Music News

Jun 7 2013

The Luhr of Baz

gatsby_postOne of the remarkable talents of director Baz Luhrmann is his ability to systematically transport and enchant his audience with his modern day interpretations of literary classics and foregone eras. Such is the case with his latest cinematic release- The Great Gatsby.

An adaptation of the 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the story explores the darker side to the oft-romanticised lives of New York’s social elite during the Roaring 20’s. Musically, the 1920’s was the Age of Jazz. Along with Chicago, New York was a cultural centre of this musical genre and as jazz flourished, its influence became both a catalyst for youth rebellion and an additional way for the elite class to assert their social hierarchy.

As with several of his previous feature films (namely Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge), Luhrmann set about creating a modern day appeal to a story so passé in nature that the mere mention of the title would normally elicit an unenthusiastic yawn in response. A key factor in capturing the hearts and minds of a present day audience in this way is Luhrmann’s integration of contemporary pop-culture references  into his films. The most notable of these references, for me, is the music.

Lurhmann worked together with artist Jay-Z for two years on the Gatsby soundtrack “translating the Jazz age sensibility of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel into the musical equivalents of our own times, through the blending of hip-hop, traditional jazz and other contemporary musical textures.” The end result is a compilation album that reads like a who’s who of present day musical royalty, featuring tracks from many of my personal favourites including The xx, Florence + The Machine, Goyte, Jack White & Sia. A lot of the tracks were written exclusively for the movie and thus form a natural symbiosis with both the script and cinematography in conveying the film’s underlying themes of youth, decadence, infidelity and ill-fated love.

The audience’s affinity with both the characters and the era is undeniably heightened through the soundtrack’s clever mash-up of old and new. “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” performed by Fergie, Q-Tip and GoonRock, allows us to revel in the extravagance of the party scenes as it seamlessly blends old-school swing with hip-hop and dubstep. Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” is forced to don some flapper attire and the cheeky, scaled back cover sung by Emeli Sandé & supported by a very jazzy Bryan Ferry Orchestra produces a version that I personally prefer to the original. As the plot progresses and the darker elements of the narrative emerge, the soundtrack again manages to transport and mesmerise. Goyte’s “Heart’s a Mess” offers perfect insight into the lovelorn Gatsby as he endeavours to realise his vision of a perfect future by rekindling a romanticised past. And the dreamy, haunting undertones of The xx’s “Together” helps reinforce the star-crossed couple’s relentless progression towards their tragic destiny.

I have to admit that I actually previewed the Gatsby soundtrack before I saw the movie. Like the albums that accompany many of Baz Luhrmann’s previous films, this compilation offers great standalone listening enjoyment. However it was when the tracks were coupled with the visual opulence of the feature film that they really came to life for me. The visual association and emotional significance that I can now attach to the songs when I hear them play ensures my enjoyment of the  film will be relived well into the future.

Aside from the superb production values evident on the soundtrack, I like to hypothesize that its success could be attributed in part to the uncanny coincidence that Luhrmann’s vision of recreating a sentimentalised  past by reinventing the present day is the exact plight of the movie’s leading character, Jay Gatsby.

May 29 2013

Hot or Not

I have never been particularly good at recalling dates. In fact, I am positively hopeless when confronted with questions such as, “Where were you when….?”,  and have often received strange looks when I struggle to remember my own children’s birthdays. Yet strangely enough, I can cite events and dates perfectly when I put them in context with music. For example, when I hear “Baby I Love Your Way”, I am immediately transported to April 1994, cruisin’ Route 66 through Texas in my 98 Oldsmobile. (I am, of course, referring Big Mountain’s cover of the Peter Frampton classic, which was enjoying high rotation on every single radio station at that time due to its inclusion in the Reality Bites soundtrack.)

