LIVE REVIEW: ADAM BUXTON PRESENTS BUG THE EVOLUTION OF MUSIC VIDEO @ SEYMOUR CENTRE (26.01.2012)

Writer/performer/radio DJ and self-confessed “expert bedtime storyteller,” Adam Buxton is also the regular host of Bug. An audio-visual feast for the senses and a popular event at the British Film Institute in London, it made its Australian debut in Sydney on Australia Day no less. And really, what could be more Australian than cutting down some tall poppies and celebrating the efforts of others (especially if they’re from New Zealand, I mean, “Australia?”)

Best of Bug – The Evolution of Music Video is a bit of a misnomer. While the show features some music videos from the past and present, it also includes clips from a number of different genres that are as diverse as YouTube itself. Like the ABC’s Hungry Beast (which was modeled on the YouTube idea of jumping around from video to video), it means the viewer is treated to a varied and fragmented affair.

Buxton himself describes the proceedings as going around to a friend’s house and having them open their laptop to show you interesting and amusing things they’ve either found or made. But it’s not as tedious as that description may lead you to believe. What makes BUG is the wit and wisdom of the literal-minded Buxton whose spot-on delivery means he could’ve made a good stand-up comedian, while his singing and dancing plus verbal asides and all-round crazy antics make for an utterly enjoyable experience.

The show included some stop/start animation and a video of children playing modern day cops and robbers but with additional effects of graphic gore and blood. There was some discussion about YouTube comments, which ranged from the funny to the weird and just plain ridiculous. Take for example, some contentious dialogue about war but then see how the argument was defused by an admission of drunkenness. There were some visual mnemonics like Australia as depicted by some iron ore, a stray pet and an actor playing King Lear (geddit Ore-Stray-Lear?) Buxton had even gone to the length of adding some subtle jokes on his computer by naming his folders things like “Shit Jennifer Aniston films” and “Bucki-leaks- details of personal plumbing problems,” among others.

The highlights of the video packages were R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” clip (AKA the one where the lyrics morph into people’s thoughts as they are stuck in traffic); Roots Manuva pranking his old primary school; and the amazing Evelyn Evelyn video for “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?” The latter features remarkable animation of condensation and will leave you scratching your head and asking, “How?”

Buxton also used the show as a forum for some of his own video creations- like a rejected clip for Gwen Stefani and a similarly refused trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s Australia. But in spite of this rejection, BUG was ultimately ragged, informative, witty, wild and wonderful. Essentially a tongue-in-cheek look at the YouTube generation as viewed through the multimedia-looking glass and without the need to click escape.

Originally published on 28 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sydney-festival-live-review-adam-buxton-presents-bug-the-evolution-of-music-video

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE BEACH BOYS – THE SMILE SESSIONS

In spring 1967 Brian Wilson had very little to smile about. The record his band, The Beach Boys had been working on was shelved for many reasons including: label pressure, internal conflicts, shortcomings in technology and Wilson’s own mental health issues and substance abuse. In the intervening years the grand mystique surrounding the Smile album and legend grew as fans swapped bootlegs with glee. Eventually they’d get a taste of what could’ve been when Wilson teamed up once again with the LP’s original lyricist, Van Dyke Parks (who assisted with Silverchair’s Diorama album) in 2004 to complete it and christen it Brian Wilson Presents Smile.

Fast forward a few years and you could say that Brian Wilson has come out the other end ahem smiling. This time around the work that is as close to the original “lost” album as possible is now seeing the light of day. Titled, The Smile Sessions, it proves itself to be the magnum opus that never quite was. Originally conceived as an anecdote to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (who in turn were providing their own answer to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds) it combines 19 tracks and song fragments with 9 bonus cuts including a hidden one to ultimately bring the effort to colourful and expansive life.

It’s a testament to the adage that all good things come to those who wait. You see, back in the mid sixties Wilson was the tortured and creative mastermind behind the American sextet. Like The Beatles, this group had originally achieved success with simple, catchy tunes. But just as the Fab Four moved on from singing She Loves You-style ditties peppered with “Yeah, yeah yeahs” so too was Brian wanting to distance himself from the pop tunes about women, cars and surfing. He could hear the sounds he wanted to capture in his head but was plagued by an unerring need for perfectionism (his father’s catch phrase was apparently, “Do it twice”).

Wilson wanted to create a teenage symphony to God because he believed that music is ultimately God’s voice. It was intended to fit into three separate suites- Americana; childhood and fatherhood; and the elements. The former is an interesting reference point because The Smile Sessions seem to traverse The States in many senses- from its history and geography and the influence of these things on its unique art and culture.

“Our Prayer” sees The Beach Boys harmonising like a choir of angels. It is ethereal and reminds us that there were people who did multiple harmonies long before Boy & Bear were in nappies. Wilson reckons nothing topped the music he made with Van Dyke Parks, the old studio crew and the voices of his youth (with his band) and this opening track is just one of the many confirmations to be found on this LP.

A brief adaptation of The Crows’ song, “Gee,” follows before the semi-autobiographical, “Heroes & Villains”. Originally intended to be the centerpiece of the record, like a handful of tunes from these sessions it would end up on Smiley Smile, the album that was released in Smile’s place. This number was written Wilson’s living room in a sandbox containing a piano no less and plays like a meandering horse ride through an old film soundtrack with nods towards a bittersweet fantasy.

