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

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Music of the Spheres (a reprise)

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Thought I’d add some notes (liner notes if you will) about the previous entry that could do with some further information about a couple of people that appear on the album that I made mention of.

Firstly, Hayley Westenra was mentioned a couple of times. She is a New Zealander (so just across the pond on the East Islands of Australia :-)) and has been classically trained as a soprano. She is well known from her classical and celtic recordings with her first album, Pure being released when she was just 16. This album went to number 1 on the UK classical albums chart in 2003 and I believe remains to this day the fastest selling debut classical album. She is also a member of the group Celtic Women. She has sung some pop tunes as well as classical and there are a number of UTube videos of her performances. She has lived in the UK for a number of years now and undoubtedly came to the notice Mike Oldfield due to her high profile in that country.

The other person mentioned is the Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who took up piano lessons at the tender age of three! He has won many prizes for his playing and played in the Beijing Concert Hall and with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra when only 13. Again he is classically trained and now 28, has quite a discography behind himself already. He currently resides in the United States where he was recorded for six tracks (1,2,3,5,6 and 9) on Music of the Spheres and his playing on that album was just brilliant.

These two young musicians add a great deal to Mike Oldfield’s album and it is pleasing to see him take the initiative and use them.

Mike Oldfield

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Music of the Spheres cover

Mike Oldfield has come along way since Tubular Bells in 1973, where he not only launched his own career but also that of Richard Branson and Virgin Records. This new offering, Music of the Spheres from nearly two years ago immediately brought to my mind Holst’s Planets. Quite possibly that was Mike Oldfield’s secondary intent too. Perhaps it was to update that nearly one hundred year old recording for the rock/pop generations, if so, then he has succeeded admirably. Though his primary purpose was to interpret the old theory that every celestial body has an inner music, even though inaudible, and his Music of the Spheres is making it audible. Giving it breath. These 14 tracks will delight your musical senses.

Mike Oldfield’s contribution on the recording, other than producing and writing it all, was the classical guitar. It is magically woven in with the orchestra on many tracks, in particular on Harbinger (and its reprise), Shabda, Harmonia Mundi and Musica Universalis. The orchestra by the way is the Sinfonia Sfera Orchestra. Also they don’t figure on all tracks and there are some stripped down tracks, like Silhouette, which is mainly Oldfield’s classical guitar together with Lang Lang on piano. There is good variety of tempo too over the tracks. From the slower Harmonia Mundi with its impressive classical guitar, to the up tempo Aurora, which has a great violin section along with a choir being used as an instrument building to a very complex piece with a huge dynamic range. A pleasure for your senses! This use of the choir is again used on Prophecy, Aurora and Harmonia Mundi with great effect.

While essentially an instrumental album there are some vocal pieces over and above the use of the choir as mentioned above. There are two tracks, On My Heart and its reprise, on which Hayley Westenra provides her lovely vocals. These tracks provide a refreshing break from the instrumental assault of the rest of the album and Hayley’s voice is a delight to listen too and a great reference track for female vocals. Also on that track is the talent of Oldfield on the classical guitar. Certainly a favourite song for me on the album. One could go on about many of the tracks on this album, but the best test is to listen to it either by loudspeakers or headphones. The beauty of the latter is it gives a more personal performance. I should mention that although the album is divided into tracks and listed that way, it is really just one track. If you close your eyes so that you can’t look at the track numbers on the CD player you will be hard pressed to know when one track ends and the other starts. Consequently you need to set aside about 46 minutes to listen to this album in one sitting. Give yourself that one pleasure.

There is so much I haven’t mentioned in enough detail and I should go on about Lang Lang’s twinkling of the ivories, but will refrain. Just give it a listen. The recording of this album is very good indeed, much better than the usual recording of standard mainstream albums these days. I guess so it should be given Oldfield’s background and means. It was recorded at Abbey Road studios with the exception of the piano pieces which were recorded halfway around the world from Abbey Road at Legacy Recording Studios in New York. The complexity of the recording and the sound-staging is just great.

Sonics: 4.7/5  Music: 4.6/5

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

Reviews coming

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Just managed to get this blog published and some recommendations will be coming in the next few days.

Please revisit in a few days. Thanks.

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