Pleb Pool

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KRIS CERNEKA

Hollywood

‘I don’t think you have anything to worry about, friend. In fact, I think you’ll end up enjoying yourself.’ Jonathan Pierce turned a cigarette in his hand. ‘Are you listening?’
His client silently turned his attention to Pierce, then to the floor, then to the mouldy curtains surrounding him.
‘You’ll get what you paid for, friend. Trust me.’ Jonathan Pierce laid a hand on the silent man’s thigh and feigned affection with his patting. The silent man replied with his eyes, but Pierce was not the type to listen to his clients. The glaring lights were switched off and all that was left was the weak glow of the lamp next to the chair on which the silent man sat and waited. The curtains started to sway surreally on their flimsy hooks to the stronger current of the air conditioner. Pierce often confided in others that the drop in temperature promoted intimacy.
 Two silhouettes appeared against the blinding portal that was the now open doorway, interfering with the mood. Jennifer Pollock and Holly Mansfield entered the room, tip toeing fancifully on their heels in a pincer movement towards the silent man. Tonight they were a gaudy Marilyn Monroe and misshapen Holly Golightly respectively. Their dress was savage, all lace and faux silk hemming grossly torn. Something about their outfits suggested they had a carousel of costumes out back. The man did nothing but wander his eyes elsewhere.

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Pilgrimage

“We’d all be in canoes, two or three rowing and one rolling, y’know?” Our host’s belly rose with jitters as he laughs in reminisce. “We’d all be rowing across that sea at midnight and the waves, waves knocking us silly and you couldn’t light a thing. Across there on the i… isle? Island, yeah? Just the moon’s light, maybe two hundred people on the beach. You’d hear them but that’d be quiet, so quiet. Not now. Nah, changed for good.”

“Not too long ago was it, aye?” Regan was wielding dual beverages with even more in the reserve around the pool. Tuk counted on his fingers.

“Seven, eight years? Not very long my friend. The times, yeah? It wasn’t really a party but like a celebration, y’know the difference man? It was a, ah, pilgrimage? Yeah, a real pilgrimage.”

I wade listening, as the pale moon chases the violet out of the sky.

***

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Grimes

Let me just say this: On the day of Grimes’ appearance at The Zoo, I was about ready to ditch my ticket. Though the enigmatic Claire Boucher had enticed me at the beginning of the year with her stellar third record Visions which led me to her curious Geidi Primes and Halfaxa, something at the back of my mind waned my enthusiasm by the time last Saturday rolled around. Was it the Pitchfork media parasitic latching that framed her as a flash in the pan? Was it the half of her fan base whose life creeds changed by the week, taking trash fads like 90s revivalism and Seapunk as serious investments? I can’t say for sure, but by the night I had the ambivalence of an impatient festival punter dredging through the afternoon set slog. Let’s also say this: By the time Grimes was over, I thanked the musical deities I did not sell that ticket.

For Grimes, it should not be said, lacks energy. Running out on the stage with a genuinely ecstatic grin, she hurriedly pushes at her control panel synth setup with nonstop giddy gestures. She launches straight into Symphonia IX,a slow burning number that nonetheless levels the crowd with a gargantuan bass that continues to keep the crowd rabid for her electric forty five minute set. It’s then into Vanessa, which sends the audience into a further tizzy, but it’s not until Oblivionthat things truly get started as two unexpected dancers emerge from the curtains.

Flanked by these two clad in increasingly less regalia and Joker make-up, Boucher bops, jumps, screams and laughs her way through  what is one of the best rave parties 2012 has to offer. Switching effortlessly between bass barraging dance numbers like Circumambient and Nightmusic to ambient interludes that give the audience time to breathe in the sauna like temperatures, Boucher offers up a well-oiled dark electro disco. It’s to her credit that she somehow never stumbles as she balances her kinetic singing, child-like bouncing and control over her Star Ship Enterprise sized dance generator.

It’s her two dancers though, that are her ace in the hole. Dancing like darkly erotic marionettes at the behest of puppet master Boucher and her music, they add a sensuality to the proceedings that makes it more than one’s average MDMA rush. It’s a suggestive addition that I would have not associated with Grimes’ music, considering her cherub like vocals, but it’s one that afterwards makes perfect sense. With their constant gyrating, teases with the audience (at one stage even landing some kisses) and dance inducing zeal it left me wondering why all concerts don’t have this pair of wunderkind.

Though as Boucher giggles and spitfires her thank yous at the audience before launching into the finale Phone Sex, we’re reminded who the real wonder here is. Her stage talent and seemingly endless well of energy ensures she’s more than just a fashion statement of a front woman.  The scenesters might be right in their frothing fervour this time around. I’m hanging on Grimes’ every string. 

