Tag Archives: Music

The Vinyl Lounge

Vinyl Lounge at the National Film & Sound Archive

As I entered the room (a few minutes late) they were playing some early-70s rock music from Rod Argent. Shortly afterwards, they played some Captain Beefheart. “Oh dear, this is not my kind of music”, I thought to myself. But I decided to stick around, because I thought it was such a cool idea: a once a month vinyl records “party” in a theatrette at the National Film and Sound Archive.

Although I grew up with vinyl, and am aware of the recent re-discovery of vinyl by the “young folk”, I don’t really look back with fondness to the days of scratches, crackles and records getting stuck. I don’t remember thinking as a ten year old I love the sound of the scratches and crackles : it was the nightmare scenario that meant I would often buy two copies of a record I really loved: one to play and one to keep “for good”. I also don’t really buy the argument vinyl sounds better than CD. I don’t even think it sounds as good as a high quality mp3. But there are two things vinyl has going for it over modern musical formats: the large format album covers and the mesmerising quality of watching the album go around and around.

And that’s what I did for a while. And then the music changed: there was some Georgie Fame, there was some Louis Prima, there was Tina Turner singing “River Deep, Mountain High”. Now those albums really did sound good on vinyl. I suspect it’s because the artists and producers were working to the vinyl format, and thus their attitudes towards recording and production were informed by the format. That’s when I stopped watching the vinyl go round and closed my eyes and listened to the music being played a couple of massive old Tannoy speakers. They must have weighed a tonne.

I also really loved the passion evident in the room, as those attending (forty or fifty people) were asked to introduce their vinyl selection. Even though I really hated the Captain Beefheart track, you could hear from her voice that the young woman who introduced it really loved it. The woman who introduced Louis Prima wasn’t as articulate in the words she used, but you could also tell she really loved her track also. Canberra music legend, David Kilby was also there. I worked with David twenty years ago and would have loved to have said hi briefly, though I wasn’t sure if he would remember me, and he was pretty much surrounded by “groupies”, so I wandered on.

The last track to be played was one of my all time favourites, Rattlesnakes, a track from Lloyd Cole’s first album. The guy running the afternoon told how he had bought the album in a three way split with friends back in 1984. It was an album that accompanied me through my days at university. I still vividly remember lifting the needle and dropping it on that album, as I spent my days in a small room apartment on campus. I have the album on both CD and mp3, and it sounds much better now, to be honest.

So yeah, a sweet way to spend an hour this afternoon in Canberra. At the end of the event, the host said they’re moving to the first Friday of every month, with drinks from 5.00pm, and vinyl from 5.30.

Monica Z

monicaz

The last couple of weeks have been reasonably busy, and so I haven’t managed to immerse myself in the Scandinavian Film Festival as I’d hoped. There was one film, however, I definitely wanted to see on the big screen, having previously seen it only a small screen: the movie about the life of Swedish jazz singer, Monica Zetterlund.

I’d first heard about Monica twenty or thirty years ago, as Frida from ABBA had described her as one of her idols. The story of a jazz singer from a small country town who, in 1960s Sweden, has to find a balance between career and family is a theme in both their lives.

In the time since, I’ve come to know and really enjoy Monica’s work. I think my favourite song of hers is her Swedish language version of “Take 5″: it’s a great tune, sung with passion and energy. The film explains this particular song, and many of her others, comes from Monica’s desire to sing (mostly in Swedish) about things in her life. The film details a meeting with Ella Fitzgerald, where Ella, quite directly tells her not to sing about New Orleans and other such things (the staples of 1950s and 1960s jazz), but about stuff she knows.

Monica’s own experiences of travelling to New York are documented in the film: an early disastrous performance where the show was shut down because her backing musicians were black; and a later more successful show that brings her family and friends to tears. The film documents a difficult relationship with her father who lives in the small town of Hagfors. “Do you have any idea where that is?”, I whispered to Grant. Later, over a drink, we looked it up, locating it in the middle of Sweden, towards the border with Norway. There’s a really funny scene in the movie (which I won’t spoil) about Monica’s personal vow never to return to Hagfors.

I really loved this film. It’s a great story. Great music. Features great performances. And has beautiful cinematography which deserves the big screen. I really hope the film gets a broader cinematic run in Australia.

PS: After watching the movie we went out for a drink and a chat. We joked we should have played the “Monica Zetterlund Drinking Game”. It’s the game where you watch the film and have a drink every time she does. You would end up pretty sloshed pretty quickly. She liked a drink or 25,000, it seems.

Walking In The Rain

I first heard/saw the song “Walking In The Rain” when the video clip of Grace Jones performing the song was first played on Countdown. I was about seventeen years old at the time and was completely blown away by the clip. In particular, the strong androgynous imagery of Grace Jones echoed by the song line “Feeling like a woman, looking like a man”.

