Music News

deezer_post

Are you yet to hop on board the music streaming revolution? Still can’t decide which service to sign up to? Or maybe the glitter that once made your current music service sparkle has started to come unstuck and you are finding it attached to random body parts months later (apologies- flashback to a bad glitter experience). In any case, here’s another online music service offering add to your consideration list….. Deezer. The name always makes me want to break into rhyming slang… alright, gov’ner? Feel like going for a few Britneys in the Ringo so we can ‘ave a rabbit about this new music service, then? In actual fact, Deezer has French origins, with the original version- Blogmusik being launched in gay Paree way back in 2006. It finally arrived on Australian shores in 2012. Today, it boasts over 25 million licensed tracks, 30,000 radio channels and around 30 million users worldwide.

On the surface, Deezer offers similar functionality to the ever-popular Spotify. Dig a little deeper, however, and you will find some additional features that may entice you to choose this service over others.

For a start, it is accessed via a web interface, thus not requiring you to download any software, and effectively making it accessible from any device with a browser. The interface is clean and easy to navigate. Based on a few initial inputs (such favourite artists) the home page will offer personalised recommendations, including new releases from artists you like, user playlists you may like, recommendations from your friends, and even upcoming gigs of bands you like. There is also a Deezer recommends tab which offers newly released albums, chart listings and personal Deezer picks (I noticed that they already had a Big Day Out 2014 playlist up- the morning after the official lineup announcement), all sorted under musical genres such as rock, indie, electronic and world music. I actually noticed a lot more indie music offerings on Deezer than Spotify, which of course appealed to my non-commercial leanings.

The  Radio function offers access to a vast variety of radio stations, starting from the most basic genre selection (rock, blues, hip-hop) through to themed stations (Splendor in the Grass Official Playlist, Eminem’s 40th Birthday Radio) and then on to artist-based stations, where various industry types have created stations based on their musical tastes and influences. Whilst great if you want some musical variety and don’t feel like taking the time to create your own playlist, this function still falls short of the Pandora service for me, offering less variety and fewer surprises in playback selections. Interestingly, whilst all of the other services on Deezer are not offered on your mobile or tablet without a subscription plan, the radio stations are still accessible, so it’s a great free service if you are out and about and want to mix up your music.

There’s plenty of social media integration, allowing you to spread the joy evoked by creating the perfect playlist or hearing your new favourite song with your facebook and twitter friends. There’s also an App Studio which features musical quizzes, social networking, mixing, and song finder apps (to name but a few) and cheekily enough, even an app to import your Spotify playlists into Deezer!

If you want to listen to your own music library through Deezer, you’d better hope your music library is not too large, as you have to import songs one by one, so it could take a bit of time. Personally, I tend to switch back to my chosen media player to listen to my own music and then use Deezer when I want to hear something new, different or something I just don’t have in my library.

Deezer offers three subscription levels. The Discovery plan is their free service which will give you unlimited streaming from your PC for 12 months (and then limit you to 2 hrs/month). For $6.99/month, you can get the Premium plan, which removes all the ads, and offers high-quality audio payback. For a few extra dollars- $11.99/month- you get everything with the Premium+ Package, which in addition to the Premium plan lets you access Deezer on your mobile phone, tablet and IP TV, and provides an offline service where you can listen to music you have downloaded even when you have no internet connection. You can test drive the Premium+ service for free for 15 days to see if you think it’s worthy of becoming your music streaming service of choice.

So there you have it-  ‘av a Captain Cook and see wot yew fink, alright? Spanish waiter, darlin!

mikey_post There’s no doubt that from the beginning, it was our mutual love of music that ignited the spark that proceeded to light the fire in my heart that burns to this day. We sat there in that booth, surrounded by people but hearing only each others stories- stories about bands we’ve seen live, bands we love, bands we wish were still around…. You took me to see Spiderbait play at the Corner Hotel for our first date- I even held back my best dance moves so as not to intimidate you with my awesomeness!

Our tastes in music were different- you were into heavy metal and taught me to appreciate the multifaceted appeal of Master of Puppets. I was into dance and enlightened you on the differences between drum n bass, trance, breakbeat and progressive house. Our mutual love of rock’n’roll was the middle ground and it was here that we were able to lose ourselves for hours on end- playing track after track of our favourite tunes- sometimes taking the other by surprise by revealing a gem that had previously lay undiscovered.

When it looked like things were getting serious, I made you a mix tape of my favourite tunes- stuff that I thought you might dig based on what I had learnt of you so far, and stuff that would make me look inevitably cooler and hipper just by association. It was the first of many mix tapes I would make for you over the years, each one an opening of my heart and showing of my affection.

