Sympathetic Stupid

Friday, January 27, 2006

Three Gigs And A Politics

Last week's list of interesting and remarkable voices (Oliver Mann, Jimmy Clinkerfield, CocoRosie) was finished off with Antony and the Johnsons at Hamer Hall. I'm told he's Elton John for the new millennium, and as the charismatic, lyrical entertainer dominating the room from behind the piano the similarities are obvious. (A nice surprise to find that Antony's talkative and likeable on stage.) But where Elton's performances are bombastic, theatrical and hook-driven, Antony's are a subdued sea of emotion. He and his gang of six never strayed too far from the record, but despite being at the end of a year of touring, gave a good, professional performance, to a full house of about 2400.

As for CocoRosie, Elanor's the one to listen to on that.

Khancoban have taken off again for 006, with a pair of gigs last week. First up was a double set at The Retreat, with a fairly disinterested audience fixated mostly on their parmas and important conversations about a three-bedroom in the Brickworks compared to a two-bedroom in Collingwood. So it was a tough room not especially conducive to the Khancoban brand of quiet alt-folk. They played everything, as expected in a long two sets, even throwing in a couple of covers - of Echo and the Bunnymen and Tom Waits (with Andrew and Jason doing some pretty impressive backing vocals). But, honestly, there aren't quite enough killers in the catalogue at this point to sustain interest for two whole sets. But a little more variety and a little more 'bop', to replace a couple of the more anonymous tracks, is all that's required.

The next night was Australia Day Eve at the Old Bar, with Clinkerfield. This was better for being shorter and more refined, and there was a more respectful atmosphere (also more drunk people), despite the uniformly poor sound quality. My highlight, unsurprisingly, was the epic crescendo of Such A Big Sky, but the whole set worked well.

Then a monster set from Clinkerfield, complete with cello. Almost two hours, containing all your favourites, including a block of (I think) three covers in the middle, the best of which was Matty's rendition of Daydream Believer with the whole venue singing along. It was fucking hot, though.

The politics? Elanor (again) said it better than I could, so this should be read.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The End Of Civilisation As We Know It

Big mistake.

They gone and cancelled The West Wing.

OK, yeah, they were up against it. Eventually Bartlett hit his two term limit and was forced to leave office; for some reason the producers didn't take to my suggestion of "Despot Bartlett". So the choice was between Alan Alda (seemingly a John McCain-type reasonable Republican) and Jimmy Smits (a Catholic Democrat with military background) for the next one up - but losing Martin Sheen and Stockard Channing could only hurt, not to mention any other characters who needed to follow (is it even possible to choose between Donna, Charlie and Will, let alone also Josh, Toby and CJ?).

And John Spencer (Leo McGarry) died in December at only 58. Ex-chief of staff, Leo was now running for VP under Santos (Smits), and Spencer was an imposing actor as they all are. Assuming a Santos victory, he was a very important plank of the show, now sadly gone.

Of course, inevitably, the ratings were suffering. As the linked article says, it "remains the most upscale series on prime-time broadcast TV". Which I think means it's the best show not made by HBO. It had recently moved timeslots - always dangerous - and lost a third of its viewers. (Down to about 8m a week, like, more than a third of the population of Australia...)

So, as K Rogers once drawled, you've got to know when to fold 'em. Though I'm still smarting from the cancellation of This Life - which, goddamn, was almost nine years ago! - one thing that taught us was how to go out on top. The West Wing's gone after the inauguration, a fairly natural end.

But it will be missed.

(PS: This Life on DVD released on the 26th of Feb in Britain - Amazon are preordering now. So some of my grief will be assuaged in early March...)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Clinkerfield + Oliver Mann @ Old Bar

Oliver Mann is an unassuming figure; lacking the imposing beard of his brother, Paddy (Grand Salvo). Unassuming, at least, until he opens his mouth to sing. He effortlessly took command of the small room at the Old Bar, despite its dubious acoustic qualities, without any accompaniment or even a microphone. The range and power of his voice are much-storied and even more impressive in person - I got the feeling he was holding back in the lower register to avoid hurting people.

