LIVE REVIEW: JOHN BUTLER & FELICITY GROOM @ THE METRO THEATRE (27.04.2012)

Photo credit: Katja Liebing – Blue Moon Photography

 

Friday night at The Metro was an intimate affair between a man and a woman. Two Perth singer-songwriters cracked open the guitar cases and played a set of personal and stripped-back songs with little more than an impressive stage set for company.

Felicity Groom performed with just an electric guitar in a set-up and feel that was rather similar to Adalita from Magic Dirt. She initially won over the crowd by cracking a coy joke about her song, a little one about killing things that showcased her ethereal vocals. Similarly, “Only 2722.66KM” was described as one written about a guy from Melbourne who was nice but didn’t really deserve to have it written about him. It was rather aching and had soft tones, a different vibe entirely to the following where the guitars seemed to chime and jangle.

The audience was a rather large one and initially they gave this diminutive songstress their undivided attention, taking in every moment of her angelic voice. She dropped a cover of Mental As Anything’s “Live It Up,” which actually came across as a rather broody and atmospheric number by a femme fatal, about a million light years away from the glistening pop of the eighties original. It received loud cheers but these soon dissipated when Groom switched over to the Autoharp. She would finish with “Siren Song” and “An Ache”.

Before the two sets there would be an introduction that kindly asked everyone to refrain from talking and to switch off their phones. These initially worked, but both artists had moments where rude audience members were talking loudly. One lady at the back of the Metro was so noisy you’d think she was giving a speech outdoors, without a mic and as such, was over-compensating. Very annoying.

John Butler came onstage and the enthusiasm was high as he played, “Gonna Be A Long Time” for the “Beautiful f**king people” in the audience. The tour had been named “Tin Shed Tales” and the backdrop was some corrugated iron fashioned into a shed-like piece decorated by tea lights, musical instruments, skateboards and art. They were the kinds of things you would imagine in Butler’s shed back home.

Without a band and seated on a small stool, Butler could’ve been busking back in Perth, just like he did in the early days of his career. Except that anyone who expected just acoustic guitar and vocals would be sadly mistaken because he would use extra elements like a stomp box, delay pedals and loops to create an almost full-band sound just like Liam Finn did on his debut, solo album tour. And there was certainly nothing lacking when all of this was combined with Butler’s stellar, virtuoso-like playing.

Some toe-tapping goodness was rife in “Better Than,” a hit performed on the banjo that proved to be a feel-good number despite the lyrics touching on the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Like many of the songs performed tonight, it boasted music that had a rustic cool and homespun, country charm that was so pure and wonderful. “Good As Gone” – a loved but easily forgotten B-side – was an old, blues-fuelled track you could imagine Jack White performing.

One of the most important cuts of the evening was Butler’s new offering, “Kimberley”. Before playing it he would describe the issues facing the West-Australian region at the moment as the state’s premier wants to build a large gas mine on an area of unspoilt wilderness. The song ultimately soared and has hit written all over it. It also clearly has its heart in the right place because it delivers a message to people while allowing them to simultaneously enjoy and nod along to it.

The former number wasn’t the only one that got Butler talking this evening. In fact, he was in a rather chatty mood cracking jokes about pot, swearing and even sharing some rather personal details about himself. We would learn that he was born on April Fool’s Day, his parents both had the same surname even though they weren’t related and they married when he was three years old. He attributed all of these reasons to making him an absolute smart-arse, something that was particularly evident when he shot down a couple of annoying people that called out.

He’d also tell us about receiving a precious guitar that was once owned by his grandfather, the man he was named after. In a fitting tribute to his grandparents and Irish ancestry he played a fragile, tear-inducing cover of “Danny Boy”. You could hear a pin drop during this but after it was finished the chatter began again, only to be silenced by Butler playing a long but impressive intro to “Pickapart”. Butler was almost like a pied piper silencing these offenders and really, you couldn’t fault his performance or say that he was doing anything to cause these outbursts. It was most probably just the wrong choice of venue for this kind of show, because this would’ve been better suited to a smaller, seated theatre rather than one typically synonymous with loud rock or dance music.

