EP REVIEW: LOON LAKE – 33

Melbourne five-piece Loon Lake piqued our interest with a debut EP of vibrant, guitar pop last year, and they don’t deviate far from the formula on its follow-up, 33. Among the six tracks are two singles, ‘Bad To Me’ and ‘Cherry Lips’. The former is tight and playful indie rock, while the latter is about the kinds of ingredients you’d expect from a good night out (Dancing! Clapping!).

The group’s use of layered guitars along with Sam Nolan’s vocals (a mix of rough, rock howl and passionate whine) certainly add to the band’s appeal. But this is also heavily mined territory, meaning that comparisons to everyone from The Strokes to Last Dinosaurs will be inevitable, if not apt. While the music is rather simple, the execution and the underlying promises of unabashed fun ensures that that Loon Lake will provide a solid soundtrack to warmer days and nights.

Originally published on 27 September 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/33815/Loon-Lake–33

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EP REVIEW: BUFFALO TALES – BLOOD & BONE

He was a hit on Australian Idol but he decided to turn his back on all that. Instead he’d turn independent and release an EP. Although this sounds a lot like Matt Corby we’re actually talking about Wes Carr or Buffalo (and now technically, Buffalo Tales).

Confused? Well, Wes Carr decided to adopt the Buffalo-esque moniker because in Native American culture this is symbolic of returning to your roots. Carr had been a working musician prior to appearing on TV, and in the lead up to turning 30 he had been doing an awful lot of soul-searching, something that punctuates all of the songs here.

Blood & Bone features four tracks of stripped-back acoustic music which at times sounds a lot like Angus Stone in that it offers something more than just another folk-wielding guy with an acoustic guitar. The title track boasts this instrument but it uses a catchy, Beatlesque sound for a song that’s about the passage of time. But at its worst the lyrics are clichéd as they talk about wanting what you don’t have and about things passing you by.

For ‘Lost’ Carr paired up with Cold Chisel’s Don Walker to write about the feeling of being lost and floundering in life. Here, Carr’s vocals sound like Bryan Adams but there is more of a country-twang in the guitar work. Guest, Elana Stone’s vocals soar and when multi-tracked give the feel of a full-blown, gospel choir.

‘Eighty-Eight’ sees Carr seated at the piano where the grooves and melody are bent every which way so that we go from doom and gloom to an upbeat ditty. The lyrics read like a list as Carr goes through the many reasons to love you.

There is something universal and raw in Carr’s sound as he negotiates life from his rural hometown in South Australia via Sydney and ultimately to the big lights of L.A. Blood & Bone is a pensive reflection that plays like a series of diary entries tracing his journey through the past while remaining grounded in optimism and the present.

Originally published on 27 September 2012 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/buffalo-tales-ndash-blood–bone-27092012.html

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FILM REVIEW: WE ARE LEGION

A name like Anonymous may not mean much to some people. But the hacktivist collective and their projects in particular have certainly stuck. Earlier this year they performed denial of service attacks forcing PayPal and MasterCard offline as a protest against the latter companies ceasing to allow donations to be made to WikiLeaks (a raw deal considering both organisations allowed people to donate to some profoundly-racist groups).

We Are Legion is a documentary that follows the history of this often-maligned set of Internet vigilantes. Their uniform often includes the mask seen in V For Vendetta and their credo is simply: “We are anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us”.

The documentary starts before the group’s inception and portrays its beginnings in the pranks found in various university halls and with people like Steve Jobs wanting to defraud the phone companies (this apparently was what sowed the seeds for Apple). From here we learn that Anonymous started on a website called 4chan and specifically the message board \b/ where the content is completely unfiltered.

Initially this unit were a bunch of merry pranksters making jokes like invading online Sims-like games with the same oddball character. Anonymous have no set leader, but they do share a common sense of humour. It is also this shared perspective and personality that has born the Internet’s biggest memes, including the infamous Rickrolling incident.

Over time things would get a lot more serious. Someone in this loosely based collective was being hassled by a neo-nazi shock jock named Hal Turner. So Anonymous’ members naturally came to their friend’s defence and targeted this bigot by ordering hundreds of pizzas to his house. There were other sorts of high jinks and hacking and this eventually cost the guy tonnes of money so he could no longer afford to fund his racism-fuelled, Internet broadcast.

