Sunday, 21 December 2014

Guide for Parents Managing their Children's Music Tastes

My kids have finally taken possession of their own music tastes. It's been dormant for a long time and it has just exploded with a vengeance in my house. It has manifested itself in the form of playing the latest tracks on Billboards Hit 100 singles, on MY Spotify account, at full volume. Sitting in the lounge room between two bedrooms at opposite ends of the house, you get similar sounding tunes clashing against each other in stereo, and it leaves very little space for me to play what I want to listen to. When I drive the kids to school I routinely get told to play other music more suited to their taste. It appears to be a rejection of and a reaction against any music that I stand for.

This happens in every household where there are children and parents. At some point or other, kids try to rationalise their tastes and define themselves in some way independent of their parents. You probably did it yourself. I know I did, and it drove my parents nuts.

So if you are being driven nuts by your kids and their music, how do you manage it? Here are a few ideas to manage this phenomenon.

1. Don't critique their music taste.

OK, so I don't necessarily like what the kids are playing music you don't like. Big deal. When our parents were loving the Beatles and the Easybeats, our grandparents thought they were the sole reason for the decline of civilisation.

It's at this point that the generation gap can either be contained or exacerbated. Your kids are going to see you as old and outdated and "uncool" by default, so don't give them any ammunition. My childhood listening experiences were often punctuated by my father poking his head in my room and asking "What's this shit, son?" At that point I knew I was onto a good thing. But on the other side, you are making yourself and your ideas on music instantly redundant should you try.

2. You don't have to like it.

In fact, liking some of their music is to place the kiss of death on it for the kids. And is there anything more ridiculous than a 40 year old bopping along with Nicki Minaj?

3. Engage with your kids and their music.

By now, your kids are not looking for your approval with what they're listening to. But they will still need guidance. Engage with kids and find out what they know about the music they like. Find out why they like it and you'll probably learn something about them in the process.

In my view a lot of modern music, specifically Hip-Hop, still presents a negative stereotype towards women and presents violence as normal and acceptable. If you're child is listening to Eminem or NWA or their ilk, it needs to be a discussion point to talk about these issues. Can they tell the difference between art as fiction and reality? It's one thing for people to talk about in their songs, but is it ok to copy those ideas in the real world? There's also plenty of great hip hop that doesn't trade in these ideas, so can you find some?

Adverse criticism will just drive certain listening habits underground. It's probably better to arm kids with knowledge on issues within lyrics as opposed to banning an artist outright.

4. Good Music is ageless and timeless.

There is a reason why Jimi Hendrix's face is still printed on T-shirts nearly 45 years after his death. There's a reason why Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" has just returned towards the top of the US album charts after 41 years. Good music will outlive us all and will always find fresh ears.

I reckon my kids are starting their musical exploration. They're looking for immediate gratification now, and will find the stuff that will stay with them for years to come as they get further into it. They're looking for their Beatles or Pearl Jam - a cultural signifier that will identify them and their generation that will stay with them forever. They haven't found it yet, but they will in time. Within time we will meet in the middle musically, as I have with my father. We don't like the exact same things, but I have found parts of his music that work for me.

5. This is a passing phase.

The Top 40 singles charts are a transient beast. More so now than ever before. Already, I see kids discarding hit singles of 18 months ago as "old" and "unworthy". And let's face it. There's a lot of stuff that my mates and I bought on 7-inch vinyl and cd-single back in the day that we would be embarrassed about now. In 10 years time my kids will be embarrassed to think that they even listened to "The Gummy Bear Song", let alone danced their little backsides off to it.

Out of what they listen to now, the good music will stick, the crap will be consigned to the skip bin of history soon enough.

Have we hit the nail on the head? What other suggestions do you have? Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

They Might Be Giants Re-activate Dial-A-Song

They Might Be Giants are returning to their roots and are re-activating their "Dial-A-Song" service, albeit in a slightly revised form, from January 2015. They intend to deliver one new song every week for 52 weeks.