We heard a range of tracks from the album as well as some new stuff. Shoe Of Leather was impressive, but the highlight of the set was a magical Herringbone Blues. Matty from Clinkerfield has been studying up, cause he was pitch-perfect on the serene harmonies in the chorus; impromptu from the back of the room, mind.

So then to a completely different set from Clinkerfield. The last couple of times I'd seen them, especially at the Rob Roy, it'd been underwhelming, perfunctory performances, full of all the old favourites but not at their best. Last night, as an indication of the strength of the performance, we got Gravel Road as a sound-check (I get the impression they're a little sick of the track) and Pissing Down in the middle of the set, instead of closing as is customary. (It was still killer, though.)

I reckon they're moving to a new plane of existence, and if this set was any guide, it'll be a plane of existence involving touring foreign countries, brown M&Ms and lashings of alcohol in riders and groupies all round. And possibly also Jimmy wearing Amish hats, though that may have been just this gig. Quite a few killer new songs, especially one about "her little finger" (before which Jimmy said he'd been listening to a lot of Tom Waits).

But it was what they did with each one, big rock breakdowns with the boys all in the same place as they took this thing to Mexico. Rhythm right there, mixing it up but staying on the button, guitar wandering Nels Cline-ish through the mix, vocals soaring and swooping over the top. Reminiscent in many ways of a Wilco live set, though not so much of Kicking Television which is the less impressive new-school Wilco, the old-school The Band-listening Wilco. Clinkerfield are sitting comfortably between rock, blues and country and doing a smashing job.

And the new album - Take In The View should be out quite soon. Get onto it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hasta La Sola, Baby

In California, they've just scored $3b over the next 10 years in rebates and incentives for solar paraphenalia. It's funded the obvious way, with a miniscule fee tacked onto power bills - like $1.10 a month. And you save up to $7k on a $20k system. This is thanks in no small part to the Governator. I admit I haven't been following his reign of Austrian terror closely, but seems like when the clock inevitably ticks round to Republican, he's of the bearable type.

Though, in fact, there's even some federal US incentives for renewable energy. They'll pay you 30% of the cost of the system - but only up to $2k. This was thanks to the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Yeah, it didn't do heaps to transition to clean energy, but the bill wasn't all bad. Better than nothing, anyway.

Which is approximately what we get in Australia. Canberra slashes solar power rebates! Rebates were halved from $8k to $4k at the start of the year, and next year they'll be gone - "replaced" by the token "Solar Cities" program. That's $75.3m (fuck-all) over 6 years, across four limited locations (like, say, the size of Coburg), which they haven't even got around to choosing yet, well over a year after the first announcement.

That's a shit program. It's an ineffective sop to industry, which is complaining (with good reason) that they'll have trouble selling any solar systems without the rebate, because they definitely won't be price-competitive. While it may debatably help industry, it's gonna do four-fifths of five-eighths in the short-term for emissions. There's only the vaguest of possibilities that it may provide impetus for development of more efficient solar.

The real problem is that our power's among the cheapest in the world, thanks to metric shedloads of coal. Solar can't play on this field without some serious economies of scale - which reducing the incentives seriously mitigates against.

So, as always, the real real problem is government policy.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Heim Likes Manouevres

Anyone want a unified field theory which enables anti-gravity and faster-than-light hyperdrive propulsion?

Ladies and gentlemen, Heim Theory!

There's a bit of buzz around this in the wake of a recent New Scientist article with a positive bent. The theory makes the standard impressive promises, like faster-than-light travel without needing any fuel. In the near future, a return trip to Mars in three hours. (Right now it's a ruinously expensive six months one way.) Later, trips to other solar systems and even galaxies.

