Tag Archives: Australia

Eight Indigenous Artists Keeping Tradition Alive in Australia

Australian-Indigenous-1244.jpgBobby Bununggur is a Yolngu Songman from Ramingining in northeast Arnhem Land, the ‘Top End’ of Australia. Yolngu are one of the largest Indigenous groups in Australia, and their home in Arnhem Land is almost untouched—one of the last strongholds of traditional Aboriginal culture on the continent. In the mid ‘90s, Bunungguur joined two of his fellow Yolngu Songmen, to record and release a reimagining of the songs of his community. Working with Peter Mumme, an ambient producer living in Darwin, the trio created Waak Waak ga Min Min, an album that opened a window into the richness and beauty of Aboriginal tradition.

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Dyson Stringer Cloher Are A Songwriters’ Supergroup

Longtime fans of Australian music are in for a delightful surprise the minute they press play on the new album from the Melbourne trio Dyson Stringer Cloher. Just a few minutes into the first song, amid crunchy, overdriven guitars, comes the lyric: “…Jodi Phillis, Trish Young turned things upside down….” The song is about The Clouds, a beloved but perpetually overlooked Sydney band from the ‘90s. The song, called “Falling Clouds,” details not only the ways in which the group opened doors for artists that followed, but also how their contributions are barely rendered a footnote in music history: “Underrated, overlooked/ A woman’s work is never done, or it’s erased from history books.”

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On “When The Tree Bears Fruit,” Parsnip Update Nursery Rhymes

Parsnip

Photos by Charlotte Tobin

The songs on When The Tree Bears Fruit, the debut album from the Melbourne group Parsnip, approaches adult experiences through childlike eyes. Their songs have a nursery rhyme-like quirkiness, full of loopy keyboard riffs and buoyant choruses, but the theme that runs through all of them is the same: be open about life’s difficulties, but optimistic about what the future holds.

The childlike wonder in their music isn’t coincidental: Paris Richens, the group’s bassist and songwriter, is inspired by children’s literature and picture books where, as she puts is, “the images are essential at extending the meaning.” On “Sprouts,” Richens compares the experience of growing up to the blossoming of a plant shoot. On “Soft Spot,” the group venture into darker territory, exploring the ways sadness can make you feel like you’re drowning, and trying to find ways to “convince the sun to stay.” “Rip It Off,” which opens with Stella Rennex’s wavering guitar riff, describes the uneasy feeling of an impending breakup. The group’s lyrics throughout the record are assembled to feel like tongue twisters; on opening track “For A Ride,” Richens sings, “A run down trundle rumbles up the street / Pulls up to the curb, suburban war and weaponry.” Each word clicks in with the one before, setting an outlandish scene. And while it’s fun to listen to, putting phrases like that together is no small task.

“It can be a long process,” Richens says. “It might take hours to find the right vowel sound or suitable amount of syllables. I’ve always struggled with communication as a super shy and introverted teen, so a lot of my time was spent with words in their written form. I used to go through this huge dictionary at home and pick out words that I liked the sound of, and would keep a bank of synonyms. I love alliteration and repetition.” 

For all her close attention to syntax and structure—something she credits to her father exposing her to a wide range of music—Richens is the member of Parsnip with the least formal training. Keyboardist Rebecca Liston and drummer Carolyn Hawkins both studied music for over a decade, and Rennex began playing the saxophone when she was eight years old, and went on to study music in an arts high school. 

As their giddy songs might indicate, the driving goal of Parsnip is “to share joy with the world”; all four members have “ordinary nine-to-five lives,” as Richens puts it, and the band has become a space for them to escape the monotony of that routine. Accordingly, all of the members are given plenty of room to express themselves—or, as Rennex phrases it, “put our collective interests into a big jingle-jangle blender and seeing what juice comes out.” This comfort with one another comes from a trust in each others creative instincts and a mutual desire to put friendship first. 

The album’s final track, “Trip the Light Fantastic,” speaks directly to that idea of music as restoration. “Hush now dark cloud / The rain it brings me down,” Richens sings in the first verse. 

Then, the song rushes into a chorus that describes how easily stress melts away when you give yourself over to dancing. The message of the song—and the album as a whole—is clear: Parsnip want their listeners to give themselves a break. 

-Rachel Davies

Album of the Day: Sunny Side Up, “Sunny Side Up”

Comprised of tracks from a diverse lineup of musicians, Brownswood Recordings’ Sunny Side Up compilation is a powerful document of Melbourne, Australia’s bubbling contemporary jazz scene. Incubated in collective houses, studios, and rehearsal spaces, the musical movement captured here is, in spirit, not far from the cooperative jazz scene that sprung up in American inner cities in the 1970s.

Sunny Side Up kicks off with a gorgeous opener, “Banksia,” a dreamy, hypnotic mood piece from percussionist Phil Stroud. From jazz-funk, hard-bop, and beyond, Sunny Side Up is packed with stellar cuts from Horatio Luna, Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange, and more. Dufresne’s slinky, electric jazz-funk monster “Pick Up / Galaxy” brings to mind the deep grooves of ‘70s hybrid acts like Pleasure or The Blackbyrds. The album closes with “Orbit” by Allysha Joy, an outstanding jazz vocal piece built upon steadily intensifying drum and bass work, building up steam beneath an endless tower of celestial vocal harmonies. Engineered and mixed by Nick Herrera of Hiatus Kaiyote, Sunny Side Up is a beautifully captured snapshot of a young generation of musicians with strong musicianship and compositional flair.

