One Minute Music Reviews 2

An overview of the most interesting new albums to come my way in the last three months.

Calexico – Garden Ruin

On their most straightforward album yet, Calexico ditch the Latin instrumentals and concentrate on producing polished pop/rock songs. Long-time fans missing the mariachi horns will find some solace in ‘Roka’ or ‘Nom de Plume’ with its whispered Gainsbourg-like vocals. Elsewhere there’s the light touch of ‘Bisbee Blue’ or feedback-drenched album-closer ‘All Systems Red’. (4/5)

Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country

This Scottish indie-pop ensemble creeps out from the shadow of mentors Belle & Sebastian to produce their strongest collection yet. Swedish producer, Jari Haapalainen, has given the band a bigger sound and plenty of atmosphere. First single ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken’ is a highlight. (3.5/5)

Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

The last few months have seen a flurry of new albums by female singer-songwriters – Beth Orton, Jenny Lewis, Chan Marshall. This is probably the best of the lot. Case’s voice is commanding; the songs have a haunting, timeless quality, while her lyrics evoke a mysterious twilight world. (4/5)

The Fiery Furnaces – Bitter Tea

The Friedberger siblings have perfected the art of sabotaging perfectly good songs with bizarre tempo changes and mood swings. Their brand of prog-pop is an acquired taste, but songs like ‘Teach Me Sweetheart’ and ‘Benton Harbor Blues’ make it worth the effort. (3.5/5)

The Futureheads – News & Tributes

The second album from the UK’s Futureheads finds them still working from the same The Jam/XTC template with another collection of frenetic, stop-start pop. There is a broadening of sound, however, with some atmospheric moments (‘Burnt’), and an all-out thrash-fest (‘Return of the Beserker’). (3/5)

Howe Gelb – ‘Sno Angel Like You

Gelb’s gritty tales of hardship and lost faith are transformed by the addition of the Voices of Praise Gospel Choir. ‘That’s How Things Get Done’ and ‘Nail In The Sky’ are among the best of a fine batch of songs. The record is surely a highlight of this singer-songwriter’s long and prolific career. (4/5)

Grandaddy – Just Like The Fambly Cat

Grandaddy’s ‘farewell’ album is an understandably melancholic affair. However, there’s also evidence that the band were, indeed, running out of ideas, with the album containing more than its fair share of ‘filler’. There are still a few gems here though in songs like ‘Elevate Myself’, ‘Summer… It’s Gone’ and ‘This Is How It Always Starts’. For full review click here. (3/5)

Hot Chip – The Warning

A big leap forward for this London electro outfit, ‘The Warning’ marries the wit and warmth of their first outing with great tunes and infectious grooves. Songs like ‘Over And Over’ and ‘Boy From School’ will fill the dance floor, while ‘Look After Me’ and ‘Breakdown’ are more reflective in mood. (4/5)

Mates Of State – Bring It Back

This husband-and-wife duo work wonders with a limited range of sounds – voice, organ and drums. It’s the vocal tricks that provide the magic though, with the wondrous harmonies giving the songs an almost celebratory feel. (3.5/5)

Morrissey – Ringleader Of The Tormentors

Morrissey has built on the success of ‘comeback’ album ‘You Are The Quarry’ with his strongest, most assured set of songs since ‘Vauxhall And I’. Recorded in Rome with legendary producer, Tony Visconti, ‘Ringleader’ is full of passion and drama and features a rich blend of sounds, including a children’s choir and strings arranged by Ennio Morricone. For full review click here. (4/5)

The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers

Brendan Benson’s pop sensibilities meet Jack White’s take on the blues to create an enjoyable collection of 60s flavoured tunes. (I actually like this a lot more than the White Stripes last effort!) Standout tracks include single ‘Steady As She Goes’ and the Beatlesque ‘Yellow Sun’. (4/5)

TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain

The oddly-titled ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’ is a progression for this New York art band in every sense. There is a greater variety in sound and mood, while the songs are more complex and, and the same time, more accessible. For full review click here. (4.5/5)

Rip It Up And Start Again – a Review (The Post-Punk Thing, Part 1)

Every generation tends to believe the music they loved when growing up belonged to some sort of long lost and never-to-be-repeated ‘Golden Age’. The Baby Boomers talk of the ‘Summer of Love’, the Stones and the Beatles. Others might pinpoint the disco boom of the late 70s, or the grunge era of the early 90s as their particular ‘Golden Age’.