“Revolution” featured lots of layered beat-boxing and vocals that gave it as much spirit and power as a 60s Motown group while “Used To Get High” was some stoner fun. There was the heart-on-the-sleeve pop of “Losing You” before the bopping swagger of “Zebra” that came complete with some great, blues-infused harmonica.

It was a rather stirring ending to the main event but Butler would return for an encore. “Jenny” saw him pair up with Felicity Groom for some genteel, acoustic folk. He then decided that because he’d spoken a lot tonight – both through his friendly, between-song banter and the thoughtful messages in his songs – he would leave us with an instrumental number. It was “Ocean” the epic, artistic piece that he described as being about peace, love, wars, killing and how he feels about his family, friends and fans. Butler says it articulates what he is unable to put into words about these wonderfully, complex topics and emotions.

Rather than do it a great disservice and try to simplify the former into words, I won’t. But I will say that “Tin Shed Tales” was an absolute joy to watch. It was amazing to see an extremely gifted musician bare his soul and reveal a lot about himself and his craft. He shared so much that it had felt like a quiet, one-on-one situation in your own lounge room. In short, we learnt, laughed and even cried and the journey was worth every minute.

 

Originally published on 29 April 2012 at the following website: http://lifemusicmedia.com/?p=22056

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EP REVIEW: THE CAIROS – COLOURS LIKE FEATURES

The quality of the artists from Brisbane – both past and present – has often lead people to declare that there’s something in the water up north. But I like to think that acts like DZ Deathrays, Last Dinosaurs and now, The Cairos have simply had a lot of fun in the tropical sun. With red cordial. And sugar.

Colours Like Features is The Cairos’ new EP, their first since signing to Island Records and their third overall. This quartet have grown up on a diet of melodic sixties pop and some contemporary shoegaze bands. These influences can be heard colouring the group’s own upbeat, indie pop tunes in what are easily becoming new additions to a summer catalogue of fun.

“Shame” starts things off with a bang. Some fiery drums open up to reveal an immediately catchy and fresh number that brims with youthful vitality and energy. It came about after one rather busy day and this seems almost representative of all the tunes on offer, as it’s full of lots of people and different things. Plus, it’s hooky and artistic, meaning you could imagine Dappled Cities performing it. “Lena” meanwhile, sounds like it’s the work of their mates, Last Dinosaurs because it makes you wanna chuck your hands up in the air and dance to every second of its shiny, water-infused goodness.

The song, “Yeah No” may conjure up images of uncertainty but the truth is it just has a lot of stuff in it, so it is rather difficult to pin down. At different moments you can hear everything from driving beats to indie rock, from 80s pub rock guitars to the danceable pop that Michael Jackson once did so well. It’s a vibe that is repeated in “We All Buy Stars” because although it was inspired by a Kurt Vonnegut novel there is so much happening in the music with melody and light on a loopy repeat that at separate moments you can hear influences from Sonic Youth’s “Teenage Riot” to New Order, The Strokes and The Drums.

The final track, “Self Control” wraps some radio-friendly pleasantries with some breezy pop that eventually eases on the cruise-factor and high-tails it in a wave of dust for the kind of punch that British India typically pull. Producer, Wayne Connolly (The Vines, Boy & Bear, Josh Pyke) has done an excellent job working with these golden boys as the six tracks on offer bubble and fizz with so many good ideas. The songs achieve the rare feat of being cohesive but also have enough exciting elements to keep things interesting for repeat spins. In short, let this one light up your stereo as the temperature continues to decline into winter because here you’ll be guaranteed one warm glow.

 

Originally published on 25 April 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32366/The-Cairos–Colours-Like-Features

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FILM REVIEW: THE LADY

Earlier this year cinemagoers were treated to a look at life in Maggie’s farm in The Iron Lady.  Now it is time for an intimate portrait of The Steel OrchidThe Lady tells the story of the Burmese-English political activist, human rights advocate and political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi. Known to her supporters as Daw or The Lady, she helped spearhead Burma’s democracy movement.

