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.

     

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  • 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.

    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.

    Android Lust, telling tales without words on Crater Vol 1

    crater vol 1Android Lust (US-based Shikhee) knows how to get down and dirty, electronically; she’s been flying my industrial flag since Nine Inch Nails went on hiatus, Trent Reznor heading off to greener, arguably happier places with his new outfit and his soundtrack work for movies and, most recently, a video game.

    Now, on Crater Vol 1, AL is following that trajectory and proves just as adept.

    I wish I knew the narrative guiding this album — and it is an album, ebbing and flowing across a sonic terrain of synthesisers, keyboards, vocalisations. How interesting, though, to mix up the playing order and seeing how that changes the nature of the tale …

    I’m getting a low-fi NIN vibe on ‘I Need to Know’ — probably the most likely candidate for a single and one of only three songs here, AL’s voice restrained amid the fuzz and keys. ‘From the Other Side’ has breathy vocals gliding like morning fog over flowing, bouncing rhythms that echo AL’s previous footprints. On ‘Here and Now’, she again channels previous patterns to set what feels like the sublime point of no return.

    Of course, the beauty of the instrumental album isn’t necessarily the story the artist has in their head, but the one it tells inside your own. Here, there is water, grey with clouds; travel, solitude .. there are mountains and perhaps, stark cherry blossoms, yearning, indecision.

    ‘First Man’, a halfway marker, feels like the closing of a curtain on the first act, the sensation exacerbated by the slow, woodwind and bamboo-style opening of the proceeding piece, ‘When the Rains Came’, building like a spring rainstorm from the first drops to the downpour, all golden from distant, low-slanted sunlight.

    Yaakuntik is a one-minute bridge; ‘Precipice’ closes the album with an eight-minute sail through a lapping lake, a place of stillness and quiet beauty, fading into an inky night. Not so much a fall from a precipice as a gentle subsidence, a tender acceptance.

    Had the album been named River Styx, it would’ve suited perfectly. Crater — what does it mean? The Pacific rim of fire? A caldera? Dust settling after the moment of impact? Ooh …

    Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Crater Vol 1 shows an artist making a foray into new terrain, so very smoothly, and provides a most pleasant aural zone where one can trail one’s fingers in another’s dreams and make them one’s own.

    Crater Vol. 1 is due to be in general release by the end of the month. I take heart that the name suggests there’s more to come.

    Trent Reznor rides again

    How to Destroy Angels is a new project featuring NIN mainman Trent Reznor – it’s mostly quiet, moody, elegant, with touches of Reznor’s industrial synths and arrangements pleasing to the ear. The band (comprised of Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig on dreamy vocals, and NIN producer Atticus Ross) is offering a free six-track self-titled EP, or an upgraded version for US$2, at its website.

    This clip for The Space In Between illustrates the style beautifully.

    Parasite shakes things up a bit, with a Slip-like feel thanks to fuzz guitar and Reznor’s threatening vocals in the mix; Fur Lined is likewise upbeat but sans sharp edges.

    The EP’s diversity and overall charm bodes well for the album – on its way!

    the top 150 songs of all time … or not

    Music’s an amazing force, isn’t it? I can’t think of another artform that has such power to unite, polarise and divide. Dissemination is comparatively easy, sharing to a mass audience ridiculously so (if you can get them to listen, and there’s the rub).

    So when a media outlet, as is their wont, publishes a list of, well, anything really, but music in particular, you can bet they’re really just spoiling for an argument. My mate, Noel Mengel, the chief music writer at The Courier-Mail, has set himself up as a clay target by listing his best 150 songs of all time, even as he acknowledges it’s such a subjective topic as to be almost meaningless. He says he’s a product of his time, as are, I will hazard, we all. Alas, there isn’t a lot of synthesiser in Noel’s list, nor down-tuned guitars. And he hasn’t tried to reach out to cover all genres, all movements, not even those amazing songs that have defined eras and forged new musical directions. It’s upapologetically heart on sleeve stuff, which got me thinking: what does it for me? And why? And just how bloody hard would it be to try to make such a list?!

