Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Artists to watch in 2013

Ta-ku (Perth)

You can’t tell lies with a Soundcloud URL like ta-ku-got-beats. On the spot Reggie Matthews a.k.a. Perth producer TA-KU commits to those beats, delivering glitterwave, electronic, future beat and trap in a collection of polished and dynamic tracks.
Ta-ku’s music already has a strong online presence and it’s going to be hard to stay on the down low during 2013.
If you’re a fan of Chet Faker or Flume, it is highly likely that you’ve heard a Ta-ku track or sample. His distinct choppy hip-hop beats and soul groove recall a party mood of the 90s. Ultimately though, the beats are futuristic and progressive. Check out “Dip That”: Destiny’s Child become a whole lot cooler (part of his mini-EP 2bit Lady Anthems).
Ta-ku provides plenty of free downloads, as a strong advocate for online music sharing, and the best place to start exploring is his Soundcloud link: soundcloud.com/takugotbeats. Also hard to go past his ‘Hyperparadise’ remix, if that was one of your favourite tunes of 2012.
Or stream his 2012 release RE ϟ TWERK online.
Up for the triple j top 100 were his two tracks “Diamond Mouth” and “Mahal feat. Chet Faker”. It’s no surprise when he’s cut a way through the overhyped styles of trap/nu-soul/chillwave and if his EP is any indication, look for Ta-ku’s steady soundscape to take over in 2013.

What So Not (Sydney)

What So Not is made up of Sydney boys Harley Streten and Chris Emerson (solo acts as Flume and Emoh Insteadrespectively). They are signed onto the Sweat It Out label alongside Yolanda Be Cool, Parachute Youth and Twinsyamong others.
A combination of the chill vibes of Sydney’s northern beaches mixed with a pinch of inner city swag runs through their tunes. Their explosive remix of Major Lazer’s ‘Get Free’ is a standout for 2012 and we can only dream of what beats they’ll conjure up next.
If you haven’t yet caught What So Not at a club or music festival (most recently at the Ivy Hotel, Southbound andWonderland) be sure to head along to one of their live shows. For the second part of 2012, the pair toured like mofos around the country, turning every venue into a sweaty, sweaty mess.
Their leading remix ‘Ov3r 7 Dollar’ off the 7 Dollar Bill EP launched them into the urban club scene – soaked in macho bass, drum work and stunted sirens.
Another to check out is their killer remix of Kimbra’s ‘Warrior’, combining her powerful vocals with addictive poppy synth and a lift to the chorus which is impossible to ignore.

What So Not are pretty active online – follow them on instagram @emoh_wsn for some pretty hilarious photos or tweet @WhatSoNot- they’ll answer back.
In the words of Nina Las Vegas: “Watch out 2013. What So Not is coming for you.”

Foxygen (LA)
Here’s a band you may not have heard of, Californian indie rock duo FOXYGEN – who have filtered just about every rock band of the late 60s into a dazed, kaleidoscopic sound which would please any fan from indie to psychedelic rock.
It’s more about the vocals and less about the shredding instruments but it’s hard to acknowledge the scent of a Mr free-wheelin Bob Dylan, Velvet Underground and even Rolling Stones.
Foxygen is Sam France & Jonathan Rado, LA-based musicians. They have just released a single off their upcoming second album ‘No Destruction’. Full of spacey guitar licks and street poetry, it’s weird and wild, and mostly unpredictable. It sounds retro but on closer inspection, there are modern tiffs: “There’s no need to be an asshole/You’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”
The duo have also brought out a music video for upcoming track 'San Francisco'. It gives an insight into the eccentricity of the two – with vocalist Sam Frances perched on an English armchair in techi-coloured pants seductively mouthing the playful Kinks-y lyrics(your eyes are like a cup of tea/ascend into the sun with me”). There is definitely something a bit smokey about this clip.
Foxygen released their second album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic on January 22 with Jagjaguwar (Bon Iver, Sharon Van Etten).

Carmen Villain (London)

Model turned musician CARMEN VILLAIN has released a single off her upcoming debut, with a swirling psychedelic sound and a voice that is both delicate and compelling. The track ‘Lifeissin’ opens with resonant guitar and a distinct reverb sound which grows throughout the track.

Villain aka Carmen Hillestad was born in the USA, lives in London, and is a delectable mix of half-Norwegian, half-Mexican. On the track she plays guitar, bass, percussion and keyboards – proving that her move from the fashion world to music was not inconsequential.

‘Lifeissin’ features dreamy harmonies and a sweeping chorus but is not necessarily one to lie back and relax with. Villain slows it down, allowing us to revel in the escapist lyrics: “take the fear out of forever” 

With a chill sound likeable to Sonic Youth or Dum Dum Girls, her music would easily fit into a Wes Anderson soundtrack or even the more angsty Girls.

