Articles in Category: Audiophiles

10 Best Albums of the Year #260

10 Best Albums of the Year

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It is with great trepidation that I approach this month’s column for I have decided to go with the “My List of the 10 Best Albums of the Year”. Whilst I think music should never be about competition or league tables, the list does give me a chance to reflect on the quality of so much music that I have listened to this year in the process of writing weekly reviews for another quality local paper.

There are so many albums made each year – where do they all end up! So much heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, time and money put into making music and to what end? A very rich and vibrant local music scene that, yes, while not helping the national economy in that very tangible dollar sort of way the mining industry does, does feed that more ephemeral of gross domestic products – culture. Where would we be without music – with just the sweet hum of lawn mowers to stimulate our ears? Or where would we be without locally made live and recorded music – with only YouTube clips of Taylor Swift for entertainment? With this in mind I have chosen 10 albums – 3 local, 3 other Australian and 4 international – made by people who I hope don’t stop making music. In no particular order…

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Gyan: Superfragilistically.

A magical musical journey with songs featuring an assortment of characters all sung to a rich and homely musical accompaniment. Appealing to both adults and children – my 5 year old who is a big fan.

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Christian Pyle: Nothing Left to Burn.

Taking time out from his band Ghost Mountain and recorded in between recording everyone else’s album on the north coast, Christian showed what he could do pretty much all by himself. A really cohesive set of tracks with depth and swagger.

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The Tendons: Cult Leader.

Not the slickest production but plenty of attitude and an old fashioned indi rock aesthetic. This album won this year’s album of the year at the Dolphin Awards and I wasn’t judging so it’s not just me who likes it!

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John Steel Singers: Tangalooma.

Debut album from these Brisbanites is thoroughly delightful. Sharp, witty, bombastic and occasionally other worldly, but mostly just very clever pop writing and production.

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Jackie Marshall: Ladies’ Luck.

Features the best album opening track of the year. Jackie writes very poetic lyrics, delivers them with a great emotional breadth and has a band that is tight and follows every nuance of the song. Great rock production.

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Hamish Stuart: Someone Else’s Child.

A rich and earthy album featuring some of Sydney’s top jazz players that covers some dark and broody territory. Evocative acoustic grooves and a strong sense of collective improvisation.

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Vampire Weekend: Contra.

I love this band. Fun, intelligent pop music with great melodies and challenging production.

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The Books: The Way Out.

A great study in the potential of using samples. Really interesting music and a refreshing approach to vocals.

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Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine

Two ageing jazz masters with so much to say and needing so little to say it. Gorgeous music for piano and double bass.

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Nina Nastasia: Outlaster

Complex and delicate orchestral folk music. Exquisite recording and a very well connected bunch of songs.

There are of course some glaring omissions, stylistic and otherwise, and I’d welcome reader’s views on where I’ve gone wrong and what other music I should be listening to. Send suggestions to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

And thanks to those who gave me feedback about my rant last month on the Lismore Show – there seems to be a few musicians out there who feel they have done enough to earn a plumber’s attendance fee.

Audiophiles #259

Lismore Show 2010

Plumbing for Love

I have been tinkering away at a career in music for the better part of 20 years now and in that time I’ve reflected quite a bit on the place of the arts in society.

As I lugged my Wurlitzer into the Lismore showground tent for a 30-minute gig at midday last weekend I walked past a plumber who was fixing the blocked sewer and knew that he’d be getting paid for his troubles. I certainly wasn’t here for the money (I don’t remember seeing any for this gig although I did get a free entry pass), but this gig was a nice one – a good PA, good stage sound and the people were there for the music (not just to get smashed), and there was a comfy place to sit before we went on. Ed Kuepper headlined with support from the likes of (2010 Dolphin Award champs) The Tendons, Sara Tindley, The Koi Kids and the Re Mains. This was a strong lineup and showcased some great local acts, but it left me thinking that there are a lot of other great local acts that play different styles that weren’t there.

