Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wrapping up 2014 in End of Year Lists

I spent most of 2014 as an observer and occasional participator rather than a recorder. My new full-time journalism course and new job at a newspaper meant I saw fewer gigs and interviewed fewer musicians than before. Admittedly, I also wrote an awful lot about things besides music. Because of this I am putting little stock in this year's lists. As with every year, there are too many blind spots to render it of much use rather than keeping score of the year's releases and cultural tendencies. Benji may be a depressing listen for many, but as an achievement in storytelling and mining a seam of songwriting rarely sought in this day and age, it's a massively impressive work. Sonically, A Sunny Day in Glasgow seem to remain one of the most under-appreciated bands currently working. The cross-continental collective sound like they're breaking new ground with every release and this was a real surprise. The divisive song Seasons by Future Islands seems to be feted so highly because it must surely appeal to a great many music nerds to see a fearless, charismatic man on stage with a slightly receding hairline. It's a cracking song, though the album doesn't quite hold up all the way through. Caribou's Our Love does, though it never touches the heights of opener Can't Do Without You. Alvvays were on repeat for much of the year, though their infectious indie pop is unlikely to win fans to the genre despite being well-reviewed.
Anyway, these are the records that made 2014 for me:
3. Our Love CARIBOU
4. Alvvays ALVVAYS
6. Run the Jewels 2 RUN THE JEWELS
8. Lowtide LOWTIDE
9. Makthaverskan II MAKTHAVERSKAN

1. L For Leisure JOHN ATKINSON (Soundtrack)
2. L’amour LEWIS (Reissue)
3. Spiderland SLINT (Reissue)

1. Marry Me Archie ALVVAYS
2. Can’t Do Without You CARIBOU
3. Oppressive (The Best Gay Possible) PET SHOP BOYS
6. Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) RUN THE JEWELS FEAT. ZACH DE LA ROCHA
9. Easy Money JOHNNY MARR

1. L-Fresh the Lion
2. Hideous Towns
3. Alvvays
4. Blair Dunlop
5. Viet Cong


1. Dolly Parton ETIHAD STADIUM
3. Johnny Marr CORNER HOTEL
5. Parquet Courts LANEWAY FESTIVAL

1. The Stickmen CORNER HOTEL
2. Love of Diagrams CORNER HOTEL
3. Kirin J Callinan LANEWAY FESTIVAL
4. Jack Ladder  CORNER HOTEL
5. Dynamo CHERRY BAR

1. Fargo
2. Media Watch
3. True Detective
4. At the Movies
5. Sherlock

1. Frank
2. Under the Skin
3. Her
4. Nightcrawler
5. L For Leisure
6. Force Majeure
7. Nymphomaniac Vol I
8. Sunshine on Leith
9. We Are The Best
10. Blue is the Warmest Colour
11. Whiplash
12. Interstellar
13. Black Coal, Thin Ice
14. Gone Girl
15. The Theory of Everything
16. Edge of Tomorrow
17. Predestination
18. Cavalry
19. The Grand Budapest Hotel
20. It Follows

1. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews – Radio Five Live
2. Serial - NPR
3. Screen Talk - Indiewire
4. In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg – BBC Radio 4
5. From Our Own Correspondent – BBC Radio 4

Alt-J. I listen to it, I frown at it, and I just don't get it.

“I don’t think anybody, me included, knew it was illegal.” - Rebekah Brooks

The Calgary band Viet Cong will blow up, and Taylor Swift's Australian tour to break records.


Saturday, June 28, 2014


Elsternwick Park, 22 June, 2014

A happy, scarf-toting crowd ambles into sunny Elsternwick Park as the sound of Lou Reed sneering about life in New York pours from the PA.

After the kid-tastic entertainment of Elmo & Friends, first act of the day Fraser A Gorman draws a curious audience into the shadow of the stage. Gorman’s breezy windows-down-volume-up style of country rock belies his smart lyrics and rich voice, qualities that elevate “animal country jam” Shiny Gun and the outdoorsy Dark Eyes. A sterling piano-driven cover of the day’s theme song Perfect Day tinkles and booms before Gorman’s recent single Book Of Love.

