Brush Up On: MUSIC

Well this could be committing blog suicide – I’m about to reveal my music tastes and possibly lose many of my followers (which are few and very hard won so it would be a shame), but it really is time for me to brush up on music – I’m still listening to Wham. I really am…“Another summer, another vacation is over…” And then, I had a dalliance with Damian Leith, because his voice drew me in and, well he’s Irish and all Irishmen are cool yes? No, apparently not.

But then the other day I was introduced to Birdie singing Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” (thanks Jane). My eyes filled up, my tummy flip-flopped and I remembered that there is a whole world of this kind of musical beauty out there just waiting to have this kind of visceral effect on me. And I realised that I am no longer cool. Was perhaps never cool. Surely not, Wham were always cool weren’t they? Particularly when you add the !

So I gave a bit of a call out (or to coin a more appropriate – slightly bogan – expression, a ‘sing out’) to my friends to help get with the groove. Wait, that’s not cool either is it? Is ‘cool’ even cool? Anyway, I have worked my way through everyone’s recommendations, which took AGES but can’t really be described as work. It was enlightening and fun and inspiring and everyone should do it.

I didn’t like all I heard, and I was going to critique all of it, but it was too huge a task and would have turned into my longest winded post ever (and I know, that’s saying something). So I’m just going to list the besties, which I am more comfortable with anyway because I don’t feel qualified to say negative stuff about music because frankly I know more about algebra. I won’t be talking genres or styles or anything technical, just how the music feels to me.

What I did figure out is that I’m a song girl, which means that while I can appreciate talent etc, I am more likely to be won over by a song than by an artist, which means I am the perfect i-pod, i-tunes user because I don’t want whole albums, I want that song I heard in that nice cafe and that other one I heard on the Brigid Jones soundtrack. I might listen to more of the artist’s work but most often won’t take to it in the same way. So I will be listing the artist and the song that hooked me in.

Anyway, on with it. My newly discovered, top 10 favourite musical sensations, in no particular order (I’ll spare you my old ones except to say they include John Denver):

BIRDY 

She is a (FO) 14 year old Brttish girl (real name Jasmine Van der Bogaerde) who hit the big time with her first release – a cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”. It hit number 1 in Australia. She released her first albumn, Birdy, late last year.

[Before I go on, the lyrics to Skinny Love troubled me (“Suckle on the hope in light brassiere” WTF?) until I searched for their meaning and found that a skinny love is a love that is malnourished and cannot be sustained. Bon Iver was not singing to his petite girlfriend with small bra.]

The Hook: Well I think I held my breath all the way through Skinny Love because of its sheer beauty. It literally stopped me in my tracks and reached all those cobwebby parts of me that hadn’t stirred since Bono told me all he wants is me. I wanted to listen to it all day – and did, still am at regular intervals, as well as trying to sing it myself with my guitar (ba-bow). NB the original version doesn’t move me in the same way. Sorry Bon dude.

The Artist: While her voice has me mesmerised and most of it has that superb, haunting feel without being overproduced, none of the other songs had the same effect on me as Skinny Love. “Never Forget You” is lovely, as is “1901”, and I’m terribly impressed with her piano playing. And given that she’s only 14 I can’t wait to see what’s to come out of this warbling baby Birdy. She gets 8/10 + 2 for sheer potential. I want to listen to her while rowing a clinker on a lake.

RODRIGUEZ / SUGAR MAN

Sixto Rodriguez

This is amazing stuff… This dude is the subject of a recent documentary, Searching for Sugarman. Detroit based Sixto Rodrigeuz recorded his first albumn, Cold Fact in 1969. It flopped. Rodriguez disappeared back into work, study, local politics and the real world. Meantime – and unbeknowns to him or the US public – he rose as a cult figure in South Africa, becoming the soundtrack to liberation from apartheid. His fans believed rumours that he had died in a variety of bizarre ways. By 1998 he was playing sold out arena shows in South Africa and Australia. Now, he is back in the spotlight with the release of the doco. An unorthodox success story.

