Deus – Corner Hotel Melbourne

So two decades into their career, and six albums down the track Belgium’s best kept secret finally make their way down to Melbourne. Early Deus is incredible, as grunge hit in the early 90’s, here were this band deeply in thrall of all things Americana, yet forging their own distinct identify, melding pop, with jazz, with guitar music in a strangely compelling way. Their first two albums are peerless, both 1994’s Worst Case Scenario and 1996’s In A Bar Under The Sea contain pretty much everything you need to know about music in terms of performance, composition and production. From here the band split into numerous different directions, and the subsequent four albums have been patchy at best. These days the five piece contains only two original members, violinist Klaas Janzoons and guitarist and chief songwriter Tom Barman.

Perhaps in Australia the Deus secret is a little too well kept, because the Corner only ever reached about three quarters full with perhaps an older median age than many recent shows, suggesting that many, like the writer, were seemingly keen to relive the soundtrack to the misspent years of their youth. Deus didn’t come here in the 90’s, which may account for why the older tunes of their first two albums relieved such rapturous responses. Even the unassuming jaunty Little Arithmetic’s from In A Bar Under The Sea, still enjoyed fists in the air and earnest sing-along’s. Yet it was songs like the literary melancholy of Hotel Lounge where you could hear the power and invention that seemed effortless to the band in the mid 90’s. They returned for an encore with Theme From Turnpike, a little play at being Tom Waits via Bruce Springsteen, and the band felt somehow freer, jumping around, clearly having a great time. “This is the last show of the tour, we’re on a plane tomorrow, so we’re going upstairs for a drink,“ they offer later.  They dedicated the indie funk of Fell off the Floor to Adam Yauch, and to finish, they offered up Suds and Soda, a song we never thought we’d hear in Australia, and it was hair on the back of the neck incredible, particularly during the outro with Barman rapping “So whatcha whatcha whatcha want?”

Whilst for many of us it was about marking something off a list, and as much as we tried to pigeonhole them Deus weren’t simply a nostalgia act. The injection of new blood has been an injection of life.

Bob Baker Fish

 

 

 

 

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Lee Randaldo – Between the Times and the Tides (Matador)

News of the Thurston Moore Kim Gordon split last year fractured the hope and stability of middle aged ex grungers everywhere. Whilst grave fears were (and still are) held for the future of Sonic Youth, few have expressed concern about the remaining members of the band.

Over the years guitarist Lee Ranaldo would periodically issue strange experimental solo albums, saving his more conventional pop and rock song writing for Sonic Youth. Songs like Eric’s Trip, Skip Tracer, and Karen Koltrane offered greater nuance to the Youth’s. Perhaps more low key than Moore; his songs equally married intrigue, intelligence and introspection.

The question with his debut ‘song’ based album is how he will cope without the buffer, finally unleashed from the shadow of indie rock’s power couple. To begin with he’s backed by New York alumni, with Youth band mate Steve Shelley on drums, fellow experimental guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco), guitarist collaborator Alan Licht (Text of Light), keyboardist John Medeski (Medeski Martin & Wood), and cameos from ex (original) Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert and weirdo musician and ex Sonic Youth bass player Jim O’Rourke.

Yet the results are surprisingly tame and very musical, sounding more like REM, the Posies or even a less caustic version of Jim O’Rourke’s solo albums for Drag City than the evil squalling Sonic Youth. It’s a pop album, with moments of lilting country folk. If you know Ranaldo’s Sonic Youth work there wont be many surprises here, aside from the lack of risk. In place of experimentation is an unabashed love of guitar based melodic pop and it’s surprisingly catchy. It’s definitely not the next Sonic Youth album, and if you can remove that from your expectations it will help. That said a few moments of Thurston or perhaps Nels dissonance would’ve provided the album a little more weight.

