Sunday, April 17, 2011

Whats Not On Our Ipod - Floating Me - Self Titled


I used to get real excited about new music. I would browse record shops (remember those?) for hours, looking for something new and/or different. Once I had a selection of never-heard-befores, I'd spend the time, in the shop, listening to them to ensure it was worthy enough to be added to my collection.

I'd like to say I lost my excitement because modern technology meant I didn't have to go out and rub shoulders with others like me.  Instead, I can simply download anything that takes my fancy.  Or maybe, just maybe I'm getting old and cynical, something I have vowed I wouldn't let happen.

Thankfully, bands like Floating Me come along and restore my faith, renew my vigor and rock my little corner of the world.  Funnily enough, I happened to find this at one of the few local music stores near where I work.

Comprised of members of influential hard rock Australian bands Cog, Scary Mother and Karnivool, this was never going to be a soft project. There are hints of all three aforementioned bands in their sound - you can't listen to Andrew Gillespie sing and not be reminded of Scary Mother at times - but Floating Me have built something they can rightly call their own.

Along with Gillespie, Floating Me are Lucius Borich of Cog on drums, Jon Stockman of Karnivool on bass and ex Mothers Antony Brown on guitar and Tobias Messiter on keys.  Atmospheric and textured as well as filled with some huge rock riffs, Floating Me may well have produced the Aussie rock album of the year.

Don't believe me, then check this out.  And while it might not be on our Ipod at the moment, this is about to change.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Visual Aspects - M. Ward & Holly Throsby - Enmore Theatre - 20 February l 2011


Essence is defined simply as the fundamental nature of a thing.  In music, this is often mistaken as a derivation of influences, which leads lazy reviewers to comparing new with old, often ignoring the essence of the individual artist.  But while modern pop charts continue to descend into the auto-tuned pits of hell (for the most part), there are thankfully new artists making their mark, songwriters who don't subscribe to the moors of modern music, who divorce themselves from the musician-as-a-brand ideology and who actively seek to remain outside the superficial glare of  the celebrity spotlight.

One such artist is M. Ward, whose indisputable talent is of the sort reviewers will be using as a reference point in years to come.  And it his essence - the broke-down fragility of his voice, the passion and depth of his songwriting and his confident brilliance as a musician - will like ensure this is the case.

If such lofty praise makes me sound like a wanker, then so be it. But there are a few times in a music-lover's life when they come an artist who truly touches them and of whom they never tire of hearing.  Mine is a mixed bag: Elvis Costello, Paul Kelly, The Clash, Queens Of The Stoneage, Gorillaz, Deftones and Gomez, to name a few.  M. Ward is now also on that list, particularly after seeing him live recently.

I was really pleased we made it in time to see his support, local singer/songwriter Holly Throsby. Accompanied by her band, The Hello Tigers, made up of two incredibly talented multi-instrumentalists, her set of lush indie pop and folk was truly a delight. Featuring tracks from her latest album Team, her set was an almost perfect accompaniment to what was to follow. YourZenMine highly recommend her - here is a taste.

With a stripped bare stage, featuring a microphone, a piano and a guitar on a stand, there was no doubting what M. Ward's performance was going to be about - the songs.  When you take away all the normal frippery associated with a modern band, I don't think there would be more than a handful of artists who could perform with as much confidence and consummate ability.

Opening with the instrumental Duet For Guitars #3 before jumping into Lullaby & Exile and Poison Cup before saying a single word to the audience, something I was particularly pleased about.  Far too many musicians these days forget that most of us want to hear the songs, not them prattle on about some anecdote or another.  My respect levels for Ward went up a couple of more notches.

Moving from the guitar to the piano and back, he enthralled the packed house with tracks like Hold Time, Chinese Translations, Never Had Nobody Like You and a personal favourite, Fuel For Fire, as well as a cover of the David Bowie track, Let's Dance, retold as an alt-country gem.  Sung with Ward's gravel-laced voice, it gave the track a dark menace not apparent in the original.  He truly is a modern legend in the making and if you get the chance to see him live, I have no doubt you will agree.  This is an early contender for gig of the year.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Visual Aspects - Daybreakers


This year, we intend to randomly select movies from our DVD collection to review, kind of similar to the blindfold method we employed last year for our CD collection.  This is the first DVD off the rack, a fairly recent Australian-made movie called Daybreakers (2009).

Written and directed by the Spierig Brothers and starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neil and Claudia Karvan, this is yet another vampire-related movie, albeit with a sci-fi bent.  Despite being a hackneyed theme now, Daybreakers is actually a slighty refreshing take on the whole vampire shtick and thankfully, there is nary an angst-ridden teen in sight.

