Saturday, December 13, 2008

I'm up on the eleventh floor / And I'm watching the cruisers below

tijuana-front-500x500.jpg (the above has nothing to with anything....I just wanted to use it somewhere)

I guess you know when it’s the end of another year. I’ve had a few now and they roll around rather more quickly than they used to. It may sneak up on you (and it always does for me…the silly red hats always come as a WTF moment) but the major pointer for me is the lists. We all love lists and of course I love lists (this blog has had a few over the years) and the end of any year provides a flood of these. Some are utterly vacuous (probably the best sort), some take themselves far too seriously, some provoke a ‘says who?’ response, some are just ego rants (maybe that’s me), and some, most notably the who-died variety, provide me with a ‘shit I didn’t know that’ moment or two. Time Mag has a best inventions list which includes such useful inventions as the Hadron Collider, which some consider may bring the end of the world as we know it, as we are all sucked into a man-made black hole…handy…happily it broke.

Then there is The Times (why do Americans insist on calling the one of the world’s oldest newspapers ‘The London Times’?) with their Worst Movies of 2008..all 100 of them. I have to admit I’ve seen two of these… but one, Get Smart, I saw in a shocking Denpasar fleapit (@80c each mind) and I’m happy I did, if only for the experience of trying to watch a movie with a giant, bigger and brighter than the screen, neon No Smoking sign (completely ignored of course) directly in one's line of sight (you needed to look up a bit for the actual screen, which left me with a very strange headache).

I could scour the web for odd lists and no doubt will when I have a moment spare from the intense worrying over Indonesia’s imploding economy, moral confusion and bizarre driving habits, but in the interim, I’ll note that The Times also has a Best Albums of 2008 list up already, also 100 (I guess the paper wants to make sure it covers all bases…satisfied readers return and there is nothing more satisfying that knowing your taste is bang on cos’ you read it in The Times). So, yes it’s quite extensive and I own one or two albums on it, which I may get to in a moment.

The funny thing about these sorts of album lists is firstly, they are so bloody definitive, or at least they think they are. But really, who in their reasonable mind could name one album #1, or another #2, even taking into account journalistic polling. It is so obviously very, very silly. A bunch of albums or records tagged as very good is ok (and If I don’t ramble too much, I may add mine later in this post), but listing in order is just bogus. The second thing about these lists is that some are so predicable…the really dull ones like Q, or Mojo, or the American rawk mags, and this year is no different (is The Kings of bloody Leon really a record for the ages?). But the other thing worth noting, and you can blame the internet for this in a number ways, is that there are now so many completely diverse lists. When I was a lad you got the same 20 records in every bloody list, be it NME or The Auckland Star or Rolling Stone (ok, the Americans usually missed the interesting 20% the rest of the world picked up on, but that aside there was uniformity). It was all so narrow, which made it all very dull.


Now of course, there are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of records which make the lists and you get a list like Fact Magazine (a pretty good list which I’m thinking I’m mostly concurring with) which has virtually no crossover with the Hotpress list, or the various lists at Pop Matters.

Fact head their list with Gang Gang Dance and I’m not really one to argue with that. It’s a wonderful indie pop / electronic mash and for me, the post punk (how many decades can we keep on using that phrase?) bits and pieces have proved to be amongst the things I’ve played most. Aside from the aforesaid GGD, I liked Glass Candy, with their engagingly cute take on Kraftwerk’s Computer Love and toytown electronica which is less Blondie and more Lori & The Chameleons; the, just the right side of twee, pure and concise pop-lite of Cut Copy; The LEDs, whose second album was a slightly edgier version of their first but just as addictive (although sadly they suffered from the hip last week syndrome that plagues popular music) and, had only three tracks over three minutes….bang, bang, bang perfection; and , but very much not least, the wigged out Notwave collection from Rong / DFA which included, amongst it’s moments, Non Stops’ blistering guitar acid-funk. Hydration Explosion.

I found many of the much-lauded albums of the year a little dull. I tried with the much rated Bon Iver but found myself drifting off with thoughts of feral backswoodsmen scribbling down a wannabe Neil Young song between huntin’ n cussing. It wasn’t me. And at first, neither was Fleet Foxes…again, too feral, although it grew and I went through a brief phase when I was able to ignore the yee-ha-ness of much of it and enjoy the, often, gorgeous songs, but that too passed and now I’m fairly neutral. A huge critics fave however….there is something odd about these British urban scribes latching onto all this faux cowboy folk.