Bob Baker Fish

Interview with Bombay Royale

The best thing about Bollywood films is everything. The music, the dancing, the cheesiness, the colours, the cheapness, the lavishness, the lack of tongue bashing, the clichéd storylines, the amazing cultural clashes, the sheer bizarreness, and cultural uniqueness. Because lets face it, no other culture could do what they do.  The music is incredible, often a unique fusion of Indian instruments and traditions alongside the blatant theft of prevailing western genres, and more often than not the very riffs of popular songs. Whilst many of the soundtracks these days utilise the highly popular Bhangra dance music, there was a golden period of Bollywood film music in the 60’s and 70’s when names like RD Burman and Ghulam Haider reigned supreme, dropping one amazing genre defining soundtrack after another.

I spoke to the skipper, Bombay Royale founder Andy Williamson.

Bob: I’ve just seen you play live at Womadeliade and it’s a visual feast with fantastic costumes and a real theatrical aspect to your performance. Is this what you originally envisaged or were you just thinking about the music when you began?

Andy: It was always about the music. So that meant both live performance and recording. The more I researched I had this growing awareness of this old cinematic stuff, Bollywood movies from the 60’s and 70’s. Fantastic soundtracks and no one really performing it live. So initially I wanted to be in a band playing this stuff live. I just thought it would sound awesome because it’s this mash up of Indian styles and Western cinematic influences as well which are really fun as a musician.

And on the other side I didn’t want it to just be a whole bunch of musicians standing there in jeans and t-shirts playing it really straight. It’s sometimes a double edged sword where audience members see us all dressed and see us doing that theatrical thing and take it on that level and get distracted by it. But it’s always been about the music.

Bob: Were you concerned that people might not realise that it’s a homage, that they might see it as a joke?

Andy: There is probably always going to be a percentage of people who will take it like that. But if people have watched those films and know about the genre they’ll know there’s the tongue in cheek element to it.  Hopefully if they listen and if we’re doing a good job they’ll know that there’s a lot of effort gone into making it sound the part.

Bob: What attracts you so much to this music from the 60’s and 70’s Bollywood?

Andy: Especially in that period they were really making up the rules there was a big western influence but it is a genre into itself. Those films have everything from gangsters and bandits through to romantic and comedy and its all rolled into one. They’re mental.

I see us as having a conversation with that genre but we’re mostly from an Australian background other than the singers who are from an Indian background. We’re a Melbourne band and its our take on it and we’re having a conversation with it and using it as a springboard to create songs and music of our own.

Bob: Have you ever felt uncomfortable about playing music from another culture that isn’t your own?

Andy: Not really to be honest it was more something that I had to think about subsequently. As a musician in Melbourne I’ve played in all kinds of bands from reggae to blues to Afrobeat and no one says you didn’t grow up in the south of America in the 1920’s so you shouldn’t be playing jazz, you didn’t grow up in Jamaica in the 1950’s so you shouldn’t be playing reggae. You know what I mean? So we’re not predominantly from an Indian cultural band but if the music’s awesome and you think that you can do it justice…it’s only subsequently people have been saying what do you think you’re doing? Maybe it is a bit of a novelty that we’re a Bollywood band from Melbourne.

Bob: I thought Bollywood music had traditionally viewed with disdain by most in the West.

Andy: More recently its getting the recognition it deserves. I remember when I was a kid talking about Bollywood it was a by word it often had a derisory connotation about. But that’s something I obviously feel pretty passionate about. I mean its awesome music. We’ve missed out that no one has put something to play this kind of music a bit more often.

Bob: What do you think made the music at this time so mental, so amazing?

Andy: I don’t think they were trying to play music in a sense. It was their own take. They were having a conversation with Western cinema. I think. They were producing a lot of films and a lot of music and like anything that’s doing that there’s plenty of pretty average material amongst it, but you’ll actually find that even if the rest of the film is pretty bad often the production value and the effort and the thought will still go into the compositions and the dance stuff. It can go from really high production values in those sections of the films through to just one nonsensical dialogue that’s just been shot in a single take.

Bob: So you originally began by covering the music?

