Austin To Boston is the trip of a lifetime

Austin To Boston

Austin To Boston

The one good thing about flying anywhere from Australia is you’ve got a lot of time to consume the movies that are shown on the inflight entertainment system. I usually find in amongst all the crap I’ve either already seen or have no interest in seeing, you unearth a little gem you never even knew was out there.

On my most recent trip from Sydney to London, Austin To Boston was that gem. The movie tells the story of a road trip taken by some of the world’s most underrated artists, including Ben Howard, The Staves, Nathaniel Rateliff and Bear’s Den who, thanks to an initiative by Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett called Communion, got together for the tour.

Here’s a trailer.

The catch is that the tour takes an overly circuitous route from Austin to Boston, and they decide to do it in clapped out old Volkswagon campervans.

The journey is fascinating to watch, the music mind-blowing at every turn. I’m not going to give too much away because I want you to watch it and enjoy it for yourselves. It’s a beautiful film that tells wonderful stories of life on and off the road, not least Rateliff’s tale of his father’s untimely death.

Rae of sunshine

Rae Morris

Rae Morris

Thanks to the wonder of Bombay Bicycle Club, I’ve discovered the equal wonder of Rae Morris, a great singer-songwriter from Blackpool, England. Morris is just 22, but her few releases to date are magnificent. Her beautiful voice I first heard when she had a tilt as a backing vocalist for Bombay Bicycle Club on the song Luna. She’s also got bloody awesome hair and a sweet sense of style, for what it’s worth.

Morris’s Cold EP is a cracker, and this song, Eye To The Storm, demonstrates her vocal versatility and some serious songwriting chops. She has a debut album, Unguarded, slated for release in late January 2015. It’ll be a must listen for me. In the meantime, enjoy Eye To The Storm and Luna below.

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Watch Highasakite play Lover Where Do You Live

A sublime live live version of one of the many beautiful songs from Highasakite’s wonderful album Silent Treatment, performed for P3aksjonen 2014.

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Album Review: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways


Sonic Highways - Foo Fighters

Sonic Highways album art, a mish-mash of all the cities in which the album was recorded.

I was going to write my own review of Foo Fighters’ latest effort Sonic Highways, but this pretty much sums up my thoughts, so no need to bother really.

Originally posted on Consequence of Sound:

The story of Sonic Highways is both admirable and flawed in its conception. Foo Fighters, now nearing 20 years into their career as a rock band, decide to push themselves in new directions, traveling to eight American cities, recording with local legends in famed studios, leaving Dave Grohl to wait until the last minute to write the lyrics for each song, so as to be inspired by the surroundings, the experience. Foo Fighters wanted to make things new again, but something was lost along the way — their identity.

Though we are only three episodes into the excellent documentary series of the same name airing on HBO, Foo Fighters’ identity and their place in the fabric of American music history should never be in question. Dave Grohl was the fucking drummer of Nirvana. Foo Fighters can play stadiums around the world, packing their sets with songs that are simply a…

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Heart and Foo Fighters kick it out


Heart’s Nancy and Ann Wilson, rocking out.

Foo Fighters have been spending the week on Letterman as his resident band, and yesterday pulled off an awesome cover of Heart’s classic Kick It Out, a pumping track they released back in 1977. What made the cover special was that Heart’s siblings and Seattle rock royalty Ann and Nancy Wilson were there to race through the track with them, and the energy was awesome.

Here’s a clip.

I loved Heart as a kid, thought the sisters were both stunners, and saw them live at Wembley Arena in 1990. Now, in 2014, Ann is 64 and Nancy is 60, but they’ve still got it. Indeed Ann, who wrote this track, still has one of the best female rock voices I’ve ever heard. It’s so great to see them continuing to rock their socks off.

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The agonising enigma that is Emilie Nicolas

Emilie Nicolas.

Emilie Nicolas.

Earlier this year I wrote a little introduction to Emilie Nicolas, a great little singer from Norway who at the time had pushed out a couple of tracks on SoundCloud called Grown Up and Nobody Knows. She also had a track on Spotify, called Pstereo, which has since been pulled for Australian subscribers for some reason. It’s all a bit frustrating, because what little I’ve heard of Emilie I’ve absolutely loved. But finding more of it is proving impossible.