Unsurprisingly, the eponymous Burkhard Heim was a reclusive genius who refused to publish on the theory until it was finished. Slightly less conventional is the fact that he had no hands and was 90% deaf and blind, thanks to an explosives accident. The past tense, of course, is because he died in 001 - taking his theory with him? No! Never fear! A retired Austrian patent officer, Walter Droescher, has been running with the idea since 1980, in a futile battle against the criminally complacent world of established physics theory.

You couldn't sell this plot.

In the ruck of lunatic fringe theories, however, this one stands out. For a start, it recently won a prize from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, sparking the current interest in the work. More importantly, the theory actually makes testable predictions - as opposed to just vague, un-verifiable promises. (Yeah, I'm talking to you, creationists.)

So it's another unified field theory, attempting to fit neatly together the two huge and seriously weird shaped jigsaw pieces that are quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity. Relativity gives us four dimensions, and Heim's theory adds four dimensions to that. This is good because when these dimensions interact they can produce some pretty funky forces. One is gravitophoton force which can "accelerate a material body without the need for a propellant". I imagine the oil price won't matter so much in the future, then.

The second is even more rad. Quintessence (no, I'm not kidding) allows transition into a "parallel space" where you can achieve "superluminal speed". That's parallel universes and faster-than-light travel! Though I'm sure they come with all the attendant problems as detailed in sci-fi, like crashing into things when you can't see them and discovering horrible things with tentacles and faces like Kerry Packer's cold, dead bum hiding in the cracks between the dimensions.

Which is all moot if it's bullshit. The internet consensus seems to be that there could be something in this, mainly because it gets good results on the predictions tested thus far. In fact the best part is that there's an experiment which can be done which should be a test. If they can find someone to pay for it, it's as simple (!) as getting a big magnet and pumping up the field until something happens or doesn't happen. So let's hope. Cause I want to go to Mars.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Grand Salvo - The Temporal Wheel

Joanna Newsom, Smog, Grand Salvo. If that wasn't the Melbourne line-up of the year, well, maybe Mercury Rev supporting The Finn Brothers was. Or Bright Eyes supporting REM. No - the Bird Blobs, The Drones, Damn Arms and My Disco! Um. Yeah. I digress. Paddy Mann, the brains of Grand Salvo, was in exactly the right place that night (a claim diminished only slightly by the fact that I missed his set).

He may not have the raw stage presence of Bill Callahan or the ethereal beauty of Joanna Newsom, but Mann does have a large beard, a wonderful part-Celtic accent and a mastery of the simple things in songs. His latest album is The Temporal Wheel, one of 2005's finer releases.

So it's a folk record. Mundane first-person narratives ramble over understated acoustic backing. With just a couple of two-day sessions to write and record the album, there was no time for Mann to get over-complicated with lyrics or arrangements - but this isn't a bad thing. The final product has an appealing simplicity, produced with beautiful clarity by Tony Dupé, who's done similar work recently with Holly Throsby and The Woods Themselves, not to mention his own Saddleback project.

Mann's velvet vocal chords are consistently at the front of the mix, with his harmony lines a particular highlight. He backs himself on every track, with variations in timbre and colour filling out the rich sound. The lyrics themselves are maybe not profound but always heart-on-sleeve. Sour Grapes: "I'm glad you left today/I loved you too much anyway", or "I dunno where it all came from/I think I dreamed about my home" from In My Bones. And "You're sprawled upon the bed with nothing on/Move your knee up closer to your chin/I wanna see your quim/Oh I'm obscene" has such endearing honesty when Mann delivers it that it's not nearly offensive.

In The Morning, which that line comes from, is the manifesto for the album. It's the quiet, reflective feeling of a Sunday morning spent lying in the sun without a care in the world. However, the highlight, and putative single, is Brave Like A Goose, where the accompanying instrumentation really comes into its own. Opening with a simple glockenspiel line, Mann's close harmonies join it, then the multi-tracked cello builds into the chorus, backed by Rae Howell's beautiful mellophone. The track falls to nothing at the coda - then builds again to the final chorus with admirable restraint.

