One Minute Music Reviews 3

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

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – The Letting Go

Recorded in Iceland, ‘The Letting Go’ sparkles with a crystalline clarity. Oldham’s hoarse warble is augmented by a string quartet and Dawn McCarthy’s backing vocals to beautiful effect. Tracks like ‘Cursed Sleep, ‘Love Comes To Me’ and ‘The Seedling’ already sound like classics. (4.5/5)

The Dears – Gang Of Losers

The Dears’ third album might not have the immediacy of ‘No Cities Left’, but it is a complex, ambitious and ultimately rewarding collection of songs. The lyrical themes are big and broad – love, fear, rejection, racism and forgiveness, while the music is almost cinematic in scope. For full review click here. (4/5)

Figurines – Skeleton

Scandinavia continues to produce quality pop music. This four piece sound a lot like Modest Mouse or The Shins but actually come from Denmark. All fuzzy guitar and power-pop hooks, the album’s highlights include ‘The Wonder’, ‘Ambush’ and ‘Silver Ponds’. (3/5)

Herbert – Scale

Highly regarded UK producer Matthew Herbert’s latest project combines disco beats, jazzy horns, sumptuous strings and blue-eyed soul singing. And if that isn’t enough, he also manages to throw in some political commentary. It’s an extravagantly ambitious album that effortlessly glides from torch song to dance groove and back again. (4/5)

The Knife – Silent Shout

‘Silent Shout’ is not a ‘happy’ record and it’s not always a pleasure to listen to, but The Knife have successfully created their own unique sound world, with its own languages, landscapes and characters. Many artists have such an aim, but few achieve it with such style and originality. For full review click here. (3.5/5)

Grant Lee Phillips – nineteeneighties

The ‘covers’ album concept is rarely a recipe for success. Phillips’ fourth solo is one such rarity. He pays tribute to the artists who inspired him – Pixies, Nick Cave, New Order, Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and others – by reinterpreting some of their lesser known tunes. Somehow, he manages to retain the essence of the songs while making them sound exactly like Grant Lee Phillips. (3.5/5)

Scritti Politti – White Bread, Black Beer

‘White Bread Black Beer’ is Scritti’s most diverse album yet, a rich smorgasbord of sounds, from squelchy dub reggae to Beatlesque electro-folk. After three decades in the music business – from post-punk to new pop to hip hop – Green Gartside seems relaxed and comfortable and quite happy doing whatever comes to him. For full review click here. (3.5/5)

The Sleepy Jackson – Personality

The second Sleepy Jackson album is a dreamy, string-soaked affair reminiscent of the Beach Boys, Beatles and 70s AOR. Luke Steele’s meditations on God, the Devil and everything in-between are miniature pop-symphonies, laced with celestial horns and a chorus of angels. (4/5)

Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche

Stevens blesses us with another 74 minutes of music from last year’s ‘Illinois’ project. While presented as ‘Extras and Outtakes’, songs like ‘Dear Mr Supercomputer’, ‘Springfield’ and ‘Mistress Witch from McClure’ would make any ordinary artist’s A-list. Further proof of Stevens’ genius. (4/5)

Tapes ‘n’ Tapes – The Loon

This Minneapolis quartet has been described by some overenthusiastic music press as this year’s Arcade Fire. One of the few things they do share with the Canadian band is a knack for melding moods and styles – from the rockabilly shuffle of ‘Insistor’ to the scratchy guitar bursts of ‘Crazy Eights’. (3.5/5)

Thom Yorke – The Eraser

Thom Yorke’s debut solo album is an extension of the moody electronica of Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’. It’s as cynical and pessimistic as one would expect, but it is also intimate and even bleakly beautiful. Highlights include ‘Black Swan’ and the grim ‘Harrowdown Hill’. (3.5/5)

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Corduroy & Cabbage 9 – Uneasy Rider

I got my first bike when I was about 8 years old. I called it the ‘grasshopper’, partly because it was green, and partly because I believed it could go anywhere, leap over obstacles like a long-legged insect.