Death Grips

With Money Store, seething rap outfit Death Grips have crafted a soundtrack for waging cyber-warfare. A relentless 41 minutes of paranoid electronic pulses, glitchy arpeggio loops and sociopathic growls, it is not a record for the faint of heart. It is however, a perfect encapsulation of the internet age, sounding the part of a time where we are barraged by an unending flood of information; where the pulse of social interactions lie in electronic devices and Wikileaks undermines war efforts more than any amount of fire-power can muster. Thom Yorke’s turn of phrase Paranoid Androids could not be any more apt. Death Grips are here to narrate the virtual apocalypse.

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Murray! Schwartzmann! Wilson! 1960s British Rock! Pretentious Highly Eccentric! Why it’s another film from everyone’s favourite Pastel Poster[man]boy Wes Anderson. But wait, stop me if you have heard this one before. Making fun of Anderson’s consistent style (steadfast to the point of self parody) is within itself a cliche. As we stand seven films down the unwavering whimsy road however, binocular criticism seems ever more justified. Moonrise Kingdom once again does not deviate from practically any of his distinctive trademarks or aesthetics, so one must ask: Once the film’s quirky styling is taken away, does it retain any substance?

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Departures (おくりびと)

If there was a trophy for the film that takes the shortest length of time to make one cry, Up never even had it to begin with.

Within the first three minutes of Yōjirō Takita’s profoundly beautiful Departures I found myself quietly teary eyed to the constrained elegance of its opening funeral scene. The first, and certainly not the last time I would during its two hour course. And not a tear drop unearned.  Here is a film that despite its content manages to prevail without a touch of sentimentality forced. Every character and plot line flows with the naturalism of the story’s seasonal framing. It is unmistakeably human. 

The film concerns a Japanese couple: Daigo, a cellist and his adoring wife Mika. When Daigo’s orchestra disbands, the two are forced to move back to Daigo’s home town to find a new job. As it so happens, an opening is available at a local company who specialise in ”departures” - the profession of preparing the deceased for the coffin, and subsequently the afterlife. The boss of the company is Sasaki, a thoughtful and softly spoken man who sees something in Daigo. We are also introduced to the equally understated secretary Yuriko, harbouring loss of her own. More than that, I cannot say. 

Between this and Ozu’s classic Tokyo Story I am now convinced that the Japanese are the most capable of addressing the subject of death poignantly. Departures handles its every scene with an elegant care. Every funeral in it a meditative procedure. Its camera lingering on the faces of the mourning. The face of the deceased. A stray photo of them in life. We see these characters for a minute of their lives, and yet share wholeheartedly in their grief. For some death comes as a celebration of the deceased lives. For others it brings forth tensions. Others still acceptance, humour. The amount of ceremonies becomes countless, yet as Daigo states: “Death is normal”. It comes as naturally as the sun rises and sets.

We invest in the main characters, and for that the casting should be certainly praised. Consider the young actors playing Daigo and Mika. A married couple, but not a single kiss is exchanged for the entire length of the film. When a brief glance is exchanged from Daigo’s forlorn eyes to Mika’s however, you just know these two are in love. Meanwhile, Yamazaki plays Sasaki with a patient, nuanced understanding. In a scene where Sasaki reveals when and why he started the company, we come to realise we already knew. It doesn’t detract from the poignancy. 

Credit must be given to the moving musical score. I’m of the opinion that violins and cellos will automatically improve anything tenfold. Departures agrees. Joe Hisaishi (composer of many Studio Ghibli soundtracks) has the mystical talent of creating sunshine from sound and he does not fail here. I’ve already mentioned that the cinematography is superb. The town of Yamagata is beautiful and homely. The bathhouse, the funeral, Daigo’s house, Sasaki’s rooftop garden. All delicately constructed and framed. They feel lived in. This is a film with meticulous attention to detail.

I can say I’ve only been to one funeral in my life. My father’s mother was never especially close to me, but the funeral was a moving ceremony. At the end we were asked to say our final goodbyes before the casket would be closed and lowered. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face when he stared into that coffin. It’s that final understanding, that final farewell that this movie so poignantly and delicately captures again and again.

I think some discretion, a warning perhaps, is in order for anyone reading this particular post. My tongue and fingertips are nothing but hyperbolic instruments when it comes to anything related to Australian band Dappled Cities. This could very well reach press release levels of formal, pretentious praise. I’m not an ounce apologetic or willing to hold back, though. Dappled Cities are at once one of Australia’s best talents and sadly one of their most unsung. In a country whose success stories seem to teeter on how sensitive you can make your folk fables, or how well you can imitate Two Door Cinema Club, Dappled Cities shine as a widescreen tour de force of emotion, ambitions and eccentricities. Touring in advance for their fourth album the band still seem largely unknown despite being advocated highly by indie success makers Pitchfork. Is this a fault to be had with the monolith of Australian alternative music that is Triple J? That’s an argument for another time. For now, let’s discuss their brilliant performance at their EP Launch at Cobra Kai Club. 

