Sunday, 23 April 2006

A chat with Brian Nankervis

On Saturday night I was at the Pause Bar in East St. Kilda for my friend Sheri's 27th birthday party. My fiancee Lorin spotted Brian Nankervis at the bar early in the night, and just as we were leaving I spotted him near the rear exit and had a bit of a chat with him. For those who don't know, Brian is an Australian comedian and the creator and co-host of SBS music quiz show RocKwiz. Those who have been paying attention will know that yours truly, Pete and Dean have all had our moment in the spotlight on this show.

He's a genuinely friendly guy; I told him that I'd been on the show on the episode with Ross Wilson and he immediately said "Ahh yes -- Take me to the river" which was the cover version that Ross Wilson and Nessa Morgan (the other celebrity on the show) sung at the end of the episode. You can tell he has a real passion for the show, which is really great to see but also expected because the show is his creation and his "baby".

I also told him that I had been at a recent filming of a season 3 episode of RocKwiz, and I asked him to confirm that the shows are definitely longer now (the night ended after 11:30pm compared to 10:30pm in previous seasons). He confirmed that season 3 episodes were indeed longer, and after editing they will be 45 minutes on TV. He said he's heard mixed comments about the length of filming for season 3 episodes, and I told him that in all honesty it was a long night but that I still really liked the show. It sounds like the show may be continuing for some more seasons which is great news -- we need more shows like this on Australian television and less formulaic reality shows.

Sheri also told him that she had recently purchased the Let the blood run free DVD, and Brian said that the show will always have memories for him as it was the first "theatrical" TV show he had been on.

After posing for a photo or two, Lorin and I were on our way (we were actually leaving anyway). A nice end to an enjoyable night out!

Monday, 3 April 2006

Top 10 albums that have "the vibe"

‘In summing up, it’s the Constitution, its Mabo, it’s justice, its law, it’s the vibe and…. No that’s it. It’s the vibe. I rest my case.’

Dennis Denuto (The Castle, 1997)

Dennis Denuto summed it up best. Not everything can be explained, and sometimes it's better just to rest your case. I'm not going to try and explain why I love these 10 albums. But something about them draws me to them.

This is a truly self-indulgent list. I have no objective evidence to back up anything I say here. I'm not guaranteeing that these albums will have the same effect on you, as it's all in the eye (or the ear) of the beholder.

If there was a musical constitution in my world, these albums would be the founding fathers.

10. The Drones - Wait long by the river and the bodies of your enemies will float by

Yeah, there's the radio-friendly rockers like Shark fin blues and You really don't care on this album which won the inaugural Australian Music Prize. As good as those songs are, the heart and soul of this album can be summed up in the haunting opening bars of centrepiece Locust, when Gareth Liddiard emotes:

Georgie, I can't stop drinking
Seems like every time I try, I can't stop thinking

The delivery here is so real that you can smell the whisky on his breath and the cigarette smoke in his hair. There are other transcendent moments on this excellent album, and they all add up to a listening experience which is much greater than the sum of its parts.

9. Dusty Springfield - Dusty in Memphis

Dusty Springfield doesn't write her own songs which is not something I really like in an artist. But she is up there with Aretha Franklin as one of the finest female vocalists of the 20th century, and this album is her crowning achievement. Her vocals are so affecting that she truly lives these songs, and suddenly you don't care if she wrote them or not. These songs are her; she is these songs.

Her vocal performances are fantastic, but it would be unfair not to given credit to Jerry Wexler's fantastically understated production which gives the album its "vibe". A few spins of I don't want to hear it anymore or Just one smile are enough to make you thank God that Dusty and Jerry met up in late 60's Memphis.

8. Talking Heads - Fear of music

This is not the best Talking Heads album - that credit would have to go to Remain in light from 1980. It doesn't contain a lot of their commercial hits - Speaking in tongues would be a better fit for radio playlists. It isn't a party record, so if you are expecting an album full of pop nuggets like Burning down the house or Once in a lifetime you have come to the wrong place. Most of the songs are in a minor key and the lyrics talk about all sorts of interesting topics like war, heaven, animals and drugs.

While there are some great individual songs on this album: namely Heaven, Mind and the intense Cities; this album is more than just the sum of its parts. It is one of the most alienated and paranoid albums ever released; I have heard it being described as an OK computer for the baby boomer generation and this is a very apt description. It's not a particular pleasant listening experience but it's certainly fascinating.

7. Captain Beefheart - Trout mask replica

The longer an album takes the grow on you the longer you will appreciate it for. Or so I keep saying. If that is truly a musical law, then I will be appreciating this album until my dying day. On the first five listens, this album sounded like a complete mess. On the next five listens, some melodies start to come out of the woodwork. And suddenly you start to hear the promise of this 80 minute/28 track track concoction of free jazz, blues and surreal poetry.

