Archive for the ‘Poptasticity’ Category


Jamie Lidell at The Forum, Friday 9 January

January 12, 2009

It might be too early to call this the “Best Gig of 2009” when the only competition from my end was Mystery Jets last Sunday and my performance of “Even Flow” on Guitar Hero the other night, but it’s tempting.

I’d heard good reports of Jamie Lidell’s live shows and the promise of a “5-piece band” got me all excited. There was a good feeling the moment I entered the venue. It turns out that Jamie Lidell has quite a following here in Sydney – much more so that I had realised. In fact, the place was jam-packed and I haven’t seen a more enthusiastic crowd in a long while, or one that knew the song lyrics better.

The main support act was Ray Mann 3, a local trio spinning out charismatic soul jazz jams that went on for about 10 minutes each but never got dull. But as is usually the case, the crowd was there for the main show and they were treated from the moment the band entered the stage. Here’s a quick summary of their costume style for the evening:

– 70s porn star drummer with aviators and mo
– Keyboardist looking like Keith Richards’ eccentric brother
– Guitarist/bassist in 70s motor racing gear
– Saxophonist/vocoder looking like Seth Rogen in a Billy Ray Cyrus t-shirt and all-white tracksuit

The show started off well but occasionally got lost in the quirks. The vocal vs vocoder battle in one song went on a bit too long and Lidell’s self-sampling in “The City” was a little bit indulgent. But then it all kicked into a higher gear mid-way, with energetic versions of “Another Day” (a crowd favourite), “Wait For Me” and others.

The most enduring impression is of Lidell’s amazing charisma and energy. The guy didn’t stop – bouncing, dancing, emoting. He gave it his all and his live vocals were nearly flawless. For someone who loves technology, he doesn’t need any artificial enhancement in that department.

Sydney loved him and we like to think he loved us back. He certainly gave us something to remember.


Still fond

October 31, 2008

One of my favourite bands of jerky indie popsters are Auckland’s Cut Off Your Hands.  To my ears, they’ve got more memorable songs and more charisma than a lot of similar bands.  I read a review of their debut album You and I that asked “Do we really need another Kaiser Chiefs?”  Probably not, but Cut Off Your Hands are a lot more than a rip-off of better-known artists.

Oddly, the album doesn’t include the track of the same name, the energetic little number that won over quite a few listeners back in 2006.  That disappointment is only minor, because some of the great songs off last year’s Blue on Blue EP are included, as well as some excellent new tracks.

The band have clearly discovered the 1960s in the meantime, because the new tracks bear the marks of a lot of time spent listening to Pet Sounds.  It works well – these songs are lot sweeter and more endearing than most punky pop of the moment.  There are also a couple of downbeat songs that look at spritual disillusionment.  It’s a creative and catchy disc and I’m putting in an early nomination for Album of the Southern Hemisphere Summer.

Cut Off Your Hands – “Turn Cold”

Cut Off Your Hands – “Heartbreak”

Cut Off Your Hands – “Oh Girl”


A song to make you weep

October 15, 2008

It’s absurd to think that I only discovered Josh Rouse in June, considering how much I’ve become obsessed with him.  Maybe it’s the easy familiarity of his music.  It’s not Japanese noisenik tech-house or anything – it’s intelligent, laidback pop music of the kind that you and your dad can agree on.  This is a serious compliment, as far as I’m concerned.

He hit the ground running with a stellar run of albums and EPs in the early century – now anthologised in The Rykodisc Years, a pretty impressive double-CD compilation of his work to 2005.  Singles like “Comeback (Light Therapy)” and “Dressed Up Like Nebraska” have been crying out to be on a Best Of since about 1974 or whenever Lindsey Buckingham or the Bee Gees almost wrote them.  They are that good.

There are also some nice odds-and-sods: an acoustic version of “Sad Eyes” (one of my favourite Rouse numbers), a demo of “Christmas With Jesus” and his early EP Bedroom Classics Vol. 1, which stand up pretty well against the “hits”.  It’s a good introduction to Rouse, although you might as well do what I did when I discovered him and track down every track you can find.

