Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Good Talent Is Right Outside Your Door

So i'm not always the biggest advocate for promoting local music. Oh sure, i've been bludgeoning readers with my obsession for Big Scary again and again (p.s. they're brilliant) but aside from that it's not often that you'll see these pages filled with picketing Australian - let alone Melbourne-based - bands (not like the wonderful Who The Bloody Hell Are They? blog).
But lately I've found myself browsing through the local produce, picking them up and obvserving them in the harsh light, checking them for bumps and bruises, and taking the freshest and ripest of them to heart.
Not least the following records. Both debuts from artists who aren't distinctly Australian, but you know what? I think that's a good thing. Music that's seen as OZ-tralian lately seems to be cringe-worthy hip-hop, tedious roots rock or just knuckle-dragging neanderthal noise.
Good music and patriotism don't necessarily go hand in hand.
Perhaps the following acts are great because they are independent, untainted by the fingerprints of major-label concerns, but I'd like to think that it's because they privelege their character and individuality over trying to conform to what the radios will play. 

The Tiger & Me - From A Liar To A Thief  (Vitamin Records, 2010)

Taking in hints of jazz, folk, pop, indie and even classical music, it becomes obvious from even the most cursory listen that The Tiger & Me have honed their unique sound through tireless gigging and tinkering. Encouraged by a romantic vision, the resulting effect is of a roaring twenties speakeasy troupe gatecrashing a cabaret show. Even carrying over to their rich artwork (a customised deck of cards with art-deco-meets-wild-west-saloon flourishing) as well as their vivid image-laden lyrics. ‘Til Sunrise puts it best, a group “always singing the blues to the hookers, the harlots/the chivalrous charlatans.” 

There’s a glut of talent here with no less than three songwriters contributing to the twelve numbers on offer, with no weak link among them. Each brings a particular characteristic to the group’s core sound. Ade Vincent plays the charming rogue, Jane Hendry the crystalline chanteuse and Tobias Selkirk lends a melancholic earthiness. Whether they’re trading lines (Oh My Darlin’, The Big Trapeze) or combining their voices into tight harmonies (particularly the dying moments of Many Things), it’s always a delight.

There’s even time for a handful of collaborators to share the spotlight, including the co-written Oh My Darlin’ from one Kelly Day (moonlighting from Hendry’s other group, the vocal quartet The Nymphs) as well as all manner of guest brass and woodwind muscling in on an already teeming palette of mandolins, ukuleles, banjos, pianos, violin, accordion, bass and drums.

This all-hands-in approach recalls The Cat Empire, particularly on the raucous sea shanties they often turn to for their cathartic choruses. The Circus or The Zoo winds through an atmospheric nightscape into a cacophonic, marching sing-a-long, while Lead A Merry Dance Around The Fire is ignited by the same tipsy camaraderie. The vocal interplay and impressive musicianship is akin to former hopefuls George and elsewhere Many Things and Once A Poet possess a gothic sweep that Nick Cave would be proud of. 

Meanwhile Dangerous Creatures, Half-Light and Lady Grey demonstrate a more tender and intimate side to their sound, quieter moments that bring to mind the lilting, rustic charm of early Augie March. That’s not forgetting the chamber-pop narrative whimsy of The Decmeberists that informs I Left The Wolves Behind That Night and Lead A Merry Dance Around The Fire. All the while the clean production enables the band’s ambitious arrangements, with each pluck of a string or hammer of a key given clear definition and space. 

It’s fitting that a deck of cards should adorn the front of From A Liar To A Thief, because no matter which way you cut the deck, The Tiger & Me play a winning hand – shuffling confidently between their many musical suits and moods. If you like your music articulate, expressive and theatrical, The Tiger & Me delivers it wrapped with an insidious arch of the eyebrow and a knowing wink. 

Check out the band's MySpace for tunes and the band's website for gigs and info - they really are a sight live. Oh, and they were kind enough to give me props

Lindsay Phillips - Varning (Departed Sounds, 2010)
The first thing that you’ll notice about Lindsay Phillips is that voice. Gnarled and raggedy at the edges like a country singer, yet gravitating around an eccentric, and florid centre. Imagine if Nick Cave had studied opera, or Antony ‘and The Johnsons’ Hegarty doing his best Johnny Cash impersonation and you’re halfway there. Full of character and distinct intonation, it’s certainly a voice that’s going to get Phillips noticed. Beneath that paint-stripping timbre however, is the pen of a songwriter whose earned his craft as much as he’s learned it. Despite his CV that covers choirs, rock bands and even death metal (can you imagine?), it’s evident that in the purest pairing of voice and acoustic guitar he has found his match. 

A telling summation comes in Phillips’ own words, that he has “vastly outstripped any sort of showmanship that I might have mustered in the past.” What remains is a hauntingly direct sound that taps into a economical mode of songwriting, buoyed by a melodic sensibility as well as keen observational lyrics. Take You Got Over All Those Barbed Wire Fences’ opening verse:

“who can only know just what they know/stoke the fire/that you’ve been feeding/you desired/know that when the wind blows/that you got over all those barbed wire fences”

It’s this kind of wisened view matched by a melodic tenacity that is the bedrock of Phillips’ writing.

Elsewhere the title track is a musical interlude with foreboding vocal harmonies and the strumming of a Spanish guitar, it wouldn’t sound out of place as the soundtrack to a spaghetti western. So too Legion, as it paints a vast landscape with its dark country strum, enhanced by vocal accompaniment from Melissa O’Rourke. Whose voice offsets equally well with Phillips’ croon on Infinality and When The Spirit Dies Young. The latter an album highlight with its rueful words: “and you try to find meaning/ in the soil/in the air you’ve been breathing/in the eyes of those you know/there was love and now they’re cast in stone.”

After a string of EP’s and singles, Phillips’ debut album proper is a confident statement of intent, with a focus and desire that befits his moody take on the acoustic troubadour. At risk of inciting hyperbole, it’s tempting to call it Bon Iver for the murder ballad set. 

Varning’s ten cuts sound like they’re as old as the hills. A fact that, along with Phillips unique voice, may find him unfairly ignored as a nostalgic relic. That’s not to say it’s a style for everybody; something that Varning makes no gumption about ignoring, but for those willing to listen – there’s a charm and sparkle waiting to reward the attentive. 

You can hear the entirety of Varning over at SoundCloud then purchase a copy at the man's website

And for those of you that still remember Demtel adverts... "But wait! There's more!"
Here's some other equally talented and individualistic Australian artists who've been tickling my earbones lately. 

Their recent support slot with Vampire Weekend certainly sparked my interest. Their Talking Heads inspired indie rock has coloured me intrigued for their forthcoming debut Bliss Release

 Sharing management and producers (Francois Tetaz) with the wonderful Bertie Blackman demonstrates her pedigree. The taster of her forthcoming album on MySpace shows her talent. Think the smoky velvet of a jazz singer mees the acrobatic flair of indie rock with inventive backing to match. (*secretive whisper* you'll be reading a lot more about Kimbra in these pages very soon. Watch this space.)

Thom Yorke. Jazz. Talk Talk. Choral Folk. Painterly Atmosphere. If that sequence of words excites you, may I suggest you invest in his latest, Mostly Winter, Sometimes Spring.

Yeah, yeah I mentioned them last post, but the album's FREE goddamn it. Just head to here one of this year's most promising debuts is yours.

oh, ummm... and