Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Best of Music 2000-2009 (Part 1/2 - The Unknown Genre)

(A word before I begin. Relax. If you have time, stick on your headphones and lie back. If you're doing stuff on the computer, let the following tunes run in the background. You'll enjoy at least half of what I'm about to play....and if you don't, well...maybe this blog isn't for you. That's right. I'm one of those terrible music snobs.)

The title of this blog comes from an old Steven Wright gag. It's apt here because this collection, like most on this blog, does not follow the 'Five Best'-type formats of other sites. No-one's paying me to make it fit into a small box, so I don't bother trying. This is a list of songs, albums and artists who I've enjoyed in the first decade of the new millennium. I know the decade technically doesn't finish for another year, but we seem to have collectively spurned accuracy for round numbers, so what the hell.

If there's one style of music that's connected with me in the last decade, it's that curious little bird that has no real name. It's country, it's folk, it's pop, it's rock, it's punk, it's even jazz sometimes. It has never been adequately defined...but when you hear it, you know it.

I've never been ashamed to say I love country, which flies in the face of the trite and 'attempted cool' bullshit that people spout when they're asked what kind of music they like: "Oh I listen to anything, except country." One can only assume they've never heard Johnny Cash or Hank Williams Sr. The exponents of the 'new-old' form of country have been lumped in little sub-genres of so-called alternative country. Why I have no idea.

The people below are often accused of subverting the country form, but when you compare them to the current crop of Nashville 'hitmakers' it's obvious they pay much more mind and respect to their musical forebears, both in sentiment and sound. There's no self-important, flag-waving bombast and cheesy, puffy-chested production here. Merely sweet and reverent melody, with simple, spiritual ideas and instrumentation/arrangements that pay due fealty to origins.

Iron & Wine.

In late 2003 (the day Saddam was caught down a hole) I saw The Shins live on their first trip to Australia. Supporting them was a beardy Texan named Sam Beam aka Iron & Wine. It wasn't the first time I'd heard this kind of music, but it does mark the beginning of the love affair with the style. The more people I discovered, the better it became.

M. Ward.

In the mid-00s I was writing occasional album reviews for a local magazine. Their brief was primarily as a 'dance' publication, but luckily for me they did cover other music. Sometimes the editor would leave a CD out especially, but mostly I'd just go through a box of new releases and grab what looked interesting. It was during a forage in the box one day that I happened upon the amazement that is M. Ward.

The album was Transistor Radio and it was a revelation. Here was a guy who sounded as if he'd been transported from the 1920s via a Spector-studio. Of all the music I've listened to in the last ten years, it's M Ward's I find the most compelling and rewarding. That's why he gets two.

My Morning Jacket.

An old friend turned me on to these guys back in 2004. He turned up one day, thrust two CDs at me and said 'You have to listen to these'. I was immediately sceptical but he was insistent. I'm glad he was, for My Morning Jacket proved to be a great listening experience, especially live. They were lovely guys too, coming straight down after the show to have a beer and chat with anyone who hung around. Back then I described them as Southern-fried AC/DC with a sprinkle of Beach Boys and jammed through a big reverb machine. Their sound has undergone mutations since, but their core is the same. This is my favourite MMJ song.

The Decemberists.

I wouldn't put these guys in the same category as those above them. While there is the same reliance on folk, the traditon is more transatlantic. They still deserve a place here. They were another CD box 'accident'. The album in question? 'Her Majesty'. The Decemberists are all pirates and shanties and balladeers, with the occasional pop gem thrown in.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy.

A legend in these circles, Will Oldham has been pumping along for years under various monikers. In the late 90s he assumed the pseudonym Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, which has been with him ever since. My first 'meeting' was in 2005 via 'Superwolf' a collaboration with guitarist Matt Sweeney. Oldham captures the deistic in this style of music, as well as a pervasive feeling that he may be messing with you. Whatever his intent, the results are often beautiful. (There are two songs below, I recommend scrolling to 5:50 to hear 'A Beast for Thee'.)

