Tuesday, November 29, 2011

jim o'rourke: old news #6 (editions mego)

Old News #6 is the second release in a “nearly regular” series of vinyl albums documenting analog synth and tape works “from the depths of Jim O’Rourke’s archive.” But where Old News #5 was retrospective in orientation, covering some 20 years of output across its four tracks, #6 zooms right in on the present. The album comprises a single piece entitled “All That’s Cold Is New Again.” It was commissioned in part by Christian Zanési, a French composer and former student of Pierre Schaeffer, and recorded in studio by O’Rourke between 2009 and 2011 in Tokyo, where he’s now, of course, a resident. 

Idiomatically and in terms of sonic palette, the record’s in a pretty similar ballpark to “It’s Not His Room Anymore” off the last release, which was recorded in Japan in the same period with, seemingly, a comparable studio setup. But the most obvious point of difference with “All That’s Cold Is New Again” is that, unlike any of the recordings on Old News #5, it incorporates ‘found sound’ in and among all the electronics: the slow wash of water, tolling bells, the gentle rumbling of traffic, children playing, the briefest snippets of conversation, as if caught accidentally from a passer-by.

In general, this works really well...

And if you wanna know, read the rest of the review on TMT. Includes rampant speculation about sci-fi music and the sound of outerspace!

And do check out my review of Old News #5 too if you're interested.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

bangs & works vol. 2 (planet mu)

When was the last time you experienced Futureshock? I mean really experienced it — affectively, right down to your core. For my part, I got a small dose at the start of the year from James Blake’s self-titled debut. Sure, it had a history; Blake’s indebtedness to dubstep (even bordering on a kind of purism) has been well noted. But that doesn’t change the fact that his clever deployment of both bass and (particularly) space meant that pop sounded different now. This, suddenly, seemed to be the future. And sure enough, it was. So much so, in fact, that the future quickly began to sound dull again: present and, soon enough, altogether past.

Right now, just about everywhere on the planet other than in certain key enclaves in Chicago, footwork seems like the sound of the future. Strictly, it’s a kind of dance music. Or at least “that’s what it is in Chicago’s converted warehouses and rec centers,” as TMT’s Mr P recently put it, “where combatant footworkers form circles and take turns battling, dozens-style, with dazzlingly complex foot patterns.” Outside of such rarefied circles, however, nothing else sounds so Fresh, so New, so Vital, or so Different, even to the point of being Unpalatable — not Unintelligible necessarily, but literally Indecipherable at the level of the body...

Read the rest here on TMT.

Also, I can't help but note that the piece got props from none other than Simon Reynolds. More or less made my day/week/life.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

tim hecker: dropped pianos (kranky)

Jacques Derrida once wrote that Literature — with a capital “L”: the Work, the Opus — is that which “transforms the field.” He was thinking of Kafka’s The Trial. And his point was that after its publication in 1925, everything was different. Literature, as a field, was otherwise. The rules of the game had changed. Ravedeath 1972, Tim Hecker’s last release, is Literature. It’s Music, with a capital “M.” Sure, it has precursors, a lineage. There are elements of “drone” and “noise” to it, as well as passages that come pretty close to being “ambient.” But it’s at once all of these things and none of them. As Derrida might have put it, Ravedeath 1972 is “irreducible to the laws of genre.”

I’m not the only one who thinks so either...

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

colin stetson: those who didn't run ep (constellation)

It’s been nearly 40 years since Roland Barthes first theorized what he called the “grain of the voice.” And whether or not you’re familiar with his famous essay, I think it’s fair to say that the idea, if not necessarily the vocabulary, has wormed its way well into the collective critical consciousness by this point. For Barthes, the “grain” was the “body in the voice as it sings.” Not, or not merely, timbre: the “grain” of a voice, if it has one, consists precisely in the irreducibility of its significance, its weight, to the conventions of technique, style, or genre. Simon Frith famously heard grain in Elvis. “In the end,” he wrote, “this is the only way to explain his appeal: not in terms of what he ‘stood for,’ socially or personally, but by reference to the grain of the voice.” For Frith, Elvis celebrated “more sensuously, more voluptuously than any other rock ‘n’ roll singer — the act of symbol creation itself.” Grain, in other words, is the difference between James Brown and his backing singers, between Frank Sinatra and the Boobster. The shame with Billy Holiday was that she ended up having too much of it. With Sigur Rós, we celebrate Jónsi’s delivery precisely because his voice has none. The brilliance of his voice, in other words, is precisely the fact that it manages to sound disembodied.