It’s sometimes difficult to know if the music we hold special is special because of its actual value as music, or its ability to remind us of our younger, happier days. I certainly remember the period when I first started listening to music seriously – the late 70s/early 80s – as a period of excitement and discovery. It seemed that every couple of weeks an exciting new band or album was surfacing – The Associates, ‘Seventeen Seconds’, Scritti Politti, ‘Heaven Up Here’, Orange Juice, The Go-Betweens, Gang Of Four, ‘Penthouse And Pavement’, The Birthday Party, Joy Division, ‘The Correct Use Of Soap’ and so on…

This period is now known as the post-punk era and, according to rock historians, it was unequivocally an ‘age of riches’. The last few years have seen an enormous amount of interest in the music and musicians of the years 1978 – 1984. There have been several books, a couple of movies/documentaries, scores of reissues, and (for better or worse) even a number of post-punk band reformations. Meanwhile, the current generation of pop kids are plundering the era for sounds and styles.

Simon Reynolds’ book ‘Rip It Up And Start Again’ has emerged as the definitive account of the post-punk era and, somewhat belatedly, a companion cd has been just been released. It says something of the wealth of the era that the album is as strong as it is without tracks from some of post-punk’s most important bands – Public Image Ltd, Gang Of Four, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Orange Juice, Wire and Magazine.

We do get some prime examples of other post-punk staples – The Fall’s ‘Fiery Jack’, Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sluggin’ For Jesus’ and Devo’s ‘Praying Hands’ each sum up the respective acts better than a few pages of text might do. There’s also The Slits, The Raincoats and the wonderful Young Marble Giants. Elsewhere the choices are a little odd. We get some middle-period Siouxsie – strings rather than shrieks – and a rather slick contribution from the B52s (the song itself is fine, but a selection from their less polished debut might have slotted in a little more comfortably).

There are representatives of the various sub-genres of post-punk – Thomas Leer, Heaven 17 and a very early Human League (minus Phil Oakey) for the electronic bands; Josef K and the Associates for the ‘Sound of Young Scotland’; The Specials for the ska revival, and John Cooper-Clarke for the…er… John Cooper-Clarke movement.

Reynolds has also slipped a couple of obscurities onto the album. I don’t know anything about Pulsallama or Fatal Microbes, and could find very little about them on the internet. The Pulsallama song included here – ‘The Devil Lives In My Husband’s Body’ – might have been the only thing they recorded. But it’s funny and clever, and fits in quite nicely alongside Cabaret Voltaire and Devo.

All in all, the album is a fabulous post-punk ‘sampler’, and a fine companion to the ‘Rip It Up’ book, despite the omission of several key acts. In fact, given the wealth of material to draw from, a double-disc set might have been in order.

One of the good things about this post-punk resurgence is that I’ve suddenly been dragging out albums I never thought I’d play again, and listening to them with renewed interest. I knew I’d been hanging onto all those A Certain Ratio and Modern English lps for some reason…

Kerryn Tredrea – Guest Poet

This month I am very pleased to introduce the poetry of South Australian writer, Kerryn Tredrea. Kerryn is well known in the Adelaide poetry scene for her provocative writing and lively spoken word performances.

those moments.

it’s in those moments
when i’m caught
between touching you, and
not touching you,
and finding out that the truth
doesn’t always move
the narrative along
that my life takes on the
orchestration of a car accident.