Andy: It was all covers initially and I charted out about 25 or 30 tunes for a full band so I wrote everything out because it’s very detailed. It’s not the kind of band that you could jam out week after week and get it happening. You really need that kind of structure there.

Initially it was something that I got happening that popped out of my imagination but as its progressed others have taken a lot more ownership of it.  Then we started writing a lot more which is the reason why 8 out of the ten tracks on the album are originals. There’s only a couple of covers in there that give it a reference because it’s a different style of Bollywood music to the Bollywood of today. A lot of people wouldn’t recognise it as Bolyowood because its got that kind’ve Bhangra electronic thing now

Bob: So again why go back?

Andy: It’s the compositional elements, the arrangements, the big horn sections all that stuff in the 60’s and 70’s was the golden persiod for that. Same as Western music. Western pop doesn’t have the same elements these days.

There seemed to be more license for composers at that time, both in India and in the West there seemed to be more composers who could make musical statements in films. In the West you had people like Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schiffrin and Quincy Jones and in India you have people like RD Burman and Ghulam Haider and really all these people were famous in their time. You don’t have film composers with the same kind of fame these days or really stamping their sound on a film. With film you’re often at the mercy of the filmmaker and often they’ll have fairly conservative ideas about what they want you to do musically and often its fairly stereotyped. There’s a horse there so you have to make a clipity clop sound, and those old films they often made some radical decisions.

Bob: I’ve been expecting to see you guys pop up on a soundtrack soon.

Andy: We’ve had a couple of skirmishes with it. There’s an Indian based film set in South Africa and they used us for the title music for that. A heist kind’ve Tarantinoesque type film. I haven’t actually seen it yet as it was only released in South Africa.

Bob: I understand you’ll be highlighting the faux soundtrack nature of your new album at your launch.

Andy: We’re getting a video artist in, we’ve been logging lots of old film and we’re getting two big projections up. It’s epic visual bombardment.

Bob: So your character is the Skipper. Tell me how that came about?

Andy: There are a few skippers in different films. I’ve got a poster on my wall of a film from Pakistan called Miss Hong Kong that has a huge skippers head, but even in the Bollywood films there’s always officials or crazy chiefs of police or naval officers. There’s always someone in a uniform calling the shots. My Dad was a real ships captain that wasn’t conscious but maybe there’s some Freudian thing going on there. He’s this slightly corrupt Love Boat Captain. If I put him in a full military outfit it would’ve been a bit too heavy and a bit too wrong, but in a white sailors outfit he’s got a little decadence to him.

Bombay Royale launch You Me Bullets Love (Hope Street)

MELBOURNE
May 19th – YOU ME BULLETS LOVE Album launch, @HIFI BAR

SYDNEY
June 10th, 7.30PM – YOU ME BULLETS LOVE Album launch @THE BASEMENT

Max Crumbs – Maidenhair (Sensory Projects)

You may think you know Max Kohane, drummer for grind merchants Agents of Abhorrence, part of experimental duo PIVIXKI with renowned improviser and new music composer Anthony Pateras, and member of cheeky electronic outfit Brain Children with Mikey Young (Eddie Current Suppression Ring). After all how many sides can there be to one man’s musical personality?

Well Maidenhair, perhaps named after a plant, suggests there’s at least one more. This is solo Max, a woozy bubbling almost narcotic electronica, brimming with samples, synths and squiggles that sound nothing like the aforementioned projects. Maidenhair is a gentle soup of ingredients, at times pitched like a seasick swell at others taking on a lazy r&b groove before delving into a noisy electro rock. What’s unique for electronic music is that not everything feels controlled. Ingredients float in and out, a skipping beat, amorphous samples, strange swirls of synth. The music breathes, almost pulses on its own. It feels like a living organism, There are multiple approaches here, strange unexpected stylistic juxtapositions, almost like he has just emptied out his musical brain into a bag, given it a shake and carefully picked out bits and pieces with little notion or care about musical convention. There’s everything from big sweeping melodic hooks, to looped grooves, and strangely rickety percussion. Voices sing out from beneath the swells, wistful synthetic swirls permeate.

