Eagle and the Worm

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As Monty (Python) was want to say, now for something a bit different. Well, something like that anyway. From the Melbourne outfit Eagle and the Worm we have a look at two of their singles from last year. Interestingly they are both available on CD and 7 inch vinyl, though I haven’t given the latter a spin on the old turntable as yet. Perhaps something for a future blog. This band is very different musically from the others I’ve reviewed here.

The first single All I Know has just the two tracks, that title track and the cover of It’s Not Unusual. If the latter song title sounds familiar, it was originally recorded by one Tom Jones, who took it to the number one position (the first of 3 number ones for him), in the first half of 1965. The Eagle and the Worm do the song justice too, even though sung and played in a similar vein. I think it is better than the original. In both tracks the brass section just make it happen, so much so one is quickly tapping along with the melody. The castanets, tambourine, guitar, the understated backing vocals, all add brilliantly to the mix in both songs and soon had me dancing on the inside, while sitting and listening to the songs. The male lead vocals is very distinctive and he adds a lot of gusto to each of the songs. After listening several times with both systems, I just couldn’t get the melody out of my mind. Bit addictive really. Loved the brass section. What more can I say — loved their pop/funk sound.

The second single Futureman has four tracks, two copies of the title track, one extended version and the other a radio edit which is some 50 seconds shorter than the former. This format is repeated with the second song Goodtimes, with again the radio edit being some 65 seconds shorter than the extended version. Go with the extended versions in both cases as it prolongs the ecstasy. With Futureman, from the low-fi intro till the piano filled end, if your foot or body isn’t tapping or swaying to the music then my friend you are a musical zombie or deaf. There is some great piano, trumpet, drums and distorted guitar woven into that simple but effective melody. One of their trademarks I believe. Some of the lyrics transported me back to the 1960s when they thought our future would be people flying around with their own personal rocket packs. With lines like

“…I strap a rocket to my side, to take a look from clearer skies…”,

how could you think otherwise. While the lyrics did become a little repetitive towards the end of the song the piano kept the interest alive. So how would our future be without Futureman?

The instrumentation on Goodtimes is different again. Now there are acoustic guitars in the mix with the drums, electric guitars and brass section, though the latter is much more understated, which is a pity. So I’m for “bringing back the good times…” but also for bringing back the brass section to prominence. Again lyrically it is simple and not meant to be profound, but just good fun (times). Again a good hook of a melody is there. You can hear some laughter on this track, so it sounds like they had fun recording this song. That is the whole purpose of this single. Put it in the CD player, then turn up the volume and have some fun. Good light hearted stuff. Bit addictive too, just as music should be.

Sonics: 3.9/5  Music: 4.3/5

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Big Scary

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Well Big Scary is not really BIG, they are only a duo, though they do produce a big sound for only two and they aren’t really scary either. However these two from Melbourne had dished up a nice tasty treat of an EP with a great deal of variety in just the six songs.

Released just last year (2010), At the Mercy of the Elements opens with an up tempo track of distorted guitars and driving drums. These two instruments are the staple diet of Tom and Jo and it shows as those instruments are well mastered. The second track Lullabies, Lies and Goodbyes brings together the elements of guitar and drums with a great melody and better lyrics than the first song. Here again the track is mainly up tempo with some very nice variations which maintains the interest sonically more so that the first. Also the use of the female vox of Jo builds a better complexity to the song than the first.

The next two tracks titled Creature of the Night parts 1 and 2 are essentially one song. They have similar durations, melody and theme, so I’ve treated them as one. Here the tempo changes to a slower pace with a fine slow guitar intro in part 1. Again the sparse use of the female vocals highlights Tom vocals while simultaneously adding a further depth to the song. The use of acoustic and electric guitars in part 2 gives a nice smorgasbord for the auditory senses.

