‘Larks Tongues in Aspic?….

Don’t mind if I do, thanks…’

A famous philosopher once said ‘life is like a box of chocolates’. Ergo, so must be music, (for many) an integral part of life…. on first impressions it can seem soft, hard, sweet, tart, chewy, or can melt like just like liquid in your ears. It also contains a (dangerously?) high proportion of nuts. However, it also leaves an impression, an aftertaste, that with the best also leads to craving more… Looking back on the selection of treats on offer in 2011, here are some of my personal highlights – my artists of the year, who induced in me those ‘I like it I like it I like it !’ goosebumps with their art… and, left me wanting, yes, more…

Amy LaVere, double bass wielding belle whose Southern gothic Lynchian meditations were iced with some outstanding surf noir guitarwork

Fatoumata Diawara, music as beautiful, addictive, hypnotic and mysterious as any I have heard

Gillian Welch, as unique and timeless as ever

Wilco, storming back on their new label with what may well prove to be their definitive album

Mountain Man, sounding as old as the hills themselves, this female trio sent many a chill through my psyche with their otherworldy harmonies

Tom Waits, still ornery as hell and as slippery and gifted as ‘ol Springheel Jack himself, ornate crazy blues with fellow old jackal Keith Richards along for the ride

Jonathan Wilson, long hair/Topanga Canyon/Bob Harris/Jackson Browne/David Crosby are just some of the touchstones in his work, but the end result is uniquely his

Josh T Pearson, a truly stunning solo album ten years on from Lift To Experience

Other highlights and Honorable Mentions go to Edwyn Collins, continuing to astound in his recovery, with an amazing work rate not just as a writer/performer whose work is getting even better with each release, but also now as label boss (and often production chair)of the very wonderful AED Records, and indeed the AED singles and albums, particularly Linden & Rotifer, to Thomas Dolby (I rediscovered the chillingly beauteous ‘Airwaves’), Richmond Fontaine’s ‘High Country’, The Civil Wars, The Click Five live at Mith Samlanh , Colorama, and for rebooting my powerpop years the Japanese reissues on 1977 Records of my old band’s Radio City single and album-that-never-was, Sigur Ros with the atmospheric end of era ‘Inni’, the righteous racket that was the Jim Jones Revue, Rolling Stones live stuff from the early 70’s (Brussels Affair) and the ‘Some Girls’ reissue, Kurt Vile & co-conspirators the War on Drugs…

… and of course, there’s more, much more, where those came from…

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vege-tables

Smiley Smile! Today Otis ate his first solid food (pureed carrot) and learned to ‘swing his pants’ in a Trevor and Simon stylee, to the accompaniment of some of that ‘dang hippety-hoppity music’ that gets played ’round these parts. Big thanks to our friend Ben, who departed these shores on Sunday to return to the USA, but before he did he donated his ENTIRE music collection to my hard drive… over 100 Gigabytes (whatever that means… how many LP’s is that?). Ben has amazingly eclectic taste (regular readers will know how cool he is) and I am very excited at the musical delights that lie ahead… Kiss greatest hits in particular. I’ve been known to ‘play Kiss covers on the jetty in the summer’ as Wilco sang, amongst the many crimes against music I’ve commited (and continue to commit). Perhaps we can incorporate something like ‘I wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll All Nite’ into the next (and last, for the time being) Scary Uncle gig. Scary Uncle have developed into a minor legend in Phnom Penh, despite having played much less than a handful of gigs. We were (are) a two-piece, myself on guitar (and to tell the truth, it probably would sound better if I actually did climb onto the guitar and jump about on it rather than try to play those things that Ulf Goran calls ‘chords’) and ‘singing’, and yet another Ben, the wonderful Ben R, on bass and enthusiasm. Ben is one of the world’s leading monkey anthropologists and a damn fine fellow to boot, although I sometimes suspect he views my more enthusiastic fret mangling as some kind of throwback to my simian past… his son, Tane, is also Otis’ hero, as he is at the ‘running around and causing havoc’ stage of babyhood – Otis gazes awestruck at Tane’s ability to run rings around pursuing adults as he attempts to redistribute the contents of a potato chip bowl to needy ant colonies. Tane and Otis are also Voodoo brothers, but that, my friends, is a story for another time…At our first gig in the truly wonderful Zeppelin Rock Cafe (supporting the even more wonderful Betty Ford and the GT Falcons) we even managed one of those transcendental rock ‘n’ roll moments, when, just about to start our last number, a chap leapt out of the audience and enquired if we needed a drummer.. ‘what do you know?’ I said ‘what d’you wanna play?’ he said’do you know any Violent Femmes”yep!”Blister in the Sun?’ ‘Yep!’…. and he did… he was a fantastic drummer… then he faded back into the darkness from whence he came… it was one of those nights that has passed into folklore, so much so that even Asia Life magazine, the SE Asia equivalent of Time Out reported us as being an Irish/English version of the White Stripes- not bad for a mostly drummerless Scottish/Australian outfit… Take a look at the photos in my media for the sad evidence… Ben R and family are off to Vietnam soon, so who knows what will happen, maybe some long distance rehearsing by Skype, or maybe I will finally take the plunge and perform solo – if you’re out there Michael (and I think you are…), I really wish I’d listened more carefully to  Bert Jansch and Leo Kottke and all those other guitar toters albums you used to have instead of sneering at them… now where are my Ulf Goran and Bert Weedon chord books….