A true sign that we were both truly committed to each other came when we finally merged our vinyl collections, spending a night laying them out and placing them into alphabetical order- comparing duplicates to see which cover and album were in the most pristine condition. I had no doubt that you were jealous of my complete collections of both Rod Stewart and Neil Diamond… you are, after all, only human. Friday nights were all about drinking vodka, playing Aseeducee and battling over whose selection was up next on the turntable.

Over time, I copied all of your CDs onto hard drive and combined our collections into a library that would make most music fans green with envy. I even taught you how to use iTunes, but was never surprised to come home and find you trawling the CD racks for 5 discs to play on your stacker. A natural aversion to technology prolonged your inevitable switch to the digital arena and even today, I have to smile when I watch the intensity of your selections when creating a playlist on the PC.

Somewhere along the line a couple of kids gatecrashed our party, resulting in a dramatic decline in the number of late night rock concerts we attended, but conversely allowing us to impart our love of music upon these drooling blank canvases. It was definitely a proud parenting moment when I walked in on the kids happily eating their dinner and singing We Will Rock You by Queen in perfect unison.

It’s been 9 years now since we set off on this journey together- we’ve rocked our way through good times and tough times, and we’ve rolled out the other end stronger than ever. The memories of our times together are all accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack. I can’t wait to listen to the music that’s still to come.

Happy 40th Birthday Mikey! You Rock!

(* Alternative title for this post- The Speech I Should’ve Made At Your Birthday Last Weekend)

Ball Park Music groupies!Gig Review:Ball Park Music, Eagle & The Worm, Jeremy Neale
The Forum, Melbourne
Friday 5th July, 2013

It’s been more than 10 years since I declared Melbourne my new stomping ground. I had my Nikes on and ran at full speed when I got the opportunity to leave my home town of Brisbane. Don’t get me wrong- I love Bris-vegas- there’s many a random suburban pool that I blessed with a late night nudie swim in my reckless formative years. However, as tends to happen in a town where Sizzlers was considered a fine dining experience, the walls started closing in and it was time to move on. But I still feel an immense sense of allegiance and warmth for the town that drowned me in 20 cent drinks on my 18th birthday. I am especially inclined to glow with pride when I can boast that the hip tunes emanating from my listening device are courtesy of a Brisbane-based artist or band. And it would seem that of late, there’s plenty for me to brag about with a slew of indie pop/rock outfits swaggering their way from the streets of Brisneyland… the likes of The John Steel Singers, Hungry Kids of Hungary, The Last Dinosaurs, Millions and Velicoraptor to name but a few. One of my current faves is Ball Park Music, and I was lucky enough to catch them play at the Forum last Friday along with another Brisbane lad, Jeremy Neale and local Melbournites Eagle & the Worm.

Ball Park Music is comprised of frontman Sam Cromack (guitar/vocals), Jennifer Boyce (bass, backing vocals), Paul Furness (keys, trombone), and twins Dean Hanson (guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Daniel Hanson (drums,backing vocals). Formed in 2008, they have enjoyed the spotlight as triple-j darlings since the release of their 2010 hit iFly. Their most recent album, Museum was released in late 2012 as a follow up to their debut Happiness and Surrounding Suburbs in 2011. I like to think of their sound as indie geek meets hipster chic. Their lyrics convey a heady mixture of youthful exuberance and post-teen angst and their melodies are undeniably infectious and upbeat.

As expected, the crowd at Melbourne’s iconic Forum theatre was awash with young trendsetters, but there was also a decent contingent of gen-xers in attendance, making me a little less self conscious about being the oldest audience member. Jeremy Neale set the pace with his Buddy Holly-esque tone and 60s inspired pop melodies. Neale, who is also one part of aforementioned Brisbane group Velicoraptor,  imposed a striking stage presence and left the crowd wondering what is the protocol for requesting an encore from a support act. Next up were Eagle & the Worm, who I had been fortunate enough to catch last year when they supported Gomez on their national tour. Complete with a funky brass ensemble, this 8 piece outfit exuded a contagious energy that had everyone in the crowd moving.They once again proved that not only are they a band to keep on your must see list, but also that sometimes on the road to stardom, group discounts on hairstylists may be required.

Eagle and the Worm

Then it was time for the main act, and from the teaser entrance track, ABBA’s Thank You For The Music, it was evident the audience were hooked- an impressive feat considering the usually submissive Melbourne mentality. All the crowd favourites were busted out, including It’s Nice To Be Alive, Fencesitter, Surrender and Literally Baby. Respect was paid to obvious (and maybe not so obvious) musical influences, with memorable and quirky covers from The Beach Boys, Hanson and The Beatles also featuring on the set list. The beautiful melancholy of my favourite track, Coming Down, was either sadly ruined or forever immortalised when its timing collided with the passionate drunken embrace of random horny strangers standing in front of me in the crowd.