We’re pretty comfortable now with those sorts of claims, in thinking about voice in this register. But we’re a little less so when it comes to instrumental music...

As usual, you can find the rest of the view on TMT.

Here's some footage. Just in case you're wondering what the hell I'm going on about:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

jim o'rourke: old news #5 (editions mego)

In 1995 Jim O’Rourke was just 25, and he was already being referred to as “the da Vinci” of experimental music. God knows what that makes him now. The intervening 16 years have seen a famous and productive stint in Sonic Youth along with countless other all-star collaborations, a clutch of critically acclaimed solo albums, and an ever-expanding portfolio of film work (see here for the mind-bogglingly long list of credits). And even that, apparently, was only the merest tip of the O’Rourkean iceberg.

As if their street cred in the field of drone and experimental electronics needed any further cementing, back in April Austrian label Editions Mego (home to Fennesz, Hecker, Mark Fell, and Oneohtrix Point Never, among many illustrious others) announced a “nearly regular series of vinyl albums documenting analog synth and tape works (both studio and live) from the depths of Jim O’Rourke’s archive.” That series goes by the name of Old News. If you’re a real O’Rourke nut, the title will already be familiar to you. It began in 2002 as a series of cassette-and-CD-R-only releases put out in extremely low numbers while on tour in Japan and got as far as volume four before being picked up by the wise folks at Editions Mego. There are no plans at present to reissue the first four, meaning that we begin here with Old News #5.

And what a good way to start...

Oh and here's some video of O'Rourke noodling in Tokyo. Look at him. He's like experimental music's very own answer to Santa!

Monday, October 17, 2011

jonti: twirligig (stones throw)

Twirligig. It could almost be the name of a character in Pokémon, couldn’t it? It’s cute-sounding: silly; sub-‘tween,’ if you like; ‘kiddie.’ It’s not often you can say that about an album title, least of all one that’s meant to be respectable. 

This is no surprise, of course. One of rock’s most consistent gestures over the years (and I mean rock here in the broadest and most irresponsible sense — from Elvis to electro) has been a ‘rebel misogyny’ of one form or another. It’s about fleeing the nest, usurping the mother, the discovery of the body and desire. Rock, in other words, takes place after puberty. It’s frequently juvenile, but almost never pre-teen. Where teeny-bop is ‘light,’ rock is ‘heavy’: it’s of consequence. Even when it’s dumb, it’s serious...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

grouplove: never trust a happy song (canvasback)

A new somewhat scathing review (sorry Grouplove!) up on TMT:

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Grouplove? But they came 10th — TENTH! — in NME’s list of the hottest new bands of 2010. Yes, that NME. The not-all-past-its-prime, totally hip and zeitgeist savvy, trendsetting little zine out of the UK. You know... the one with Oasis on the cover.

Never Trust a Happy Song is the debut full-length from L.A. indie-poppers Grouplove, and I’m afraid to say it makes for a pretty dreadful listen. It starts well enough. Although lyrically totally nonsensical, Itching On a Photograph is a vaguely infectious sing-clap-and-whoop-along in the style of The Killers, The Thrills, and Modest Mouse. Okay, so it sounds dated. Seth Cohen was listening to this sort of thing back in 2003. But it’s tuneful enough. Definitely proficient. From there on in, however, it’s pretty much downhill all the way. The more you listen, the worse it gets. And not just in terms of the songwriting either. Never Trust a Happy Song is unremittingly hyperactive. There’s only so much of this relentlessly bland, super-duper sincere, happy-clappy drivel a man can take. It’s like being bludgeoned over the head with a massive piece of indie-pop candy cane. And it makes you wonder: who or what is this music actually for?

...For my totally incisive and incredibly well expressed answer to that question read on here

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

towards an acoustic jurisprudence

A piece I presented at the recent Critical Legal Conference in Aberystwyth is now up on the ever excellent criticallegalthinking.com. Check it out here. A longer, far more developed version under the title 'The Soundscape of Justice' will be coming shortly in the next issue of the Griffith Law Review.