Another adaptation is found in “My Only Sunshine” which takes a traditional pop song by Oliver Hood (“You Are My Sunshine”) and combines this with Peggy Lee’s “The Old Master Painter” before “I Wanna Be Around/Workshop,” features a jazz standard by Johnny Mercer. A running theme to the proceedings was the linking of musical ideas with some of these elements often repeated or reprised, an idea that was also used by Pete Townshend on The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia. The most noteworthy example of this is in “Look (Song For Children)”where a section resembles the group’s biggest hit, “Good Vibrations,” which closes the album proper. A song that needs no introduction, it is amazing and chilling with its upbeat nature and that’s before you consider the exorbitant amount of time and money that went into achieving this final but darned perfect result.

Smile also had its fair share of clever lyrics including double-meanings, wordplay and all-round wit. This humour also made its way into the recording sessions with “Vega-Tables” featuring the sound of Paul McCartney chewing celery. While recording “The Elements: Fire (Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow)” Wilson took a leaf out of Macca’s book by making everyone wear fire hats. But this all ended in sadness because when a fire broke out nearby, Wilson’s paranoia got the better of him and he felt personally responsible for causing it, yet another thing to add to the litany of problems plaguing the proceedings.

Elsewhere “The Woody Woodpecker Theme” is sampled while “Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)” shares a few things in common with Johnny Preston’s version of “Running Bear”. The bonus tracks include two stereo mixes of “Heroes & Villains,” a demo of “Vega-Tables” and a montage of the boys’ backing vocals. These tracks twinkle with their artistic pop creativity, melodic feel and altogether dreamy optimism, much like the remainder of the music on offer. The set also has its moments of madness and chaos with the record perhaps inheriting a bit of its erratic creator’s personality.

God only knows what would’ve happened had “Smile” been completed and released in the sixties. The fact is it has remained an enduring phenomenon for decades and when you hear the sunny pop, colourful psychedelia and experimental avant-garde sounds it’s easy to understand why (especially when you give the collection multiple spins and are rewarded to discover new worlds on repeat listens). Like a collection of precious gems, this set is multi-facetted and a truly heavenly spectacle that lived up to the notion that it was going to be unlike any Beach Boys album released before or since. The Smile Sessions really is the holy grail of pop music and almost forty years on remains fresh and articulate; an absolute pleasure to smile, nod and soak up every inch of these good vibrations. Magnificent.

Originally published on 25 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/the_smile_sessions_beach_boys_the

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ALBUM REVIEW: FIONN REGAN – 100 ACRES OF SYCAMORE

To be likened to Bob Dylan can seem equally cliched and complimentary. But spare a thought for Irish troubadour, Fionn Regan, who had none other than Lucinda Williams describe him as this generation’s answer to the musical poet. The fact that Regan writes lyrically rich folk songs makes it seem like an apt comparison, particularly when you consider the guy pulled a Dylan by going electric on his sophomore effort, The Shadow of an Empire.

Now up to album number three, 100 Acres of Sycamore and it seems that Regan is recapturing his roots in various ways. The music is again from the folk genre like his Mercury nominated debut, The End Of History. But its numerous references to nature make it like a skip through Winnie The Pooh’s forest home where the trees are abundant and contain large roots, full of the rings and markings of history.

Across 12 songs the listener is treated to some James Taylor-like vocals and music that sits in the mid-tempo range i.e. wistful folk brimming with acoustic guitars. It is a tad melancholic, but not so dark that you couldn’t sit back in the sunshine in a flimsy dress and enjoy the proceedings. The fact is it’s pretty and full of introspective moments that can be as gentle and tender as a feathery touch.

The title track sets things up with a call to arms: “Rise Up Brother,” while the music sounds like some water is kissing the sea. It sees layers of strings combined with a folk sound; think like Lior’s Corner Of An Endless Road. Then again, we should note that the aforementioned Melbournite was taking a leaf or two out of a Nick Drake songbook. Once called up and ready, the listener then gets a taste for Regan’s love of dangerous women in”Sow Mare Bitch Vixen”.

“The Horses Are Asleep” is an interesting prospect. We get some delicate and genteel vocals delivering what on paper could seem completely sinister. Consider: “I doused this bull rush with petrol from a can/And into the forest with it I ran”. No, it’s not about petty arson. It’s actually about some wide-eyed wonder and latent approval of alfresco sex. It seems that these wild horses could have taken him (not just away).

Elsewhere we get “Dogwood Blossom,” which bears similarities with the work of Cat Stevens. “1st Day Of May” meanwhile, is as soft as a candle’s flame flickering in the moonlight. With its muted tones you could imagine Boy & Bear executing this one with ease.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of this record is that it allows the listener to get lost in a sea of velvet richness. The 12 songs – while gorgeous – do have a tendency to blend into one another. Yes, they’re calm and hushed ballads with mature and often witty lyrics but it does get rather repetitive, especially when “Golden Light” contains few words beyond the title. Then throw in the similarities between this work and the music of Dylan, not to mention Damien Rice and Andrew Bird to boot, and you’ll wind up feeling like it’s Ireland’s very own Groundhog Day.

