Jim O’Rourke – ‘The Visitor’

September 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Big Issue #338, September 2009.

The Visitor
Jim O’Rourke
(Spunk/EMI)
****

In a career that has spanned two decades and countless musical guises, Jim O’Rourke has proven nothing if not unconventional. The Chicago experimental musician, post-classical composer and once member of Sonic Youth has graced collaborations and film soundtracks too various to mention.

Even by O’Rourke’s own standards, The Visitor is a departure. Indeed, the now Tokyo’s resident’s first solo album in eight years takes the unlikely form of a solitary, 38-minute instrumental track. But O’Rourke revels in the curious format. Perhaps what makes this oeuvre so charming is its unassuming contours.

O’Rourke eases into his stride with a languid, alt-country guitar motif, growing with subtle peals of keys, woodwind and the eventual jangle of a banjo, before diffusing into an angular shudder of Chicago jazz. For every complication – every nuance and minutiae – there is a shimmering, often evocative resolution. Unlike so much experimental material, O’Rourke’s attentiveness to the emotive qualities of melody is what really drives this work.

One might read The Visitor as a reference to O’Rourke’s own status in Tokyo – the work’s meandering pace and divergent scattering of moods, scenes and vistas mirroring the city’s own web of beautiful contradictions.

Dan Rule

Around the galleries – September 2009

September 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, A2, September 26, 2009.

Around the galleries Dan Rule

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WHAT Andrea Tu: Black Flux
WHERE Sarah Scout, Level 1, 1A Crossley Street, city, 9654 4429, sarahscoutpresents.com

Andrea Tu seems fascinated by formal and aesthetic dichotomy. Her current show Black Flux at petite new space Sarah Scout opposes mode with tactility and effect – cold, precise linearity with quiet flourish and gesture. Her pair of pen and watercolour Tessellation drawings derive their fine, repetitive patterns from mathematical formulae, though with the addition of faint watercolours, they acquire a beautiful, softened, almost tonal quality. Meanwhile, the third Tessellation work – a floor piece, above – sees perfectly folded paper sculptures twist and unfurl and splay in a fashion that defies their meticulous pleats and striking, inorganic colour scheme. Tu’s three-panel oil and graphite painting Fluxes (air), too, juxtaposes loud, fluorescent greens and blacks with the pale, earthy sparsity of the centrepiece. It’s a sensibility that becomes the focus of Black Flux. This series of converse signifiers and prompts doesn’t necessarily have an end. We’re left suspended between the concrete and ephemeral – the geometrical and tonal – and perhaps asked to reconsider them both. Thurs to Sat 11am–6pm, until October 10.

KOLBUSZ-Elixir

WHAT Waldemar Kolbusz: Recent Paintings
WHERE Axia Modern Art, 1010 High Street, Armadale, 9500 1144, axiamodernart.com.au

There’s a lovely fragility of line and texture that permeates Waldemar Kolbusz’s otherwise bold, abstract expressionist paintings. The Perth-born artist eschews crooked slabs of saturated colour with brittle etches and scratches, sponged texture and bleeding streams of excess paint. Interestingly, while the former accountant’s work lends itself to vivid reds, pinks and blues, some of the stronger paintings in this series feature a kind of muted and organic palette that channels the likes of Mark Rothko and echoes with notions of landscape, soil and earth. Indeed, Kolbusz’s paintings may be void of figuration but they’re unyieldingly redolent. Mon to Fri 9am–5:30pm, Sat to Sun 11am–5pm, until Sunday.

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WHAT Stormie Mills: Diction
WHERE Helen Gory Gallerie, 25 St Edmonds Road, Prahran, 9525 2808, helengory.com

The street artist-turned-gallery darling continuum has been in various stages of effect since Bronx hip-hop culture’s shift downtown in the late 70s and early 80s. While there’s nothing particularly new about Perth street-turned-fine artist Stormie Mills’ career trajectory, there’s a good reason for it. Mills’ technique and rendering alone seem anchored in fine art and graphite illustration rather than those learnt via Krylon, while the highly personal and contemplative qualities of his characterisation also seem to defy many of graffiti culture’s modus-operandi. The spray paint, acrylic and dirt-on-canvas works that comprise Diction – Mills’ first major solo show in Melbourne – are burbling with feeling and narrative evocations. One central theme is stoicism. Mills’ pallid, stooped characters may seem defeated at first, but they’re nonetheless proud and hopeful. In several works, such as Come on mate, get up, the central characters expend what little energy they have helping others out of dire situations. In others, like Some days all my shadows are behind me (above), the protagonist’s burdens are obvious but their defiance is unequivocal. Trading on Mills’ background graffiti won’t win this show much in the way of admiration; the artist’s poignant storytelling, however, will do so in spades. Wed to Sat 11am–5pm, until October 3.