For me, Grace Jones’ version has always been the definitive version, even though it was first performed (and written) by the Australian group, “Flash & The Pan”. But today on the radio, I heard Doc Neeson’s version. I’ve never been a big fan of Doc Neeson and his band. “The Angels”, but this version really stood out. It has a Nick Cave feel about it. Also a later Johnny Cash feel to it. I love the brass, I love Doc’s deliberate style.

So, I thought it would be worth sharing these three versions (that I’m aware of) with you.

1979 – Flash & The Pan

1981 – Grace Jones

2014 – Doc Neeson

Musical Favourites for 2013 – The Year of Oskar Linnros

Last FM Top Ten

As I’ve sat down to look at the most commonly played tracks for the year, I’m kinda surprised it’s the song “Plåster” by Oskar Linnros. Not that I dislike the song, but I kind of imagined there were other songs I’d played more often the year.

That said, I’m using last.fm as my guide, and while it’s pretty good at picking up the music I’ve scrobbled, it’s not an entirely accurate guide to my listening preferences for the year.

That qualifier aside, these were the Top 4 songs I listened to in 2013.

1. Oskar Linnros – Plåster

2. Agnetha Fältskog – Dance Your Pain Away

3. Oskar Linnros – Hur dom än

4. Oskar Linnros – Det är inte synd om dig

For me, the real musical discovery of the year was Jonas Holmberg.

I wrote a blog post about him in August, saying…

After a couple of listens, I bought his two albums of Swedish language versions of jazz and pop classics, and they have been barely off my music player over the last two weeks. I’m listening again tonight. He has a beautifully clear voice and diction (good for improving my Swedish), sings with passion, and is backed by some wonderful instrumentation. Even if you don’t speak Swedish, his two albums are really very, very listenable. I’ve recommended him to my friend Grant (also a Swedophile) who was mightily impressed. From what I can see, Jonas performs semi-regularly around Stockholm, and occasionally has appeared on Swedish television. Hopefully the next time I visit Sweden, he’ll be performing somewhere, as I’d love to hear him perform live, and not only on recordings.

If I’d discovered Jonas before August, I’d guess this would have not been the year of Oskar Linnros after all.

Another great “discovery” this year was Carmen McRae’s version of Sounds Of Silence. Not a new song, or a new version, but I heard it for the first time in an ABC Shop, and it quickly became a firm favourite.

For pure sentimental value, this was another favourite from 2013.

Jonas Holmberg

Foto:Cecilia Jansson

Just because I have the complete recordings of ABBA in my record collection, it doesn’t mean I stopped listening to new music in 1982. But that’s what online music stores often presume.

I have stored most of my music collection on Google Music, and I’ve also bought a fair few albums via the Play Store. But because there’s a large number of ABBA recordings stored there, it seems like the only recommendations I get are for The Carpenters, Billy Joel and the like. As my tastes in music are much, much broader, it frustrates me the algorythm (or whatever it is) assumes I would only want to purchase similar music.

But of course, I’m not “normal” in that sense. For many people it seems like music is like a haircut: at about the age of eighteen to twenty five they settle on what they like, and stick with it for life. Although genetics have forced me to compromise on the issue of haircuts, I continue to listen to new and varied styles of music. For example, I really like a lot of hip-hop, which separates me from many people my age.

Occasionally, though, the Play Store manages to get it right, and recommends something I really like. Thus, I have a new Swedish musical obsession. His name is Jonas Holmberg. He was one of those “Recommended Artists” in the Play Store, and so I decided, on spec, I would have a listen.

After a couple of listens, I bought his two albums of Swedish language versions of jazz and pop classics, and they have been barely off my music player over the last two weeks. I’m listening again tonight.

He has a beautifully clear voice and diction (good for improving my Swedish), sings with passion, and is backed by some wonderful instrumentation. Even if you don’t speak Swedish, his two albums are really very, very listenable.

I’ve recommended him to my friend Grant (also a Swedophile) who was mightily impressed.

From what I can see, Jonas performs semi-regularly around Stockholm, and occasionally has appeared on Swedish television. Hopefully the next time I visit Sweden, he’ll be performing somewhere, as I’d love to hear him perform live, and not only on recordings.

You can listen to some samples of his work on his website.

My favourite is the track, “Allting börjar om”.

Lycka till Sverige!

Robin Stjernberg, Martin Rolinski, Shirley Clamp and others at the opening of The ABBA Museum in Stockholm

It’s no wonder Sweden won last year. Loreen had a great song in “Euphoria” which she performed very, very well. In ten or twenty years time, I’m pretty sure it will be regarded as one of the “great moments” of Eurovision.