100 Acres Of Sycamore is gorgeous, highly confident and assured. Heck, on the surface it may even have the makings of something rather special. But if you scratch away at this, you’ll find this tree is a far more common one and at times even a tad hollow.

Originally published on 23 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/31267/Fionn-Regan–100-Acres-Of-Sycamore

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LIVE REVIEW: FOSTER THE PEOPLE & LAST DINOSAURS @ ENMORE THEATRE (25.01.2012)

There were grey skies; a storm outside and torrential rain, yet on this summer’s night in Sydney inside the Enmore could’ve been a balmy day down Bondi Beach. Why? Because punters were treated to two fabulous young bands performing their own unique blend of sunny tunes with nary a care in the world and plenty of gusto.

Last Dinosaurs were on first and seemed a little beside themselves with the whole shebang. They first thought they hadn’t played a 45-minute set in so long but on reflection discovered they’d never played for this long. The solution was to go out and delve into their back catalogue (like their debut EP) for some songs. They delivered the goods and won over some equally enthusiastic new fans. By playing music that is as youthful and fun as Yves Klein Blue and with these guys on the verge of releasing a debut long-player, they certainly seem poised to pick up where the former left off.

‘Alps’ was buoyant rock music with lots of sweet flourishes before ‘Time & Place’ picked us up and sailed us away to Jamaica. There were sounds that could have been made by a Rastafarian with a kettledrum, cool attitude and lots of golden light. It was then time for a detour to Hawaii and more specifically, ‘Honolulu’. This one was all about the soundtrack to a proper summer where you have clean white sand between your toes, ice-cream melting down your front and a sea as blue and still as a cloudless sky. People smiled and swayed in recognition at this and the guys capped off their set with ‘Zoom,’ a more rocking track with hints of Papa vs. Pretty; it thankfully retained its peaches and cream-like charm and buttery goodness.

At 10 o’clock the Enmore was full and the audience were pumped up (not necessarily with kicks because that’d come later) in anticipation of their favourite band, Foster The People. ‘Houdini’ set the energy surging high in the room and for those afraid they’d peak to early they most certainly didn’t because the set was like a never-ending bag of musical tricks.

Part of the appeal of Foster The People has gotta be in the inclusive nature of it all. The guys look like their audience and in reality you probably could’ve gotten just about any random audience member to come up and have a go and a good number of people wouldn’t be able to spot the difference. Then combine this with the genuine enthusiasm the guys seem to have for their music and performing in general. Make sure you mix this with a well-timed set of lights shone up the front and it doesn’t take a genius to see the crowd feeding off the band and vice versa.

That said, the real star of tonight’s show was Mark Foster because the guy seems to be able to do just about everything. He plays guitar, keyboards and percussion. He sings and obviously writes but perhaps most famously, he can pull out a mean dance-move or ten. So in ‘Miss You’ for instance, we had some of the awkward motion for which Blondie’s Deborah Harry is known, some of the dicky-like bop that Guineafowl do well and some cheekiness to rival The Drums’ Jonathan Pierce.

‘Life On The Nickel’ had keys that seemed to sit somewhere between The Cure’s eastern-flavoured ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ and a computer game. This got everyone clapping with its intergalactic nature, buzzing fizz and almost disco trickery. The songs from their debut album, Torches came through thick and fast with ‘I Would Do Anything For You,’ ‘Don’t Stop (Color On The Walls)’ and the optimism-fueled, ‘Waste’.

Foster thanked us for our support because Australia had been one of the first places to break the band. It was easy to see why this was the case with their excellent songs including ‘Broken Jaw’ sharing a few things in common with our homegrown talent, Midnight Juggernauts.

The audience were one of the best-behaved groups I have ever encountered. From start to the finish they had their arms or fingers pointed up in the air. The guys would only need a dollar for each time they saw this in order to retire tomorrow. The crowd danced, smiled and in ‘Call It What You Want’ when Foster tripped, they were rooting for him to get back up on the figurative horse and continue. I’d wager that these guys will be a big hit at the Big Days Out around the country.

The boys then decided to do a cover of Weezer’s ‘Say It Ain’t So’. Foster told us a story about how he moved back to LA when he was 18 and was writing songs on the guitar with Weezer’s Blue Album proving a big influence. Little did he know that in the coming years Rivers Cuomo and Co. would cover a Foster The People song! This number was a big one that meant there were some almighty shoes to fill but it was quite easily lost on the majority of the youngsters who just wanted to dance and listen to Torches. But when they performed ‘Helena Beat’ all was right in the world again because it included the funniest sight. A woman was sitting on her friend’s shoulders and was moshing with a large pink, inflatable mic. As you do.

The crowd were well and truly hooked so there was always going to be an encore. This included an unreleased ballad with Foster at the keys and the kids with their spirit fingers in the air swaying and getting their camera phones out. It was a pretty pop number with electronic flourishes and like a lot of their material had hints of the Foals before a tribal-like ‘Warrant’ was served.

But all good things must come to an end and ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ was the one everyone had come out to see. The set closer created goose bumps and we watched this under coloured lights with everybody singing and pumping up their fists high in the air. There was an extended solo and some dancing in the shadows before Foster came up to the barrier to belt out a final chorus and clasp a few lucky fans’ hands.