Josh Rouse – “A Song To Help You Sleep”

Josh Rouse – “Sad Eyes (Bedroom Classics version)”


He’s a bad mother…(shut yo mouth)

August 12, 2008

For most people of my generation, Isaac Hayes will always be The Chef. But to me, he’s so much more: the 60s Stax super-producer, the 70s soul icon. How can you go past his classic albums like Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses? Well, you can’t.

So in tribute to the great man, who passed away far too early this week, I’d like to share with you my favourite aspect of Isaac Hayes: his Burt Bacharach covers.

Isaac Hayes was all about the drama – the tension of a taut bassline, the sweeping strings.  Hal David’s ludicrous lyrics and Bacharach’s overblown melodies are perfect for a rework in the Hayes style.  There’s the oft-sampled and super-long “Walk On By”, but there’s also the flamboyant “(They Long To Be) Close To You”, which sounds about as unlike The Carpenters as it’s possible to do.


Isaac Hayes – “Walk On By”

Isaac Hayes – “(They Long To Be) Close To You”


Great Danes

July 3, 2008

Me? I’m a sucker for a good pop tune. For all my indie affectations, sit me down in front of a fun video clip from some dorky pop group and I’ll probably be singing along in seconds. Unlike commercial rock, which seems to suck all the passion and life out of a vital genre, commercial pop can be a blast.

Still, I don’t always embrace the poptimist buzz-groups. Girls Aloud for example – well I can take or leave them. Now Alphabeat, they’re a group I can get behind. They’ve got guitars, they sound like the best bits of the 80s strung together. They’re Scandinavian (Danish to be exact) and that’s immediate pop points from me.

Alphabeat – “Fascination”

Some of their singles are dynamite. “Fascination” is the most energetic blast of pop sunshine I’ve heard in years. “Fantastic 6” sounds like Bis doing the soundtrack to High School Musical 5. The album, This Is Alphabeat, kind of trails off after a few tracks but that’s not surprising. I mean, it took Phoenix three albums to get consistent and Alphabeat are really only just starting out.

If you haven’t heard them already, then now’s your chance.

Alphabeat – “Fantastic 6”

Alphabeat – “Fascination”


Still wild about you

June 25, 2008

A fun experiment to do is to queue up soul legend Al Green’s new album Lay It Down back to back with one of his early 70s efforts and to try and pick when the album changes. You’ll probably pick it, but only if you’re paying attention.

That’s partly because of producer ?uestlove’s attention to period detail (even bringing in the Daptone Horns to recreate the Hi Records sound), but also because the singing and songwriting are just stunning. Al is in amazing voice for a guy in his 60s and he gives it all he’s got. For a laid-back album, there’s a lot of passion.

And it’s VERY laid-back. Al isn’t signing about the kind of animal passions he lifted to high art in the early days. No, this is a guy who’s settled down into a quieter phase of life. Which makes it perfect love music for couples. Particularly people who’ve been together since Al started making records.

But there’s enough beauty for the rest of us to enjoy it too – and occasionally he gets his funk back on.

Al Green – Stay With Me (By The Sea)

Al Green – Standing In The Rain


Musique noire

June 15, 2008

For all the jaunty British pop that’s been clogging up the airwaves in recent years, very little of it has sounded like the “Britpop” of my teenage years. Their influences are different and their approach is a lot more abrasive, to my ears at least. At risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, that’s a little bit disappointing.

Someone who does summon up memories of those long summers is Jim Noir, a mid-20s Brit whose electronic-infused take on classic pop makes me think of the Super Furry Animals or the Boo Radleys or the Charlatans. It’s like crack for someone with premature nostalgia.

His second, self-titled album is excellent and full of laid-back, vaguely psychedelic pop music. If you have a BBQ or something to soundtrack, you could do a lot worse.

Jim Noir – “All Right”

Jim Noir – “Ships and Clouds”