It’s simultaneously playful and earnest. Whilst track titles like Yucky Oven, Undies and Choked on Yoga Mat suggest humour, and admittedly there is a certain playfulness in the way the sounds are arranged, the overriding impression is of beautifully wonky DIY beats under a synthetic swirl of discombobulating warmth and catchy, almost pop wooziness.  It’s possible he may have invented a new genre here.

 

 

Fragmented Frequencies May 2012

Since it was established in 1914 the Phillips Research laboratories (NatLab) in Holland has given us the very first artificial reverb, tape recording, stereo, the cassette tape, cd, DVD, blue ray, and Songs of the Second Moon (Omni). You see  due to the cold war, the arms race and the frequent threat of annihilation via an atom bomb, technology had developed something of an image problem. Consequently Phillips brought in some composers, in the hope that their technological music could put a human face on the new toys. The result was Songs of the Second Moon – the first piece of electronic pop music, recorded in about 1957. It was produced over a couple of days by Dick Raaijmakers (aka Kid Baltan), pressed as a single and given away to visitors to the lab. Despite the tune’s lofty status in the pantheon of electronic music, Raaijmakers was inexplicably demoted to assistant to fellow composer Tom Dissevelt. However the duo proceeded to record twenty or so tracks over the next three years in what was a quite laborious process.

The music is this jaunty space age swirl, with synthetic oscillations and bubbling textures, creating what is one moment playful, the next menacing, as the duo struggle reign in the beast that would become electronic music. You can hear everything from bachelor pad exotica to avant-garde electronics, and even a primitive precursor to acid house. It’s all here. As a side note it’s music that could’ve been the soundtrack to 2001 A Space Odyssey, as Stanley Kubrick requested the music for a new space project he was working on. The duo had never heard of him so they ignored the letter which is reprinted on this Omni reissue of the duos complete output during the period. Check Youtube for videos of them smoking cigarettes and explaining tape machines in their lab. It’s in Dutch but the vibe is tremendous.

Austrian born now Brisbane based sound artist Heinz Riegler was snowed in for 80 days in a cabin in the Austrian Alps last year. At first everything felt muted, two tone colours and near silence. But then something strange happened. His ears began to attune to the minute, the trickle of a faraway brook, the texture and ferocity of the wind and  “snowflakes falling and hitting the ground…. well, maybe not so much hitting the ground, more like fusing with it,” he write in his notes. He also composed an album of surprising stillness and beauty, both powerful and subtle and clearly the product of his self imposed exile. Survey #2 A Thousand Dreams I Never Had is a limited edition of 100 handmade cassettes (+download link) released on Lawrence English’s new A Guide To Saints cassette imprint, and it’s truly an amazing work of electro acoustic beauty. He’s also recently contributed a free mixtape that includes a short excerpt of this work alongside pieces from Chris Watson, Broadcast, our own Lost Animal and an unreleased track from Melbourne’s Jason Heller on http://www.internationaltapes.com.

The environment is also an integral component in the work of Melbourne cellist Anthea Caddy and sound artist Thembi Soddell. Host (Room40) is their second album and it sees the duo who improvise regularly together, attempting to mine the relationship between the spatial environment and the way it can create altered characteristics or distortions to sound. They do this by recording in the Applied Acoustics Group reverberation chamber at RMIT, and other non-defined acoustic spaces, which I believe includes as dam wall in the Victorian high country.  They’ve used this relationship as a metaphor for the distortions in perception or psyche and how this relates to an understanding of the physical world. The gist seems to be that perception equals reality, but if the perception is skewed or impaired, as much of ours is, then our understanding of reality may be dramatically different. Musically this is expressed by a dark slightly agitated world of abrupt cuts, in building noise contrasted violently by silence and near silence. Caddy, uses a variety of haunting almost violent non musical techniques that scrape, tear and tension her cello within an inch of its life, providing a highly textural foil to Soddell’s electrics and field recordings. It’s a dark, unsettling but always compelling.