While browsing the Iceland Airwaves line-up for 2014, which sadly I’m not going to be at, I was flushed with jealousy for all those that will be there when I saw Emilie will be performing on the bill.

I immediately went on the hunt for more from her, and once again drew a blank, but I did find this live performance of Pstereo performed for the brilliant NRK P3 channel last year, which is an excellent and at the same time depressing example of how good she’ll be when she plays at Airwaves. The drum part is particularly magnificent in this live arrangement of the song.

A whole show will no doubt provide more than the three songs I’ve heard so far and, with some luck, propel her to greater heights and perhaps Australian shores. After all, nobody down here knew who Ásgeir was when he played Airwaves in 2012 when I attended, and he’s been Down Under a few times over the past 12 to 18 months.

Let’s hope Emilie treads the same path, otherwise I’ll have to seek her out somewhere in Europe on my next trip over. I’m addicted, and I need more.

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A plea to Australian music festival organisers: It’s time to grow up

Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits (via Instagram / @foraggio)

Ah music festivals. You either love them, or you hate them. In Australia, I’m unfortunately starting to fall into the latter camp, thanks to a combination of rule-hungry authorities and the largely immature people they attract Down Under, most of whom seem more interested in getting drunk and stupid than they do listening to some great live music in the great outdoors.

I’ve been to a few festivals, and most recently attended Austin City Limits Music Festival which, after Iceland Airwaves, is arguably the best I’ve ever experienced. It runs across two weekends, featuring some great and diverse acts, and caters for a huge crowd of music lovers. Attendance in 2013 averaged 75,000 per day, and I suspect this year was no different, despite a rainy second Saturday that probably kept a few at home. Sunday, though, was rammed full.

But there were no crazy lines for food, toilets or drinks. Everything seemed to work really well. And from what I saw, there was very little trouble – no fights between shirtless teens fuelled with bravado after a couple of light beers and ready to punch on. There were no kids slumped over kerbs, wrapped in the consoling arms of their slightly less inebriated friends. Why this is even more amazing than you might expect is that on the ground, the presence of police and security was so minimal, I barely knew they were there.

At the entrance, a few cops on pushbikes made sure people got in OK. They helped with directions and “policed” the crowd, as they should. There were no dogs sniffing everyone for drugs. No surrounding of frightened kids, intimidating them with questions about their age, or some other nonsense. There was a bag check at the entrance, of course, but once inside, nothing of note to deter you from having a great time. Get inside and enjoy yourself was the general feeling from everyone.

And the whiff of weed was thick at every stage, but no cops or stewards came rushing through the crowds to eject those partaking in green-tinged pleasures, and it’s not even legal in Texas yet. Indeed, festival goers passed around their joints reasonably freely, stranger to stranger, striking up great chats in the process, with smiles and laughter the result, not insults and fists. Kids walked through the park with parents. Babies were carried in slings or backpacks, their little ears protected by mufflers. I saw enough prams in there to suggest a creche was running nearby, too. In fact, come to think of it, Austin Kiddie Limits is in there, providing fun for families away from the crowds as well. Kids under 10 get in free with a fully-paid adult. Genius!

People carried camping chairs inside, rugs, mats, chilling by the stages of their choosing. Groups had flag bearers to make them easy to spot from distance, flown on extendable posts that stretched high in the air. Beer was full strength, beyond full strength in the craft beer tent, where alcohol volumes in some of the tipples nudged the 9 per cent mark.

And when the music played, everyone seemed genuinely interested in it, sang along, commented to each other on the merits of what they were hearing, regardless of whether they knew you or not. No mindless chat about boyfriend trouble in your ear, but a respectful crowd, all there to listen and enjoy. Each stage even had a signer for the deaf, who danced and rocked on while also signing the lyrics of Pearl Jam’s powerful tunes, or Eminem’s angry raps. I’ve never seen that before, but it was brilliant.

