Music

On Repeat Lately #4

Sia – Move Your Body

This always seems to come on when I’m driving and cannot do my dance moves justice (or injustice? The judgement is perhaps not mine to make). But on the upside, red lights are now a beacon of freedom for my ready-to-flail limbs.

Helen Shanahan – I Only Hide

This slow-burning piece of country folk is the kind of song I had to listen to five times in a row. Its steady groove and haunting vocals wrestle with the anxiety of performance in the spotlight…a place Shanahan is going to have to get comfortable with if she keeps creating stunners like this one.

David Bowie – Life On Mars?

What do you do when writing about a Bowie tribute show? Listen to Bowie of course. And lust after this eye makeup job.

The Mis-Made – Blood Money

Joan Jett’s legacy is alive in these Sydney rockers, who I also happened to be writing about this month. Headbanging while writing is a skill, people.

Jack Johnson – Better Together

Summer has called for a lot of chill music, and when it has called, Jack Johnson has answered. An oldie but a goodie.

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Three albums to add to your library right now

Dustin Tebbutt – First Light

Vance Joy fans rejoice – for those of us who have outgrown Riptide and its fellows, Tebbutt’s latest release offers a perfect (dare I say, more grown-up) alternative. At once chilled out and uplifting, the gentle mix of acoustic guitar, light percussion and occasional layer of electronica, support Tebbutt’s floating vocal deliveries. Cue lazy Sunday morning.

Lakuta – Brothers and Sisters

If Western club music has you wanting a little more, look no further than the global sounds of Lakuta. Including musicians from Africa, Spain and the UK, this group combines the very best of danceable soul, disco and funk with socio-political statements, sensual Latin vibes and infectious Afro-beat rhythms.

Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

I don’t remember being this awestruck by musical charisma since I first heard Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs in my early uni days – Cohen’s latest album is absolutely bloody mesmerising. Skeletal accompaniments and gospel choirs take a backseat to musings that have been 82 years in the making. “I’m ready, Lord” growls Cohen, to which your ears will reply “Take me, take me now”.

On repeat lately (#3)

St Lucia – Do You Remember

So. Much. 1980’s. Goodness. Do you need another reason? Okay then, explosive indie-pop choruses and exuberant waves of synth. This one is just bursting out of its skin with joy. And so will you.

Sally Seltmann – Heart That’s Pounding

It would be remiss of me to do an On Repeat Lately post without mentioning Ms Seltmann’s Heart That’s Pounding album. Every few months it makes a reappearance and goes on heavy rotation during my daily commute – and every few months it sounds as sweet and fresh as the first time I heard it.

The Heavy – Since You’ve Been Gone

I was lucky enough to be given a pre-release version of the entire album for review, but I highly suggest you groove along to this funky-as-hell single until April 1 brings the full track-listing.

Lontalius – A Feeling So Sweet

New Zealand teen Eddie Johnston (aka. Lontalius) puts insomnia, insecurity and self-examination to music in a way so delicate it might just blow away on the breeze. It feels wrong to only list one song from a collection that is so beautifully cohesive it should be listened to as a whole.

City of the Sun – Brothers

(Listen to Brothers on iTunes here)

Earthy instrumentals that sound like the quieter sibling of Bears With Guns. Reverb-laden guitar hooks echo into the spaces between soft tambourine accents and free-spirited strumming rhythms. Good lord, this stuff is dreamy.

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Twitter is perhaps my very favourite way to discover new music. Sorry PR people, I read your press releases too – but it’s such a satisfying surprise to discover a new favourite jam in-between catching up on the day’s news.

There’s also the added advantage of those emerging artists who follow me as soon as they see the words “music critic” in my profile. I appreciate that the music industry is a tough ol’ place, so I thought I’d spend an afternoon listening to the work of the artists in my “Followers” list. Because, #lazyweekend.

Happily, I discovered a few great tunes that had previously slipped under my radar – and possibly snuck past you as well. Enjoy.

Tori Forsyth – Black Bird EP

I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of good and moody folk tunes. Tinge them with a haunting country twang and things get even better. That’s exactly what Hunter Valley NSW local Tori Forsyth has done in her debut EP, and it’s a quiet-spoken gem you really shouldn’t miss. ‘Nuff said, just go listen.

Mabel – Rachel EP

Sydney band Mabel are, according to their Twitter profile, “The world’s single greatest band ever”. Curious? I was too. But then, they only have 250 followers, so we can safely assume they’re just a fun-loving bunch who don’t take themselves too seriously.