    So I’m giving it a go. Herewith, 30 old friends, the tunes that’ve stuck with me through thick and thin, or serve as milestones on the journey:

    Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division: The song came out after Ian Curtis killed himself, highlighting the sheer bloody waste. I often wonder what words he could’ve delivered to us had he hung on in there. The song is an obvious choice, a regular favourite on Triple J radio’s ‘best of’ lists. I once maintained it was my favourite love song, but of late, I’m less sure. I still wear the t-shirt, though!

    Hurt, Nine Inch Nails: As with Joy Division, or any of one’s favourite bands, trying to pick the definitive song is a mission impossible – especially given the strength of NIN’s debut album, Pretty Hate Machine. Favourites change, from mood to mood, moment to moment. But this is an unforgettable song (from The Downward Spiral), Trent Reznor in his maudlin, angst-ridden glory. See also the reflective version by Johnny Cash.

    Scarred, Johnette Napolitano: The lead singer of Concrete Blonde, Napolitano possesses one of the most distinctive, emotive voices in rock, and a gift for deft lyricism. Scarred, from the album of the same name, is a coming of middle-age song, acceptance of the path that’s been trodden, the journey ahead and the ultimate end of the road.

    Bloodletting (The Vampire Song), Concrete Blonde: Horror writer, remember? So given the uniform strength of the CB songlist, why not go with the one with bite — New Orleans by night, creatures of the night, and a swaggering bass beat. Yummy.

    Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode: Time for a dance? This one never fails to get the foot tapping. Johnny Cash also covered this, sublimely.

    More, Sisters of Mercy: Predictable for an ’80s Goth tragic such as moi, but it’s a crowd-pleaser from the pretentious tosser who largely introduced me to the genre of Goth rock — even if Andrew Eldritch is too up himself to acknowledge his fan base.

    Edie (Ciao Baby), The Cult: Ian Astbury has a set of lungs with few rivals, a Jim Morrison aura, and as this tune reveals, a strong interest in Andrew Warhol and his coterie of muses. Another band with such a massive catalogue of hits and dancefloor favourites, I went for something less obvious than She Sells Sanctuary.


    Sister Awake, The Tea Party: Speaking of Jim, The Tea Party frontman Jeff Martin is another with a leonine presence and a gift for poetic lyrics, sometimes obtuse. Haven’t been to a Tea Party/Martin gig yet without being skewered through my emotional centre by one song or another.

    Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Bauhaus: It’s long, it’s atmospheric, it name-checks one of my favourite actors from one of the best vampire movies ever made (that’s another list!), and I can’t hear it without thinking of those nights on the dance floor, wreathed in smoke from the fog machine, barely moving to this hypnotic beat. And of course, it was used in unforgettable fashion in the movie The Hunger.

    Vienna, Ultravox: If you’re not going to send the kids home from the club with Bela Lugosi’s Dead, then this synth pop classic is another apt choice for bringing down the curtain.

    Reckless (Don’t Be So), Australian Crawl: Classic Aussie rock from a classic Aussie band, poking their tongues at middle class pretension and generally having a hell of a good time. The Crawl were huge during my high school years, still love ’em. Along with Icehouse, INXS, The Church, Divinyls … ah, those were the days…

    Do You Love Me, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: It’s raw, it’s dark … duh, I hear you say.

    Back in Black, AC/DC: Headbangers of the world unite. Shared some good red-eye drives down the coast with my uni mates with Acca Dacca keeping our eyes open.

    The Night, Heart: The Canadian sisters were at their height in the 80s with some rather saccharine power rock, but their depth goes further, melding folk, rock and a touch of world music a la their heroes Led Zeppelin. The Night, from the Brigade album, is about a vampire. At least, that’s my interpretation.

    Kashmir, Led Zeppelin: Love the funereal beat, though Stairway to Heaven would be a more logical choice.

    Paranoid, Black Sabbath: Where would we be without Ozzy and co? Somewhere nicer, but definitely nowhere as interesting!


    Black Night, Deep Purple: Completing the triumvirate of classic ‘heavy metal’ founders, this track should be mandatory on all driving compilations.

    Nothing Else Matters, Metallica: My sister introduced me to Metallica’s Black album, for which I’ll always be thankful. She had far less success with her Mariah Carey fetish.