‘she started dancin’ to that fine, fine music, her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll’ (Lou Reed)

It was a good day…

Our good friend Ben wandered across to our house gate to get his usual early morning taxi to work the other day. I was at the gate, son in hand (or more precisely, in arm), fending off the jibes from the passing schoolkids. (Maybe they’re not jibes – maybe they say nice things like ‘oh, what a caring father – look how he tends his son in an unselfish manner’ – somehow, I don’t think so… ‘ Look at the fat old barang kidnapping that poor baby ‘ is probably more accurate) Ben is as cool as hell, a lanky, laconic Tucson dude who knows Joey Burns from Calexico personally (now how cool is that!), with a laid back manner but a righteously fiery interior that does not suffer fools gladly, so of course I surreptitiously eye the bag of paperback books he is carrying, as they will be, without any doubt and at the very least, interesting. I guess that he is going to give these away, so I need to scan them discreetly and think of a good reason to score any good reads from this undoubtedly tasteful grab-bag. At this point, the taxi approaches and Ben pulls a well-thumbed volume from the bag – ‘ have you read this –?‘ it’s by Jeff Chang, called ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop – a History of the Hip-Hop Generation’. My mouth goes, ‘no, I haven’t’ whilst my brain is going  ‘now why the hell would I want to read that?’ which is probably much the same reaction Ben had to his birthday present from us, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Volume One. So, I make the right noises, take it thankfully, go inside and get ready for work. That evening I make myself begin to read it…

You’ve probably guessed what’s coming next, and believe me it’s hard to admit this. Hip Hop has largely passed me by, mainly through my choice – maybe it’s an age thing, probably in the main a culture thing, but I am amazed to report that I am COMPLETELY consumed by Chang’s book at the moment. I am about a tenth of the way in to its 546 pages, and I am so thoroughly gripped by its spell that I really don’t want to put it down. I’ve also been re-reading passages again and again, going with the flow of his words and the wisdom of his analysis, but most importantly he has ignited within me that spark of really wanting to hear the music, really listen to all the component parts in the same way that I can submerge myself in the layers of sound when listening to the Velvets or the Byrds or the Beatles or a thousand other skinny white kids with guitars…

 

At the age of 51, I am so excited that another period of discovery is upon me…

 

Thanks Ben…

 

Right Now Listening To – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry  – Reggae Greats

                                           Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line

                                           Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5.55

                                           Wilco – everything (they sound like honey tastes…)

 

 

Reading – Jeff Chang – ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop – A History of the Hip-Hop Generation’ (Picador)

 

still crazy after all these years