Roughly seventeen years ago, on a hot summers day, at the commencement of the year 2000, I had taken a leisurely stroll through Carlton North to a friend’s house. Upon entering the shambolic share house, my ears were drawn to music coming from the bedroom of one of my friends’ housemates. I abruptly entered the room and demanded to know what the music was. The guy smiled and said “It’s a band called Mogwai”. He was playing the track ‘Stanley Kubrick’ from the recently released ‘EP’. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the music and declared that this music defined my taste in music. I went out the next day and bought ‘EP’, and a few weeks later, also acquired ‘Come on Die Young’. Up to that point in time, I was twenty years old, and had lived in ‘the big city’ for three years. Having moved from the country, my world had been pulled apart with the revelations of new music and local bands. Prior to discovering Mogwai, I was bathing myself in the sweet sounds of local bands such as Art of Fighting, 2 Litre Dolby, Gersey and By Ferry or Steamer. I quickly realised that a large part of what drew me to these bands were their forays in to extended instrumental sections in their songs, that they were all paying some kind of homage to bands like Slint, Karate and American Football. For me, Mogwai took all the elements of these bands that I loved and ran with it. I became a post-rock addict.
Two years later I would go on to form a record label, and sign and manage a post-rock band called Radiant City, who I worked with over almost the next decade, promoting their amazing instrumental sounds. During that time I also fell in love with the then Melbourne post-rock scene. I made every effort to go out and watch bands like International Karate, Laura, Season, Because of Ghosts, This Is Your Captain Speaking and countless others. Delay was my drug of choice, and whenever I needed inspiration, needed to be pumped up for an event, or needed a means of relaxing, I would turn to Mogwai. A miracle cure perhaps. My favourite LP is The Hawk is Howling, and a highlight of my twenties was purchasing the Batcat 12” single from Rough Trade Records in London. My favourite track is from the same album; ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’. When I last saw Mogwai live, at Hamer Hall in Melbourne, they opened with this track and ‘Heard About You Last Night’ and it was a surreal experience. I’ve experienced the ear bleeding bliss of Mogwai at Hamer Hall, a venue traditionally used for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, as well as at The Forum, Melbourne’s best venue, and at the Meredith Music Festival. I can assure you that if they come back to Australia, I will be there, ready to experience every second in eager anticipation. If anyone ever asks me for a music recommendation, Mogwai is usually the first cab off the rank.
Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is an insightful and deeply personal journey through the astonishing life of Jobs. Isaacson had previously written biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger. Isaacson interviewed Jobs over forty times over a two year period, which was inadvertently just before Jobs’ death. He also spent a considerable amount of time with Job’s family, friends and colleagues, which permitted Isaacson to build an accurate account of Jobs’ journey from childhood through to just before his death. Early on in the biography, it is revealed that as a child, Job’s spent time with his father, learning about the process of building and manufacturing, where his father insisted that the parts of a product that people cannot see need to have as much attention to detail as the parts you can see. This early lesson became the driving force behind Job’s inexorable desire to ensure all components of Apple products were designed and manufactured to the highest standard, all the way down to the motherboard and processors, even though consumers would never see many of these design feats. It became apparent early on that Jobs was destined to flourish in the world of computers and technology, growing up in Silicon Valley, attending high school classes dedicated to building electronics, and having a summer job when he was 13 years old, along side Bill Hewlett at HP. Soon after this summer job, he met and became close friends with Steve Wozniak.
However, it wasn’t until after Jobs worked for the then pioneering gaming company Atari, that he and Woz founded Apple Computers. The biography accurately tracks the progress of Apple, Next and Pixar, where both Jobs’ failures and successes steered him on a course that would lead him back to Apple in 1996, and ultimately lead to Apple becoming a technology company, rather than a computer company, and ultimately, the largest public company in the world. Isaacson’s depiction of Jobs’ ferocious and erratic behaviour evokes an image of a man who was deeply passionate about the creation of beautiful consumer products, so passionate that at times, it was clear he allowed no room for errors or anything less than perfection. Walter Isaacson’s writing is easy to read, highly entertaining and he has created a vital historical document of a true pioneer in our modern age.