Director Luc Besson (Léon, Nikita) brings this slow-burning biopic about an iconic and complex woman to the big screen. The story briefly touches on her early years in Rangoon. As a child she would learn about the assassination of her father – a general who helped negotiate the country’s independence from British rule. Unfortunately, he was killed just as this was being finalised and a military junta would assume charge, where an oppressive dictatorship was the order of the day.

The film – while informative – is a tad over-simplistic on the important, historic details. Instead, it tends to focus on the tense and emotional aspects of the ensuing years. After living abroad in England, marrying a “Foreigner” and becoming an “Oxford housewife,” Aung San Suu Kyi returns to Burma in 1988 to nurse her ailing mother. She hadn’t planned to spend very long there but her mind changed after witnessing the aftermath of the 8888 uprising where peaceful protestors and innocent civilians were slain or injured by the heavy-armed military. Her fellow country-people felt that thanks to her ancestry she held the key to install peace and freedom in the country and this culminated in the 1990 elections where her party won an overwhelming majority of the seats, a result that made her president-elect.

The military had other plans though and would place her under house arrest for a number of obscure, arcane laws. She would eventually spend 15 of the following 21 years under house arrest and only get to see her husband and sons on a handful of occasions. In this time she would become the first woman in Asia to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent and uncompromising struggle to assist humanity, like a more contemporary Ghandi or Martin Luther King.

Michelle Yeoh does an excellent job of negotiating this extraordinary lady’s different roles of mother, wife, daughter and noble leader. Similarly, David Thewlis gently portrays her supportive husband, Dr. Michael Aris and when matched together the pair reveal the intense turmoil the real-life couple experienced as their love endures despite the physical and political boundaries. It is heart wrenching to see the selfless sacrifices this pair will undergo as they compromise their own happiness for the greater good of the Burmese people.

The film is beautifully shot and provides an outstanding look at the relationship dynamics between family and country. It is tense, emotional and educational. At times it relies a little too much on the kind of clichéd Eastern wisdom typically seen in fortune cookies and kōan. This is coupled a rather slow-pace, which means that the rendering of the film could’ve been improved overall.

The Lady ultimately covers rather difficult subjects in a subtle and dignified way. It is an incredible, real-life story that is equally dramatic, maudlin and inspiring. While a tad flawed, it is worth the admission price alone to witness the story of a brave, genuine and uncompromising heroine. A living legend, this is one important history lesson if there ever was one.

Originally published on 27 April 2012 at the following website: http://lipmag.com/arts/film-arts/film-review-the-lady/

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ALBUM REVIEW: SETH LAKEMAN – TALES FROM THE BARREL HOUSE

Life is often a hard road. There’s the one less travelled, the hard-knock life and the first train to Strugglesville. English troubadour, Seth Lakeman sounds like he’s gone down all of these and even more at the humble age of 35. However, this could have been achieved by living vicariously through others and their interesting fables that border on folklore because his sixth studio album, “Tales from the Barrel House” is in keeping with this theme.

Lakeman’s no stranger to hard work, having built a name and reputation in both bands, ensembles and as a solo artist but it was the album, “Kitty Jay” that earned him a Mercury Prize nomination. It was recorded on a shoestring budget at his brother’s house and at times it feels like he wanted to replicate that earthy, home-grown vibe here. Proving less is more, he did most of the work himself – writing, performing, producing and mixing – and he relies heavily on instruments like the acoustic guitar, banjo and fiddle and these all ultimately prove there are many strings to this talented man’s bow.

“Tales from the Barrel House” is a 10-track ode to those jobs that were once considered a craft and are now being lost to the machinery and modernisation of everything. They are love letters to the dirty and underappreciated roles that were once the cornerstones of contemporary-living. So while Tony Robinson got on with it by literally getting his hands dirty with the series, The Worst Jobs in History, Lakeman is content to simply tell their stories. Often the stuff of folk legend, he brims with praise and celebration for these masters of true grit, the real stuff of blood, sweat and tears that doesn’t come from rock ‘n’ roll but tradition, identity and pride in your work.

Opening track, “More Than Money” was recorded down a mine in Morwellham. It has an old charm and a simple earthy feel. There is romance found in the darkness as Lakeman sings of mining for minerals while accompanied by violins aplenty. Consider the sage lines: “More than money can weigh you down/more than money can dig new ground”.

