Fragmented Frequencies Nov 2010 (b)

The first LP that Fragmented Frequencies ever purchased with his own piggy bank savings was Footy Favourites (1981 on wait for it, Studio One). It’s a devastating collection of tunes like Danny Boy and Macho Man being murdered by the footy heroes of the day. Surprisingly Mark Maclure’s take on Lennon’s Imagine isn’t that bad but Tim Watson sounds like someone’s juggling his testicles with a cheese grater, pitching all over Kenny Rogers classic Ruby (don’t take your love to town) with the emotion of, well an impotent newsreader. In a world before autotune this album is nothing short of classic. Particularly if you think bad karaoke is classic.

But more than just a nostalgic trip into 80’s football culture, reliving this album now makes you realise that there are a lot of truly terrible albums out there. Music so bad it’s bad. Music without redeeming features. Music where you’re in too much pain to find some kind of patronising cynical humour in their earnest attempts at art.

“It’s hard to talk in a world with nothing to say,” offers John Laws on Just You and Me Together Love (RCA 1977). Of course it didn’t stop him for one second in indulging us with his delicate poetry, that of a swinging truck driving stud deep in love, over Henry Mancini’s uncharacteristically bland orchestrations. It was hard to choose between this and You’ve Never Been Trucked Like This Before (RCA 1976), where on the cover Laws, standing in front of a truck is simultaneously being served a Jack Daniels, having his shoe shined and staring down the cleavage of three hot chicks. Ultimately however his turgid, faintly misogynist wordplays of a bold adventurer with a sensitive side win out as he discusses his “thoughts of nameless women in cheap rooms.”

The 80’s were a devastating decade for many, Neil Young’s awful awful attempt at rockabilly Everybody’s Rocking only escaped this list by the width of his pink tie. Instead Lou Reed’s unbelievably lame Growing Up in Public (Arista 1980) gets a guernsey. “I don’t care if you pick my head as long as we end up in bed,” he offers at one point and when the next song begins with him repeating “Love is here, here to stay,” you’re ready to stab your record player. Apparently a year later he would clean up from his well documented drug and alcohol problems. Drug addicts talk of needing to hit rock bottom before being able to change. This is rock bottom. Then it bottoms out again. Each song is progressively worse. This album is an intervention.

The Switched On series has a certain kitsch charm. Wendy Carlos’ 1968 Switched on Bach, is of course a classic of Moog synthesizer virtuosity. The brand has been progressively weakened through Burt Bacharach and Beatles cover albums, even a Country Music outing, but they hit a new low with 1977’s Switched on Christmas. The Moog has disappeared and Santa is on the cover happily shooting lasers out of his hands. The christmas carols are of course a kind of disco easy listening muzak. Funky soulless and unbelievably bad. The demented Chipmunk funk and schmaltz of Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a dead set classic. Particularly if you’ve never heard music before.

You know when you watch those movies from the 80’s and there’s this uplifting moment, the beat kicks in, a bit of sax and then someone wails some kind of earnest fist in the air song about touching a fire or escaping the darkness, totally ruining the moment. Well imagine if it was sung by perky precocious kids in bright clothes. Then imagine if the songs were all about Jesus. Prism Yellow (1987 Reunion) is not as good as it sounds.

Colette, Samantha Fox, Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2, Jason Donavon, Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, even Jacko aint gonna make it to this list. Even at their worst at least there’s some spirit in their music. Christmas with Your Neighbours: 20 All-Time Christmas Favourites (1989 EMI) however takes it to a whole new level. Voices are totally indistinguishable. Sure your favourite Neighbours like Paul and Harold and the rest of the gang are here but they’re all mashed together, so for all you know it’s the Korean Orphans Choir. It’s so bland it’s almost over the top. Hark the Herald Angels sing makes you feel like trapped in time before morphing into the Twelve Days of Christmas which sounds more like the 12,044 years of christmas. This is what you’re forced to listen to if you’ve misbehaved in hell.

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Fragmented Frequencies Nov 10 (a)

Rango

Since the late 80’s Nigerian bandleader Femi Kuti has struggled to his assert his own voice over the imposing din of his father’s legacy. He’s done so with a quiet grace, incredibly adept at treading a respectful line between honoring his father’s music and striking out for himself. He began by playing with his father in Egypt 80, however in 1986 he started his own group Positive Force. He’s since released a slew of albums which possess that driving repetitive Afrobeat groove, but also draws on more fusion elements from other genres, often the jazzier elements, taking the music into new realms. He’s collaborated with US hip hop artists like Mos Def and Common, been remixed by Ernest St Laurent and Faze Action and even had his voice as a DJ on Grand Theft Auto IV. His most recent work Africa for Africa (Shock) is due to drop any day now and he’ll be in town soon as part of of the third annual Australian World Music Expo, playing on the 21st of November alongside local Bollywood fanatics Bombay Royale.