it’s in those moments
when i keep finding the wrong
way to express myself
that i get the feeling i’m
a tourist here,
in my own town,
in my own home,
in my own bed.

it’s in those moments
when i’m pushing
myself too far, but somehow
it’s never far enough
and the burden of
carrying ugly
is just a knife slice
short of too heavy….

it’s in those moments.

art form.

sit by the window. type with one hand till the prozac takes hold. drop out to your alter ego ‘strap – on girl.’ take on the world with your sinister sister. paint pictures in porn. establish galleries of eyeball scraping masterpieces. break through the barriers of depravity and find fame in the strangest of places.

angels speak in fingers and tongues like deaf people. you are secretly suspicious of the handicapped. refuse to learn their language. still their sounds loop through your mind like a skip rope rhyme. your shadow slumps in the corner, exhausted, the little egos that you nurture in the window box are struggling in the winter sun, your guts feel like a traffic jam of fire engines. oh the humanity.

plagued by impossibilities, you obsess with pretensions at company. leave the door creaking. read dead lovers love letters. use comfort puppets around the lounge room and as occasional dance partners. put pillows under the doona, roll over and pretend that someone’s there.

loneliness, like pornography is an art form.


winter walks behind me but is sympathetic to my needs as foot falls echo off deaf walls and the gutters give nothing away to the full, fat moon hanging belly heavy in the early sky, mocking my moods and the decisions i make. but, girlfriends forever i never hold it against her even though her body is very beautiful.

desire comes too, clinging to an unfortunate chain of events that eventually show up in my underwear and inner linings. she is slow and chooses the shadows since being wounded in the war that nearly bought the whole house down. i wait for her because her dreams are strong.

adrenalin from within gives me speed, gives me needs that i cannot put names or faces to. and when i see my brother standing by the road i do try a little kindness but that only winds up as another meat hook moment – i just don’t know how else to end it when tender doesn’t cut it and nice doesn’t have him begging for more.

vibrations shake each footstep is a beginning and an end, a moment and a memory making tear drops mix with beer slops as i bumpy ride my way is long, longer than either road travelled no matter which route you take helicopters circle in a serendipity that rarely touches me but shines brightly through the eyes of others.

if it’s my way or the highway then i try the middle of a green lighted george street – rush hour pushes trucks thunder rumble through my every membrane where the word of the day is alert to flirt with danger no stranger to straddling the thin white line that is over in a footstep, in a heartbeat, in a sigh.

About Kerryn:

i am an adelaide poet, spoken word tourist and current secretary of the friendly st. poets committee. my publishing credits include paroxysm press anthologies, vernacular, sidewalk, friendly st. reader, releasing my first book “adventures in captivity” in 2004 through paroxysm press. my poem “cigarettes and speed don’t work anymore.” placed third in the melb. poets union international poetry comp. 2004. currently i am putting the finishing adjectives on a novella and planning my next trip to the overload poetry festival in melbourne. i like my poems to have a short attention span and sharp edges.


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Corduroy & Cabbage 6 – Sex Education

My parents took me to all those Primary School sex education evenings where you watched dull 50s American documentaries involving clean-cut American teens and their mysterious problems, and you were given diagrams of such things as fallopian tubes and vas deferens. I came away from those evenings with some understanding of the mechanics behind the reproduction process, but no real idea of how it applied to the real world. It all seemed very vague and abstract to me.

Everything became even more confusing when my friends and I found a collection of pornographic magazines. We were riding our bikes around the back of the local shopping centre one afternoon, when Ashley suggested we look in the big industrial rubbish bins kept there for use by the shops. He was convinced we’d find toys, electrical goods, tools and other goodies in there. We didn’t find anything like that, but we did find a big box of porn, not just glossy ‘girly’ magazines, but hard-core stuff, with head jobs, spurting cocks and wide-open beavers. For a bunch of 7 or 8 year olds it was like coming across evidence of an alien civilization. The pictures were exciting, shocking and a little bit frightening.