In fact, the accompaniment is an unsung (boom-tish!) hero throughout. Jess Venables' cello is ever-present, providing the body for most of the album. Muted brass is Rae Howell, from New Buffalo, her mellophone starring particularly at the end of Three Cats Watch, with the echo of "My cat was murdered, blood was matted in her fur" to finish the song. The respected Steve Majstorovic (Architecture In Helsinki) drops in some clarinet. And, of course, Paddy's brother Oliver Mann, he of the operatically trained angel-voice, appears. Playing glock and percussion and not singing a word. I think it's a sibling rivalry thing.

It's simply a beautifully crafted folk album, coherent, with appealing personality and candour.

Blonde Joke?


Best Blonde Joke Ever

Meme it up, kiddies.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Genre Illusionists

Clinkerfield are a band who are good and hard-working. And underappreciated.

At their website you can get a gander at a couple of tracks which showcase their range. Gravel Road and A House Is Not A Home, from The Silly, Serpentine Wind EP, are quiet, reflective alt-country tracks, with intelligent lyrics. Then there's Fuck Love Songs from Treason Season, a slammin' angry rock number - "I don't wanna be in a band that sings about girls/I wanna be in a band that rocks the world!" and "If you like my riffs and if you like my band/Well meet me backstage and I'll fuck you where you stand!" - while Mutual Disturbation is ponderous almost-stoner-rock.

They're coming off a big year, filled with a massive 87 gigs in 005, and three live-to-airs! This was topped by a festive season full of Melbourne rock royalty - Christmas Eve with Mick Thomas and New Year's Eve with Dave Graney. January? More of the same. Eight shows including a residence, free Wednesday nights at the Old Bar. That's right, that's tonight. Or tomorrow at the Rob Roy, Friday at the Commercial.

Support the hardest-working band in Melbourne. They reward the effort.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Songs For The Late Lamented

Actually, I don't think many are lamenting the passing of 05, especially in Oz. Nasty and incompetent conservative governments. Wild weather and disasters crunching all over the place. Lots of people, including some 'important', died. And what's with all these riots? But everyone's optimistic in January.

Here's an alphabetically-ordered top 31 tracks:

This Heart Is A Stone - Acid House Kings (from Sing Along With)
"They say your middle name is trouble/But I know it's Caroline."
Picture-perfect naive Swedish pop.

The Purple Bottle - Animal Collective (from Feels)

For Today I Am A Boy - Antony & The Johnsons (from I Am A Bird Now)

Maps - Arcade Fire (from BBC performance)

Rebellion (Lies) - Arcade Fire (from Funeral)

Do The Whirlwind - Architecture In Helsinki (from In Case We Die)

Slow Graffiti - Belle and Sebastian (from Push Barman To Open Old Wounds)
"Listen Johnny/You're like a mother/To the girl you've fallen for/You're still falling."
I know it wasn't actually released this year. But it's super-melancholy and that's what they do best.

ibi dreams of pavement (a better day) - Broken Social Scene (from Broken Social Scene)
A shot of euphoria straight into the jugular. Looking forward to this live.

Amphibious - Children Collide (from we three, brave and true)

Skim/East Brunswick Run Down - City City City (from The Perimeter Motor Show)
They're wonderful musicians but sometimes the playing has outweighed the songs. This album is great though still a little patchy, but the transition from Skim to East Brunswick Run Down is right up there with the transition from Dirty Dream Number Two to The Boy With The Arab Strap.

The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)

Loverslain - The Darling Downs (from How Can I Forget This Heart Of Mine)

Politics - Dead Frenchmen (from When Ghosts Take Over)

O'Malley, Former Underdog - Deerhoof (from The Runners Four)
There's about twelve potential classics on this album, but the stratospheric vocals on O'Malley still do it for me. Only five and a half weeks till they get here!

Noam Chomsky Sprink Break 2002 - Department Of Eagles (from The Cold Nose)

Shyness Will Get You Nowhere - Die! Die! Die! (from Die! Die! Die!)
It's the energy, the wondrous noise, the simple riff. But mostly the sentiment.