The story takes place in the near future when vampires have become the dominant species.  Blood supplies are very low and human beings are being hunted and milked into extinction.  The directors did a good job in giving a decent enough back story to hang the movie off, but it did leave me wondering why the vamps didn't start some sort of captive breeding program to ensure their food source didn't run out.  But hey, this wouldn't make much of a story, would it?

Ethan Hawkes' character is a vampire haematologist with a conscience who happens to work for the largest supplier of blood to the population (kind of like a vegetarian hippy working for McDonalds, I guess).  Without giving too much away, he meets a group of humans, led by Dafoe's character who tell him they have a cure to 'the vampire plague'.  He sets about helping them develop it.

The cast work well together, although the script gets a bit ponderous at points.  The combination of sci-fi and horror works well enough, although initially I thought there was a good chance for this to be more innovative and without the usual cliches.  But the high action end, complete with gory set pieces, is a bit of let down.  Its almost as though brothers Spierig ran out of creative juice and fell back on the same sort of devices I've seen time and again.  Even so, while it certainly isn't vital, I wouldn't call it a complete waste of time.

VERDICT: Hmmm...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's alive, I tell you, alive!

Heya friends and fans,

This is a quick note to let you all know we're still alive and kicking. Unfortunately, though, Mine has lost her blogging mojo and doesn't know where to find it.  It looks kinda like a cute, fuzzy orange kitten except with larger teeth.  And while it won't bite, it reacts better if you feed it non-gluten, sugar-free cookies of the dark chocolate variety.  But don't corner it, whatever you do.  Hopefully, it will come home soon and Mine will be a blogging babe again.

In the meantime, I will be trying to post a few regular articles of my own, with blanket approval from Mine. I made the suggestion that I could write her parts as I believe everybody is entitled to my opinion and I have enough for both of us.  For some reason, however, she vehemently vetoed the idea. I was only trying to be helpful.

Look out for a few posts in the near future.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Visual Aspects - Battlestar Galactica


YourZ and I have been in love with this series for ever.  I'm sure his love is largely borne from a certain red dress worn by a certain Cylon, but I can forgive him that.  Can't you?  Go on, Google "Caprica Six" and forgive him here and now.  Remember to come back!

I had an interesting conversation with my brother-in-law about the merits of BSG versus The Wire, which of course we also love.  He is of the opinion that it's "cheating" for BSG to tackle difficult issues, because it's science fiction and therefore the writers can make any situation fit; whereas in The Wire they're restricted to real life situations.  Of course, I think that's a load of hooey.  Both of these series are fabulous, in different ways.  It's just BSG has the most fabulous CGI to go along with the amazing acting and top-notch scripts.  Shiny! Oh, wait, that's another TV series, I'm getting ahead of myself here.  We recently watched BSG end-to-end, because last year we finally bought a flat-screen TV - so we wanted to watch all our great visual-effects movies and series over again, with the oh-wow picture.

OK, so BSG takes places in a universe where there are 12 colonies of humans on 12 planets which are kind of named after signs of the Zodiac and they worship multiple gods and they've formed a truce with the Cylons which are robots that became self-aware and then rebelled years ago and now the Cylons are back and some of them look like humans and they're still pissed off so they nuke all the human's planets and only about 40-thousand people get away on a bunch on spaceships including... Battlestar Galactica.

After that it gets complicated.

My favourite part?  The way the series examined summary executions and imprisonment - from both sides of the human/Cylon debate.  I loved how this series put the issues being tested in Iraq and at Guantanamo on to prime-time US screens, right then and there.  And vote-rigging!

My favourite character?  Gaius Baltar.  Selfish, self-serving, cowardly, tricksy and an unwitting traitor, he manages to survive through the basest of human emotions. Yet toward the end, he seems to redeem himself - by supposedly laying bare his soul in a tell-all autobiography.  Whoever thought him up deserves all the writing accolades there are.

My favourite squeeze?  Chief Galen Tyrol.  I don't know why, there are some much more conventionally handsome men featured - Anders and Helo spring to mind - but I love the Chief.  He's huggable.

And while she's frustrating and impenetrable and likeable as well as facepalm idiotic from time to time: I love Starbuck.

We haven't seen the BSG spin-off Caprica, and it can't have been that good if it got canned after one series, but I guess we will when it's released here on DVD.  Completists that we are.  Hey, that reminds me - we haven't re-watched The Plan yet!



