Cherry Bomb: Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ pop

cherry bomb by jenny valentishHa! See what I did there? Doesn’t matter, I’m sure Nina Dall would still roll her eyes at such a naff header (and damn you, unsmart quotes).The fact remains, her ‘autobiography’ makes for a compelling read.

Nina Dall is one half of punk-pop duo The Dolls, the other half held down by her somewhat more brightly clad cousin, Rose. Their rise to fame from suburban Sydney pub band to international touring act is the subject of Cherry Bomb (Allen & Unwin), as told by Jenny Valentish.

Claim to fame: I worked with Jenny when I pulled a stint at J Mag, and she now holds the fort at Time Off in Melbourne. She’s been interviewing musos since she was 16, and has knocked around in front of a few Marshall amps in her time as well. All that experience is put to good use in Cherry Bomb, where the world of the band on the rise is brought to realistic life — ambition, stress, creativity, publicity. Sex. Drugs. Spats.

The story is told in Nina’s first-person point of view, in retrospect, so she can throw in the occasional tease about something that was to happen, or a dollop of background, or an aside. Sometimes those little asides break the flow, especially early on when they pop up in the middle of dialogue and a dinosaur like me has to go back to remember what the conversation was about. But mostly, it works — Nina’s voice is engaging and authentic, her vocab showing she’s not as dumb as everyone thinks.

Sure, she’s got issues. Both the cousins do. Family secrets and questions of self-esteem run thick and acidic through their co-dependency, but maybe that’s what makes them a winning team, even if maybe you don’t want to share a taxi with them.

Circling the pair is their aunt, a faded rock star who offers an in to the industry when they need it, and the producers and love interests and hangers-on all looking for their cut.

I got a chuckle that Jenny was able to take her love of utes and country music muster experiences, as outlined on one of her blogs, and put it to good use here.

Jenny’s got a great turn of phrase and an eye for detail that inform Nina’s observations.

I pictured Kane’s wife as nagging him frequently, in a dithery voice. She’d be wearing one of those satiny dresses that women buy in provincial boutiques, with the pattern of a seventies casino carpet. Thin blonde hair, spindly wrists. You couldn’t even hate her.

The text is broken up with artefacts: a faux review of Nina’s parents’ separation; record reviews; lists. It gives Cherry Bomb almost a scrapbook feel. Each chapter — check the heads for song titles — is introduced by a salient quote from aunty Alannah’s autobiography Pour Me Another. They make you want to read that book.

australian women writers challenge logoIn the back, Jenny provides a soundtrack for each chapter. And yep, Cherry Bomb is in there. It’s no surprise the Runaways are mentioned, either, although now I’m doubting myself for thinking Kristen Stewart did a job in the movie. Damn you, Jenny, and your acerbic ways!

This book — Jenny’s first fiction title — totally rocks. Read it loud!

  • Jenny is appearing at Bendigo Writers Festival August 8-10.
     

  • More reviews linked to the Australian Women Writers Challenge
     

  • Six months of music


     
    Christmas already, and there have been a few additions to the music collection since mid-year’s round-up. Certainly enough to get through the summer!


    black snake by wendy ruleThe latest album from Melbourne’s Wendy Rule was funded through Pozible and is now available. It’s well worth the listen, harking back as it does to her World Within Worlds album — meditative and moody, mixing pagan themes and love songs and not being shy about topping the five-minute mark. Plucked guitar, steel guitar, cello, flute set the scenes, with occasional tribal percussion breakouts such as on ‘Black Snake’ and ‘After the Storm’, and electro carnival on ‘From the Great Above to the Great Below’. ‘Home’ is another standout for its sheer yearning for a place that’s ‘more than a suitcase, a room'; Rewind wishes to undo the mistakes of the past ‘when I was fucked up and blind'; and ‘Ereshkigal’ — almost nine glorious minutes of it — shows entrancing layered vocals with tribal influences. Ideal for a winter’s night in or a lethargic summer’s arvo.

