Saturday, 29 September 2012

Album Review - "Observator" by the Raveonettes

Observator (2012)               1/2

The new record from Danish duo The Raveonettes, Observator is the voice of the disillusioned youth splashed with Everly Brothers inspired harmonies and an enveloping liberal electronic sound. The experimental structure and deviation from clear pop arrangement lets us sink into the work, tossing and turning in the lyrics and bathing in the resonant cosmic sound. The subject matter articulates troubled thoughts in a seamless story, with a clear mellow take on love, relationships and life which unfortunately loses its compelling edge towards the second half of the album.

Observator begins with a striking opening track ‘Young and Cold’ which is at once both melancholy and lively. In classic Raveonnettes style, the track focuses on loneliness, regret and feeling unloved, with an acoustic guitar overlaying fuzzy electro. The lyrics are poignant: “I get a shiver from broken hearts.  I like the sun when it don’t shine. /I make it hard on anyone.” Sune Rose Wagner’s dejected low vocals generate discord among Sharin Foo’s cries above. Following track ‘Observations’ is reminiscent of an electrified Velvet Underground, with subdued vocals, layered sound and consistent percussion. The sincerity of the lyrics is buried under the peaceful harmonious delivery but after a few listens, the meaning becomes more apparent and successfully captures a youthful artistic spirit.

It is easy to get swept away in Observations, the filtered sound and delicate hurt vocals make for perfect background music as well as internal headphone listening. The seamlessness between tracks is a romantic throwback to a time long before digital releases and the reign of singles. It would be interesting to see what sort of music videos come out of this album. ‘Curse the Night’ is one of the most mournful songs on the album, with soft closed vocals and free guitar strumming conveying the torment – this could be about any sort of breakup, ending, ‘night’.  Sharin Foo’s fragile delivery makes for an endearing piece: “I cry my day, I travel your sea/I wanted you, you didn’t want me.”

As the album progresses it delves into more anchored work, channelling the likes of the dejected Irish band The Cranberries and possibly even the cheekiness of The Smiths, with a less haziness and distortion. ‘The Enemy’ is strong and spiteful: “I tossed and turn/killing time with myself” with a pop twist in the surging chorus. The twangy guitar solo backed by hippie tambourine evokes a retro sound supported by contemporary poetry in the lyrics. Again, the album becomes less mysterious, in a way, towards the end with the narratives centering around troublesome girls, old lovers and past memories. ‘Sinking with the Sun’ begins with a healthy energy, sounding more like their previous electronic works. 'She Owns The Streets' provides  thought-provoking circumstances: “If they catch you and commit me/ they’ll never know what this life is about.”

Observator has quite an existential mood, each song presents a situation acting as a small fragment of life's journey. The dozy vocals appear calm but on further inspection are convicted and compelling. ‘Till the End’ is a suitable ending to the stirring album, one of the most assertive and dramatic tracks, celebrating devotion and commitment. ‘Slow down, don’t go, /for the moment I belong to you’

Are all words which encompass what this album is about. In a way, it could be about anything, really.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Interview with Sam from Last Dinosaurs

Bassist of Last Dinosaurs Sam Gethin-Jones with frontman Sean Caskey.

The classic story of the short-lived high school band ends with the group parting ways to find a real job, maybe study some more and packing the guitar away for weekend jams- but LAST DINOSAURS did not stop at school.  Since the start of 2012, they have released their first album, performed with Bloc Party and played a killer set at Splendour. They’re also soon to head over back to tour the UK. Bassist Sam Gethin-Jones spoke about annoying girlfriends, the Brisbane music scene and quoting the English version of The Office, in England.

LAST DINOSAURS are about to embark on their national Satellites tour after the rousing success of March release In A Million Years. Sam wasn’t sure about how the album would be received earlier this year, but with an average 5/5 rating on both Triple J Unearthed (where these guys started out) and iTunes, there don’t seem to be any haters.

When it comes to playing at a festival, Sam says that the band is sometimes anxious about how new fans will receive their music.“Obviously when you go to your own shows, it’s a different sort of anticipation leading up to the show because you know that people are there to see your songs and they appreciate your music,” he says, “so in some ways I probably prefer the build-up to our own shows."

“But then you do something like Splendour and you’ve got, I don’t know, 9000 people out there and it’s such an overwhelming experience just that sheer amount of people watching you.”

LAST DINOSAURS are now taking their tunes over to the UK for a tour. A recording opportunity with an overseas label has materialised for the group - recently signing with Fiction Label, who looks after the likes of Crystal Castles and Kaiser Chiefs and it seems to working well so far. Dan and Sam have found friends in their office: “They really get us, they’re an awesome label. One of the people is a massive fan of Ricky Gervais and The Office and me and Dan both know every word to every episode so he’s been so much fun just to quote The Office to. Everyone there, their heads aren’t up their arses like a lot of people in the music industry.”

DINOS tunes are comparable to sound from The Kooks and The Arctic Monkeys so should fit into the British indie scene. Their single ‘Zoom’ is going to radio as they head over but Sam thinks that this will be a gradual process: “I think it’s going to take a while before we really make an impact, if at all, but we’re definitely keen to put in the hard work.”