For those unaware of the "Dial A Song" concept, in 1984, after a theft of musical equipment from their Brooklyn apartment, the two Johns in TMBG decided to buy an answering machine and record their music onto the device. There was usually only one line in, so only one person could listen at a time, and it was NOT a free call. It was a charged at standard rates (a local call for Brooklyn residents, long distance elsewhere, international rates for overseas callers). I'm not sure how much money they made from it, if any, but it had a massive effect on their lifestyle and their songwriting technique.

It had an effect on their lives because the phone would ring at all hours of the day or night relentlessly.

It affected their songwriting because the habits of the callers would tell an interesting tale. The music had to be short and to the point, or people would hang up. It had to be extremely catchy. The intros had to be short, otherwise callers would hang up before hearing the end of the song. Instrumental solos had to be kept to a minimum, because callers would hang up. Certain keyboard notes had to be avoided otherwise the machine would think it is the "end of message" tone and stop the recording before the band had finished performing!

All of these factors went into shaping the sound of They Might Be Giants as we know and love them today. The slogan "Always Busy, Often Broken" was apt, as the service was highly unreliable. But the project gave the band ample songs for the track-heavy albums, which frequently had 20 or more short songs on them. Some estimates claim that the phone service delivered more than 500 unique recordings to callers before being officially retired in 2008.

This is also not the first time TMBG has tried the online, web-based Dial-A-Song either, but this one will be different as it will offer a premium, subscription based model where you can download all the songs to keep as well as a free version where you can just stream them all. The band will also be issuing the saongs via YouTube as well

Either way, it is still a fascinating initiative that would be great to be part of. Find out more here at theymightbegiants.Com

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Vale Ian MacLagan

As time gets on more of those who have shaped our musical thinking and direction start to leave us.

It is with sadness that I report that Small Faces (and later Billy Bragg) keyboardist Ian MacLagan has passed on.

The Small Faces were a band who, along with the Who, closely steered the 1960s British "Mod" movement into legendary status. With a rough-hewn R&B sound they created a number of great singles and a few classic LPs that still hold up well now.

Ian joined the Small Faces at the behest of their manager Don Arden (father of Sharon Osbourne) right before they became famous in 1965 with their single "Whatcha Gonna Do About It".

The band lasted four years until Steve Marriot left and Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood joined, shortening their name to Faces. The faces released four unimpeachable studio records before calling it a day in 1975. Mac, as he was known to his friends and hardcore fans, then started on a sporadic solo career before doing session work, most notably in albums by Billy Bragg such as "Talking with the Taxman About Poetry".

Mac's playing was always subtle and he never overplayed anything. He was always complimentary to the song, having an uncanny knack of knowing exactly the right note or sound to play at the right spot. His playing on his most famous records can be overlooked but it was a joy to hear.

Vale Ian, you will be missed.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

New Music: Beans on Toast - "The Grand Scheme of Things"

What we have here is the sixth annual release from Beans on Toast, released yesterday. He seems to be as regular as clockwork, releasing an album every year in late November or early December. Yet again, the British anti-folk singer has delivered another set of tunes in his own inimitable style.

For those who are unfamiliar with Jay (aka Beans on Toast)'s work, imagine a scruffier (if that's at all possible) early-era Billy Bragg-styled singer songwriter who is no less passionate but far more pointed and acerbic. If folk music is designed to be left-leaning, Jay profoundly rattles the cages of conservatism such as to completely offend and turn away anybody who can't see past the end of their own opinions. He's a folk singer who is passionate about what he does, stands up for what he believes in - and if he finds himself to be wrong he stands up and admits his failings. He simply calls it as he sees it.

He makes no bones about his own perceived lack of talent, and I admire that. But that's precisely the charm of this, and what folk music is all about. It is music of the people. A simple music that doesn't require huge amounts of technical skill, but gets the message out to those who want to (and probably a lot more who should and need to) hear it.

I've been following Jay's music for a while now, starting with the mammoth 50-track debut album "Standing on a Chair". Jay and I don't see eye-to-eye on certain issues, particularly around tobacco and other drug use (although I'm very glad he's given up all the substances now). However there is a noticeable conviction in what he sings about, as well as a wicked sense of humour.

