Music Cities of the World:
THE reason behind launching a new feature is…
not so much filling time but (intended to) highlight areas of the world who boast an incredible music scene. London always gets a lot of focus: it is a city beyond reproach when it comes to the musicians here. Across the U.K., there are some wonderful towns/cities that get overlooked or ignored. We often assume people move to areas like London because there is no scene where they live. We’d be shocked to realise just how much great music can be heard all around the country. In previous reviews, I have stated how hard countries like Scotland have to fight to have an equal voice (compared with) England. In a future piece, I will focus on Edinburgh/Glasgow and other parts of the world – Stockholm, L.A. and New York are places I want to visit very soon.
I am compelled to look at Melbourne for a number of different reasons. It is a city I long to visit and is top of my ‘to-see’ itinerary. Aside from the day-long flight and loneliness (don’t think I’ll find anyone to drag along) it beckons and calls me. There are the beautiful beaches and bodies; the stunning landscapes, history and culture – it is the music scene that really hooks me.
I guess Australia suffers the same sort of fate when it comes to their music towns/cities. Melbourne and Sydney will grab a lot of attention but often outmuscle Brisbane and Perth for media attention. I know for a fact Brisbane has a huge music scene there and we should all spend more time investigating musicians there. Melbourne is a place that has always provided stunning music and some of the finest bands around.
IN THIS PHOTO: Crowded House
Whilst Crowded House’s members might not originate in Melbourne: the guys formed in the city in 1985 and are noted as one of the nation’s finest bands. The brothers Finn (Neil and Tim – although Tim joined the band late) are from New Zealand but settled down in Melbourne. Although the band was blighted by tragedy and setbacks – original drummer Paul Hester sadly died in 2005 – they have made some of the most timeless music of all time. The band never really created a bad album: their eponymous debut and follow-up, Temple of Low Men, were both acclaimed and overflowed with Neil Finn’s songwriting genius. It is the 1991 album, Woodface, many of us associate with the band. Containing hits like It’s Only Natural, Fall At Your Feet and Weather With You found Tim (Finn) join songwriting forces with his brother and craft a superb album. Despite Tim leaving the band during Crowded House’s U.K. tour (to promote the album) the band created another wonder in 1993’s Together Alone. Intriguer was the band’s last album (2010) but there is no suggestion the guys have called time and continue to inspire artists, fans and critics around the world. Electronic group Cut Copy released Bright Like Neon Love (their debut album) in 2004 and impressed critics with its textures, complexities and blend of emotion and technology.
Compared with the likes of Daft Punk and Fleetwood Mac: the guys followed that with the superb In Ghost Colours.
Whilst it has been four years since their last album, Free Your Mind, they are another Melbourne act that looks set to record new music – let’s hope 2017 sees them introduce another album. Thick as Thieves was released last year and the third album from The Temper Trap. The guys are best known for their track Sweet Disposition: the album, Conditions, had plenty of other great songs and showed what a strong unit the band is. If their music is not as revolutionary and progressive as you’d hope – nodding to the past without adding or updating things – the performances, compositions and passion they project cannot be faulted.
IN THIS PHOTO: Milwaukee Banks
Other legendary Melbourne bands include Men at Work and Air Supply. In the past, the city was synonymous with a certain type of songwriting/act. Maybe a more traditional and predictable – but stunning none-the-less – sound but one that captivated plenty of hearts, More-recent groups like Love of Diagrams have opened and diversified Melbourne’s portfolio. A lot of newer acts are mixing genres and blending sounds like Post-Punk, Electronica and Pop. The 2001-formed band has recorded four studio albums. Their current/last album was 2015’s Blast but they are still one of the most intriguing and strong acts from the Melbourne area. The bands mix angular guitars, call-and-response vocals and energised drumming: all coming together in an orgy of splendour, colour and rouse. Let’s hope we have not heard the last of the band because they have moved Melbourne’s sound on and ensured its music is more evolved and cross-pollinating than past years. Architecture in Helsinki is another group that has been quiet for a couple of years (their last album was 2014’s NOW + 4EVA) but are sure to release new material soon. Last year, there were a fair few acts bustling for attention in Melbourne. In terms of solo artists/non-bands, there was plenty on offer. GL recall the 1980s and have been compared with the likes of Madonna and Blondie.
They bring back that ‘80s analogue wonder without distilling it or seeming insincere.
There are not a lot of modern acts that can evoke the 1980s without making it sound camp and plastic – Shura is another act that handles the decade with passion and care. Milwaukee Banks is one of the newest propositions from Melbourne and stunned critics with their debut album, Deep into the Night. The Hip-Hop duo started out in late-2013 but has been rising steadily throughout the last few years. The deep and layered music was described as savvy and complex by blog adamNOTeve and it (the album) “is a deeply introverted LP exploring the journey of Milwaukee Banks so far, as well as the wider societal complexities eschewed in modern society; such as the fact that life cycles by so quickly and often overwhelms us to the point that we lose sight of what matters most”. They are an act you need to keep your eyes on this year and see how they follow that colossus, fascinating album.