Since then the group have graduated on to a very publish stoush with the Church of Scientology (and this culminated in a series of protests being staged around the world). They’ve also taken on governments like our very own one over Internet filters and censorship, and helped people in Tunisia get back online after their leaders pulled the plug on access during the Middle East uprising.

We Are Legion is an in-depth and fascinating account of these different campaigns. It shows a group divided between wanting to annoy and prank people and the Internet denizens striving to make a proper, political point.

There are in-depth interviews with the participants and leaders of different projects and campaigns. Some people have chosen to remain anonymous while others appear on the public record, most probably because they’ve already been involved with matters before the courts. The individuals range from clever eccentrics to obnoxious brats and just about everyone in-between. The group is certainly a murky one that has achieved a lot and has also had its fair share of controversy.

Writer and director Brian Knappenberger is largely sympathetic towards Anonymous even though there are some splinter groups that are doing bad or evil things that detract from the greater good of the collective. The organisations and individuals that have been on the receiving end of Anonymous’ work have not been given a right-of-reply here, though it is unclear whether they were even approached for comment or not.

Anonymous is itself a rather strange beast and We Are Legion reflects and captures most of this. The documentary is also entertaining, fast moving and at times even funny. Although it is occasionally stuck in presenting just one side of the online activism argument, it still manages to provide an interesting and exciting first chapter to one real, relevant and on-going story.

Review score: 3.5 stars

Originally published on 24 September 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/film-review-antenna-documentary-film-festival-sydney-2012-we-are-legion-ctc-0

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ALBUM REVIEW: TOBY MARTIN – LOVE’S SHADOW

Toby Martin’s solo debut has the same wistful air as his work with Youth Group. But what differentiates Love’s Shadow is that it’s grounded in more narrative and observational vignettes. These star a lonely romantic everyman, which could be the result of the inspiration he received after reading stories by Helen Garner and Graham Greene.

The 11 tracks feature little percussion, with Martin’s electric guitar swapped for a piano. The result is a collection of soft, slow-burning ballads that exude a rather plain domesticity, despite tackling some rather complex emotions and distant geographical points. ‘Nylex Nights’ starts positively enough with upbeat piano and strings while society’s degenerates are praised for having their lives all sorted out. On ‘Postcards From Surfers’ Martin takes us to the seedy hotel where they all could live, while the music rumbles and broods like a Lou Reed number.

Toby Martin has been likened before to Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. It’s a rather apt comparison, with both artists showing an equal knack for coupling pop melodies with mature, literate words.

Originally published on 18 September 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/33720/Toby-Martin–Loves-Shadow

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SINGLE REVIEW: GOTYE – SAVE ME

Save Me is the latest single to be taken from Gotye’s worldwide success story and album known as Making Mirrors. It joins a series of previously released, high calibre offerings like “Eyes Wide Open”, “I Feel Better”and the bona fide international hit, “Somebody That I Used To Know”. It’s hard to imagine that Save Me is actually about a lost man stuck in a funk of depression.

That’s because the mood created by the music is light and airy as various samples and instruments including a virtual mandolin, autoharp and metronome combine to make a shimmering pop sound that also grooves. There is also plenty of vocal harmonising that seems to sit somewhere between “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and Coldplay’s “Paradise”.

At around four minutes, Save Me is a tale of redemption that ends in optimism thanks to the power of love and the wonder of silver linings. And it’s fair to say that Gotye has enjoyed plenty of the latter thanks to his brilliant, creative mind and this strong album.

 

Originally published on 16 September 2012 at the following website: http://beatsfactory.com.au/gotye-save-me-single-review

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE CITY LIGHTS – I JUST GOT TO BELIEVE

In 2008 they wrote it and then they played it live in 2009. It was recorded and mixed in 2010 and 2011. Now in 2012 the answer to this riddle is finally here. It is The City Lights’ third album I Just Got To Believe. The record is an absolute corker, a red-hot scorcher that could’ve been named El Sol if the group hadn’t already got in and called their sophomore album that.

The City Lights are one spirited and resilient bunch. The band has boasted members of groups as diverse as The Drums, Youth Group, Hoolahan, Sidewinder, Rocket Science and Peabody over the years. But now the dust appears to have settled on the current line-up and has enabled them to make a great rock album. It’s a refreshing look back at a particular chapter in musical history and a welcome change from all the technological wizardry (read: barrage of synths) that seem like the relentless order of the present day.

