Wednesday, June 30, 2010


As the fresh lick o' paint should no doubt tip you off, Al's Music Rant is slowly making a buttefly-like transformation. Emerging from the cult scribblings of one dillettante writer, to burst forth from its coccoon into a solo live show featuring that berk with the guitar and finger deck goggles you see above. There will be laughs, there will be pretension and above all there will be music... sweet music.

But until then we will return to our regular programming.

It feels like an age since I attempted a thematic list, and in fact it has - all the way back to my playlist for Father's Day back in '09 - but these things are only fun if I can manage to scrape together more than three songs for cohesion. That, or there's too many bloody songs to choose from, but the following little collection is tidy and cohesive as a good thematic list should be.

If that rather clunky title didn't spell it out for you (see what I did there?), here's a list that corrals all those tunes that, for one reason or another, put regular songwriting techniques on hold to spell something out. It's usually for different, if very vague, purposes but what ties them altogether is that strange effect it has on the song, making for a unique stamp that makes for some memorable moments, what is Village People for instance if not Y-M-C-A (and no... that's not included here).

Kele - Tenderoni

The lead single for the Bloc Party frontman's solo foray into 'going electro.' Dropping his surname for the more casual Kele, the associated albumThe Boxer finds a physically leaner, buffer Okereke diving wholeheartedly into the ring of 'proper' dance and electronic music.
The lead single Tenderoni is a decidedly love-it-or-hate-it affair,
That word still makes me think of a meat-based pasta dish (in actual fact it's slang for one's younger love interest), but even without that strange association it's a bizarre thing to spell out.

Arctic Monkeys - Dangerous Animals
Not exactly the best track on perhaps the Arctics' least favoured album, but still it's intoxicating to hear Alex Turner speed through that spelling at breakneck speed and the whole stoner rock vibe (courtesy of QOTSA's Josh Homme) certainly adds to the S&M shenanigans hinted at in the lyrics: "Sharpening the heel in your boot/and you press it in my chest and you make me wheeze/Then to my knees you do promote me." Kinky.

Aretha Franklin - Respect
Do we really need to analyse the classics? ....No, didn't think so. Sing it again!

Justice - D.A.N.C.E.
The clue's in the title. A no-brainer party starter, with its none too subtle MJ references and a killer intro: like a radio being tuned to the sound of kids chanting before dropping a sonic boom up in your grill. It goes without saying that the super groovy beat was the hook, but those non-sensical lyrics just made so much... welll... sense. 

Gwen Stefani - Hollaback Girl
Supposedly inspired by an offhand remark from Courtney Love mocking Stefani as merely a cheerleader, she responded in kind with the demented chanting of this bizarre single. It featured a hollow, clunky Neptunes-produced beat, a high-school lyrical setting and even a snippet of Queen's Another One Bites The Dust. B.A.N.A.N.A.S. indeed. 

Hot Chip - Over & Over
Hot Chip are just one of those bands I should like, but I just cannot get into. Over & Over being the chief offender, I just find it annoyingly repetitive. 'Oh, but that's the point' I am told time and again; Really? Just because you're mocking something (in this case repetitive monotony) doesn't mean you have to mimic it (in this case... repetitive monotony). And just what are they spelling out? K I S S I N G S E X Y. C A S I O. YOU. ME. I. 
Yeah, I don't really know either.

XTC - Your Dictionary
Taken from the latter days of XTC's career, Your Dictionary offers up a bevy of spelt-out words in their acerbic swipe at some nasty character, the hook being that nasty words like HATE, KICK and the F-Bomb all substitute for general niceties. A little mawkish but the resulting effect still works.

They Might Be Giants - SEXXY
TMBG always flit confidently between genres, but never has such a funky track been so aptly named. It's particularly delicious in a live context, all parping horns and wah-wah guitar with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek. Whether its yours or someone else's cheek is up to you. And as the song goes, that extra X is "cause it's extra baby, Y? cause it's extra baby." Genius.

Prince - Diamonds & Pearls
Bit of a cheat this one, as it potentially opens the floodgates on a whole spate of rap and hip-hop. The soul breakdown, from the busty diaphraghm of Rosie Gaines, goes "D to the I to the A to the M/O to the N to the D to the pearls of love." It's catchy as hell, but if this kind of effect is allowed then I could have conceivably included Jay-Z's entire back catalogue (H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A etc. etc.) but whose to say he didn't nick it from the Purple One to begin with? mmmm, food for thought...

Them & Van Morrison - Gloria
Who knew that when 'Van The Man' would growl his way through those syllables that it would become an iconic part of rock-n-roll history. The G-L-O-R-I-A chant has been referenced time and again in pop culture, but some of my particularly favourite call-outs are Patti Smith's drastically reworked version for her seminal Horses album and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Venice Queen. Still, it's hard to fault Morrison's barking teenage lust in the original.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Reviews And News For You(se)

Guess what gang? This humble blog is going to be shambling to life very soon, how alive? how soon? You'll have to keep reading to find out, but to give it to you short and sweet - Al's Music Rant is going to be part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival as an hour-long faux-presentation of music and comedy. It's taken some good ideas and some greater people to get it all off the ground, and I don't want to count any chickens before they hatch, but more details as they come.
Just know i'm very, very excited and hope to give you all the quality and entertainment that this blog is (hopefully) known for, in a live show. Ace.

