Chad Parkhill

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Beyond the Valley’s Noble Savages

Beyond the Valley 1
Published by Overland, 19 August 2014. Original post. Promotional image from Beyond the Valley’s website.

Music festivals are, almost by definition, supposed to have their fingers on the cultural pulse. Thus it hardly augurs well that the Beyond the Valley festival—a new player in Australia’s already-crowded music festival scene, to take place on Phillip Island over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day—has chosen to promote itself through a series of videos that tick nearly every box of colonial appropriation from Native American cultural traditions. A debate about the use and misuse of war bonnets (traditionally worn only by male warriors of certain Plains Indian groups) has been raging in both North America and the United Kingdom since a Canadian electronic music festival, Bass Coast, advised attendees that war bonnets or anything resembling them would not be permitted onsite. For an Australian festival to launch a publicity campaign that places white Australians in war bonnets front and centre in this climate looks less like carelessness than a deliberate provocation.

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Radical Honesty

EMA

EMA’s The Future’s Void

Published by Killings, 23 April 2014. Original post. EMA by Erica M. Anderson.

Erica M. Anderson’s recently released second solo album, The Future’s Void, has been for the most part well-received by critics—albeit with some caveats. Most have praised the way she has maintained her songwriting identity despite shifting from the folk/blues/noise rock of her debut, Past Life Martyred Saints, to a 90s-influenced mélange of post-grunge and industrial pop (à la Nine Inch Nails). The bone of contention seems to be that The Future’s Void is understood as tackling a Big Theme—namely, our relationship to internet technologies—and is therefore pushing a Message, in contrast to the supposedly message-less Past Life Martyred Saints.

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Beyond Tragedy

HTRK

HTRK’s Psychic 9–5 Club

Published by The Quietus, 22 April 2014. Original post. HTRK by Gareth Jones (Creative Commons).

It’s impossible to talk about Psychic 9–5 Club without talking about tragedy. The press release accompanying advance copies of the album makes this explicit: this is, after all, the first HTRK album without any input from founding member Sean Stewart, who took his own life as the band were working on their second album, 2011’s Work (Work, Work). Even in their original three-piece incarnation, HTRK were no strangers to tragedy, having worked closely with Australian post-punk legend Rowland S. Howard—on both their own debut, Marry Me Tonight, and Howard’s final solo album Pop Crimes—before his untimely passing in 2009. You can therefore forgive Ghostly International’s publicists for pushing the band-marked-by-tragedy-makes-record-about-hope narrative, because in one sense it’s absolutely true: HTRK absolutely have known a great deal of tragedy—far more than their fair share of it—and Psychic 9–5 Club is indeed a record with a sunnier disposition than the claustrophobic Work (Work, Work).

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Do Music Critics Need Music Theory?

Pythagoras
Published by Killings, 9 April 2014. Original post. Woodcut of Pythagoras from Theorica musicae by Franchino Gaffurio (1492).

Canadian musician Owen Pallett—the man who arranged the strings on Arcade Fire’s albums, co-wrote the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Her, and has a bunch of wonderful solo albums—can now add another feather to his cap: that of an engaging music writer. His recent series of three essays for Slate, each aiming to explain the appeal of a well-known pop song through music theory, tackles some relatively dry subject matter with impressive brio.

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Drips, Leaks, and Spurts

Todd Terje
Published by Killings, 26 March 2014. Original post. Todd Terje by Lei Yang (Creative Commons).

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement—musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track that chases a noisy, transcendent ecstasy. Finally, Todd Terje released his collaboration with Bryan Ferry: a cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny and Mary’ that ramps up the latent sadness of the original into something surprisingly moving.

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Uncanny Beauty

Metronomy

Metronomy’s Love Letters

Published by The Quietus, 14 March 2014. Original post.   Metronomy by Mike Mantin (Creative Commons).

For all that Metronomy’s 2011 album The English Riviera was compared with Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac on its release—the critical idée reçu being that it channeled both of these heavyweights of 70s AOR—the truth is that it actually sounds nothing like either of these bands (who don’t sound all that much like each other in any case). Go on, crack open your streaming service of choice and compare ‘The Look’ with, say, ‘Peg’ or ‘Go Your Own Way’. While it’s clear that The English Riviera has taken a few hints from the aforementioned, it’s also clear that there’s nothing derivative about it—it disregards the cruisy pleasures of Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan for something nervier, reedier.

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Singing Out

Merilai Lilburn
Published by Killings, 12 March 2014. Original post. Merilai Lilburn from Lilburn family photo collection.

My maternal grandmother, Merilai Lilburn, recently died in a nursing home in Katikati, New Zealand, of complications arising from pneumonia. She was 82 years old. At the time of her death, I and the other members of our extended family based in Australia were flying to Auckland from our homes on Australia’s east coast, trying to arrive in Katikati in time to bid her a final farewell. We didn’t make it, but this mad dash to Katikati did have the effect of drawing together a geographically atomised family for close to a week of mourning and funeral preparation.

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Something Rich and Strange

Beck

Beck, Sea Change and Morning Phase

Published by Killings, 26 February 2014. Original post. Beck by Peter Hapak.

Few artists are as burdened by their pasts as Beck Hansen. The man responsible for ‘Loser’ released three albums’ worth of material (Stereopathetic Soulmanure, Mellow Gold and One Foot in the Grave) in the year after it first hit the airwaves, as if to prove that he had been working at this music caper for a very long time and was, by extension, no one-hit wonder. While none of those albums became the cornerstone of his career, their sheer musical variety demonstrated something that has become a truism when talking about Beck’s output: namely, that he’s not an easy man to pin down.

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Direct and Artless

Planningtorock

Planningtorock’s All Love’s Legal

Published by The Quietus, 26 February 2014. Original post. Planningtorock by Bang On PR.

Planningtorock—the solo project of Bolton-born, Berlin-based Jam (formerly Janine) Rostron—has long been dogged by comparisons to the work of her friends and collaborators The Knife. These haven’t always been accurate or fair; contra Pitchfork, I can’t see all that much in common between the musical exuberance and mad funfair atmosphere of Planningtorock’s 2006 debut Have It All and The Knife’s taut, dark techno masterpiece of the same year, Silent Shout. Yet as her career has progressed, Rostron seems to have acquiesced to those comparisons. She worked more closely with The Knife on the magisterial soundtrack to Hotel Pro Forma’s opera Tomorrow, in a Year (2010); and her second album, 2011’s W, contains a good few tricks taken from Karin Dreijer Andersson’s playbook, including pitch-bending vocals as a form of gender-bending.

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Uncomfortable Complicity

St Vincent live

St. Vincent’s St. Vincent

Published by The Quietus, 25 February 2014. Original post. St. Vincent by Jason Persse (Creative Commons).

St. Vincent’s eponymous title, coming as it does after Annie Clark’s three prior solo albums and her collaboration with David Byrne, implies that the record will be a clear statement of intent. Fittingly enough for an artist with near-legendary creative control over her output, the title was a very deliberate decision. “I was reading Miles Davis’ autobiography,” she recently told Paste, “and he talks about how the hardest thing for any musician to do is to sound like himself … and that’s why I decided to self-title this record because I feel like I sound like myself.” It’s an uncannily good time for Clark to sound like herself, too: the Byrne collaboration, the ever-so-slightly disappointing Love This Giant, may not have sold by the bucketload, but it certainly has introduced her work to a much wider audience. Good thing, then, that St. Vincent is the best kind of statement album: it’s a sharp, laser-focused collection designed to show off Clark’s ample virtues as a songwriter and performer.

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