The Smith Street Band’s ruckus bursts across the oval like a splintering hangover, their ferocious dry guitars and muscular energy a wake-up call to latecomers. Singer Wil Wagner, a man not afraid of swearing loudly and clearly in front of awestruck, earmuffed toddlers, drives the gutsy furious set and yanks up energy levels as kickoff approaches.

At half-time Saskwatch, who boast nearly a football side’s worth of members, blast their addictive brand of brassy funk. New single A Love Divine and recent release Born To Break Your Heart are both excellent examples of pop soul. Their cover of Gorillaz (ft Lou Reed)’s Some Kind Of Nature is a deft tribute and slots nicely into a set that sounds as if Amy Winehouse had necked an E made a comeback record. 

“Enough of that,” says MC Jonnie von Goes, dragging attention away from the recently completed footy game (which the Rockdogs won by nine points). “There were young people for Elmo, slightly older people for Fraser A Gorman and The Smith Street Band, slightly older people for Saskwatch and now we’ve got really old people for this one! A bushfire couldn’t kill them. An atrophied liver couldn’t kill Paul [Stewart]. They’re indestructible! They are Painters & Dockers! Who the fuck are you!?”

Stewart plays the belligerent court jester in shorts and buttoned suspenders, slapping his arse and poking out his tongue. “Ha! We’re still alive, believe it or not,” he says before introducing a searing, explosive take on 1991’s New World Order. Saskwatch join them for You Know You’re Soaking In It, which is dedicated to ex-manager Lobby Loyde and “the Australian who donated me their liver”. Kill Kill Kill sees the Rockdogs cheerleaders join and immediately make every gig not featuring cheerleaders seem lame. With most songs dedicated to a deceased friend and a burst of The Angels’ Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again, it’s a poignant, arse-kicking, life-affirming set. Exciting Burundi rappers FLYBZ step up for Painters & Dockers’ Let’s Give It A Go and win many new fans. Nude School is dedicated to Christopher Pyne. The typically excellent Reclink Community Cup music programming emerges victorious yet again.

Monday, June 23, 2014

JIMMY SCOTT, July 17, 1925 – June 12, 2014

The starstruck author and Jimmy Scott. San Francisco, February 23, 2010
American jazz singer Jimmy Scott died Thursday June 12 at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada aged 88.

Described by the New York Times as ‘the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century’ and by Madonna as ‘the only singer who could make me cry’, Scott was highly influential despite never achieving the success of those who worshipped him.

A close friend to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and many American jazz legends, Billie Holiday cited Scott as her favourite singer. Such was their closeness Scott officiated as Holiday’s family at her funeral.

Known for his distinctively ethereal contralto and uniquely laconic phrasing, Scott was diagnosed with Kallman’s Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that prevented him from reaching puberty, effectively making him a castrato.

His distinctively androgynous voice can be heard on early recordings such as Lionel Hampton’s 1950 hit Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool and Charlie Parker’s Embraceable You, both widely played records that omitted his name and mis-credited him respectively. Scott is best known for his appearance in the TV series Twin Peaks singing David Lynch’s Sycamore Trees.

Scott’s diminutive stature, effeminate appearance and unusual voice – symptoms of his disorder - cast him as an outsider and lead him to be the victim of physical and verbal abuse for much of his life. Singers Frankie Valli, Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson all cite Scott as a key influence.

In 1955, Scott signed a recording contract with Herman Lubinsky’s Savoy Records that bound him to Lubinsky for life. Lubinsky claimed the rights to all of Scott’s work, even after he left the label.

Scott’s first album Falling In Love Is Wonderful, produced and funded by Ray Charles was withdrawn within days of its release due to a threatened lawsuit from Lubinsky. Scott’s second album, 1969’s The Source was similarly derailed.