The Hook: Sugarman is the single I first heard and the one that pulled me in (along with some influence from his story no doubt). It is a simple melody with superb lyrics. It features some out there (slightly spooky and one screechy) sound effects which I’m not sure about, and makes me wonder whether said Sugarman is a coke dealer, but it is a lovely trip. It’s particularly nice with the retrospective knowledge that this singer was lost to the world for a while. Sort of wistful, nostalgic, poetic, slightly dusty. If I had a vintage shop I’d play it there all the time. I’d love to have a vintage shop.

The Artist: His albumn, Cold Fact, is filled with thoughtful, intelligent songs that don’t faff about too much with musical gymnastics and dramatics. I could be way off but it sort of reminds me of a cross between Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond. Rodriguez is a poet with a brilliant, hearty voice. I think “I Wonder” would have been another hook for me had I heard it first. He’s a wonderer like me. “Wonder I do….” Should be played on vinyl.

CLARE BOWDITCH 

I’d heard of Clare Bowditch well before her role on my favourite telly show, Offspring , but there is no doubt I paid her more attention after. I love this chick. She’s the same age as me, is a mother, a writer, a social justice and environmental advocate, a mentor to emerging creatives, a social commentator and clearly she and I would be best friends forever if we actually knew each other. She is also utterly beautiful and sings like a fair dinkum angel.

The Hook: Yes well it was definitely, “You Make Me Happy”, the song she wrote for Offspring and her fist to reach the Top 40. It was love at first listen, and I don’t think it’s because she sang it with one of my idols, Eddie Perfect (who by the way wrote this hilarious song for Offspring). I have it in the car and my children love it too. That voice, that tune…sublime. 

The Artist: Well of course Clare’s voice would pull all over songs over the line for me, the songs I don’t like as much are the ones when I can’t hear it as clearly as I’d like – the faster ones. “Songbird” is another beauty. I just love that her voice is so unaffected – no exaggerated accents, no contrived quirky peculiarities*. I’d listen to Clare anytime, and do.

THE KILLERS 

This is an American rock outfit (note lingo use) formed in 2001 but sound like circa 1987. They have sold over 15 million albums worldwide and I’ve only just heard of them.  They made it big in 2003 when they signed with a British label and will be headlining Australia’s Big Day Out in 2013. Woop.

The Hook: Well these fellas had me at “Runaways” – the first single from their latest record. I just love it; it’s all ‘smoking bark on the beach on a long summer night wishing you could kiss The Boy’. I feel like I can do anything to this song: housework, running training, drown out the kids and dream I’m a nineteen year old rock star, dance, run away…

The Artists: Most of the Killers songs I’ve heard have touched me in similar ways – I feel like they are singing about my teenagerhood. Hormonal nostalgia fills me when I listen to them, in a similar way to the Don Henley song “Boys of Summer”, what a classic (or is that just daggy?). Lead singer Brandon Flowers (hot BTW) has a killer voice (ha ha). But who is he reminding me of? Are they some kind of 80’s tribute band to songs just out of my memory’s reach? It’s like trying to remember a name on the tip of my tongue. It’s killing me, (hee hee). Wait, is it Duran Duran? This is music I would blast through my speakers when I have a party in the shearing shed (unlikely but hey). It makes me want to be 17 again (also unlikely).

FLORENCE & THE MACHINE 

Oh so I’ve fallen in love with another voice that relies on pure beauty rather than quirks*. Florence & The Machine are a British indie band made up of lead singer Florence Welch, Isabella (Machine) Summers and a collaboration of other backing artists. They kicked butt right from the start with their debut album, Lungs (great name) hit number 1 in the UK charts and winning multiple awards.

The Hook: Well I have to admit that in this instance it wasn’t a song that hooked me, it was The Voice of Florence (it deserves capitals). This is a truly powerful voice; you can’t not listen to it. In fact I had heard The Voice before I’d heard of the band or any of their songs.I was given the name of the band as something I should listen to and I listened to “Never Let Me Go”, which was familiar, very beautiful and all, but just so, I don’t know, big.