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WHAT Jade Pegler: Horary
WHERE Gallerysmith, 170–174 Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne, 9329 1860, gallerysmith.com.au

There’s a feral, impish charm to young Wollongong artist Jade Pegler’s headless bodies, bodiless heads and various papier-mâché, wire and textile beasties. Covering three walls of the secondary gallery space at Gallerysmith, new collection Horary continues her fascination with recasting domestic and everyday objects – minute boxes, doorknobs, cups and the shredded pages of books – into mutated, hairy and somewhat botanical monster-craft. Perhaps not quite as poetic as proposed, this gaggle of little nasties espouses mischievous delight and disquiet in equal measure. Thurs to Fri 11am–5pm, Sat 11am–4pm, until October 3.

Kes Band – Power to the Voiceless

September 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Rhythms, October 2009.

The expansive second instalment from Kes Band sees the enigmatic Karl E. Scullin and his band take vocals out of the frame. By Dan Rule

Having made a name exploring the outer reaches of offbeat folk-pop, prolific Melbourne artist Kes turned the tables with his first Kes Band release in 2008. Channelling early electric era Dylan, the record saw the group – which includes Laura Jean, Biddy Connor, Lehmann Smith and Julian Patterson – lend a rambling folk-rock clatter to Kes’s unusual compositions and impish vocal tones.

Only a year later and Kes and his band have shifted direction again with the arcane, nonetheless beautiful instrumental meanderings of follow-up Kes Band II. We caught up with Kes to chat about losing his voice.

You’ve managed to do away with traditional song structure on this record. I’d love to hear a little about that disengagement.

Well, I think after doing the Kes Band record, I was really happy with it, but as soon as I finish something I always tend to become really disillusioned with it. In this case, I became really disillusioned with lyrics and songs. I obviously still wanted to keep doing music, but the only really clear idea we had was that we wanted to do an instrumental album with no human voice, and all the arrangements and the experiments with song structure came pretty naturally after that. It was very much a straightforward collaboration. Like, I knew that the five-piece that Kes Band was at that time wasn’t going to last forever, so I really wanted to get as much out of everyone as I could because everyone was such a good musician. I wanted to take a bit of a backseat myself. This may sound weird because I’m obviously Kes and the front-person, but representing myself as the lead singer was always a bit weird for me. It wasn’t really the idea as such.

Beyond the instrumental aspect, what led you towards working in less conventional forms?

I guess I’m kind of leaning more towards experimentation and experimental music in some way. I feel like I’ve had a good crack at writing pop songs… I think it’s kind of quite a common Melbourne thing in a way. I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently, and a lot of Melbourne musicians are really starting to think about that stuff. Like, the experimental scene at the moment is pretty, well, it’s not big, but it’s really thriving.

I remember seeing you play solo at the Northcote Uniting Church, supporting Beach House and that was the first time I’d seen you work in a really experimental context. You were kind of working with ambient and noise-based guitar drones and so on. Was that material something of an impetus of what happened on this Kes Band record?

It was definitely illustrative. I wouldn’t say that that gig was the impetus, but around that time, after releasing the first Kes Band album, I was definitely trying as much different stuff as I could. Like, I‘ve got a few different things on the go at the moment. I’m working on an acoustic album kind of like my first album The Jelly’s in the Pot, but I’m trying to make it quite intense and very experimental within that format – just acoustic guitar and vocals – but trying to do some really interesting arrangements. So I haven’t totally thrown out the baby with the bath water in reference to singing, like, I still have a crack at it. But it was definitely illustrative of where my mindset was.

I think the thing with Kes Band II is very much that I wasn’t the sole songwriter. Half of the songs are mine, but the other half are from everyone else. So I think it definitely has the spirit of that, and I was very open-minded about it as well. It is what it is.  I wasn’t trying to create a certain atmosphere or sound; it was just the five players really experimenting with song structures and arrangements.

