Blog on the Tracks
GUEST BLOG BY JEREMY TAYLOR
Guest Blog: The Omnivore's Jeremy Taylor steps up (yet again) and gives me a break. Yes, yes, he should write more music blogs. And I shouldn't. And blah blah blah - thanks very much (yet again) for this, JT.
In the very rare instance that anyone asks me "what's your favourite album of all time?" I usually find myself terribly conflicted. I mean, I know who my favourite band is - The Smiths, no contest. And even then, I don't think they are the best band of all time (that would, realistically, be The Beatles) - they are just the band who opened the gates of the kingdom for me, a band whose progress was contemporaneous to my own developing tastes. I would actually find it difficult to pick a Smiths record over the others (at a push, Hatful of Hollow, even though I know it is a compilation, so it's sort of cheating).
I love the first Stone Roses record - I think it is pretty well perfect (even if I do usually skip the backwards track), and has probably the best opening and closing track combo (I Wanna Be Adored/ I Am the Resurrection) on any debut album, at the very least.
I love the second Bill Fay album, Time of the Last Persecution - so austere, such genuine warmth, and such great playing, much of it improvised.
But the record that I keep coming back to, that I have played as much as any record I own, is the second studio album by the Perth, WA band The Triffids, Born Sandy Devotional.
So I reviewed the new album by The National last night. The record is called Trouble Will Find Me and this trouble found my stereo last week. The album was released on Friday, May 17; it's the band's sixth full-lengther.
I got pretty hooked on Alligator when that was released, ducking back to the two earlier records and staying on board for Boxer. The band's audience seemed to really swell around the time of Boxer and on to 2010's High Violet, a record I wanted to like - but ultimately couldn't.
But here's the thing - even when playing Boxer and Alligator, which is never all that often these days, but even when I was first discovering this music, I just never got the fervour. I have felt a wee twinge of embarrassment for every mustard trouser-wearing, cuffs-rolled clown who proclaimed one or other of their back-to-back series of a small handful of shows in Auckland the other year to be some sort of religious experience.
If by religious experience they meant dodgy scam then perhaps there's something in it. But otherwise, I just don't get it.
People seem so excited to blurt out that the band is so compelling live, so utterly transcendent. But to me that's just a band doing its job. Being good at playing live is part of the thing; releasing great albums - that's just another part of the thing too. It used to be that we weren't so wowed by every artist that managed one or both - because so many were capable of these deeds. You just expected it. You always experienced it. It was noteworthy when someone wasn't great.
Tomorrow I'll be chatting with Sylvie Simmons live on stage in Carterton. I've previewed the event here and here - Simmons is in New Zealand to celebrate her Leonard Cohen biography. The event in Carterton will feature some of Cohen's songs performed by Simmons and by some local artists. Sylvie will also read from her book, talk about the three years spent writing and researching the book - and she and I will talk about her life in music.
I met Sylvie Simmons in San Francisco last year. She invited me over for a cup of tea. I was on holiday - she was finishing off the Cohen book.
Since then - almost a year to the day when I met her - Simmons has worked her way around America plugging the book, performing shows that feature songs (she's a ukulele player, singer, songwriter - and has been performing Cohen songs as part of the celebration of the book and Leonard's life and career) as well as talking about the book, reading from the book, signing copies, doing what an author needs to do.
She's now in New Zealand, having participated in weekend events in Auckland as part of the Writers and Readers Festival and will soon travel to Britain, her first time "home" in a while.
Simmons told me over the phone recently that the shows came about simply as a way to celebrate Leonard's life and work - and of course to plug the book. Her American publisher was less than helpful in organising speaking events and so Sylvie started calling people up, organising gigs, meeting up with old friends, making new friends, bonding over the music.
I don't know if I have ever told you this but I'm a huge Daft Punk fan. I don't like everything that the group have done - but I like what they're about; enough to always want to check in.
Homework, the debut, arrived at a time when I was discovering a lot of dance music and it's been a favourite ever since. I reckon it's a classic from that age/era; it's held up well. Discovery I couldn't quite get on board with - I enjoyed revisiting it on vinyl recently but ultimately it's too camp-and pleased-with-itself for my liking. I guess I admire it - without actually liking it. If that's possible - if that even makes sense?
Discovery has been an important blueprint for cheeky and cheesy disco-laced pop and dance music across the past decade. And I'm not sure there's been anything overtly influenced by it that has in fact bettered it.
I kinda liked Human After All but only because at the time that it arrived it suggested more of Homework than Discovery; in fact it's equal doses of both without ever really getting close to either. But it was a good reminder that Daft Punk was out there, worth keeping tabs on.
Wellington's newest music venue isn't all that new - just new to me. Puppies (and yes, I hate the name - but that really doesn't matter) used to be called Happy. And then Happy fell on sad times and closed up so Ian Jorgensen - better known to most as Blink - reopened the bar as Puppies, reimagining it as a venue.
Happy/Puppies always had the stumbling block of a big pillar in the way (what is it with those and Wellington venues?). So Happy went from having a stage that nobody could see to making the stage the dance-floor/bar-floor and pushing everyone up on to the stage. It was cosy - but it made getting a drink difficult and meant you were part of the show whether you wanted to be or not.
So, first thing Blink has done with Puppies is put the stage back where it should be, angling it, putting it in the back corner so that the visibility is as good as can be - given those pesky poles.
The commitment is to making a venue - rather than a bar first and foremost. You can still get a drink and some food but you are there, hopefully, to see - and hear - the music.
So Blink kicked off the venue last year with the selling point being affordable gigs that started on time. A standard annoyance is turning up for 8 or 9pm for a gig that starts at 11 or midnight.
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