And I don't trust young musicians with beards. Save it for your moody later years please.

benga.jpgNightclubs are far healthier than pseudo ranches turned into recording studios (and all this Americana is really mostly recorded in smelly urban drug and booze infested studios as rock always has been). I’m as much of an electronic kid as I am an Indie noise fan and there were literally dozens of singles, mostly English or European that I banged about on the iPod to, far too many to list here and changing daily (as I type the new Pinch is the track of the moment, but that will change within a few hours I guess…yesterday it was Henrik Schwarz’ mix of Ane Brun). But if I had to pick one this year, Ricardo Villalobos’ Minimoonstar, in all its forms, would get the nod.

There were only three albums you could really tag as ‘house’ that got much play around the pool but each got a lot. Really early in the year Prosumer & Murat Tepeli's Serenity struck a warm Chicago styled chord and has continued to do so all year, even if some of the tracks are three or more years old. Toby Tobias’ jaw droppingly lovely album on Rekids got a fair amount of mid year play..I’m a sucker for dubby disco infused house, but only if it’s inventive rather than looping sad old ideas into some sort of big room kiddie anthem.This was.

The other one that got stuck for so long in the car that Brigid pleaded with me to take it out, was the Luciano Fabric mix, which I’m told was full of overplayed tracks, but being as they’re not overplayed in downtown Bali, it was fine with me.

What else? Well I loved, and still do, the Carl Craig & Moritz Von Oswald fiddle-with-Ravel-&-Mussorsky on Deutsch Grammophon. I’m very wary of these sorts of things. Most of the Verve reworkings of Jazz standards / classics are, with the odd exception, a waste of space.

But this worked, partially, says Carl, because these originals are fundamentally coming from the same place as techno…looping rhythms and layering melodies over the top. Utilizing primarily analogue equipment, Recomposed is a thing of great beauty and quite mesmerizing, but I suspect is a boy record.


Also in January came the compilation of my year, the thing known variously as Sessions and Clear and Present, but in any form, was a pretty good oversight of the work of Carl Craig (and we could argue about the gaps forever....Angola?), and, since we’re talking forms, in the digital, for a bargain price you got not only the mixed tracks as found on the CD, but the full 12” length, often quite hard to find, originals. And an extensive digital book. Make it desirable and people will buy it, and they did in this case in huge numbers I believe. I think I have just about every 12” here but, hell, $15 bucks is worth paying for a nice clear digital copy of the 15 minute mix of Throw alone.

On Carl Craig’s label, Kenny Larkin’s Keys, Strings, Tambourines was thoroughly classic warm densely melodic Detroit techno from one of the genre’s legendary figures. I liked a lot.

Jose James’ The Dreamer, a moment of classic Johnny Hartmann inspired vocal jazz, made me shiver, and there were killer mixes of the key tracks on single just to add to the allure.

I liked lots of what they call dubstep and grime, and it's fusion with minimal techno, mostly just singles or tracks but the Benga album was a killer in a wide ranging genre that provides a fairly strong argument against the oft said notion that music is dying. Please….fuck off or listen.

What else? Well the old boys, Paul Weller and, most especially, Elvis Costello, both released their best albums for yonks and it’s encouraging, and nostalgically heartwarming, to see one’s (very late) teen heroes still holding their heads up 30 years on. larkin.jpg

Out of left field, the Serge Gainsbourg (I guess it was a bootleg) collection, Les Annees Psychedelics was utterly fantastic and I’ll keep on playing it forever; and even more from the left, an album from somebody called Plush, who I’d never heard before, released originally in Japan in 2002, crept through and became one of my most listened to records of the year. I’m old enough to realize that I’m gonna be a sucker for any album that sounds like it’s chocker full of soundalikes of those gorgeous post-Lennon-ist tunes that Todd Rungdren used to sprinkle through his early albums. With a little bit Hunky Dory era Bowie tossed in for effect…

Oh, and one more…The Clash Live at Shea I’ve ranted on about it of recent so I don’t think I need to go there again.

Looks like I've done a list again.....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

There's a lot of things we can't do / But I guess we were born together


The Jakarta Post today reported that Indonesia’s president, without any fanfare, or for that matter, without really telling anyone at all, signed into law the new Indonesian Anti-porn law. He did this almost two weeks ago.

That he did so is hardly surprising. He’s a fairly ineffectual sort of bloke, with roots back the very dark side of Indonesia, and he’s rarely one to make a stand on anything.

To be honest, I’d imagine you’d be fairly hard pressed to find anyone in Indonesia who actually knows what he stands for. In fact, he’s so overwhelmingly faceless and bland there are those here who look a little longingly at the chaos in Thailand.