As the ‘finder’ of the magazines, Ashley felt he should be the one to look after them. We helped him carry them home in a variety of bags and boxes, and smuggled them into his room, where they were secreted safely under his bed. The next day at school, news of the discovery spread like a contagious disease. “Ashley’s got porn,” was the catch cry of the day. The fact that no one actually knew what ‘porn’ was made everyone all the more curious.

That night, and every night of that week, children that Ashley barely knew were appearing on his doorstep. “We came over to…er…see Ashley,” they would explain to Ashley’s bewildered mother. After being escorted to his room, Ashley would reveal the magazines with great ceremony, to gasps of disbelief from his visitors.

Ashley’s mother may have become suspicious of the sudden interest in her son, but it was something else that gave the game away. After spending time in the shopping centre bins with rotten meat and other revolting items, the magazines had acquired a rather unpleasant odour. It was upon investigating the source of the stench that Ashley’s mum discovered his porn stash. He was ‘grounded’ for a month. Of course, Ashley’s parents immediately told my parents about our disgusting secret, and I was punished too.

Things never entirely returned to ‘normal’ after the porn incident. It was like we’d been awakened to a new and ugly side of life. Suddenly sex was everywhere. It’s not as though we started having orgies with our 8-year-old friends – it was just as difficult connecting the pornographic images to ‘real life’ as it was the images in the Sex Ed documentaries, but some of our activities did become tainted by the exposure to sex.

Not long after Ashley’s one-month punishment had expired we built a cubby in the vacant block next to his house. We’d found a pile of discarded building materials and managed to erect quite a solid structure. The cubby house had walls and doors, and a carpeted floor. We felt quite safe and sheltered there. Some days, when everyone was together, we’d take our clothes off and sit there in the nude. It wasn’t overtly sexual at all; there was no touching or anything. It was just like a nudist colony – for youngsters.

And later still, a bizarre trend started among our peer group. We started wearing our trousers low at the back, so that the tops of our bum cracks showed. This was especially exaggerated when we rode our bikes. Our backsides would have been almost completely exposed. Thankfully, the trend never caught on in the wider community.

I’ve had an aversion to pornography ever since that first incident. I’m sure it has something to do with the smell accompanying that first glimpse of hard-core flesh – rotten cabbage, rotten cauliflowers, and rotten meat.

Cars – a Review

After seeing the teaser trailer for Cars about a year ago I was preparing myself for the first Pixar failure. The story sounded dull, and the characters looked clumsy and unconvincing. But not only is the movie far from a failure, it is among the best of the Pixar collection.

It shouldn’t work. The fact that it does, and does so well, is a tribute to the skills of Pixar’s artists and storytellers. I must admit, the car is far harder to anthropomorphise than the insect or the fish, and it did take a while to warm to the characters, but by the end of the movie I actually cared about them.

The story follows the career of cocky young racing car named Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) who gets waylaid in the quiet backwater of Radiator Springs on his way to race for the Piston Cup in California. At first, he proves unpopular with the locals, and his over-confident city ways only get him into more trouble. But, as Lightning gets to know the residents of Radiator Springs – Mater the Tow Truck, Sally the Porsche, Fillmore the hippie VW, and town patriarch, Doc Hudson – they begin to see a more likeable, generous side of him.

Of course, during his stay in Radiator Springs, Lightning learns much about life. He falls in love with Sally the Porsche, finds a new ‘best friend’ in Mater, and uncovers the secret history of Doc Hudson (voiced by screen legend and racing buff Paul Newman). He also learns of the town’s former glory days, before it was bypassed by the interstate freeway.

Will Lightning get the ‘girl’, save the town, earn the respect of Doc, and win the Piston Cup? These various plot strands come together nicely in the last moments, and there is still room for a few unexpected developments.