Unable to record or release music until Lubinsky’s death in 1975, Scott took menial jobs and remained in obscurity until rediscovered singing at the funeral of singer-songwriter Doc Pomus in 1991. Also present at the funeral were Seymour Stein, owner of Sire Records, who signed him immediately, and Lou Reed, who regularly featured him on albums and tours. Director David Lynch wrote Scott into the final episode of his TV series Twin Peaks in 1991 after chancing across him in an adjacent room in a recording studio.

Interviewing Scott in 2010, he said, “My life is such a human interest story. Even Ray Charles said mine was more interesting than his! Ray said it was more compelling not only because we both lost our mothers at a young age - he was blind and I had my thing - but he was lucky. He was in the right places at the right time. I wasn’t, you know?”

Scott’s first ‘comeback’ album, the Grammy nominated All the Way, came when he was 67 and was the first of ten albums released between 1992 and 2004. He was the subject of Matthew Buzzel’s 2003 documentary Jimmy Scott, If You Only Knew, and David Ritz’s biography Faith In Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott.

He was the recipient of numerous jazz awards including the NEA Jazz Master award, the Kennedy Center’s ‘Jazz in Our Time’ award and NABOB’s Pioneer award in 2007. Scott was inducted into the R&B Music Hall of Fame in October last year.

Live was where Scott excelled and where he felt most at home. Scott’s performances include the inauguration of both Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 and Bill Clinton 40 years later as well as the wedding of Nick Cave.

At a 2010 show in San Francisco, Scott – permanently confined to a wheelchair after a fall since 2007 – held the small audience effortless spellbound. Arms flailing, his body possessed, he inhabited ballad after ballad as if living them anew. It was a rare concert to not feature tears in the audience and often onstage.

“A lot of people come into the business not knowing what to do or how to project,” he said. “They don’t realize they’re telling a story. I feel if you’re singing a song it has to mean something. It has to make sense. That’s why I protect what I have in it. Good songs should touch you and make you think about what you’re doing with your life. A lot of times I got caught on the wrong end of bad deals, that’s it. You have to overcome it. I’ve been there, I’ve felt those blows, but you overcome. You have to. You can’t give up.”

Scott is survived by his fifth wife Jeanie.

Friday, May 30, 2014

THE LYNCH MOB: why is Twin Peaks so influential on Australian music?

How did a bizarre TV show from the ‘90s become a badge of underground cool in the Australian music scene?

This article was originally published for ABC's Double J website

Twin Peaks was a popular show in 1990-91 with a US audience of 34 million. The show’s co-creator David Lynch was already an Oscar-nominated auteur when he set about writing it with Mark Frost. While its game-changing cinematic qualites were appreciated at the time, what is truly remarkable about Twin Peaks is how this otherworldly creation influences other art forms, now more than ever.

The cult TV show, set in 1989, concluded with an enigmatic quote from Laura Palmer’s doppelganger: “see you again in 25 years”.

In the show’s fictional world, that time is now.

The Sound From Another Place

Ever since Australia became the only country to send Julee Cruise’s 'Falling' to the top of the charts in 1991, local bands have been looting the show for inspiration in a way only matched by the Scandinavian metal scene. Why this is fictional town is yet to release its grip on the Australian imagination is one of its most profound mysteries.

"There’s something very exotic about a small town in America," says singer-songwriter Sophia Brous, ahead of her performance in the star-studded In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited show at London’s Barbican Theatre. "It’s a like an inverse version of Crocodile Dundee. We like stepping into the cold austerity of a town like that, it’s like a holiday."

Isobel Knowles, member of the Icypoles and formerly of Architecture in Helsinki, thinks of Twin Peaks in similarly cinematic terms.

"Australian cinema often tells stories about people and places which seem light and happy on the outside but have dark undercurrents," Knowles says. "This darkness goes very deep and it’s never resolved. It’s not necessarily as overt as Twin Peaks, but it’s always there."