With a heavy amount of airplay, DINOS create super catchy choruses, crazy riffs and sentimental melodies. Standout tracks include ‘Honolulu’, last summer’s tune (released previously as a single), or ‘Used To Be Mine’ with Julian Casablancas-style vocals and surging echoed electric guitar. But according to Sam the song that gets every crowd going is ‘Zoom’.

“We release it at the end and that always gets a stupid reaction,” Sam says. “People seem to pick up the lyrics really fast so in the chorus there’s a section where we all stop and Sean’s meant to sing “I don’t want to be just another…” and you can’t usually hear him because the crowd sings it back and that always feels really good.”

The crowd has spread from their hometown in Brisbane, reaching foreign shores, and the band’s excited to be in the scene at the moment: “I think Brisbane right now is providing some of the most exciting music in Australia and I think it’s just awesome to be part of the movement.”

Last Dinosaurs performing at Splendour in the Grass, July 2012.
It’s hard to ignore the recent sensations of Brisbane groups, with bands such as The Cairos, The Jungle Giants and Dune Rats reaching national success in the past year. DINO’s Sam actually went to school with Millions and the ‘awesome two guys’ from Gung Ho, who he played drums with for their early gigs. We’re not quite sure why this has all happened together, what they’re eating, or the sun? “I mean the whole thing is extremely close, we’re all seeing each other more than once a week, just hanging out.”

“There’s definitely a little bit of healthy competition, I think we push each other because you know someone comes out with, Dune Rats have had that song ‘Fuck It’ and I think everyone’s feeling the pressure because that was such an awesome song and whenever bands come out with a great song you’re like that song’s too good, I have to try to write something as good or better.”

The hard work and instrumental skills that Sam told us about have been noticed on the album, with a surprisingly mature element to their work. “We all try and excel as musicians, so we try and challenge ourselves, so we always write quite technical music and for some reason it all kinds of comes out sounding pretty happy, with the exception of a few songs,” he says.  Despite the catchy indie pop sound, some of Sean’s (lead vocalist) writing ventures into darker themes.

“I quite like how it’s combating ideas, the poppy music and the deeper lyrics,” Sam says. “When we’re doing the instruments together, I suppose, we’re usually in a pretty good mood. And then the lyrics align so you’ve got more time to mull things over and be a bit deeper,” he says. 

Sam has always dreamed of music, literally playing with ‘pots and pans’ as a little kid and picking up music at primary school, playing drums and piano. He picked up bass with LAST DINOSAURS, trying it out at their first few gigs and eventually sticking with it (kind of like Paul McCartney). In the alternate universe, if he weren’t in a band, bassist Sam thinks that he would probably end up in something like investment banking. This week he’s back to uni, via correspondence while the band is travelling, to study finance!

“I find myself, I’m really motivated right now, so, I think in terms of the age that we are right now as a band, it’s sort of now’s the time to give everything you’ve got because this is where you decide what you’re going to be doing in your future. In my downtime I just figure I want to get a degree and keep my brain active,” Sam says.

As for his own listening experience, he’s sticking to R&B on the ipod. “I’m listening to the new Rick Ross album recently and there’s a song on there called ‘Sixteen’ and it’s got Andre 3000 from Outkast. It’s the best song I’ve heard this year, it’s like unbelievable.”

 And when’s the ideal time to listen to LAST DINOSAURS? “I think most people would probably say when the sun’s out because it’s ‘summery pop music’ but I don’t really listen to our music at all so I can’t really tell you,” he says. “A girl I was seeing used to play it to annoy me because she knew she’d get a reaction out of me if she danced around my room to my own music.”

There’s no doubt LAST DINOSAURS have been super busy the first half of this year, with national and international touring, releasing A Million Years and even playing with Bloc Party at a gig in Brisbane! Nevertheless, there’s still time for more song writing in downtime which lucky gig attendees will get a taste of. “We’ve got a few new songs kicking around- I think the plan is that we’re going to debut some of them in October around the Australian tour, so it will be really good to gauge fan’s reactions because it sounds quite different.”

And just like the lyrics of ‘Honolulu’, for LAST DINOSAURS, “The story only just, it just began, and surely it should never ever end.” 

Last Dinosaurs: Dan Koyama, Sam Gethin-Jones, Lachlan Caskey, Sean Caskey.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Film Review - "Moonrise Kingdom" by Wes Anderson

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)                      ★★★☆

Existential qualms already trouble Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) when she discovers a pamphlet in her family kitchen: “Coping With A Troubled Child”.  The new indie flick from director Wes Anderson combines the infinite imagination of the young with his classic commentary on the fragility of family relations.

Suzy has been keeping in touch with her penpal (how quaint), 12-year-old boy-scout and orphan, Sam Shakusky (played by Jared Gilman) after the pair met at a school play. Their correspondences eventuate into a plan to flee the unremarkable town and a disorderly search party follows.