Foster The People had proven themselves to be worthy of every bit of hype that’s been thrown in their direction as of late. Their songs are stellar, their live show genuine, enthusiastic, fun and just plain exemplary. Call it what you want but when you consider that people could’ve been watching the tennis, seeing a movie or doing a myriad of other things, this band proved that there is nothing that meets the almost drug-like euphoria of seeing an amazing live act in the zone.

 

Originally published on 27 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.pagesdigital.com/review-foster-the-people-enmore-theatre/

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LIVE REVIEW: KASABIAN & THE VACCINES @ HORDERN PAVILION (24.01.2012)

Since forming in early 2010 the constant question that’s been asked about the opening act is “What did you expect from The Vaccines?” Well, if the series of punchy songs, meteoric rise and many celebrity fans are anything to go by, then the answer to the name of their debut album would be fun and exuberant guitar music. And their 45-minute set at the Hordern Pavilion was really no exception.

The two lots of seats on either side of the venue had been cordoned off but it was not like the kids and older punters were gonna need ‘em because tonight was not about music to sit and “chill” to. It came as no surprise that the group rolled on-stage to another band asking a question, The Ramones with “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” The sound these four London lads make is certainly influenced by the American punk rockers but often theirs is extended with additional flourishes and embellishments taking in their other influences like early rock and roll, pop and dirty guitar riffs.

‘Blow It Up’ was the first of their rocking tunes that shared a few things in common with Franz Ferdinand’s brand of guitar music that you can also dance to. At barely 1:30 ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ was a Ramones-like, fireball of energy that was over in a flash. It definitely left people wanting more and they received new single, ‘Tiger Blood’ to ail their troubles.

Frontman, Justin Young may have been playing a guitar that Jack White could have used but during ‘A Lack Of Understanding’ he’d set this aside for just a mic and the opportunity to belt out some mean vocals. His stage performance actually seemed a lot like The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas as he shuffled around the stage, casually put his foot on the monitors and sang a sweet pop song with just the right amount of melancholy before the gleeful, ‘Wetsuit’.

There were some blistering guitar riffs that call to mind guitar-playing legends like Thurston Moore and J. Mascis and fit with the subject matter of the offered song (‘Teenage Icons’). Guitarist, Freddie Cowan (the brother of Tom from The Horrors) and bassist, Árni Hjörvar joined with Young to strike some Status Quo-like poses before the romper-stomper, ‘Under Your Thumb’.

The remaining tracks: ‘All In White,’ ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ and ‘Nørgaard’ whizzed by like a cloud of dust but it was ‘If You Wanna’ that proved a real highlight. The A-grade party hit is certainly the closest thing they’ve written to resemble perfection. Unfortunately, it also feels like a lot of their other tunes are imitations of this or at the very least borrow one or two ideas from it. It may be a winning formula (and heck, some people have built careers on a song) but it does leave you wanting a little something more. In short, The Vaccines (like the Sydney punks and slackers Straight Arrows and Step-Panther, respectively) aren’t out to save the world but what they do offer is pretty solid, feel-good party anthems and they do this all in spades.

Now make no mistake, Kasabian are one self-assured band. Confident and at times a little too cocky, they’ve seen groups like Oasis implode before their very eyes but have also seized the opportunity to step-up to the plate with their own goods. From the get-go they were out to tease and gee up the crowd. But the guys ticked all the boxes when it came to rock star cliché. The boys were either clad in black, wearing Bono-esque sunglasses indoors (and at night) and then there was the oh-so-subtle plug for their merch by wearing your own band t-shirt. Nice.

Those Gallagher brothers could’ve actually written opener, ‘Days Are Forgotten.’ Although this would have had to be in much happier times and they’d have had to use some of the guitar-work from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. This number was a dark and black one to precede the rainbow fun of ‘Shoot The Runner’ because it proved as colourful as the Empire single’s fabulous, animated video clip.

The title track from their most recent effort, Velociraptor! was shaggy and rough – much like their guitarist Sergio Pizzorno and like him, it too got a good reaction from the crowd. But this, like many of the numbers tonight felt rather contrived. Singer, Tom Meighan kept bellowing out variations of “Put your hands up” and “Sydney!” or telling us that he wanted to see some pandemonium and the like. At times this got the desired result but at other moments it felt rather forced, as if people were only doing this because they were being yelled to. And this was not helped by the wankfest that was Meighan reading out an inappropriate note to Pizzorno that could’ve been made up for all we know.

Like their fellow countrymen, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian wear their love of football on their sleeves and ‘Underdog’ really is like the latter’s answer to the former band’s ‘Never Miss A Beat’. A broody anthem that is also a lot like Placebo and modern-day Depeche Mode, Meighan used it to promote some loutish behaviour with some of his own over-the-top showmanship and clapping. It seemed like a paint-by-the-numbers guide to entertaining and felt a lot like that scene in Almost Famous when the ‘F**king lead singer’ talks about when they perform and if he’s sees someone who isn’t getting off then he damn well makes sure that he gets them off.