Monday, August 8, 2011

hudson mohawke: satin panthers ep (warp)

hey look! my first review for Tiny Mix Tapes:

Satin Panthers is Hudson Mohawke’s third major outing for Warp, and in many respects, it’s also his most accomplished. It’s a tight little EP — five staggering, stuttering, often imperious dancefloor gems — and far more consistent than Butter, his debut full-length from 2009. Opener “Octan” is a masterpiece of a pricktease: all anticipation, no climax. And then, once “Thunder Bay” has kicked in with its surly rude-girl vocals, massive baile-inflected horn riff, and ravetastic synth break in the middle, our appetite for the rest of the record remains duly whetted. From the loping THC-addled bassline of “Cbat,” through the glossy-as-fuck "All Your Love," to the frenetic martial snares of closer “Thank You,” Satin Panthers is a quality piece of work from Glasgow’s much vaunted wunderkind.
But here’s the rub: It’s also less exuberant, less manic, less gleefully ADHD than some of HudMo’s previous efforts...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

shameless plug: discipline journal

a great new arts journal called Discipline and edited by a friend of mine is being launched at the Alderman on Friday night. says its website:
Discipline is a Melbourne-based contemporary art journal. It has a focus on longer, research-based essays, interviews and artist pages.

While based and published in Melbourne, the writers and artists who have contributed to Discipline are both local and international. In presenting longer-form essays, the journal aims to ground a new body of sustained intellectual writing about contemporary art that does not merely fall back on the crutch of ʻpluralityʼ as a means for theorising art after postmodernism and globalisation.

Discipline aims to publish highly focused essays that take on, critically and intelligently, the full strength of contemporary artworks, working through their specific concepts, histories, politics and materialities.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: BJ Morriszonkle, Bitch Prefect, New War, Harmony (album launch) at the Tote

The reason the Tote is a Melbourne institution is that it understands the value of risk: that it is precisely the ideas which are not yet fully formed that need a place in which to be developed and nurtured. In other words, if the Tote is precious – and a lot of us clearly think it is – it is surely because it allows nights like this one to happen.

Overall, I’m afraid to say, tonight is a disappointment. Opener BJ Morriszonkle, however, deserves none of the blame. His is without a doubt the zaniest solo act I have ever seen. Weird he may be, but make no mistake: this guy is an accomplished musician. Hunched maniacally over his double decker keyboards and thumping out frenetic rhythms on a lone cymbal by his side and the kick drum at his feet, the strangest sounds emerge: as if from a demented circus in your nightmares. This is precisely the kind of bizarre fare that both needs and deserves a forum like the Tote.

By contrast, Bitch Prefect are utterly bland. Their raw and raucous garage-rock, complete with appropriately abysmal vocals, holds very little interest in 2011. They’re a throwback. And fair play to them. Nothing especially wrong with that. No venue more appropriate. But to my ears it all sounds a little too much like a band doing an impression of a band doing an impression of the Velvet Underground. That might not be a problem if you’re Everett True, but personally I can’t help but think that particular gesture was already getting a bit old in the 90s.

New War have more than a hint of retro about them too. Only, it feels a little more urgent, more relevant somehow. Theirs is an intriguingly bleak yet pulsating dub-inflected and reverb-soaked spin on post-punk. That they pull it all off without a lead guitar is particularly impressive. And it’s a shame that the monitors bugger up just in time to ruin their last number.

Harmony, sadly, are far less impressive. The early signs were promising. A decent couple of recordings on bandcamp and a line-up which has had some eager commentators prematurely crying ‘superband’. But, at tonight’s album launch at least, the live act simply doesn’t work. It’s the concept that’s wrong as much as anything else. Harmony, it turns out, is precisely the wrong word. The band essentially comprises two utterly distinct halves. On the one hand we get a sort of blokey power rock thing from the lead singer and rhythm section. On the other, three girls provide a strangely inappropriate vocal accompaniment on top. Ok, so the sound system doesn’t do the ladies any favours. But even if it hadn’t conspired to obliterate any nuance that might have been otherwise discernible in their peculiar blend of doowop and gospel, I can’t imagine how the overall effect would have been anything other than bipolar.

As with so many nights at the Tote, then, this one is equal parts hit and miss. That is both part of what can make it such a frustrating venue, and a key part of its continued necessity and appeal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Ghoul, Collarbones, Absolute Boys at the Northcote Social Club (05/05/2011)

Forthcoming in Inpress magazine:

According to the Northcote Social Club’s website, tonight’s headliners Ghoul, along with the likes of Seekae and Pikelet, are amongst ‘the crème of Australia’s experimental underground.’ For what it’s worth, they’re some of my own personal favourites too. But as I settle in for what turns out to be a thoroughly pleasant Sunday evening in the inner north, I find myself wondering about this word ‘underground’.