Initially, my review was going to be very simple:

"Watch it if only for the bodacious, deadly Clyon babe in the painted-on red dress."

But on careful deliberation, I decided this would make me appear extremely shallow.  I'm now gonna go for some depth:

Watch it if only for the magnificent cast, the effects, the story, the drama, the intrigue, the pointy-headed robots from hell and cool spaceships.  And, if this isn't enough, watch it for the bodacious, deadly Clyon babe in the painted-on red dress.

I think you can guess who my favourite character is, can't you?


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Visual Aspects - Walking in the Royal National Park


You know, sometimes I need to be reminded how bloody lucky I am to live where I do.  Our recent trip to Royal National Park was one such time.

At Mine's behest, I went to a great website called Wildwalks and printed out a handy guide to what's known as the Bundeena To Marley walk.  According to the guide, the walk is about 9.5 km and would take us about 3 1/2 hours and rated 'hard' but we were up for a physical challenge.  It also meant I could cross it off my list as I'd always wanted to go.

The park is about 30 km south of Sydney CBD.  It was first established as a park in 1879 and is the second oldest national park  In 2006, it was added to the Australian National Heritage list.  It is mainly coastal heath with belts of littoral rainforest where shallow valleys dip the walker down to the coast.  We followed easy instructions that led us to a dirt car park on a stretch of the Bundeena road.  

The track starts out on opposite side of the road.  Ducking under the natural gates of She-Oak, the path starts out very easily and leads the walker gently down to the first ridge.  Here, I indulged my love of panorama photography.

Royal National Park panorama
We heard rather than saw a few of the local birds but spotted a New Holland Honeyeater as it made its rounds of the Banksia and various heath flowers.  But apart from the occasional skink, the heat of the day was obviously keeping the local fauna under cover. Along the track, we saw some beautiful banksias, red gums, and numerous unknown flowers like these:


The next stop was Deer Pond, so named because at one time, Royal National Park had quite a few deer in it and this was one of their favourite drinking holes.  The cooling fresh water and lovely shady strip of sand made it a welcome stop for us too. 

Deer Pond
After a refreshing dip and a quick snack, it was onwards to the beach.

This part of the track was probably the hardest going.  We're reasonably fit but while we didn't struggle, we didn't talk much either.  The track led out on to a much larger fire break that switch backs down to the coast line.  It was more exposed and we really felt the heat but could also hear the ocean pounding in the distance.  The payoff came after some good hard slogging, with the heath opening up to views like this one.

Looking down to the coast
Not too long after, we dropped down the final part of the track, one way leading to Marley Beach, the other to Little Marley.  We went north to the big one, hoping to find some shade and a spot for a picnic.  Marley Beach, however, is quite exposed and the surf was huge and angry.  We headed back south to Little Marley.  Almost conversely, it has a nice overhanging low cliff at one end, which offered up a great shady spot to stop and have a break.  The sheltered little beach provided a picturesque backdrop too.

Little Marley Beach
After a bit of relaxing, it was time to get going back up although this was a little tougher, 'up' being the operative word and all.  We stopped again at what I've renamed the 'Yes, Dear' Pond, in tribute to Mine as its one of her favourite expressions.  After another cooling dip, we hit the final stretch back to the car park.  

I think we worked out the whole round trip took us 4 1/2 hours, but given we'd stopped along the way, this is hardly surprising.  What is surprising, however, is how beautiful the area is and how close it is to the city.  It is truly one of Sydney's hidden jewels and well worth a day out.  Next time, we'll do the overnight coast walk, okay Mine?  Mine?  Hello...



For one reason and another, YourZ and I have decided this year to scrap our pricey gym membership and take more time exercising au natural. (No, you Philistines, not in the nude, in the open air!)  Thus, the desire to tramp around large parts of parkland.  It's also part of our desire to take in as much of  what Sydney has to offer as possible, as we've decided it's not going to be our forever-home.  When we have a free weekend (and with other commitments plus my moving shift schedule, these are rare) we plan to see what the many national Parks in our area have to offer.

I must admit, I didn't look too closely at this walk before YourZ suggested it, and if I'd noticed it was rated "hard" I might have protested.  But even though it tested us (I had sore calves and glutes for a couple of days) it was so worth it.  The scenery!  The wildlife! The beaches!  And all less than an hour from our front door!

