Australian 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.

Living In 2017: A millennial commentary on Skyhooks

When Twenty One Pilots released Stressed Out, it was as though the millennial population found an outlet it hadn’t even realised it needed. Its words reached out and touched the tender bruise of anxiety in so many of us, acknowledging our weary battles on the frontlines of adulthood, so frequently glossed over by radio hits.

But like much millennial commentary on modern life, Stressed Out is permeated with a desolation that provides little comfort beyond empathy. After all, Twenty One Pilots are of our generation: they’re as lost and world-weary as the rest of us, and Stressed Out is as much a quest for answers as it is a comment on the lack thereof.

I listened to a lot of FM radio over 2016, so this New Year’s Day I did what I do every time modern music gets me down: raid my parents’ musical archives.

In the case of my mother, this features both Sherbet and Skyhooks rather heavily – and while Howzat will always be an irreplaceable piece of Australian music gold, I found Skyhooks to be the anxious millennial’s best friend. Yes, I am talking about a 1970’s band, no, I am not a Baby Boomer, and once I was as resistant to this idea as you probably are now.

Skyhooks first proved their millennial relevance innocently enough – my parents made me listen to All My Friends Are Getting Married after 18-year-old me had complained once too often about the number of engagements announced in my Facebook feed. Oh, I initially rolled my eyes at the dated groove and crazy costumes, but the not-so-subtle scepticism of marital life soon had me feeling as free as a bird.

As I embark on 2017 – due for the proverbial quarter-life-crisis in about 7 months – it is Living In The 70’s (the album, as well as the title track) that I find myself holding close. The track itself has a restless, wide-eyed bewilderment that is all too familiar for those of us growing up in this fast-paced digital age. It acknowledges the feelings of alienation that modern progress brings (“I feel a little crazy, I feel a little strange”); the can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it trepidation about the ever-increasing lack of humanity (“eating fake food under plastic trees”); and most of all, the rising panic of having to deal with it all (“I need another pill to calm me down”).

Where Twenty One Pilots soar into helpless falsetto, Shirley Strachan lowers his voice to a feisty snarl: Skyhooks may have felt bamboozled by the plastic age, but there’s a fierce survivalist pride to their delivery that feels bloody good to imbibe by proxy.

They keep up the fight for the rest of the album, too, if you’re interested – and again, it’s strangely relevant. Horror Movie makes us feel better for hating the news, while Whatever Happened To The Revolution sounds eerily applicable to a world full of “clicktivism”, where Trump is president and marriage equality still battles to come into existence:

Everybody thought we could win with a vote
So the band went home without playing a note
…When you’re sick of your parties and sick of your sweets
Get off your arses I’ll see you out in the streets

skyhooks

You’ll crack a smile though – it’s not all doom, gloom and politics. Anyone who’s ever had a dodgy Tinder date will have a hearty giggle at You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good In Bed and Balwyn Calling (“Oh she might have looked like a princess/ Why’d you have to give her your address?!”). Any self-respecting millennial has also surely had to put up with being asked Hey What’s The Matter With You? (“You can’t have your dope and smoke it too”) by Bernard Salt et. al., so why not clap along as you return the question with a healthy dose of sarcasm and electric guitars?

More than anything, Living In The 70’s provides ample distraction from the anxieties of today. Revel in the unbridled sexiness of Motorcycle Bitch and cringe at the pre-internet inconvenience of wanking in Smut (be warned also: it will ruin Twisties for you). Use this album as a time machine, or let it apply to now: the choice is yours, and the result is medicinal either way.

This music may be more than four decades old (indeed, nearly two decades older than most millennials), but in being older, Skyhooks can offer reassurance where our contemporary acts can not. We might feel a little crazy, we might feel a little strange, but we’re not the first to have done so – and we’re unlikely to be the last.

 

SAFIA @ Enmore Theatre 18.11.16

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Seats? What seats? Everyone became a dancer at SAFIA’s Enmore Theatre gig last Friday.