Of course, hooliganism can also descend into full-blown anarchy and craziness and that’s not something this band needs to necessarily promote. For a start, they’re named after a Charles Manson cult member and they’ve had an album called West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It’s no surprise then that in ‘Where Did All The Love Go?’ various members of the audience decided to stage their own mini-revolution by smoking or the dozens of others that decided this was an opportune time to get on the shoulders of a friend for some vertical pump action. This prompted Meighan to christen ‘Re-wired’ as the “Girlfriends on shoulders” song and at a later point three wags took this to new extremes by making up an almost totem-pole of wiggling bodies and it was bloody amazing they didn’t hurt themselves or the unfortunates around them.

Before ‘I.D.’ Pizzorno dashed across the stage in what seemed like the 300th effort to get people totally wired à la The Fall while ‘I Hear Voices’ was the embodiment of some other sounds from Manchester. At times it was like the Happy Mondays and at other moments like their one-time labelmates, New Order, as the keys swirled before the power and volume that was ‘Take Aim’. For ‘La Fée Verte’ Pizzorno would pull out an acoustic guitar but this ballad didn’t prove all that different from one of their standard rock numbers.

Messer Pizzorno would lead ‘LSF’ before the sentimental vibe and innocence of ‘Goodbye Kiss’. A rousing end to the main set preceded the start of the encore where ‘Switchblade Smiles’ saw the first crowd surfer proper. It seemed by now the audience had really warned up and were in unity. They cut loose with the call and response of the electric noise-fueled ‘Vlad The Impaler’. But it was ‘Fire’ that was the biggie and so much harder, faster and stronger then the rest. It was a fitting way for the assembled throng to unify in ecstasy and see out the 90-minute rock set in style.

The guys had put on a satisfying rock show filled with bravado, bona fide crowd pleasers and numbers big and brash enough to fill a stadium or two. The kids had jumped, skipped and danced, sometimes through being forced but more often because of the drive and speed of the music, which boasted dense percussion and power chords aplenty. It was erratic and ecstatic and the sound was rather spot-on given the cavernous nature of the Hordern. Kasabian know all about reckless abandon and what needs to be done to get people there and unlike the wiped out velociraptor they sing of, this expedition proved rock is far from extinct, even if you have to fight for it.

Originally published on 27 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.pagesdigital.com/review-kasabian-the-vaccines-hordern-pavilion/

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ALBUM REVIEW: COSMO JARVIS – IS THE WORLD STRANGE OR AM I STRANGE?

US-born/UK-bred artist, Cosmo Jarvis is king of the slashies – singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer/mixer/filmmaker. Amongst these many roles, he’s also managed to produce his second album, Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange? a hyper collection of eleven creative tunes that covers much terrain, with genres like: folk, indie, funk, reggae, rock, punk and rap represented. This means there’s a little something for everyone even though most people probably won’t “get” every track.

This album is like the musical equivalent to Dick Van Dyke’s character in Mary Poppins (that is, if he had a mic and a computer added to his kit). It seems like everything and the kitchen sink has been added here in some form or another so comparisons to Damon Albarn and Gotye seem apt. That said this LP is a complex affair that will most definitely divide people because at its worst it is uncomfortable, indulgent and inconsistent with its many twists and layers. But these things are also what lend the record a certain charm because many people will applaud the left field and experimental nature of things, because there are any number of acts that can keep putting out carbon copies of themselves.

Lead track, “Gay Pirates” is a bona fide hit having gone viral and received nods of approval by no less than Stephen Fry et al. It’s a sea shanty and tune about homosexual seamen (geddit?) The use of the mandolin and offbeat nature make me think of a Phil Judd-lead Split Enz meeting the band they transformed into after some line-up changes to release the Time & Tide record. It is also the best example of Jarvis’ ability to take serious ideas and opinions but to present them in a light-hearted and often funny manner, a rare but common theme across these eleven songs.

“Blame It On Me” is a country hoedown boasting some finger-pickingly good acoustic riffs, languid harmonica and a punchy stomp. The title track is equally as sunny but is a rap tune that plays out like Jarvis is sitting on his back porch having some deep and meaningful thoughts about the state of the world. This continues into “My Day” where he screams and uses abrasive and dirty guitar riffs to play the character of grumpy guy to a tee.

But don’t go thinking Jarvis is just another angry, young man. While opinionated and acerbic, there is also a humour that underpins the majority of his work such that you could see the links between him and artists like Dan Kelly, Darren Hanlon and Laura Imbruglia. “The Talking Song” is an example of this because it includes chatter but is actually about people that don’t engage in this activity. Confused? It’s about the majority of people that avoid communicating with others on London’s packed Underground and is a sentiment that any Aussie that commutes to a big city can relate to.

On other tracks like “Let Me Out Of My Head” we see Jarvis almost performing the role of Pied Piper even though his instruments of choice are bongos and acoustic guitars. The latter is also used in “She Doesn’t Mind” which sounds like Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” being sung by someone that’s had a tad too much red cordial. But the most off-the-wall number is definitely the closer, “Betty”. It has everything from sinister Adams Family-like keys, cheery Yves Klein Blue guitars (think Polka ), The Living End’s punch, some chirpy Disney-inspired keys, a waltz feel and a playful vibe. Like many of the other cuts on this LP, this tries to cram at least ten disparate elements into one song with varying degrees of success.