Like much of the album it is catchy but also boasts a raw honesty by revelling in the elements- metal, earth, rust and dust. “Blacksmiths Prayer” builds on a similar theme- speaking of an old craft through an epitaph to a life that has disappeared. The clangs of metal also match the rather eerie atmospherics, so forget The Breeders chirping about one divine hammer, this one wins and is reverential, visceral and quaint.

“The Watchmaker’s Rhyme” has a fun stomp and you could almost imagine it being played in the lower decks of the Titanic, complete with a gutbucket. “Hard Road” talks about it all being a difficult journey on your own and is reminiscent of James Vincent McMorrow even though the latter seems to lap up solitude. “The Sender” goes down a completely different street and captures the tender memories found in the letters once sent by two lovers.

Elsewhere, we get the cute, sing-along chime of “Apple of His Eye” while “Salt from Our Veins” makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Add to this a reworking of a traditional song from Cornwall and you’re set.

Perhaps the only real criticism of this album is the fact that the tracks often seem rather interchangeable. The slow-burning ballads and back-to-basics approach mean the numbers are often a little too familiar and reminiscent of their predecessors. So it’s basically akin to a stack of sepia photographs, at first glance they look alike but you can appreciate the subtle differences once you’ve invested some extra time in them.

“Tales from the Barrel House” features sentimental storytelling with ten odes to the town and country of the past. It is solid and textured folk pop that is often warm, a tad maudlin and ultimately very humble, pleasant and sincere. In all, the listening experience is like being taken by the hand by a proud, old-fashioned local on a rather mystical and quaint journey through the past. So sublimely rustic.

Originally published on 24 April 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/tales_from_the_barrel_house_seth_lakeman

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ALBUM REVIEW: DAWES – NOTHING IS WRONG

American quartet, Dawes have shown that nothing is wrong with a journey through the past. They won over a score of fans with their nostalgia-tinged debut, North Hills and now with album number two they continue to wear the sounds of Laurel Canyon and the influences of artists like Crosby, Stills and Nash and Neil Young prominently on their flannel sleeves.

Nothing Is Wrong is a record filled with 11 serene, mid-tempo tracks that tug at your heartstrings like a fair, acoustic guitar strum. It is very reflective and often sounds like some old treasure lifted from a vintage piece of vinyl covered in dust and taken from a shelf that was filled with rust. It is subtle and tuneful, full of gold of the genuine kind; no fool’s reside around here!

“Time Spent In Los Angeles” begins by traversing some well-trodden terrain. It is a wistful take on life on the road, one tackled recently by Big Scary except that here the music has a homely, familiar feel and is as easy listening as a song by The Eagles. It’s a vibe that will colour the majority of the material on here, with references to other artists often on the very tip of your tongue. It certainly rains true on “If I Wanted Someone,” which has Neil Young stamped all over it, from the distorted guitars to the talk about needing a maid.

There is also a classic feel on “Coming Back To A Man”. This one achieves the rare feat of sounding both catchy and laidback while “So Well” is a slower ballad. It again boasts what sounds like Mr. Young’s guitars but the harmonies could be by his one-time bandmates, Crosby, Stills and Nash. These are actually performed by brothers, Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith and together they look back at the dreams they had as children. Awwww.

Jackson Browne offers some backing vocals on “Fire Away”. This one’s a mellow pop number that is as pleasant as any one by Crowded House or Fleetwood Mac. “Moon In The Water” meanwhile, uses a light and feathery touch to produce an optimistic ditty about love and sets the mood high before the yearning, “Million Dollar Bill”. In the latter we hear the forlorn, Taylor Goldsmith aspiring to be an astronaut, the president, a movie star, basically rich and famous just so he can impress his lost love.

The lyrics on this album are also rather special. Often rather touching and very personal, they are comforting and hit the spot like the perfect cup of tea. Goldsmith may be 25-years-old but he often writes with the wisdom of a man at least double his age. In a curious twist, he says he uses a typewriter to write these down and it’s something he credits to making the final result more thoughtful because it’s a lot harder to change the words once they’ve been committed to paper.