Sunbeam Sound Machine is another act that were featured by Tone Deaf (back in 2015) who said: “…we’ve not witnessed a talent like this since a young Perth lad by the name of Kevin Parker stormed into the music scene some years ago, and the DIY aesthetic that runs in Parkers veins is ramped in Sowersby too”. The moniker of Nick Sowersby; it looks likely there will be some more music sometime this year. Sunbeam Sound Machine, I know, have inspired a lot of upcoming musicians in Melbourne (and Australia) and often gets overlooked by mainstream media there. Baro is a young prodigy still in his teens and that blends chilled-out vibes with Jazz and Funk samples. The Hip-Hop master will go onto huge things and should definitely be on your list of hot young artists to follow. Included in Tone Deaf’s list of up-and-coming acts to watch; RaRa were linked alongside fellow city-mates ECCA VANDAL. The style comprises left-field Hip-Hop and comparisons have been made with De La Soul. The lyrics the band produces are imaginative and vivid; it has an old-skool vibe but places originality and freshness over everything else. It is hard distilling the band into a word or two so best you check them out – they are a band I hope to hear more of this year. I have focused a lot on the boys of Melbourne but there are plenty of female/female-fronted acts catching critical eyes. Camp Cope comprises Georgia Maq, Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich and Sarah Thompson. Their self-titled debut L.P. tackles social issues and culture (Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams looked at victim blaming) and the girls blend fragility with all-out Punk venom. The Sugarcanes’ eponymous debut harks back to vintage Soul and Blues with the modifier of a bucket-load of swears. It is a fascinating blend, and whilst there are not THAT many profane moments, it is music unlike any you would have heard.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Sugarcanes
Sweet Jean is a duo who, in their own words: “…is Sime Nugent and Alice Keath. Their music ranges from stark and gothic, to hazy and melodic. Since forming in late 2010, Sweet Jean has built a reputation for evocative songwriting, razor-sharp harmonies, and stirring live performances. As the AU Review put it, Sweet Jean “can break your heart one minute and mend it the next. The duo has a natural ability to transport their audience to the heart of their songs.” Their sophomore album, Monday to Friday, was released in May last year and “ranges from expansive, vintage synth-driven songs about space exploration to jangly, straight-shooting narratives about everyday life. The collection of 10 songs balances deft lyricism and poetic references with crisp pop gems and candid observations”. Another female treasure that is putting Melbourne into many people’s minds is Meg Mac. She dropped her five-song debut E.P., MegMac, in 2014 and is an artist that looks likely to introduce new music into this year. Soulful songs like Roll Up Your Sleeves gained huge acclaim (and featured on the T.V. show Girls) and it will be interesting seeing how she grows in the coming months.
IN THIS PHOTO: Meg Mac
Before I close things it is worth looking at established new acts from Melbourne and some legends that call it home – hinting at what is coming from the city and why we should be looking their way. Courtney Barnett is someone, to me at least, who signals what Melbourne is all about. Her music has wit and wisdom but above all is that originality and quality. Her deadpan style attracted plenty of acclaim after her debut E.P., I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris. Since then, she has been taken to heart by critics and audiences across North America and Europe. Her 2015 debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, found critics raving. Barnett’s didn’t reinvent Rock ’n’ Roll but gave it a swift kick. Her album is endlessly listenable and nuanced. You fall for the songs right off but keep coming back to hear them – it is impossible to extract yourself from the music. Sometimes Melbourne’s music scene can be too insular and precocious: Barnett dispels this and shows how grounded and outgoing she is as a musician. Songs sit confessionals alongside observations on the outside world and the type of people who live there. She tackles issues like the environment and climate denigration and office drones; there are witty one-liners and memorable couplets. Nobody can deny what an impact Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit made: Barnett is someone to watch this year and see how she follows that album up. There are no firm plans for a new record in 2017 but I would not be shocked to see one come along. She is not just one of Melbourne’s treasures but one of the finest young songwriters in the world.
Legends like Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave and Flea hail from Melbourne; so to do newer acts like Gotye, Vance Joy and Guy Sebastian. Not to discount the established and historical acts but it is the new breed that is fascinating me. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (quite a mouthful there!) have released two albums a year since 2014 (well, Nonagon Infinity was the only one in 2016) and are not a band to slow down anytime soon. Rattlesnake is a song doing the round and their forthcoming Flying Microtonal Banana is another peculiar and beguiling record.
The guys scored huge reviews with last year’s Nonagon Infinity, and whilst that was the only release from them in 2016 (starting to slack!), it is, perhaps, their strongest album to date.
The repetition, hypnotism and slink of Rattlesnake suggest they are keeping the quality high and will be among those act we speak about when deciding this year’s greatest albums. Make sure you check out everything Melbourne has to offer in musical terms. It is a city that has always provided great artists but I feel it is a bit of a secret these days. There is a slight preciousness with a lot of the new acts and it (Melbourne) is not as accessible, open and varied as the likes of L.A. and London. That said, it would be foolhardy to ignore Melbourne as it is a city that offers much. I have only touched the surface of the type of music that one can expect to hear. Do yourself a favour and…
IN THIS PHOTO: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Butcher
DIVE into the warm musical waters of Melbourne.