So if you’re thinking that Cosmo Jarvis is simply the guy responsible for the novelty hit, “Gay Pirates”, then you’d better think again. He is actually a talented and wacky eccentric because this record plays like a mammoth YouTube marathon. Moving from one song to another is like clicking from one video to the next where there are often few threads in common save a desire for something new, fresh and interesting.

Equally engaging and jarring, Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange? proves that Jarvis is one interesting, idiosyncratic and peculiar individual who can do quirky, clever, thoughtful and honest in one serving and still leave room for a little something more. So the answer to “Is the world strange?” is a vehement most certainly. Jarvis is living proof that the world is odd and reminds us that the truth is often stranger than fiction.

Originally published on 18 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/31270/Cosmo-Jarvis–Is-The-World-Strange-Or-Am-I-Strange

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LIVE REVIEW: NICK ZINNER’S 41 STRINGS @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (22.01.2012)

 

For a show titled 41 Strings the last thing people expected to see was a stage filled with 20 drummers and two keyboardists. Then again, for a show written by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner and featuring his bandmate, Brian Chase on the drums, some people probably weren’t expecting so many elder-looking punters at the early show. It seemed that even from the outset, this event was custom-built to challenge any preconceived notions.

The proceedings began with IIII a piece written by Hisham Akira Bharoocha (Soft Circle), Ben Vida (Soft Circle) and Robert AA Lowe (90 Day Men). An army of drummers and percussionists that read like a who’s who of local music (with members from no less than: The Mess Hall, Smudge, Wolfmother, Big Heavy Stuff, The Paper Scissors, Straight Arrows, PVT, Midnight Juggernauts, Grafton Primary, The Laurels and Border Thieves) performed four rhythms based on the four seasons from spring to summer, autumn and finally, winter.

The guys looked like the Qantas children’s choir in their black and white clothes and were assembled in a circle and this looked a lot like The White Stripes’ “Hardest Button To Button” video clip. It created a great vibe amongst the musicians but it also meant that the best vantage points were probably the tiered seats above the stage.

IIII started with the gentlest of taps, like chopsticks caressing the rim of a pair of cymbals and lots of brushwork followed as the musicians from each quarter ultimately joined in. The noise went from near quiet to what could’ve been the soundtrack to a modern art exhibition and eventually landed as a tribal cacophony that was so loud and ferocious you could almost imagine the vibrations causing a tsunami in Sydney Harbour.

The whole affair was under 30 minutes of volume, power and a sheer brute force. Brian Chase almost seemed at odds with this section’s heaviness because he was in his element smiling and swaying through even the most vigorous parts. After the show when some Chinese New Year festivities were taking place around the city, the drums accompanying the dancing dragons almost seemed sedate to this frolic and roll through the punches.

After an interval it was time for the Australian premiere of 41 Strings; only the second time the work had been performed in public. Originally composed to celebrate the anniversary of the 41st Earth Day in New York City and the successor to the 40 Drums project, it was written specifically for acoustic and electric strings and percussion.

Like IIII, Zinner’s symphony used the seasons as inspiration to chronicle the ups and downs experienced over the course of a year to eventually make a swirling mass of sound produced by eight guitars, two basses, three drum kits, a synth and a 31-piece string orchestra featuring violin, viola, cello and double-bass. At times the air was dark and broody but this sadness was also matched by feelings of joy, elation and ultimately, hope.

The first movement was like water glistening in the sunshine with lush and romantic strings coupled with chiming guitars and pretty synth. The effect was of something fresh and pure, like a field of grass devoid of footprints or a cloudless sky. Zinner stood at the centre of the stage mostly playing and occasionally conducting. He swayed and mouthed thank you to the applause but was also clearly unable to avoid cracking a smile every so often at what must have felt like a remarkable experience.

The next movement was a darker experience so whereas the first was all about gaiety and light, this one just seemed rather heart wrenching and sad. The mood would lift for the third part as the guitars were strummed with blind fury, the cellos heaved and some feathery drumbeats were offered. This one seemed darker but in a rough-around-the-edges way while the guitar riffs could’ve been lifted from a pop-punk song that sits just on the tip of your tongue and all this before the climactic drum-off between Chase and Ryan Sawyer (Tall Firs).

The final movement started with a beguiling, hymn-like choir of violins courtesy of performers from the Australian Youth Orchestra before some guitar riffs that could’ve been the baby cousin of “Maps” showered us in light. The feeling of the music also seemed to share a few things in common with the rock opera, Tommy and more specifically it’s closer, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. Basically, this one was all sugar and velvet and proved a stirring end to the epic creation, one that was rewarded by a standing ovation by some members of the crowd.

41 Strings was one grandiose and emotional journey through the seasons as the sounds tickled our senses and stirred our hearts with driving melancholia, heavenly thoughts plus some not often felt elation at the passing of time and its bedfellow, change. Philosophers may continue for centuries to ponder the answer to the meaning of life but it seemed like this particular date with the night almost held the solution and it was found blowing in the wind and in the vibrations in the air of the Opera House’s concert hall. In short, amazing.