Of course, it couldn’t really do this, but that didn’t stop me trying. I used to ride it everywhere. There was plenty of vacant land in our neighbourhood. Between the shopping centre and the high school was an enormous mound of dirt. We used to race around and over it. And on the land that now houses a community centre and a hotel, we used to devise elaborate obstacle courses.

When I was a few years older I was given a red dragster – long wheelbase, banana seat, high back bar, three gears, hand brakes – the works. It looked great, but wasn’t as versatile as the ‘grasshopper’. It was heavy and slow – more of a ‘street bike’ than a ‘dirt bike’. Eventually, I converted it to something a little more ‘hip’. I took off the banana seat and the back bar, and swapped the dragster handlebars for ‘cow horns’ (they were very wide – difficult to get through doorways). I also painted it black and yellow in imitation of the motocross bikes of the time.

My friend, Keith, had done something similar to his bike, and the two of us would cycle around the neighbourhood feeling very cool. We rode into the city (where I was once pulled over for going through a red light) and into the country. Cycling down the Gorge Road past Kangaroo Creek dam was a buzz.

When Keith bought a real motocross bike I was nauseous with envy. I used to spend every weekend watching him either work on his bike, or ride in competition at the local Motocross Club. Every few months he would update his bike. He always had something bigger and better.

Initially, there was no hope of me buying a motorbike. With four young kids, and only one working parent, it was impossible for my family to afford one. We always had to ‘make do’. However, I managed to scrape together a bit of cash by doing a few odd jobs over the summer. It was just enough to buy a motorbike.

Of course, I didn’t buy a fast, flash motocross bike like Keith, I bought an ugly, noisy second-hand agricultural motorbike. It belonged to the ‘friend of a friend of a friend’ and Dad said it was a bargain. It wasn’t what I wanted at all, but I went along with the idea so as to not disappoint Dad.

To add further embarrassment, we had to transport the motorbike on a boat trailer. The bike sat on a wooden crate and was tied to the trailer with bits of rope and rags. Keith would turn up at the motocross track with his shiny new Yamaha, while Dad and I rolled up with something that looked like a really daggy parade float.

And unlike the zippy motocross bikes, mine was heavy and slow. While Keith was scrambling up and over mounds on his bike, I was lumbering up and down the flat open field on mine. Which was fine until I hit a pothole at full speed and spent the rest of the ride hanging onto the handlebars from the rear mudguard.

Eventually, I became bored the bike and bored with Keith. I sought new friends with less expensive interests. The motorbike stayed in my father’s shed for about fifteen years. Then my brother-in-law dismantled the bike and put the pieces in his shed. And that’s where they’ll remain until the end of time.

Jill Gower – Guest Poet

This month I’m pleased to introduce the poetry of Jill Gower.

Jill has published in Friendly St anthologies #27, #28, #29 and #30, ArtState Issue 21-02, 02 and 03 2004, The Mozzie (2006) and Positive Words (2006). She is a regular reader at Friendly St and is the Convenor of Hills Poets in the Adelaide Hills. Jill has been a Friendly St committee member and in 2004 she was one of the judges for the Spring Poetry Festival.

Red Geraniums

brilliant red geraniums
lie bleeding in the sun
against the white skin
of a Mediterranean wall

the wounded sit
in terra cotta beds
being tended carefully
by silver-haired matriarchs
in black dresses

from Blue: Friendly Street 27 and Artstate 21

Pomegranates of Kandahar

Afghan girl
takes her children
takes her few belongings
all that she can carry
always running
to a better place

runs and runs
comes full circle
back to Kandahar
city of pomegranates
shiny blushing skins
encasing countless red cells

she recalls the taste of the
sweet and sour love fruit
each bead unique
each red and crunchy
with juices that ooze
between teeth
and run down chins

colouring lips red
like blood running
from the mouth
the blood of afghans
injured in wars
the blood of afghans
running over minefields
the blood of afghan women
stoned to death for
someone else’s crimes

love apple
hate apple

all this she remembers
from her childhood
nothing has changed

from Blur: Friendly Street 29 and Artstate Issue 3 2004

Birdsong

when the little bird sang
outside my window
i thought it was because it liked
listening to my poetry
so i pulled up the blind
and spouted freely

for breakfast
bacon and five lines
for lunch a sandwich
filled with a sonnet
in the evening
a four verse dinner.

