Sound Affects

what is this six-stringed instrument but an adolescent loom?

Posts Tagged ‘Music

Lisa Mitchell @ The Basement (16/10/08)

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I hadn’t been to The Basement for several months before tonight – not since Laneway Festival in March, which was quite a different scene. The place has been renovated, the main entrance now at the other end of the room so that one comes into the club via a rather plush foyer, rather than descending those stairs and coming through those big double doors. Now, on one hand, the renovations are shiny and new, and certainly spruces the place up a bit. On the other hand, they’re shiny and new, and spruces the place up a bit, which seems to contravene everything The Basement ever stood for. I always loved a poster on the wall advertising a 1987 Dizzy Gillespie gig, and dreamed of listening to the great jazz masters in a dim-lit, smoky room, with a glass of whiskey in my hand – sadly, however, government legislation and renovations seem to be conspiring to kill my dream.

But I digress.

Supporting duties tonight fell to Matt Walters, a young chap from Melbourne who seems enrolled in the John Mayer School for Earnest, Scruffy-Yet-Loveable Singer Songwriters. Accompanying himself on guitar (and once on the old pi-ano), Walters still managed to fill the place with just his voice and instrument – always tough when competing with those in the expensive seats who haven’t finished their dinner yet.

His set was a brisk half-hour of breathy acoustica, never overwrought or over emotive, but never really breaking out into anything extraordinary – exactly the sort of thing that the vaguely-knowledgeable music fan could buy for their mothers for Christmas. But not in a middle-of-the-road, sentimental tacky crap way – Walters seems like a really nice guy with nice songs about girls who used to waitress in a small café near his flat in Melbourne.

Lisa Mitchell always seemed small, shy and a little bit scared when she was on Australian Idol in 2006, and I always thought it was holding her back from making the ‘brave’ choices that the judges always crap on about as being essential. And that shyness came through in her stage patter – but disappeared when the music started. Her music is still very much grounded in the ‘shy little girl’ motif, but this Mitchell is using her shyness as an artistic tool, rather than it holding her back.

But as each song is tentatively introduced (bagging Mitchell the coveted Reviewer’s Award for Consideration of Scribes Unfamiliar With Artist’s Catalogue), it becomes clear that Mitchell is bolder than she lets on. Her voice, so quiet in conversation, leaps around in her songs – by turns shy, small, loud, breathy, frail, indignant and strong. Love Letter is a beautiful song, sung solo by Mitchell sitting at a piano, with fleeting moments of Martha Wainwright-esque vulnerability and sadness. Slow is equally gorgeous, if perhaps a touch undisciplined as Mitchell occasionally fumbled her guitar accompaniment.

But, surprisingly, Mitchell is also a band-leader. Playing with drums and bass and later joined by another guitar and a piano, a couple of numbers establish a groove that I was not expecting to hear. So Jealous exhibited a strength in Mitchell’s voice not seen in any other song, building to a rollicking harmonica part from one of her guests on stage, while Edge Of My Dreams and Oh Hark showcased a tightness in the band that will only get better as the tour continues.

But the highlight of the set was, unquestionably, Neapolitan Dream. The opening cascade of notes on xylophone were greeted enthusiastically by the crowd, who immediately got up on their feet and began dancing, stomping and clapping, momentarily transforming The Basement into a barnstorming hoedown.
At 18, Lisa Mitchell is already an accomplished singer, songwriter and bandleader, oozing with potential. There were occasional moments of sloppiness tonight, but certainly not enough to diminish the entire show.
Her music is lovely, her voice full of potential and her lyrics full of pretty images, but it is quite clearly the music of an 18 year old. I’m eagerly anticipating Mitchell growing as an artist, and channelling life’s inevitable hardships and heartbreaks into her music.
I think that could be something special.

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Written by soundaffects

October 19th, 2008 at 5:42 pm

ACDC – Black Ice (album review)

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ACDC return with 16th studio album.

World is now a better place.

Men and women of Australia –

Rejoice! For the years of unleavened bread are over!

On October 28, ACDC will release their first studio album since 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, bringing surely the darkest days of Australian music to an end.

And what an album it is.

Despite all the members of the band rivalling Methuselah for age, this album shakes, rattles and rolls with all the chutzpah of a band that know exactly who they are, what their sound is and where they stand in the pantheon of rock. Not for them the stripped-bare minimalism of Kanye West’s Love Lockdown. Not for them the lush, atmospheric departure from rawer beginnings, a la Kings of Leon, nor the disturbing new trend of everyone in the world being produced by Timbaland (Bjork, Duran Duran, Coldplay). ACDC knew what we wanted from them, and they have delivered.