But sign it he did, against the advice of his, uhh, advisors, who told them to side step this very controversial bit of law, and the fairly obvious conclusion is that he did so, not because he agreed with it but because he was scared he might offend the Islamic purists if he did not. It was a vote catcher.

The law itself is an odd one in an increasingly odd country. It’s stuck somewhere in 16th Century Puritan England or New England and is very fundamentalist Christian in it’s intent and the way it can be applied. Witch burning anyone? The law allows for an undefined level of public enforcement which is not that far removed from such things. And it plays to the very large, often uneducated (this is a nation that spends less than 1.5% of it’s GDP on education…3rd to lowest in the world) mass out there increasingly alienated from a very fast growing urban middle class. Indonesia, if you step back, has a middle class, with all the trappings that means, larger than the population of either Australia or Canada and the overwhelming mass…the other two hundred million odd, don’t have much in common with these folks, and resent their liberal, questioning ways. And it’s an easy step to blame your many woes on what you see as their slipping morals.

The gap in this country between that middle class and the rest, usually quite devout, who live in a world not that far removed from the way they've lived for generations, albeit now with soap operas and motor bikes, is one of the biggest issues Indonesia faces. It's a gap that the fairly clever, and, yes, power hungry in a far more earthly way than their words would suggest, Islamic parties like the PKS happily exploit.

And the gap includes the, swept under the carpet in the name of (fracturing) pluralism, growing schism between the Islamic majority and the other religions, including those, mostly educated and urban, who may have Muslim on their ID card but are not practicing..the so called KTP Muslim. Calls for autonomy or full Independence are heard in Bali almost daily now, massively aggravated by clauses in this Porn Bill which are seen as an attempt by hardline Islamic politicians to slip a little Sharia Law into the nation as a whole as a vote catcher with those masses.

The big question is whether this crazy and poorly thought out bit of legistation will, firstly, make it through the myriad of legal challenges already underway, and secondly, in this land where the rule of law plays second fiddle to the law of graft, whether it will find itself enforced at all.

Sometimes you wonder, once you leave Jakarta, if there is any law in Indonesia. Sure there are multitudes of regulations but it’s impossible often to find out exactly what they are, and these are interpreted at the most financially advantageous way for the implementer at the time. The Dutch left this place in an almighty mess after 300 years of misadministration but it’s hard to argue that successive, so called, governments have made it all increasingly, and dysfunctionally worse, and continue to do so on a daily basis. The concept of government for the people remains alien.

Over at Metro Mad Indonesia, there is an interesting, and amusing, look at the real time effects of the law (bearing strongly in mind that it wasn’t regarded as ratified at the time), on the ground in Jakarta at least (bearing in mind that the Big Durian is really a standalone country in every practical way, or at least one that regards itself as both above and in control of we lesser inhabitants of Planet Indo). The last two paragraphs rather nail it and are worth repeating:

So has nothing really changed? Is the new law a lame duck? Its always been a mystery to me why politicians here thought that they could make traction with this bill ahead of next year’s election. Despite what Indonesia’s electorate may profess in public, the country’s post New Order elections have shown that in the privacy of the polling booth, they have little appetite for the Islamic parties. Let’s just hope that those vigilante groups don’t materialize.

The real sex crimes in this country involve the virtual kidnapping, trafficking and enforced sexual slavery of women, allegedly with tacit support from rogue elements in the police and military. There’s also the cleric in East Java who’s just married a 12 year old girl. Let’s try and keep our eyes on the ball shall we?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pushing the barrier / planting seeds

Maybe it's a drippy thing to say but it being 28 years today, I will anyway. You can't help but feel that Lennon would've been rather happy with the political endgame of the last part of 2008 in his adopted nation. It was a very Lennon-esque few months.


Chris Bourke's been saying the same thing with these timely YouTube catches

Sunday, December 07, 2008

And on the cool check in / centre stage on the mike

There's an election in Indonesia. It's big news and the posters, some quite massive, are everywhere. They have a certain, how shall we say, individual flavour you don't find elsewhere:


Nice jacket and tie:


Why has this guy got red cross-eyes?:


Vote for me or my gangster brother will not be pleased:


Sometimes the guys doing the postering would do well to step back and check their work, either that or they're still laughing about it down at the warung:


Then you have the posters in Denpasar, put up by the guy who was nominated without being asked (by the PDI, who, compared to Golkar, the party of Suharto..its a bit like the party of Pol Pot running in Cambodia..are the good guys) who's running a campaign that says 'don't vote for me or any of these crooks' (I'd vote for him just because of that).

I started a century / thinking this will never change