‘Lifeissin’ evokes a lo-fi rock sound and is an exciting look at more of her material to come. Carmen Villain is currently touring in the UK and is due to release her EP Sleeper on March 12 through Smalltown Supersound.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Film review - 'Argo' by Ben Affleck

Argo (2012)               

Based on the true rescue operation of a CIA agent in 1980, Ben Affleck’s new bio-thriller Argo conveys the chaos of the situation with a dramatic twist. Affleck stays true to the story of now-retired agent Antonio Mendez and the mission, which remained classified until 1997.

Argo follows the rescue op of six fugitive American diplomats, who have previously fled following the attack of their embassy a year prior. There are genuinely traumatic moments in the film – we follow the group driving through a riot, suspenseful security checks and hiding in a basement.

This is no ordinary rescue mission – Mendez enters as a composed, articulate agent who decides to travel to Tehran posing as a Canadian film producer. True to history, the six hostages remained in the Canadian embassy for over a year. During the whole film, it’s clear that time is running out – and Affleck draws on this urgency in nail-biting, fast-chopping action scenes.

Comic relief and witty commentary on the Hollywood culture comes from acting veterans Alan Arkin and John Goodman as Mendez’ film industry contacts. For a thriller film, the dialogue is dense yet free-flowing and each character is well articulated. Cuts between the execs in the White House and CIA illustrate how risky and improvised the mission was –while subtlely acknowledging their ruthlessness as organisations.

Despite the filmic freedom – especially the intense finale – Argo is chillingly reminiscent to modern-day riot footage. Affleck authentically conveys the chaos of revolution and captures the spirit of the late 70s that the reality of our security in the move theatre is momentarily challenged.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Top 15 albums for 2012

Last year saw a versatile mix of artists ranging from an increased effort by original electronic producers to a modern twist on rock 'n' roll. Australian musicians held their ground and some of the more memorable albums are home-grown. After long deliberation and shuffling around, here are my top 15 albums of 2012.

15. Undersea - The Antlers
This is an EP of four tracks but it is musically expressive, full of open sound - dripping vocals, heaving synth and lyrical resonance. The Brooklyn band uses words only when they're needed and indulges in each element of the music. It's not one to sing along to but a great listen in its entirety.

14. In Our Heads - Hot Chip
The English pop come nerdy electronic group fuel out danceable admirable tunes. From the poppy "How Do You Do?" to a more mellow "Look At Where We Are", their 2012 release showed that Hot Chip still has the fire. They were one of the first indie dance bands on the scene.

13. The Heist - Macklemore
Never mind the super-popular single "Thrift Shop", this album is commendable in its entirety. Macklemore has brought a sensitivity and poetic quality to commercial rap that we haven't seen in a long time (cue shawty, bling, girls in the hot tub etc.) - if you can call this commercial. Partly fun, partly serious.

12. In A Million Years - Last Dinosaurs
I personally cringe when I hear the term 'indie pop' but this group out of Brisbane has brought a fresh take on catchy lovesick tunes. You can tell that there is instrumental aptitude present - never mind the cohesiveness (well, there are 3 brothers) - and the album narrative is well-crafted from start to end. My memorable tracks were 'Used to be Mine', 'Honolulu' and 'Andy'.

11. Pacifica - The Presets
Again, I would not have expected to have dance-floor fillers The Presets on this list, but Pacifica was an altogether different matter. Call it experimental, call it European house - I feel like it was a collection of tracks which capture the anxieties of 2012: rebellious youth, fear of the future, information overload...

10. She's A Riot - Jungle Giants EP
It may seem unfair to rate an EP alongside an album list but for a debut release, the Jungle Giants executed a concise and bright lot of tracks. It's teenage angst without the restless lyrics. It's love stories without painfully obvious imagery. She's A Riot isn't elaborate poetry but for rock fans there are slick riffs and dynamic vocals.

19. The Rubens - The Rubens
You can tell that this album was produced in a studio in New York (alongside producer of previous Lana Del Rey, Strokes work) because it sounds too polished for a foursome out of a NSW seaside town. The lead vocalist has a unique, gravely voice which initially drew me to their music. The album follows a story and harkens back to early blues/rock cries of heartache.

8. Flume - Flume
It might have arrived at the perfect time but Flume's debut was received with roaring success in 2012. It could be the hypnotic weaving of textural elements or the chilled out take on indie electronic. When it is hard to classify an album in terms of its music, the next thing to look at is its feel and impact. This is something new for Australia and a standout in its scene.

7. Observator - The Raveonettes
The Raveonettes don't adhere to any strict genre - although their music has the structure of pop and electronic elements, each song focuses on its content and the form which best expresses it. Their raw almost inaudible vocals are not everyone's favourite but if you listen very closely, there are some sad stories and elevating compositions.

