poison to the mind


2: drinking water

Alright! Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys again, you know the drill. Since the previous post, Charlie and his brother, Spider, have gone out for a celebratory reunion incorporating Spider's prescription of wine, women and song. The reading of this extract takes up the thread post-revels, as Fat Charlie wakes up the following morning.

Neil Gaiman - another bit of Anansi Boys, the beginning of Chapter 5, Kinokuniya.

well, you can't get Anansi Boys yet, it's coming out in October from Hodder Headline Hachette Livre Gamble & Huff Australia. Abbey's (Galaxy's mummy and daddy) are taking pre-orders, but at twice the price the official site has. Probably a UK hardcover as opposed to local/imported TPB (though the American Gods hardback was just trade paperback guts glued into a fairly bendy cardboard cover).
So, meanwhile have a go at the more or less official Neil Gaiman online shop, run by Dreamhaven Books. They've got loads of shit you'll have trouble finding elsewhere, like these three CDs they've released themselves , and can even get him to sign stuff, if you're into that.

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1: walking water

Neil Gaiman's last novel (his first novel proper, if you look at it under the right light), while generally a breezy read and packed with humour, also contained lots of death, misery, extended scenes of torture and was hung around a struggle to escape genocide. (If "gods" count as a race.) So, as he said at one of two readings in Sydney last Wednesday, he wanted to make his next book something that people would be able to finish with a smile on their faces and feeling good about themselves. Anansi Boys spins off a character from American Gods, sort of, and from the two excerpts he read is written in a classic British light humourist voice - Adams, D. Noel; Wodehouse, P. Grenville, you know the type.

Fat Charlie is really Charles Nancy, but his dad called him Fat Charlie once, and when his dad named things, the names stuck. His mum didn't stay as keen on Mr. Nancy as she had once been, and took Charlie to live in England, which he was fairly happy about. A couple of decades later, at the wake for said estranged father's funeral, an old woman witters something about s.e.f. having been a god. Charlie of course proposes that this is nonsense, but the biddy insists, and backs it up with phenomena that Charlie had never really given much thought to before.
  "Hold on, if he was a god with goddy powers and fortune and whatnot, shouldn't I, as the son of a god, have some kind of powers and such myself?" he protests.
  "Oh, your brother got all of that," the venerable lady dismisses.

At the outset of this reading, Charlie - back home in England and tipsily removing an inquisitive arachnid from the bath to the garden - has decided to follow his aunt's suggestion that if he ever wants to get in touch with his brother, he just ought to ask a spider.

Neil Gaiman - a bit of Anansi Boys (perhaps the end of Chapter Three or so), Galaxy Books.

Come back tomorrow for a further extract, read a few hours later on the other side of the QVB.

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fight ’em off

Jack White's not litigious, right? He'd just turn up to your show and pimpslap you if he had a problem with sampling. So it's a shame that Apathy's "It Takes A Seven Nation Army To Hold Us Back" didn't get any distribution, or airplay, or attention, or anything. Of course, he opened it up claiming "can't believe you motherfuckers didnt think of this before... " when in fact he'd been comprehensively beaten to the punch by Rhymefest, but there's no way "Jackin' (It Got Ugly)" could ever get clearance in today's world. (An even bigger shame, because it also outshines the titular influence, Cube's "Jackin' For Beats" off Kill At Will.)

But we're not posting either of those, just acknowledging that that bassline - played on a non-bass instrument, no less - is undeniable, a behemoth that straddled 2003-2004 like a fuzzy, insistent monster. Interestingly, when Nostalgia 77 covered the song, they pretty much left it out, while everyone else skips the lyrics. Here we've got two bands doing the song live at the same Australian festival in January 2004, but both putting other people's words over the top. Basement Jaxx go for a quasi-mashup approach, dropping the expressionless wonder, 50 Cent, grunting his "In Da Club" over their carnival-house mutation of the music. And the Flaming Lips - well, what you can make out through Wayne Coyne's megaphone-bleating - are doing their own rewrite of the Butthole Surfers' "Moving To Florida".

Both bands still report it as "Seven Nation Army" (or in the Jaxx' case, "White Stripes") for their APRA sheets though. See? You can't say no to that bassline.

Flaming Lips - Seven Nation Army (live at the Big Day Out)
Basement Jaxx - Seven Nation Army (live at the Big Day Out)

The Lips have done a studio version of their cover on the Late Night Tales thing they compiled. Dunno if it's any good though.
Basement Jaxx's singles compilation has a DVD counterpart with some live bits and bobs on it. That's probably the closest you can get.

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Here's a big one, so dial-up kids* can spend the weekend downloading: the EPK for Wiley's "Wot U Call It?". Two years on, it's amusing to see how the press kit spends so much of its time trying to defend that the name of the music is still in flux and under debate, but admits that the battle has been lost in an aside halfway through. "...maybe they gave me the wrong award," Wiley embarrassedly demurs.

Also notable that even in murky lighting, shot from the side in the front of a car, Kano's charisma puts all the properly lit vox-poppers in the shade. And when he spits, his flow is almost as smooth acapella as over any of the beat styles he can ride so well. If the alleged hip-hop and R&G sell-out attempts on his album don't work, someone start getting him cameos on any and every US record, he needs to be a star. Who's that shouty white kid with the bum-fluff ginger mustache though? He needs to join the army and get his aggression worked out.

Wiley - bumph (this is over 120mb, watch out)

The other day I was looking for Treddin' On Thin Ice in a chain-store with genre classifications. They'd put it in URBAN GROOVES, subsection HIP-HOP, subdivider UK HIP-HOP. Then someone had written in a few different colour textas on the shrinkwrap, 'EXPERIMENTAL HIP-HOP', 'NEW UK HIP-HOP STYLE' and in huge letters across the middle, '"GRHYME"'.
Anyway, Wiley'll flog you ringtones and wallpapers for a pound fifty. Pity he's only got Wot U Call It up, so many of the Eskimo/Igloo/Penguin-era riddims would probably translate really well into tinny electronic bleeps! I dunno, I don't even have a mobile phone.