By know you have surely heard Runaway Train, the album’s first track and lead single. Happily, though, the metaphor was not autobiographical, and ACDC continue to stay on track, flying down that highway to hell that has lain stretched out in front of them since long before the late, great Bon Scott donned pigtails and a pinafore on Countdown in 1974.

They revisit all the old stomping grounds that made them what they are today – cash (Money Made), roads and other modes of transportation (Rock N Roll Train, Wheels) and wild partying (Anything Goes) – but, in what must reassure us all in these politically, economically and socially turbulent times, a full quarter of the album’s titles involve rocking (Rock N Roll Train, She Likes Rock N Roll, Rock N Roll Dream and Rocking All The Way).

There is nothing new here. But, with apologies to Bob Hawke, anyone who attacks this album for its sameness is a mug. We do not want bold experimentation from these titans of rock and roll. We want ACDC to restore our faith in good old-fashioned RAWK! To banish the rising tide of fluoro and synthesisers that threaten to sink us all.

So go! Buy this album when it comes out. I defy anyone to press ‘play’ and not start grinning from ear to ear the very instant Angus Young’s Gibson SG roars into life.
This is one for the true believers. Australia, and the world, is better for having Black Ice in it.

seriously, though, how awesome is this cover art?

seriously, though, how awesome is this cover art?

Written by soundaffects

October 10th, 2008 at 6:15 pm

Elvis, Hound Dog and questions of intended meaning

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Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. More than 20 years ago, he burst upon the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equalled. His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture. His following was immense, and he was a symbol to people the world over of the vitality, rebelliousness, and good humour of his country.”

President Jimmy Carter
August 17th, 1977 (the day after Elvis’s death)

—————————————-

‘Hound Dog’ is often cited as THE song that precipitated the enormous generational, cultural and social upheaval that took place the in the 50s and 60s. It was the first song in history to simultaneously reach number 1 on all three Billboard charts – Pop, Country & Western AND Rhythm & Blues – and sold over 4 million copies. Clearly its status as cultural phenomenon is unimpeachable, but a close analysis of the music itself reveals very little that could be considered either revolutionary or explicit.

Instead, the entire song is geared towards dancing – hardly a novel concern, nor a dangerous one, not even in 1954. The twelve-bar blues structure is even, measured and perfectly geared towards dancing, especially when the tempo is as quick as it is here. The double bass provides a steady, constant backbone for the song, both through the chorus and the guitar solo section. The drumming is simple and unadorned, striking deliberately and precisely on the beat before exploding in tight, machine-gun bursts at the end of every verse, announcing the start of the next twelve bars. The lead guitar solo (anything but virtuoso) serves this same purpose of compelling people to dance simply by the fact that it is simple, rhythmic and does nothing to distract from the beat. The rhythm guitar is also working towards this goal of kinesis, providing a compulsive, driving impetus. Indeed, the rhythm guitar may be the most interesting aspect of the instrumentation as it is only being played for nine bars of the twelve bar pattern. When this rolling, strutting riff is being played it adds depth and body to the song as a whole, but when it isn’t being played it is conspicuous in its absence.

In considering ‘Hound Dog’ in light of its tremendous cultural and social impact, it is difficult to find a reason for this among the instruments mentioned. None are unique or particularly distinctive, the twelve-bar blues is already (by 1954) the basic structure for rhythm & blues, rockabilly and indeed most forms of what was considered ‘popular’ music, and there is nothing in the instrumentation that hasn’t already been heard at a slower pace in numerous Buddy Holly songs, or even at speed in Bill Haley’s hit ‘Rock Around The Clock’.
Of course, the one instrument that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Elvis’s voice. Perhaps the most distinctive voice of the 20th century it is the driving force of this song, with power, perfect control and just a touch of grit. It bounces, jumps, growls and rages in a way that Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and the rest of those 50s velvetine crooners couldn’t compare to.

And when coupled with his gyrating, thrusting, shaking dance moves, which Frank Sinatra attacked as being “deplorable…a rancid smelling aphrodisiac”, you could really understand why Ol’ Blue Eyes, along with most of suburbia, was so terrified of this man who “fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people”. If the estimates are correct, and 40-60 million people watched each of Elvis’ appearances on the Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan shows, then the smack in the face with SEX that was Elvis Presley could never possibly have been stopped. This was music that didn’t give two hoots about Como and his cardigans, Russians, MAD, whitegoods or cocktail parties. This was music that wanted to dance and fuck. Elvis knew what time it was. The people promoting him knew what time it was. Milton Bearle, Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen knew what time it was – and they wanted to be riding whatever wave this doe-eyed boy from Memphis was on. It was swagger, braggadocio, cojones– and it was money.