Mabel’s sound is crunchy, energetic garage rock meets boppy, feel-good pop. Hard enough to headbang to, groovy enough to dance to; not wildly original, but a hella lot of fun. Start your weekend off right with Spaceman:

Into Orbit – Dark Matter

It’s difficult to believe this New Zealand duo is just that – a duo. For lovers of post/prog rock, the mindblowing volume and depth of one drummer and one guitarist (and, okay, obviously a helping hand from technology) will be an adrenaline rush of satisfyingly epic proportions. Reminiscent of sleepmakeswaves and Porcupine Tree, Dark Matter delivers an experimental explosion that is all-encompassing, yet coherent.

They’re giving this one away for free too, so head on over to their Bandcamp to download.

Episodes – Hunny Please

There really isn’t another way to put it: this track has swag. Although the Brighton four-piece might call their work “electro indie pop”, there’s a heavier, bluesy vibe to Hunny. You can feel it in the smokin’ bass lines, and hear it in vocalist Alana Westall’s sensual, effortless melisma. These kids could be ones to watch.

 

Over The Trees – Garbage Crown

Restless cello, ethereal harmonies, additive meters and eccentric lyrics – this driving tune is a breezy, yet thoughtful, addition to the indie rock genre. The melody is difficult to grasp and will vanish almost as quickly as it arrived, but you’ll likely find your foot tapping long after its 3’22” has passed you by.

Are you an emerging artist? Want your work featured? Follow me on Twitter @jessie_adora so I can check out your tunes – always keen for new sounds to feature!

 

On repeat lately (#2)

An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in NY) – Courtney Barnett

As much as I love it when Courtney irreverently hurls lyrics like a punk rocker, it was her inescapably honest depictions of insecurity and mundanity that won me over. Can’t get tired of this one.

 

Well Did You Evah? – Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra

Ahh that French champagne, so good for the brain. The sarcasm, the wit, the dancing…proof, if proof were needed, that Bing and Frank would have been the best drinking buddies.

 

Foolish – Alpine

Alt-pop that is sultry, groovy and ethereal all at the same time. Not suitable for the daggy-dancers among us…it’s suave gyrations only in this one.

 

Hitchcock – Finn Anderson

There’s something about this broody, noir ballad that awakens the musical theatre fan in me. The clinking piano chords, sliding strings and Anderson’s melancholic, yet stoic, vocals conspire to deliver this curiously haunting track.

 

On repeat lately (#1)

The Trouble With Us – Marcus Marr & Chet Faker

Marcus Marr + Chet Faker = beautiful, crazy-cool pop. I’m a sucker for a groove and this is a good ‘un.

 

Skeleton – Gabrielle Aplin

Punchy pop-rock with a slick vibe, finds a ballsy mid-ground somewhere between venom and broken-hearted indignation.

 

Style – Taylor Swift

Send help, I’ve been possessed by the (darn good) mainstream.

 

All Night – Slum Sociable

Sensuous, dance-influenced indie-pop that was probably written at 2am. Listen when in languid mood (perhaps after a glass or two of red).

 

I’m Growing A Beard Downstairs For Christmas – Kate Miller-Heike ft. The Beards

Amongst the piles of mass-produced, soulless Christmas cheese (*coughsKylieMinoguecoughs*), this gem flips the bird to all the fakery of modern society. And it’s catchy as all get-out.

How Oliver Sacks turned me into a music teacher.

Music is part of being human. ~ Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

I guess I was searching for meaning.

Music had been in my life since before I was able to stand – and once I achieved the latter feat, my (barely) upright infant frame bobbed enthusiastically to Bananarama’s Venus, Gypsy Kings’ Bamboleo and Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. 

But now it was time to decide on a university degree, a career path, something that mattered enough to me to take pride of place in my working adult identity. I felt music’s importance very deeply, but still I struggled to qualify it as a worthwhile vocation. Journalism, for instance, seemed a much more sensible option: a job that clearly contributed to the world in quantifiable, tangible ways. Music? Well, that was a hobby.

It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads. ~ Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

But it was a persistent hobby, a labour of love; a not-so-secret passion. When I had to write a book review for a Year 12 creative writing portfolio, I naturally chose a musical read. That book was Musicophilia, by noted neurologist and wonderful wordsmith, Oliver Sacks.

It is a beautiful thing when emotion and science intersect, supporting and complimenting one another in a myriad of multifaceted discoveries that shed light on the most mysterious aspects of existence. Musicophilia is a prime example of just such a happy marriage. Here, finally, was the facts-and-figures proof of music’s worth as a tool for healing, education and joy; the truth my heart had known all along, but that my head demanded to see in writing.

I devoured every story of overnight musical savants, paralysed bodies moving to beats, and minds crippled by dementia but still able to recognise the old wartime dance tunes. Most of all, I relished Sacks’ profound respect for music and his expert articulation of that medium which is essentially beyond words.

Written about like this, music seemed to me to be one of the most powerful, healing, educational, and emotionally beneficial tools available to man.