The latest album "The Grand Scheme of Things" gives us more of what Jay does best: one man, a guitar, and delivering equal amounts of vitriol and sentimentality with plenty of fire in the belly. Certain tracks on the album deviate from the folk base and incorporate country elements similar to those on the second album "Writing On The Wall". He even dabbles in a type of off-the-wall, New Orleans Trad Jazz on "Nola Honeymoon".

The targets of Jay's anger this time around are as deserving as ever: Inhumane chicken farming, the UK Independent Party (UKIP), Young people's inability to connect with nature, the vacuousness of war, inner city gentrification. However, probably his most disturbing tendency of late is to take a shot at those who won't give him a chance. Like the Glastonbury festival on his last LP "Giving Everything", this time he takes aim at the insular mainstream Country Music fraternity in Nashville on the elegantly named song "F*** You Nashville". It goes without saying that, while one can understand his frustrations, writing a song like that isn't going to make anybody change their minds about him.

Mixed in with that is some beautifully written and passionate songs dedicated to mateship across generations ("Flying Clothes Line"), the joys of home cooking ("Lizzy's Cooking"), being a DIY performer ("Folk Singer"), and the excited anticipation of the new year ahead ("NYE").

Speaking of "NYE", in the songs dying seconds Jay sings "Welcome to the last verse of the album, I'd be amazed if anybody got this far...".

For the record, I did. And it was fun, too. It was no more or less than what I'd expected.

This is not a record laden with studio polish. It is rough round the edges, like I imagine Jay Toast himself to be. Through the murk you get a raw earnestness and passion all too rare in modern music.
Be warned that Jay's sharp tongue means that this isn't a family listening album, although there are noticeably fewer choice words on this album than on the previous ones. And as mentioned earlier, anyone on the right wing of the political debate should be prepared to be shocked and offended too. But bring an open mind to the issues discussed within and there is plenty to be gained from a few listens.

Recommended. Be challenged and inspired.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Ice Sea Dead People split up

Recent favourites of mine Ice, Sea, Dead People have split up. The band had been touring around the UK as support to Traams and many other bands, and out of the blue an announcement came via the band's Facebook page that the band had split.

Starting about 2009, ISDP started with a focus to play loudly, but with an arts focus. They incorporated their music with fine arts and clever visual arts ideas on their records, not least with their 2013 7-inch single release "You Could Be A Model".

The band made a tentative start with the self released LP "Teeth Union" in 2010 but the band nailed their sound in 2013 with a thumping, squalling noise fest befitting its title "If It's Broken, Break It More".

I'm sure being totally independent, touring and releasing your own records in 2014 was a real challenge and probably brought the band members to boiling point. I am, of course, surmising as the band have given no official reason for splitting up. This is a clear example of a band with a unique sound and a unique vision about their art whom I thought deserved a bright future. Alas it's not to be. The band whose name described the plot of the film "Titanic" with the precision of a haiku is now no more.

Go over to their bandcamp page and buy some music. Check out the band's latest blaster of an album below on Spotify.

Icehouse in the National Archive

The National Film and Sound Archive have just announced their 10 selections for their annual intake. Among them are the sounds of a howling dingo, two erotic electronic pieces, "Khe Sanh" and Icehouse's track "Great Southern Land".

I've written about "Great Southern Land" extensively elsewhere and the story of the song's genesis is fascinating. The fact that such an iconic song is being recognised is wonderful, but why is there only 10 every year? There's a lot more that could be done by the national archive to maintain our musical heritage than just logging a mere 10 songs (or at least that's how it looks). They have a huge collection but there is a lot of great material made by Australians that we don't want to see lost, so i do hope to see more local music making the archive in times to come.

The versatility of the work of Icehouse is an oft-overlooked aspect to the band. The fact that their music rocked hard and yet could be remixed in a number of different styles successfully. Not being a fan of remixes myself, it takes a pretty special remix to capture my attention and this one is probably the greatest thing ever. It is the "BIRRALKU DHANGUDHA" remix featuring indigenous performers singing in language that elevates the song to heights it had only previously hinted at.