    gary numan splinterBy contrast, Gary Numan‘s Splinter: Songs from a Broken Mind (Machine Music, 2013) is a full electro-industrial assault, harking back to the brilliant Jagged album. ‘I Am Dust’ opens in winning fashion while ‘Here in the Black’ brings in orchestral elements worthy of a soundtrack, a space explorer alone in the black, or perhaps drifting through their own inner void. Thematically, the album offers the usual touchstones: love gone awry, aloneness, lost faith. ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ is an EBM standout, while Numan varies the terrain with Arabesque elements on ‘Splinte’r, gorgeous percussion on ‘Where I Can Never Be’, piano on farewell tune ‘My Last Day’. As with Black Snake, there’s familiar material here, an artist playing to their strengths, but engaging highpoints making it a worthy of addition to the collection.

    mona mur and en esch 120 tageMona Mur and En Esch swagger with menace on 120 Tage: The Fine Art of Beauty and Violence (Pale Music, 2009), a switchblade-packing duo stalking the city alleys and nightclubs in knee highs and combat boots. Half sung in German, half in English, the songs range from dance fuzz joy of ‘Visions and Lies’ to the grungy back-street feel of ‘The Thin Red Line’ to poppy ‘120 Tage’, all headlined by Mur’s cabaret sex-and-dare vocals. A touch of oom pah pah (‘Mon Amour’), elsewhere circus (‘Der Song von Mandelay’), some spoken word (eight-minute story of ‘Surabaya Johnny’), add texture — and introduce three Bertholdt Brecht/Kurt Weill covers as well. ‘I want to crawl in the mud with you and drag you underground,’ Mur sings on opener ‘Candy Cane’ — it’s an offer hard to resist, with the rest of the album dragging the listener down into a world of, as promised, beauty and violence. On ‘Eintagsfliegen’, ‘this is my rifle, this is my gun, one is for killing, the other is for fun’ gives the idea. ‘Snake’ is a sultry winner. The only annoyance is three minutes of noise tacked onto the end of chugging closing track ‘The Wound’. If this was a nightclub, it’d have a warning sign on the front door.

    Mentioned previously, but must be mentioned again, just how superb is the latest Nine Inch Nails album, Hesitation Marks. Welcome to middle-age doubt, with all the studio genius Trent Reznor has to offer. Such superb songcraft …

    Also on the playlist:

  • Tycho Brahe finish 2013 on a high with a new EP, Triplex Part 1. Cracking synth pop with ‘Castaway’, funky dancefloor bass on ‘Loveless’, instrumental ‘Arizona’ and, on ‘Lullaby’, a less characteristic touch of gloomier, moodier music.
  • Adalita, All Day Venus (Liberation, 2013): Second solo album from the Aussie rocker, delivers plenty of guitar-driven heartbreak and lonely nights. Highlight: ‘Warm Like You’, on which she sings ‘I was born cold, I’ll never be warm like you’. Adalita also plays bass on the enticing EP Let Yourself Be Free, by duo Dark Fair; the b-side is rockin’, too.
  • Finally got around to snaffling albums The Birthing Pyre and Somewhere Under the Rainbow by the Jane Austen Argument, another Aussie duo with a winning way with tunes set against an emotional, hip urban landscape. Tom’s high range — see ‘Bad Wine and Lemon Cake‘ — is worth the price of admission.

     

  • NIN: nailing it on the return

    hesitation marks by nine inch nailsI finally got my download of the new Nine Inch Nails album, Hesitation Marks, on Wednesday night, and it was on high rotation all day yesterday. It’s a smooth little number, so damn grooveable: it wears its angst on the inside. A quick perusal of the song titles will show you what I mean: ‘All Time Low’, ‘Disappointed’, the cracking ‘Came Back Haunted’ …

    Trent Reznor is clever enough, old enough, to know he can’t play the Downward Spiral or — my fave — Pretty Hate Machine card. So he’s moved on, but not abandoned the sound that marks a NIN album. Nor the atmosphere, really.

    I love the construction of the songs, the way various influences come through without losing that NIN sensibility. There’s no hesitation here at all: it’s a big exclamation mark from these ears, oh yes.

    Here’s an awesome interview with Reznor in Spin, about the making of the album, where he’s at musically; and here’s a grand review at the Guardian and another at AMG, just to give you some better-considered reviews to be going on with. Of course, the proof is in the listening. You can stream the album here.

    Abbe May, leader of the CD stacker

    kiss my apocalypse by abbe mayPerth singer-songwriter Abbe May blasted onto my radar with 2011’s Design Desire, a rockin’ album, blistering and sexy. So blistering in places I’d quite forgotten its tender, electronic moments that have been further explored on Kiss My Apocalypse.