What interested me so much about the record was that, in terms of instrumentation, it was still very folk-rock.

With a lot of the experimental musicians I’ve seen, the intensity of the sound becomes the focus, whereas with this record it was very much the arrangements that were creating any sense of tension or focus and I still think that’s a really good idea. Fucking with the arrangements is a really good idea. Someone like Ennio Morricone is an amazing arranger and the arrangements are arty in themselves without the individual sounds and instruments necessarily having to be that different to the norm.

Is arranging and composing in this way quite a different process to song writing?

Yeah, I guess so. I think it has just becoming part of my working process. It is about being quite open-minded about listening for those different sorts of things. I guess none of my stuff has been strictly verse-chorus-verse-chorus. Like I’ve always tried to fuck with it a bit and this was just a natural extension of that… With me taking the vocals out, I was curious to see what would happen, what the sound of the record would be. I’m probably not going to do another record with the five-piece like that and it is kind of like a swansong in a way. It is very sort of melancholy.

Kes Band II is out through Mistletone/Inertia

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Humbug’

September 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #69 , September 2009.

Arctic Monkeys
Humbug
****
(Domino/EMI)

It could almost be said that Sheffield juggernaut Arctic Monkeys are victims of their own precociousness. While their breakthrough debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) and world-beating follow-up Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007) have taken them to the top of the Gen Y Brit-rock game, their youthful charms have garnered little in way of genuine respect. The general consensus has always been one of temporality; the notion that their exuberance and raw talent would only get then so far before they would lose their way. If there’s anything strange, murky and at times difficult new album Humbug confirms, it’s that the Alex Turner and co. aren’t in the game for cheap thrills. While there are plenty of recognisably Arctic traits to this record – compact, gutsy compositions, ample quantities of snide lyricism and pure melodic hooks – its focus rests in the previously untested landscape of dense, shadowy atmosphere. It’s written all over moments like the rangy spaghetti western guitars of opener My Propeller, while tracks like the narcotic Secret Door and dirge-like Dance Little Liar echo with a psychedelic spookiness. Much of this widescreen sensibility can be attributed to Queens of the Stone Age main man Josh Homme, enlisted by the quartet as an unlikely production hand. But Humbug is very much a Arctic Monkeys record. It may lack some of the immediacy for which they’re renowned, but this is an album that shows us a band in the throws of experimentation, flux and growth. It is the first real sign that they’re playing for keeps.

Dan Rule

Beats – September 2009

September 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #69, September 2009.

BEATS with Dan Rule

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Cannibal King
Let the Night Roar
****1/2

If the vicious, ground-shaking depths of The Bug’s 2008 masterpiece London Zoo needed a sequel, perhaps Dylan Richards (aka Cannibal King) has taken it upon himself to direct it with debut long-player Let the Night Roar. The London producer has pulled out all stops with this brooding mutant of a record, tearing brutal slabs of dubstep frequency from explosions of drum n bass, rips of high-end sonics from steroidal dancehall and rave era tech. Aragami Style, So…Embrace, The Untitled and the horror-core Flowers of Flesh make for the most devastating suite tracks to surface this year. London Zoo was raw; Let the Night Roar is relentless.

Ninja Tune/Inertia

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Tyondai Braxton
Central Market
***1/2

It’s easy to forget Tyondai Braxton’s former life as an avant-jazz and orchestral composer, such has been the impact of his band Battles. Braxton’s influence on Battles’ sound becomes all the more clear when you spend time with new solo album Central Market. Wonky orchestrations, stuttered rhythmic marches, pitch-controlled vocal chipmunkery, clipped guitar lines and maximal, electronically enhanced flourishes define this positively odd record. But while enthralling in parts, it’s no fluke that the album’s most conventional cut – the pulsing J. City – is also its best. Braxton has achieved some interesting results here, though he hasn’t quite reconciled precocious smarty-pantness with genuine progression.

Warp/Inertia

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Urthboy
Spitshine
****1/2

Herd impresario Urthboy has been knocking on the door of a classic solo record for years now. Spitshine may well be that album. What makes this release so effective is that while filled with departures – see the rugged future hip hop bump of Them Shackles and Fight Fire – Urthboy hasn’t abandoned his proven approaches. Rather, he’s honed them. The rousing melody of first single Hellsong is his purest yet, while his beats(courtesy of El Gusto and Count Bounce) are mindlessly good. That said, it’s Urthboy’s lyrical development that really impresses. On Shruggin, he manages to recast what might have become a preachy political trope into a stunningly personalised vision.