Take a list below. Enjoy!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Russell Morris: The Real Thing

All the hoo-hah surrounding the release of Molly Meldrum's autobiography has reminded me of what I consider to be his finest achievement. It's not his contribution via Countdown, or as a rock writer or as a band manager, but rather his work as a record producer.

In my view, Ian "Molly" Meldrum's career high point was his production work on the Russell Morris single "The Real Thing". It is also one of the high watermarks of Australian pop music production, considering the limited studio technology available in 1969.

Molly started in the music industry as the roadie for Brian Cadd's band The Groop. He learnt all he could about the production process by sitting on the band's recording sessions. He then moved onto being the manager of Russell Morris, around the time he left the band Somebody's Image. Molly had produced a few other records, notably Ronnie Burn's massive number 1 "Smiley" and the modest selling "Little Roland Lost" by Zoot.

Molly was looking for the perfect song launch Russell's solo career and he heard it when (former pop star and future Young Talent Time host) Johnny Young was jamming on the idea backstage of a music TV show . Johnny was saving it for Ronnie Burns, but Molly demanded he use it for Russell. Allegedly, he turned up to Johhny's house with a tape recorder and refused to leave until Johnny had recorded a demo of the song.

Molly enlisted his mates in The Groop to play on the record, however they were denied a label credit as they were signed to CBS and Russell's single was to be released on EMI. Molly holed up in Armstrong studios in Melbourne with house engineer John Sayers and set out applying his crazed vision for the song...

Johhny Young's original vision for the track was to be a modest chamber ballad, acoustic-based with strings, somewhat like "Yesterday" by The Beatles I imagine. What it became, to perpetuate the Beatles comparison, was more like "I Am The Walrus". How the originator and producer saw the end product were at polar opposites.

The song was a scathing indictment of the ideas being imposed on musicians at the time. "You have to do this, because it's real". On the companion CD to the ABC's Documentary series "A Long Way To The Top", Johnny says it refers to the marketing of the soft drink Coco-Cola, "You can't beat the real thing". "When you look into it, it's all bullshit" he says. Thsi is reflected in the lyric:

"...There's a meaning there, but the meaning there doesn't really mean a thing..."

Russell was also quoted in an interview with the Coodabeen Champions on ABC radio that "Molly is a maniac". His vision for the piece was to create something indicative of the social climate. He wanted to include flanging into the piece (no small feat in 1969), as he loved the sound of it on "Itchycoo Park" by The Small Faces. He ended up including air-raid sirens, sound effects of exploding bombs, a Winston Churchill impersonation (done by Molly) and the Hitler Youth Choir singing "Die Jugend Marschiert" (Youth on the March). Towards the end of the epic song, Russell's voice is backward-masked.

Groop guitarist Brian Cadd also had a guest speaking role on the record, reading the warranty conditions off the reel-to-reel tape box through a megaphone with a faux-German accent.

The entire piece of inspired lunacy lasted for 6 minutes and 20 seconds and cost over AU$10000 and 8 months to record. This was unheard of back then, when most albums were completed in under a week and for an average cost of $2000. When EMI executives came to Melbourne from Sydney to hear the finished product, Molly freaked out and ran out of the studio with the master tape and hid in the bushes of the park across the road from the studio. After seeking him out of the dark with a torch, he returned and played the tape for the EMI people who left without saying a word.

EMI reluctantly pressed the record, but in two formats: one with the first part of the song on side 1 and the noise collage on side two, and one copy with the entire piece on side 1 and "It's Only A Matter of Time" on side 2. Russell had to make many personal appearances at radio stations to persuade them to play the record, the longest Australian single ever made (despite radio stations playing The Beatles' 7-and-a-half minute "Hey Jude" the previous year). It became the highest selling Australian single of the year in 1969 and was in the charts for an unprecendented 23 weeks.

The follow-up single was an explicit sequel "Part 3: Into Paper Walls" which tops out at 7 full minutes, also produced by Molly, but, like most sequels isn't anywhere near as compelling as the original. "The Real Thing" has inspired covers by Midnight Oil and Kylie Minogue and the original has been included in the National Film and Sound Archives as a landmark in Australian music history.

Take a listen again below. Enjoy!