Dani Siciliano: Likes...

Matt Cibula

Dani Siciliano


Label: !K7
US Release Date: 2004-01-26
UK Release Date: 2004-01-27

Dani Siciliano whispers like she has secrets, and then builds songs out of those whispers that speak to my heart. I am using the first-person in this review and you can't stop me.

"Same" builds a nine-minute orchestral song-suite out of a couple of keyboards and an 808 and about 20 words and the space in between the sounds. Girl-glitch is a good thing, especially Japanese girl-glitch, and for a while I thought I liked "Same" because it sounded like Buffalo Daughter and OOIOO, all those obvious editing sounds becoming part of the vista, all the fear and understatement and carefully subscribed emotion packed into the bare minimum of aural information, like haiku, like a line drawing of Mt. Fuji, like the arch of an eyebrow containing every single emotion contained in every song ever recorded.

Then I realized that that was pretentious, and that I just liked "Same" because it's pretty and because I never know where it's headed next. Is this the part where the harp-thingie comes in? When does that vocal loop start to double back on itself? Wow, I never heard that verse before, I thought there was only one verse. It's like when I first heard "Roundabout" -- it goes on forever but no one sane would mind that. Damn.

"She Say Cliché" is clockwork tik-tok funk made up of industrial sounds and Dani 18-tracking her voice, sighs of "Take it from me / I'm open" and gasps and staccato semi-raps and hisses of "I want you" and "I need you" and other important clichés. There are also some anvil sounds and arpeggios and a hilarious interjection of Salt-N-Pepa "Baby baby baby"-ism, and a bass tone that sounds like it's got narcolepsy and is only barely rousing itself.

Sometimes I get sad for no reason. Sometimes I travel in space. I need a soundtrack. Dani says that's okay.

"Collaboration" begins in outer space and travels to Memphis on the way to my skull. I was walking early in the morning listening to this and the key changes bounced my head off the turnbuckle of the world. Then the key changes stopped and we went into drone mode again and I realized that I had to go home and hug everyone I was mad at because Dani told me I had to: "Show me when it is when you breathe again / To catch me in your fall / To catch me when you fall".

Dani Siciliano is affiliated with Matthew Herbert. If you know who he is you'll understand a little more about this record, but it's her album, not his, as far as I can tell. This is the kind of record you make when you don't know what to say to people, or instead of saying what you really want to say, or instead of watching an old "My Wife and Kids" repeat, or instead of storming the castle.

When my daughter heard "Walk the Line" she nailed it. She said it was funky but that it wasn't really a dance song, "if she wanted you to dance she would stop all the music and just ROCK OUT". There are other songs here that use the skin of dance music but not its heart or muscle: "Extra Ordinary" conjures up "Let's Dance" and undercuts it with "I'm Not in Love" vocal bits, and always threatens to bust out into something bigger, the Depeche Mode build starts after about a minute, rattling new wave discopercussion, joy in repetition, but we're stuck along with our guide in her own hell, looping back around and around: "Ordinarily / I don't ache / When I pine / Why does it ache / Ordinarily". And then she says she wants to know, because we all want to know. And then everything gets all weird, the notes turn into snippets of noise, they turn harsher and stabbier, Dani says "I wanna know / Is it fast, is it low? / Does it want to make a sound? / Does it follow you around?". The melody becomes a haunting echo of a melody of an R&B song from the 1990's that I just can't remember; it is also a lot like the commercial for Oregon cheddar cheese that they used to play when I was a kid growing up in Portland. ("Did you bake, did you fry? / Did you put some on your pie?")

And then things get really weird, and then Dani says "Is this ordinary?" Yes. And no.

I have not talked about her cover of Nirvana's "Come As You Are".

On "All the Above", something quite extra ordinary happens. It's a duet with Ornelias Mugison, all Space:1999 mothership tidbits and floaty washes, then she starts: "One of these days / I could get one of these days / If I rent one of these days", then commands him, "You repeat", so he does: "One of these days". Because you do what Dani says. They almost start trading lines, and then they stop because they're confused, and then he says "Let's keep on going" so they try that. And then your mind splits open because at the 3:31 an accordion comes into play and it becomes a sexy tango full of "you made your choices" and "to forgive is to forget" and "all the above make love" and "no regret".

Bossa nova is the default music of heartbreak. This record keeps breaking into bossa nova and then breaking apart.

"Remember to Forget I" might be the softest pillow I've ever rested on.

"Red" sounds like Timbaland did the beat, until the fake horns come in all syncopating.

This is the music inside my head when I'm not there.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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