I guess the main thing I found from this - apart from the fact that I want to do more, please - is that I've often driven past Royal National Park without actually seeing quite how big and wild and varied it is.  And while I'm sure the next walk will be somewhere else - Ku-Ring-Gai Chase or Lane Cove perhaps - I do hope we go back to it.  It's spectacular.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Because We Don't Do Everything Together - Primal Scream


I'd ummed and aaahed about going to this gig for a while - chiefly because all the tickets sold out and were being hawked on eBay for ridiculous sums.  But then!  They moved the venue to a larger one, issued more tickets, and finally I got to go and see one of The Albums That Changed My Life being performed in its entirety.

Screamadelica has been reviewed in these pages before, when I wished for a fairy godmother to grant me a trip to see just this show.  You know how I feel about it, so I won't be telling you about the songs.  What I will tell you is that Bobby Gillespie is still as skinny as a streak of pelican shit, has his own hair and a well-developed dress sense, and the band... the band can play their bloody socks off!

Although it was in a way quite fabulous to see them at Selina's, a venue I used to frequent a lot in my youth - it's just down the road from a few places I've lived in over the years - in many other ways it was awful.  There are much better venues in Sydney these days, and just because you can fit more people in to see a band, doesn't mean you should.  Also, this was the first time I'd been screened by the Coogee Bay Hotel's new identification system - which scanned my fingerprint!  How high-tech and deeply Big-Brotherish. 

But although I'd timed my arrival so I'd miss the support act (sorry about that, but going to a band on my own means they get the heave-ho) the distinct lack of bar facilities per head of punter meant I saw the first two songs off the album while waiting in line for a drink.  I'd had the foresight to stand in the line closest to the stage, so managed to shake my tailfeather while waiting - that is until some gurning twat proceeded to pant and sweat all over me while - get this - trying to pick me up!  Truly, it was hard to resist the temptation to point out I was old enough to be his mother's younger sister (ahem), but I must admit thinking to myself "That Revlon Photo Finishing Powder was well worth the cash" - well, it was either that or his drug-addled eyesight.

After grabbing two vodka-and-somethings I found a place to stand at the side of the stage where there was just barely enough room to breathe.  Fortunately Screamadelica  has some nice quiet songs in the middle section.  Unfortunately the Essex Girl in front of me was using them to discuss something (her truly appalling haircut?) with her boyfriend.  In fact, the whole place appeared to be backpacker central, and it reminded me just exactly why I've enjoyed our move one suburb down the coast - less Likely Lads and Lasses throwing up on the footpath every weekend.

After the album was through, the lads came back on stage for a bunch of great songs from other albums - Country Girl, Jailbird, Suicide Bomb and Rocks - after which I quickly ducked outside and into the first cab I could find, before that crowd came boiling out on to the pavement.  I wouldn't have missed it for the world, even though I had seen them before ('95 Big Day Out).  These guys can play.  That gig was stifling hot and they rocked its collective socks off.


Sorry there's no pics - I am truly useless with a camera phone, and most cameras generally.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Because We Don't Do Everything Together - Deftones, UNSW Roundhouse - Sydney - 28 January 2011

I'm not a huge metal fan but there are a few acts that really rock my world.  And of these, my favourite is, without a doubt, Deftones.  I've been a fan of theirs since I first heard Around The Fur.  But listening to them is not anything like seeing them live.  Thanks to a Christmas present from Mine, this is exactly what I was going to be doing.

Their only side-show in Sydney while touring with the Big Day Out, Deftones made it an all-ages to accommodate their younger fans.  As a consequence, I barely had time to look at the merch stand (disappointing) before Deftones started their set.  I raced up stairs to the balcony level and was surprised by how good a view I was able to get.  Even so, the few photos I took with my phone don't really do the position justice.  And of course, being the sort of gig it is, the constant jostling made it even more difficult.  See what I mean: 

Looking down on the thrashing sea (well, large pond) of punters, I was glad to be standing in the relative calm on the balcony.  Stand-in bass player, Sergio, looked to be at home with the rest of the band, working seamlessly with Abe Cunningham's percussion and darting between his mic and the front of the stage, while Stephen Carter's hulking presence is personified by his massive guitar riffs layering over Frank Delgado's keys and soundscapes.  

But if the night belongs to anyone, it is to Chino Moreno, who not only held the audience in the palm of his hands but whose vocals were every bit as powerful as they are on record. Standing on a platform over the top of the fold-back speakers, it wasn't hard to imagine it as an altar, with Chino sacrificing his voice over and over, much to the delight of the sweaty throng.  