 

Originally published on 24 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/events/31275/41-Strings-by-Nick-Zinner-Sydney-Opera-House-22112

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ALBUM REVIEW: SUPERHEAVY – SELF-TITLED

Superheavy were conceived as a “Mad alchemist-type experiment” and have a name inspired by the great, Muhammad Ali. But amid all the backslapping and self-congratulation because this group are intergenerational, intercultural and are attempting to create new genres in sound, the whole exercise seems a rather expensive one in self-indulgent, garish music.

There’s no denying that the band had the makings of something rather super. Take a rock legend (Mick Jagger); add a soul diva (Joss Stone); combine with a synth-pop hero (Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart); and mix gently with reggae artist, Damian Marley and Bollywood film score composer, A. R. Rahman. The quintet boast 11 Grammy awards between them and the individuals clearly brought their favourite genres to the musical table, not to mention the fortes they possess in their chosen area. They say they wanted a convergence of different styles and boy did they get it!

The whole shebang started when Stewart was at home in Jamaica enjoying the warm sounds washing in with the breeze. Like a mad scientist he decided to get some friends and other people in to jam. They would make 35 hours worth of music that they eventually whittled down to 12 songs. The recording process was equally as convoluted with parts completed in no less than LA, Cyprus, Turkey, Miami, India, the Caribbean and the South of France. These scenes are as exotic as the marriage of musical styles on offer from reggae to bluesy R&B, rock ballads to Indian pop, hip-hop and Caribbean rhythms. Basically, it’s the Americas meets the islands and the East and all via Mother England.

At times the group sound like they’re having a ball noodling away while at other moments things seem awkward, contrived and plain cliched. Like the title track where they sing: “We are superheavy” in case we were unaware or Joss Stone asking, “What the fuck is going on?” on “I Can’t Take It No More”. The second song, “Unbelievable” doesn’t fare much better as it contains the well worn: “It’s unbelievable/never wanna give it up…nothing lasts forever”.

The debut single, “Miracle Worker” is the closest realisation to what Stewart thought up by the sea. With its fusion of reggae and rock, it is an effective taster to the remainder of the LP. “Satyameva Jayathe” is the complete opposite, as it’s all in Sanskrit and is built around a choir and some music from the fiddle selling India’s national motto: “Truth alone triumphs”.

“Energy” is perhaps one of the group’s most overdone tracks. It features numerous guitar power chords, some harmonica from a 60s R & B track, dub music, a wailing Joss Stone and Mick Jagger rapping (who doesn’t fair much better elsewhere as he seems like a whiny caricature of his finer self). Like a lot of the proceedings you can imagine the guys in the studio having an exchange like the following:
“Right, let’s do a reggae song”
“But we’ve gotta add some heavy guitar riffs”
“Don’t forget the Eastern flavours”
“Wait, what about the synth?”
“Well, we could just write something softer and more political…”
“Hell, let’s just try and tackle the lot”

Superheavy is a bewildering and weird collection of jams that only occasionally verge on being songs. Often like oil and water, the many different elements don’t gel and adding everything and the kitchen sink does not prove that this lot are creating new movements in style and sound.

While you’ve gotta admire the ambition of the participants, there is little doubt that once the curiosity over the talent wears off this circus-like hodgepodge will simply register off the scales thanks to its bloated nature and will completely disappear off the radar because it does little to sustain listeners’ attentions beyond the rather polite first listen.

 

Originally published on 4 January 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/31272/Superheavy–Superheavy

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REWIND ALBUM REVIEW: BEN SALTER – THE CAT

It seems like Ben Salter is set to take on the likes of Dave McCormack, Tim Rogers, Tex Perkins, et al. for the title of hardest working man in Australian Music. His list of credentials is almost tiring to read- from the intelligent hard rock of Giants Of Science to the folk/rock/country of The Gin Club, the garage skuz of The Young Liberals and bluegrass/folk from Wilson Pickers. And then there’s the busking and moonlighting in short-lived outfits The Hi Waves, Fatal 4 and Megafauna. The guy seems to have practically done it all and certainly had no shortage of people to support him in producing his long-awaited solo debut, The Cat.

The record was recorded and produced with Gareth Liddiard and Robert F. Cranny (Sarah Blasko) at Liddiard’s rural studio in Havilah, Victoria. The list of guests includes the former’s bandmates in The Drones: Fiona Kitschin and Dan Luscombe while Mike Noga received a songwriting credit for “I Am Not Ashamed”. Other guest musicians include Gin Club alumni Angus Agars and Ola Karlsson, plus jazz saxophonist Julie Wilson and many others. It was a cast of thousands, from those offering musical duties to the many supporters that funded the project via IndieGoGo (and yes, they all rate a mention in the liner notes).

The songs for The Cat were ones Salter says didn’t fit any of the aforementioned formats or that he was simply reluctant to part with. Some were certainly persistent forces to be reckoned with considering they’re over ten years old. So if you’re thinking this album is just another solo outing by a bandmember who is offering a slightly quieter affair with an acoustic guitar and playing the songwriting troubadour, then you’re sadly mistaken. Salter himself admits that there are touches of all his projects to be found here, but as a whole it sounds like no one in particular. He’s got a point, because with instruments like the Hurdy Gurdy, saxophone and Swedish bagpipes, there is always some extra embellishment or flourish to keep things interesting.