4/5

Some gigs are led by the performers, leaving audiences in the wake of their brilliance. Some (not-so-great) gigs are led by the audience, dutifully egging on an artist who over-promised and under-delivered. And still other (definitely great) gigs are a manifestation of glorious performer/audience teamwork; a cycle that is the antithesis of vicious, amplifying vibe upon enthusiastic vibe to create an outpouring of abandoned self-expression for both parties.

SAFIA and their wonderful fans succeeded in delivering something like the latter at the Enmore Theatre on Friday night.

Sydney duo Set Mo had amply warmed the crowd with their persuasive disco tunes, but the roar that greeted SAFIA’s appearance on stage was worthy of a band with twice their (already impressive) success. An eclectic, casual and irrepressibly cheerful bunch, it was clear this audience had been with SAFIA for a while. Singing their hearts out from the get-go and dancing in their seats, they were rewarded with multiple confetti cannons, funky visuals and a hella lot of energy.

Pumping through a set list filled with tracks from their debut album Internal, as well as old favourites such as Make Them Wheels Roll , Counting Sheep and Embracing Me, SAFIA hurled themselves tirelessly at an audience who lovingly returned the energy tenfold. Each song was greeted like a hit single; every lyric was hollered by the devoted; and even those of us who usually treat seats as sacred carriers of personal space, abandoned them to better allow our bodies to move instinctively with the beats. Within 20 minutes the entire theatre was on its feet, grooving as one big party.

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(Source)

If only someone had put a Fitbit on frontman Ben Woolner, he would surely have racked up his 10,000 steps within the hour, running from end to end like a crackling ball of electricity. While bandmates Michael Bell and Harry Sayers stayed put till the end, their contribution was just as intense – and the throngs of outstretched arms when they finally approached the stage edge proved their equal popularity.

SAFIA is certainly a band that comes to life on the stage. Already catchy and heartfelt, their electronic pop explodes with new immediacy when heard in the flesh; the grooves have an all-encompassing presence, and there was a sense of communal catharsis as the fans bellowed the chorus of My Love Is Gone.

In a city where live music venues are dying left, right and centre, a gig like this goes a long way to instil confidence and hope in the Sydney music scene. And in a day and age where millennials are decried for their anti-social behaviour, it was nice to revel in a crowd of young people encouraging others to dance, singing with abandon and happily enjoying the full-body effects of bloody good dance music.

Things I think while listening to the radio: part II

25. Drake – One Dance

WHY THE HELL IS THIS STILL ON THE RADIO.

24. Andy Grammar – Fresh Eyes

This actually does sound fresh, given it hasn’t reached grotesquely overplayed status yet. It’s average in the extreme, though.

23. Zara Larsson – Ain’t My Fault

That I am switching radio stations right now? Yes Zara, it is.

22. Illy ft. Anne-Marie – Catch 22

I like my rap with a catchy chorus to break up the monotony, so I am SOLD. Plus, there’s a sense of camaraderie about this track that means it’s unlikely to go stale anytime soon. Winning.

21. FRENSHIP – Capsize

Peaceful filler material. Good driving music. Mindless ease. And yes, those are all backhanded compliments.

20. Mike Perry and Shy Martin – The Ocean

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

19. Jonas Blue – Perfect Strangers

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

18. Starley – Call On Me

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

17. Shawn Mendes – Mercy

NONONONONONONONONONONONONONO. No more. Mercy. Please. #ironyintheextreme

16. Nevada et. al. – The Mack

I guess I can-…but really, can we just inject some new tunes already?!

15. Little Mix – Shout Out To My Ex

If you do not hear the fun in this, you are surely a rock in human form.

14. Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha – In The Name Of Love

Time to headbang in slow motion/sing with much angst. I have no shame.

13. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

New Bruno Mars?! OMG yay!! Wait…it’s a lukewarm Uptown Funk. Dammit.

12. Drake – Fake Love

Oh Drake…I don’t know how you do it, but your voice annoys the absolute bejeezus out of me. This song is no exception.