but the bird’s tune was
so sweet it made its own poetry

miniature rainbows
arced from its beak and landed
in sparkling dew

and its song was a haiku

from Positive Words August 2006

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Gang of Losers – a Review




It’s a brave band that calls their new album ‘Gang of Losers’. But then The Dears and their front man and songwriter, Murray Lightburn, are no strangers to taking risks or confronting adversity. The band formed in the mid-90s, but had virtually imploded by the time their debut album was released in 2000. Meanwhile, Lightburn was experiencing drink and drug problems. The band finally found success in 2004 with their second lp ‘No Cities Left’ . The album was a surprise hit, with the single ‘Lost in the Plot’ receiving significant airplay worldwide.

The Dears’ third album might not have the immediacy of ‘No Cities Left’, but it is a complex, ambitious and ultimately rewarding collection of songs. The lyrical themes are big and broad – love, fear, rejection, racism and forgiveness, while the music is almost cinematic in scope. The ‘Gang of Losers’ of the title refers to any group of marginalized individuals – a band, a race, a religion, a culture – with each song exploring or celebrating the idea of the ‘outsider’.

Every single one of us is getting massacred on a frozen path
Fever comes to wipe us out and scratch a name off of the list
You and I are on the outside of almost everything

Sings Lightburn in the title track. But like many of the songs here, it concludes with an acceptance or recognition of a simple truth –

We, we’ve got the same heart

This song is among a group of strong slower tracks. ‘Hate, Then Love’ is another. Over swirling mellotron and chiming guitars, Lightburn yearns for understanding –

We’ll find our place in this world
It’ll take all day and all night
We’ll find our place in this world
If it takes all day and all night

There has been much talk of the Britpop or Morrissey influence on The Dears music. While that might have been true of one or two songs on ‘No Cities Left’, there is little of such sound on ‘Gang of Losers’. Given the fussy arrangements and retro keyboard sounds on ‘Losers’ the influences are more 70s ‘prog’ than 90s pop.

Two minutes into ‘Fear Made The World Go Round’, for example, the song switches from a slowburning piano-based ballad to a guitar-crunching stomp. The atmospheric ‘I Fell Deep’ makes a similar transition, fading out as a very 70s guitar solo screeches into view.

The uptempo songs on ‘Losers’ are a mixed bunch, and there is nothing quite as radio-friendly as ‘Lost in the Plot’. ‘Death Or Life We Want You’ is built around slashing guitars, while ‘Whites Only Party’ is a peculiarly jaunty take on race relations. Elsewhere, Lightburn questions the value of success and stardom. From ‘Bandwagoneers’ –

Heaven knows that I’m a fake
Heaven knows that we’re all faking it
Everything we are

And opening track ‘Ticket To Immortality’ –

I hang out with all the pariahs
Everyone is almost done with me

This could all come across as quite bleak and heavy-handed, yet Lightburn and his band skillfully balance the light and dark. For every word of despair or angry sound there is a message of hope or burst of shimmering guitar. Over the simple piano and drums intro to ‘Ballad of Humankindness’ Lightburn tells us –

Well I thought that we all cared about peace
And I thought that we’d all cry about love and loss

And –

I can’t believe the vast amounts of people living on the streets
And I can’t believe I was almost one of them and I almost died

He berates himself for not offering to help those in need, but asks us to forgive him –

I’m gonna change, I’m gonna change, I’m gonna change

Like the best of any artistic endeavour – be it poetry, prose or pop – ‘Gang of Losers’ explores what it is to be human. It doesn’t reach any conclusions or offer any simple solutions, but examines the good and bad in everything.

With no obvious single to attract the attention of the music-buying public, it’s possible that this album will not find the audience it deserves. But this ‘Gang of Losers’ is worth getting to know. It is a richly textured work, meticulously arranged and passionately delivered. Losing never sounded so good.