6. Fear Fun - Father John Misty
As a member of Fleet Foxes, Josh Tillman had a lot to live up to, in terms of complex music structure and memorable melodies. Fear Fun has its own attitude - self-deprecating, vulnerable and intriguing. It also, in true 21st century style, plays around with folk, country and pop forms. Magically, it is an example of the lyrics meeting the music.

5. Blunderbuss - Jack White
A veteran of the rock music world, Jack White really is the original eccentric character. There really isn't much new to say commending his addictive licks, charged vocals and insane guitar work. Blunderbuss is so energetic and varied, it is a lesson in the modern rock album. No song needs to sound the same for it to work. Just spectacular.

4. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
Nearly every music lover, music writer and musician took note of Frank Ocean in 2013. This is probably the most personal production since Adele's 21. Superb lyrics, that soothing voice, rolling rhythms - and a seamless album. 'Thinkin' About You' is one of my top songs of the year.

3. Port of Morrow - The Shins
One of the first to emerge in 2012, it was a five-year wait from The Shins and well worth it. Mercer returns with expressive lyrics and more mature vocals. It delves into a more commercial sound than previous folk-indie songs but is very much a complement to the Shins collection. It is a gathering of songs that ask questions about the nature of the world and its bitter disappointments.

2. Born To Die - Lana Del Rey
I can't say that I adore this album as a whole, or even appreciate every song. The reason that this album has a place so far up the list is the dark, alluring nature of the whole thing. True, her voice is not impeccable among the female greats but among all the muttering and drawling, there is something special. Standout tracks for 2012 are 'Born to Die' and 'Video Games'.

1. Lonerism - Tame Impala
Tame Impala are back with their sweeping melodies and distinct psychedelic tunes. Lonerism harnesses the spirit of 60s pop and 70s rock without emulating the same sound - in any one track you can find pulsating buss, retro harmonies and heavy electric guitar. It can feel like you're stuck in a time warp but then again Lonerism is so utterly contemporary and different to anything coming out of Australia right now. I have no doubts about this one at #1.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Film review - "Les Misérables" by Tom Hooper

Les Misérables (2012)               

Possibly the most hyped-up film of the 2012 Oscar season, Les Misérables is a melodramatic, romantic interpretation of the much-loved musical. Tom Hooper plays up to his all-star cast, indulging in lingering close-up shots and dramatic pauses. Although the scenery and music is polished and realistic, Hooper has applied the dynamics of theatre to a film which to some extent bypasses those unfamiliar with the original story.

Set in 19th century Paris, Les Misérables follows the story of former prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who spends decades in a perpetual chase after breaking parole. He chooses to lead a pious life and promises factory-worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) that he will care for her child Cosette, who he finds living with two scam artists (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, bringing their distinct eccentricities to the table as comic relief). Years on, Valjean and grown Cosette are living secluded in Paris, where she falls in love with a young revolutionary (Eddie Redmayne).

Jackman as Jean Valjean assumes his big-screen role with macho delivery and sentimental vocals. He is almost unrecognisable in the early scenes as a prisoner and his many transformations over time are a testament to his acting talent. Russel Crowe, although is wincingly off-pitch and hints at an Australian accent, illuminates the harshness of Javert and the villainy of the French authorities.

Hooper leads us through the overcrowded cobblestone streets and dark, gloomy wharves and we are drawn into a completely different world on screen. Operatic and grandiose, it is not an easy watch. Hathaway’s iconic performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” is far from X-factor charm and glamour. The screen is forever filled with action- gunshots, wailing women, horses, and even an elephant. The utter destitution of the miserable French is trumped out by the glamour of the picture.

Among the recognisable faces, surprisingly, the younger actors shone in their sincerity and talent.  Isabelle Allen as young Cosette portrayed the fragility and shame of a sad childhood, while Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche was confident and charismatic - quite the scene-stealer.

Playing the two young lovers, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Eddie Redmayne as Marius steal attention from the older cast members. Their expressive vocals (although Seyfried’s part is shrill at times) make the movie the epic that it is. Hooper captures the spirit of the young revolutionaries but more in terms of their comrade-fuelled venture than a tragic fight for a free and just life.

What may surprise audiences is the complete lack of dialogue – that is, outside of the musical theatre. The entirety of the film is in song - for musical lovers it’s a dream come true – but for the average filmgoer it can get a bit overwhelming.

Les Misérables reminds us of the power of cinema to recreate a history with the emotional intensity of a full-scale production on stage. When you have actors singing out of the studio and centuries of history to cover, it’s a mammoth task. The filmic production lacks a sense of space and cultural context but it’s a star-studded production.