So it seems a little lazy that I should be accompanying such amazing news with a couple of simple record reviews, but time has been pressing lately (when isn't it really, heck I sound like a broken record). Anyway hopefully they sate your need for music goodness as winter rolls around. I highly recommend staying indoors with a good set of headphones, a cup of tea, and some good tunes.

Kate Nash - My Best Friend Is You (Polydor, 2010)

Timing, as the saying goes, is of the essence. While Kate Nash’s timing was once perfectly placed, namely in the post-Lily Allen boom of female songwriters in 2007 with her debut Made Of Bricks, in the last few turns of the calendar there’s been a lot to fill the gap. A new wave of idiosyncratic female singer-songwriters with kookier influences (Bat For Lashes, Florence & The Machine, La Roux) as well as contenders to the throne (Pixie Lott, Ellie Goulding, Little Boots) not to mention a return from Ms. Allen herself; which begs the question, is there still room for a talent like Nash?

Well, for the first few tracks it seems to be possibly not. It’s all business as usual, albeit with bigger, brighter production; all handclaps and orchestral punctuation facilitated by ex-Suede man Bernard Butler.

But come Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt? and something remarkable happens. After a steadily simmering emotional narrative, Nash bursts into a torrent of ranting soliloquy and cursive self-analysis (and with her accent, is highly reminiscent of Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip). It’s the turning point for the album and the catalyst for the daring manoeuvres to follow. Though there were hints of it on her debut, that cheeky snideness has blackened into acerbic scorn, spurned it seems by a cheating ex. 

It’s positively baffling when you take into account that Nash has been in a happy relationship with Cribs frontman Ryan Jarman since her pre-fame days. Imagined or not, she occasionally gets stuck on a lyrical treadmill of spiteful jealousy (Kiss That Grrrl, Do-Wah-Do, Early Christmas Present, Later On et al.). Musically however, she charts some daring stylistic tangents.
It also asks a lot of her audience – a mainstream one to be sure – to make the leap to such polar extremes, one example being the energetic surf-rock of Do-Wah-Doo and Take Me To A Higher Plane darting to the woolly experimentalism of I’ve Got A Secret and further still to the stripped-back, confronting half-rap of Mansion Song

Again it’s the production of Butler that pays dividends, having worked with eccentric indie kids (Fyfe Dangerfiled) and blue-eyed soul singers alike (Duffy), he corrals Nash’s many curiosities. But even then, when her nastiest instincts are left untamed, it makes for some awkward listening. I Just Love You More may be the right side of unhinged as Nash whoops and hollers maniacally over scuzzy rock, but the experimental I’ve Got A Secret is probably a step too far. 

It’s a shame that these darker turns are more intriguing than listenable. Particularly because they’re now what sets Nash apart from the crowd. My Best Friend Is You will certainly lose her a particular demographic, the potty mouth poetry of Mansion Song (sample lyric: “strip, strip, strip n shag, fuck get fucked ‘n drag”) ensures she won’t be blurted through the speakers of your local Sanity; but few could guess - fans and detractors alike - that she had it in her. It’s a sign of her maturity and growth that even at the tender age of 22, she’s pushing the boundaries and taking risks. Lily Allen would be proud. 

Danny And The Champions Of The World - Streets Of Our Time (Longtime Listener, 2010)

While the reference to Roald Dahl might suggest a spry British indie-pop outfit, it quickly becomes clear that Streets Of Our Time is a record steeped - nay positively soaking - in dusty Americana. If the album artwork, complete with artificial indentations of old vinyl pressed into its sleeve, doesn’t tip you off then the opening strains of Henry The Van surely will. 

Against a bed of gently strummed banjo and robust vocal harmonies, band leader Danny George Wilson’s voice caws out; and you’d nearly have to double check that you hadn’t stumbled across some lost sessions from Neil Young’s seminal Harvest LP. 

Danny & The Champions Of The World sound as if the last thirty years of rock evolution didn’t happen, emerging from a cocoon somewhere deep in Laurel Canyon, proof of an alternate history in which the American traditions of folk, country, blues and roots gelled with the rock mainstream but were never uprooted by the genre formations that would follow. It’s all over Streets Of Our Time; Wandle Swan trundles along on a country-rock shuffle, the title track eases back into a comforting anthemic rhythm (not unlike a rocking chair); while Restless Feet and Parakeets sound for all the world like lost jams from The Band

To call it nostalgic would be an understatement and nostalgia is always a dangerous vein to tap. While it guarantees an audience of those wanting to lose themselves in a rose-tinted stupor, it can also invoke the ire of baby boomers who have the Crosby, Stills & Nash catalogue memorised. Luckily Streets Of Our Time falls short of such pitfalls. Cuts like Follow The River display a kick and lightness of step. Its pulse and narrative may recall Springsteen or early Tom Petty (in Wilson’s raggedy voice), but it wouldn’t sound too out of place on Triple J rotation. The album’s last third, the likes of Your People and Bluebird, even recall Wilco at their most country-inflected, proving that not all of Danny & The Champions’ reference points are vintage.

Streets Of Our Time is without a doubt going to be one of 2010’s love-it-or-hate-it records. It richly imagines a sepia-toned vision of Americana, but that isn’t necessarily a place anyone the 21st century side of The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys generation wants to revisit. Nevertheless, even given its ironic title, you can’t fault Danny & The Champions Of The World for their passion of purpose, and isn’t that what rock n roll should be about?