Fragmented Frequencies Feb 10

When old people turn out to be talented musicians from a former age then everybody wins. If there’s one thing the Buena Vista Social Club taught us, it’s not to dismiss the oldies, you just never know. Since then we’ve been blown away by middle aged Balkan dudes (Fanfare Ciorcarlia), and dazzled by poorly amplified thumb pianists from Congo (Konono No 1). The Tango is another story. Not only is it a percussion button on your organ, but also Argentina’s national music, and its sultry sound throbbed through the streets of Buenos Aires in the 40’s until it was curtailed by the military dictatorships that remained in place until the mid 80’s. These days there’s something of a tango revival happening in Buenos Aires and in the DVD Cafe de Los Maestros (Hopscotch), Gustav Santaol, academy award winning composer of Babel and Brokeback Mountain leads a scattered journey through the genre, meeting the maestros and uncovering the history of the unique sound. Early on we see a 70 year old bloke singing acapela at the race track and we know we’re in good hands. “If when you listen to a well played tango you don’t feel your chest trembling, go do something else,” offers one of the aging maestros. There’s some remarkable grainy television footage of old school bandoneon (accordion) bands and plenty of pearls of wisdom from the aging legends, “He who plays silence well can play tango well.” Right. There are tearful reunions after decades apart, footage of the maestros in the recording studio and of course how could this film end but with a triumphant concert hall appearance from the legends themselves. There wasn’t a dry pelvis, I mean eye, in the house.

Julian Williams is from Melbourne. He creates this peculiar kind of outsider pop and has released (maybe) 20 odd albums. His latest is Zhu Zi Dan Ge (From the Same Mother) and it’s inspired by a six month stay in China in 2007. It’s much more poppier than last year’s Liquidamber, comprising of quite simple repetitive organ and guitar chords, occasional metronomic percussion and these lush slightly unhinged Beach Boysesque vocal harmonies. It’s a strange endearing mix, feeling like your subconscious went out to cash convertors bought some cheap outdated music gear and started a lo-fi pop band. By itself. Because Williams who also plays in Melbourne legends The Hi God People and Inevitable Orbit, plays all of the instruments alone. The lyrics are obscure, he sings of ‘forests of dead peat, ‘blisters on the skin of the foghorn,’ and birds ‘underwater.’ At times it’s a little reminiscent of a messier, more spazzed out DIY sounding Panda Bear, yet at others its a random lunatic on the street singing along to his headphones. He’s launching this weirdo melodic opus tonight (Wed 17th) at Stutter at Horse Bazaar alongside the always interesting Justin K Fuller’s (Zond) lucid trance guitar and the uncomfortably named Wet Patch who are apparently a drone duo.

Well it’s Womadelaide time again (March 5-8) and whilst it seems you have to make the trek to Crows territory to see the likes of Ethiopian singer and Ethiopiques recording artist Mahmoud Ahmed and also the Jamaican institution The Skatalites, where sleazy organ genius Jackie Mittoo got his break as a 12 year old, some folks are actually sliding across to Melbourne. Firstly there’s the 90 year old sitar maestro Ravi Shankar on his farewell Australia tour on the 20th of March at Hamer Hall, yet also theatrical French party band Babylon Circus playing the Corner on the 10th of March. Then there’s the inventive Hungarian gypsy ensemble Besh o Drom who steal musical styles from everywhere, including electronic music and create incredibly distinctive sounds at breakneck speeds. They’re reportedly amazing live and they’re stopping by for Karavan, Melbourne’s inaugural Gypsy Music Festival on the 27th of Feb at the Corner Hotel. Also featured are entertaining Russian gangsters Vulvergrad, the gypsy deathcore of Barons of Tang and Unified Geko.

Finally if you’re in the market for free music Beck is hosting a bunch of musicians on his website including Wilco dudes Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy, Jamie Lidell, and Devandra Banhart all collaborating with a bunch of others. Beck explains it as “an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. The songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering.” Some, not all of it is pretty good. http://www.beck.com/record_club.

Fragmented Frequencies 2nd Jan 09

jw

There is something curiously unhinged about Melbourne musician and playwright Julian William’s latest album Liquidamber (Spill/ Synaesthesia). It’s like a brooding circus sideshow, except without the groove. It’s pop music for the experimentalists, highly original highly idiosyncratic outsider music, with bizarre sounds careering around happily over which Williams intones, multi-tracked in very loose harmony with himself. Whilst listening I kept thinking some strange animal was creaking around in my room just out of eyeshot which made me kind’ve nervous. Williams is probably best known for his equally unhinged work in one of Melbourne’s most interesting ensembles The Hi God People, a loose collective of musicians and performance artists who tend to mesmirise astound and confuse with each successive performance. Liquidamber has some conventional instruments such as guitar, organ and wind instruments, also some sped up or slowed down field recordings, the field being his house. The icing on top are his vocal harmonies, his call and lethargic response, his dense at times extremely scattered layers and pitches of vocals. It’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s his 14th solo album according to his calculations and this one seems to be getting his widest release thus far and there’s a lot to like. And even more to be confused by. It’s music that bends time, that messes with your equilibrium, and makes you wonder if you’ll ever get old enough that the flashbacks will finally end.

He’s launching this opus alongside Snawklor, his other band The Inevitable Orbit, and Justin K Fuller with some visuals from Jason Heller. It’s on Wednesday the 14th of July at Horse Bazaar, a night which coincides with experimental music night Stutter’s first birthday.

The Sydney Festival’s on again in January and this time the sloppy seconds that make their way down to Melbourne look pretty damn good. Aside from the Matthew Herbert Big Band and Argentine songstress Juana Molina, both of whom released incredible albums last year, there’s one real surprise. Tuba is way too under represented in modern music, particularly tuba played at breakneck speeds beneath a savage wail of horns and all manner of brass. Fanfare Ciorcarlia’s Balkan funk is a full bodied experience and they’re touring as an 11 piece wall of exotic freneticism. They’re Romanian in origin, a gypsy big band that began life playing weddings and festivals and now are all about the party, and speed. They’ve been clocked at somewhere between 130 and 200 bpm, so those with weak constitutions best not attend. There’s nothing like them in the world and they’re playing as part of the Mix It Up series at Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre on the 18th of January.

Finally Austrian maestro Fennesz snuck a new album in late last year, featuring a contribution from Melbourne’s Anthony Pateras on prepared piano. The album, Black Sea (Touch/ Fuse) arrived a little too late for our ‘best of’ lists, but some dedicated holiday listening reveals it to be a worthy contender. It’s not a mammoth departure from 2004’s Venice, however there is a blissed out electronic fuzz that seems to draw upon the stately grandeur of My Bloody Valentine. The closest I can come is that it’s a hypnotic ambient noise record, quite gentle and ponderous, that dips into some melodic riffs at times, yet also delves heavily into more experimental sound art realms with firery drones and steady rumbles. The epic 9.22 minute Glide in particular (with Rosy Parlane) takes on a searing orchestral grandeur, where noise taps directly into the emotions, and it’s amongst the best work he has ever done. The remainder of Black Sea reveals an artist at the top of his game. This isn’t merely a cd, it’s an achievement. Then again I say that everytime this man releases an album.