Burning coffins in the forest, darkened beckoning waters, boobies. Well, that’s all those boxes checked.
Sometimes an artist can have a second thought about their music. This can take the form of recasting songs to reveal something of their innards, motivations, and/or construction – e.g., most of those records marked ‘Unplugged’ – or maybe just for the sake of ‘art’. And there’s few more bloody-minded in their approach to art than Bjork. Taking it to an extreme, Ms Gottisdommir redoes the whole Vulnicura album, removing all electronics and percussion, filling the spaces with a 15-piece chamber orchestra. Oh, and a machine originally designed by Leonardo da Vinci. The viola organista being a mess of mechanics and strings that makes Lionsong (One Little Indian) more resemble merry-go-round slowing at the end of a ride. How you adjust to the variations may well depend on your previous relationship to Icelandic contrariness.
Then there’s those songs that should probably remain sacrosanct. You may well have heard my tormented screams as a couple of Angus & Julia-wannabe karaoke muppets committed grievous bodily harm with a winebar open-mic night take on Crowded House’s Fall At Your Feet on one of the TV talent shows earlier this week. Some - perhaps surprisingly not including its late author, Rowland S. Howard – would think Shivers (Third Man) should be one of those untouchable monuments. Admittedly, the song has endured Nick Cave’s originally melodramatic reading (which Howard hated), and even a Screaming Jets cover (which probably didn’t do Rowland’s health any good either). So, Jack White asks Courtney Barnett what song she’d like to do for one his collectors’ item vinyl releases, and she – showing admirable guts and chutzpah – takes a run at the miserablist anthem. Her typically dry conversation is likely truer to Howard’s intent – more a sneer than a mourning, if you will. And you didn't think we could love her more.
The common thread through the above could just be artists and musicians being true to themselves. A Loene Carmen song immediately identifies itself through her wispy, lost-in-the- moment vocals, and a backing atmosphere that falls somewhere between southern gothic country and a dreamland, perhaps designed by David Lynch. Quality players such as The Cruel Sea’s Ken Gormly, multi-credited drummer Cec Condon, and Jason Walker’s longing pedal steel off in the distance make Everyone You Ever Knew (Is Coming Back To Haunt You) (Independent) another thing of disturbing beauty.
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A different kind of disturbing – and yet in an entirely expected way – has the visuals to go with Slipknot’s XIX (Roadrunner) being absolutely correct in their incorrectness. Burning coffins in the forest, darkened beckoning waters, boobies. Well, that’s all those boxes checked. Corey is still moaning grumpily about something and everything – maybe that the band can’t keep a lineup together, not that anyone would really notice. And then it stops, strangely before it appeared ready to. Then again, it’ll probably stretch out for a quarter of an hour when played in a festival spot in front of a crowd of angst-ridden young men in black t-shirts.
Other music just has certain spirit of place about it. Stillwater Giants are from Perth, but not the heat-hazed open emptiness of The Triffids and that ilk. Patience (Independent) is more of the summer by the beach brightness of the western capital. This is perfect mainstream-of-the-alternative fodder aiming for national youth network airplay, whether by accident or design. In times gone by it would have been put in the ‘pop/rock’ racks in the record shop. Remember record shops? Remember ‘pop/rock’?
Harem Scarem was one of those many bands of that endlessly intertwined Melbourne music scene of the ‘80s that ended up probably better known for the people that emerged from it, than in its own right. Various members variously ended up doing stints in Hunters & Collectors, Crown Of Thorns, and Crowded House among others. Charlie Marshall was one of the voices, juggling the rock thing with becoming a teacher, which means Soundcloud puts the intriguing category of ‘Poetic Scientific Rock’ on the stream. Not A Cruel Machine (Independent) comes with a bluesy lope over some metaphysical and ecological conversation about this ‘pale blue dot’ on which we reside. All part of the philosophical multi-media presentation his live shows have now evolved to, although there’s still musical muscle to his backing band The Curious Minds including, as it does, the exemplary Clare Moore on drums. Listen, you may learn something.
Conversely, you’re actually beginning to wonder how much of the members’ hearts are truly in Bloc Party’s later output. Kele’s more soul and dance based work seems his true passion – although it probably still is drawing as big a crowd as the combo – so, it may a little difficult to actually measure The Love Within (CreateControl/Infectious). Over one of the most annoying synth noises ever committed to disc, you and the band’s new rhythm section wait a perhaps a little too long for something to happen. And you’re not sure it really ever does. They’ll play it early in the set, and then move on to the songs the crowd want to hear more. Liking your old stuff better than the new stuff may well occur both in the crowd and on the stage.
The enthusiastic mention in the English music press may not have the cachet – or provoke the bump in sales – they once did, but you still wouldn’t knock it back. Step forward City Calm Down, and be anointed. Their ‘young men dressed in black staring moodily off into the distance’ appearance let the NME trot out the Joy Division-into-New Order references, and then added a Killers namecheck to bring them more up to date. They take their synths most seriously on Son (I Oh You), and are rather good at what they do with them.