Tag Archives: blues

News & Blues

Just before I resume regular “Official Duites” here, I wanted to take a quick moment to post about… Well, a variety of different things.

First, a big thanks to those who have checked out Two Hands and our first release, the support means a lot!

Second, as a fan of Bandcamp, I was really pleased to see their latest announcement about the addition of an integrated shopping cart. While that may sound like a rather small, inconsequential thing, just from a buyer point of view I can see that will come in very handy – no longer will I need to go through separate transactions on the odd occasion I buy more than one thing. For artists and labels, it means receiving one transaction for multiple purchases, which will cut down on a few assocaited fees¹; so kudos to Bandcamp for this development. I firmly believe these kinds of continual improvements are ensuring Bandcamp is the premier place for online music distribution.

The only feature I’d really like to see them implement now is the ability to purchase a download as a gift for someone else, which I have wanted to do a couple of times and was a feature available on the now defunct Amie Steet. (I think that might be particularly useful to those using Bandcamp as a fundraising platform, especially so if the pricing format is a flat rate rather than ‘X-or-more’, which makes every purchase count). I realise there are “workarounds”, but a few times I’ve purchased an album and thought someone else would really enjoy it afterwards – being able to make a purchased download exclusively available to someone other than the purchaser would be awesome.

In other news, along with a few really awesome releases that I need to talk about very soon – Wreck And Refernce’s rather good Black Cassette being one of them – I’ve been listening to quite a bit of old blues music lately – mostly the stuff that falls under Delta, electric, folk and harmonica blues, so artists like Little Walter, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson (II), Howlin Wolf and Son House et al, have been getting quite a bit of attention.

I’m not going to launch into a full-on post about the music, it’s history or why it’s attracted my attention lately, but just because I can, I’m going to post Glory Be by Lightnin’ Hopkins, a track that’s really just brilliant.

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1. This actually depends on how individual transactions are processed; which I don’t have any definite insight to as yet. However, I do assume that as each purchase is individually processed via PayPal, each transaction would attract the base fee from PayPal; which in Oz is 30¢ for each one – not much, but it’d add up to a fair portion of any profit under certain circumstances.

Image: Blues by Bénédicte Mackengle

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Inga Liljeström – Black Crow Jane

June is the first, official month of winter in Australia, but it’s been damn cold at night for quite a number of weeks. While I’m not yet at the stage where I need to re-think my negative position on the Snuggie, hearing about the release of a new album by Inga Liljeström was welcome news indeed – I’ll take her smouldering ember-like voice to warm my nights over a blanket with sleeves any time.

I’m sure everyone has felt that mix of excitement and reserve when a favoured artist releases something new, particularly when – after three years of keeping record – one of their previous albums remains the most played out of my entire collection. Elk is a breathlessly good album, pretty much perfectly capturing in sound the fire and ice sensation of love, desire, intimacy and everything in between.

By comparison, it’s fair to say that Black Crow Jane is a little older, wiser and more incisive than any of its predecessors. It’s also more resolved, even if at times the subject matter is slightly less so, and perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t have the slightest hint of becoming jaded in the process. Love is still sacred in this world; and if Elk was about moments that sear the heart, Black Crow Jane shows that those experiences can make if fierce, but don’t stop it from having the capacity to remain quietly and beautifully vulnerable at times.

Jazz and blues were always a noticable undercurrent to Inga’s unique, film noir blend of trip-hop, rock and folk; whereas before they highlighted moments of yearning, mourning and wonder, on this album it’s soulful, sultry and sharply seductive. The sheer and intimate nature of previous work made albums like Elk incredibly bold, despite their vulnerability. This album is no less intimate or bold, but there’s a definite shift in where and how such things are shown. This time around, sound-wise, the comparisons to both Björk and PJ Harvey (which is not uncommon when it comes to talking about any strong female artist, particularly if their work contains the slightest hint of electronica and/or rock) are not far off the mark; Black Crow Jane has elements akin to the brash, bluesy-rock honesty of Harvey, as well as the playful, curious and occasionally delicately blissful charm of Björk, but (of course) is unmistakably Inga Liljeström.

The entire album can be streamed online via SoundCloud, and purchased in Australia via Groovescooter. It’s also available from France’s Emergence Music, with Euro distribution.

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Heinali and Matt Finney – Ain’t No Night

As Ain’t No Night’s release date is still TBA, this is the artwork for Candidate

I spent a while trying to put my finger on just exactly what it is this album reminds me of, steadfastly resisting the urge to use yet another correlation to the realm of films, but I can’t help it, really. I spent a good decade wanting to work in film, and as a consequence a significant portion of my twenties was spent watching them, devising and half-finishing scripts, and idolising Jim Henson (amongst many others, but, you know…the dude was awesome. He made a frog ride a bike, which was an exceedingly difficult thing to do).