It’s great timing because the appeal of Afrobeat seems to be at an all time high, what with numerous compilations and the reissuing of his father’s entire oeuvre via Knitting Factory (Planet Company here). The most recent is the classic Shuffering and Schmiling which has been combined with No Agreement, which means you not only get trumpet from Lester Bowie (Art Ensemble of Chicago), but is also a savage indictment on the religions peddled by Africa’s colonial masters.

Then there’s Fela! The musical, a Tony award winning broadway play currently tearing it up in the US. Even if it’s terrible at least the music will be good. In fact the soundtrack has just been released (again via Planet Company) and features a backing band of no less than New York Afrobeat fanatics Antibalas doing covers of Fela’s music. A film of the performance will be playing at the Nova on the 5th and 6th of February 2011 so I guess we find out then.

Paris based Gotan Project have been applying the fusion blowtorch to tango since the late 90′s, merging tango with elements of electronica, jazz, house and dub, with a distinctly folkloric Argentine flavour. It’s almost club based music with the exotic flavours more often than not falling between their rigid 4/4 beats. Earlier in the year they released Tango 3.0 with guests like Dr John on Hammond B3. Their first single was the super cool electro of La Gloria which features the legendary football commentator Victor Hugo Morales offering some commentary inspired by Marradonna’s second goal against England. ‘Gooooooooooooooooooooal.’ They’re on their way to Melbourne and playing the Forum on the 8th of December. If you’re curious to know how they sound live check out their double cd from 2008 set simply entitled Live.

On a sweeter and more experimental bent Japanese avant pop chanteuse Tujiko Noriko is returning to Australia, this time with her trio consisting of sound artists Lawrence English and John Chantler. They’ve previously released U (Room40) together and the rough live footage I’ve seen from their European dates has Noriko gorgeously intoning above English and Chantler’s dark synthetic drones, delaying her voice yet still singing sweetly. It’s what’s always been so interesting about Noriko, her desire to treat and layer her voice, creating these gorgeous vocal melodies over all kinds of instrumentation. Crazily enough it’s at the Empress on the 4th of December and you can pre book tickets. You better, it’s going to be squeezy.

The first Womadelaide acts have been announced and whilst Afro Celt Sound System and lush Indian beat maker Nitin Sawney might be getting the most attention, some lesser known artists feel a little more exiting. Firstly there’s Hanggai, a bunch of ex Beijing punks now peddling a gentle traditional folk music with Mongolian throat singing and horse hair fiddle. They released their debut album Introducing on World Circuit (Fuse) a couple of years back, which mixed their traditional music with subtle flourishes of electric guitar and banjo. Beautiful. Secondly Rango, a Sudanese Egyptian ensemble play one of the only three balafon or Rango’s left in existence. They released Bride of Zar (30IPS/ Planet Company) earlier in the year, a spirit cleansing Nubian trance music, with heavy percussion creating a joyful rattling textural hypnotic stomp. More acts to be announced.

Finally I’ve regretfully discovered the passing of English composer and field recorder David Fanshawe in July. Best known for African Sanctus, his mind numbingly bizarre mix of African tribal recordings and English chorals, he left a legacy of pristine field recordings of Africa, the Middle East, and Pacific as well as a lasting effect on the tribes he visited. He was 68 and a true eccentric. Fragmented Frequencies will miss you David.

Mystery Twin (Sensory Projects)

With two gorgeous near ambient releases from Panoptique Electrical, the solo project from Jason Sweeney from electronic shoegazers Pretty Boy Crossover in the last few years, you could be forgiven for wondering whatever happened to the other dude. Particularly with no new Pretty Boy Crossover album for a while. Well Mystery Twin is the other dude, Cailan Burns. It’s an album that he labored over on and off for eight years and it bears the mark of patience yet also the freedom of taking his time. There is no hurry in this music, no corners cut, it evolves slowly, it’s a whole album, much more than simply a collection of tracks.