Even though “You” by Robin Stjernberg isn’t in the same league, of course I’ll be supporting Sweden in this year’s contest. I figure following Eurovision is like following a footy team – you choose your team and you stick with them through good and bad.

It’s not that “You” is bad, it’s just that it’s not as good as “Euphoria”. I quite like the song actually. I think it’s very catchy, had a terrific “yodel” piece in the middle, and I think Robin has a good voice. I hope he does well, especially as I have fond memories of being in the audience when he emerged as the winner in the nail-biting Swedish final. The last time I attended a Melodifestivalen final was the year Sweden failed to quality for the first time ever for the Eurovision final. I hope I haven’t jinxed him.

In contrast with previous years I have no great plans for watching the contest as it’s replayed on Australian television on Sunday night. Instead, I’ve decided to get up early and watch it live via Swedish TV. I can understand how important it is for countries where English isn’t widely spoken to have a local translation. But since the contest is almost completely delivered in English (with occasional bits of French), I don’t feel the need (personally) for having an additional English-language commentary.

And besides, I’m sick of spending all those Sundays avoiding the news with our delayed telecast. I think it would be great if SBS offered a live feed (without commentary) on the Sunday morning for those freaks (like me) willing to get up early to watch it. The hard-core audience is small enough so that it wouldn’t have much of an impact (if any) on the Sunday night screening.

Lycka till Sverige!

Agnetha Fältskog – A

Agnetha

Three songs have emerged as favourites for me, as I’ve listened “properly” to the new album by Agnetha Fältskog over the last couple of weeks.

The first single, “When you really loved someone” is one of those great pop ballads about love gone wrong. The video tells the story of an older, wiser woman offering advice to a younger woman who is going through the traumas of a relationship break-up. As the video features a 70’s/Swedish looking couple, you can’t help but think it’s a song for Agnetha’s younger-self who perhaps spent a lot of her life regretting her own relationship break-ups over the years. As I travelled over the last few weeks, it was a song that came into my head many times. The chorus, in particular, is very catchy.

I’m hoping “Dance your pain away” will be the new song to be released as a single. There’s a 70’s feel to this one also, in the disco beat and in the strings. There’s also a musical flourish half way through which reminds you of ABBA”s “Does your mother know”. There’s not a lot to the lyrics, describing someone who discovers their partner “in the restroom with another one”. Rather than walk out and cause a scene, the person is advised to dance their pain away. Even though the lyrics a little “weird” (no one would actually say what she says in real life, and the d-d-d-dance bit is a little forced), it has a killer chorus. I also genuinely “believe” the performance, in the same way you can hear the desperation in her performance in “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”. It’s very catchy and great fun, and it’s a song I’ve been playing over and over.

I’ve also been playing the following track on the album, “Bubble” over and over again. Even though both tracks are quite different they follow nicely. I love the way “Bubble” goes from a very simple stripped back lyric and musical presentation to something very big and bold all within a pop song that’s only a few minutes long.

Were it not for the fact it’s Agnetha, there are some songs on the album I wouldn’t normally like. Although tracks like “The One Who Loves You Now”, “Past Forever” and “I Should Have Followed You Home” (the duet with Gary Barlow) have nice melodies, they’re a little “wimpy”, a little “sacharine” for my tastes these days. Nice songs, but not really “me”. I love the whistling (very Peter John and Bjorn-esque) in “Perfume in the breeze”.

As I’ve listened to “A”, two other albums have sprung to mind: Agnetha’s 1975 solo album, “Elva kvinnor i ett hus” (Eleven women in a house), and Frida’s 1996 “comeback album”, “Djupa andetag” (Deep breaths).

“Elva kvinnor i ett hus” is one of my all time favourite ABBA-releated releases. The album contains a good variety of pop songs, which are sung well, and which are held together by the idea the album is about the lives and experiences of eleven women who live in a house. Remarkably, since it’s almost forty years later, Agnetha’s voice doesn’t sound all that different now than from when she recorded this album.

“Djupa andetag” is another of my all time favourite ABBA-releated releases. In common with “A”, “Djupa andetag” was very much a come back album for Frida. Also in common, the lyrics were often about being older, wiser, and stronger. Both albums have been written and produced by the same team. This gives the album a “consistency” which is perhaps lacking from some of both of their 1980s which were tended to be a “grab bag” of good songs from a range of song-writers, although they were usually produced and recorded by the same team.

The bottom line is this a wonderfully consistently good album, and one which I’m really enjoying listening to very much, even if I do skip a couple of tracks from time to time.

The thing which has amazed me about this whole experience is how Agnetha has gone from the so-called “recluse” who avoids appearances in public and who fears flying, to someone able to re-engage fairly strongly with the promotional experience. “I want the name of the therapist she’s been seeing”, a friend joked the other day. It’s nice to have her “back”.

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