The Shape of Sound – Vol.3 Melbourne Australia (Iceage Productions)

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This third and final survey of the sounds of underground Melbourne highlights and celebrates the diversity of styles and approaches currently occurring in our midst.  It feels broader than previous outings, and that’s a good thing, acknowledging some of the progressive work occurring in more electronic and beat based territories.

The eccentric electronics of Worng are a prime example, they sound like zombie acid house music crossed with a John Carpenter score and are probably the highlight of what is a truly eclectic collection of music. It feels like this time around it’s less abrasive than previous outings, with unexpected additions like the gentle repetitive guitar noodling from the appropriately named Sleep Ensemble.

Em Vecue Aquieu also offer gentle meditative atmospheric ambience that’s lush and cinematic yet it’s aggressively ruptured by some piercing electrics of the following track, courtesy of scene mainstay Ollie Olsen, acting like a high priest of noise, corralling all the negative pitches and coalescing them into a cumulative muscular drone piece.

Parts feel like they were originally recorded onto cassette, and there’s a definite low fi wooziness to a lot of the material here, like the organ and drum machine haze of Rites Wild, which with its reverb and delay drenched washes of sound is simultaneously lethargic and strangely compelling.

Robin Fox offers electrics as a field recording, there’s highly textural music concrete from Mitchell Brennan, and Sean Baxter offers some brittle uncomfortable chaos. Matthew Brown’s low-key synthetic experiments are typically amazing, whilst Wife rounds out the collection, sounding like no input mixer feedback loops utilising the most difficult sine tone pitches on the album.

It’s strange and beautiful music, startling and even scary at times. Yet this is the sound of 2013 Melbourne in all it’s weird joyful diversity.

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Etran Finitawa – The Sahara Sessions (Tugboat/ Fuse)

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“There’s something in the texture of the guitar, the desert twang, the repetitive riffs and sparse percussion that connotes not only a sense of wide open space but also struggle.”

Full review at:

http://themusic.com.au/reviews/album/2013/06/19/etran-finatawa-the-sahara-sessions-bob-baker-fish/

 

 

Fragmented Frequencies June 2013

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When I listen to rock music these days all I hear is a lack of ideas. Perhaps I’ve lost the nuance as I’ve tired of the strut, the highly choreographed urgency copied off all the bands that preceded them, the shredding guitars and self involved lyrics. To these ears all I hear are the same tools, the same techniques, the same approaches all subtly changed to appear new, like lipstick on a pig. Frankly you can doll up your swine as much as you like, but there’s no way you’ll convince me to slip the tongue in.

Occasionally something comes along that shatters the mould, like seeing the Swans live for the first time earlier this year at the Corner and being utterly terrified by the pure malevolence, the volume and backwoods tribal experimentalism in the music.  At least they, and a few others like Om, Animal Collective, Black Dice and co are trying to further the genre, to create something new.

The best recent example of the dearth of ideas is the way the new Queens of the Stone Age Like Clockwork album has been received. There’s an elephant in the room. And that elephant is a turkey. My impression from scanning the reviews is that people are simply happy that QOTSA finally have a new album out, and this rapturous joy eclipses any care about whether the music is actually any good. Even so it’s received the kind of sensitive praise that people offer a friend who asks their opinion on a disastrous haircut.

“The most interesting rock band around, doing what they do best,” offered one critic, which is a diplomatic way of saying its run of the mill QOTSA but I like them. It’s all about their “nuance and craft” according to Rolling Stone, which means they’ve now learnt how to write a song. “There’s no denying the passion in creation put towards this album,” suggests Loudwire, which means they tried hard. Then of course there’s the things that people feel like they ‘should’ say like the AU Review with the band“produce an album that is every bit the Queens of the Stone Age we fell in love with,’ which means that they have not progressed in over a decade.

 

What’s interesting is that all the reviews spend an inordinate amount of time, discussing front man Josh Homme’s near death experience on the operating table, his myriad of stupid guests or fill the first couple of paragraphs discussing him as some kind of rock demigod. It feels like the consensus is do anything but talk about the music. Of course after building him up so much, you can’t very well go on and can his album. If you think this album is shit, well then buddy the problem must lie with you. Are you a demigod? No? Well clearly don’t understand genius when it’s marketed to you.

Why aren’t more people talking about the elephant? Asking why the music is so middle of the road (MOR), so limp? Are you not allowed to ask those questions of rock royalty?

What if they’re acting much more like soft rock or dare I say soft pop royalty these days? Because make no mistake Like Clockwork makes Kyuss sound like Merzbow, Foo Fighters like Slayer.

