A Borges Signature

Borges could bon mot as well as anyone. Here’s a favourite that is typical of his inverting the familiar (the translation as superior to the original, the minotaur as the innocent):

He firmado tantos ejemplares de mis libros que el día que me muera va a tener un gran valor uno que no lleve mi firma.

Or in English:

I’ve signed so many copies of my books that any which don’t carry my signature will gain in value the day I die.

Forro in the Dark’s Light a Candle

7 out of 10: Light-heartedness and warmth from Brazil via New York

Forró (pronounced fo-ho) is a simple, jolly and danceable musical style straight from the barnyards of the north-eastern expanses of Brazil; Forro in the Dark are a band of Brazilian expatriates living in New York who introduce jazzier, more sophisticated elements into the music style that adorns their name and forms the basis of their work.

David Byrne discovered Forro in the Dark gigging in New York, and we have him to thank yet again for bringing to prominence some splendid, little-heard music. Of course, New York should be lauded in equal measure, for the world’s largest melting pot no doubt had a lot to do with the melange of styles and instruments heard on Light a Candle, all of which make it more than just an album of forró.

The melange is best exemplified by Nonsensical, a surprisingly well-worked forró-reggae whose lyrical theme all fans of Jamaica would be sympathetic with: the singer proclaims that if you’re not into Bob Marley, then “you better stay away from me.” Even when not in English (Perro Loco is about a crazy dog), the rest of the album’s lyrics are equally lighthearted in keeping with the upbeat musical style, while the melody lines supplied by flute or saxophone on instrumentals such as Lilou, Caipirinha and Forro de Dois Amigos are a refreshing treat.

Light a Candle is a delightful summer record, perfect for the urbane dinner party where cosmopolitanism, winsomeness, conversation-starting curiosities and the possibility of a dance are always desirable. In certain quarters, such characteristics would be construed negatively as typical of the staid values of the middle classes. Damn politics and just enjoy I say, especially when an album is made as professionally as has Light a Candle.

Salmonella Dub at the HiFi Bar

4 out of 10: They need a frontman

The HiFi is half-filled with dub fiends, half of whom confuse sex with six. The crowd is sparse, but so is the music: Salmonella Dub are launching their new album, Freak Controller, the second since their long-time frontman Tiki Taane left the band to launch a solo career.

Much like Australia’s Cruel Sea, New Zealand’s Salmonella Dub have enjoyed a long career as an instrumental band at heart for whom vocals are an added extra. Not surprisingly, then, the loss of Taane has not greatly shaken the band; live, though, there are problems.

Salmonella Dub’s drummer, David Deakins, takes on the vocal duties in the absence of the more accomplished singers who appear on their recorded work. Thankfully, Salmonella Dub’s instrumental focus means we don’t hear Deakins sing too much; nevertheless, the lack of some kind of leader, driver and all-round spruiker renders void the band’s presence on stage.

Even more problematic is the percussion. On certain tracks, shambolic percussion that sounds as ordinary as the drumming of patchouli-scented hippies that befoul the serenity of summer nights is added to proceedings. One would hope that the messy beats are a one-off problem caused by technical issues rather than a more permanent deficiency in their performance.

Despite the shortcomings, the crowd is rapturous and engaged. And on the dub tracks, there’s good reason for such exuberance: when they turn the reverb up to eleven, Salmonella Dub do indeed evoke the feeling of a spliff – as all good dub should. The reverb on the live brass instruments sound especially good, as does the bounce of the bass. For perhaps the first time, I regret the prohibition of smoking indoors; the smoke from lit weed is conspicuous in its absence.

The continued quality of the reggae numbers confirms the impression: any time Salmonella Dub draw inspiration from anywhere outside Jamaica, the music suffers. It’s as if any musical voyages beyond Jamaica land them in the distorting straits of the Bermuda triangle. Be that as it may, Salmonella Dub do leave their audience in high spirits, and any departure from the three major chords of Melbourne’s countless rock bands is a welcome addition to the city’s musical offerings. Salmonella Dub have behind them a history of brilliant shows; tonight’s performance is not one of them. Nevertheless, Salmonella Dub have enough credits in the bank and such a solid dub style that a ticket to their next show will still be worth pursuing.

Cymbals Eat Guitars and Why There are Mountains

9 out of 10: A brilliant distillation of what can make indie music thrilling

Why There are Mountains is the quintessential indie-rock album: the singer can’t really sing, the lyrics are often incomprehensible, there are few tunes to speak of, guitars squall and solos are fractured, song sections abruptly collide into each other and discordance is not a sin. But like the best of the indie-rock bands – Pavement and Sonic Youth the classic examples – Cymbals Eat Guitars somehow manage to make something refreshingly alluring out of what could accurately be described as a mess.

Why There are Mountains does have one thing going against it in this day and age, though: you have to listen to it as an album. Like a great My Bloody Valentine or Radiohead record, most of the songs on their own won’t grab you. Why There are Mountains wins you over on repeated listens as the mood, pacing and texture of the album drifts you off into an aural kingdom of the album’s own making. And what’s even more impressive for a debut album by a bunch of scruffy New York young’uns is its sheer musical scope: it’s not just guitars and skittish rock as you’d expect, but also keys, violins, synths, brass and even glockenspiels running amok through at times elegiac, spacey and melodic sonic atmospherics.

Why There are Mountains serves up everything that makes indie music thrilling. The album follows its own course, free from the strictures of traditional song conventions, and does so without self-consciousness, as if sudden shifts in tempo and unexpected brass are par for the course. This should be the first of many more albums to come – I strongly advise you be there from the start.