Dawes are a self-described, American rock ‘n’ roll band that make smart and subtle storytelling look like an absolute breeze. Nothing Is Wrong certainly lives up to its title, as it is mature and confident with 11 melodious and tender tracks that will stir your heart with their muted charm. It may not be breaking new ground- heck, a lot of it was covered in the sixties and seventies (both literally and figuratively). But these guys have still managed to craft something that will resonate with modern fans despite the fact it sounds like it’s come from more old-fashioned charms like ink pens, leather-bound diaries and love letters. It’s all about the kind of tangible things that are worth nothing and everything, and that you’d put in a time capsule to document a chapter in lost love, desire, introspection and soul-searching, because no one remembers their first e-book.

 

Originally published on 20 April 2012 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/dawes—nothing-is-wrong-20042012.html

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LIVE REVIEW: LAST DINOSAURS, MILLIONS & THE GRISWOLDS @ OXFORD ART FACTORY (21.04.2012)

Forget Gorillaz and their Feel Good Inc. If there was an institution offering good times with super happy fun friends then Saturday’s show at Oxford Art Factory was where it was at. With three young, talented, homegrown and handsome bands on the bill to boot what more could you really ask for?

The Griswolds opened to a decent-sized crowd. They’re a quintet that utilise guitars, bass, drums, a laptop and additional percussion to create a rather full, round sound. Although, visually they looked rather haphazard. I know you shouldn’t judge a band by its cover but it was a tad jarring to watch a tough-guy in a Hawaiian shirt wearing face-paint, accompanied by a guitarist who looked like a cross between a heavy metal lover and a paisley-worshipper, while the drummer was content in his Kurt Cobain tee. It may have been random but what cohesiveness they lacked in this domain was certainly made up for in their psychedelic-tinged pop music that blended effortlessly together.

Truth be told, the frontman’s face paint could’ve been zinc. It looked cool and glowed in the dark, and I like to think it was an excellent compliment to the sunny music they made, so shit hot that he needed it for protection! Naturally, they made the perfect opening act to Last Dinosaurs because songs like “I Have Fallen For Your Spell” could’ve been by the latter, even though these guys use more percussion and some extra loops. At other moments their set seemed as madcap as one by Jinja Safari. They would close with the romp and glitter of “Mississippi” and follow it with another American-influence in “Heart On The Line,” which sounded like something by Vampire Weekend.

Millions are a rich four piece, perhaps not money wise but their sound is lush, layered, retro-tinged, with a modern twist. If they’d been old enough to live through the eighties one could imagine them being a little like The Church because they would have offered their, then modern, take on sixties sounds. Plus, they’ve got clear fans in the headliners, as various members of the band would enjoy watching their performance at different moments from the side of the stage.

They started with some shiny pop that was as light and youthful as a number by Yves Klein Blue, very catchy, melodious and hooky. “Those Girls” boasted rather wistful lyrics but musically – like the harmonies – it soared. This was followed by a track that started off like a slower ballad, an ode to yearning before the band notched it up to eleven with as much force and grunt as The White Stripes’ “Blue Orchid”. Nice.

While hints of the sixties had permeated the guitar sounds earlier in the set, a cover of “Be My Baby”– a hit made famous by The Ronettes – all but confirmed the group’s obvious penchant for this particular era. Their parents would’ve been kids during this time and they certainly had some mighty, big shoes to fill. And yet they pulled this all off with a rendition that was less pop ditty and more sadness-tinged rock, something that would’ve made Mr. Spector proud from his cellblock, no doubt.

Their set was completed by an old song – the first one they wrote – and a new one that had a tease and tickle groove that seemed to sit somewhere between the song, “Fever” and a Pajama Club number. “Slow Burner” saw the Dino’s guitarist, Lach Caskey drumming along on his legs from his vantage point while “Guru” was some slacker rock, pure and simple. Millions had basically put on one tight performance and proved that they’re definitely ones to watch, especially considering that they will have an EP out sometime this year.

At 10:30 the curtains opened to reveal a polished band with some equally impressive visuals and animations of the sky, universe, infinity and beyond. They may have learned a few things from their famous touring buddies like Foster The People and Foals to name a few, but they started off strong with some catchy, Strokes-flavoured guitar and soon had the audience collectively eating out of the palms of their hands.