11. Sia – The Greatest

Oh God, how am I going to convince my vocal students not to try and sing like that? Sounds simultaneously painful and kickass. Thanks Sia. Technique aside, I shall happily endorse this song.

10. Calvin Harris – My Way

How am I not yet sick of this song? That riff, dammit. So catchy, so danceable.

9. Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj – Side To Side

I may have to wash my ears out afterwards, but I am going to listen to this song anyway. Coz hot damn, that beat.

8. Hailee Steinfeld – Starving

I didn’t know that I was starving until you reminded me Hailee. And now I’m hungry and grumpy, because all three major radio stations are playing your song at the same time. For the fifth time this half hour.

7. DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber – Let Me Love You

Good lyrics, good groove…I am going to holler that chorus like my life depends on it.

6. Major Lazer ft. Justin Bieber and MO – Cold Water

More Bieber?! What luck! A little less catchy, but still seamless. Good times.

5. Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar – Don’t Wanna Know

Meh. *nods head absentmindedly*

4. The Chainsmokers ft. Phoebe Ryan – All We Know

All you know, Chainsmokers, is how to make songs that sound like Closer.

3. James Arthur – Say You Won’t Let Go

Ladies and gentlemen, successfully filling the void that Jamie Lawson left when we finally got over I Wasn’t Expecting That, please welcome Mr James Arthur! Can we all move on from the cutesy acoustic ballads now?

2. The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer

Why is that riff not more annoying? Is it annoying? Do I like it? Oh yay Halsey’s singing.

1. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – Starboy

Must there be a counter-intuitive emphasis on the end of each phrase? It messes with my classical brain. Also there’s only so many times I can tolerate ‘ah’ and its rhyming colleagues. Not feeling this one Weeknd, soz dude.

Tinpan Orange @ The Vanguard 20.5.16

Tinpan Orange on stage at The Vanguard last Friday


4.5/5

The red wine flowed generously among the diners of The Vanguard last Friday, as they held hands in the candlelight or chatted animatedly to friends over multiple courses of dinner. With the median age hovering closer to 50 than 25, this was a crowd who likes to gig in comfort – and with such mesmerising performers as Tinpan Orange on the bill, why not?

The mood was unsurprisingly mellow before support act Jim Lawrie took the stage to serenade us. His lilac-hued tales of heartbreak, featuring resolute circles of emotional self-destruction, added an extra layer to the room’s comfortable stupor. It seemed we might never emerge from these fuzzy depths of melancholy, but they vanished the instant Emily Lubitz stepped on stage.

Blessed though she is with a magnetic stage presence and bewitching voice, Tinpan Orange’s front woman is also about as unaffected as they come. Chatting candidly about her inspirations, Emily readily admitted to borderline plagiarism and seeking songwriting assistance from Facebook, causing giggles and guffaws from every seat.

Beginning with the title track off new release Love Is A Dog, Tinpan powered through a crowd-pleasing set list that was equal parts nostalgia, and a persuasive argument for the purchase of their new material. Over The Sun favourites Birdy and Barcelona made a well-received appearance, while Song For Frida Kahlo satisfied the more loyal fans in the audience. But it was the band’s new songs that sounded freshest and most assured.

It is likely some of that assurance comes from Tinpan Orange’s newly refined musical identity. There is a cohesiveness to their latest album borne of artistic confidence, and it manifested in the quiet conviction that underpinned all their deliveries. Guitarist Jesse Lubitz provided solid rhythmic support not just in his playing, but in guiding the set list seamlessly through its paces, while Emily left us breathless in the wake of her candid vocal explorations.

The addition of violin virtuoso Alex Burkoy brought yet another dimension to the Tinpan sound – and it damn near made the show. At first it seemed Burkoy was only there to provide the melodic bass lines we were all familiar with, but suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a blistering violin solo that garnered a roar from the audience when it finally ended.