My 17-year-old self was hooked: I investigated music therapy, then music and education, and was soon recounting tales of music’s cognitive benefits with the zeal of a religious convert. “Did you know the elderly can remember tunes from their youth, even when they’ve forgotten their own name? And that the brains of professional musicians are noticeably larger than those of other kinds of artists?!” It all made so much sense; it validated my long-held hunch that music was so much more than entertainment.

Anatomists today would be hard put to identify the brain of a visual artist, a writer, or a mathematician – but they would recognise the brain of a professional musician without moment’s hesitation. ~ Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

In the intervening years – in which I chose a Bachelor of Music, became a music teacher and have witnessed countless examples of music’s extraordinary benefits – my thoughts have often returned to the stories of Musicophilia. On days when I return tired from the classroom, or sit, frustrated, at my own piano, wondering why I do this at all; on those days I remember that music matters. Not just in an ephemeral, entertaining context, but on a very real cellular level that benefits our minds and bodies, as well as our hearts.

To this day, that approach informs every lesson I teach. Standing at the front of my classroom, my heart is full in the knowledge that what I do matters. That the enjoyment of, participation in, and creation of music is an important link between our physical and emotional experiences of this world.

Vale Oliver Sacks. And thank you for giving this musician ample fuel for a lifelong belief in the power of music.

Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation. ~ Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

The CD-lover’s guide to surviving the digital revolution: swim, don’t sink

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I bought an iPod last month.

“Did you want an iTunes voucher with that?” chirped the sales girl breezily.

“Uhh…no thanks, I’m right…”

“Are you sure? We’ve got 20% off at the moment!” enquired Breezy Sales Girl, with that careful mix of concern and encouragement that conjures up FOMO faster than logging out of Facebook. It was at this point that I decided to gesture awkwardly to the pile of CDs I was holding – and fully intending to purchase – in their tangible, plastic-cased, liner-notes-filled glory.

“Erm, no thanks…I…I prefer to buy the actual…CDs…”

For a second there, my helpful neighbourhood shop assistant failed to comprehend my motives. For a second there, I have to admit, so did I. After all, she had just helped me select a digital music device; and now, with an opportunity to buy 20% more music, spend 20% less money…I was still firmly clutching my environmentally-unfriendly, bookshelf-filling, dust-collecting, old-fashioned stack of compact discs.

Ex-Breezy Sales Girl recovered herself admirably, though the concern thing she’d had going suddenly became a little more genuine. “Oh! Oh…yep…you’re right…sure!” Leaving my perplexed companion, I made my way to the sales desk, quietly pondering my  progressive/stick-in-the-mud music consumption habits.

I fell in love with MP3 players at an early age. At an engagement party for a school friend of my mother’s, I met no less than 5 fellow thirteen-year-olds in possession of these magical pocket-sized jukeboxes. When I eventually obtained my very own predecessor of the iPod, I couldn’t have been prouder. With its impressive capacity of 128MB, I could finally take the entirety of the ABBA GOLD collection everywhere I went. Occasionally, I swapped it for my 1980’s compilation of U2 hits. This, I thought, was technology at its finest.

This is almost exactly what my first MP3 player looked like. Gotta love that sneaky USB connection!

The good old days. This is almost exactly what my first MP3 player looked like. Gotta love that sneaky USB connection!

By the time my musical taste required me to have the entire Beatles catalogue close by at all times, I had upgraded to a snazzy little 512MB number, which was followed in later years by my becoming a patron of the omnipresent iPod. See? I can move with the times! With each increase in storage capacity and sound quality, my excitement bubbled over – today, holding the latest generation of iPod nano in my hand, I feel that same thrill of having all my music on tap, in such a marvellous little device.

But quite paradoxically, if the albums in my iTunes library aren’t also on my bookshelf, I feel strangely deflated. In a day and age when a music nerd such as myself should be jumping up and down praising the availability of my favourite art form, I find myself disappointed with every digital purchase or streaming opportunity.

Perhaps it’s because as a working musician, I have always felt music to be an experience, rather than a commodity. Attending live music is much more than the notes that reach our ears, playing music is much more than reading those notes off a sheet; owning music is not just the songs, it’s the feel of the packaging, the look of the artwork, displaying it in alphabetical order alongside the rest of an ever-growing collection (is that just me? It’s not just me).

Perhaps it’s because I associate the purchase of CDs with my tender university years, lingering in music shops and making the delicious choice of which album I’d bring home with me that week. Either way, my primary source of music has always been real, actual, CDs…that I then rip to my iTunes library. I’m a musician, not a logician, okay?!

But despite this love of album-collecting, I have signed up for an Apple Music trial. I’ll admit: I was slightly terrified.

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SO MUCH CHOICE. HELP ME.

(Source)

Digital music offers such a gratuitous overload of choice, it feels much like going into a bookstore and being told I don’t have to buy whole books anymore, I can just buy my favourite pages. WHICH PAGE, WHERE DO I START. And do they even mean anything when ripped from their original context, shuffled into a ‘genius’ order and spat out again?

