Thursday, May 22, 2008

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today...

I'm taking a slight gear shift with this post away from my themed lists (don't worry i've got some crackers planned) to turn the spotlight on some Australian music, which i haven't done for a while.

So before i begin, i'd like to say that i'm not one to fall easily for hype. I've always been a bit skeptical and dogmatic when it comes to bands hyped as 'the next big thing' or at least those that seem to send a number of simultaneous bloggers into a dizzy spell of praise and prophesying. Case in point - it was a while before i actually got into the Arctic Monkeys, and i've never looked back since. But i guess the reason for this skepticism is that fads come and go, and more often than not they fail to capture their initial promise. Just keep that in mind while i go into a dizzy spell about these guys...

The Gavlatrons - When We Were Kids EP (Warner Music, 2008)

There’s an indicative line in the breakdown of single, When We Were Kids, which goes “now I’m stuck in a town which is not enough kids to try and make a scene.” What might be mere zeitgeist banter turns out to be entirely accurate when you consider The Galvatrons hail from Geelong. Of course their thoroughly 80’s sound wouldn’t thrive in a city best known for its piers, pubs and football. Yet Johnny, Manny, Condor and Gamma - all with the uniform Ramones-style surname of Galvatron – have ascended quickly and sharply in their short existence.

Though it may belie their actual ages, the four piece sound like they’ve been raised on nought but a diet of Van Halen, Polyester Day-Glo and (cue their name) the Transformers soundtrack; the original 1986 animated movie mind, not the 2007 Blockbuster.

The title track and obvious single, When We Were Kids, may have a whiff of The Killers about it, not least in its title’s similarity to their single, When You Were Young, but it’s more to do with its nostalgic spirit. A clever two-way considering the song itself is about yearning for the past, while its sound will leave anyone raised on 80’s radio pop-rock with a big dumb grin on their face. It’s an exhilarating celebration as much as it is a guilty pleasure.

Next up She’s In Love screams out of the gates with Stan Bush (see Transformers soundtrack) guitar and pulsing synths, while Donnie’s on TV chugs along with equal abandon in a chorus celebrating small-town fame.

The 80’s fixation may be limiting, but it’s easy shorthand for the band’s style. Sure it’s the decade that seems to be all the rage musically, with countless acts from electronic to rock mimicking its fashion, song structure and of course, synths. But the Galvatrons don’t channel the 80’s, they ARE the 80’s.

Any one of these tracks would sound more comfortable alongside Belinda Carlisle and The Buggles than it does Australian contemporaries like Cut Copy, Midnight Juggernauts and The Presets. Particularly because the shiny production (mixed by Tim Palmer) sounds so Un-Australian, despite the vague detections of an Aussie twang in the vocals, this is clearly indebted to American culture. Johnny’s voice sounding stuck in a time warp between early XTC and Ric Ocasek of the Cars.

The EP also contains two needless remixes that try to re-shape and repackage the denim-rock attitude into shapes ready built for the indie dancefloor. Ultimately it’s an uneasy fit, as it’s precisely this kind of trendy scene that The Galavtrons are trying to avoid. Instead escaping into big polished production, complete with equally large drums and guitar, which the remixes then thanklessly dispense with.

When We Were Kids is perfect for the EP format, a blast delivered with much energy and radio-friendly length along with big choruses and catchy lyrics, but the question remains whether the novelty will last a whole album.

So if the below image makes you smile with warm memories i suggest you check them out....

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

000110011011 (aka Songs For Robots)

My penchant for themed playlists continues with a compilation dedicated to all the robots, droids and humanoids. This time the mp3s (where available) will be the song headings and again pre-emptive thanks to all the blogs and resources that provide the musical links. So without further ado...

Black Sabbath - Iron Man

"I AM IRON MAAAAAAAAAN" it's hard to dispel that vocoder-powered introduction from your memory, even as the song grinds into familiar Sabbath riffage. Iconic and powerful all at once, it's as song as heavy as it's title suggests. The imagery suggesting a more retro styled robot, however still as far removed from The Wizard Of Oz's Tin Man and his gentle demeanour thanks to some brutal guitar work. Quite topical considering the release of the new Marvel Comics movie wouldn't you say?

Laura Barrett - Robot Ponies
Actually this was the original inspiration for this playlist, Barrett's cute narrative about the best Christmas present of 2053. Simple in its instrumentation, using only Barrett's voice and what sounds like a pre-programmed xylophone crunching numbers. A true original.