Elefant Traks/Inertia

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Clutchy Hopkins Meets Lord Kenjamin
Music is My Medicine
***1/2

Whether or not he even exists, the ever-elusive person, thing or ensemble that is Clutchy Hopkins makes some damned fine music. While legend has Hopkins gleaning his dusty, ethnographic mysto-jazz, soul and roots/funk from lands as distant as Nigeria, India and the Mojave Desert all the way back to the 60s, Music is My Medicine sees the mysterious one collaborating with new enigma Lord Kenjamin (apparently a witch doctor from Barbados). It’s worth wading through the tall tales. The wiry melodics, warm, muddy analogue keys and crisp, nimble breaks that comprise this ‘collaboration’ make you almost want to believe.

Ubiquity/Stomp

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Vladislav Delay
Tummaa
****

Sasu Ripatti (aka Vladislav Delay) happened to record his magnum opus extremely early in his career. His micro-minimal Multila (2000) is still considered a landmark ambient techno release, with the Finish composer littering spacious swathes of static and audio detritus with concise clicks, pops and flashes of shuddering beats. The elliptical, nonetheless pretty Tummaa proves easily his best since. Ripatti has all but done away with the language of minimal techno here; only the propulsive Mustelmia features anything approaching a structured rhythm. We are left with a strangely beautiful study of hissing, droning space. Only a scattering of sparse keys, skeletal woodwinds, distant rattles and echoes dare enter.

Leaf/Inertia

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Ride the Lightning

September 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #69, September 2009.

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Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela merge flamenco flare with a metal attitude. They speak with Dan Rule about impressing their metal idols and new album 11:11.

There are countless factors that contribute to our understanding of music, reckons Rodrigo Sanchez, one half of dynamic Mexico City-bred guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. No more so than attitude.

“It’s never just about the music,” he offers, mulling over the thought for a second. “I think it’s the way you portray yourself and your performance and your attitude that changes people’s minds.”

Since first bursting onto the European touring scene in 2000, Sanchez and partner in crime Gabriela Quintero have risen to become one of the most idiosyncratic and downright unlikely rock acts the world over. Utilising little but their nylon-string guitars and lightning-fingered techniques, the pair – who released their electric new record 11:11 on September 4 – conjure a sound so powerful it defies their wholly acoustic set-up.

“The most important part of our music is that we still have a metal attitude,” says Sanchez, who is resting up at the duo’s studio in the Mexican coastal town of Ixtapa. “A lot of our material is really nothing to do with rock or metal, but when we play live or put something down on record, our attitude is.”

“When I’m writing music, I still think that I have a band or something. There’s just so much going on in the songs.”

The sight of Rod y Gab in full flight is nothing short fearsome. With Sanchez taking the lead melody, Quintero functions as both a harmonist and percussionist – often simultaneously – utilising her guitar as hand-drum between explosive clusters of flamenco strumming.

But the duo’s approach comes as little of a surprise considering their back-story. While they first made a name in Europe for their Spanish-styled covers of classic metal and rock anthems, such Metallica’s One and Orion and an electrifying take on Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Rod y Gab’s rock lineage goes much, much further back.

Indeed, Sanchez remembers being weened on 80s metal as a kid growing up in Mexico City. “As a middleclass kid, you kind of had the opportunity to make that big decision, you know: ‘Am I going become a mainstream guy who listens to all the American and Mexican pop bands? Or am I going to become a rocker?’” he laughs.

“I was really lucky to have a brother, five years older, who introduced me to metal. I was nine even when Metallica came out with their first album and my brother was already a fan, so it just seemed to make sense.”

“Just the precision of all those early 80s bands from the American thrash metal scene – Metallica, Slayer, Testament, Anthrax, Megadeath – was just amazing,” he continues. “Even if the music didn’t make sense to you, you couldn’t deny the technique. They were just amazing musicians.”

Sanchez and his elder brother formed thrash metal four-piece Tierra Acida at the start of the 90s, later being joined by Quintero and hitting the Mexican underground circuit. But while the band went onto garner a committed following in the scene, they failed to achieve wider success. By the close of the decade Sanchez and Quintero had quit, preferring to playing hotel bars as an acoustic duo, where at least they could earn a living.