“Time & Place” was an early crowd favourite as the kids danced and bopped along to this catchy pop tune as the milky way shone on the screen. It was rather quaint and sing-song, with frontman Sean Caskey and bassist, Sam Gethin-Jones singing call and response to this danceable indie rock that is not unlike what Franz Ferdinand or Red Riders do and did so well. “Saturn” was similarly upbeat and rollicking with some finger pointing to compliment the atmospheric, U2-inspired guitars that cut through the air.

There was the glistening water of “Weekend,” one you could imagine The Drums performing with ease thanks to its sounds of the sun and surf and “Sunday Night” seemed to offer more cheery fun. We were all having a ball as Caskey introduced his brother, Lach. He performed an impressive solo before the subsequent and pleasant slice of pop, specifically of Fleetwood Mac-variety.

Caskey would then introduce his friend, Andy and dedicate the track of the same name to his mate. It was all calypso beats and if you blinked you would’ve just seen the hula girls sashaying away. “I Can’t Help You” also seemed to come from a Waikiki beach and the Oxford Art Factory was all flowers and sunshine as we hopped and danced along to the band. Clearly taken aback, Caskey declared that this enthusiastic crowd were the best of the tour so far.

Last Dinosaurs’ songs are like mixed drinks. They bubble and fizz with sugar but they also contain just the right amount of punch. Some admittedly have similar ingredients but what makes them appealing are the subtle changes in composition that, when combined together, make a rather refreshing drink. Like the first sips of water after a spell in the desert, this music will sate your thirst and refresh you. Thanks to the vibrant and shiny indie-pop vibes that are sweet but not too saccharine.

While the set had been well received up until this point it was the closing numbers that were definitely the best. First they played a medley of songs that Caskey had enjoyed as a kid while watching Video Hits. They were Modjo’s “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” and Spiller feat. Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” which received mixed reactions. Those old enough loved it and some people even managed to come up with some syncopated dance moves while the younger punters were left a little confused by the nineties blast from the past.

From the opening notes it was obvious that previous single, “Honolulu” was going to be a big one. It boasted the punchy “Heys” and it was all light, beachside dance moves and unabashed joy. It was so special I figured it’d be hard to top because there wasn’t a person in the house without a huge grin on their face. But there was another pinnacle-in-the-making in “Zoom”. This one even got some people crowd surfing and stage diving. And despite the lack of encore, we all laughed and delighted in having made our own pleasant, little piece of history. So all that’s left to say is if you weren’t fortunate enough to be there the first time around then make a note to witness the second Sydney show, or other dates. You won’t be disappointed because history mostly repeats.

Originally published on 22 April 2012 at the following website: http://theorangepress.net/2012/04/last-dinosaurs-w-millions-the-griswolds-oxford-art-factory-sydney-21042012/

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EP REVIEW: MAGIC BONES – SELF-TITLED

Amid the bust-ups, break-ups and the odd lacklustre album, today’s rock fans are entitled to scratch their heads and ask – just like B.R.M.C – “Whatever happened to my rock ‘n’ roll?” Plus, that’s not even considering the multitude of other groups that – like the odd, doomed relationship – are “on a break”. But listeners shouldn’t fear, because Magic Bones are a relatively new force that look poised to change all that jazz.

The Melbourne quartet’s eponymous debut EP sounds like it was recorded on tour – in motels, bathrooms, bedrooms and closets. Except that what went on during this particular one isn’t going to stay put. Instead, there’s plenty of beefy rock numbers with loads of retro twists and turns – think 60s garage, 70s psychedelia and even Americana and country have been thrown into this melting pot.

Just when you try to pin them down or box them in one genre or direction, they go veering off into another zany one. Like a gift that keeps on giving or a pass-the-parcel straight outta the 60s, this one offers dirty power chords aplenty, big rock hooks, crashing cymbals and lots of thudding bass.