Because the fact is that the underground just doesn’t feel very underground any more. There’s no atmosphere of danger, or wildness, no sense that something illicit or threatening is taking place. This is a development that UK critic Simon Reynolds noted in a recent article on the LA buzz-label Not Not Fun. It’s not that Reynolds is particularly enamored of rowdiness or violence, of course. But what he is worried about is the possibility that the change signals a lack of urgency, of risk-taking in music, and, most importantly, a lack of oppositionality to the insipid ‘overground’ or mainstream. Sure, the digital revolution’s been amazing in terms of the accessibility of alternative musics, but it’s also meant that it’s no longer necessary for the underground to define itself against the mainstream. It’s perfectly possible to exist alongside it.

Tonight, the music’s great, but it’s hard not to see Reynold’s point. It’s all a bit quirky, to be sure. But fundamentally, it’s nice; safe: this feels like a Sunday night.

Openers Absolute Boys clearly still have room to grow, but their bass driven and reverb bathed grooves are already very likeable. Sydney’s Collarbones, similarly, are a little on the raw side of things. Their unusual brand of glitchy electro-meets-witchhouse-meets-RnB has moments when it works like a charm, but both their sound and their live act could do with some refinement. It’ll come though, I’m sure. They’re certainly not lacking in either potential or exuberance.

Finally, Ghoul, whose bass player has been replaced tonight by a little black box of tricks, are excellent. Lead singer Ivan Vizintin, as always, holds the key to the band’s appeal. His voice is rich and grainful. It has a gravitas and a soul that one rarely comes across in experimental electronic music of this kind. The set kicks off with a live rendition of 3 Mark from their recent EP Dunks which is totally different to the recorded version, but just as good. And the new material showcased towards the end of the set sounds really promising. Overall, the show’s a resounding success.

What it’s not, though, is particularly edgy. Collarbones did a cover of Jenny From the Block for God’s sake! And their myspace has a version of Justin Bieber's One Time. As far as Reynolds is concerned, this de-oppositionalisation of the underground is clearly a ‘bad thing’. It amounts to a depoliticisation, a backing down to corporate interests and the Simon Cowells of the world. For my part, I’m not sure we have to think of it like that. What would an ‘authentic’ underground even be like in 2011? How could it possibly avoid being ironic or meta, nothing but a lame pastiche of its rave, punk or rock predecessors? Perhaps it’s better to let the underground, along with our desire for it, simply wither and die, and be content with a form of radicalism as pluralism which works slowly but surely alongside and within the mainstream instead?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

jamie woon: mirrorwriting (candent songs)

forthcoming in inpress:

It was inevitable really, just a matter of time before the sonic language of dubstep got appropriated for the purposes of an otherwise completely conventional pop framework. On his debut record Mirrorwriting, Jamie Woon does to dubstep what Craig David and Daniel Bedingfield did to UK garage, what the Eurythmics did to new wave and what Cliff-bloody-Richard did to rock’n’roll: that is, to take a vibrant, interesting and important new sound and make it safe, insipid, and, sadly for those of who actually give a shit about music, popular. Woon placed fourth in the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll.

Lets be clear. I have nothing whatsoever against fusion or hybridity. Woon can count as his peers in the dubstep-crossover market James Blake, Darkstar and Subeena amongst others, all of whom are great. But there’s a big difference between fusion as a way of fashioning something genuinely new and fusion as a mask for a total lack of originality. James Blake this ain’t. There’s nothing remotely exciting here. This is the same old R’n’B with the same old utterly vapid lyrics and the same old ever so sincere and soulful but actually completely unaffecting vocals. The only difference is that on Mirrorwriting Woon’s tarted it all up with dubstep’s patented glitchy bleeps, pitched voices and a whole lot of reverb.