The Artists All the songs are big power ballad kind of affairs. But I most often like the beginning and endings of them, when Flo isn’t at her most powerful. I’d really like to hear her sing an an entire song without belting (a new singing expression I’ve just learnt, which is basically when singers sing loudly in the their higher register – in their chest voices as opposed to their head voices). I think this band is amazing and if they toured to Tasmania I would JUMP to see them. They would be astonishing live (and that’s something coming from me given that I don’t often get huge thrills from live music). Also great cinema music. Florence and the Machine lose points only because I am jealous and because if I try to sing along I sound like a try hard trying hard and look like I’m going to bust something vital. Singalongability (and not busting something vital) is very important to me.

TRAIN

Well I pretty much like this band because the lead singer, Pat Monahan, is adorable (well his talent and the band’s songwriting is a factor too). I thought I was past that kind of puerile silliness but nope, apparently I’m a sucker for dark handsome fells whose not afraid of a ballad. I have sung along to Train’s smash hits, “Drops of Jupiter” and “Hey Soul Sister” over the years but frankly didn’t know it was them. Pat and his Train mates have been together since 1998. They have released 4 albums but are yet to see the success of their second – the one with Drops of Jupiter on it (called, funnily enough, Drops of Jupiter. Funnily is a funny word). They are from San Francisco which just sounds cool.

The Hook:  Well as I said, Pat was the hook. But I don’t think I’m lying to say that I wouldn’t have listened on if I hadn’t liked the first song I heard (that I knew to be theirs) – 50 Ways to Say Goodbye. Very catchy tune. The video of this song is very entertaining and features The Hoff by the way. But it was when I realised that If It’s Love is theirs that I really fell for them. What a brilliant song – “I love you from your toes to your face” – such a sweet line. Yes it is boys, it is love, and Pat I love you from your leather pants to your Indiana Jones scar.

The Artists: Well these fells look and sound like they just love what they do, and that it a powerful drawcard. There doesn’t seem to be any angst here, and there so often is when it comes to music. All the songs I’ve heard have a nice message, if not downright lovely. Even their song, ‘Hopeless’ makes me feel good. I love that their sense of humour and warmth comes through in their music. Shut up Meg, You’re starting to sound ingratiating and starry eyed, like Pat might read this or something. (Hi Pat xxx). But seriously, here’ s the exception to my song-girl norm – I’ll take the lot.

SARAH McLACHLAN 

Well here’s a voice (do I keep saying that? I think I’m a sucker for a beautiful mezzo-soprano – which is another newly known fact). This wonder woman hails and wails from Canada and she’s 6 years older than me which I LOVE about her (most of my new music loves are a generation or so below me). She was the voice of singing Jessie in Toy Story 2, which always brought a tear to my eye. She has produced 2 children and 7 albums, selling over 40 million worldwide (records not children, clearly).

The Hook: Was the opening lines of “Ben’s Song”, which I found on you tube after being advised to look her up. Hair stand up stuff – in a good way I mean, with goosebumps. I moved on to her huge and tragically beautiful hit, “In the Arms of an Angel” which I already had on my i-pod without really knowing it was hers (sorry Sarah) and was surprised to see it was first released in 1998 on the soundtrack of the not great film, City of Angels.

The Artist: Well she’s a voice but she’s not just a voice; she surely knows what she’s doing. I’m just learning the guitar (bar chords are still a miracle) and when I read something like this, I am in awe (skim if you’re not a guitar person):

“For years, Sarah McLachlan’s main stage guitar has been a late-’70s Larrivée C-10 with rosewood back and sides, a spruce top, and a Florentine cutaway. The guitar is amplified with a Fishman Rare Earth Blend (which combines a magnetic pickup and an internal mic), running through a Radial JDV Mk3 active DI. She has also performed with Canadian-made Morgan guitars, and at the time of the interview, she was trying out Taylor models with Expression System electronics. McLachlan strings her guitars with phosphor-bronze or vintage bronze Dean Markleys. She uses medium-lights (.012–.054) for her guitars in E A D G A D and D A D G A D tunings. Sometimes she uses lights (.011–.046) and raises E A D G A D a whole step so her capo positions can be two frets lower. For instance, in the past she played “Building a Mystery” in E A D G A D with a capo at the seventh fret, but now she tunes to F# B E A B E and capoes at the fifth fret. McLachlan’s capo of choice is a Dunlop C-Four”

I didn’t even know there were ‘capos of choice’ I just went for the one I don’t have to screw on. I have only listened to some of her stuff, and I’m pleased because I have so much more to meet. It’s like I’ve never read “Cold Comfort Farm” and have all that lovliness to come; I really hope I’m not disappointed – I have a wary feeling that she could get a little OTT with the emotion, but hope to be wrong. Oh and I love her for putting out a Christmas album, often thought of as daggy. I have a weakness for Christmas carols and I’m going to buy her versions – might make Christmas bearable. Her video for “World On Fire” is also a winner in my books. I’ll be listening to her when I have PMS and want to wallow, and when I’m strolling along a beach in winter.