Cars is not devoid of clichés and stereotypes (grouchy patriarch versus young upstart, the obsequious Italian tyre merchants), but given the freshness of the rest of the film, and the lush visual treatment, these can probably be forgiven. The movie is stunning to look at, with some gorgeous landscapes and many other beautiful details. Indeed, it is the fine details that set Pixar movies ahead of the rest, and Cars is no exception, with each frame filled with original ideas and images.

As is usual for Pixar movies, there are plenty of jokes. It’s not as funny as Monsters Inc or the Toy Story movies, but there’s still enough to amuse most people. Stay alert during the final credits. I laughed most at a series of gags slipped in when most people were filing out of the cinema.

Judging by the number of previews screened before Cars, computer animated films are here to stay (at least, for a while). Unfortunately, few filmmakers seem to be able to balance the various elements of the animated film as well as Pixar.

You can see why they might want to keep trying though. John Lasseter and friends make it all look so easy.

Return to Cookie Mountain – a Review

In a decade punctuated by revivals (garage rock, post punk) it is rare to come across a band with a completely original sound. TV on the Radio are one of those rare bands. Hailing from the same New York art/music scene as Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem, TV on the Radio’s first album ‘Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babies’ received glowing reviews around the world. The band’s combination of complex vocal arrangements, intelligent lyrics and industrial/electronic sounds, as well as a mixture of music styles, was new and exciting.

After a change of labels, the recruitment of new band members, and innumerable delays, the follow up to ‘Desperate Youth’ is finally here. The oddly titled ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ is a progression for the band in every sense. There is a greater variety in sound and mood, while the songs are more complex and, at the same time, more accessible.

The album opens with a sequence of songs that is as good as anything I’ve heard in recent years. Unlike ‘Desperate Youth’, which maintained a slow and ponderous pace, ‘Cookie Mountain’ features a number of uptempo tracks. ‘Wolf Like Me’ rattles into life with the force of a locomotive. Vocalists, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, trade lyrical blows over layered guitar and droning synths, until a shift in tempo halfway through the song ushers in a chorus of music box sounds.

‘I Was A Lover’ starts with a stuttering mechanised beat, wheezing synth and clanging guitar sample. The mood is dark and unsettling. The lyrics suggest paranoia and schizophrenia.

I was a lover before this war
lived in a luxury suite
behind a barricade door

Later, the narrator confronts a clone who ‘wears a brownshirt’ and whom he ‘seduces when there’s no one around’.

‘Province’ is a love song of sorts. Messrs Adebimpe, Malone, and a certain Mr Bowie, harmonise about ‘autumn leaves’ and ‘memories precious as gold’ over shuffling beat and sparse piano.

Hold your heart courageously as we walk into this dark place
Stand steadfast beside me and see that love is the province of the brave

‘Province’ is followed by another uptempo track, ‘Hours’. The song is deceptively simple – trademark vocals over crisp, militaristic drumming. Yet the space around these sounds is filled with hints of saxophone and guitar, glistening keyboards and electronics.

These four tracks set the musical and lyrical tone for ‘Cookie Mountain’. It’s a formidable opening. But by starting with such a strong set of songs, the band sets expectations high for the second half of the album. Briefly, it seems we might be disappointed.

‘Playhouses’, builds on the claustrophobia of ‘I Was A Lover’, with layers of noise, voice and increasingly frenetic percussion, while ‘Let The Devil In’ varies the template with the addition of a playful bass melody. The second of these, in particular, is more than a little laboured.

After this minor mid-record slump, ‘Dirtywhirl’ introduces another series of remarkable songs, each built around a simple melody, each given moments of light and dark. ‘Whirlwind’ itself starts slowly, just tambourine and vibes, before the drums kick in. The lyrics are ominous – ‘there is a murderess among us’ – with Adebimpe and Malone harmonising to great effect over an almost swinging rhythm.