That said, the standard repertoire of jazz and bossa nova was never going to fly. “The only real skills we had were for playing metal,” says Sanchez. “We tried to do Santana stuff or some Eric Clapton or whatever, but we knew how to play Metallica or Slayer much better, so we just decided to adapt it to acoustic guitars. And you know what? People liked it!”

Buoyed by the response, they sold their old equipment, relocated to Dublin and hit the busking trail, playing an array of covers and original material on the streets of Ireland. After being noticed by songwriter Damien Rice, their career took off and soon after they were playing festival slots throughout Europe.

After releasing early records Foc (2001) and Re-Foc (2003), they dropped their self-titled debut proper in 2006, which flew straight to the top of the Irish charts and garnered them a swathe international attention.

Recorded in their newly-built studio in Ixtapa, new record 11:11 adds a new level of sophistication to Rod y Gab’s sound. Glowing with Latin flare and near-brutal intensity, it’s set to take their unique sound to an even wider audience.

“The idea for doing this kind of record was to do something different,” says Sanchez. “The worst thing is just repeating yourself.”

“We just want help people to realise that there are a lot of great music out there, whether it’s metal or not. Because we play acoustic, non-metal heads are far more open to our sound. Hopefully then, they can go onto appreciate metal for what it is – incredible music.”

And they’re finding fans in all the right places. While legendary Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick plays a blistering guest spot on 11:11 (he found the band on MySpace two years ago), even the gods of metal, Metallica, have shown Rodrigo y Gabriela a sign.

“Yeah man!” urges Sanchez. “Robert Trajillo wrote an email to us and said they were listening to our version of Orion in the studio and he just wanted to let us know that they loved it!”

“You know what?” he pauses. “We can’t do much better than that.”

11:11 is out now via Shock

Visit: rodgab.com

QnA – Ira Kaplan, Yo La Tengo

September 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #69, September 2009.


From their noise-pop roots in the mid 1980s, Hoboken, New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo have gone on to become one indie rock’s most versatile, eclectic and enduring acts. On the eve of releasing 12th album Popular Songs, co-founder and songwriter Ira Kaplan tells Dan Rule that scoring films has taught his old band new tricks.

You’ve always had a very free approach to music.
“We like to think as little as possible about an album when we’re working on it. Obviously a lot of thought goes into it, but the thoughts are more about the details. The overriding aspect, or the idea is something we don’t end up paying that much attention to.”

There’s a real economy, almost reductiveness, to your lyrics.
“I think the band always grapple with, simultaneously wanting to communicate and wanting to not communicate. So I think there is an element, always, of not wanting to say too much. I said before about concentrating on details, and I think our lyrics are very detail-oriented. Hopefully, by using very small, specific moments, you arrive at something kind of truthful.”

You have scored a bunch of films now, like Old Joy and Junebug. I get the feeling there must be quite a polarity between that and the way you usually work as a band.
“Yeah, well that’s one of the appeals of doing the soundtracks, you know, that it is different. We do a lot of things different to what our usual way of working and that’s precisely the appeal. On the soundtracks, we’ve – to a certain extent – been working to order. Directors have a vision for us and we try and meet that vision. I think it’s expanded our range and made us feel even freer about creating any sound at any moment. It’s like we can put anything on our record and it’s still us.”

I believe you’re a fan of Chris Knox (New Zealand punk legend and founder of Tall Dwarfs)? I noticed you contributed a track to his tribute album.
“Hearing Tall Dwarfs was just profound for me. The music form New Zealand through that period was and remains gigantically important all of us in the band. Hearing Tall Dwarfs and getting to know Chris and Alec and getting to play with them, those were just a whole wave of really important experiences in our life.”

You’re a band who have existed on either side of the ‘digital revolution’. Do you think of it in those terms of ‘revolution’? Has is changed the way you operate in a significant way?
“I wouldn’t say it’s changed things for us in a huge way. One of the reasons the group has lasted as long as it has is because of how slowly we move. We kind of exist, in a lot of ways, just oblivious to what’s going on around us. We do move (laughs), but we move slowly.”

Popular Songs is out via Remote Control

Visit: yolatengo.com

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