A Night at the Show, Part Two

After about fifteen minutes of being swung around in the increasingly chilly night air, the rain whipping our faces, we emerged from the carriage bedraggled and soaking wet. L was feeling nauseous. I was just cold (and badly needed to pee). My hair had also taken on a very stylish ‘crazed lunatic’ look. We returned to the Jubilee Pavilion in search of a toilet. To my horror, it was almost as wet in the men’s toilets as it was outside (although it wasn’t water that dampened the floor).

L then decided it was time to visit the showbag pavilion. I suggested that it wasn’t the best idea if she was feeling nauseous (I could remember feeling sick after visiting the showbag pavilion many years ago) but she persisted. I needn’t have been concerned, as the rotten weather had ensured that even the showbag pavilion was not as crowded as usual.

Even so, I still felt a little dizzy after following L around for twenty minutes or so. The variety and complexity of the showbags dazzled me. Was there anything or anyone that didn’t have a showbag promoting their product? Pokemon, Bob the Builder, Scooby Doo, Spongebob Squarepants, the Wiggles (shudder), and the Simpsons. Even the Mafia had a showbag! And what on earth is a ‘Mega Sumo’?

When L insisted that I buy a showbag (apparently, you can’t go to the Royal Show without buying at least one) I relented and randomly chose the ‘Crunchie’ bag. Along with a dozen or so chocolate bars I was given a fibre optic lamp (approximate value 50c) that promised to ‘light up my home with magical fun’.

Now weighed down with bags full of food and plastic novelties we returned to the outside world to discover that it was now raining quite heavily. L was losing enthusiasm fast, but I still wanted to take some photos of the colourful sideshows and rides. L trailed along behind with the umbrella while I splashed from one ride to another. After spending 10 minutes taking photos of a fairy floss vendor L ‘spat the dummy’ and stomped off towards the exit. It probably wasn’t such a bad idea. We were both drenched and shivering.

It was a relief to get home. L went straight into the bath, while I made a cup of tea. We were also both pretty hungry after missing out on dinner at the show (L didn’t want a dippy dog), so I promised to make us a hot snack. There was just one thing I had to do first. I hurriedly assembled my new fibre optic lamp, added a couple of brand new batteries, and held my breath as I flicked the on switch. It blinked briefly, fizzled and died with a very unmagical groan.

It was good to see that some things about the Royal Show had not changed.

Lady in the Water – a Review


M. Night Shyamalan has done well out of the surprise success of 1999’s The Sixth Sense. Despite increasingly poor critical and commercial responses to his films since (Unbreakable, Signs, The Village), he continues to get major studio backing. This latest project was dropped by Disney (the backers of his earlier films), but eventually found a home at Warner Bros. After seeing Lady in the Water I can’t help but wonder what Warner Bros were thinking when they gave Shyamalan the ‘green light’.

After a short animated sequence that tells us of the mythical ‘water people’, we are introduced to Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), the superintendent of a Philadelphia apartment complex. We also meet some of the many eccentric inhabitants of this building, including an arrogant film critic, a crossword fanatic and his precocious son, a mysterious recluse, a Korean student and her volatile mother, a group of chain-smoking unemployed men, and a man whose various health issues are broadcast by his loudmouthed wife. All of these characters will play a part in the film’s confusing, convoluted plot.

One evening, while investigating a noise in the garden, Heep falls unconscious into the communal swimming pool. He is rescued by Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), a fragile, pale-skinned being who claims to have come from the ‘Blue World’ and whispers about ‘narfs’. Instead of ringing the police or the local psychiatric hospital, Heep consults the Korean lady upstairs, who, conveniently, knows all about ‘narfs’, as well as the ‘scrunt’ (a cross between a wolf and a piece of astroturf) and the ‘tartutic’ (a monkey with quills).

I won’t spoil the fun by attempting to explain what happens next. In fact, I couldn’t if I wanted to, suffice to say that it includes a Guild, a Symbolist, a Healer, a Guardian, and a giant eagle. There are secrets and clues, a cave under the swimming pool, and a gifted boy who can see profound things in the packaging of breakfast cereals.

