January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
Published: The Age, A2, 48 Hours, January 23, 2010.
Spending time inside Mike Cooper’s Rayon Hula is akin to entering another world. The fact that the British blues guitarist and experimental composer’s lush musical terrains are in part derived from Australian field recordings and artefacts makes this glimmering piece of exotica all the more seductive. The infamous 2005 recording, extended and remastered in this edition, effectively recasts 1950s Western imaginings of Hawaii and the Pacific as a layered, postmodernist melange. Infusing lap-steel guitars, electronic textures and field recordings of Queensland birdsong into a palette of looped samples of late exotica artist Arthur Lyman, Cooper not only pays homage to the genre, but abstracts and expands its haze-riddled atmospheres. The results are intoxicating. Kokoke Nalu’s looped vibes, swirling lap-steel and shuffling rhythm are pure joy, while Paumalu’s sun-drunk ambience is so breezy you could drift away. Cooper’s alluring revision of the Pacific may prove more challenging than its precursors, but it’s all the more rewarding for it.
January 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, January 19, 2010.
Curse Ov Dialect
Although some recent auto-tuned evidence might suggest otherwise, hip-hop was always something of a colourful chameleon. Veering points of departure are in its creative DNA – from Bambaataa to the Bomb Squad, Kool Keith to Wu-Tang, Premier to Madlib, Arabian Prince to Anti-Pop. Rap’s first three decades, one might suggest, have seen the genre traverse the kind of musical and referential terrains that rock could only dream of.
On the other hand, Australian hip-hop has proven something of a thorn in progressive rap’s side. While the quality and diversity of domestic product has come on in leaps and bounds, it could be argued that a hefty proportion of the community are still bound be an overarching conservatism and defensiveness. Crews who have dared to expand on the Oz hip-hop aesthetic have found themselves out in the cold.
Costumed, multilingual Melbourne posse Curse Ov Dialect – MCs Raceless, Volk Makedonski, Atarungi, vocalist August 2nd and DJ Paso Bionic – are the prime example. Having existed for over a decade-and-a-half and released two out of their three albums – the abrasive mastery of 2003’s Lost in the Real Sky and the ethno-experimentalism of 2006’s Wooden Tongues – via celebrated US experimental hip-hop imprint Mush, their hyperkinetic brand of international sample collage, punk theatricality and intermittently political and surrealist rap-craft has taken them around the world and built rabid followings in Japan, France, Germany and much of Eastern Europe. Locally, however, their pluralistic, sans-Anglo take on Australian identity, costumes and general craziness has seen them all but cast from the largely white, suburban hip-hop vernacular.
Though it may not change anything, the renegade quintet’s fourth album, Crisis Tales, is unmistakeably hip-hop. And while it clocks in at more than 63 minutes, it’s also their most succinct. From the thumping kick-snare and Persian ritual samples of opener ‘Identity’, this is as much about compact boom-bap as it is worldly obscura. Crisis Tales’ gamut of samples and cultural artefacts belie Curse’s punchiest, neck-straining beats yet. The brilliant ‘Paradigm’ squeezes a Vietnamese karaoke hook and Chinese opera sample into a surging synth pop sketch, while ‘Honesty in Monasteries’ sees Volk spit a rapid-fire verse into a collage of splintered Mediterranean psych and fluttering Cambodian funk.
In fact, there are a slew of highlights. Volk again tears a blistering verse into the springing beat and various psyche flourishes of ‘Conscious Terror’, where the spectral folk of ‘Media Moguls’ offers a gently swaying reprieve. Some of the most engaging moments, however, are when Curse defy the ethnographic sampling for which they’re known, instead daring to delve into darker, more synthesised sonic palettes.
Atarungi’s brooding solo exploration ‘Connection’ is electric, while the subterranean frequencies and musique concrete abrasions of ‘Draindrop’ – which features freakish Japanese MC Kaigen and a black metal-layered, double-tracked verse from Volk – is one of Curse’s most brutal and brilliant statements yet. If that isn’t enough, 11-minute posse track ‘Colossus’ features 32 MCs from countries as far-flung as Poland, Switzerland, Indonesia, Japan, Bulgaria, Poland, Macedonia, Australia and the US.
A lot of credit has to go Danielsan of Koolism, who mixed the record. Curse’s arrangements have far more kick than previous material. While it’s just as far-reaching, Crisis Tales has a shuddering rhythmic consistency that entrenches it deeper into golden era boom-bap than anything Curse have managed before.