The next track Falling Away is the song that introduced me to the band and I think is the standout song on the EP. The intro starts with a solo piano, which adds a very different dynamic then comes the introduction of the drums. This sparse intro just works and works well. The melody is catchy, with the lyrics being a bit dark but certainly the best so far. Jo vox joins Tom on the chorus to give that nice layered feel again. It is the longest track on the EP and deserves to be, as this songs has been well crafted and just works. The final track is the title track, At the Mercy of the Elements, which offers the surprise dessert for the connoisseur of being an instrumental. Again an engaging piano then drums intro, that winds its way around a catchy melody and good rhythm. A short final delectable delight to satisfy the senses.

This short EP has it all in a reasonably stripped down form, with something to please most people, if not all. However do yourself a favour and don’t buy a compressed version online, but instead purchase the CD to hear all the nuances. Besides, if you want to add it to your digital music server, you can just rip the CD. Lossless of course!

Enjoy.

Sonics: 3.8/5  Music: 4.1/5

Tinpan Orange

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Tinpan Orange’s debut album Bottom of the Lake which has been around for about 17 months, is a real delight. The trio from Melbourne have put together 12 songs from their pop-folk repertoire. The main vocals are supplied by the sibling team of Emily and Jesse Lubitz, with the former contributing a total of 10 of the songs and singing on those she contributed. Similarly, Jesse sings on the two he wrote.

The first thing to strike the listener is the stripped down instrumentation of mainly guitars, mandolin, ukulele and violin with some piano and percussion thrown in. This is very different from much of what is standard for bands these days of electric lead, rhythm and bass guitars and drums. Consequently it is very different from the mainstream and refreshing to hear and to become lost in. Something very different. The melodies are simple with minimal chords but very catchy in particular La La La, Another Town, Fitzroy St and Romeo Don’t Come which soon has your foot tapping in time.

There is some great layering of the guitars and mandolin as well as with the backing vocals. The last being provided by the other members of the Lubitz family. The Lubitz’s backing harmonies in La La La, Round n Round and Song for Frida Kahlo maybe understated but blend with the instruments beautifully. Certainly the instrumentation of these songs is very well done and a credit to the band and the recording engineer. Further credit to the variety of the instruments too. Loved the mandolin and ukulele when they were used and heard the piano accordion in a couple of tracks, though that may have been generated by a keyboard. The use of the harmonium was another delight too. For those who don’t know the harmonium is a member of the reed organ family, though again I suspect it was electronically created via a keyboard and not the acoustic version. It is a very fine recording, though there was too much compression for my liking, but that is typical these days.

Along with the catchy melodies there are some interesting lyrics. I found it particularly pertinent, in fact almost prophetic, the line “outside it’s raining like a machine gun” in Lovely. I listened to this track as it poured like a machine gun. In fact, it has been pouring like a machine gun for days now and we are flooded in here near Brisbane. The opening lines in that same song are “I know people don’t really fix things anymore, but if I ever break you I swear, I’ll put you back together again”. Loved the sentiment and the song had me hooked from that time. Of course that is what any songwriter is after. In Fitzroy St Jesse writes “he smiled the way that damaged people smile, he hid it well inside his whole world was ending”, so he must know some of the same people that I know.

Another stand out song was Saudades where Emily’s delivery has emotion dripping off nearly every word. Check out her delivery of “it comes and goes away”. Again some interesting lyrics in this song but it is the delivery that steals the show. Oh how that can make a difference! There isn’t a great deal of bass in this album, so when listening on headphones the sound stage and the music just engulfs one. Saudades definitely benefits from listening on headphones and one is transported to a room with Emily just singing for your personal pleasure. Make sure you have a good pair of headphones and headphone amp and give it a listen that way.

This is one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in some time. In fact it is up there with Wendy Rule’s debut album from 1996 Zero, which is my reference debut album. Yes certainly up there with it but hasn’t bested it. The only trouble with such a good album as this, as it was for Wendy, is the follow up. I hope Tinpan Orange are up to the task.

Sonics: 3.8/5  Music: 4.6/5