SARA BAREILLES

This American singer has been nominated for 3 Grammys and has sold 4 million singles and 1 million albums in the US. Her first big hit single was ‘Love Song‘, which pitched her into the US charts. When she was at UCLA studying communications she wrote the song, ‘Gravity’ for her campus a Capella group. It was later released on one of her albums and used in the soundtrack to hit US TV series, Brothers and Sisters. She has released 4 albums.

The Hook: Definitely “Once Upon Another Time”, the song she performs acapella (without music), which is testament to her magical voice. I feel like this woman should be onstage singing a love song to a beautiful prince. I listen to this with my eyes closed and have to be very still. She also performs a lovely (oh so slightly cheesy – but hey I like a bit of cheese) duet with Jon Mclaughlin called “Summer is Over“, which I’ll be listening to while dead heading the roses or frolicking on the beach with the children.

The Artist: Well she does lean toward musical theatre sound in my mind, which is not a bad thing for musical tragics like me (I know all the word of the Les Mis songs) but may be a little off putting to others. But that’s definitely just one side to her. Her killer cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ”I’m On Fire‘ is raw and amazing, as is the one she did of U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For‘. Could it be that I  prefer her singing other people’s songs? I’m not sure, I’m yet to be swayed as much as I was with ‘One Upon Another Time’. I do enjoy her ‘Love Song’ and I think there will be more like this to come. I’ll stay tuned.

BON IVER 

This is really heart achingly beautiful stuff if you feel like listening to someone who sounds utterly broken hearted most of the time. Sometimes I feel like shouting, “Get over it dude, come one, there are shags to be had out there”. Other times, like when I’m writing something sad or feeling pensive, this music is perfect. Bon Iver is an American folk band formed in 2007 by indie-folk singer/musician Justin Vernon. After a serious health diagnosis and a major break up, he took himself off to a Wisconsin cabin to wallow, recuperate and write music. In 3 months he had written most of the Bon Iver debut album, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’, which has since won huge critical acclaim. The name ‘Bon Iver’ is a play on what the French say to each other in winter – “Bon Hiver” (good winter).

The Hook: Well I was interested in listening to them because of Birdy’s cover of their “Skinny Love” (see above), but it fell a little flat, to be honest, after Birdy. It was further listening and the discovery of other songs like ‘Flume’ and ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ and  ‘Holocene‘, with this melancholic, atmospheric beauty that pulled me in.

The Artists: It’s sort of like listening to a non-Aboriginal version of Gurrumul – all stirring and wonderful without knowing what the hell he’s on about….”Only love is all maroonGluey feathers on a flumeSky is womb and she’s the moon”… ???? , yep the lyrics are waaaay over my head in most cases, and I suspect this Justin dude is slightly weird (or maybe I’m just obtuse), but it’s all very fascinating. And there are some sounds I’ve never heard before, which suggests he’s quite liberal with the variety of instruments he uses (and probably skilled at them all). Such unique stuff; not trying to be like anyone else. I’d like to see how many more Bon Iver songs are swiped, remixed and brought to the attention of the greater masses. I hope not too many, they are mostly lovely just the way they are. Nice to have on in the background I reckon, or to calm me when I’m feeling irritable.

SIA FURLER 

Here’s another Aussie crooner going places. Her single “Taken For Granted” hit the big time in 2000 in the UK. 10 years later she was nominated for 6 ARIAs, winning 3 including best independent release and best pop release. She’s 37 and was born into music – her parents being in a rockabilly band in South Australia called The Soda Jerx. She has a famous snaggletooth (no, this is not me adding a random made up fact) and discovered her voice in a karaoke bar in Italy when she was 17. She has released 6 albums to date.