It comes from an electronic world, many of the ingredients are processed, particularly beats, however real instrumentation does appear, guitar, keys, voice, but everything is melded together in this really beguiling earthy organic mass. It’s really quite understated, the gentleness and subtlety of the music put it in real danger of being overlooked, however there are these deep melodic threads coursing through the tunes and that’s where the key, and the heart of this music lies. It’s really difficult to describe, there’s a certain dreamy sense of wonder to the music, his wife Yoshie provides some vocals in Japanese, Cornel Wilczek (QUA) and John Lee (Mountains In The Sky) help out. It’s a kind of dreamy shimmering poptronica. Some tracks possess more of an ambient swirl, but in the main we’re talking beats with these affecting melodic flourishes throughout. Burns has also gone to town with his self penned artwork, these curious psychedelic creatures that are as much a world unto themselves as his music. There’s even a pullout poster. This package may have taken eight years but when you get results this refined and interesting it’s well worth the wait.

Bob Baker Fish

Fragmented Fish Nov 10

We’d been driving for days and were now about 1,500 km out of Brisbane. The heat was oppressive, the landscape bleak and unforgiving. We had no real destination in mind, just driving through outback Queensland. Carnavon Gorge was on fire, an eagle had just bounced off our windscreen becoming the roadkill it was trying to feast on and we’d just visited the surreal alien landscape of Bladensburg National Park where Guy Pearce’s The Proposition was filmed. Of course it was 4o degrees in the shade and a few refreshing XXXX’s with the locals in the North Gregory Pub in Winton, the place where Waltzing Matilda was first performed live soon turned into a pub crawl and the next thing you know it’s morning, everything hurts and it’s going to be a scorcher again.

It was under these conditions that we met George.

For some reason my traveling companion was curious about the dinosaurs, he figured that since we’d come out all this way we might as well see what all the fuss was about. About 10 years ago a Western QLD farmer noticed some fossils on his land. He arranged a dig, invited the Museum out and discovered an endless stream of Dino bones, even some new species that they’ve imaginatively dubbed Clancy, Banjo and Matilda. In order to finance the process they’ve since established the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum. Nursing our hangovers we drove out to what was ostensibly a large shed perched on top of a hill. Whilst dino bones don’t necessarily give me the Triceratops horn, the place was air conditioned, and in my condition it’s all it took.

I met George when I went up to pay for the tour. He was a beaming guy in his early 20’s wearing a wide brimmed Akubra. He was just your regular slightly nerdy Dino obsessed country boy, with nothing altogether peculiar aside from the wispy glue on joke shop moustache he was sporting. That was until he spoke. “Here’s your change matey, we’ll be ready in a tic” he bellowed and I almost shat myself. I didn’t know whether to run or collapse in hysterics. I completed a mixture of all three and unconvicinglyy slunked jerkily away to compose myself. Was he serious? His voice came from a much older man, possibly an AM radio host from 30 years ago, deep, broad, folksy, but slightly hysterical, like a family of aliens had burrowed into his voice-box and were using his vocal chords as a trampoline. He was born with his voice broken, then when puberty struck it attacked.

It was at this point that I realised that the tour was going to be difficult. We were joined by a nervous very effeminate indigenous guy from the centre, stuttering through his first tour, as well as a rabid multiple syndrome afflicted Dino fanatic who peppered the poor guide with an avalanche of inane questions. “I was just wondering if they’re the same species of dinosaur as any Saurapod from America?” He inquired at one point. Our exhausted guide deferred nervously to George.

That’s a good question,” offers George.

“Oh okay.”

“They’re an offshoot from the same family but they adapted and evolved to their environment.”

“So they didn’t bloody swim from America then?” Inquires the syndrome.

“Nah,” says George before pausing for a few beats, “but if they did it was quite a swim.” he laughs heartily. We all join him. Dinosaur humour is fun.

We left George and the dinosaurs and slowly headed back towards the coast. But George wasn’t ready to leave us. He fueled the remainder of the trip. We wondered about his life away from dinosaurs, whether he was a Tyrannosaurs Rex with the ladies. By day he dusts dinosaur bones, but by night we wondered what darker bones he was dusting. We reasoned that that his voice wasn’t previously so deep, that after years of suffering debilitating bouts of tourettes yodeling he overcome it via, well, it’s too silly to print. But rest assured George was never far from our minds. He seemed like a great movie character, but we reasoned that he was so strange that the suspension of disbelief required was too much for mortal man. In a place where millions of fossils lay underneath the ground and billions of flies swarm above it, perhaps it is only natural that a George springs forth.

