The Go-Betweens Play “The Streets Of Your Town”

The Go-Betweens 16 LoversLaneListen to this track by Brisbanite post-punk jangle-poppers The Go-Betweens. It’s “The Streets Of Your Town”, a single as taken from their much-lauded 1988 album 16 Lovers Lane, their sixth album, and their most high-profile and commercially successful, too.

By the time they’d recorded this song, they had made the move back to Australia from London where they had been based for many years, having followed contemporaries The Birthday Party to seek their fortunes in the UK. Ironically, it was their return to their homeland that yielded their best results of the decade, with this song making modest waves on the British charts as well as on the Australian ones, even if those results were respectable rather than the breakthrough success they hoped for.

Despite the lack of commercial traction, the return to Australia had an effect on how the writing came out. From the grey melancholy of London and into the 10-minutes-from-the-beach lifestyle presented by relocating to Sydney, the atmosphere of the album took on a decidedly summery feel. As such, songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster experienced a burst of energy, which can certainly be felt in this song and is the core reason why this album would make such a long-lasting impact. Yet some of the dark clouds that had been so pervasive in London had followed them, mingling with the Australian sunshine, reminding them that time had moved on and perhaps so had they. Read more

The Avalanches Spin “Frontier Psychiatrist”

Frontier_Psychiatrist_singleListen to this track by Australian thrift shop denizens and razor-sharp sampling jesters The Avalanches. It’s their 2000 hit “Frontier Psychiatrist”, as taken from their (to date) sole full length record Since I Left You. The song would place on UK and US charts by 2001, providing critical and commercial success.

It’s difficult to broadly apply the term “songwriting” to this track in the traditional sense, just because it is made up entirely of found recordings from across a variety of recorded music streams. This includes comedy recordings, with the central one being Canadian comedy team Wayne & Shuster’s titular sketch which is heavily quoted, along with sound effects records, instructional recordings, Mariachi music, film scores, movie dialogue (John Waters’ Polyester to be exact), and sixties Enoch Light Orchestra flourishes all mixed in to make a glorious whole. How this was not a complete mess is a tribute to how deftly arranged the samples actually are. Sampling nay-sayers take note: not everyone can do this well.

I think another aspect of this song that is worth noting is that it helpfully undercuts what electronica and dance music had come to mean by the beginning of the century. A big part of that has to do with its varied and often unexpected source material, of course. But, another aspect of what makes this tune stand out is simply this: it’s hilarious! Read more

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Play “Breathless”

Abattoir_Blues+The_Lyre_of_OrpheusListen to this track by gothically-inclined and supremely literate songwriter Nick Cave and his stalwart backing band The Bad Seeds. It’s “Breathless”, a single as taken from one-half of the 2004 double LP, or really a two albums in one package, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.

The two records were designed to be separate listening experiences, even if they were packaged as a unit. Abattoir Blues is the crunchy rock record, full of snarling fire and brimstone, and relying on Cave’s well-known and unique ability to deliver his story-songs with the intensity of a nineteenth century traveling preacher with the devil at his heels. The Lyre of Orpheus is the kinder, gentler statement of the two, characterized by a kind of ecstatic poetic vision rooted in the English Romantic tradition. This song, a single released as a double A-side with “There She Goes My Beautiful World” in November of 2004, is a sterling representation of that latter approach.

Yet, Cave’s common thread that blurs the lines between the erotic and the sacred is well in place on Lyre of Orpheus, just as it is on Abattoir Blues. This song covers these themes pretty soundly, too.  Read more

Courtney Barnett Plays “Pedestrian At Best”

sometimes i sit and think and sometimes i just sitListen to this track by up-and-coming Melburnian singer-songwriter and leftie guitar slinger Courtney Barnett. It’s “Pedestrian At Best”, a single off her 2015 full-length debut record entitled Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.  This is a live version as featured on a Guardian session, recorded in Shoreditch in London.

This new record was built upon the momentum Barnett created from two previous EPs, another band in Immigrant Union, lots of live appearances as solo act, and on a developing style that matches stream-of-consciousness narratives with tons (make that the more Antipodean heaps) of wattage on top. Her song “Avant Gardener” from her 2013 EP How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose as put out by her own Milk! label won the praises of Pitchfork as best new track that year. This new album scored a solid 8.6 rating from the Pitchforkers, almost as if it really, really got to them. Plus, there have been several mentions of musical goodliness from the usual suspects by now; Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Guardian, NME, and beyond.

With every new artist that makes a splash like this, comparisons with those artists who have similarly blazed the trails of their times are unavoidable. You can choose your own here. But, my immediate reaction is that no one in recent memory has started where Courtney Barnett starts with on this tune, and on the record in general. Where you certainly can make those comparisons to what is happening on this song, somehow they are hollow when you try to impose them. This tune is bigger than all that, and so I suspect is Courtney Barnett.