Mirrorwriting isn’t actually as bad as a lot of pop you’ll hear this year. But it’s a particularly disappointing example because Woon is clearly a pretty talented chap. He’s got a good voice, an ear for a tune and has evidently been hanging out in all the right places. As a result, it’s a real shame that, where his early demos and singles showed some definite promise, this record has wound up being such a massive bore.

james parker 

Monday, April 11, 2011

topology: difference engine (serrated records)

In this week's edition of Inpress:

Whatever else it might be, a review is first and foremost a recommendation. So I should begin by saying that I cannot recommend the latest effort from Brisbane ‘new music’ stalwarts Topology highly enough. Difference Engine is an extremely accomplished record. It is rich and gorgeous and playful and urgent. It has charm and depth and, above all, vitality: life, vigour, exuberance.

More specifically, Topology’s seventh album since their formation way back in 1997 comprises four distinct works over ten movements, all for a basic quintet of piano, bass, viola, violin and saxophones, with the addition of djembe on Robert Davidson’s exquisite Exterior. There is an extent to which Difference Engine can be understood as an exploration of the relationship between the mathematic and the organic, the mechanical and the vital: or to put it somewhat more poetically, the difference between clockwork and a pulse. φX174, for instance, is named after a bacteriophage and was composed in part by mapping DNA letters to pitches to create melodic and harmonic material. ‘Both genes and music’, we are told, ‘are made of linear and quantized information which represents unfathomable diversity and mystery.’ And the record itself is named after ‘the world’s first computer’, Charles Babbage’s ‘difference engine’ from 1822.

All this is evident acoustically primarily in terms of the use of repetition which, although it is undoubtedly a key part of the compositional vocabulary, never (d)evolves into a full blown minimalism. Rather, it provides the music with its heartbeat and its considerable drive, if not necessarily its soul. That comes, of course, from the performers themselves: Babbage, Hoey, Powell, Colbers and the two Davidsons. This is an album which sounds as though it has been wrought from the best part of fifteen years of both friend- and musicianship.

james parker

Monday, March 14, 2011

belbury poly: the willows

something else from the founder of the Ghost Box label (for copious detail on which see the wonderful Rouges Foam), this time from one of his own records. love the way it's bookended by that haunting, stalking riff:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Tunng at the East Brunswick Club (22/02/11)

Forthcoming in Inpress:

Two different sensibilities, two different perspectives. As we head home from the gig, Alex has a great big smile on her face. She’s been charmed by Tunng tonight. And I can see why. For starters, their music is just as quirky and delicately articulated live as it is on record. Acoustic guitars and percussion blend seemlessly with the electronic chirps and pre-recorded beats for which the group have rightly made a name for themselves as stalwarts of Britain’s so-called ‘folktronica’ scene. But in the flesh they also bring to this a self-deprecating English humour which is genuinely endearing. Lead singer Mike Lindsey deserves a lot of the credit in this respect. He seems like a genuinely affable guy. And having temporarily daubed a pair of outrageous blue and gold winged sunglasses for the occasion, his outrageously out of place faux-metal guitar solo on By Dusk They Were In The City is unquestionably one of the night’s highlights: a moment of musical slap-stick genius. That this is a band with its collective tongue (tunng?) planted very firmly in its cheek is abundantly clear. Alex, as I say, is one hundred percent sold. And she certainly isn’t the only one this evening either.

For my part though, I can’t help but feel that it’s all just a little bit nice. As fun as Tunng admittedly are and for all their pretentions at genre-bending, tonight the line between this and straight-up blandness sometimes seems precariously thin. The tempos plod and the crowd gently bobs and everyone is very nice and sensible and polite and we’ll all be tucked up safely in bed again shortly after 11. God knows I hate myself for saying it, but this is a Tuesday night gig if ever there was one.

Of course, I’m just as well aware as the rest of you that this whole Lester Bangs music-as-Dionysian-headfuck schtick is nothing but a tired old rockist cliché by this point. And that now that mp3’s have become the permanent wallpaper to our acoustic lives, it’s unfair really to criticise the likes of Tunng - who seem like a great bunch and whose records at one point or another I’ve really liked - for making such a pleasant racket. But the thing is that the wallpaperification of music culture simply makes me itch for those rapturous, transcendent moments even more. I’m on the hunt for jouissance and nice simply doesn’t cut it.