    Epic, Faith No More: Not my favourite FNM song, but memorable for being the one I *didn’t* like until my Carey-lovin’ sister and I went to their gig and were knocked out by their performance. Mike Patton is a genius. I think.

    The Thrill is Gone, BB King: Tellin’ it like it is. The beauty of the blues is, it can make you tap your foot and nod your head at the same time as it tears out your heart.


    New Orleans, Louisiana Gator Boys and the Blues Brothers: From the Blues Brothers 2000 soundtrack, an album played repeatedly by a good friend in Canada while we were driving to the Rockies and back, ahead of a trip to New Orleans. Good times… file with Baby, Please Don’t Go (Lightnin’ Hopkins, for starters), House of the Rising Sun (Animals) and Summer Breeze (Type O Negative version) for other N’Awlins-evoking tunes.

    Creep, Radiohead: Oh the angst! Still the only Radiohead song I’ve bought. That whiney Thom Yorke voice kind of works on this one. Check out the Amanda Palmer ukelele version!

    Angel, Massive Attack: Came late to these too-cool dudes, but this track offers lovely sentiment and reminds me of the gang I used to hang with when I first moved to Brisbane.

    Wild is the Wind, David Bowie: I bought a best of with this song on it after hearing an interview with Bowie in which he said this song probably offered his most authentic voice. It’s a beautiful cover from one of the modern era’s true musical geniuses.

    Proud Mary, Tina Turner: Blew me away live, this rollicking ode to paddle steamers on the Mississippi. Creedence do an awesome version, too.


    Born on the Bayou, Creedence Clearwater Revival: Another southern homage that gets the foot tapping, conjuring memories of my favourite city. If you get a chance to see John Fogerty in concert, take it!

    Walk This World, Heather Nova: A song that strikes straight at my wanderlust, best shared with someone special. The lovelorn might like to check out her London Rain, too.

    Rio, Duran Duran: Another ’80s holdover, from one of the few albums I distinctly remember buying. On cassette, in Darwin!

    Cities Lie in Dust, Siouxsie and the Banshees: Appropriate or otherwise, I’ll always remember this tune playing through my mind pretty much all day on September 12, 2001. From one of Goth rock’s truest characters and longest survivors.

    Principles of Lust, Enigma: The MCMXC AD album was already a favourite, but it’s indelibly imprinted on my mind as the soundtrack to driving past fields at dawn in a Romanian taxi, heading to the Hungarian border after a paperwork issue resulted in my being removed from a train.

    Thirty songs. Thirty moments in time, some fixed, some still unwinding. With new milestones ahead, either yet to be written or simply yet to be discovered. Viva la music!

    Dr Martin is in

    One man and a guitar. It’s too much power, really. At least, it is when the man is Jeff Martin.

    His leonine presence filled the boudoir-style stage of the intimate, first-floor Troubadour tonight. Just him, a couple of acoustic guitars, effects pedals, stomp box. And that voice…

    He was feeling the music tonight, I thought. He was in the zone, touched by an encounter with unexpected love on a previous visit, still haunted perhaps by his gigs down in Victoria where the pain and loss of the bushfires have clearly affected him. He dedicated The Kingdom to the fire victims, and paid respect to the Queensland flood victims, too, with the eco-friendly Line in the Sand.

    The medleys came plentifully, my favourite the mix of Requiem and Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt — poignant, given we heard Trent Reznor close his emotive headlining gig at Soundwave with that song only on Saturday, a probable farewell, as it turns out. Schade.

    With Martin, there’s blues and world music and a touch of pop and good old rock. It’s head-nodding, hand-clapping, joyful, cathartic stuff, drawing on Tea Party material (opener The Bazaar, Save Me, Sister Awake et al) as well as his solo and now Armada work, with crafty dollops of covers thrown in. And some of it resonates, all the way to the heart.

    The inclusion of a line from Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart was particularly affecting. There were others, but that’s between the doctor and me.


    Martin returns with his Armada compatriots in May. We saw them at the end of last year and were impressed. But tonight, now that was special, just we happy few and the man and his guitar, and the chords he played.