Shyamalan would like the film to be seen as a kind of modern fairy tale, but seems to have forgotten that the fundamental attribute of a great fairy tale is simplicity. You should be able to summarise its plot in a sentence or two. I could waste a few pages trying to explain Lady in the Water and it still wouldn’t make any sense.

Paul Giamatti performs admirably as the ‘everyman’ Heep, as do those cast as the various apartment dwellers (which include Bob Balaban, Mary Beth Hurt and Jared Harris). But there’s only so much they can do with the material. (In fact they do well not to giggle while delivering some of the silly dialogue.) Bryce Dallas Howard, as Story the narf, looks delicate and otherworldly, but doesn’t really have much to do, while the casting of Shyamalan himself as a writer destined to change the world is either a major blunder or a really bad joke.

Given the poor response Lady in the Water has received in the US I would be surprised to see Shyamalan given the freedom to indulge himself again as he has here. It’s not the worst movie I have seen, but it’s certainly one of the silliest.

A Night at the Show, Part One

As a child there were few things more exciting to me than going to the Adelaide Royal Show – the noise, the crowds, the arcade games and rides, the showbags. But the last time I visited, about eleven years ago, I was a parent with two young kids of my own, and the experience was quite different. I found the noise and crowds nerve-wracking, and the expense draining (both metaphorically and literally). It all seemed so superficial and ugly.

When L suggested we go to the Royal Show this year, I instinctively said ‘no’. But then I reconsidered. Maybe it was time to revisit the experience. After all, I no longer had little children to worry about. And the financial factor was no longer so important. Our busy schedules, however, made finding a mutually agreeable time a bit difficult. In the end, it came down to one option – Tuesday night.

When Tuesday came around, my enthusiasm had dissipated, and the weather forecast predicted cloud and rain. But it was too late to pull out, for L had taken showbag orders from friends and relatives. Somewhat reluctantly, I made arrangements to pick L up after work and drive straight to the Wayville Showgrounds.

We didn’t get off to a good start. The traffic situation near the Showgrounds was chaotic. Greenhill Road was at a standstill. To make matters worse, access to the carpark was restricted to traffic heading east. We were heading west. After a short detour down Richmond Road, we finally got to park the car. Always prepared for the worst, I assembled my ‘provisions’ (headache pills, snacks, umbrella, map, camera, spare batteries, tissues, notebook, pen) and we headed for the entrance.

We weren’t in the Showground a minute before the rain came down. Gently at first, then bigger, colder, more threatening drops. We took shelter in the Jubilee Pavilion. Here there was a mystifying collection of promotional stands assembled under the rather non-descript tag of ‘lifestyle’. Furniture displays stood next to stands promoting chocolate sauce; leathergoods next to hair extensions; the Red Cross next to face painting.

As we wandered aimlessly around the displays, where bored salespeople stood yawning, L practiced her ‘thank you but I’m not interested in your product’ face. This involved some grinning and a little nodding. Soon we had both perfected the expression and successfully grinned and nodded our way out of the Pavillion and into a crowded food court, where wet and hungry showgoers munched on hot dogs, fairy floss and chips.

L wanted to check out some of the animal displays, so we trekked around the Showground in search of sheep, dogs, cats and pigs. We got very wet, frustrated and tired, but didn’t see as much as a tropical fish, as all of the animal pavilions had closed for the day. I tried to cheer up L by tempting her with a ride on one of the many bone-shaking, back-shuddering thrill rides.

She decided the only ride she was brave enough to tackle was the Ferris Wheel. That was fine by me, although I was mildly concerned about the rain. It had eased somewhat, however, and it wasn’t that cold or windy. So we merrily clambered aboard the ride, and as we were hoisted into the air above the brilliant lights of the Carnival area, I pulled out my camera and began clicking away madly. It was a few minutes before I noticed that L was huddled low in the seat, her arms over her face. That was when it really decided to rain.