Fleet Foxes.

More of a pop/light gospel than country/folk feel to this, but beautiful nonetheless and worth of inclusion.

Great Lake Swimmers.

My most recent 'find', GLS are from Canada. They hold pretty close to traditional folk and country, but you can hear that familiar warmth of vocal production among the lo-fi production.

Part Two will be along shortly. It's a rag bag of rock and pop and, basically, everything else that pushed the ol' button these last few years (from what I can remember).

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Funny Subtitle.

Earlier today I watched movie Snatch and came across something funny. As Mickey (Brad Pitt), Turkish (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham) are making their appearance at the second fight, the Oasis instrumental 'Fucking in the Bushes' kicks off. This youtube clip is the fight overlaid with the Oasis song:

The rant you can hear at the beginning of the piece is courtesy of Isle of Wight Festival MC Rikki Farr, who in 1970 took the stage and berated the audience of over half a million: "We put this festival on, you bastards...with a lotta love, we worked for one year for you pigs...and you wanna break our walls down and you wanna destroy us? Well you go to hell!"

In the movie itself you can only hear one line from the Farr sample: 'We put this festival on, you bastards'. The lovely people who did the subtitles for Snatch must have thought this was part of the hubbub leading into the fight and captioned it:

Hehe. Funny thing is, if you look around online for that quote, people have included it as a line from the script.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas, Happy.

This is the third year I've written a Christmas entry...or an entry at Christmas time, anyway. As I write, the local Baptists are moping up a storm with their dirges of praise. It's hot, humid, still, close and oppressive. nearly 40 years in this country and it's now clear that an aversion to this kind of weather is in my genetic make-up. I should have acclimatised by this time, surely. It's loathsome.

Hopefully that's the 'Bah, Humbug' out of the way, but don't bet on it. 2009 has, on a personal note, been one of the worst of my life. Having said that, it's also been one of the best years of my life. So let's concentrate on that. In March and April I was in a play called The Pillowman, which was transformational. I started to feel at home on stage again, after a year or so of feeling very much as if I'd been acting just under the skin of everything. It introduced me to some great and talented people and for that my gratitude knows no bounds, because they made me feel as ig it's all worthwhile. I got my passion back.

I also secured representation this year, probably in large measure to the aforementioned show. I'd been politely nagged for years to get off my butt and get an agent, and now I have one.

In September I was lucky enough to head off on tour again and enjoyed it immensely, especially Tasmania. It's a very special place and one I hope to return to next year, even if only for a few days. 2010 will also see a trip to Melbourne, hopefully in autumn. Like so many actors my friend Nick is moving there early in the new year. he's already locked in an agent so I have high hopes the move will bear early fruit for him. I have one project to take care of mid-year, and a shot at a meaty role a couple of months into 2010, so I'll hang back and see how things pan out. It's certainly on the cards though. I don't think I can do another summer here.

I have an idea for a personal 'creative' project next year. It's not a play or an acting gig per se, but it will possibly involve jumping onstage and sweating bullets. Not going to reveal too much there...just wait and see and if takes shape I'll share.

So...Happy Christmas. For 2010 I wish for all peace and calm and common sense and a measure of rational thought. And all the ice cream you can eat.

Friday, 11 December 2009

In the Dark With The Illuminati.

The other day I was watching Kevins Pollak & Spacey doing Christopher Walken impressions on Youtube. There are many Walken imitators. Plenty of people say Spacey is the best.

Unusually, I left a comment on one of the videos I watched. The next day I received an emailed reply. On the rare occasion I get a response it sounds like it’s coming from some semi-literate shut-in teenager who’s missing parental discipline, vitamin D and possibly a pineal gland. The comment I received may well have been from one of these unfortunates…or an unfortunate of an altogether different kind:

Monday, 7 December 2009

Funny People (Part Two).