Travelers is a science fiction television series, which launched on Netflix in late 2016. The show follows a team of operatives that have been sent back in time from the future to the present day. Each team member, who is referred to as a traveller, arrives in the present day by taking over the consciousness of people in the present, at their recorded time of death. The concept behind this means of time travel is that these travellers only occupy the bodies of people who were destined to die anyway. The operatives use social media to learn about their host bodies and assume their lives, under cover, while they secretly carry out a series of missions, under the orders of ‘the director’. The director exists in the future they have come from, and transmits messages through children, the Internet and other electronic devices. Throughout the first season, the team has a number of missions they must complete, as instructed by the director. As time progresses, we discover there are many teams that are all on their own separate missions, and it is soon revealed the main reason why these operatives have been sent back in time.
Please note, that from this point onwards, there are spoilers.
The main mission is to deflect an asteroid that is due to collide with the earth eighteen months from the present day, which essentially wipes out the majority of the human race. However, the team soon discovers that while the deflection of the asteroid has resulted in saving the world from devastation, this has created a new timeline, which has altered the future in a dramatic way. This opens up the floodgates for new problems, which they must solve. Moreover, as the characters develop, there is a fairly even split between the missions and the following of the operatives ‘host’ lives, which is a nice balance over the course of the season.
While the concept of this show is unique and engaging for the viewer, unfortunately, there are many loop holes that are left unanswered. For example, the operatives are sent back through a transmission of subconscious, but when they meet as a team, one member, who is the ‘medic’, somehow has access to communication devices which are implanted behind their ears, and somehow defy the laws of mobile phones, where members can talk to each other through these devices wherever they are, at any time. It is never explained how these devices were built or if they came from the future, and if so, how did they get there. Despite this, for some reason the operatives don’t appear to possess any other futurist technology, outside of their ability to communicate through underground channels in the Internet, referred to as the ‘deep web’. The characters aren’t given any supplies or money to carry out these tasks, and must seemingly rely on their ‘historian’ team member, Philip Pearson, who has a photographic memory of events of this time, and therefore knows the winning horses to what seems to be, an endless amount of horse races. This explains how they fund their missions, but it is never explained why they aren’t provided funds from the future. Another hole is that pieces of futuristic technology appear, on occasion, when the team seems to be in dire situations, but there is never an explanation as to where this technology came from. Some of the technology used from the future includes nanites, which grow organs that save the life of the team leader, Grant MacLaren, after he survives a plane crash, using yet another piece of technology from the future. There is no reconciliation as to how this technology can be transmitted from the future. We are left with the knowledge that the only means of time travel is through the transfer of subconscious from body to body, which by the way, is another concept that is never fully explained.
Overall, Travelers was a great binge watch, and if you are happy to not question plot points, it is an enjoyable experience.
Sia Furler has risen to international prominence over the last few years with her break through albums ‘1000 Forms of Fear’ and ‘This is Acting’. However, she has been performing since the mid-1990s, starting in her hometown of Adelaide, and over a twenty-year period has risen to the status of international pop star. I first discovered the genius of Sia Furler, as countless others did, through her track ‘Breathe Me’ which featured as the soundtrack to the closing scene of what is arguably the greatest television show ever created; Six Feet Under. Subsequently, the track also featured on many other television shows and films. In 2008 my wife purchased Sia’s fourth album ‘Some people have real problems’. We were both hooked, and listened to the album on a fairly heavy rotation for that year. It became the soundtrack for long trips interstate in the car. Stand out tracks on this LP are ‘The girl you lost to cocaine’, ‘Soon we’ll be found’ and ‘Button’s. Two years later, we hastily acquired Sia’s fifth album ‘We are born’ upon its release in Australia. This album was produced by Greg Kurstin, who has an uncanny ability in producing great pop records, having also produced and collaborated with the likes of Lily Allen and Adele. In Australia, ‘We are born’ brought Sia to national prominence, taking out Best Independent Release and Best Pop Release at the 2010 ARIA Awards, as well as receiving a nomination for album for the year on Triple J. The following year, the track ‘Clap your hands’ received an ARIA nomination for Song of the Year. The first seven tracks on the LP are all stand out tracks in their own right. It is a very strong album, and as a result, was added to our high rotation playlist, and further aided my wife and I by providing a highly suitable soundtrack for our semi-regular car trips interstate.