As an experience, Austin City Limits was as pleasant as any I’ve encountered, musically or otherwise. This city’s reputation as the “live music capital of the world” has been deservedly earned, and more than 200 live venues in this relatively small place is testament to that. People here know their shit, and love it in equal measure, and they often can’t wait to share their love of it with anyone who will listen.

So why am I bringing this all up? With the summer festival season coming soon to Australia, I guess this is an appeal of sorts to authorities there perhaps to come here to Austin and learn how to run an outdoor music event properly, not in the amateurish fashion in which they do now.

Everything that is done at the entrance of Big Day Out, St Jerome’s Laneway, and other festivals I’ve been to in Australia, was pretty much not done at Austin City Limits. No dogs, no confiscation of chairs, flags or water bottles. No over-zealous ejections when joints were lit up. No drink tokens that never add up. Police helped people rather than looking to bust them for something trivial. Stewards did the same, and danced along when they could to the music.

Conversely, local authority thinking in Australia seems to dictate that if you remove the fun before it’s even started, everything will be all right. However, that tactic generally tends to put your average festival goer offside. It promotes the very thing it’s designed to avoid – trouble.

Kids try to sneak things in, get angry when they’re caught out, drink too much because they’re upset about being policed so tightly, bad elements turn up to exploit those kids further, and the whole thing generally turns to crap inside a fews hours. The music plays on in the background, but it’s almost a sideshow at times to the behaviour of the buffoons in attendance.

And I remember at Laneway this year umbrellas being confiscated at the entrance. And it was raining in Sydney. I mean seriously. What the hell? “Bring a poncho,” they tell you. Umbrellas do get in the way for other festival goers, admittedly, but you get my point. People wear Camelbacks at Austin. And guess what; they fill them with water!! Would never happen in Australia. Off your back and in the bin. You can also pass in and out of ACL five times in a day if you want. No pass outs of Australian festivals. Why?

It’s depressing when you know it can be done so much better. So come on, Australia. Why not practice the laid back attitude the world misguidedly things characterises our nation. Make festivals worth going to. Provide some venues for bands in Sydney particularly. Renovate pokie rooms into live venues. Toss out the machines and bring back the humans. Loosen the reins on us all. Let life be lived, rather than controlled.

It’s not going to hurt us. On the contrary, it’ll improve us greatly.

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Mercury Music Prize picks talent from another planet

FKA twigs

Could FKA twigs win this year’s Mercury Music Prize?

The Mercury Music Prize, whether you’re British or otherwise, is commonly recognised as one of the awards that actually means something. It was set up as an alternative to the Brit Awards, the UK’s glittery Grammy equivalent, or a celeb-fest with an audience of screamers if you’re more cynical. The Mercury Music Prize labels itself as the “music equivalent to the Booker Prize for literature and the Turner Prize for art”, an indication of its high-brow self worth.

It’s fair to say the Mercury Music Prize has picked some pretty awesome albums since its inception in 1992. The inaugural award went to Primal Scream for Screamadelica. Portishead won in 1995 for the breathtaking Dummy, Gomez in 1998 for the fabulous Bring It On and the award blasted Elbow into a whole new level of global fame off the back of its release of The Seldom Seen Kid. Other winners include Suede, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey and more recently alt-J and James Blake. There is no question for me that those judging this thing have some bloody great taste, and it’s always heartening to be reminded that the homeland is continuing to produce music of the very highest calibre.

In case you don’t know, each year, 12 albums are short-listed for the prize by a judging panel of music industry people, and generally they’re all bloody fantastic. Quite how they choose a winner is beyond me because the field is always filled with such varied genres. There can be, though, only one winner.

Picking that winner for 2014 will be no less challenging than it has been in previous years, with another eclectic dozen of artists listed plucked from the initial 250 entrants, seven of them in the mix with debut albums. After criticism for picking out established artists, the panel of judges have gone for some newer faces this year, but in a year that has to date produced some quite spectacular new works, that’s not such a surprise to me. It’s been a great year for new music, not just in Britain but globally.