The stylised cinematography portrays (Shakespeare-style) a place imagined yet realistic—New Penzance Island. The film captures the spirit of 1965 with the ‘Wes Anderson aesthetic’ recreating subdued sepia tones, individualistic costumes and existential dialogue: “Does it concern you that your daughter has just run away from home?” “That’s a loaded question.”

We begin with three young boys listening to Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” on a retro portable record player. Anderson’s swift camera movement from room to room draws attention to the fact that we’re indulging in a story. There’s something both innocent and considered in the young serious characters who don’t say more than they need to.

A light-hearted touch comes from the eccentric narration (by Bob Balaban), an old man in a beanie placed sporadically in various locations around the island. It’s these sorts of disruptions that put Anderson’s work somewhere between a film and a play. It’s a pleasant viewing experience. Filmed mostly on Rhode Island we’re exposed in wide shots of picturesque untouched nature and dollhouse buildings.

I was reminded of Peter Pan, not only from the mirroring escapade to exotic island, but by Suzy’s character, especially when she reads a story to the scouts perched around her, fascinated, à la Wendy and the Lost Boys. Her use of binoculars is her interpretation of a ‘magic power’, an endearing thought. She’s a disturbed quiet young girl, not unlike Margot Tenenbaum, from Anderson’s 2001 film.

My favourite scene is when the kids set up camp by an enclosed pebble-lined beach, a Chickasaw sacred site. They strip to their retro underwear, put on Francoise Hardy’s dreamy “Le Temps de L’amour” and dance. And learn to kiss. And feel each other up. It’s a bit awkward considering their pre-pubescent age but it’s sweet in a way.

Kudos to Bruce Willis- playing policeman Captain Shark, yet far from the usual tough guy act, as a sad vulnerable man. Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are included – Murray as Suzy’s strict yet disillusioned father and Schwartzman a Cousin Ben, quirky scout leader. Tilda Swinton also makes an appearance, as uptight suited ‘Social Services’ bringing hilarity to a serious issue, in her own style.

The great part about centering a story on two kids is that for just under two hours we can suspend disbelief and escape with them. Fictional yet realistic, Moonrise Kingdom’s fantastical take on the world asks the simplest yet most important questions.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Bill Bailey at the Capitol Theatre

Bill Bailey began Qualmpeddler by bounding on stage with the youthful frivolity of a comedian receiving his first big audience. The cheeky comic’s inexhaustible exuberance belies his cynicism, making for a pleasant tour through the existential anxieties of contemporary life.

Bailey, who these days looks more like a big-time comic than an over-confident roadie, relates personal anecdotes about Australian adventures, but he’s also notably boned up on Aussie current affairs and pop culture. He quickly gets his audience on side with jabs at “famous-for-no-reason” Lara Bingle and by stirring the crowd into a collective jazz jam, making his stage presence feel like a night spent with your favourite dinner party companion. The political commentary was biting without gloom: he pulls references from shameless US campaigning, British government antics and even the Gillard chronicles, and his light-hearted touch was often as simple as comparing conservatives to porridge.

As expected, a big part of the show featured his trademark musical mash-ups, deconstruction of language and pop-culture throwbacks. At times it felt like Bailey was playing songs for the sake of it, but the exotic instruments – like a saz-bouzouki and a foghorn – definitely added a sense of playfulness. It’s hard to go past his trance remix of a church organ song or his reggae/dub step interpretation of Downtown Abbey’s ‘My Mother Is An Ox’. Bailey has charm and intellect with a circumlocutory element that makes any rambling observation a hilarious spoof, the main victims being Australian
accents and the internet generation.

Although relying largely on the spoken word, Bailey’s physicality is well timed: he jumps, crouches, shakes his fist and points at the crowd like a medieval jester. The show lasted for just under two hours, and was definitely worth the cost, particularly if you’re already a fan.

Published in The Brag Magazine. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

VMA Red Carpet 2012

The fashion choices at this year's VMA awards did not seem to stand out as boldly as other events. Most female nominees were dressed in delicate fabrics, long dresses and relatively safe designs. But this night is more about the performances than the outfits. Some celebrities donned shorter outfits but there was an overwhelming amount of trailing, ballgown ensembles. Even tomboy punk singer Pink wore a Stella McCartney floor-length metallic dress with a highly coiffed peroxide hair. Miley Cyrus was out on the carpet for the first time in cropped haircut which did clash a bit with her Jolie-like black silk organza dress. With a return more traditional feminine shapes and styles, the outfits had a much softer touch than some of the outrageous couture-ish outfits of 2011.

Alicia Keys appeared in a glamourous yet futuristic floor-length olive gold gown.

Miley Cyrus looked very grown up in Emilio Pucci, a feminine cut with dramatic cutouts.

Katy Pery played it (relatively) safe this year - her hair a natural colour and in a trailing Elie Saab gown.

Emma Watson appeared in a playful Peter Pilotto ensemble, an unusual mix of colours for her but it worked well, paired with simple black heels.

Zoe Saldana has been a favourite on this year's red carpet in Salvatore Ferragamo, the neutral mini flattering her shape and natural look.