This is why I find it so difficult to know what to say about opener Fergus Brown. He seems like a good bloke and a genuinely decent musician. But – and here’s the real point – as the indie-folk nexus takes up an increasingly central place in the mainstream, I find myself increasingly tired of it all. I’m tired of singer-songwriters, I’m tired of folk, I’m tired of 90s FM pop revivalism and all of their lovingly crafted ditties. It’s all so utterly blissless.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

bits and pieces


Seekae interview


Metric Feature
Spunk showcase at the EBC
True Live at the Corner
Efterklang record review

old stuff for music feeds

Interviews, Features and Cover Stories:

Girl Talk
Rolo Tomassi
The Dolly Rocker Movement
Captain Kickarse and the Awesomes
The Black Diamond Heavies
The Inheritors

Artist Profile:


Gig Review:


twin shadow: forget (4AD/terrible records)

Nostalgia has never sounded so good. The debut record from George Lewis Jr.’s Twin Shadow is the most perfectly realised example of pop-revivalism you’re ever likely to come across. Both musically and lyrically, Forget is an album with its gaze set firmly on adolescence and the eighties. Yes New Order is in there, and Depeche Mode, but this is very far from an exercise in reference-dropping. It is a reflection on and a misty-eyed evocation of a period and an aesthetic.

The whole thing is put together with remarkable craft and maturity too. Listen past all the pop-hooks and sparkling production and there’s a real emotional weight there. The back half of the record is particularly strong. Castles in the Snow and Slow stand out immediately as highlights, but the final track, from which the album takes its name, is even better: a succinct and perfect summary of the record’s main theme.

Lewis understands that nostalgia is not about romanticising the past but respecting it, that it doesn’t necessarily relate to a better or a happier time, but an important one. ‘You heard your love again / You wrestled your nightmares / The sweat in your bedsheets / This is all of it / This is everything I’m wanting to forget.’ Twin Shadow’s debut stands out from the ever bulging field of indie retro-poppers who take similar material for their inspiration because it meditates on that material rather than simply mining it. Forget sounds natural somehow, the product of a man so deeply concerned with a particular and, evidently, a particularly difficult period in his life that his music couldn’t possibly have sounded any other way.

kyu: kyu (pop frenzy)

Sydney all girl duo Kyü’s self-titled debut is an extraordinarily likeable record. This is pop as it should be: melodic enough to grab your attention but interesting enough to retain it. Considering that the pair played their first ever gig virtually on a whim in round one of the Sydney University band competition only last year, that is all the more astonishing a fact. Freya Berkhout and Alyx Dennison make music that deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as that of Swedish avant-pop powerhouses The Knife, who are clearly a major influence here. As comfortable with piano, glock and live percussion as they seem to be with electronics and samples, Kyü’s sound though is bigger, more spacious and certainly more accessible. There are shades of Florence and Bat for Lashes here which are bound to win them more friends than enemies in the long run.

After the virtually Gregorian reverb-filled opener Foreword, track 2 Sistar is certainly a standout, as is Koi which has a distinctly ceremonial, “world music” flavour about, though what precisely the references are here my knowledge is far too feeble to say! Trax, by contrast, tells the sad but touching story of a friend returning home from London “broken, trailing a coke addiction”, bathing it in well-placed piano chords and delicate harmonies. “How did my life come to this? It’s not the one that I envisioned.” If their debut record is anything to go, Kyü may soon be wondering that themselves, though for entirely more happy reasons.

atm15: big band reborn (listen/hear collective)

Composer, arranger, conductor, producer and trombonist: Melbourne’s Andrew Murray is a man on a mission. And this record, Murray’s debut and the product of six years’ love and labour, is his mission statement, an acoustic manifesto. Murray believes there is life in the big band format yet. And, on this evidence, he is not wrong. Though admittedly the likes of British saxophonist Chris Bowden have been saying as much for a while now already, most notably of all on his 2002 record for Ninja Tunes, Slightly Askew.

Nevertheless, Big Band Reborn is right out of the top drawer. The arrangements are immaculate, the ensemble work tight as anything I’ve heard and the improvisation top notch. The record takes in a wide range of styles, from swing to funk and neo-soul. And with plenty of modern production tricks to boot. The Real Mission and Seven Whites are excellent.

If the record has a fault, it is its tendencies towards the “smoother” end of the spectrum. Cliff Bowden’s (no relation of Chris’ as far as I know) vocal work doesn’t help in this respect. He is more than proficient technically, but there’s a certain richness, a depth, or a “grain” in Barthes’ terms, that is missing. The “rapping” on Waapa’s Favourite Son is positively wet.