Maybe next year there could be some more music only tents at the show. You could have a jazz tent, an electronica tent, an experimental sound art tent, a country tent, a karaoke tent, an indigenous music tent, a film music tent, a playalong to midifiles tent, a kid’s music tent, an AMEB exam tent, an early Baroque tent and maybe a tent just filled with ipods where people could come and listen to whatever they wanted and another tent filled with instruments that people could just come and play. In fact you could devote the whole show to the wonderful world of sound and music.

And while I’m in this fantasy world I’ll imagine that there wasn’t a whole panoply of people profiting from all the expressions of artistry going on. The music shops weren’t there to sell you instruments, the institutions weren’t there to get your tuition fees and the sound engineers weren’t there to mix and master your tears of the soul. The CD duplicators weren’t offering their latest discount, the web designer wasn’t ready to show you what you could get for just a $1000 and the publicists weren’t spruiking how many reviews they could get you. The festival curators weren’t there to tell you how humble they felt with all the talent on display but regretfully couldn’t offer you a place at this year’s festival. Nor were the Australia Council offering a tour to remote regional communities that needed to be organised 3 years in advance and pays an attractive 5 cents a day, that only required a 12 page form to be completed and sent in triplicate. APRA and PPCA weren’t their either to make you think that you might one day make some money from royalties and thankfully the pub owner wasn’t there to tell you what music to play and there was no drunken goose wanting Khe Sanh. No this is the local Lismore Music Show 2011, where music comes first and the plumbers have to do their work for free.

Village Blues #258

VILLAGE BLUES - OCT 30

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Village Blues is on again folks! The annual one-day blues festival in sunny Dunoon!

Held at Dunoon Sports Club in the heart of Dunoon, this year features some fine local and inter-state talent that’s guaranteed to satisfy even those diehard fans of the blues and roots sound.

LIL’ FI is undoubtedly one of Australia’s finest female blues performers, having graced the blues scene of South East Qld and Melbourne for nearly two decades. Her on-stage presence, sensational vocals, wit and pizzazz has enough spark to ignite a morticians convention folks! A show NOT to be missed.

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THE WALTERS are hailed as one of Brisbane’s top blues bands of late…These guys are grounded in the traditions of the golden era of the blues, paying tribute to some of the masters like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters…and some!

The funk element of this year’s festival is delivered by local bandINVISIBLE FRIEND. Hard hitting psychedelic funk, rock and roots music to bring on the diversity of local roots talent on the north coast.

THRILLBILLY STOMP DUO are bringing a cajun, blues hillbilly feel to the show. Featuring guitar, piano accordion, mandolin, white hair and red lips, this duo will really impress.

DAVEY BOB RAMSEY, once based in the hills of Dunoon, plays a country edged, swamp style of blues that takes you through the 20’s, 30’s and the now! A combination of original and trad tunes, delivered in a down-home yeeha style that only Davey Bob does…like he does!

THE NIGHTCAP RANGERS are a gathering of local muso’s formed exclusively for the Village Blues. Coming from a place of impro and jamming, this group will show the benefits of keeping it real, and having a good time on stage.

THE CHANNON KIDZ are a collective of young guitar players from The Channon school, being given an opportunity to express their talents and love of the guitar by opening this years festival of blues music.

Village Blues kicks off around 4.00pm and rocks on till late. The event is FREE and totally family friendly – so get along early and bring the kids too, have a feed and soak yourself in some top-class quality live entertainment!

Audiophiles #258

Dave Basek - Instant

Local DJ and electronic music producer Dave Basek has been carving out a career in the music industry since the early 1990s. In 1994 he began his own label Junkbeats (www.junkbeats.com) and has since released a string of tracks establishing an extensive catalogue of locally produced quality electronic dance music. For this month’s instalment I would like to unpack a few of Dave’s music making processes by focusing on his latest release, Instant.

