LIVE REVIEW: LITTLE DRAGON Corner Hotel, Wednesday August 20

Littledragon_(300dpi)

 

Originally published in Inpress (The Music).

On support duty tonight is Australian songstress George Maple – a recent Future Classic addition and manifestation of the current, dark R&B wave popularised by artists such as FKA Twigs and BANKS. Maple is incredibly sensual; draped in black with arms outstretched she dances hypnotically to the ominous electronica orchestrated by her zealous drummer and keyboardist.

Opening with Please Turn, a personal favourite, Little Dragon have their audience immediately – the congested crowd singing along with frontwoman Yukimi Nagano. Throughout the set, Nagano often turns the mic towards her audience, a clichéd action that usually becomes cringe-worthy when the crowd either doesn’t know the lyrics or doesn’t feel compelled to sing along. Surprisingly, this evening’s crowd stays afloat, their zealous vocals loud enough to be heard above the instrumentals.

Little Dragon breathe fire, puffing their way through a 90-minute set. Nagano is as perpetually mobile and vivacious as an Eveready battery. She sports her own instrument, a tambourine, which she uses in a number of theatrical ways to punctuate the beat: tennis racquet, mallet, etc. Dressed in a fabulous orange ensemble, Nagano dances robotically in her idiosyncratic fashion that is harmonious with the industrial synthesisers and mechanical percussion. The band perform a fair share of oldies and Nabuma Rubberband favourites, sounding tight and lush, particularly energised on bombastic numbers such as Klapp Klapp and Shuffle A Dream. Eagerly climbing over one another’s instruments, the players switch effortlessly between tools – the keyboardist’s swift transition to bass in between tracks indicating the addition of a bass guitarist would be futile. Nagano is completely absorbed in the performance, punctuating slower numbers with a kind of celestial disposition – swaying with palms outstretched while her eyes lock on the roof above the stage. The chorus hits and she turns back into a leadless puppy, reconnected with her audience again.

The crowd go mad for Ritual Union, impressing Nagano with their ardent harmonies. After thanking their audience, Little Dragon tease with a quick hiatus before jumping back on stage to perform Blinking Pigs and Twice, the latter a beautiful ballad that concludes with a long instrumental coda. Promising to be back soon, Little Dragon bid adieu to a satisfied crowd.

Advertisements

ALBUM REVIEW: THE REPROBETTES, The Reprobettes

 repro

 

 

Close your eyes and press play. You’ve been thrown into a time machine, spun around a few times and transported back to the 60s. The Reprobettes play house to the Whiskey a Go Go, the iconic sunset strip nightclub in West Hollywood. The 5-piece girl group rock out fuzzy garage rock, surf rock and punk tunes, while go-go girls dance on the ledges above; all legs, painted faces and shimmer.

The Reprobettes are a delicious revival band, a throwback to the halcyon days of the Californian 60s. Formed in Melbourne in 2012, the all-girl growlers have been impressing audiences with their sassiness and wailing banshee screams. Their debut eponymous album is a decadent ode to female punk. Each song title has a sense of anarchy, whether its subtle or conspicuous and the lyrics are devoted to tales of sour relationships, liberation, rebellion and acceptance. The guitars are fuzzy, with the keyboard adjusted to organ mode, giving the record a vintage surf-rock flavour. Kat Karamitros and Sally Balhorn deliver vocals and harmonies reminiscent of The Belles and Linda Van Dyck.

The album opens with a bombastic “Reprobettes Theme,” an instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on the B-side of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Fans of the genre will be hooked instantly, with the rest of the album easily sounding like a Tarantino mixtape. It doesn’t come as a surprise then when you read online that the girls are incredibly influenced by The 5,6,7,8s, the kooky Japanese girl group who featured in Kill Bill.

The album is comprised of nine originals and two covers, the latter reinforcing the girls’ affection for female rock and roll. “I Don’t Love You No More” by Continental Co-ets and “Stengun” by Linda Van Dyck are covered well here with the latter more bombastic and fierce than the original.

Essentially a punk record, The Reprobettes is a groovy respite from the blatant and self-indulgent pop music of today.

 

Review score: 8.1 out of 10

FILM REVIEW FOR MIFF 2014: TOM AT THE FARM

tom

 

Originally published on The Iris.