Read more

Hunters And Collectors Play “Throw Your Arms Around Me”

Hunters and Collectors Human FrailtyListen to this track by Australian post-new wave ambassadors Hunters And Collectors. It’s “Throw Your Arms Around Me”, a hit single off of their high-profile 1986 record Human Frailty, and released earlier as a stand-alone two years earlier

This song is considered to be a national treasure, being highly regarded as one of the best singles recorded by any band in Australia. It has scored top ten placements in poles for decades after it was re-recorded on the album and put out again as a single. Maybe a part of its appeal is that it’s a love song, although one that adds some lyrical angles that isn’t typical in love songs. Another aspect is that it’s nothing short of an anthem, designed to be sung for and with a live crowd. Listening to it, you can hear the space set apart in the arrangement for the heaving throngs singing along while swaying out in front of stages.

It also hints at something that is certainly resonant to human experience; our ephemeral existence and our call to seize the day. Read more

The Paper Kites Play “Bloom”

Listen to this track by autumnally inclined indie folk concern from Melbourne Australia, The Paper Kites. It’s “Bloom”,  a single that would later appear on their initial EP, also called Bloom released in 2010.

The band started the year before that, slowly building up an audience through old-fashioned word of mouth. In the meantime, the band made the EPs themselves making them very limited editions. But this was not before band members Sam Bentley and Christina Lacy met during high school, playing as a duo initially at local venues, weddings, and festival shows in and around Melbourne.

The band have since filled out into a quintet with Bentley and Lacy each singing and playing guitar, bolstered by, Josh Bentley on drums, Sam Rasmussen on bass, and multi-instrumentalist Dave Powys playing guitars, banjo, and lap steel.

The Paper Kites

Actually, this “make your own EP by hand” gambit was tried and true for this band on a number of occasions since their birth as a band. They eschewed the making of a full length record at one point, opting for another EP and more touring before putting out 2013’s States. So with all of this local word of mouth traction in Australia, how did they move the needle to  being heard on CBC Radio One by me recently?  Read more

The Church Play “Under The Milky Way”

starfish_albumListen to this track by Antipodean post-punk quartet The Church. It’s “Under the Milky Way”, their breakthrough single in the North American charts as taken from 1988’s Starfish. The single would be released in February of that year, scoring #24 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song and the record off of which it comes was recorded in Los Angeles, produced by stalwart session guy Waddy Watchel (Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards) and Greg Ladanyi (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon). Maybe the backgrounds of these two slick and professional L.A mainstream rock guys didn’t exactly match up with the post-punk, neo-psych, laid-back sensibilities of a band who’d come out of Australia like the Church.

Yet, the record would be the Church’s most commercially successful record to date, and with this song a big hit. It would appear in an episode of Miami Vice – surely a sign of late ’80s mainstream success!

But, the song was born out of a place that was largely the opposite of the euphoria of success. Read more

Hoodoo Gurus Play “What’s My Scene?”

Here’s a clip of Antipodean power pop underdogs Hoodoo Gurus with their jangly anthem for the uncool, “What’s My Scene?” as taken from their 1987 disc, Blow Your Cool!.  If you’re looking for candidates for the most ironic and self-referential would-be pop smash ever recorded, I’d say this should make anyone’s top five.

The 80s was the decade of the demographic where radio and pop music was concerned.  It was during this time when a record release was becoming less about the songs on the album itself, and more about the buzz surrounding it, even before anyone heard a note.  And post-MTV and Thriller, visuals and production values ruled the day.  In short, 1987 was a poor time to be a goofy, poorly dressed power-pop band, let alone one from Australia.

The odds were against Hoodoo Gurus by the late 80s in the image department – too quirky, too idiosyncratic, too unpolished by half.  All of these were cardinal sins in the 80s, at least when it came to mainstream success.  So as the band was on a major label (Elektra), it was thought that a production overhaul on this their third album in working with the same producer who oversaw albums by fellow Australian outfits INXS, The Divinyls, and AC/DC – Mark Opitz – might do the trick for North American radio.

Luckily, Opitz merely sharpened up what had been there all along, instead of trying to jam this group into a mold that didn’t suit them.  As such, the sound is crisp yet spacious and the songs shine through.  And of course, the group’s left-of-centre take on the world still shines.  These guys remain proud to never really fit in at the cool kids’ table, during a time when nearly everyone in their position would do nearly anything to do just that.  As such, the record is a success.

Where it might have been something of a danger to take an idiosyncratic band and try to market them 80s style, the strength the material makes this as charming and cheeky as anything they’d ever done. This song and the album off of which it comes didn’t set the world on fire.  Yet it certainly makes for great, and timeless, power pop which was coming out of an age that didn’t value music this straightforward in the mainstream.  And of course it has the best opening line in any song I can immediately think of – “… And another thing”.  The subject matter of this song proves that the band had everything in perspective enough to be able to allude to the answer to their own musical question.

They were their own scene.

For more music and information, check out the Hoodoo Gurus MySpace Page.