It’s an assertion that many in the Australian hip-hop community won’t want to stomach, but if we’re to take the sample-pillaging and socio-politics of Public Enemy, the deranged experimentalism of Kool Keith, or the collective mindset and genre defiance of Afrika Bambaataa as a guide – then throw in five different accents and five unique perspectives – Curse Ov Dialect seem about as legitimate and original as Australian hip-hop gets.
January 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
Published: Broadsheet, January 18, 2010.
With the touring and festival season in full swing, we offer you a slice of this summer’s best music that may not be on your radar. By Dan Rule.
January 20, The Forum
When a diminutive, elfin, 22-year-old Joanna Newsom emerged out of rural California with her remarkable 2004 debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, it was as if she was from another time, if not another world. The classically trained harpist and positively idiosyncratic vocalist crafted a sound so singular that it traced medieval folk as closely as it did the avant-garde, propelling her to the head of the so-called ‘new-folk’ movement in the process. But as Newsom’s majestic 2006 sophomore, Ys, revealed so emphatically, the precocious artist was far more than a fashionable folkie. In fact, the record’s five expansive vignettes – orchestrated by the legendary Van Dyke Parks – cast Newsom not only as a truly innovative artist, but as a significant contemporary composer. After playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House last year, she returns with her new band for what will prove to be an extraordinary performance.
February 3, The Corner Hotel
$50, Corner Hotel
One of the wonderful things about the last decade in music has been the loosening of both stylistic and methodological restraints. Where the 90s saw clear delineations running between indie music, electronica, hip-hop and so forth, the 00s have been about breaking down boundaries; mixing, matching and mutating schools of musical thought and process. You only need to turn to Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance or Battles for evidence. London quartet The xx are the latest act to defy what was once set in stone. Released a couple of months back through XL/Remote Control, their xx debut witnessed stunning indie-pop tropes and interlocked R&B vocal harmonies skim atop a swathe of tectonic electronic frequencies and textures. Suffice to say, their inaugural run of Australian performances will offer a telling chronicle of music’s brave new frontier.
February 10, Bella Union Bar, Trades Hall
$27, Bella Union
Singer, songwriter and pianist Frida Hyvönen is something of a star in her home country. The Swedish chanteuse’s intricately rendered, intensely personal song-craft saw her scale the heights of the country’s music industry, winning the prestigious Stockholm Prize for her 2005 debut, Until Death Comes, and garnering trans-continental acclaim for 2008’s beautifully orchestrated follow-up Silence is Wild. An arresting, hypnotic performer, Hyvönen will play one of only two intimate Australian shows at Trades Hall’s beautiful Bella Union Bar in February. Her towering vocals, meticulously composed songs and unabashed lyrical honesty are bound to change the way we think about Swedish pop.
February 13, The Corner Hotel
$38, Corner Hotel
Jamie Lidell has been experimental, white-boy soul’s poster boy for about a decade now, and with good reason. The Berlin-based vocalist’s work with Cristian Vogel in Super Collider – not to mention his own suite of solo albums for Warp Records – set new precedents in future-funk and neo-soul and saw him mash his prodigious vocal talents into the wildest of electronic soundscapes. On top of that, his one-man live show is legendary. Utilising a cache of samplers, microphones, cameras, effects pedals and general electronic flotsam and jetsam, Lidell will turn The Corner Hotel upside down and inside out. This squall of soul is not to be missed.
December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Age, Arts, December 29, 2009.
Inspired by the giddy delights of St Kilda, artist Kit Wise’s new video works turn idealised resort towns into surreal dreamscapes, writes Dan Rule.
As beautiful as it is, there’s something uncanny about this scene. The sky is such a vivid blue it almost borders on iridescence; the sand radiates the purest of white glows. It’s only when we focus on the beachgoers milling about on the sand, or scan the bordering hillsides dotted with beachside hotels and opulent coastal homes, that the flawless symmetry of it all becomes – almost eerily – apparent.
The video frame of this Marseilles beach scene is split down the middle; its vibrant summer scene duplicated in a seamless mirror image, its sequence set to short, repetitive loops. It’s a characteristic common to each of the eight video works that comprise Summertime, the new installation by British-born artist Kit Wise, which runs until the end of summer at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s satellite gallery, Mirka, in St Kilda’s Tolarno Hotel.
Inspired by his fascination with St Kilda, the 35-year-old’s “hyperreal” coastal vistas offer an augmented view of some of the world’s most famed coastal resort towns and cities. Drawing on footage garnered from Getty Images and other open-source online archives, and playing out on variously scaled LCD screens, the works “mash up” images of Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema, Monte Carlo and Waikiki, among others, creating perceptibly constructed and accentuated composites of the various spectacular sea and landscapes.