Here are the nominees and a line from me on what I think of the tunes they deliver:

Anna CalviOne Breath: A super record, in the mould of PJ Harvey or St Vincent. Not my favourite on the list, but well worth your time and certainly a stunning debut.

Bombay Bicycle ClubSo Long, See You Tomorrow: Perhaps my favourite on the list, but I’m a long time fan of these guys. They’ve changed it up a bit for this, their fourth release, and in a very positive way. It’s indie pop, with an edge, and I’ve always thought the Club had a unique sound. Perhaps the prize would alert the rest of the world to their talents.

Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots: We all love Damon. His debut solo effort is more Gorillaz than Blur, but as good as anything those two projects produced. But is it different enough to make it stand out? Not for me.

East India YouthTotal Strife Forever: At first listen, it’ll pique your interest, and William Doyle certainly has talent to burn when it comes to electronica. Grates a little as an album for me, but individually, the tracks can be awesome if the right mood strikes, and I’m not even a techno fan.

FKA twigsLP1: One of the best records you’ll hear this year, perhaps ever. This is something truly different, mesmerising on every level and utterly absorbing.

JungleJungle: Funky, fresh and fun, with some killer grooves that will have your butt wiggling. There is a hint of The Go! Team at times, but without the same delirious energy. Roll the windows down this summer, though, and blast this out to the world.

Young FathersDead: Perhaps my least favourite on the list. It’s hip-hoppy, but fails to take off for me at any point. Lyrically, it’s great, but rhythmically, it didn’t land a punch for me.

Kate TempestEverybody Down: I’ve got a soft spot for Kate, because she’s from Brockley, South London, where I grew up. From rapping on the night bus, she’s now set to win a big prize, and deservedly so. He rhymes are magnificent, delivered with wondrous skill. Storytelling has never been so damn cool. Trust me.

GoGo Penguinv2.0: It’s great to hear jazz with a modern twist, and these three lads deliver that in spades. Drummer Rob Turner has exceptional feel, which holds it all together from start to finish, but the compositions are super lovely.

Nick MulveyFirst Mind: Folk with a tribal twist, Mulvey has a fine record on his hands here. Studied in Cuba, studied Africa, and it all comes through here. He’s been nominated before with Portico Quartet, and his solo tilt is fully deserving of the same honour.

Polar BearIn Each and Every One: More slightly off-kilter jazz here, but it lacks the sophistication of GoGo Penguin. Still, it’s interesting if not spectacular, and at times sounds like a tune-up.

Royal BloodRoyal Blood: Rock out time to finish things off. This has hallmarks of Muse, Jack White, and a Tom Morello guitar tones at times. It’s a toe-tapper for sure, and will have heads banging everywhere it’s played.


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Alt-J releases third tease for new album

Alt-J has released it’s third track from the upcoming This Is All Yours album, and every time one more track appears, I get more excited, largely because they’ve all been so good. Behold Every Other Freckle.

Bring this album on already. It’s coming out next month, in case you were wondering.

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Freakish guitar skills on show

Jacky Bastek has entered this original composition, Idyll Of Hills, into the Lowden Young Guitarist Of The Year awards.

I wouldn’t normally highlight something like this, but it really is an extraordinary piece of music. There are shades of Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel in here, for sure, but Bastek could certainly carve out a niche for herself as a professional musician if she keeps up this sort of playing.

I’m not sure how old she is, but she has to be younger than 25 to enter the competition, which makes her playing all the more impressive.

Some of the other entries into the competition are also excellent. Check out Matteo Brenci here, playing another original track Raindance.

And here is Rhythm Shaw playing The Opening Act, with no discernible lack of dexterity.

Ricardo Gama’s entry is called Beautiful Demon.

What’s striking about all of these entries, and you can see many more on the Lowden Guitars Facebook page, is the percussive use of the guitar by these players, and the imaginative use of harmonics. Not a frequent listener to guitar soloists, I tend to forget what a versatile instrument it is.

I look forward to hearing who wins the competition. One thing is for sure, the judges are going to have a hell of a time picking the best. There certainly is no lack of guitar-playing talent out there.

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