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.