The next four years of her career were largely out of the spotlight, in which she focused on writing songs for other people. Most notably, she penned tracks for Rihanna and Beyoncé. In 2014, Sia released the LP ‘1000 Forms of Fear’. Stand out tracks on the LP are ‘Hostage’ and ‘Elastic Heart’, and ‘Free the Animal’. The lead single, ‘Chandelier’ single handedly shot Sia in to international stardom, which was accompanied by a unique music video, that featured an eleven-year-old girl, Maddie Ziegler. dancing erratically across a room. The music video has been viewed over 1.5 billion times on YouTube. By this stage, she had also become uncomfortable with fame and had chosen to mask her face in public appearances. While she was criticised by many for this action, it is understandable. She has stated in interviews that she didn’t want to be famous, and wanted to be able to do normal things, such as go shopping, without being bombarded by fans and paparazzi. If anything, taking the focus away from her appearance forces music critiques and fans to focus on her music. Too many pop artists, in particular, female pop artists, are judged on their appearance. There is an extraordinary pressure for these performers look the part, and often means many have a shelf life based on their age. Through Sia’s diversion away from her face, she has the potential to become a timeless artist, where the only adjudicating that is made by critiques is on her mind-blowing voice and her song writing prowess, both of which she has demonstrated a supernatural talent. Her latest album, ‘This is acting’ was released last year, and the stand out tracks on this LP are ‘Birds Set Free’ and ‘Cheap Thrills’, and once again, has become a high rotation LP in our car. I for one, cannot wait to hear what is next for Sia.
In mid-2015, I had the opportunity to see American Football. American Football are a band that existed in the late 1990s, releasing a self-titled EP and LP and then unfortunately called it a day in the year 2000. I had always wished I had been able to see them play live, but understood, like many other seminal bands of their time, like Karate and Slint, I was only a teenager at the time, living in Australia, and therefore it was simply an impossible feat to have the opportunity to enjoy bands like American Football outside of their recordings. In 2014, American Football suddenly appeared online, with a website and Facebook page. As soon as I had discovered this, I followed the Facebook page, and actively watched the reformation of this seminal band. I watched with great eagerness as they announced and performed shows around the US. I started hoping that they might come to Australia, but was doubtful. When the band announced they were heading to Australia, I pounced on tickets and counted down the days to see them play at the Hi Fi Bar in Melbourne. The show was magical, and definitely a show that I will remember for the rest of my life. The band released a sophomore self-titled album a few months ago, which I acquired on vinyl the day it was available from my local retailer.
The long awaited LP opens with ‘Where are we now’, with lush and creamy incandescent guitars that transcend between left and right speakers in an oscillating motion. Mike Kinsella’s sweet vocals enter in a soft and delightful fashion. The intro concludes and the full band enters at the chorus. The bass and drums are pronounced and sonorous, with the production sounding far superior to the first album. The second verse kicks in with gentle rim clicks on the snare and the same dreamy guitar pickings. The track concludes in the same delicate way it started. ‘My instincts are the enemy’ commences with syncopated arguments between fender-drenched guitars, which dabble in sweet harmonics, while an opulent bass tone drives the track. The track changes dramatically half way though, where an offbeat drone of guitars is off set by a steady and furious drumming pattern. ‘Home is where the haunt is’ draws a delicate balance between acoustic and electric guitars and Kinsella’s vocals are supported by soft and placid harmonies. The track utilises a sweet glockenspiel, leading in to the last chorus. ‘Born to lose’ teases the listener with a complex rhythm in the verses, which makes the first beat of each bar hard to pinpoint, however the track seems to flow beautifully. The choruses are played to a straight beat, which centres the song. The instrumental outro is driven by a brash bass tone, which fades out slowly.
‘I’ve been so lost for so long’ begins as the one of the key moments on the album that delineates the original 1999 sound of the band, however when the chorus begins, it brings the sound back to the 2016 version of American Football. The track finishes with a bass driven instrumental reflection. ‘Give me the gun’ is piloted by a heavily syncopated hi-hat, which at times battles to subjugate an equally weighted syncopated ride cymbal. The track ends with a hypnotic pulsating drone of guitars and drums. The next track, ‘I need a drink (or two or three)’ slowly fades in with the signature trumpet sound from drummer Steve Lamos. Lamos moves from trumpet to the drums with intricate and complex drum fills littered throughout the song. ‘Desire gets in the way’ kicks off with a typical guitar picking sound found in the 1999 album, but Kinsella’s voice drops in to the track and announces that this is definitely a new song from the new album. The track moves to a beautiful instrumental section, which delicately repeats towards the conclusion. The final track ‘Everyone is dressed up’ has a similar feel to the first track, and calmly makes its way to the end of the album.
This album has been a pleasant surprise for devoted fans. American Football have delivered a remarkable body of work that will surely allow a new generation to fall in love with this inspiring and prodigious band. 'American Football' is out now on Polyvinyl Records.
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