I spoke to Dave and asked how he usually begins a track. “It’s different every time, with Instant I began with the riff and built it around that. Sometimes I’ll start with a loop or just a sound and it will grow from there. My idea with Instant was to build the intensity throughout the track. In order to achieve this I started with an 8 bar loop of the riff and layered up multiple tracks with the identical MIDI file of the riff on them with my own custom made Reaktor synth. This synth has a button that changes the value of all the parameters randomly and I kept hitting this until I came up with sounds I liked and then combined these together. I would then render the audio from these and put this sound back through more filters and effects until I was happy with the overall sound”.

The riff is highly syncopated and a great little transcription exercise in itself. When I transcribe sixteenth note patterns like this I often have to do it in stages. It is useful to map out all the sixteenth notes in a bar in a grid pattern and work out where each note falls before trying to notate it. The finished grid would look something like this:

XOOX|OOXO|OXOO|XOOX|OOOX|OOXO|OXOO|XOOO

The X’s are the notes and each line divides a beat, there are 8 beats in this example. Transferring this to standard notation it looks like this:

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You’ll notice the fairly dark sounding harmony on this riff. Further into the track the notes are harmonised with a note a minor 3rd above each one, adding a more ominous feeling. The tempo for Instant is 124bpm. According to Dave he regards this track as something between Nu Disco (usually 110 – 120 bpm) and Minimal Tech (127bpm) but he is reluctant to pinpoint what he does to any particular genre. He likes to road test tracks before finalising and will usually play some part of a track, maybe just and 8 or 16 bar loop at a DJ or live set to see how it works with an audience.

Dave works mostly on a PC using Cubase but is not a staunch ‘platformist’ – he would rather use whatever works then stick to any particular hardware or software. When I asked him what advice he would give to other budding electronic producers he reckons that monitors are the most important. “Make sure you can hear all the frequencies when you are making the track”. He also said not to dwell on any one idea. “If a track isn’t working, move on to something else, if it’s good it should be easy to work on”.

Audiophiles #257

Gyan - Superfragilistically

Byron resident and 90s pop prodigy Gyan has followed up her 2007 collaboration with Michael Leunig, “Billy the Rabbit”, with an enchanting collection of songs evoking the magical spirit of Mary Poppins. The songs contain some great opening lines - “I can’t explain/ why I felt this pain/it must have been the chicken or the way it was killed” from Fowl Play; or “We saw a priest in the ice cream store” from Priest; or simply “www dot com au” from www. The somewhat surreal imagery of the lyrics is matched by a very exploratory approach to song arrangement with some tracks featuring just guitar or piano accompaniment and others given a rich orchestral treatment.

The album artwork features complete scores of two of the orchestral arrangements and these are a great resource for the studious songwriting aficionado. If only more of these were made! They could save us from the litany of inaccurate tabs and chord charts currently available on the web. Which brings me to the main theme of this month – transcription.

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One of the most important skills I think a musician needs to develop is the ability to hear something and be able to play accurately what they’ve heard. This activity is known in jazz and contemporary music circles as transcription. (Transcription can also refer to the reworking of a piece of music for a different combination of instruments than the original but here I’d like to just focus on the former meaning). The ability to read and write traditional notation helps, but the key aspect of transcription is that you develop a sense of articulation and phrasing, and most importantly a sense of how music works, which is not always apparent on paper. If you haven’t done much transcribing it’s good to start with fairly simple parts. Have one hand on the pause/rewind button of your music player and be prepared to play a very short excerpt over and over again until you are satisfied you can recreate every note and nuance at the right time on your chosen instrument. It helps if you really love the part you’re trying to work out. Check with someone more experienced when you think you’ve got, however the beauty of transcription is that you become your own teacher, or more accurately you get to choose whichever teacher you like from the complete catalogue of recorded music.

To celebrate international transcription week (I wish) I spent an hour wrangling with two very brief guitar introductions on the Gyan album – for the tracks Priest and Girl With the Long Fuse. In the process of getting to the notation seen in the two transcriptions here I really began to appreciate the subtleties and intricacies of these parts and also went on some interesting tangents when I got the chord wrong. And that’s another benefit of transcribing; it can lead to whole new pieces when you don’t quite get it right.

Thanks Dr Matt, I’ll be getting the guitar out straightaway (I wish too!) … ed

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