I gave this album 3 stars when I first purchased it as I knew I didn't want to completely dismiss it but I also didn't want to praise it as a masterpiece when I didn't really understand it yet. I still haven't increased the rating because I still don't fully understand it. This album is as surreal as a David Lynch movie. It was released in 1969 and 37 years down the line nothing that has been released sounds like it. A truly unique work.

6. Interpol - Turn on the bright lights

I was very disappointed with Interpol's follow-up to this album, Antics. It had some great moments (namely Evil and A time to be so small). But their debut album was a lot more than just a series of good tracks, it had something special that elevated it above other albums of its ilk. It had a vibe; it couldn't be described in words, but it was there to be felt.

Just give a listen to Hands away, the last few minutes of PDA or the intro of Stella was a diver and she was always down. Hopefully you'll see, or feel, what I mean. These guys were clearly influenced by Joy Division on this album, but they are more than just copycats. They fused their influences into a stunning piece of work that's deep enough to keep revealing details after many listens.

5. Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.

This is easily the best Stones album. A lot of people who talk about this album mention the hits. And while Rocks off and Tumbling dice are good for what they are, it's side 3 of the original vinyl which is the heart and soul of this album (that's Happy through Let it loose on the CD).

Happy rocks, and gives us a chance to hear Keef on vocals. Turd on the run lives up to its weird title. Ventilator blues is pretty standard 12-bar blues. I just want to see his face is Mick Jagger doing his finest gospel (falsetto and all) in what sounds like it was recorded through a megaphone. Let it loose could be the finest Stones ballad (yes, even better than Wild horses!). The production on this album is murky; it sounds like the album was recorded in a tin shed. But that's all part of its charm - I'd spin this album 10 times before giving the over-produced and overrated Sticky fingers a single spin.

4. R.E.M. - Murmur

This was R.E.M.'s first album, and unlike their latter day albums you can't hear a single thing that Michael Stipe is saying. Pete has even given this album the affectionate name Mumble, which is very appropriate after giving it a listen. The run of songs from Sitting still to Shaking through is some of the most memorable music this band has recorded. There's some fine guitar jangle, some fantastic melodies just underneath the surface, and some interesting lyrics even though you can't understand them. But the best way to describe the sound of this album is to look at the album cover; never have I seen such an album cover that provides such an appropriate audio-visual link.

3. Tom Waits - The heart of Saturday night

Tom Waits is a freakin' genius. While he has made some brilliant late career avante-garde albums, this is his second album from 1974 when he still had a fairly normal singing voice and the music was more tradition bar-room jazz-blues. This is also the closest he ever got to releasing a concept album. The best way to listen to this album is in the car driving late on a Saturday night. The songs are immersed in loneliness and whisky bars. The delivery is honest and heartfelt. Many artists have tried to release an album that sounds like this, but nobody has succeeded quite like Tom did on this fine album.

2. Rodriguez - Cold fact

A criminally underrated artist, this is a lost classic from 1970 that I only discovered recently but I now feel like I have known my whole life. Jesus Rodriguez (or Sixto Rodriguez, depending on the source) is like a cross between Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens. Some of the songs in this album venture into protest song territory, but the best moments are the more surreal ones like Sugar man and Crucify your mind. The musicianship is understated, the lyrics often venture into novelty territory (Gomorrah being the biggest culprit here) but the unmistakeable vibe (which can't be described in words, it really must be heard) makes this album a classic for the ages.

1. Bob Dylan - Blonde on blonde

Bob Dylan has been recording music for five decades now; it seems like the only thing which will stop him is his inevitable death. He has released a plethora of classic albums since his debut in 1962: Highway 61 revisited, Blood on the tracks, The basement tapes, Love and theft -- the list goes on and on. But no other album encapsulates his brilliance as much as this double album from 1966.

This album doesn't contain a lot of hits; I want you, Just like a woman and Rainy day women nos. 12 & 35 only take 12 1/2 minutes of the 72 minute running time of this album. And the songs that make up this album aren't anywhere as immediate as his famous moments such as Like a rolling stone or Hurricane. What does make this album so amazing (and quite possibly my favourite of all time) is the perfect combination of surreal lyrics, laid-back instrumental backing and that drug-induced vibe that was so apparent to Dylan that even he gave it a name: that thin, wild mercury sound.

Normally when an artist comes up with a name to describe the sound of their album, I think they need some help to dig their head out of their ass. But never before has an artist described their music so aptly as Dylan has here. This isn't the first time I have waxed lyrical about this album and it definitely won't be the last. This is the album which inspired me to write this list. This album epitomises everything that is good about music. This is it.