Why am I even talking about Jim Henson? Pretty much because he created vastly intricate scenes that were gone in the blink of an eye. His visual craft was such that sometimes you only understood how damn impressive it was if you studied it carefully and properly, otherwise it was a deceptively simple, but pretty (or scary, as was often the case in The Dark Crystal) picture. And that’s relevant.

Those two paragraphs aside, believe it or not I intended to mention Hal Hartley, but I’m getting a bit off focus here.

I mentioned this duo at the end of last month, and this release – three weeks later I’m still impressed by it. The last album I reviewed (Conjoined), I liked – to be honest, I favour most things that subvert any pre-existing ideas I have about the way I think things should be (i.e. spoken word and music don’t belong together). Ain’t No Night, feels and sounds like a more assured and fully realised album, to the point where I completely neglected to be aware of that idea. The unison between words and music is almost seamless here, which is not at all to say that there aren’t two unique and distinctive voices at work.

Clearly, I’m not American, so I can’t claim to have any authority on what is (or what makes) an American story, but this is where the Hal Hartley reference comes in, who is American, and told (what I take to be) American stories. Matt Finney’s lyrics – and delivery – remind me of the underlying narrative in Hartley’s films, where the story, the actions and reactions are in plain view, but the viewpoint itself generally comes from the audience – rarely did the actors in a Hartley film imbue their performance with any overt clues as to what they were thinking or feeling; you have the scene and the words…and yourself.

I may be wrong, but I believe this is one of the greater achievements of art, if not its outright intention – that is, to hold a lens to a story or concept – a reality – that is simultaneously reflective, ultimately giving the audience (of any art) an opportunity to participate no matter how introspective or personal the story actually is. Matt Finney achieves this on Ain’t No Night, as exemplified quite well on the title track (a gritty, bluesy number that alternates between acoustic folk and heavier doom/’gaze), with lyrics that, in moments of otherwise silence, have the capacity (and/or tendency) to creep into somone’s consciousness; in a way that – even if no one’s ever said them to you – can make hearing them feel like some sort of vicarious deja vu (if that’s possible).

During the spoken word sections, Heinali’s music is generally subdued, in the same kind of way storm clouds gather and roll across the sky before they break – they’re quiet, but their presence and imminent storm is unmissable. The compositions on this album are a force to be reckoned with indeed, ranging from subtle to palpable.

The intracacies of the music again lie just beneath the more overt surface. The instrumental sections in the first track, In All Directions, are quite searing at first (like when a storm first breaks), but as the song progresses, the sudden and startling ferocity of it recedes and other layers are revealed. To me, it sounds like the musical translation of an irrational, emotional reaction, followed by a gradual calm as more information is brought to attention.

Which is what made me think of Jim Henson, by the way. One of my favourite scenes in The Dark Crystal lasts for about 3 seconds or so – a straightforward pan across a forest that acts as the lead-in to another (story-developing) scene. At a casual glance, it’s a nice scene showing some of the quirky flora and fauna that populates the world, but it’s an amazingly intricate scene if you pay just a little bit more attention to it. The more detail you unravel, the more you understand about the world Henson is trying to show – same thing here with Heinali’s music. It is aesthetically very easy on the “eye”, but you could give that eye a good workout if you had the inclination.

There’s definitely quite a bit going on, both lyrically and musically. It’s like very finely tuned chaos – neither overwhelming or confusing, which may or may not have to do with the relative succinctness of four tracks, but at 35 minutes I warrant it has more to do with careful use of light and shade.

Ain’t No Night‘s official release date is as yet unannounced, but is due late spring (I presume that’s US) on Paradigms Recordings.

In the meantime, you can further whet your appetite with Candidate, their take the Joy Division track.

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30 Day Music Challenge: Day 26 – A Song I Can Play On An Instrument

The harmonica is the only instrument I ever took lessons for. Pity I was young, dumb, and not paying enough attention. I can do the wailing whistle thing, and I can do the chug… Does it sound anywhere near as good as this guy?

The answer to that is a simple hell no. I used to walk around when I was 15 playing that little riff and thinking I was awesome. I wasn’t – I sucked and blowed in both senses of the words.

Anyway, that’s that. I can (half) play this song. Woot.

Oh, and when I was 14 I was staying with a friend who had a keyboard. I can play the keyboard a little, and I can kinda read music. I have to translate the notes – section by section – then learn them by heart, then practice long enough on the keyboard to play the song fluently. She had some sheet music, so I wound up spending a weekend teaching myself to play Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx. That was time well spent.

I can also play Greensleeves on the recorder and various nursery rhymes on either that or a keyboard. I’m all about diversity.