The band’s talented multi-instrumentalists, Richard Bowers and Dylan Thorpe share vocal duties and on opener, “Space Between Us” we see one sounding a lot like a young Ian Curtis circa Warsaw. Musically it’s a rollicking, rock single that drives straight to your heart and soul with lyrics like: “I want to feel your little piece of soul melting into mine”.

“Devil’s Spawn” sees plenty of dirty, old school rock at its best. At times it sounds a little like Wolfmother who in turn were evoking everyone from Zeppelin to Sabbath et al. The following, “How Long?” is different yet again. On the first listen I hear sexy American-themed bounce like the theme song to True Blood while at other moments it’s the kind of thing you just wanna crank loud because there’s everyone from Deep Purple to Steppenwolf inspiring the guitars up the back.

There is the spaced out, “Gouge Out A View” before it’s all driven home with “So Long, Carry On,” a softer more atmospheric tune. It is hand-clappingly good and boasts a little bit of starry-eyed, country swagger. It almost seems custom-built for rolling around in haystacks under the stars.

Magic Bones boasts deep vocals, distortion and so many curveballs that the last few lobbed ones wound up in completely different ballpark. With a backbone solidly rooted in rock, you can imagine there will be plenty of listeners who will fervently draw maps and get lost in the abundance of interesting sounds. Or for those that want things a little simpler, they can play it loud as they burn down the highway along route 66 to the Stairway to Heaven that goes via the Haight-Ashbury, Monterey and Woodstock. One things for sure, this is bound to tickle your musical bones much more than any childish magic trick…

Originally published on 17 April 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32277/Magic-Bones–Magic-Bones-EP

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE MAGNETIC FIELDS – LOVE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA

Like wine, most people mature with age. And then there’s The Magnetic Fields. The group’s tenth album, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea includes 15 of the most goofy and vibrant indie pop ditties, it’s essentially music that sounds like it was produced by a bunch of kids half the age of the American forty-somethings that are actually responsible for it.

The Magnetic Fields won plenty of hearts with their 3-disc odyssey, 69 Love Songs. After a subsequent trilogy of albums where they eschewed the synth pop songs that propelled their previous releases, this time around it seems like they made a concerted effort to bring the synths back, because they are in such abundance. Multi-instrumentalist, Stephin Merritt has even said that some of the synths they used hadn’t even been invented when they last recorded with these instruments back in the day.

Love At The Bottom Of The Sea clocks in a just under 35 minutes. The tunes are all less than three minutes in length and are full of the wit and dry personality of their author. At times irreverent and an exercise in celebrating their wild and obtuse joyfulness, it is fun and often absurdly so.

“Your Girlfriend’s Face” opens with the line: “So I’ve taken a contract out on you”. It’s the kid of disturbing, revenge-fuelled content that Dave McCormack tackled so well on his album with The Polaroids, The Truth About Love. However, with The Fields this is combined with synth pop sounds that are cheeky and rather hyper so it is also reminiscent of Regurgitator and while bouncy, it is not a patch on the following standout track and lead single.

“Andrew In Drag” is a camp and grandiose statement about sexual confusion and unattainable love. It is such an oddly, wonderful delight to hear Merritt admit: “The only girl I ever loved is Andrew in drag”. It’s also something I could imagine Darren Hanlon performing with tongue placed firmly in cheek amongst his own kitsch songs. Ditto “All She Cares About Is Mariachi,” an old-school dance ballad with pops, an accordion and a Latin feel.

Unfortunately the remainder of the album tends to err on being throwaway, bubblegum music. “God Wants Us To Wait” is perhaps an exception as it’s a fine, sarcastic jab at religion and celibacy while “Born For Love” is a forgettable, overblown pop number lost in space, amidst a sea of electronic blips. “I’d Go Anywhere With Hugh” meanwhile, is circus fanfare, pure and simple and is coupled with a twee moment that is replicated on “The Machine In Your Hand”. The latter is also occasionally reminiscent of Songs with the boy-girl vocals and “My Husband’s Pied-à-Terre” goes for a melancholy, silent movie-style piano before segueing off to dance along to an off-kilter, electro beat.