Dear reader,

How are you? I hope you are well. I am fine. Considering the entry on Hobart leg of the tour fell by the wayside (much like the Pixies entry back in 2007, I decided to keep the memories mine), I've been tossing up what to write about lately. The last month has seen me appear unexpectedly in a show, A Christmas Carol. I came into the production a month into rehearsal so with only two weeks' prep the whole process from 'reading' to closing night left me sleep-deprived, stressed, disillusioned but ultimately, in a way, rewarded.

That's all that needs to be said about it really. In lieu of a blow-by-blow I've decided to continue the series of 'funny people' started back in July. Some you'll know, some you won't, but all are well worth exploring. Some will get a blurb, but others...well, I'll just let the bits speak for themselves. This first fella's recent unbiquity gives me hope for the species. He'll crop up more than once in this entry, with good reason...

David Mitchell

An average-looking and unassuming chap, David Mitchell has great comedic pedigree, coming as he does from Footlights and years of childhood TV study. Since 2003, when Peep Show premiered, he's been everywhere on British airwaves, from TV panel shows such as Would I Lie To You and the wonderful Stephen Fry-helmed QI to his own sketch show with partner Robert Webb, That Mitchell & Webb Look to radio, as host of BBC Radio 4's 'The Unbelievable Truth'.

Mitchell's comedy is often a massive creamy cake filled with razors. His soft, boyish face and apparent meekness are but a blind for one of the sharpest minds and tongues in comedy for many a long year. He may come across as a bit of a tightly wound loser, but when he cuts loose, whether it's scripted or on the fly, David Mitchell is scalpel sharp, yet one senses no real bitterness in him. On panel shows he's perfectly capable of appearing as if he's going to explode, but within seconds of an expertly-timed, ad hoc rant, he's laughing and smiling, his cherubic face glowing with seeming innocence. This has, on occasion, shown up alleged 'masters' like Paul Merton, who, while being a very funny man at times (those times being the 1980s and 90s) comes across as completely joyless. It's as if his brain is unable to produce dopamine. Mitchell has no such shortcoming. If he so chooses, David will be one of the greats.

Richard Pryor

We move from a potential great to an acknowledged legend. Richard Pryor is considered by many to be the most brilliant stand up comedian ever. He's definitely the most influential. I can't recall the last time I was reading about a comic's influences and the man was not mentioned. My first contact with Richard came via the movie Silver Streak when I was about seven. My brother Liam took us to the Dawn Theatre at Chermside. Here he is in his element though, on stage and in total control.

Joan Rivers

What really needs to be said? She's just wonderful.

Patrick Warburton

An extremely funny man, with the uncanny ability to make even the most innocent and straightforward line hilarious (for those of you who've never done comedy or read a script aloud, it much harder than it sounds). His sleepy, squinty take on a script is always worth watching, even in otherwise pretty boring sitcoms one with David Spade (although Megyn Price is pretty good too). Here he is in his most famous role, as David Puddy in Seinfeld.

Maria Bamford

Maria Bamford has been floating around for years and like many comics before her, seems always to be nipping at the edges of great success without...well, success. Unlike many comics before her, she deserves it. There are those who think they are funny...and telegraph it, thereby automatically making them less funny (like Orny Adams) and then there are the self-deprecating types, like Bamford, whose ability to make a joke out of her own sadness is at a stroke joy-making and rare.

Ricky Gervais

No secret that I'm a fan of Gervais. The guy is so golden he didn't get into the business until his late 30s and it was only after success rained on him that he ventured into stand-up, with immediate success. He's not only golden, he's Mr. Backwards.

Louis C.K.

The abovementioned Gervais has been a great supporter of Louis C.K., with good reason. This bit should have you looking for more:

Dara O'Briain

Dara O'Briain was born in Wicklow, not very far away from where my family comes from in Kildare. Mind you, when you live in Australia nothing in Ireland seems 'very far away'. Fast-talking, faster-thinking, big, tall and pissfunny. My favourite moment here is 1:02-1:09.

Frankie Boyle

If there is one comedian going around today who erases the lines, it's Frankie Boyle.

David Mitchell (Again)