So it came as quite a shock when last week when my outback travelling companion sent me a frantic text telling me to immediately tune into Channel 7. I turned it on and there you have it, George in a swimming pool with hot young twins. George it seems has gone from amateur paleontologist, and Warhammer 40,000 fanatic to the set of Beauty and the Geek. And let me be honest, it’s highly likely that George breeding with a ‘beauty’ could perhaps result in the next phase of our species, proving the absolute justification of reality tv programming as our evolutionary future. Sometimes you wonder if the people on reality TV are actually real people with real lives, real feelings and emotions. Well having encountered George in the outback in his element, I for one can say, NO FUCKING WAY!!!!!!. George is so far beyond real it’s scary.

Fragmented Frequencies Oct 2010

Bum Creek

This week Sinead O’ Connor ruined John Lennon for Fragmented Frequencies. It was during the Conversation Hour with Jon Faine on ABC 774am. She was relaxed and low key, but spoke with the kind of weary cynicism that you get from having been a ‘controversial’ artist for the ideas impaired conservative media over the last few decades. Whilst they discussed her refusal to pander to top 40 sexpectations, i.e she shaved her head and refused to dress like a prostitute, it was when she addressed record companies, and their total disregard for their own artists that the fatal blow landed.

“if you look back at who owned record companies you’re talking about arms dealers,” she offered, singling out EMI and suggesting that “when you’re standing there singing ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ they’re going to buy a whole lot of land mines with it, or sell land mines.” There was a certain sadness in her words, yet also an acceptance. She understood the beast. So now the beast can’t control her. If you want to lose your innocence too, you can find a podcast on ABC’s website. Then if you choose you can go and buy a newly repackaged/ remastered/ rewhored collection of John Lennon’s greatest hits, or the 20th anniversary edition of her I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got, out via, you guessed it, EMI .

It’s a notion that Godseed You! Black Emperor touched upon in a diagram on the back of Yanqui U.X.O, way back in 2002, detailing the links between the big four major record companies and arms manufacturers, yet it’s easy to ignore whilst searching for a greater good. We tap into the emotion of the music, not the profit margins. We want to feel. We want to believe. Yet for the majors the message is irrelevant. Unless it could impact upon profits. During the heyday of gangsta rap ICE – T was dropped from Warners for penning Cop Killer because shareholders were fearful of a backlash. Now he’s spent a decade as TV Cop. Irony anyone? Controversy is fine provided it’s contained within a comfortable framework. Like Lady Gaga. Does she really have a penis? She’s so weird isn’t she? The medium isn’t the message. The medium is the profit.

Indie producer of choice Steve Albini (Nirvana/My Disco) penned an instruction manual on the modus operendi of major labels back in the grunge heyday that still holds true today in our current Idol X Factor endorsed path to stardom. He talks about a trench of shit that you need to swim through just to sign a contract that will exploit you. When you get there you fight with someone else who wants it just as bad, before being informed that they want you to swim backstroke through the shit one more time. If you’re lucky enough to get signed he then calculates the amount of debt you will incur. Full article is here.

But thankfully the days of cocaine blowjobs are now over, with the empire is crumbling due to illegal downloading, Big news last week was you can become number one in Australia by selling 3,600 albums. How much did Thriller sell again?

But you don’t need to attach yourself to the diseased teat of major labels. Melbourne is blessed with a small batch of local independent labels, refusing to acknowledge that no one buys records anymore. Whilst they’ll make little more than they need in order to put out their next record, they’re also less likely to be responsible for having some kids leg blown off in a third world country. Chapter records for example, responsible for such luminaries as Fabulous Diamonds recently released Bum Creek’s debut album – on vinyl no less. A trio of melody impaired experimental lunatics, they’re kind’ve stupid, very funny, highly demented and slightly genius. To put out this highly non commercial fare is undoubtedly financial suicide, but it should be rewarded. But Chapter isn’t alone, Lexicon Devil recently offered up experimental musician and composer Anthony Pateras’ latest duo with Agents of Abhorrence drummer Max Kohane PIVIXKI, who have a previous EP on Sabbatical, who specialise in small run releases that highlight the darker side of experimental. Sensory Projects keep the local fires burning with the new organic electronica of Mystery Twin, whilst Mistletone frequently release albums that would never make it to Australia like the incredibly weird Prince Rama from Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label as well as a slew of local artists. Then there’s Two Bright Lakes, Extreme, Psy Harmonics, and a slew of other optimistic fools driven by the love of music, not evil. But they need your help to survive. Don’t finance war. Support creativity. Buy local today.