The set, a massive 23 songs, included material from all their releases.  I loved hearing older tracks like Minerva, Nosebleed, My Own Summer (Shove It) and personal favourite Around The Fur.  I was a little disappointed they didn't play Back To School but with six albums of material, its not hard to understand why it didn't make it.  There is no denying the power of the new tracks included in the the set however.  Diamond Eyes was made to be performed live while Sextape provides a welcome change of pace between Royal and big crowd favourite, Rocket Skates.  Check out the full set list here.

I'm sure Deftones have no problems playing the big stages, but there is nothing like seeing a band such as this in a small venue.  And while it's still early in the year and I may end up eating these words; could this be a contender for gig of 2011?  Only time will tell, I guess.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Forays Into Forgotten Vinyl - Vinyl Tidings


Mine and YourZ truly were weaned on a diet of flat black plastic growing up.  As we moved from teen petulance to young adult… well, erm, petulance, our vinyl collections were suddenly usurped by digital interlopers called CDs.  Because we (and yes, I have the courage, in this instance, to speak for both of us) are attracted by bright shiny things, our poor vinyl collections were superseded.  

Also out were the good old reliable turntables, replaced first by CD players then by DVD players.  We loved the new technology because we could pogo, mosh and/or bump'n'grind in front of the stereo without any fear of a causing a skip, jump or scratch.

Unlike most, however, we couldn’t let go of our albums.  When we combined households years ago, we both dragged two crates of records into the mix as well.  We used the full as speaker stands but found the more we looked at them, the more we longed for a record player.

Then late last year, Mine purchased, for a modest price, a Technics SL-D2 direct drive turntable (which apparently was considered quite good in its day).  Soon after, she also got a great preamp as a Christmas present. And this is where the music part of this post starts.

Christmas Day, instead of traditional carols, we played every single Midnight Oil album and the one single we owned.  It was like listening to a time machine, a powerful reminder of days gone by.  We listened to lots of other music too - The Flowers, Divinyls, John Kennedy, Paul Kelly, The Hollowmen and INXS, to name just the Australian acts (or at least those we could remember - we had a very jolly Christmas).  But it was Midnight Oil who ruled the day.  

We started with Place Without A Postcard, followed by Head Injuries, then 10, 9, 8..., Red Sails In The Sunset and the Power And The Passion single with a dub version on the B side - not necessarily in the right chronological order, but close.  As I listened, I felt connected with a time when life was stretched way out in front of me, brimming with all sorts of possibilities.  It teased me with the exuberance of youth I no longer have while reminding me of how good I have it now.  It was also the perfect way to spend a Christmas Day with the one I love.



While many of my friends and acquaintances have chosen to throw away their vinyl collection, I've never been able to my records go.  While more and more old music is re-released on CD and for download, many of the albums I loved in my youth miss out.  So for some time now, I've trawled the pages of eBay looking for my holy grail - a Direct Drive turntable in good condition at a reasonable price.

I have to confess that I bought this particular model because it was one I'd used before.  In fact, when my first husband bought it sometime in the late 70s it was very expensive and state-of-the-art.  I love the fact that it has a series of black lines on the side of the platen - so you can adjust the speed for pin-point 33 and 45 rpm speeds.

When I first bought it, we went in search of a phono preamp and picked one up for a very small sum.  Be warned, cheap preamps aren't worth the cash, and we abandoned our first vinyl session pretty quickly after finding a bass hum - probably because it wasn't earthed.  But Christmas Day dawned and the first crisp, clear notes rang out.  As did the hisses and crackles from long-ago times, and the odd jump as we re-learned to tip-toe past the turntable. (Do you have the same song in your head that I do?)

What I thought was remarkable about the rest of that day wasn't that we chose to play all our Midnight Oil (come on, Peter Garrett is our federal MP!) but that there were very few arguments about what we were going to play.  We pulled out lots of albums, scattered them all around the room and had a hoot of a time.  We danced (well, I danced), sang and generally carried on as if we were 20 years younger.

More please.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Comeback

Yes, we can hear you.  We know we've been a bit slack but as you can see, we put our designers to work while we swanned about enjoying time with family and friends - indulging ourselves copiously and often.  Twas the season to be jolly and all...

We talked a lot about where we might take the whole 'YourZenMine' thing once we'd finished our initial challenge.  All the hours spend at endless meetings, the arguments and debates can be condensed to the following five categories:
  1. What Isn't On Our Ipod
  2. Forays Into Forgotten Vinyl
  3. Visual Aspects
  4. Because We Don't Do Everything Together
  5. A Way With Words
The meanings of each of these is either evident or will become so as we continue.  

The astute among you will also notice the ratings have changed to suit our broader interests.  Feel free to make use of these any time you fancy.

And off we go...