The fireworks were kept to a tasteful minimum however. Cities of Gold soared tenderly above the hushed crowd, Fools and Cowboys charmed and amused with its cautionary advice, and Rich Man was every bit as captivating as it sounds on the record. But it was unassuming album-closer Leopard that delivered that moment of pure,  spine-tingling intimacy that us gig-goers secretly hope every live encounter will offer up. Walking casually among the tables, the band clambered up on chairs and issued forth with disarming candour, stunning musicianship and a very real awareness of who they were sharing the room with.

An encore was non-negotiable and it came, in the form of a Lubitz-ised cover of Hank Williams’ Jambalaya. An odd choice perhaps, from a band whose audience had consistently begged for their originals, but it was further proof that these musicians’ confident brushstrokes can be applied to other canvases with stunning effect.

SINGLE REVIEW: Tinpan Orange’s ‘Rich Man’

Four stars

With their loving attention to detail, quirky topic material and Emily Lubitz’s eerie-yet-approachable vocals, it’s hardly surprising this standout Aussie act is charging ahead with their 5th studio album. Due for release on April 8, Love Is A Dog is available for pre-order now, and Rich Man is the first single off the album.

Tremulous guitar arpeggios let Lubitz’s elastic croon take centre stage in the opening bars; applying the first brushstrokes to the shady character of this cautionary tale: “He can buy the love he needs/ Opens doors with all his keys/ Takes you where the people know/ Wear it like it’s yours to own”.

Feather-light piano accents may raise goosebumps, helped along by the plaintive violin harmonies. You can almost feel Lubitz’s breath close to your ear, thanks to the intimacy of the vocal delivery. Later, the sparsest of bass lines is provided by the piano and brushed snares whisper secretively in the background.

If Rich Man is anything to go by, Tinpan Orange are moving away from the wayward freshness of 2012’s Over The Sun (incidentally the first album I reviewed for The Sydney Morning Herald – excuse my nostalgia), due probably to the inevitable march of maturity. There’s a sultry darkness, a whiff of hard-earned wisdom and a deeper sensuality to this track than their previous work.

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.

Follow Favourites

 

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!

 

Friday wrap-up: Szymon, The Basics & At The Dakota

Szymon – Tigersapp

3.5/5 stars

It is a great shame that Tigersapp will always sit in the shadow of its creator’s death; a greater shame still that there will be no follow-up (or three). This collection of dreamy indie-pop electronica is as gentle as it is layered, as intricate as it is sensitive – gently unpolished and somewhat unfinished, but captivating all the same. Lovingly constructed from a plethora of beautiful timbres and finely intersecting rhythms, Tigersapp showcases a flourishing musical talent with burgeoning potential. The spine-tingling keyboard riff of Golden is a standout, as is the honey-toned saxophone solo on Polen; and while Szymon’s vocals aren’t as strong as his songwriting, they serve their dreamlike purpose well enough.

The Basics – The Age Of Entitlement

1.5/5 stars

Gotye et. al. return with an acerbic take on Australian politics that is biting, but ultimately empty. Thrashing around from pub rock to brooding ballad, to Afro-beat, the result is an unconvincing album of pastiche that fails to truly engage. The band succeed most in Time Poor, a ranty rock number that damns the Western world’s glorification of ‘busy’; Roundabout weirdly channels George Michael’s Faith but also works to get the album grooving. Given the prodigious talent of the musicians at work here, it it surprising that The Age Of Entitlement casts such a wide net yet fails to bring home the goods.

At The DakotaStories EP

2.5/5 stars

Maybe I’m still suffering withdrawals from the infectious summer pop of Hungry Kids Of Hungary, but the retro groove of opener Peach Hat had me hooked. As a general rule, Northern Territory musicians At The Dakota dish out upbeat indie groove-pop with guitar, bass, drums, and sweetly melodic piano lines. It quickly turns into something more gritty though, as fast-paced lyrics fire in all directions above the chilled guitar backing. It’s smile-inducing and warm, but to simply describe this EP as ‘sunny’ would be to miss the infinitely cooler soul/rock undercurrent that occasionally makes itself known.

Listen on Bandcamp.