    This album is insanely slinky, sexy, cool. DD‘s bluesy, rock guitars are eschewed for synths and beats: steamy, savvy, invasive… the title track and Karmageddon are the kinds of tunes that you find yourself humming hours after.

    Throughout, with the amps down, May’s voice is allowed to roam through her impressive range. It’s pop meets electro meets attitude. There’s even an undertone of flamenco.

    Outside the couple of atmospheric bites and minute-and-a-bit F**k/Love, each song carries its own weight on what is a fairly even-tempo collection.

    There’s an inner city or inner suburban feel; a sense of melancholy, of waiting, of love on hold or disappointed; of frustration and defiance and a will to overcome. That we will not fall into the cracks in the pavement, we will not go quietly, we will not accept the betrayal and the inadequacies; we will demand respect.

    Maybe the message of the album is that, when love lies bleeding, we will rise above. And if not, well, this is a damn fine album to go down to.

    Other new music of 2013 on rotation:

    savages album silence yourselfWild ‘n’ arty England four-piece Savages‘ debut, Silence Yourself. If Abbe May is seducing you into the end of the world, then these gals are tearing it down around your ears. There are clear roots to the 80s — Joy Division, Siouxsie Sioux, Bauhaus — but there’s a modern polish, aided in no small measure by the vocals of Jehnny Beth. Getting slammed shouldn’t feel this good, should it?

    Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ newish album Mosquito provides a pleasant mix of textures, none tastier than the title track. Opener ‘Sacrilege’ feels almost like a bridge from previous, electro outing It’s Blitz until the guitar buzz opens up on the way to a gospel conclusion, and the suggestion of Blitz 2 is left behind. ‘Subway’, backed by train-on-sleeper rhythm, shows they can tone it down, too. Eminently listenable, but then, Karen O is, ain’t she?


     
    I helped kick-start Free Dominguez‘s Volcano and the Sea, based on the ear-grabbing awesomeness than is her band Kidneythieves. Alas, the poppy solo outing isn’t quite as grabby, sliding by innocuously and pleasantly enough with plenty of style, but failing to announce its presence. There’s a remix ep that features a cracking KMDFM version of ‘The Wolf’.

    Likewise, Helalyn Flowers‘ new album, White Me In Black Me Out, sports a couple of wonderful tracks — the title song’s one of ‘em — but too much of this new album from the ’80s-loving Italian electro-goths does too little.


     
    Into that same territory of passing good but unexceptional are The Next Day from David Bowie — extra points for using the word ‘gormless’ in a song — and Depeche Mode, following up the meh of Sounds of the Universe with equally meh Delta Machine. Black Celebration feels like such a long time ago. Oh, crap, it was!

    falling echoes album counterclockwiseAnd finally, fresh out in cyberspace, is the debut album from Falling Echoes, being my mate Aaron R Walker of Wretched Villains fame and his mate Cristian Matheson (not to be confused with the writerly son of Richard Matheson, Christian with a h). Those familiar with the Villains’ foot-tapping gloom rock will appreciate this outing, though might miss Peter Green’s axe. The album, Counterclockwise, is a rhythm-led, simmering affair with touches of Cure-like joie de vivre. Ideal for walking home from the station on foggy nights.


    Check these out on bandcamp:

  • Attrition: album The Unraveller of Angels electro-industrial goodness, hovering between the sensuous delights of sex and death
  • Nicki Jaine: Her album Of Pigeons and Other Curiosities should please Jill Tracy fans with its gritty cabaret sound — ‘untitled’ is particularly suitable in these days of depressing headlines, filling my head with noirish imagery of sweaty bedroom sheets and barely turning fan and, on the other side of the dusty blinds, streets descending into bedlam.


    Retro buy:

  • Dr John‘s 1968 debut, Gris Gris. Swamp blues comin’ at you, bone-shakin’ and bayou drippin’. Play it with the lights down low and go, baby, go.
  • And in other news … NIN hitting the road!

    I should go offline more often. Good things happen. I don’t get to hear about them for weeks, but there you go. Trent Reznor resurrecting Nine Inch Nails. Live. This is my happy face. Forgive me for being late to the party.