Overall, the evening delivered a brilliant lineup that showcased the best of a new-breed of indie-pop groups that are flourishing in Australia at present. I am already keenly anticipating seeing more of all of these acts during the summer festival season.

Have you had a chance to see any of these bands? What did you think?

Ball Park Music

Here’s the first in a new series of my posts called The Dirty Dozen- my top lists of musical gems from various categories. And what better a place to start than my all-time favourite cover songs.

As a long-term perpetrator of late-night karaoke crimes, I take my hat off to the bands and artists that gracefully pay tribute to their musical idols through recreating their music. There is something instantaneously attractive about a cover song. This undoubtedly explains the reason why so many bands can make a living out of playing nothing but other people’s music, and I’m not just talking about aspiring wannabes at your local RSL…. I mean, can you truthfully remember when Rod Stewart last released an original song?*

So what’s the great appeal of a cover song? Is it the sense of comfort it evokes- akin to being in a bar like Cheers- where everybody knows your name? Is it the smug satisfaction you experience from knowing all the words the very first time you hear the song? For me, it’s all about appreciating the band’s artistic interpretation of the song. Whether that involves taking the skin and bones of the melody and pumping it full of steroids, or removing a track’s excess baggage to reveal its understated inner beauty, a truly great cover can inevitably outshine the original.

Listed below are my top 12 picks of cool covers. My choices were based on originality and long-term playability.

12. Mo’ Horizons- Hit The Road Jack (Percy Mayfield): The German DJ duo known as Mo’ Horizons certainly made this Ray Charles classic their own when they added a smattering of boogaloo, a touch of bossa nova and topped it off with sultry Portuguese vocals. I defy you to try and stop your hips from wiggling when you listen to it!

11. Johnny Cash- God’s Gonna Cut You Down (traditional): Also known as Run On or Run On For A Long Time, this traditional folk song has been given the once over by numerous artists (most notably by Elvis and Moby), but there’s something so powerful and foreboding in Johnny Cash’s rendition that makes for compulsive listening. The fact that it was released posthumously seemingly adds to the spiritual undertones that the lyrics invoke.

10. Israel ‘IZ’ Kamakawiwo’ole- Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland): The big fella with the little ukulele… the Hawaiian singers stripped back version of this Wizard of Oz show tune is like a Kleenex ad with frolicking puppies and cherubic babies for me- it makes me so emotional every time I hear it that I am prone to burst into tears.

9. Jim Carrey- I Am The Walrus (The Beatles): This track was released on a tribute album to the legendary producer, composer, and musician George Martin, who is sometimes referred to as “The Fifth Beatle”. Whilst relatively unknown for his lyrical talents, who better to embrace the psychedelic subject matter of this track than the master of mischief himself. Carrey’s voice is difficult to distinguish at first, but my true enjoyment of this version arrives when he verbally unleashes the myriad of madcap antics he is famous for.

8. Scissor Sisters- Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd): I’ve gotta hand it to Scissor Sisters, they managed to transform a hypnotic ballad about an over-medicated psych patient into a glam-rock dance floor filler. Yet commendably their version still manages to retain the unnerving, catatonic overtones of the original.

7. Soggy Bottom Boys- Man Of Constant Sorrow ( traditional): Apart from George Clooney, this song is about the only thing I remember from the film O Brother, Where Art Thou, and for good reason. The chain-gang style harmonisations and catchy melody make it a track you’ll want to listen to again and again.

6. Matt Corby- Lonely Boy (The Black Keys): This track was recorded as part of triple j’s regular Like A Version segment, in which popular indie artists play live covers in the station’s studio. Corby’s stripped back acoustics and euphonic falsetto give way to a gut wrenching crescendo that seems to perfectly embody the essence of the lyrical content. Although The Black Keys are one of my favourite all time bands, I am hard pressed to pick which version I like more here.

5. Led Zeppelin- Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (Joan Baez): This traditional folk song was originally recorded by Joan Baez. It was reworked and released it on Led Zeppelin’s debut album in 1969. I love way the song constantly shifts between stripped-back acoustics and heavy, grunge-driven rock riffs, like the gentle lull of a low tide giving way to a tsunami.

4. Regina Spektor- Real Love (John Lennon): There’s a purity and angelicness in Spektor’s vocals that could convince even the cynics amongst us that  true love does exist. Her rendition never fails to give me goosebumps.

3. Joe Cocker- With A Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles): The original is akin to a group of geeky school kids singing their high-school break up song. Cocker’s version is the same kids 10 years on after they have battled drug addiction, become raging alcoholics and are living in one room bedsits that smell like an old man’s dirty socks. It’s got raw emotion and a desperate vulnerability which adds an undeniable credibility and a real connection to the lyrics.