Doris - Dirty Three (from Cinder)
The bagpipes.

Brave Like A Goose - Grand Salvo (from The Temporal Wheel)
A beautiful, touching folk album. The rest is consistently good but this track really sticks out as a classic.

Season Of Young Mouss - Handsomeboy Technique (from Adelie Land)
Dance, kids!

Big In Japan - The Inches (from Trust Me)
I just like the organ riff.

pi - Kate Bush (from Aerial)

Everywhere I See The Sea - Khancoban (from something forthcoming)
I fell in love with these guys. Get it from

I've Got You And You've Got Me (Version Two) - New Buffalo (from New Buffalo)
I liked the original. But strip it back and the essence is so pure and painful.

Sing Me Spanish Techno - The New Pornographers (from Twin Cinema)

For Real - Okkervil River (from Black Sheep Boy)

Glosoli - Sigur Ros (from Takk)
My mum loves this track. But only until the distortion kicks in. It takes a special band to break apart something so beautiful.

Say Valley Maker - Smog (from A River Ain't Too Much To Love)

Oh These Walls! - Souls On Board (from Souls On Board)

Puddle Of A Nation - SubAudible Hum (from everything you heard is true)

Chicago - Sufjan Stevens (from Illinoise)

I'll Believe In Anything - Wolf Parade (from Apologies To The Queen Mary)

Um. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's been a pretty good year for music. Despite everything.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Double-Oh Six

Happy 2006 all!

(Unless you're in that recalcitrant group still using the old-school Julian calendar. In which case, you've got almost two weeks to wait, till January 13th. Good luck with that.)

(Of course, there are others. The Chinese Year of the Dog doesn't start until January 29th, otherwise known as Big Day Out Day. It's also Tết in Vietnam. Jewish year 5766 has been happening since October 3rd last year. Islamic year 1427 has to wait until about the 31st of January. Thai New Year will be April 13th to 15th this year - as it is every year.)

Enough wikipedia wandering. Where was I? Munching on an assortment of leftovers from the WorldChanging fridge.

"(U)sing white rooftops - tiles, paint or other - had a substantial environmental benefit, potentially greater than would be gained using traditional solar panels" White Roofs, Revisited. It's cheaper and arguably better than solar panels for enviro-friendliness of houses. Think about that. (Not mentioned there, but I presume it also increases the Earth's albedo, though possibly not enough to counteract melting ice.)

On the subject of wasting energy, how about the multitudes of pretty electronic boxes, drawing power for hours when they're not used? (OK, admittedly the TV's always on, but that's a separate problem...) Have a look at smart power boards to stop this sorta profligacy - "pay for itself in as little as six weeks" is an admirable claim. Dunno how much they might cramp your lifestyle, though.

And BMW are working on recapturing some of the energy wasted through the exhaust pipe of a car, by the simple (!) expedient of tacking on a steam engine. It's only experimental, so there's no word yet on whether it'll go "too-ooooot" like Thomas. But, as Jamais says in the article, any unintended heat like that in exhaust gas or on brake pads is a complete waste - you burn petrol to create it then just dump it into the atmosphere. There's a long way to go on making systems properly efficient.

Lastly, the Algerian Space Program. Yeah, this sounds like a punchline but it's leapfrogging again. Small nations are able to get satellites in space for a tiny cost, relative to the benefits they'll give.

Linked through that article is Jamais' great argument on the utility of the space program, from a green perspective. "(A) focus on sustainability, a bias towards the accumulation of knowledge, and a preference for long-term thinking" are qualities shared by greens and a good space program. Going to space allows us to get invaluable information about planetary ecologies, like why did Earth get livable while Venus and Mars missed out? And how do changes in the Sun affect us? (No, it doesn't just sit there and shine.) And while it seems fairly unlikely that we'll find ET life anytime soon, that could give Earthlings some perspective, that we're in this together (don't bet on it, though). Maybe this is why I like the space program.