 

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Deserts, Mountains & Psychedelics: Adrift For Days Interview

Adrift For Days‘ debut album, The Lunar Maria (released 2010), is undoubtedly my favourite Australian album of recent years. With it’s sedate, psychedelic, doom-laden  sludge, infused with blues and tribal elements, it’s safe to say very few Aussie albums have impressed me both immediately and to such an extent that I had to ask just where the hell this came from; and by that token, what else I’ve been missing out on in this vast country of mine.

Who better to ask than the guys responsible for making me a born-again Oz music noob? Mick (Kaslik) and Lachlan (R. Doomsdale) were kind enough to spend a little time answering some questions, starting with how this all came to pass in the first place.

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Pillars And Tongues Daytrotter Session (3rd March, 2011)

I had something of a full circle moment the other day when I saw Pillars And Tongues had a new Daytrotter Session available (recorded back in Spetember last year, available to download March 3rd).

I had not long discovered Daytrotter when I took a quick listen to their debut session from February, 2009. Back then I was intrigued just enough to bookmark it, promising myself I’d come back later and take a proper listen. It took me a few weeks to do so. In a odd coincidence, I chose March 3rd, posting about it the same day simply because I thought it very necessary to tell everyone about it.

That day I was instantly enamoured – the kind of enamoured where you can’t help but insist absolutely everyone must hear it too, and inbetween that insistence you spend many other moments listening yourself and finding as much else as you can – information, music, whatever is out there.

This time around I wasted no time in acquiring the session, though I have spent the better part of a week listening to it before ultimately, once more, finding it very necessary to tell everyone about it.

Most people, including myself, tend to perplex a little over describing the music of P&T, (believe me, there are good reasons I haven’t linked to my first post!), but the most common summary is folkish drone (or vice versa – droneish folk). Others tend to veer a little towards the metaphysical; I’ve seen mesmerising, spiritual and even holy used. For the time being, I’m going to continue with my original position, but tone it down somewhat and simply suggest it’s music you need to hear.

Check out both sessions here.

 

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Clara Engel – Secret Beasts

 

Ah, “categories”, how I do have a love/hate relationship with thee.

Once in a blue moon they’re totally, like, my BFF. Many other times, much like the language I just used, they’re a particularly jarring thorn in my side, begging careful attention in order to understand, but ultimately the desire to abandon completely. Especially so when something takes a step beyond the aural plane and lands a foot in the visual, such as Clara Engel‘s Secret Beasts. Then, as has been well documented, I veer towards genres generally relegated to the cinematic over the musical. Let’s try for neutral ground and simply say performance art.

I’ve been here before, trying to convey – in words – the free-form element in a recorded piece of work. That impression you sometimes get that the sound you are hearing, have heard, will suddenly, somehow, go in a different direction than it did last time. Logic dictates that the music, once recorded and in your possession, will forever maintain a single, unchangeable state. But art can, and often will, defy that logic and fluctuate somewhere between memory and sensory perception, allowing you to alter its forms and direction.

It’s interesting to note in this brief documentary that Clara mentions her work remains somewhat unfinished, referring to them as sketches rather than perfected pieces. Perhaps in the absence of that refinement, (for lack of a better word, for what is refinement other than the selective stripping away and/or re-shaping of work), in retaining a more original, unchanged state, the argument could be made that the work is more complete. Or, at the very least, with their forms generally untampered with, they are a little more free to traverse multiple lines – and you can’t  err by colouring outside the lines if the lines themselves have not been made finite.

I can, however, outline a few things myself. Secret Beasts draws on contemporary jazz, blues and folk influences, with a sound that is most succinctly delineated as avant garde when taking into account the underlying vocal work, choral arrangements and general ambience. On the straighter edges, the music is brassy, often owing more to Clara Engel’s vocals than the instrumentation, the former being a dominant but not overblown presence, the latter occasionaly deceptively more subdued that you might first realise.

Beneath those two elements lurk the less linear moments, not necessarily requiring but inspiring interpretation on behalf of the listener¹. I’ll keep it concise and defer going into detail on where I went visually when listening to these songs, but I will say that I imagine they’d lend themselves very well indeed to a variety of visual arts – they managed to set me a stage where a veritable cast of different things emerged and…I’m going to use the word behaved over performed – performed infers a more scripted presentation for rather than an action with.

This gives me the idea that had they been ‘perfected’, the songs could well have revealed, rather than inferred, the titled Secret Beasts. The real question, though, is perhaps whether or not those moments where you sense that there is something more or different about to happen, leading you to take that nuance, draw it out from the music and into your own world, comes from the music or from yourself – or more to the point, whose Secret Beasts are you really meeting?

Along with other work, you can find Clara Engel’s Secret Beasts at Bandcamp.

 

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1: I maintain this happens on some level with all music, hence why I also insist that I never talk about what a musician wrote (or played), but rather about what I heard, which are often two different creatures.