It came as no surprise, then, that the prospect of selecting my 20 favourite tracks from the past 20 years was initially a daunting one. I mean, where to even begin?? It is akin to asking Imelda Marcos to select her 20 favourite pairs of shoes! But when Triple J marked the 20th anniversary of their annual Hottest 100 countdown with a poll to collate listeners’ favourite tracks from the past 20 years, that is exactly what I set about doing. In order that my list did not take 20 years to compile, I had to employ a strategy of sorts. After all, I do love a good strategy…

1. I only chose songs that had appeared in previous Hottest 100 lists.

2. I only chose one song from each year for the past 20 years (giving me a total of 20 songs).

It is entirely possibly that certain years may have heralded more memories than others, thus yielding a larger number of favourite tracks. It is also highly likely that some of my favourite tracks from the past 20 years did not even appear in the Hottest 100 countdown for that year. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this particular poll, I stuck with my initial strategy. Listed below are my top 20 picks, along with a brief rationale for my choices.

1993- Nick Cave- The Ship Song: This song was included on the cover disc of a Rolling Stone magazine I purchased whilst walking to school one morning in 1990. It marked the beginning of my love affair with Australian independent music. It remains a haunting, heartfelt and utterly mesmerising track for me to this day.

1994- The Prodigy- Voodoo People: The dark undercurrent of rock riffs combined with frenetic dance beat of this Prodigy track was like nothing I had heard before and left me wanting more, more more!! Did you know that the main riff in this track is sampled from a Nirvana song?

1995- Custard- Apartment: This song coincided with my highly transient lifestyle at the time. It was given the coveted privilege of being the first track to be played in each of my new residences.

1996- Underworld- Born Slippy (NUXX): I came to hear this song because it featured on the Trainspotting soundtrack- brilliant song, brilliant movie! ‘Nuff said…

1997- Jebediah- Leaving Home: This reminds me of drinking VB, smoking Peter Stuyvesant’s and chasing boys- those were the days!

1998- Fatboy Slim- The Rockafella Skank: Undeniably the launchpad for my as yet unattained notoriety as a world-class interpretative dancer.

1999- Sonic Animation- Theophilis Thistler: This song reminds me of my best mate Bev and the day we got to dress up as the band’s two mascots, Theo and Rolly, and dance on stage in the Boiler Room at Big Day Out. Perhaps my best ever music related memory!!

2000- Avalanches- Frontier Psychiatrist: It was around the time that Since I Left You was released that I was really beginning to appreciate the artistic stylings of turntablism, and the incredible use of sampling on this album really blew me away. Apparently the album contains over 3,500 samples!!

2001- Groove Armada- Superstylin’: Best party song ever! It reminds me of the numerous  impromptu dance parties that occured at our house with the bass so loud that we later discovered that people could hear the music playing in the next suburb!

2002- 1200 Techniques- Karma: These guys were one of my first favourite Aussie hip hop bands- such a cool, yet slightly sinister vibe to this song- I had almost forgotten how much I loved it until I played it again recently.

2003- White Stripes- 7 Nation Army: A perfect song to undertake the challenge of simultaneously playing air guitar and air drums.

2004- Scissor Sisters- Take Your Mama: Is there a better song to practice your falsetto singing to?… I think not…. Particularly great for in the shower. I have seen these guys live twice and love the glitz and unbridled sexuality that oozes from the stage.

2005- Wolfmother- Dimension: I was so excited when I first heard Wolfmother because they immediately made me think of one of my all time favourite rock bands, Led Zeppelin. Their sound was like nothing else that was out there at the time…. as was their hair! Their music transports me back to the age of rock I wish I grew up in.

2006- Bloc Party- The Prayer: I was a massive fan of Bloc Party’s debut album Silent Alarm, but it was this song from their second album that really resonated with me. Great for listening to before heading out for a big night on the town!

2007- Daft Punk- Harder Better Faster Stronger: It makes me want to dance like a robot, and I am always mesmerised by the Daft Hands video clip that was made independently from this track. Plus, this was our team’s theme song when we undertook Tough Mudder earlier this year.

2008- Vampire Weekend- Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa: Hard to pick just one fave track from the killer debut album for these UK indie pop lads, but I was always drawn in by the Paul Simon-esque guitar riffs and conga heartbeat of this little ditty.

2009- Gossip- Heavy Cross: I love a strong female vocalist, and they don’t come much stronger than Beth Ditto. Music For Men was a powerhouse of an album and this was undoubtedly my favourite track.