The Hook: Actually it was her name. Sia Furler is such a great songstress name I wanted to see if it is a stage name. It’s not. Her full name is Sia Kate Isobelle Furler. Brilliant. Having found that out (and spending some time wondering what stage name I would choose for myself and whether I should get one of my teeth snaggled), I thought I should listen to a song or two. The first one that grabbed me was the duet she did with Katie Noonan (another Aussie gem), ‘Sweet One‘. Gorgeous. Then I discovered that it’s her incredible voice that features in David Guetta’s Titanium (I thought she sounded familiar). This sealed the deal.

The Artist: She’s had some cool collaborations in her time, which is testament to her lovely talent. As well as Katie Noonan, she’s worked with Christine Aguilera, Shakira, David Guetta and Afrojack. Some of her songs have a tendency to be a bit long winded, but if it’s playing in the background this doesn’t matter. Her ‘Lullaby‘ was featured in the soundtrack of the Matt Damon film, Hereafter (love that film – you should watch it). She has some very coll covers too – including Cindi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ and Madonna’s ‘Oh Father’. Her music is generally great for when you’re feeling wallowy and want a bit of self pity time (then you can pop out of it with the catchy little crowd pleaser, ‘Clap Your Hands‘). Love your work Sia Kate Isobelle Furler.

Now I know I said I’d only talk new discoveries, but perhaps this next one can be a new discovery for you…

MONIQUE BRUMBY 

Ok so it’s probably no secret that there may be some bias involved here, but Tassie’s Own Monique Brumby was born a star – I mean it, I know because she was a close schoolfriend. She could do ANYTHING annoyingly brilliantly – art, dance, drama, sport (she was on a national soccer squad at one stage), schoolwork (breezed through her HSC without trying) and of course music. She is also very beautiful. I know, spewin’. She hit the charts in the mid 90’s with her first single, “Fool For You” and has since forged a successful indie career with 4 albums and I think about 9 singles to her name. She is on track to release a new albumn soon, she mentors emerging artists and produces music as well. She can probably make a perfect souffle and identify rare birds. She is one (a rare bird, not a souffle).

The Hook:  This is tricky because I am so familiar with her music but I think I can narrow it down to 2 songs that really made me a proper fan:  1) One Day, which I think was a song that came out with her first single, “Fool For You” or was it on her first record, Thylacine?” Hmm, anyway, the tune and the lyrics grabbed me on first listen. So did, “The Change in Me”, Monique’s second single (which I am proud to say she sang at my wedding). This one was nominated as song of the year in 1998 and it is simply beautiful.

The Artist: She is an enormous talent who has poured everything into her work, and the proof is in the pudding peeps. From “Fool For You” her vocals have matured into a more distinct sound with almost a country influence (I said I would talk genre but I can’t think how else to describe it). I love her rounded “ou’s” (my granny would approve) and her enormous range. She can break your heart with her ballads and get you kickin’ with her rock-chick numbers – check her out in Sheila’s of the 70’s – “come alive!” – now that IS cool and groovy AND versatile. There is just so much clap in my hands for this darling girl. Love, love, love.

2013 UPDATE – A QUICK REVIEW FOUNDED IN NOTHING BUT FIRST IMPRESSIONS!

It is February and I’ve found a new bit of easy listening for you all. He is utterly independent, self-produced and self everything except selfish because he’s released an album of his songs for us all to listen to whenever we like. He is the new James Reyne/Sting hybrid (gosh I hope that’s not an insult, it’s not meant to be – Sting’s “Nothing Like The Sun” is still one of my favourites and I’m not a music expert remember). He is….DAN HACK, and you should listen to him, he has some lovely things to say and a really heartfelt, skillful danhackway of saying them. The album is called Torero (which evidently means matador) and it’s packaged up in a very cool cubist-ish CD cover. To me its title is fitting because my favourite track is called “Fiesta”, which has the lyric, “My love is running with the bulls”. I can’t pretend to know what the song is about but it makes me think of lazy hot summer holidays with colourful people with plenty to see and nowhere to be – the kind of feeling I get when I listen to that old favourite, “Under the boardwalk” (again this could be a terrible comparison sorry). “Country Bride” is another standout – a lovely celebration of country life and escaping the binds of today’s fast pace. Makes me feel a little bit romantic, happy (and hand clappy) about being a country person…”We can make hay while the sun is shining”. The final track, “Horizon” exposes the full coolness of Dan’s voice – such a distinct and rich sound. There are all sorts of impressive sounding elements to these songs – great harmonies, superb, effortless guitar playing (jealous), uplifting lyrics, and clever twiddly bits that show Dan’s attention to detail. It is a fantastic debut solo effort, I’d come home and kick off my shoes to Dan Hack’s music any day. Get a taste of his work here and a more expertly crafted review here.