Styx - Mr. Roboto
If Styx are remembered for only one thing, it's this: "Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto." Definitely the most unlikely catchprhase spawned from a rock album ever. The album in question? Kilroy Was Here. Though nobody remembers that really, they all just know the chorus (again with vocoder) chant. Perhaps ultimately Mr. Roboto's secret (about which the song's lyrics stress) is to get all and sundry within vicinity of this song to join in on its mindless chant. All together now....
Grandaddy - Jed The Humanoid
Here the playlist takes a turn for the tragically beautiful. With their 2002 album, The Sophtware Slump, the Californian 5 piece made a stunning balance between organic nu-country and ruminations on technology. Often with humorous results such as on "Hewlett's Daughter" and the vision of a "Broken Household Appliance National Society." But on "Jed The Humanoid" the band told the story of creating a robot from kitchen appliances and "whatever was at hand", only to leave him neglected for brighter newer things. Only for him to drown his sorrows in booze and despondence, resulting in a kind of broken-hearted robot suicide.
Click Here for Live Performance

Vangelis - Tears In The Rain
A cut from the beautiful soundtrack to Ridley Scott's 1983 opus on humanity and technology. You should all know the story, based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, about a detective having to unearth and execute Replicants hiding among society. The narrative reaching its apex with this musical cue. If you've yet to see the movie avoid the spoiler below, however if you have - well why not take the 4 minutes to watch one of the greatest monologues in cinema history (delivered by the ultimately sympathetic Rutger Hauer).

The Flaming Lips - One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21
Which leads us nicely to The Lips and their crowning album, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Though it is neither of the two part title track that i've selected but the preceding track. Why? because like the melancholic moments of Mr. Roy Baty above, there's something especially tragic and amazing in making Robots human which this song achieves remarkably well. Not just the crunching cool of Transformers or the mechanical distance of Metropolis - but real, sympathetic robots. Don't believe me? go watch Star Wars again and try not to fall in love with R2-D2

Mogwai - Robot Chant
Acting as a stopgap in Mogwai's 2003 album Rock Action, this is the sound an under-oiled behemoth having bad dreams, luckily the piston thumps and distorted drums only lasts a minute before our robot protagonist wakes up. But perhaps we know now the sound of evil behind all those malevolent robots of 50's B movies.

Something For Kate - Hawaiian Robots
Often the use of the term Robot is used as a euphemism for monotonous, soulless beings, as will be demonstrated by the next few songs on our journey. Here Melbourne's Best Band (C) 2008 employ a strange juxtaposition between the usual image of a sunset paradise with metallic drudgery. I couldn't help but conjure an image of Robbie The Robot sipping a Pina Colada on a hammock strung between two pine trees when i first heard the title. Obviously, lyrically its not about that idyllic picture at all. Incidentally this is one of my SFK songs of all-time.

Radiohead - Paranoid Android

It was a really tough call to make between this and album transition piece Fitter, Happier - particularly since the latter was originally going to be OK Computer's opening track. Where Fitter, Happier's Stephen Hawking like vocal repartee is more Robot-like in sound and tone it is eventually Paranoid Android's subjective analysis of a society at the brink of apocalyptic reform that is more potent. In the end, you simply can't beat this generation's Bohemian Rhapsody - 6 and a half minutes of pre-millennium tension, Jonny Greenwood's guitar histrionics and Yorke's frightening lyrics. And in case you didn't know, the track is named after Douglas Adam's creation from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Nada Surf - Robot
Again we have a song that likens a human to its metallic creation due to his lack of emotion, it's all there in the chorus. Again the guitar kind of represents this with its circular riff that only breaks for the warm refrain. For a song about not having emotion, its a blissful irony that the bridge of "i still remember just how the floor felt and how my head would hit the tub" is most emotive indeed.

They Might Be Giants - Hotel Detective Of The Future

A reminder of how great our robotic friends can be when put to musical use, from a band who has a mild obsession with them (other titles from the two Johns include Robot Parade and Become A Robot). Here they cleverly rewrite their minor hit of the 80's, (She's A) Hotel Detective into a righteous space jam (with again, yes, vocoder) about falling in love with the wrong kind of woman. The best line (among many) has to be "she has the replicant motives of a cyborg." Ahhh, robo-love.

Flight Of The Conchords - Robots

Again another track that greatly inspired my putting together of this playlist, the Kiwi comedic duo of Brett and Jermaine come up trumps with this rib-tickling account of the future. Enlightening us on robot etiquette, robot penalties for robot irony and humanity's fate (The humans are dead/we used poisonous gasses/and we poisoned their asses), Sheer joy.
Oh and it contains possibly the world's only binary solo...

Daft Punk - Robot Rock
Daft Punk's output could construct an entire list's worth of robot songs, most specifically their third album Human After All; but when push comes to robotic shove it has to be this. Whenever i hear it there is nothing i want more than to be a dancing Transformer, the precision, the visceral thrill of perfectly synced movement and rhythm. It may be repetitive but it's also fun and intoxicating. Why else would Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel ee Homem-Christo spend the last 7 years encased in the coolest outfits this side of Cybertron?