Every time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Dappled Cities play live they have brought such an admirable excess of enthusiasm and good vibes that I’ve rarely seen matched by other band, local or international. And Thursday was no different. Frontman Tim Derricourt graces the stage with a fist pump and an excitement that almost matches the legion of loyal fans. The man is simply all smiles. They start the  evening with the slow burning new track Weekend, a Tim-led track that suggests a continuation of the grandiose space oddyseys of their third album Zounds, which ends with a noteworthy minute of incredible vocal noodling. The show goes on with a smattering of tracks from albums new and old: glowing anthem The Price, the Wild Beasts inflected Wooden Ships, the broad emotional strokes of stomper Holy Chord. The planned portion of the evening ends with new Dave-led single Run With The Wind; a manic synth frenzy of a song that hits with the visceral intensity of an intergalactic space battle. It finds the audience suitably rabid, chanting and dancing with gusto before clamouring for a much needed encore. The band return to close out the night with fan requested Vision Bell and old gem Peach before sadly leaving the stage for good.

The show is simply a testament to the sheer kaleidoscope of sounds these guys are capable of. Widescreen galactic anthems and Shins inspired pop walk hand in hand over the course of the night, and that’s not even acknowledging their studio work (hyperbole wouldn’t even describe my reaction had they played the staccato chill out Beach Song or the pulp Western closer Stepshadows). It’s also a reminder that Dappled Cities ace in the hole is their refreshing camaraderie. It’s easy to see why so they have such a dedicated base of fans: They take fan requests mid set (Wooden Ships), talk to the crowd with genuine enthusiasm and try their best to entertain with good will. And damn if they don’t succeed. They could be playing to 10, 50, 1000 people and the result would be the same. This is not the sound of a band trying to keep up with current trends or what’s going to take them to the top. This is the sound of one simply trying to make good music and share it with a smile on their faces.

So here’s my request: If Dappled Cities come your way, no excuse should be good enough. Work overtime for the cash, get an extension for that assignment, drink a carton of beer to alleviate your fatigue. Sell your Grandma god willing. Just make sure you get out there and show your support for one of Australia’s best bands.

And finally, here’s a little video I took of the proceedings. I am no camera operating man guy but sounds and visuals are both thankfully included in ample doses: 

The Trouble With Templeton

Is this the golden age of the unplugged performance? Every park, alleyway, balcony, record store and restroom stall is now being explored and exploited for the sake of the vulnerable intimacy that only a disconnected performer provide. It’s easy to see why this proliferation exists. Take away the microphones, the amplifiers and reverb and you have a clear window into not only an artist’s distilled raw talent but something that can highlight the strength of their songs at a skeleton level. And if anyone musically inclined can remember a man named Kurt Cobain and a certain televised concert, they would know it can shine a light on a hidden side of an artist one might not know existed. Really, no better measurement of artistic ability exists. Likewise, such a stage for an artist can work strongly against their favour in putting the spotlight on their flaws.

Which is why it’s comforting to see at the ever reliable venue of Jet Black Cat, every artist pole vaulting over the bar. None more so than the recent performance of The Trouble with Templeton. The band was a two member outfit tonight, primary songwriter Tom and backup vocalist Betty. On their wonderful debut record Bleeders the trio make rustic, often pleasant but seldom biting melancholia: The haunting “Home”, the rollicking “I Wrote A Novel”, the slow burner “Someday Soon”.  The lack of aggression is a facet that changes significantly when transferred to Jet Black’s small abode. Their performance packs punch and an undeniable energy. Which is mostly indebted to Tom’s impressive vocal cords.

I can’t sing without having to shout a lot" Tom states halfway through, which turns out to be a rather gross misdescription. The man can sing. During their stand out rendition of I Wrote A Novel, Tom effortlessly weaves his voice from bouncing sweetly along to verse couplets to a honed growl that almost shakes the foundations of the record store. And as if the air couldn’t get any more electric, he even slots in a yelp much to the enjoyment of the rapt audience. On other songs his multi pronged instrument becomes a ghostly whisper, on others still a wounded howl. All the while seamless, raw, visceral.  Betty provides a perfect counter foil, a voice not too delicate to get lost in comparison to Tom’s commandeering notes. The two share glances possibly imbued with magic dust, considering the smiles they inspire on every member of the audience. 