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leave it out

The sad thing about The Firm's records being so perfectly suited to their format is that it made them so easily forgettable. By the time Star Trekkin' came along, no-one remembered anymore that they'd already knocked the "novelty song about a TV show/even sillier quickie version on the flip" formula out of the park five years earlier. And with the demise of the 7", neither record is ever going to be much commercial use ever again.

But "Arthur Daley (e's Alright)" is still a great parody of ver cockernee knees-up pop pastiche (a decade too early for Parklife!) as well as an affectionate tribute to the glory years of George Cole and the full-sized Dennis Waterman on Minder. The B-side here was simply a "posh version" of the A, with the exact same lyrics enunciated in a faux-RP accent not much goofier than the geezer tones on the other side.

The Firm - Arthur Daley (e's Alright)
The Firm - Arthur Daley (He's Alright)

Yer 'avin' a larf, ain'cha? But look, if you're really keen, feel free to buy me a copy of the Umbrella box sets for Series 3 or 4 of Minder. I'll put up an extract of one of the Australian-exclusive George Cole commentary tracks as thanks!

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rockin’ poppin’ favourites

The Action Suits were something of a response by grumpy young men to their town of residence's worldwide fame. Kicking back against grunge with '60s-style pop songs and production (recorded with authentic 8-track wobble by Steve Fisk), they burst onto the scene with four seven-inches released simultaneously on four different labels, then promptly faded away (leaving just one more 7" - on yet another label - and the song in yesterday's bonus MP3). They had an offer to do an album in Spain, but no-one could get it together to draw a cover for the compilation.

And it was the covers that had sold them - Pete Bagge, cartoonist behind Hate et al., was the drummer/backing singer and occasional co-writer for the band, and did the covers for all four initial releases. He'd left by the time of the last release, so early guitarist Al Columbia - also better known as a cartoonist - was drafted to do the honours. But lead singer/guitarist/also-a-cartoonist Eric Reynolds' songs didn't always deserve to be overshadowed. This one of the quartet, on the Fluffer label, might as well be a greatest hits. Both songs are cheesy and twee, but in a totally great way. If you're a boy prone to trawling record shops and crushing over girls. Or have empathy for them, I guess.

And Fisk plays keyboards, Pigeonhed fans!

Action Suits - 4-Track Mind
Action Suits - My Janeane

You can probably still find the odd copy of the other records in various auction catalogues, second-hand record shops and online comics retailers. But this one is ridiculously still available (along with scads of original art) from Eric Reynolds himself. Probably in much better shape than the one I recorded these MP3s from!

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fuzz and stripes

Due to some bubble in the space-time continuum, Australia did the Nirvana-breakout phenomenon more than six months ahead of schedule.

By the end of 1990, the biggest indie record of the financial year was, legend has it, shaping up to be "Sarah's Not Falling In Love" by the Plunderers. The Canberra escapees, whose songwriters would shortly go on to greater success with higher anonymity (in the Whitlams and Lemonheads, variously), had been slogging around the traps for about five years, churning out singles and side-projects galore. This was the peak of their struggle, a power-pop classic that belts out of the gate with the title wailed in ocker harmony, lines traded off between Stevie Plunder and Nic Dalton, a grin across their collective face that you can hear through the radio. And released only on 10" vinyl - indie to the core.

But at the same time, the most aggressively-funded and -marketed Fake Indie Label(tm) in Australia's history had snapped up another Sydney power-pop band with years of pub gigs and a brace of singles, EPs and one album under their belt. And crucially, they had an even more undeniable power-pop classic tucked up one stripy sleeve: "That Ain't Bad." Opening with a single guitar and Simon Day's longing voice, the track builds and bursts at the chorus, eventually working into a frenzy by the coda - but remaining throughout a simple enough love song (though, like the Plunderers song, more concerned with expressing a sanguine acceptance of compromise than actual romance) that high-school girls could wail "I LOVE YOU...OO-HOO-HOO-OOH!" until their throats turned red.

Which you can hear them do here - after "That Ain't" was released as the first 'radio track' from the Tingles EP, Ratcat blew up beyond corporate expectations, and ushered in an age of "alternative rock" as the paradigm for youth marketing that was only cemented, rather than initiated, by the washing of the grunge wave that followed over the next couple of years. Before Nirvana made it to our shores (supporting the Violent Femmes! on a tour booked before Nevermind blew up) and had to have firehoses turned on audiences, Ratcat had become the first favourite band for so many kids that live performances saw Day not even needing to bother singing.

The Plunderers - Sarah's Not Falling In Love
(from a 1990 radio session)
Ratcat - That Ain't Bad
(from the Ratcat Alive quickie cash-in EP)

The Plunderers' entire studio discography has been remastered and collected on one release, the Banana Smoothie Honey CD. One disc of their fuzzy rock songs, one disc of psychedelic jams. Get it direct from Half A Cow.
Ratcat's early indie catalogue is sadly all out of print, and their best-of is both missing some of their best, and crammed full of late-period b-sides on a second disc. But luckily the cream of their major-label period is available for under ten bucks, on a disc collecting the Blind Love album with all the tracks from Tingles that weren't put on it in the first place.

Since the above version isn't necessarily much use for hearing the song qua song, go here to catch someone who actually was a kid being woken up to 'alternative' music by Ratcat's success, covering "That Ain't Bad" at a radio concert eight years later. It's the second song in the MP3, but listen to the first and come back tomorrow.

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