‘Tonight’ is a quiet melancholic tune, with just chimes and electronics keeping the vocals company. The lyrics too, suggest resignation and decay, citing suicide, ‘dusty portraits’ and ‘blooms falling from the vine’. The third song in this trio, ‘A Method’, starts with little more than whistling and handclaps, before erupting in a storm of percussion. It’s a thrilling moment. Once again, the song is propelled by a simple, even naive melody, with each vocal or instrumental layer adding colour to the mix.

There are two more songs on ‘Cookie Mountain’, the sax and clatter of ‘Blues From Down Here’, and the apocalyptic drone of ‘Wash The Day’, but by this time the album’s worth has already been well established. Seven of the eleven songs here are exceptional, and only one (‘Let The Devil In’) is really less than noteworthy.

I played ‘Desperate Youth’ again after listening to the new album a dozen or so times, and it seemed somehow crude and incomplete. The basic elements – vocals, guitar loops and effects, percussion – were in place, but the songs themselves seemed a little one-dimensional. ‘Cookie Mountain’ uses these same elements to create far more dramatic, complex and colourful pieces.

It might be only be June, but ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ is an early contender for ‘Album of the Year’.

PJ Harvey on Tour – a Review

Not long into this new dvd release Polly Harvey confesses to hating the average live album or dvd. She says her aim with this dvd was to do something different, a ‘patchwork quilt’ of images and sounds. ‘PJ Harvey On Tour’ is certainly different to most other dvds of this kind, whether or not it achieves Harvey’s goal of making an authentic live document, rather than a ‘slick package’, is another matter.

The disc features sixteen songs from PJ Harvey’s ‘Uh Huh Her’ tour in 2004, representing, one assumes, a typical PJ performance. However, rather than just run through a show from start to finish, this collection pieces together snippets of different performances, even slipping from one to another mid-song. Interspersed with the songs are various behind-the-scenes clips – sound checks, rehearsals, interviews, backstage drinking competitions.

PJ Harvey has always shone as a live performer, and her efforts here are as good as might be expected. She swaggers, shakes, pouts, howls – in fact, the transformation from quietly spoken, shy Polly, as seen in some of the interview footage, to sexy, dangerous PJ on stage, is quite remarkable.

The songs from ‘Uh Huh Her’ in particular (which sounded somewhat muted on cd) are especially good. Other highlights include ‘Dress’, ‘Down By The Water’, ‘Victory’, ‘A Perfect Day Elise’ and ‘Harder’. Most of Harvey’s albums are represented here although, surprisingly, there is only one song – ‘Big Exit’ – from her most successful album, ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’.

While Polly is undoubtedly the focal point of proceedings, she is ably supported by an enthusiastic young band. Guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer, plays as though either blind drunk or in the midst of convulsions (or both) – he staggers, stumbles, falls over; while the Mohawk-haired bass-player, Dingo, stalks the stage like a man possessed.

Long term Harvey collaborator and director, Maria Mochnacz, has chosen to shoot the dvd in a variety of ways – fuzzy focus, grainy black and white, stark documentary-style realism. She also tries to capture the performances from as many angles as possible – front, back, above, below – even from cameras mounted on the instruments themselves. Altogether, this enormous range of shots helps to achieve PJ’s ‘patchwork quilt’ of images.

The only thing I did wonder about this approach – the melding together of so many different shots, from different locations and different performances – was the distance of the finished product from the original live show. The end result sometimes more closely resembles a promotional video rather than a live performance.

The ‘bonus feature’ on this dvd release is a 30 minute interview with PJ Harvey, during which she offers insights into the ‘Uh Huh Her’ project – recording techniques, artwork, working methods and so on. As Harvey has offered little in the way of such things in the past, it is all fascinating stuff.

‘PJ Harvey On Tour’ is an entertaining and insightful dvd release from one of the most original singer-songwriters of the last 10-15 years. Of course, it doesn’t come close to actually seeing PJ in concert, but then nothing does…