The ten tracks clock in at just 24 minutes. The songs are short, sharp and almost primal in their arrangements. The music is full of guts and hooks you quickly thanks to its heavy throttle and sheer immediacy. The set is essentially a visceral one that gets into your lungs, forcing you to scream as it simultaneously makes your heart swell.

The opening, title track is reminiscent of a Dallas Crane number and it wastes no time in charming the listener. It’s this power that makes it seem like a perfect “hit-in-the-making”. The intense energy of the start is also repeated into the single, “Without People You’re Nothing” where tight, three-piece rock prevails. The opening drum roll reminds us of The Clash’s “Janie Jones” as it goes on to describe the rather basic human need for love and understanding.

“What Does It Take” has British blues rock ‘n’ roll written into almost every pore. One listen reveals The Stones’ bite, while another spin returns The Yardbirds in gusto. It is unsurprising really, when you consider that the band’s real-life brothers James and Harry Roden (guitars and bass, respectively) grew up listening to this sort of music from the sixties and seventies.

I Just Got To Believe is about a group that are doing what they love and it should earn the boys more than a few new fans for their troubles. It’s also a testament to the power of resilience and about a good F. This album comes brimming with three of them: fury, fun and fast moments, meaning with so many highlights this record will revitalise your love and belief in rock. Hallelujah!

ALBUM REVIEW: TIM HART – MILLING THE WIND

Tim Hart may be Boy & Bear’s drummer yet his solo debut sees him negotiate life and love via nylon strings. Single, ‘A Number Of Us’ is the obvious drawcard; a nostalgic ballad that sees Hart doff his cap to the honest, singer-songwriters mentioned in the album’s notes: Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Hart’s sound plays out like a pared back version of his actual band. It can also get rather repetitive and even safe or vanilla, as there are only subtle differences between the single and the album tracks.

Milling With The Wind is a personal record that sees Hart pour his heart out into this labour of love. It’s full of brotherly cameos (ex-Middle East member Mark Myers produced, while Boy & Bear bandmate David Hosking lends some backing vocals) and pleasant-enough indie folk delivered in hushed tones. But while it’s all very nice and relatable, and will surely please Boy & Bear’s ever-growing legion of fans, you’re ultimately left wanting something a little more than fifty shades of beige.

Originally published on 12 September 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/33667/Tim-Hart–Milling-With-The-Wind

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FILM REVIEW: ITALY: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT

Most people from outside of Europe would have a rather romanticised view of Italy. It’s a beautiful country – the stuff of postcards – steeped in a heady mix of culture, art and history, not to mention a must-visit destination for good food, wine and coffee. But the reality is far more sobering, as we learn from two Italian born and bred filmmakers in Italy: Love It Or Leave It.

The pair is actually real-life couple Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi, the former born in the north and educated abroad, while the latter lived and was educated in Rome. When they are faced with eviction they soon question whether to stay in their Roman apartment or to follow in the footsteps of their friends and flea the country. For them, Italy is full of past glories, is facing future uncertainty and a rather tumultuous present.

They decide to give it six months and along the way them embark on a road trip in a fleet of old Fiat 500s to see if they can rekindle their love for the country they call home. Ragazzi champions the case for Italy while Hofer – the more sarcastic and cynical of the pair – has dreams of their new life in Berlin.

The trip is one that is off-the-beaten track and deliberately ignores the regular tourist traps of Florence and Venice in favour of places like: Puglia, Turin, Milan, Calabria and Naples. It is through these stops that they can offer a travelogue that brims with heart and soul as personal and political worlds and ideologies collide.

The tone of the documentary is a rather light one even though they tackle serious issues like the redundancies of staff at the Fiat car and Bialetti coffee machine factories; the environmental impacts of waste disposal systems gone awry thanks to organised crime; gay rights and the lack thereof; and the rife sexism in the press. The backdrop is also the then Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi’s sex scandal and the subsequent fall-out from this.

The scenes of Italy are idyllic and picturesque and these provide an interesting contrast between the more sombre storytelling. Italy it seems is all about putting on a good show. Lake Como – where George Clooney has a villa for instance – is positively gorgeous but polluted with sewerage.

The directors also choose to speak with many interesting characters that are colourful and full of candour. But the film does occasionally misfire in its execution because it often feels like a series of separate vignettes, lacking a cohesive feel, bar for the fact that they are issues the two find worthy of exploration.