‘Hound Dog’ isn’t a song with intended meaning. It is a song with intended feeling. A song that shakes, rattles and rolls like a one eyed cat peeping in a seafood store. It’s a song sung by a young, good looking white boy who sounds like a young, good looking black guy. It sounds dangerous, even with singing these nonsense lyrics. And that is the meaning that people took from it. Teenagers were coming. Sex was coming. And Elvis was already here.

Addiction

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It is almost impossible to estimate the number of drug addicts in Australia. Far from being limited to illicit drugs such as heroin and methamphetamines, there must be uncounted thousands, even hundreds of thousands, suffering from addiction to alcohol, cigarettes and gambling.

And not content with running one life, addiction destroys the lives of those who know the addict – it steals away a friend, a relative, a loved one.

I know far too much about this side of addiction. This past summer should have been a carefree, joyous time with my girlfriend, but instead it has been arduous and taxing. Instead of planning for the future, it seems as though we are just trying to stagger through to the end of the day. There have been some distractions, thankfully, and her habit hasn’t been fed every day. I can’t begin to comprehend how helpful this has been in curbing her excesses.

Even so, we have been living in solitude, due simply to the solo nature of her drug of choice – Guitar Hero.

It is not uncommon for me to fall asleep, only to be woken at 3 or 4 in the morning by the mashing of coloured buttons and the clunk of the strum bar.

Our sex life, spectacular before, is now limited to Poison’s Talk Dirty To Me.

Our love of discovering new music and our passionate arguments about the merits of various releases, has now been stripped down to a single consideration – whether or not it would be fun to play on GH.

Our social life, once vibrant and exhaustive, is now only slightly busier than John Howard’s secretary. We haven’t done anything in weeks. We don’t paint the town red anymore. We just stay home and Paint It, Black.

Still, there is always hope. Hope that she will become so involved in uni that she forgets her addiction. Hope that, one day, she will once again see me as more than just a backup player when her hand gets tired. Hope that one day, soon, the madness will end.

Hmm?

What’s that?

What’s Rock Band?

Written by soundaffects

April 12th, 2008 at 3:30 pm

SANTANA supported by Blue King Brown @ ACER Arena 28/2/2008

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One of the strangest experiences of my life was sitting in the ACER while all around me lawyers and big-businessmen watched Blue King Brown and their brand of post-Inconvenient Truth roots music in this gigantic, soulless cavern. Stranger still was that they all seemed to be enjoying it

Quite a lot.
And, although I think BKB are more concerned with appearing socially aware than anything else, I must admit they put in a good show.
Including audience participation.
Quite generous audience participation.
Which, again, was weird.
Although, really, if you can’t get your message across in a 45-minute set, I don’t think you deserve a 5 minute monologue at the end of it to make it obvious what you’re all about.

But as I saw countless Santana t-shirts with “love”, “peace” and “freedom” writ large, and watched an intro video in which these words were flashed on the big screens superimposed on an image of a flying dove, it all made sense – I had somehow gotten mixed up with a slew of middle-aged ex-hippies who hadn’t been able to take time out of their Commerce/Law degree to actually go to Sunbury in the first place.
Never was this more apparent that during Carlos Santana’s sickening monologues, like when he brought Natalie Pa’apa’a from BKB out on stage and began to exalt the “sister side of us all”, concluding with the stunning revelation that, without women, none of us would be here.

Now kids, I want you to say hell to Mr Carlos Santana, your new Year 3 Science teacher.

But no science teacher in the world can play guitar like that.
It was absolutely gorgeous.
I’ve seen Tom Morrello, John Frusciante, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, The Edge and Eric Clapton in the last couple of years, but Santana matched it with all of them.
His playing soared, swayed, soothed and screamed, and left no one in any doubt as to his mastery of his chosen weapon.

But what I couldn’t stop thinking was that Santana was in desperate need of a frontman – his own Jagger, Iggy, Bono or Zack de la Rocha . For while Santana played beautifully, he was just chilling out in a dirty red beanie, an old t-shirt and some track pants, while two guys who sounded like rejects from Boys II Men sang all the songs. I couldn’t wait for them to shut the hell up so I could get back to enjoying my evening.
Don’t get me wrong, the band was brilliant. The drumming, courtesy of ex-Parliament/Funkadelic Dennis Chambers, was the best live drumming I’ve ever heard. He unleashed a solo that began well, seemed to peter out, and then exploded in this cavalcade of rolling, clashing drums and cymbals that had everyone in the audience rise as one in a standing ovation. What’s more, the two bongo players, brass section, Hammond organ, bass and second guitar filled the air better than I had ever imagined.
What it missed, though, was a focal point – someone to command the audience’s attention so that Santana could just chill out.
The man has all the natural stage presence of a mollusc, which is a great shame when the music is as good as anything going around.