When I say that this record reminds me a little of some of Jamie Cullum’s more recent output, I don’t mean stylistically. Even less as some sort of veiled criticism. For starters, the improvisation here is miles better than anything released by the British boy wonder. But in terms of approach there is an admirable sense that jazz forms perceived to be outdated still have something to say to a contemporary audience. And as with Cullum, I suspect that ATM15 will be even more impressive live than they are on record.

jack johnson: sidney myer music bowl

Cats and dogs doesn’t really cover it. As the rain continued to fall and the sky steadfastly refused to brighten, I can’t have been the only one to have thought to themselves that this wasn’t exactly what they’d had in mind when they snapped up tickets to see Jack Johnson at Melbourne’s premier outdoor venue.

Held up by the deluge, we squelched our way into the venue just in time to catch the roadies packing up after Ash Grunwald. But no matter. He’d guest on slide-guitar with Jack later. And Tegan and Sarah were up soon enough with an uninspiring but perfectly likeable set of their tween-friendly, quirky-but-not-too-quirky brand of so-called ‘indie rock’. As Tegan remarked to the audience that Melbourne was one her favourite cities in the world because it was ‘just so cool and arty and fashionable and stuff’, I couldn’t help but think to myself that there was a certain amount of cognitive dissonance going on here. Here was a crowd which looked as if it had been on a mass outing to Cotton-On on its way to the gig, each and every one of whom had forked out serious cash to consume an experience that could only have been more mainstream if it had been Pink who was headlining: and an indie-kid in skinny black jeans and a severe haircut was up there applauding them for their edginess.

Everyone was here, of course, for the man who’s made a uniform out of baggy blue jeans, a t-shirt and thongs. Jack Johnson is almost certainly the nicest musician in the world. For all I know, he may well be the nicest person too. And he puts on a seriously nice show to boot. The drizzle had become mercifully light and any lingering sogginess was quickly forgotten as the bushfire sing-a-longs were fired out one after another with considerable musicianship and precision. Forget that they all sound so incredibly similar that it’s genuinely difficult to know which particular set of lyrics Jack’s going to launch into after any given intro. Forget that he rocks about as hard as sponge-bob square-pants. This is the man who recorded the soundtrack to a film about a cartoon monkey, after all, and whose encore included a genuinely witty re-imagining of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

If the chord structures are simple it is because Jack Johhnson deals in simple joys. And good luck to him. I have rarely seen so many sincerely happy faces in such neat rows. There was not a jot of artifice present. No trendy aloofness or vulgar big-day-outitude. This version of the mainstream is not the enemy. This is a mainstream full of warm fuzzies, lolling melodies and sincere (eco-)idealism (every cent of the tour’s profit will be donated to charity). And god knows that’s something we could all do with a jolt of every now and again. Jack Johnson has made an entire career out of administering it.

bombazine black: motion picture (letters and tapes)

Motion Picture is a record of real delicacy and composure. It is careful, subtle and, at its best, a profoundly affecting listen: an accomplished second offering from Matt Davis of Gersey’s Melbourne-based instrumental outfit Bombazine Black. Texturally Davis draws on the sort of post-rock palette that will be recognizable to fans of Explosions in the Sky and God Speed You! Black Emperor, but the overall effect is markedly different. Only very rarely, for instance, does Davis break from his clean arpeggiated guitar lines into the sort of blasted chords, distortion and feedback so characteristic of the genre. This is an album which deals in ebb and flow rather than brawny climaxes.

That is both to Bombazine Black’s great credit and an occasional stumbling block. Because the weakest tracks here – opener Annelets and Montmartre­ – are also the most restrained. On these, the attempt to nurture space falls short of the full-blown minimalism which would have been necessary to really draw the listener in, with the result that the slow tempos begin to plod and the sparse instrumentation comes across as limp. On Annelets, especially, the synths sound lacklustre. This is true, in fact, at a number of moments on the record. A modest string section would have worked better on almost every occasion.

As far as highlights go, Dark Kellys, The Bell Esprit and Springheel Sunsets all deserve a mention. They work because they are able to maintain the space and subtlety that give Motion Picture its character at the same time as they ramp up the intensity. In this respect trumpeter Eugene Ball is put to particularly good use. The question for Bombazine Black is whether, on their next record, they will have the courage to go for even more still. In either direction would be fine, whether subtler and more sparse or grander and more dense. I can’t help but feel Davis and co. have plenty more to give.