A combination of new footage is shown alongside some archive material. When this is combined with a tongue-in-cheek approach to the important political and social issues, this lends the proceedings a feel that is similar to a Michael Moore exposé but with fewer concrete facts to back-up the argument. But what it also has in common with Moore’s work is in its ability to provoke feelings of disgust and even laughter at the absurdity of the situations (take for instance Sicily with so many half-built structures it’s almost like it has its own form of architecture).

Italy: Love It Or Leave It is ultimately a worthwhile trip where two intelligent, cool and handsome men explore the love/hate relationship they share with their home in an upbeat and fun way. By sidestepping past the clichés and along a road less travelled our protagonists offer an enjoyable mash-up of old and new Italy. It’s one that’s full of contradictions and is on the precipice of change- much like a number of other countries facing the same economic and social pressures. If nothing else this documentary will open up our eyes to the fact that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and even then, it could just be to keep up appearances.

 

Review score: 4 stars

Originally published on 9 September 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/film-review-antenna-documentary-film-festival-sydney-2012-italy-love-it-or-leave-it-ctc

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FILM REVIEW: THE ADMIRER (POKLONNITSA)

Anton Chekhov is renowned as one of Russia’s greatest writers. He was also a practicing doctor. The Admirer (Poklonnitsa) brings to life one specific chapter of his life. It has also been the subject of much conjecture because at its centre is a rather timid and chaste love affair.

Director, Vitaliy Melnikov (Poor, Poor Pavel, Beat the Enemy) glosses over possible historical inaccuracies. Instead he favours a tale that is loosely based on a true story. It’s a dreamy account; one based on letters sent both to and from Chekhov and his love interest, Lidia Avilova (Svetlana Ivanova).

Chekhov and Avilova are a pair of star-crossed lovers. When they meet Avilova is a published, short story writer who is married with children while Anton Chekhov (Kirill Pirogov) is ill with tuberculosis. The film is not so much about a torrid love affair because this coupling does not actually happen. Instead it hints at what might have been as the pair exchange letters and share a few precious opportunities to meet. So basically it is like boy meets girl fan and then both seem to try and try again in order to “win” each other over with varying results.

This period drama is a tense and atmospheric film where long and lingering shots of the stars’ faces are favoured in order to show them both becoming besotted. The two lead actors are respectful of their characters with Ivanova playing a graceful Lidia, while Pirogov is a reserved and modest Chekhov.

In some ways this film has parallels with Bright Star in that they are both gorgeous period pieces with a slower-than-normal pacing. They both star a writer who is in ailing health, but one that is ultimately sustained by his love and affection for a young, clever beauty. The difference however, is that Bright Star used John Keats’ poetry as an underlying thread to the narrative but Chekhov’s work is not used in such an obvious manner. Instead, his writing shapes the film in terms of colouring the mood and exploring these dense, human characters, including their follies and foibles.

The Admirer is a Russian film about a sad love that wasn’t meant to be. It’s a sympathetic look at one that was never properly realised and told mainly from the perspective of the female protagonist. This slow-burning affair may not necessarily be the most exciting portion of Chekhov’s live, but it is still a gentle and romantic chronicle of one particular episode that is full of nuances and quietly, subtle moments.

Review score: 3 stars

Originally published on 9 September 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/film-review-russian-resurrection-film-festival-2012-the-admirer-poklonnitsa-ctc

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ALBUM REVIEW: MAXÏMO PARK – THE NATIONAL HEALTH

Maxïmo Park’s fourth album The National Health was born out of anger and frustration; not at the lukewarm response to their previous effort (2009’s Quicken The Heart ), but at the buoyant pop that prevailed throughout the GFC. This discord and tension has been fed into 13 tracks that bubble and fizz with a different kind of freshness and vitality. Opener “When I Was Wild” – a minute-long piano ballad – immediately confounds the listener, before we’re returned to the more expected, incendiary rock of the title track.

The band’s native UK is not the sole source of inspiration here. Matters of the heart underscore the yearning “The Undercurrents”, but a general feeling of confusion consistent with the rest of the album prevails. Meanwhile, “Reluctant Love” shares the same beat as New Order’s ‘Love Vigilantes’.

The National Health is a rousing album. Ferocious and frank, it navigates through the foibles of society and the individual, proving there’s still some venom left in singer Paul Smith’s snarl.

Originally published on 3 September 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/33583/Maximo-Park–The-National-Health

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