-John Morrison

Discover the World of Australian Psych

Beaches

Beaches by Darren Sylvester.

While AC/DC, the Bee Gees, and INXS are probably Australia’s most famous musical exports, the country has long had an outstanding psychedelic rock scene. But even though bands like Tamam Shud, Tully, and Coloured Balls produced some exceptional psych jams back in the ‘70s, they didn’t make it very far beyond the Great Barrier Reef.

Recently, however, there’s been an explosion in modern psych rock across the country-continent. Tame Impala, whose first album channeled late ‘60s Beatles, broke out internationally. They aren’t the only ones. Melbourne has the most vibrant scene, but Brisbane and Perth aren’t far behind, and Sydney and Adelaide are currently ground zero for a number of edgier acts.

While these groups cover a wide variety of sounds—ranging from ‘60s homages to neo-shoegaze to heavy psych—they all have a spirit of adventurousness, unafraid to mix other genres into their songs as the mood strikes them. Here are some of the best new psych-rock acts rising from the land Down Under.

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New Venusians On Their Celestial R&B Blend

New_Venusians_Photos_by_Joel-Pratley_Artwork_by_Emele_Ugavule_and_Mathilda_Robba-600-4

Photos by Joel Pratley. Artwork by Emele Ugavule and Mathilda Robba

New Venusians is a seven-piece R&B band from Sydney, Australia. Formed by jazz guitarist Ben Panucci, the group is comprised of session and touring musicians who back some of the continent’s biggest acts, including Nick Murphy (Chet Faker), Ngaiire, and Sampa The Great. Panucci studied jazz with synth players Andrew Bruce and Harry Sutherland at the Conservatory of Music in Sydney, and met vocalists Christian Hemara and Meklit Kibret at various music gigs around the city. Panucci remembers being so blown away by Kibret’s voice that he created music solely to feature her talent. The group is rounded out by drummers Jan Bangma and Tully Ryan, who Panucci first heard play with a J Dilla-inspired jazz piano trio.

New Venusians’ self-titled debut album will be released on Fresh Selects. We spoke with the band about the Sydney, Australia music scene, navigating the indie world, and why traveling to outer space seems kinda cool.

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The Necks Aren’t Throwing a 30th Anniversary Party (and They’re Not Breaking Up)

The Necks

The Necks. Photo by Camille Walsh.

Asked to describe The Necks, the Australian avant-garde trio for whom he has played drums for the last 30 years, Tony Buck opts for understatement. “We find ourselves in situations where improvised music doesn’t often find itself,” he says. Part of that is by design. Critically-championed cult favorites, The Necks play at the edges of jazz and avant-garde composition, but have never forgotten the necessity and power of underpinned rhythm and groove. Instead of throwing some sort of self-indulgent retrospective, they’re “celebrating” three decades together in appropriate style: playing live together improvisationally, the way they always have. So what makes such an inventive group, straddling multiple styles and always keen on new directions, stick together for so long?

Buck credits the band’s longevity to the fact that he chose to leave the country early in their career. “After we’d been together about four or five years, I moved away from Australia to Japan,” he says. “We wanted to keep playing any time I was back in Australia, and I think it made us use our time wisely and not play in drips and drabs here and there. We decided to set aside periods and really focus and get stuff done. When we did get together, it felt like a special occasion as well. People who’d see the band would look forward to those periods when we were touring.”

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Jarrow’s Rollicking, Underdog Guitar Pop Features a Cameo by His Dad

Dan Oke

It’s just after midnight when 21-year-old Dan Oke logs onto Skype to talk about his debut album 2003 Dream. He’s finishing up his last year at Melbourne, Australia’s Victoria University, studying creative arts, so the late-night timing is a consequence of his busy schedule.

2003 Dream, nine tracks of bedroom-pop-meets-sarcastic slacker-rock, is the first LP Oke has released under the name Jarrow. Already a prolific collaborator in the greater Melbourne area, Oke is currently producing his friend Yura Iwama’s recording project, Culte, as well as performing in her live band. He also plays “a couple of random punk bands in town,” and frequently subs in on guitar, bass, or drums in other friends’ bands.

Jarrow’s debut finds a sweet spot between labelmate Courtney Barnett’s eviscerating social commentary and Mac DeMarco’s sardonic ambivalence. Songs like “Friendzoned,” for example, take a moderately controversial social construct and flip it into a criticism on entitlement. And musically, the influences span a bit wider, as opening track “Cube” features a saxophone solo performed by Oke’s father that could have been ripped off from Born to Run. The lead single “$$ Spoilers” channels the jaunty treble yelps of Modest Mouse’s mainstream breakthrough Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

We talked with Oke about forming Jarrow, working with his family and friends, and finding Easter eggs throughout 2003 Dream.

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