2010- Art vs Science- Magic Fountain: It’s impossible to play this song too loud and it always makes me want to dance in my car like Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World!

2011- Florence & the Machine- Shake It Out: There’s something so sublime and ethereal about Florence Welche’s voice that just elicits pure happiness in me.

2012- Rudimental- Not Giving In: I cannot help but feel uplifted after listening to Rudimental, and this song in particular makes me feel like I am walking about 3 feet off the ground.

So there you have it. There were so many that just missed out (notable exceptions including bands such as Powderfinger), but that is usually how it goes when having to select a list such as this.  What about you? Have you voted? What would you include in your top 20 for the past 20 years?

 

rudimental_postI have just returned from a journey of kinds… a journey in which I was offered salvation for my recent bubblegum pop-laden listening sins, and one from which I was reticent to return. In the words of Chris Geiger, “All journeys eventually end in the same place, home.” Strangely enough, that is precisely where this journey began…

Home is the aptly entitled debut album from UK drum and bass quartet, Rudimental. I have been keenly anticipating its release ever since their single, Not Giving In, became my favourite track to attempt to blow my speakers to in 2012. It was one of two Rudimental tracks released last year featuring soul-drenched vocals from British singer John Newman, both of which powered through the Australian charts and landed solidly in the Top 20 of the annual triple-j Hottest 100. A further track released earlier this year- Waiting All Night- which features the powerful and enchanting vocals of UK singer Ella Eyre has enjoyed a similar reception in local and international charts, and for good reason. This trifecta of bass thumping, horn jiving, soul caressing hits epitomize the musical stylings of Rudimental and what you can expect from their debut album.

With a recurring theme of defying the odds woven poetically through their tracks, the album as a whole managed  to leave me feeling uplifted, energised and ready to flying-sidekick my way into a brighter tomorrow. Aside from the tracks already mentioned, standouts for me include the album’s namesake tune and opening mantra which unashamedly drips with soulful sexuality, and the uplifting and gospel-invoking track, Free, featuring Emeli Sande, which befittingly rounds off this standout album. The inclusion of these more subdued and somewhat dreamy tracks perfectly compliments the hyper pace of the rest of the album.

I don’t consider myself to be a religious person, but I do believe I was transported to a higher place when I visited the Home of Rudimental. Do yourself a favour and give it a listen!

Rudimental – Home
Listen to it when: You want to feel uplifted
If you like this, you might also like: Pendulum

May 9 2013

Mum’s the Word

mum_post Our musical influences in life are often a direct reflection of the paths we have walked. From the times in which we live, the events that shape those times, and our reactions to those events. From the places we travel, be it near or far geographically, to the spiritual journeys that we embark upon. And from the people who walk with us on these paths- from those that we meet briefly along the way to those who wear through many pairs of shoes as they accompany us.

For most of us, this path begins with our family. My family certainly played an integral role in imparting their love of music upon me-be it for the better (thanks to my brother Justin for teaching me how to head-bang properly) or the worse (not so many thanks to my dad for continuing to try and convert me to a Whitney Houston fan). But without a doubt, it was my mum who had the most profound long-term influence in shaping my love and appreciation of music in all its genres and styles.

Our house was always full of music and musical people, from the classical and flamenco guitar that mum played during her moments of solitude, to the rattling of the old piano or musical heartbeat of the conga drums. Then there was the record player, where Mozart’s Piano Concertos battled it out for play time with the likes of David Bowie and Pink Floyd.  It wouldn’t have surprised me to discover that my mum was one of those hippy, new-wave types that played music to her tummy when she was pregnant- probably accounting for my inability to stop my leg-tapping every time I hear Rod Stewart or Buddy Holly even to this day.

Her musical taste was certainly diverse- from hard hitting Oz Rock of the times (The Angels, The Divinyls) to the biggest pop groups of those decades (ABBA, ELO, The Beatles). I’ll never forget the day mum rocked up to collect me from primary school and she’d had her hair cut ultra short and peroxided just like Annie Lennox had hers at the time in The Eurythmics. I thought she was the coolest mum ever!! It’s possible that she was.