“I’m very interested in this idea of arcadia and these idyllic natural spaces and where the city meets these spaces,” says Wise, a senior lecturer and acting head of fine arts at Monash University, who arrived in Australia in 2001, later settling in Elwood with his young family. “In Australia, and particularly in places like St Kilda, that sort of beach culture and coastal, waterside way of living is a big part of that. Coming from England, the palm trees of St Kilda kind of represent this exotic paradise for me.”
Themes of paradise and the spectacle can be traced throughout Wise’s work, which has seen him complete residencies in Rome, Paris, New York and Tokyo, and is currently on show in Taiwan as part of the 2009 Asian Art Biennial.
His 2006 exhibition Superhappiness comprised a fantastical reinterpretation of Tokyo’s flashing neon cityscape, while in 2007’s Rhapsodia he created a glittering, utopian city bordered by the most spectacular of natural landscapes – however altered. Natural Disaster in 2008, meanwhile, featured footage of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2006, duplicated and mirrored to create an equally beautiful and horrific mutation of the gigantic waves striking the land.
While Wise sources imagery that promotes widely held notions of the idyllic, his subtle manipulations result in outcomes that prove as unnerving as they do pretty. It’s no mistake. “The beach, for example, is something we’re fascinated with and something we idealise and it saturates the media,” he says. “But underneath that is the fact that at the same time as consuming nature as this glamorous spectacle, we’re destroying it.”
Wise sees Summertime, with its mirrored beachside images, as a gentle reminder of such a paradox. “Symmetry is a classic device for describing perfection, whether that’s in architecture or constructed landscapes or the human face.”
When such qualities are applied to images of nature, Wise explains, a shift takes place. “There are moments in each of these works where they flip from being really beautiful to being really kind of wrong.”
In one of Summertime‘s works, a duplicated Waikiki beach borders either side of the frame, while the ocean fills the centre like a lake. Ocean swells emerge as a single rising lump in the middle of the frame, only to rupture and roll off towards opposite, mirror-image shorelines. While filled with familiar signifiers, the image is alien. “You could see it as quite … disturbing or even quite monstrous if you wanted to,” says Wise.
This evocation is at the heart of the exhibition’s St Kilda setting. “St Kilda is sort of the epitome of hedonism and pleasure and consumption,” says Wise. “Whether it’s the beaches or the cake shops or Luna Park, it’s sort of saturated in pleasure.
“I don’t want to criticise it at all, but underneath all of that one has to be aware of the price of all that pleasure and consumption, not just on a local but a global scale … Living in Elwood, I know all about things like water levels rising because it’s front-page news every few months.”
That said, Wise understands Summertime as celebratory. “I love the way this part of Melbourne makes you realise we live in a coastal city. I want the work to celebrate all the pleasures that brings, but I hope it can also remind people of the price.”
Summertime runs at ACCA Mirka until February 28.
December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Age, A2, 48 Hours, December 26, 2009.
Since he emerged from Topeka, Kansas, Aaron Martin’s rickety instrumentals have read like a personal chronicle of a decaying Midwest. The young composer’s beauteous 2007 debut Almond and harrowingly personal 2008 opus River Water were melanges of unlikely materials, approaches and place, drawing on children’s toys, household objects and field recordings as a foil for his cello, banjo and organ-based compositions. Third album Chautauqua sees Martin reduce his instrumental and compositional palette to its most elemental hues. Cello and organ take centre stage here; Martin colours his wiry motifs with a mere clutch of vocal drones and scenes from his family’s home movie recordings. The results are startling, affronting in their sheer personal candour. New Madrid is perhaps Martin’s most realised sketch yet; its squall of strings, textures and layered voices opening out into a lilting, shimmering drone. Located somewhere between contemporary composition, rusty American folk and postmodernist collage, Chautauqua isn’t always the easiest of listens. It is, however, Martin’s most exposing and perhaps rewarding yet.
December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: Music Australia Guide #72, December/January 2009-2010.
BEATS with Dan Rule
There are so many reasons why Blakroc shouldn’t work. Live rock and hip hop have made the most uncomfortable of bedfellows. But this collaboration between blues-rock wunderkinds The Black Keys, producer Damon Dash and a clutch of hip hop’s finest wordsmiths – think Mos Def, Q-Tip, RZA, Pharoahe Monch, Raekwon, NOE, Jim Jones and others – flips the script, and in a big way. The descriptor here is chemistry. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s rugged guitar/drums aesthetic just seems built for hip hop. Mos Def’s sprawling On the Vista and the slithering psych of RZA and Pharoahe’s Dallaz & Sense are classics in the making.
Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez
There was a time when Rhymesayers were at rap’s cutting edge. The label roster’s characteristically bounce-laden production style and densely packed rhyme schemes set a new precedent for alternative hip hop. On Felt 3, the latest instalment in marquee artists Slug and Murs’ ‘romantic’ collaboration series, the aesthetic seems more dated than ever. Slug and Murs spit as tight as ever, but their rhymes take far too effort to unpack. Ring-in producer Aesop Rock, meanwhile, offers up some intense, floor-shaking beats but his production lacks light and shade. Fans will love Felt 3. Plenty of others – perhaps including Rosie Perez – will be left scratching their heads.
The Secret Song
For some, New York’s resident turntablist-author-academic DJ Spooky is a beacon of music’s progressive, postmodernist frontier. For others, his hoity, scholarly posture and penchant for berets grate to no end. His latest kaleidoscopic musical vision, The Secret Song, will do little to ease divisions. Drawing on electrified free jazz, dub, rock, hip hop and classical tropes, you have to give Spooky props for his points of reference. But as is often the case, he seems so hell bent on pinballing amongst his influences that he never quite succeeds in presenting a stylistic vision of his own. The jury is out on Spooky, yet again.
Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen
From the faux-sleaze freak-out of its first cut, this unlikely pairing of legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen and Finnish cabaret/techno/lounge/jazz odd-sod Jimi Tenor comes up trumps. Jammed out over five days in Berlin, Inspiration Information brings out the best in both of its players. Allen is on point here, firing off his full inventory of kinetic African rhythms and multifarious drum patterns, while Tenor is his usual offbeat self, bleeding nuances of noir jazz, esoteric, psych-riddled lounge and his hilariously meek vocals into the swirling analogue brew. It’s a joy. “Lean against the wall,” squeaks Tenor. “I’ve got my tightest pants on.”
Marina Rosenfeld’s arcane turntable and dub-plate excursions defy their very means. The visionary New York turntablist and composer creates sound worlds unbound from time, context and space; she pieces together instrumental recordings, deconstructed voices and sonic artefacts, only to recast them on hand-crafted dub-plates, replete with fields of underscored static, hiss and textural noise. While not for everyone, Plastic Materials makes for a fascinating, positively ethereal experience. Shimmering piano and electronic textures ring-out amid echoes movement, crackles of vinyl and decontextualised teenage voices, only to disappear into a gloomy void. It may be esoteric and obscure, but Plastic Materials is also thoroughly engaging.
December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: Music Australia Guide #72, December/January 2009-2010.
Raised on the lovelorn recordings of Edith Piaf, Martha Wainwright has released a suite of her own live interpretations of the legendary French songstress. By Dan Rule.
1. Piaf was a defining influence on Wainwright’s entrance into music. “She was my favourite singer as a kid and I adore her greatly. When I was about seven or eight my brother Rufus introduced me to her music via my mother’s album collection. Looking back, she started my love affair with very emotive female singers, who I still really enjoy listening to today. She affected me and affected the way I perform myself.”
2. For Wainwright, the project was about assuming the role of the professional performer, rather than the confessional artist. “This was about being a singer; it was about walking into a room with a great bunch of musicians and great bunch of songs and trying not to look like an idiot and deliver something that, as a singer, wasn’t lame. So it was about using my voice to the absolute best of my ability.”
3. Wainwright isn’t afraid of flaunting her ego. “Divas, like opera singers, have this attitude and ego and it’s there for a reason. It’s because they too can bring something to the table and have that belief in themselves and in how they are going to live up to the material. You have to put yourself in that frame of mind when you interpret songs like this; you have to believe and feel that you can do it.”
4. Recorded live with a full ensemble over two nights in New York’s Dixon Place Theatre, the pressure was on. “I tried to have a good time, especially in the last performance, but it was really about the challenge of trying to get something on tape. I knew that we only had a couple of chances with each song and there was an audience of people watching and money was being spent. So it was a very challenging and focussed performance.”
5. While the recorded results speak for themselves, the performances were not the most, err, appealing sight. “It was very physical and you can see – we filmed it – that my arm is up in the air and my face is contorted into these crazy, screwed up faces (laughs). It’s not a very pretty sight, but it helped to convey the songs and the sound in that way, then no problem.”
Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris is out now via Shock