The Complicatist : The sounds of summer…and Bert Jansch, R.I.P

Laneways beats the Big Day Out, hands down

by Gordon Campbell

Now that the summer’s music touring schedules have been released, it seems pretty clear from the 30 January line-up that Laneways has now eclipsed the Big Day Out (January 20) as the year’s “can’t afford to miss” occasion. Laneways has the roster with far more exciting musicians on offer. But before getting onto that though, two other tours are worth your dollar this summer. The Kurt Vile gig at the King’s Arms on December 1st has Alistair Galbraith as support, which is an inspired choice. Werewolf has been an advocate of Vile’s music for 18 months, and in March 2010 issue, this column was devoted almost entirely to him.

The other standout event of the summer – and one of the best live acts in the universe – is Merrill Garbus aka TUnE-YArDs (pictured), who will be playing the King’s Arms on January 12. Ever since November 2009, this column has been pushing the TUnE-YArDs cause, and earlier this year, Werewolf columnist and Oakland resident Rosalea Barker featured an exclusive interview with Merrill Garbus.

Safe to say, if you go to only one concert in the next 12 months, this should be it. She is a life-changing experience.

Okay, so why is Laneways so superior to BDO? Sure, Kanye West was OK last time, but that’s the problem. With BDO, there’s an unmistakable sense of yesteryear about the likes of Kanye/ Kasabian/Soundgarden and My Chemical Romance and though Girl Talk, and Battles will be reliably good, they’ve also been here before, too. Of the newer acts at BDO, Foster the People are a one hit band (“Pumped Up Kicks”) with little else to offer. That leaves the Odd Future collective of Tyler the Creator as the only wild card on the BDO roster – and though Tyler will get the predictable shockeroo treatment from the mainstream press, Odd Future can be an really unpredictable package on the day.

So who are the likely standouts at Laneways? After all the acclaim they’ve had this year, it will be fascinating to see if the Washed Out chillwave musician Ernest Greene and the Manchester group Wu Lyf can deliver the goods in person. Judging by the reception that Wu Lyf got in Australia in June, that shouldn’t be a problem. Yuck, who are a bunch of 90s revivalists from London, are also interesting. They’ll bring a setlist of strong melodies to the stage (eg “Milkshake” “Shook Down” )

More than anything though, Laneways 2012 features an immensely strong roster of women. The headliner is Leslie Feist, who finally makes it to New Zealand after rumours in times past that she might make the trip here with Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene. Other highlights include M83 (who has just delivered a career defining double album), the freakishly talented 21 year old Laura Marling, and EMA – also featured here in Werewolf, at the time when her Past Life Martyred Saints album was first released.

1. EMA. Initially, EMA’s showier tracks like “California” and “Milkman” gained the early acclaim. But over the past few months, it has become clear that “Marked” is her emotional Ground Zero. Anderson can be as gothically entranced with her own beautiful pain as Karen O, Siouxsie or long ago, Patti Smith. Yet the point where the drone on “Marked” gets interesting is not at the highly quotable midpoint (“I wish that every time he touched me left a mark”) but in the exultant final third of the song…. Eventually, EMA makes her aloneness feel immense and consoling, like a cathedral built for one.

2. Laura Marling Still barely 21, Laura Marling has left the contemporary woman-with-guitar-and-a-story-to-tell competition in the dust. To a point where Joni Mitchell is almost the only historical comparison. Which makes “Sophia” an appropriate choice from the new album A Creature I Don’t Know because it is the most slippery, ever-accelerating Joni –like track she’s done. I’ve included a live version of her most avowedly personal (as in autobiographical) song, “Goodbye England Covered In Snow” You might also care to check out a lovely 2010 solo version recorded in Australia of her first quasi-hit “Rambling Man”.

3. Wu Lyf Thankfully, Wu Lyf’s trip in June to Australia – where they did interviews here and also here has allowed them to shuck off the heavy mystique they’d draped around themselves before the release of their Go Tell Fire To the Mountain album in May. Previously, there had been no interviews, few photos and a lot of media-baiting symbolism (the band’s name stands for World United Lucifer Youth Foundation.)

Ultimately, the music has backed up the hype – especially on tracks like “Dirt” and on the many mixes now available online of the album’s magnum opus “We Bros.” The barked vocals by Ellery Roberts manage to toughen up the stately keyboards + percussion arrangements. I’ve linked the original versions of “Dirt” and “We Bros” below, but also recommend you check out the remixes of “We Bros.” The dry, stripped back mix by S Maharba is available here and ( my preference) the Young Montana remix is available here.

For starters though, here are the originals :

And finally… death can be a reminder of qualities formerly taken for granted. Unfortunately, the great British guitarist Bert Jansch happened to die on the same day as Steve Jobs, and the news may have passed many people by. Jansch’s work with Pentangle is a story in itself but prior to that he influenced almost every guitarist/songwriter during the mid 60s to mid 70s period including Jimmy Page, Paul Simon ( who recorded his version of “Angie” on the Sounds of Silence album) and Neil Young. Young’s “The Needle and The Damage Done” is a kind of companion work to Jansch’s own “Needle of Death.” During the last couple of years, Young had been touring regularly with Jansch.

Jimmy Page was upfront about his debt : “At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that [debut] LP, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.” Less generously, Page did a version of Jansch’s arrangement of the oldie “Blackwaterside” but didn’t credit him for it. As an aside, it is worth noting just how many great guitarists came out of that 1960s British folk scene : Davy Graham and Richard Thompson for instance, are probably the other two members of the trinity.