A Hitchcockian thriller in the country, Tom At The Farm is a grim exploration of homophobia, secrecy and family sustainability. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats), the film is based on the play of the same name by Michel Marc Bouchard. Tom – played by Dolan – is a young copywriter who travels to rural Quebec for the funeral of his boyfriend, Guillaume. Upon arrival, he encounters a confused Agathe (Lise Roy) – Guillaume’s mother – who is unaware of Tom’s relationship to her son. Not sure whether to reveal the truth, Tom identifies himself as a close friend and comrade of Guillaume. That evening in bed, Tom is roughly woken by Guillaume’s brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), who reveals his awareness of his brother’s boyfriend. After Francis threatens Tom into playing out the “close friend” role for the duration of his stay, the plot develops into a sinister, passive-aggressive game of cat and mouse between the two, the sadistic Francis motivated by the need to protect his family name.

Set in a desolate farmhouse, Tom At The Farm is hardly picturesque, artificially lit by harsh, cheap lighting. When filmed outside, the sun is barely visible, instead depicting a post-apocalyptic green- greyness that compliments the characters dour lives. It’s an alien town, devoid of human compassion and warmth. Francis and Agathe are isolated from the townsfolk, the former openly disliked by many. Trapped within the farmhouse – partly due to his own twisted affection for the brother that reminds him of Guillaume – Tom develops an ambiguous warped friendship with Francis that is eventually severed when Tom learns of Francis’ grave past. The film is Hitchcockian in its steady suspense, voyeuristic camera angles and passive-aggressive characters, both Francis and Agathe examples of the latter with their impassiveness and broodiness eventually erupting into hysteria by the film’s conclusion. Francis is determined to keep Tom imprisoned in the farm, his desperation motivated by a need to clutch onto his brother’s memory, a memory that was disrupted when Guillaume ran away from his childhood home.

Both leading men deliver strong performances, their antithetical roles as predator and prey performed with conviction and realism. Dolan projects an innocent humility that contrasts sharply with Cardinal’s fierce hostility. Dolan is effeminate and timid, Cardinal is chauvinistic and intimidating. Although an undeniable brute, Cardinal’s Francis is somewhat ambiguous, his indirect affection for his mother, his bizarre fondness of Tom and his love of tango separating his character from the archetypal sociopath. Roy plays the grieving and detached Agathe well, her confusion in regards to her son’s “accident” and enigmatic social life gradually boiling over into a powerful emotional breakdown that leaves her innumerable questions unjustly unanswered.

Delivering a perfect cast of almost inscrutable characters, Dolan as director has adapted a story of unforgettable presence. With a haunting score by Academy-award winning composer Gabriel Yared and contemplative cinematography by Andre Turpin, Tom At The Farm leaves its audience motionless by its climactic ending and surprising character development. A brilliant film, Tom At The Farm is a disturbing, radical example of preservation.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

ALBUM REVIEW: TAYLOR MCFERRIN, Early Riser

artworks-000079839970-q16hqo-t500x500

 

Originally published in The AU Review.

 

Early Riser – the latest release from Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint – is a lush showcase of Taylor Mcferrin‘s ardour for soul, left-field electronics and free jazz. Not surprising on a Brainfeeder release is the co-existence of melancholia and urgency, manifesting here in seamless tempo shifts and instrumental layering.

Rather than sounding like a fully fleshed concept album, Early Riser sounds more like one big melodic sonic experiment, taking bits and pieces from various modern styles, a technique that is favoured in the Brainfeeder family. I use the term melodic here, because although the experimental elements are undeniable, Early Riser is a lot more ear-friendly and musical than a straightforward sonic experiment like Flylo’s Cosmogramma. Like its title suggests, the album is an ideal soundtrack to an early start, the slow and dreamy build-ups perfect for fragile ears. Imagine hearing Flylo or Thundercat at 6am, yikes!

Essentially a soul-jazz record, Mcferrin’s debut LP switches effortlessly from a stable glide into a free fall, yet never really takes off. The regular anti-climaxes reinforce the “experimental” approach here, with some of the tracks lacking range and finality. Although packing some serious production, “Degrees of Light”, “4 am” and “Stepps” end up sounding half-baked, the absence of a lift off positioning them more like rough drafts than finished products. Having said that, nearly every single track is an enjoyable listen, with delicate piano compositions, lush synth arrangements and jazzy percussion. There’s appearances from label-mate Thundercat, Melbourne’s very own Nai Palm and Blue Note’s Robert Glasper. Thundercat and Glasper come together beautifully on “Already There”, a forward-thinking future jazz number and Palm makes “The Antidote” sound like a Hiatus Kaiyote song, complete with cryptic lyrics and backbeats. As a matter of fact, if you heard “4 am” out of context, you’d assume it was Hiatus Kaiyote, as it’s very similar stylistically to their instrumental interludes on Tawk Tomahawk.

The weakest track here is “Place in My Heart”, featuring RYAT on vocals. Despite being an interesting vocalist, her pitchy folk tone sounds out of place here, maybe because it’s so unexpected on this kind of album. The melody is annoying and forgettable and the basic guitar chords and washed out electronics take it in more of an indie pop direction, a strange and unwelcome choice here.

