothing would make me feel better than knowing that I have added this album to your CD collection.

* Album must be purchased prior to 18th October 2005 for this to be honoured

Monday, 10 October 2005

I am a bird now

I have not been inspired to write a review for an album in a long time. Most of the reviews I have posted on this blog are re-runs of reviews I have written previously, and I'm just importing them into the blog so they will be archived for the ages. The album I am a bird now from Antony & The Johnsons has changed that.

I don't remember being so emotionally affected by an album in a long time. Antony is an androgynous singer/songwriter who has an utterly distinct vibrato voice. If there's anyone I could compare him to (and believe me - it's difficult) it would be Nina Simone.

Lyrically, this is an incredibly sad album. Take the opening line:

Hope there's someone
Who'll take care of me
When I die, when I go

The album seems to be a rites-of-passage for Antony. It starts out with him hoping that someone is going to look after him when he dies. A few songs later, he is singing about wanting to grow up to be a woman, but "for today [he] is a boy". He gets some comfort from Boy George*, who he duets with in the stunning album highlight You are my sister. And in the end, he gets his wings ("I'm a bird girl, and the bird girls can fly").

Words cannot do this album justice, you really need to hear it for yourself. If you (like me) are sick to death of soundalike bands releasing derivative crap, and want to hear something original, leave your prejudices at the door and buy this album.

And a few final points in case I haven't convinced you yet:
  • This album won the coveted Mercury Prize this year, and it was a controversial win. I'm not going to go into details here, but you gotta love a bit of controversy!
  • Music has very rarely given me a physical reaction, but this album has given me goose bumps on several occasions.
* Boy George sounds nothing like you would expect him to sound like on this album. Far removed from his Culture Club days, I didn't know it was him until I read it in the liner notes. He has a stunning voice that complement's Anthony's perfectly.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

A slice of music?

For those who don't know, I have just put in an order for a 60GB iPod. Yes, I am joining the fashionable ranks of the white earphone club.

Readers of this blog know that I have not taken this decision lightly. But I've decided to live with an almost-full 60GB iPod and hopefully they'll have a bigger model by the time I get close to exceeding the capacity.

So for the past week, I have been very busy ripping my CD collection. I manage to get through a case of 32 CDs per day, using iTunes to do the ripping.

I started with digipaks (i.e. CDs with cardboard or non-standard sleeves) as they are kept separate in my collection on the top shelf. These are normally the CDs that get discriminated against when I'm deciding what to put in my CD wallet for the week, because it takes more effort to take the disc out of these delicate sleeves than it takes to get a CD out of a standard jewel case. So I'm glad the iPod is going to remove that barrier of discrimination.

I'm now well into the jewel cases, which I have sorted into alphabetical order by artist name, and then chronological order within the artist. I am well into the D's now, and it's already been a week. Yep, there's lots of CDs.

Each day, I listen to all the songs I have ripped so far using the iTunes "Shuffle" feature. For the first few days it was fairly predictable, with not many tunes in the library and I found myself listening to a lot of artists over and over again. Since the 15 Beatles CDs have been ripped, I find myself getting at least a Beatles track a day. I guess the odds are in favour of that. It's cool hearing a Beatles cut that I haven't heard for a while, and probably wouldn't have heard for ages had I not been getting an iPod. I'm a loser from Beatles for sale being one such cut. Choice cut, great lyric.

Each day more artists, songs and albums are getting added to the mix, making the shuffle more exciting each day. And I'm only up to D! It feels like I'm baking a giant musical cake, where the first few days contained the flour (Augie March, Badly Drawn Boy, Beatles) then the eggs are slowly added to the mix (Belle & Sebastian, David Bowie, Jeff Buckley) and now we are getting to the sweet sweet sugar (Elvis Costello, Crowded House). It's fascinating listening to the collection on shuffle, it really is. It makes me realise even more what a brilliant songwriter Elvis Costello is, when I hear a great song like Poor fractured atlas after a mediocre song off David Bowie's Diamond dogs. It really puts things into perspective.

Today I added the dark paprika of The Cure to the mix. The bleak Cold from their bleakest album Pornography came up in the mix. A song I hadn't heard in a long time, and didn't even remember it to be frankly. It's great rediscovering songs like this, although it doesn't even feel like a rediscovery, simply loads of music potential that was waiting to be unleashed.

Tomorrow's going to be an exciting day - the mysterious Doors aroma will be added. And one of my absolute favourites, the spicy Bob Dylan. This cake is getting tastier by the day, and I'm not even a quarter of the way there.

This is going to be one mighty strange tasting cake when it's finished baking in about a month.