On Love At The Bottom Of The Sea The Magnetic Fields produce 15 jaunty tracks full of youthful exuberance- all sharp, pithy and crazed with the quintet left feeling liberated enough to sit back and bask in glee. At times it is cluttered and so syrupy it’s unnatural and feels like it’s full of preservatives. Ultimately though, Merritt and Co. are a cheeky group, pushing boundaries of weirdness and lapping up their freedom by dancing in the dappled light. It’s just a shame then that most of the results are forgettable saccharine, such that it’s almost like eating an Easter egg and then a bunny because you’d forgotten you’d already gone and eaten chocolate. So basically it’s fun but it’ll hardly sate your appetite for indie pop music.

Originally published on 18 April 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32259/The-Magnetic-Fields–Love-At-The-Bottom-Of-The-Sea

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FILM REVIEW: CAFÉ DE FLORE

Café de Flore is a labour of love by writer/director Jean-Marc Valee (C.R.A.Z.Y). It is an account of two very different love stories – tales separated by different characters, countries and time periods. In spite of all this, an overarching feeling of loss, an intense rawness and a bittersweet tension link the two parts together.

In Paris 1969 we are introduced to an overprotective, single mother named Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) and her seven-year-old son who has Down’s syndrome (Marin Gerrier). Laurent and his mother are initially inseparable as the latter is trying to give the former a normal life and ultimately prolong it. Things change however, when he meets and falls in love with fellow sufferer, Véronique (Alice Dubois). The performances by all three are perfect. You can really sympathise with the mother who is left distraught by the idea that she may lose her charming, little boy.

While the first narrative was about people who had a multitude of reasons to not be happy, the second one could’ve almost been a fairytale. Here we meet Antoine (Kevin Parent) a middle-aged DJ who is living an enviable life raising two gorgeous daughters with his equally pretty girlfriend (Evelyne Brochu). But life is not always a bed of roses because he still thinks of his ex-wife (Hélène Florent), his first love and original soul mate.

The film is an ambitious undertaking as multiple flashbacks and crosses are interwoven together, which eventually tease out this unconventional love story. Unfortunately, the link between the two plots feels rather tenuous and contrived. It means the viewer will have to suspend belief and ignore their gut feelings of confusion, as they have to sit back and wait as each layer is eventually revealed. Basically, it is a great idea that could have been executed in a better way, had some of the ambiguities been ironed out earlier on.

The cinematography is rather beautiful. We have the staid early period contrasting with the high-octane club environment of the present. Another key point in the film is the soundtrack because music by Pink Floyd, Sigur Rós and The Cure are used to create ambience and in the case of the latter, to also evoke nostalgia. The song Pictures Of You stirs up painful memories for the man who fell in love with the track at the same point as he fell for his high-school sweetheart. Moreover, the film’s title comes from a song loved by the DJ and young boy.

Café de Flore is ultimately a jarring melodrama that makes for rather challenging viewing. At times unsettling, it often fails to provide an easy answer to your questions. Instead it is a mystical take on the power of love where the viewer has to fill in the majority of the gaps. In short, it’s an emotional tale and curious mystery, where complex human emotions collide, in much the same way as love.

 

Originally published on 17 April 2012 at the following website: http://lipmag.com/arts/film-arts/film-review-cafe-de-flore/

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LIVE REVIEW: CROSBY, STILLS & NASH @ HORDERN PAVILION (04.04.2012)

Photo credit: Henry Diltz

 

Here is a live review I wrote about the recent Crosby, Stills & Nash show as part of the Origin Blogger Competition in conjunction with Vivid Live Sydney. You could only write a 100-word review so it’s very short, but here goes:

 

LIVE REVIEW: CROSBY, STILLS & NASH @ HORDERN PAVILION (04.04.2012)

Crosby, Stills & Nash make music from a long time gone; organic and profound folk that continues to resonate today.

 

Crosby brings the weirdness, Stills the amazing riffs and Nash the harmonies. But their Hordern show saw all three creatives bring all this and more.

 

Like flipping through a family album of sepia photographs, old favourites like “Marrakesh Express,” “Our House” and “Love The One You’re With” were beautifully executed alongside some obscure numbers. They each possessed plenty of heart and messages, something often lacking in music today.

 

Ultimately, the trio left the crowd helplessly hoping for another triumphant return.

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