Despite the confusing “Place in My Heart”, and the few premature tracks discussed above, Early Riser is a beautiful example of contemporary jazz fusion from the Brooklyn-based Mcferrin.

Review Score: 8.4 out of 10

LIVE REVIEW: HIATUS KAIYOTE Howler, Wednesday May 14

hiatuslive

 

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

It’s midnight and Nai Palm makes her debut crowd surf, a celebration of her 25th birthday. That girl’s got a lot to celebrate, from international endorsements to Grammy nominations. “A quarter of a century and I’m still here,” she teases from her mic, centre stage.

There are two types of Hiatus listeners; those that listen with creased foreheads and those that can’t keep still. The former don’t know what to make of them and the latter can’t get enough of them, assuming they’ve come across the coolest sound in contemporary music. They exhibit a kind of space soul, with grooves often conveying a somewhat unearthly tone. Imagine a musical E.T skilled in the art of keyboards, well that’s Simon Mavin, dancing over his instrument with uncanny dexterity. Paul Bender glides along the bass like Thundercat, layering the rhythm with polyrhythmic undertones that would fit right at home on Brainfeeder and Perrin Moss deliberately plays percussion on the off-beat, giving Kaiyote that slurred, delayed beat. It’s that suspended percussion and Nai Palm’s unusual phrasing and tone that really separate Hiatus musically from any other act in Melbourne. Palm’s body language is playful and vibrant; it’s her voice that seduces us. She has an unusual way of phrasing her lyrics, deliberately avoiding particular letters so it sounds like she’s either singing only scraps of the word or making up new ones altogether. She also uses a lot of vibrato, which ends up doubling as a guitar; played by some mad instrumentalist obsessed with eerie chord arrangements. Her unconventional image – head 3/4 shaved, tat beneath her lip – paired with her ability to sound like Badu one minute and a completely separate instrument the next makes Palm the most interesting woman in Australian music today.

Confined in a bandroom not dissimilar from the aesthetics of a ski lodge, the audience are mesmerised by the charming, unorthodox snow queen up on stage. Instead of singing Nakamarra as an ode to the desert, we can imagine the song as a homage to an infinite expanse of snow, belonging to some far off, distant planet with Hiatus Kaiyote as the house band.

LIVE REVIEW: ERYKAH BADU The Palais, Tuesday April 15

eryykah

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

Acknowledging Badu as one of her musical inspirations back at a Northcote Social gig last year, Nai Palm was giddy when recalling the moment she found out that the queen of soul was digging her beats with Hiatus Kaiyote. Who would have thought that less than a year later, she and her band would be joining Badu on an Australian tour. The quirky, polyrhythmic Melbourne band are an acquired taste; drunk on off beats and complicated compositions. Their music isn’t for everyone, but those that love them – myself included – can’t get enough of them. They played a tight set, showcasing some new material. A band more suited to a less formal venue, their cover of Dilla’s So Far To Go was so dope that it was a real bitch being confined to the limited standing space. A killer set regardless, be sure to see them heat up the floor at their Howler residency next month.

Now, Badu. Dressed in a get-up that only she could pull off, the queen was wearing an ensemble of clothes that looked like they’d been picked off the floor of an op-shop. A headscarf, a Pharrell-esque hat, a flanny shirt with only the top button done up, those street pants that sag at the butt and then loosen up around the thighs and another mismatched thing around her waist. Like I said, nobody else could have pulled that off. She sounded great and performed well, despite it being nearly two decades since her Baduizm debut. She proved her range, switching effortlessly between vocals and rhymes. She also opened the beat in many of her tracks by slapping a vacant drum pad, quite well too.

Ignoring the Palais’ conservative aesthetic, she soon had everyone dancing. Unlike her early sets where she would come out with her turban, incense and spirituality, this gig felt more ghetto. There were a lot of songs that she didn’t sing that I wished she had and she dragged on a few choruses longer than was necessary. She also didn’t do an encore, which left her performance a bit abrupt. She had a habit of doing these exaggerated poses that came off as a little affected, due to the sheer number of times they were done. Her band was great, but nobody really took notice of them. It would have been cool if she’d added a horn player to the section, just to give the guys a bit of fair play.

She was eternally grateful of her audience and her setting and she often voiced it throughout the set. She improvised well when it came to spitting rhymes and she made us laugh a lot with her impromptu wordplay about loose headscarves. Ultimately, she delivered a thrilling set, however self-indulgent it may have been. Yes Badu, your legs and arse may be getting bigger, but you were and always will be twenty feet tall.