    I like the note of caution, that it’s reinvention. Not much point trying to be the angry young man when you’re not. Only five gigs on the tour calendar, so fingers crossed they make it Down Under.

    So that’s my latest update from last month. As you were.

    Tea Party not that lo fi at the Hi Fi

    tea party band jeff stuart chatwood jeff martin jeff burrows

    Hopes for an insight into the Tea Party‘s new album, currently being recorded, at last night’s gig at the Hi Fi bar in Melbourne were dashed. What the three-piece did reveal was a powerful set built on Jeff Martin’s acoustic guitars, with Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood laying down their always dependable rhythm groove.

    Martin’s voice was showing the signs of previous gigs in Sydney and Brisbane and, presumably, the recording process, but the occasional threadbare note added to the emotion of staples such as ‘Requiem’ and ‘Messenger’, and the deeply personal ‘Oceans’. With his voice rasping, Martin rose to an audience member’s suggestion and sung the introductory note to ‘Soul Breaking’, to much applause.

    The Hi Fi’s no-frills basement stage offered a great view, illuminating Burrows’ intensity and industry behind the kit.

    The band, coming off their reunion tour last year after a hiatus of six years, were in full command, playing songs from pretty much all their albums for 90 minutes or so, with ‘Save Me’, ‘The Bazaar’ and ‘Walking Wounded’ among the crowd favourites. A (poorly remembered) medley included instrumental the ‘Badger’ and ‘Midsummer Day’. A rousing ‘Sister Awake’ ended the set, and the trio clearly enjoyed belting out an electric, sadly distorted ‘Overload’ for the encore.

    Based on the killer tour last year and last night’s comfortable and confident outing, the stage seems set for the Tea Party to fulfil Martin’s promise that the new album is going to be something special. Meanwhile, we take heart from his parting promise that they’ll be seeing us soon — a new album demands a tour!

    Greetings from Ballaratia

    gargoyles at the front door

    Five weeks or thereabouts since this blog troubled the interwebs. I guess moving home and waiting … and waiting … for the internet to be connected will do that.

    So what’s happened since the boxes went into the truck and came out the other side, here in steamy Ballarat, in the shade of a hill I’ve christened Wendouree Tor?

    Well, my pals The Isle have released a funky little ep, Moment, offering a nice mix of electro stylings. Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, ain’t half bad if the streaming’s anything to judge by. How to Destroy Angels have released their first album, Welcome Oblivion, and it’s a cruisy end to the world if ever there was one.

    We saw Einstuerzende Neubauten mix-cartons, and it was a crack, seeing them producing all those sounds from what looked like an abandoned dairy farm on the Palace’s stage. I really dig their gentler stuff, but it’s quite amazing how they manage to make music out of all the rattling and banging. And singer Blixa has an amazing voice.

    Tonight, we anticipate hearing new Tea Party material. Oh gosh!

    Elsewhere, Aurealis magazine is releasing its duo series with publisher Dirk Strasser and the inimitable Jack Dann leading off. The Aurealis Awards date has been announced — May 18 — with a record field under consideration. Should be a hoot. And the Ditmars and Chronos awards are now open for nominations.

    Very pleasing to see the Queensland Literary Awards hitting their stride, too, attracting serious financial support and — gasp! — the State Government funding charmingly parochial fellowships. This from the dudes who axed the awards as their first act in power. Interestingly, a Queensland writer was awarded a life achievement by the Australia Council late last year: Herb Wharton got his start by entering the David Unaipon Award, one of those cancelled by the government and saved by the new awards. Did the AC draw attention to this? You betcha. Because you can’t tell someone like Premier Campbell Newman they’ve acted like a twat enough.

    But what about The (other) Rat? There are more stars here and far less buses than in the city. We’ve found the Bunnings and the supermarket and a half-decent chipper and have been very pleased indeed to be in the delivery zone of Pizza Capers (bourbon chicken FTW!). The Courier lands on the front lawn each morning and we scavenge restaurants and events and community groups and places of interest and stick them on the fridge. One day, their time will come.

    But first, there’s the last of the boxes, the matter of central heating (winter, it is coming…), acclimatising to the commute and starting to think it might be time to resume the edit of the work in progress. And then there’s that overgrown back yard …