Then of course there are the drummers. Dave Grohl is of course renowned for the violence with which he punished the skins in Nirvana. Jon Theodore is probably one of the most innovative drummers in rock with a pedigree that boast Mars Volta and Royal Trux. Why then are their beats so pedestrian? You’ve got these incredible drummers but you make them play like click tracks?

The problem isn’t that the album is boring; they’re entitled to make insipid music if they wish. It’s the media’s peculiar game, or at best collective delusion that’s more worrying, where rather than speak the truth they leave it to you to read between the lines, decode the text and discover the turkey in the elephant suit.

****Postscript*****

After writing this the album went to number one on the charts in Australia, the US and more than likely everywhere else…..

 

Fragmented Films random column from 2007

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Boom (DV1). Elizabeth Taylor in a role she was much too young for. Boom. Richard Burton in a role he is much too old for. Boom. It’s Richard and Lizzie simmering, their violent chemistry on screen yet again. Richard isn’t quoting Shakespeare, it’s a Tennessee Williams screenplay from his own play, and Lizzie gives a remarkable performance as the world’s richest woman, a recluse slowly dying in her spectacular Mediterranean villa amid servants and sycophants. Boom. The performance is so remarkable that back in 1968 she seems to be tapping into herself later in life, some 40 years on, capturing the power, the regret, the manipulation, and the fear of impending death. Boom. Burton is the wandering poet, dashing in black, nicknamed the ‘angel of death’ due to his propensity for turning up at the bedsides of rich dying older women. Boom. It’s typical Tennessee, a claustrophobic emotional potboiler, a ponderous thematic roller coaster, and these two devoted thespians revel in it. Boom. Tennessee reportedly believed this the best adaptation of his work, and it’s much darker than A Cat on a Hot Tin roof or A Streetcar Named Desire. Yet Boom is infinitely more elusive and obscure. It’s directed by Joseph Losey (Modesty Blaise/ M) and features a tumultuous Mediterranean score from John Barry. John Waters (Polyester) calls it the greatest failed art movie ever with a healthy degree of admiration. Boom. It’s opulent and excessive; the plot almost takes a backseat as Burton and Taylor ravenously circle each other. Boom. It all takes place high on the cliffs as the waves, echoing the emotional unrest and violence of the story continue to crash violently into the rocks. Boom.

This story of three generations of the one Hungarian family is not exactly a coming of age story, more like a cumming of age story if you catch my drift. And the sexuality that is being awakened is not that of an awkward pimply teenager, rather it’s a dirty dimwitted officer who awakens it inside a freshly slaughtered pig.  And that’s just the beginning. The work of Hungarian filmmaker Gyorgy Palfi is equal parts high art, exploitation, surrealism, and fable, yet it’s gorgeously filmed with such a mischievous understanding of the cinematic language that you can’t help but be enthralled. In fact it’s virtually indistinguishable from Amelie, except Taxidermia (Siren) possesses a little more masturbation, projectile vomiting, obese sex, animals chewing on the internal organs of humans, roosters pecking penises and the odd decapitation. Wrongness has never been this right. Despite its extremities the film is filled with these incredible delicately nuanced moments of ordinary confusion that teeter on the edge of realism before choosing a more imaginative less restrictive path. The score, in part from Brazilian Ninja Tune artist Amon Tobin is right on the money, vicious and minimal. It’s hard to know what this is. A warning about the dangers of elite sports? Of the lure of stuffing dead animals? Or coveting thy sergeant’s scary looking wife? It’s a portrait of a family who never really had a chance possibly due to some form of defective gene that carried through the generations. Gyorgy Palfi may not yet be household name, but you can’t make a film like this and not get arrested, I mean noticed.

Robot Chicken Season 2 (Madman) is stupid. And it’s a testament to the lowest common denominator half brain dead, half medicated audience that it’s so popular. If you watch way too much bad American TV, take mind numbing drugs and like watching puppets violently attack each other in incredibly wrong ways then welcome home. It’s claymation and barbie dolls doing terrible terrible things to each other, things that Barbie’s shouldn’t even know about. All those half thought out what if’s as you pass around your medicinal device all appear here in various forms. Horny pedophile unicorns, idiots with time machines, Sex and the City crossed with the Golden Girls, a happy skit called morning wood, robots humping washing machines, psycho hungry hungry hippos. There’s skits that delight in reliving franchises like Star Wars, and Harry Potter of urine, but what they do to hangman, space invaders and spy hunter is just plain wrong. They delight in digging up the b-grade, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim saving the Bush twins, Owen Wilson, Don Cheadle, Ben Stiller, even Dr Who pops up. If you are a nerd with bad taste you are home. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Some of it is amazing, other bits are quoting pop culture references so obscure that the nerd who can decode it has not been invented yet.