Well, I’m not gonna lie: I feel like a kid in a candy store.

For the first time in my life, I don’t have to consult my budget before deciding to listen to all the latest albums in full. I can explore the unchartered waters of bands I’m curious about, but not convinced enough to buy into. I don’t have to actually own any of the music that I reluctantly admit to enjoying *coughsTaylorSwiftcoughs*.

So now I’m faced with the startling question: could this be my music consumption future? Even with my starry-eyed love affair with pretty packaging and outdated technology? I think it could. Maybe.

As I seriously consider allowing Apple to take my money every month in return for this glut of music, I realise that if I choose the digital path, that means ceasing to buy albums in their hard copy form. Which means dealing with a distinct sense of loss. Not just of lingering in the aisles and revelling in liner notes, but also of the delayed gratification involved in deciding which album to commit to.

But given my insatiable appetite for new sounds, perhaps moving with the times won’t hurt quite so much.

Confessions of a ‘1989’ listener

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Generally speaking, pop music makes me uncomfortable. It’s too loud, it’s too catchy, too mundane, too…easy.

So I’m not sure what I was thinking when I bought a copy of Taylor Swift’s 1989.

I’d heard Shake It Off, I’d watched the Blank Space video (which, incidentally, makes for a terrific reaction from all car-lovers… girly screams galore, and that was just my dad). But you know, I didn’t think this was my thing. What did interest me, was how a musician could leap from one genre to the other and bring their fans with them. So I handed over $22 to satisfy my curiosity and listened to the whole damn thing in one sitting. Call it research.

Oddly enough, I can recall my first encounter with Taylor Swift rather vividly – especially given that was a figurative sentence, not a reference to a face-to-face encounter. It was my 17th birthday, I was cruising down the freeway, and one of my best friends (and enthusiastic Swifty) couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard Swift’s eponymous debut album. ‘Play’ was pressed accordingly and I found myself privy to someone else’s love-life in a matter of seconds. I was fascinated; not just by these uncensored matters of the heart, but by the neatness of the meter and rhyme (Edward Lear’s poetry was always my jam).

Seventeen-year-old me may have investigated further, but Love Story had invaded the airwaves several times too often and I made it my full-time job to avoid this soppy, angsty, trash – much less ever seek it out. I turned up The Beatles and directed the full force of my adolescent disdain toward Swift’s crowd-pleasing love songs. Oh yes, my music snobbery started at an early age.

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But how time changes the heart. Last week, I finished my 1989 listening spree feeling subdued and emotionally spent. Swift has always been an earnest scholar of the laws of attraction – and her thorough research has given her reams of relatable material – but 1989 deals more sagely with that vulnerable place between teenage romance and adult affairs. The passions are stronger, the recoveries slower, the scars are deeper, and our narrator changed forever. If ever there was a time to apply the “coming of age” label, this is it.

And let’s talk music. In keeping with the magnitude of the emotions dealt with here, 1989 is created mainly from an expansive palette of 1980’s-inspired synths and booming beats. The banjo has been banished, gone is the girl-next-door twang, and the whole album is begging to be heard loud and live. Even I know this is not typical Swift. That was, in fact, part of the attraction. If I liked this album, I figured, it wouldn’t make me a T-Swizzle fan…right? I’m safe. So I can sing along as loudly as I like… *ahem*

1989 is a pop record, plain and simple. Swift’s knack for narrative and rhyme means she handles the catchy chorus better than most, and her snappy songwriting fits sleekly into her new choice of genre. The euphoric Welcome To New York is surely a concert-opener, Style had me at “James Dean”, but it is Out Of The Woods (which I invariably call “Into The Woods” because I am actually a forgetful, Sondheim-loving grandma) that forms the standout moment of the album for this reviewer. It’s a powerful combination of adult realisation and innocent hope, delivered with hard-hitting repetition and a plethora of backing vocals. Shake It Off pales into insignificance beside this kind of thing.

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So here’s my shocking (at least to me) confession: I’ve had 1989 on repeat ever since I bought it. I can’t say I like all the tracks (Bad Blood, for all its hype, is a little too whiney for my taste), but the bigger numbers keep me coming back for more. Perhaps it’s the inevitable relevance it carries for me as a twentysomething, perhaps it’s the fact that Swift’s songwriting transfers effortlessly to a pop sensibility, perhaps it’s just that sometimes you need to stop thinking and dance. But I actually dig this album.

One more confession: less than a week after purchasing 1989, I added Red to my collection. And though I will never, ever, ever, ever, like THAT song, I rather enjoyed the others. Which begs the question: after all these years, am I actually a Swifty??

Well, they do say denial is the first stage…