*Here I need to make mention of some lovely female talent whose skill, musical prowess and general goodness I do appreciate, but I frankly can’t listen to for too long because of how they embellish their singing, in two ways which at the moment seem to be the thing to do…

1)What’s with the cutie pie voices? Am I the only person to notice this? Is this the trend of this decade for female singers? I hate to ball a group together because I know there are distinct from one another but it’s just too remarkable to go unremarked…Lisa Mitchell (but I do love you for chrysalising out of Australian Idol to Indie cool), Julia Stone, Ingrid Michaelson (like the duet factor though), Regina Spektor (less guilty) and Ellie Goulding, Lykke Li, and Little Dragon (extra points for truly brilliant videos though) did your voices never mature? I think you’re perfect – stirring and thought provoking even – for a snippet in a soundtrack or for a minute on the radio before my husband switches to the footy, but I feel irritated after too long. I have enough baby voices at me all day and I’d love to hear your voices without the reversion to toddlerhood. Please?

2) Lanie Lane, Rebecca Ferguson, Adele and Karis Eden, I think you’re all wonderful but I’m a bit over the fish wifey sound. Does anyone else know what I mean or am I being overly fussy?

3)And unique in her quirk… Sarah Blasko well sorry, you’re lovely but unless you have a soft palate problem then there is no good reason for those weirdo seal-sounding vowel sounds (“mrrrrrrrself”). Lovely video though (although I watched the shape of your mouth movement in fascination), and at least you stand alone with your quirk, irritating though it is.

OK ENOUGH FROM ME. I want to hear from you – what is your favourite music (old or new)? Some of you have already answered this to help with this post (thank you for that), so you can answer these ones: What did I get wrong? Right? What stage name would you choose for yourself?

Please note there will be updates to this post because although I may never be cool, I am now so totally open to the powers of music, bordering on hipster. So check back brothers and sisters okay.

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Categories: Brainwork

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5 replies

  1. You must check out Busby Marou… that folky, country, indy sound from two Aussie blokes from Rockhampton. Great to swing in a hammock and listen to. On another note I’ve just ordered Story Songs 2 from ABC Shop, a great addition to Story Songs 1 which has, just like it says, songs with stories and meaning… can’t wait for that one to come in!

  2. You got most of them, I think given your style, and yes you do have one, you might like these other favorites of mine…. Brooke Fraser, “something in the water”. Gotye, “somebody that I used to know”, Coldplay “every teardrop is a waterfall”, David Gray “Babylon”, what about Sia’s “she wolf”… Awesome I love it. A new one from Fun “some nights” and maybe a little Kasey Chambers, although her “beautiful mess” and actually “am i not pretty enough” songs arent so new, they are still one of my girls’ favorites. And another out of the box but interesting and beauitful is Alison Krauss “down to the river to pray”. I love The Killers and came across them from the Top Gear soundtrack, the first half a dozen songs on that are so great… “Mr Brightside” is the perfect running song! You did we’ll though, I love all your favorites.

  3. Love your list Meg, I hope it continues to grow…always love a new song to get me through the next Km. Just hope you have had the pleasure to listen to ‘The heart of a girl’ by the Killers….my favourite, his voice is amazing! 🙂

  4. You might like Anais Mitchell – then again, you might place her in the “cutie pie” category. I thought of you when I heard her ‘The Shepherd’s Song’, as you are married to a farmer, and must be constantly having to choose between animal husbandry and child-rearing.
    Looking forward to making my way through your findings xx

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