My musical requests were rarely ignored, and the family suffered through my attempts to master the piano, recorder, violin, drums, guitar and harmonica, all with limited success (well, there was that one time, at band camp….). I suppose it all paid off in a way- here I am today writing about my love of music to those of you who share my passion, or those that are just being kind to their overly verbose friend. It also afforded me the chance to pay it back, as it were- to introduce new and exciting music back to my mum and to gain a little insight into the happiness that such a discovery can bring.

Today is exactly 12 months since my mum passed away from ovarian cancer. It’s been a tough year to say the least, learning to live with part of my heart missing. Shortly after she passed away, I compiled a playlist of music that reminded me of her… of the songs that she introduced me to that have now become household anthems and personal favourites. It has helped me to heal- through the tears as I recall moments so frequent in their occurrence where this music filled the air, and through the laughter as I vividly remember her singing along to many of these tracks. Through the gift of music that she gave me throughout my life, she is able to live on with me in a small but significant way.

I would like to share this playlist with you. For those of you who knew my mum, you’d know that she was happiest when surrounded by good friends, family, with an abundance of good food, wine and great music. For those who never met her, perhaps it will give you a small insight into the type of woman that she was. Either way, I hope it brings some happiness to your day.

RIP Mum- you are forever in my thoughts. xx

aerosmith_postI awoke on Sunday morning with my fingers contorted into a strange position. On closer inspection, I discovered that they were merely preempting the day’s forthcoming activities and had forged themselves into an undeniable rock horn pose. Yes… Today was the day I would experience the stellar lineup that was due to culminate with no other than rock royalty, Aerosmith.

The outdoor venue, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, looked a little dubious earlier in the day as grey clouds threatened to rain on the parade of many an already washed-up rock fan in attendance. But the Rock Gods smiled upon us and the clouds parted, allowing punters to mix their Jim Beams and power riffs ‘neath Melbourne’s autumn sun.

Due to a mid afternoon scheduled start and some difficult decisions to be made at the food stalls (fried or steamed dim-sims), we missed all but the final song of the first act- Diva Demolition. I was eager to catch one of my perennial favourite bands- Spiderbait- up next, but felt that the early billing combined with the ever complacent Melbourne crowd resulted in a performance that left me wanting more. Next up were The Dead Daisys, fronted by ex-Noiseworks lead singer, Jon Stevens. Whilst I didn’t know any of their songs, they certainly got the party started, including playing a gutsy tribute to the late, great Chrissy Amphlett. Grinspoon followed with a frenetic-paced set that one again proved that they haven’t lost their edge and that Phil Jamison would be a formidable interpretative dance opponent.

The precursor to the headline act was Wolfmother, apparently performing their last ever show as Wolfmother, but according to Andrew Stockdale, releasing new material and staying together as they are, but just being referred to as Andrew Stockdale from now on…… O-kay!!! Egos aside (if that’s possible) the afro-toting lads delivered their unique blend of psychedelic rock to a crowd that I suspect couldn’t have given a shit about what the band was called as long as they continued to play that sweet, sweet music!

And then it was time, after 22 years of waiting, for the Aerosmith juggernaut to take flight. From the moment that Steve Tyler sauntered onto the runway, he reinforced why, at 65 years of age, he is still rocking out with the bands less than half his age…because he can! His voice, seemingly unaffected by the years of substance abuse, remained pitch perfect and intoxicating. His presence was unashamedly ostentatious, yet undeniably mesmerising. The eternal showman, Tyler seamlessly seduced the female fans and struck windswept poses in various locations around the stage, all the while belting out track after track of crowd favourites.

Standout numbers for me were the possibly semi-autobiographical, Dude Looks Like A Lady; a song that always takes me back to my angst-riddled teen years, What It Takes; and my long term favourite, Dream On, befittingly performed both on and atop a white grand piano and climaxing amid a propulsion of smoke and explosion of confetti. The solid two-hour set was a perfect blend of old school rock ‘n roll and a homage to their hometown blues roots.

It was my first and possibly my last ever live experience of Aerosmith and it is certainly one that will remain with me for years to come.