2. Gary Jules- Mad World (Tears for Fears): For me, this haunting version of the 80s hit will be forever indelibly linked with the brilliant feature film, Donnie Darko. The dark, minimalistic treatment applied to the original results in a sublime cover whose tone is much more fitting to the lyrics. Phrases such as “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” just don’t seem to gel with the original pop version…

1. Beth Orton- It’s Not The Spotlight (Rod Stewart): It might not be quite as creative in its interpretation of the original tune as my other picks, but there’s something about Beth Orton’s tonality and dreamy delivery that absolutely stops me in my steps whenever I hear it. It’s heartfelt, honest, and recounts an age-old tale of lost love that hits me straight in the heart.

* OK smarty pants- so Rod Stewart did release an album just last month (May 2013) entitled Time, which featured all original music and entered the UK album charts at Number 1, but prior to that, it was around 1991 when he last released his own material.

So there you have it- my Dirty Dozen. How about you? What’s your favourite cover song and why?

PS_post If there’s one band that truly embodies the spirit of musical evolution, it is Primal Scream. These Glaswegian indie-rockers have reinvented themselves more times than Sean Combs has changed his name. From early recordings which showcased their punk rock influences, through to lashings of fuzz-pop, old school rock, indie/acid-house fusion, then on to  jazz, blues, soul, and even a lil bit of coun’tree, you’d be hard pressed to find a band that can boast such a broad spectrum of musical genres in their discography.  And yet, it is this overly  dynamic nature of the band’s musical stylings that has often invited criticism from both public and the press.

There is no doubt that the 1992 release of “Screamadelica” was both a coming of age for Primal Scream and a seminal album that launched a fusion of indie-rock/acid-house tracks into the hearts and minds of a new generation of club-goers. From the album’s first single – Loaded, which features the infamous sample spoken by Peter Fonda in the 60’s cult flick The Wild Angels  (“We wanna be free to do what we wanna do and we wanna get loaded and have a good time…”) to the feel good hit, Come Together complete with sample from Jesse Jackson’s opening sermon at the 72 Wattstax Music Festival and gospel choir, this was an album that broke new ground and set the band on their path to super stardom. If ever there was an album to listen to when coming down, or on a bleary-eyed Sunday morning, this would be the one.

So two years later when their follow up album “Give Out But Don’t Give Up” was released, there were high expectations for the band to continue paving their way into alt-rock history. Instead, they delivered an album which unashamedly heralded back to their old-school rock, funk and soul influences. The first single, Rocks which lent  heavily from bands such as The Stones,  proved to be the band’s highest charting single to date. Even so, the album as a whole met with a lukewarm response- the very clubbers who had embraced the band midst a surge of ecstasy-driven free-love now threw their chupa-chups at the band with a sense of betrayal. And the critics that heralded the band the pioneers of  techno/rock/dub fusion, called the album a step back and labelled it derivative retro-rock.

I personally think people got it wrong. Each album is sonically sublime when enjoyed in the right context. “Give Out But Don’t Give Up” is the album you play when you are getting ready to hit the town- when the Jager bombs are being lined up and sucked back with reckless abandon; “Screamadelica” is what you play when you arrive home at 3am, still psyched from the evenings events and wanting to chill and talk about nothing and everything to whoever is prepared to listen. In short, “Give Out” makes me want to scream out, and “Screamadelica” makes me wanna make out!

“Primal Scream make music they hope will touch people’s lives like so much other music has touched theirs. They make music that celebrates feeling. Feeling good, feeling bad. Music that will stand by your side. That’s all.” So said Tommy Tooher- Primal Scream’s ‘spiritual advisor’ in 1994

Some music fans are afraid of change- they revel in the safety of their favourite bands- the artists who have remained phonically stagnant since they first crowd surfed their way into the spotlight. And there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, if it ain’t broke, right? But at the same time, there’s something to be said for those musical innovators- those risk-taking auteurs who choose not to create a follow-up album that sounds the same as the one it preceded just because it was a hit.  Primal Scream have never shied away from allowing their sound to move with the times whilst still paying homage to the bands that influenced them. Lead Singer Bobby Gillespie said it perfectly during an interview with NME magazine in 1990- “You can take inspiration from the good things that happened yesterday and turn them into something for today…It’s like, I really believe in transience, I think if you accept transience you’re never going to get stuck in the past… It all ties in with being in a group and changing. In 1985 you made a certain kind of record. In 1990 it’s different. It’s different- It’s five fucking years! The world has turned so many times since then.”

This undoubtedly explains the enduring popularity of the group and the fact that both albums still retain a freshness more than 20 years after their initial release.  Embark on a journey and enjoy the albums in their entirety when you’re next in the mood for a bit of good old fashioned rock…. Or maybe some soul…. Or some funk…. Or something psychedelic….. Get the picture?….Just go and play them now!