The performance was quite sadly mercilessly short even with a much deserved encore. It was truly something special to see already impressive tunes not only hold together but flourish in such a beautiful atmosphere. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: If you’re in the Brisbane area, it’s well worth keeping an eye on Jet Black Cat Music's page for further in stores. It's one thing to watch these take away shows, it's another to experience them in person. And if the quality is anything like Tom and Betty displayed on Wednesday night, then you're in for a unforgettable treat. Long live the unplugged era. 

Pear and the Awkward Orchestra

Pear and the Awkward Orchestra

Two dozen attentive audience members sit cross legged, enraptured like preschoolers at story time. Pear, their bard, commands attention in front with a sparkling glance at her listeners; warbling sweetly as her enthusiastic partner Matt Witney strums delicately alongside Pear’s wistful rhythms. Inside Jet Black's cosy, mood lit atmosphere the air is still enough that a succinct text message bell is shrill enough to completely displace the zen. Let alone, say, someone noisily walking in midway through a song and clumsily plunking himself down on the wooden floor with a discernible thud. 

Once the catastrophic storm caused by my entrance had passed, the show did go on unfazed. Pear belongs to a rather large crowd of nymph voiced, articulate folk singers whose torch was lit by the exquisite Joanna Newsom and carried by the likes of Lykke Li and Julia Stone. Pear pulls it off with aplomb, but rather than copy it wholesale infuses her own strains into the DNA. Notably, with a rather expressive and animated take on performance. Coy bobbing of her head, a subtle sway of the hips. An utterly infectious smile to round the last syllable on an eloquent lyrical couplet. It’s these sunny gestures that noticeably reflect on the faces of a beaming audience. Matt Witney, meanwhile, plays alongside soulfully and without flaw. The man alone can command a room with his own repertoire and presence (as he proved months earlier), yet here rightly relegates himself as a spirited but not intrusive supporting player.

The problem I find with musicians of Pear’s quirky ilk is a tendency to barrel from whimsical, child like anecdotes into overbearingly syrupy sweet tunes. Pear fortunately, walks this tightrope very delicately, her sincerely sunny disposition and resolute dictionary knowledge just managing to keep her on balance the entire way. If I was to level another criticism (and I feel oh so cruel to do so) is that whilst both Matt and Pear individually possess uniquely wonderful voices there is just something off with how they together harmonize. This is not levelled at the harmonies themselves, but Witney’s sinewy, jazz entwined cords aren’t quite compatible with Pear’s fairy like incantations. It’s worth nothing that Matt is not usually her partner, so this already minor complaint almost complete evaporates. 

Pear and her usual accompanying Orchestra sadly reside in Melbourne so the time until her next performance may be prolonged. If you are Brisbane way, you would do very well by yourself to diligently keep an eye out for Jet Black Cat Music's next in store. The unique intimacy you are so wholly invited to partake in will warmly envelope you, I promise.

Some time ago I saw Real Estate at The Zoo.

I’ve meditated frustratingly on this post for about two weeks now. Real Estate: The Live Experience is a very difficult thing to extrapolate on. Here was a band that delivered the zenith of a passable concert. Short on words, perfunctory performed, downright clinical. The review should read within the space of a blurb “Songs were replicated without fault, as on record” Yet for all the band’s efforts I was left relatively underwhelmed. Strange, considering their sophomore album Days happened to be one of my favourite records of last year. So why did a pitch perfect rendition of it leave me so indifferent? Why is Real Estate live an inferior beast to their recorded selves, yet at no fault of their own? Let’s try and to get to the heart of it.

Real Estate have, in this critic’s humble opinion, two main draw cards: an uncanny ear for warm hooks and melodies, the other being the far more abstract and intangible evoking of nostalgia. Days and their debut album are littered with references to the band’s upbringing in Ridgewood, New Jersey. A yearning for those lazy, carefree times. The band emphasises this at every turn, attempting to recapture that innocence through reams of reverbed notes, evoking dripping sepia visions of the past. This is music to lie down and let your mind wax lyrical about the road trips of yesteryear or the suburban street odysseys of one’s youth. It’s that warm, fuzzy reminiscence that their contemporaries and stupidly gaudy Photoshop filters try all too hard to emulate, but not with the sincerity that Real Estate so effortlessly play out.

So how does a band so firmly entrenched in the past play to the present? They quite simply don’t. Hearing them in the moment simply strips my brain of its capacity to daydream endlessly of bygone visions. What we’re left with, and which shouldn’t be understated, are wonderfully tender tunes played to the best of their ability. But I can’t help but feel that escapism, an integral part of a lot of my musical experiences, is lost. Still, there’s perhaps a caveat to all this. In many moons time, will hindsight grant me fonder, wistful memories of that night?