Knowles also links the show’s setting to its Australian appeal.

"In Twin Peaks, the forest is a giant aspect. The Australian wilderness is inherently creepy, and having grown up in Australia it's impossible to dissociate environment from history. Maybe this is another reason it's so appealing to Australians."

Brous agrees. "In Australia, we’re on this island on the other side of the world and there’s a sense of inquiry from being far away. We’ve gravitated towards different scenes, like the growth of punk, or industrial…the development of someone like Nick Cave for instance. In Melbourne especially, because of stations like RRR that represent new and interesting forms of music, there’s been platforms for new and interesting stuff."

That Show You Like Is Going To Come Back In Style

New and interesting stuff is what grabs attention in local band scenes and Easter eggs for Twin Peaks fans litter current gig guides. Psych rockers Vicuna Coat and hardcore combo Flesh World are both named after clues in the show. The big mystery of the series ('Who killed Laura Palmer?'), led to the name of pop-punk act Laura Palmer.

Psych band White Lodge and defunct shoegazers Ghostwood (whose members turn up in Jagwar Ma) both take their names from locations in the show, while post-rockers Laura and Adelaide country-pop quartet The Audreys are happy to let their names suggest it. Less-obsessive fans can spot the influence in electro duo Peak Twins.

Songs like ‘Leo Needs a New Pair of Shoes’ by Ben Frost and ‘The Fish in the Percolator Song’ by Hobart new wavers hMAS – both created away from a world populated by bands looking to drop hip references – are particularly interesting examples.

But it’s not just about clever pop cultural references - bands are mining Twin Peaks for musical inspiration.

Melbourne indie-pop group the Icypoles recently grabbed international attention for their cover of 'Just You', a saccharine love ballad written by Lynch and played by three of the show’s troubled teens.

"'Just You' is this pop song stuck in the middle of this beautiful, moody world," says Knowles.

"To most people, a song is just a snapshot or a short moment, but at the same time, it becomes its own thing after that point. This mix of pop music and cinema matched with a lot of the work I’d been doing as an artist."

Diane, make a note

For those who directly work with Lynch – such as the headliner of this year's DARK MOFO festival, Chrysta Bell – there is the danger of being reduced to a muse, of his identity overtaking their own.

"There will be a risk of that if I don’t kill it on the new record," Bell says, "But there is no downside to the endorsement. If I didn’t enjoy discussing him so much then the only downside would be being asked about him more than people ask about me. But I truly care for him and respect his talent, so that’s not an issue. It’s a win-win."

Jazz legend Jimmy Scott, who sings Angelo Badalamenti and Lynch’s Sycamore Trees in the series' surreal final episode, is similarly confident about working with Lynch.

"David Lynch saw me and wanted to use me," Scott says. "He said he liked my aura. I didn’t understand the storyline at all. He had me in a dark room, in a suit and bow tie singing to a dwarf," he laughs. 

Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song

The show’s soundtrack lives on in music by artists like the Dunes, the Paradise Motel, early HTRK and most bands described as ‘dream-pop’.  Brous says it’s the liminal state between dream and reality Lynch explores that so many find appealing.

“He’s someone who’s very into the threshold between the subconscious and the conscious. He often uses these ethereal, bell-like voices that flow in and out of… that through you, it’s like music flowing through you. He’ll have someone like Jimmy Scott with a strange and beautiful tone, and use these unusual sounds. He knows the voice is naturally the most expressive instrument there is, and that we respond to it unlike any other.”

The unusual, always appealing to a creative and subversive arts scene that feeds on a revered international influences like Lynch, is still yet to become usual. With Lynch himself increasingly focusing on his own music instead of film, his appeal to an Australian artists isn’t dying anytime soon.

As Bell says, “any artist that really digs Lynch’s thing and delves into his work will probably end up with some influence in her own creations. It’s such a strong spice, it can’t help but make it’s way onto your dish. At least a few sprinkles. Sometimes more.”