One thing Salter learned during the whole process was that he and Liddiard have a shared sense of restlessness, meaning they get bored easily. To combat this, they took an unconventional approach to the pop, rock and folk format. Salter admired Scott Walker’s documentary, 30 Century Man and opted for an organised chaos approach with the musicians. They were not allowed to hear much (or all) of the tracks that they would ultimately contribute to; there would be no guidelines or playbacks and it was a maximum of three attempts at each song. Not only did it all work in their favour, it also gave the proceedings a live and endearing, captured-in-a-moment feel.

The title track began life as a poem after a neighbourhood cat was tormented by a gang of birds. “Opportunities” – like a number of the songs offered here – starts off sounding like an acoustic Josh Pyke-esque number before a curveball like some bagpipes or some other such layer is thrown into the basket. Elsewhere, there are potshots at Brisbane’s Valley nightlife (“West End Girls”), a song by Cranny (“German Tourist”) and cuts originally written for The Young Liberals (“Once In A Life Time”) and Wilson Pickers (“Opportunities.“)

“Things Fall Apart” is a tender, piano ballad that precedes “So Tired Tonight” where Salter sings personal and rather witty, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. These include: “I’m a funny fuck, all-singing and all-dancing/Destined to give up and let the good Lord give me cancer”
“I Am Not Ashamed” meanwhile, was a waltz that transformed into a disordered pop-punk song with intergalactic keys courtesy of the Korg.

Over the years Salter has received compliments like “World’s greatest songwriter” from those in the know (including no less than one Tim Rogers). His blend of pop songwriting has been likened to the melancholy introspection of Elliott Smith and Nick Drake and the poignant opulence of Neil Finn and Paul Kelly’s tomes. Salter has worn many guises and as a result, his solo debut is equally rich, varied and relatable. It’s the product of a musical life well-lived where creativity has been honed just by doing and of course, getting out of your comfort zone. In short, The Cat is a clever and emotive pop/folk gem, a product of diverse experience that will stand the test of time.

 

Originally published on 10 October 2011 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/30357/Ben-Salter–The-Cat

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REWIND DVD REVIEW: DEAD KENNEDYS – IN GOD WE TRUST, INC. – THE LOST TAPES

The In God We Trust, Inc.- The Lost Tapes DVD has to be the ultimate wet dream for the hardcore Dead Kennedys fan. On June 19th 1981 the legendary punk band recorded the In God We Trust, Inc. EP at Subterranean studios but a defective tape meant those sessions could not be used in the final mixing process (because it deteriorated on playback). Instead, they had to go re-record things two months later at Mobius studios and the sound from the original session hadn’t seen the light of day until now. Five songs have been rescued and remastered and packaged with some live footage (that the hardcore fans would’ve no doubt already bootlegged).

What follows is just under an hours worth of gritty, up close and personal footage at the studio where you can almost smell the blood, sweat, cigarettes and alcohol (not to mention the odd smells from the sticky carpet). There are some mistakes and false starts, some between-song banter and a no-bullshit, lay ‘em down quick and dirty approach. The numbers are often belted out with a Ramones-like, breakneck speed with absolutely minimal faffing about with tuning or sound levels. It’s just four blokes playing together live in a room and getting on with it!

The candid studio experience certainly ain’t a new thing and given the age of this particular footage, the visuals have actually come up rather nicely. The studio itself really does live up to its “Subterranean” name because even the viewer can gauge the tiny size, oppressive heat (with singer, Jello Biafra often shirtless) and mangy carpet.

The five rescued songs are: “Religious Vomit,” “Rawhide,” “Hyperactive Child,” “We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now” and “Nazi Punks F**k Off”. There are also live versions of the aforementioned and some other songs taken from American shows that took place between 1979 and 1986. These see the band at varying points wearing tape over their lips, donning ridiculous hats and Biafra sprayed with beer by fervent fans. The overarching theme however, is of four angry young men with opinions and above all, profound political messages.

The Dead Kennedys had styled their music on the Ramones and Sex Pistols (even going so far as to want to be America’s answer to the latter Britons). They played their own incredibly fast, hardcore music full of brute force, volume and fury like multiple kicks in the teeth. For the trainspotter fans, there is a live version of “Kepone Factory” with different lyrics to the recorded offering and “We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now” makes two appearances. One is a much jazzier kind to the vicious sneer of the recorded output.

If there’s any fault to be had with the collection it’s that it’s too short and could’ve been combined with the accompanying The Early Years release. But then we should note that these ARE punk songs and not Led Zeppelin epics. Also, the animated titles introducing the tracks are both jarring and stupid. They’re very contemporary and similar to NOFX’s “Franco Un-American” clip and don’t really fit with the feeling of the raw live and studio footage; although I realise I’m being rather pedantic.

In God We Trust, Inc. is best summed up by radio DJ and music critic Anthony Bonet who introduces the feature and described it as: “Four young men channeling their punk influences with such exuberance and self-confidence that they come up with something distinctly their own”. It may have been a 30-year wait but it’s one that was certainly worth it…

 

Originally published on 4 May 2011 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/28386/Dead-Kennedys–In-God-We-Trust-Inc-The-Lost-Tapes

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