Written by soundaffects

April 12th, 2008 at 3:26 pm

GUY SEBASTIAN @ The State Theatre, 6/3/2008

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So, what kind of audience is it that turns up to see Guy Sebastian play with some of the most respected soul musicians in the world?

Well, it’s an odd one.

There are the obligatory tweeny-boppers, invariably accompanied by their over-eager parents.
Then there are the old guys who have been hoarding Stax and Decca records since their 15th birthday in 1963, and have finally got the chance to see some of their heroes play live. They don’t really know who Guy Sebastian is, other than through a general, vague awareness, but as far as they are concerned this band could be fronted by the reanimated corpse of Mussolini, just as long as they get to see Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper.
Then there are the large gaggles of middle-aged women – those who don’t listen to much music, but like non-threatening singers like Guy Sebastian. These women have music libraries filled with Cliff Richard, Il Divo and various Idol winners from around the world. Their interest in these men is never purely musical, of course. Indeed, they wistfully dream of these clean-cut Casanovas coming to their house, singing to them while they complete their tedious housework, and then making love to them in a way that their husbands (“One-Minute Mike” and “Two-Inch Tom”, as they joke to their friends) haven’t done since the dying days of the Reagan administration.

Aside from the old soul fans, those present went all gushy for the support act. I don’t remember his name, but that isn’t a great loss – he was Guy Sebastian, but less in every aspect. His voice isn’t nearly as good, his songs are about as interesting as 3a.m. T.V, and instead of sounding like a nice, intelligent, humble person when he spoke, instead he managed both to forget the phrase “crowning glory” and sound like a complete gronk in the process. This man will never trouble the ARIA judges.

As for Guy Sebastian himself?

It’s like…

Well…

Ok.

So before Guy came out, they played us this video about the history of Stax Records. And as story after story about Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Al Green and Booker T & The MGs, you began to think about these titans of music: about how this music was born in the cotton fields of the South, how white men and black played this music together at a time when they couldn’t sit in the same area of a McDonalds, and how these immortal voices carried the urgency and the rage of an entire race trying to break through the hate and rage of centuries.
And then Guy Sebastian comes on stage, and his voice is flawless, and his energy is relentless, and the love from the audience is tangible – but something is missing. It lacks, dare I say it, any soul.
When Wilson Pickett sings “I’m going to wait ‘til the midnight hour”, you know EXACTLY what is going to go down in the midnight hour. When Guy Sebastian sings it, you just aren’t sure. Is he going help your kids with their homework? Is he going to sit on your couch and watch Scream with you and hold you close when you get frightened?
In fact, the show only kicked up out of karaoke mode three times:
1 – Guy sung a new song of his called Fire, and you could absolutely feel the passion, the urgency and the sheer need in his voice. It didn’t sound like mimicry, and it didn’t sound hollow – it was pure energy and total desire.
2 – When the rest of the band left the stage, and the MGs played their classic instrumental Green Onions. Everyone was out of their seat, dancing like mad as this most brilliant of bands played this most brilliant of tracks.
3 – Just as the set was getting warmed up, Jimmy Barnes came on stage for a special surprise appearance. He sang two songs, Sam & Dave’s classic Hold On, I’m Coming and When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, and really showed everyone what a frontman should be about. It really seemed like something was wrong with his baby, and that it really hurt him to the depths of his being. Guy, on the other hand, made it seem slightly hypothetical, as though if something ever happened to his baby, it probably would, you know, be kinda crap.

It was a really fun gig, and it was something of a dream realised to see the MGs. But it never really kicked out of 2nd gear. What it was missing was real soul.

Written by soundaffects

April 12th, 2008 at 12:00 pm

in the beginning…

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yes, I have finally succumbed to the inevitable.

as someone who thinks of themselves as a writer, to write things and not see them published anywhere but your own notebook is a somewhat depressing sight.

also, there is something to be said for having an audience. even if that audience is my mother and my girlfriend, it’s still an audience. and if I have an audience, I will endeavor to write for them.

and so I will be writing about a whole lot of things: music, politics, film, ideas.
I’ll probably repost a good amount of stuff from newspapers, other blogs and whatnot.

the world is too big, too complex, for one person to claim a monopoly on knowledge. so I’ll be sharing it around a bit.

enjoy

H.

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April 12th, 2008 at 1:31 am