Favourite albums of 2016

1. Mitski — Puberty 2

A record full of life and haunted by death, that fizzes and rages and feels fresh and surprising on every listen.

2. Angel Olsen — My Woman

A shape-shifting statement of vulnerability and resilience.

3. Brian Fallon — Painkillers

An album made to be played on repeat as you’re driving at night, the only car on the road and no destination in mind.

4. Leonard Cohen — You Want it Darker

A supremely graceful final act

5. Beach Slang — A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings

“Your arms are a car crash / I want to die in”

6. Frank Ocean — Blonde

The platonic ideal of the pop record as public diary entry.

7. David Bowie — Blackstar

“Look up here, I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”

8. Teenage Fanclub — Here

Songs which instantly feel familiar in the best way, classic, timeless, warm.

9. Beyonce — Lemonade

One of the most zeitgeisty pop culture artefacts of the year, but even more satisfying as a record than thinkpiece fodder. Human, angry, tuneful, beautiful, vital. Both timely and timeless.

10. Julia Jacklin — Don’t Let the Kids Win

Prematurely world weary, like a twentysomething Neil Young likening to his life to an old man’s or Patsy Cline sighing into a golden microphone.

11.Car Seat Headrest — Teens of Denial

The album about growing up bored and and disillusioned that feels so homespun and relatable that we’d all like to think we could have written it .

12. Maxwell — BlackSUMMERS’night

The second part of an immaculately produced song suite where all the sharp edges have been sanded down to a smooth, shapely whole. A balm for strange times and a collection of songs to luxuriate in.

13. Bon Iver — 22, A Million

The year’s most enigmatic record. Pure gibberish or visionary genius? I’m willing to spend a lot of time figuring it out.

14. Bat For Lashes — The Bride

Underrated concept record with that brand of stylish, lush darkness only Natasha Khan can do.

15. Japanese Breakfast — Psychopomp

A record which explodes with sunshine and life and then reveals hidden depths. Bittersweet like all the best pop music.

16. The Radio Dept. — Running Out of Love

Pop symphonies for introverts.

17. Drive-By Truckers — American Band

At first glance, the title sounds blandly descriptive. A few listens later, it sounds like a mission statement of admirable clarity, something to strive towards.

18. The Handsome Family — Unseen

Dark, deeply funny, empathetic: a classic Handsome Family record.

19. Frankie Cosmos — Next Thing

The best collection yet from a prolific talent. Fragile earworms and intimate song sketches.

20. Solange — A Seat at the Table

The second entry of the Knowles family in this list #proudparents

21. Nada Surf — You Know Who You Are

Unfashionably melodic and improbably consistent, Nada Surf have had maybe the best career of any band ever written off as a one (novelty) hit wonder.

22. Pinegrove — Cardinal

Sturdy songs which feel lived in, formed of experience and wisdom.

23. Summer Flake — Hello Friends

A sleeper record built to both soothe and thrill. Melodies buried under a heat haze and guitar noise.

24. Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam — I Had a Dream That You Were Mine

A pop genius and a cult crooner team up. You’ll never believe what happens next…

25. Let’s Eat Grandma — I, Gemini

Almost single-handedly made recorders cool. Pop songs written by people who had never heard pop songs before.

Honourable mentions: Eleanor Friedberger, Hiss Golden Messenger, The Goon Sax

Angel Olsen Best of 2016 Frank Ocean Maxwell Mitski Music Solange Uncategorized

Favourite songs of 2016

  1. Maxwell – Lake by the Ocean
  2. Solange – Cranes Across the Sky
  3. Mitski – Once More to See You
  4. Angel Olsen – Shut Up, Kiss Me
  5. Frank Ocean – Ivy
  6. Lush – Out of Control
  7. Julia Jacklin – Pool Party
  8. Brian Fallon – Steve McQueen
  9. The Weeknd – I Feel it Coming
  10. Michael Kiwanuka – Falling
  11. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – I Need You
  12. Carly Rae Jepsen – Boy Problems
  13. Pup – If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will
  14. Spain – Station 2
  15. Allo Darlin’ – Hymn on the 45
  16. Rihanna ft Drake – Work
  17. Mobo – Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind
  18. Richmond Fontaine – I Got Off The Bus
  19. Marissa Nadler – Janie in Love
  20. The Goon Sax – Sometimes Accidentally
  21. Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You
  22. The Lonely Island – Mona Lisa
  23. The Handsome Family – Back in the Day
  24. The Tindersticks – Hey Lucinda
  25. Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend
Australian literature Book reviews Goodwood Holly Throsby

Book review: ‘Goodwood’ by Holly Throsby (2016)

“Goodwood was a peaceful town before the tragedies,” the teenage narrator, Jean, reflects on her town in 1992. Those tragedies involve twin disappearances. First, Rosie vanishes, a girl who is a year older than Jean and cool and inscrutable in the way only sad girls are. Soon after, beloved butcher and councillor Bart McDonald goes out fishing and doesn’t come back.

Jean thinks she has some stumbled on a pivotal clue when she finds a stash of money in a local hiding hole. The plot thickens when the cash is enigmatically replaced by a small plastic horse. She records these events in her notebook, along with theories and impressions of the increasingly mournful community.

It emerges that one of Bart’s cars also disappeared shortly before Rosie was last seen, a development that Bart was alarmingly unconcerned by. Gossip around the small town soon turns to the possibility that their disappearances were linked.

As darker mutterings begin to swirl, there are a couple too many scenes of the townsfolk recounting what they know, which at this stage is very little. But just as the narrative appears to be drifting, it kicks into gear brilliantly. Before too long, it has developed into the kind of big-hearted, emotionally bruising story that reminds you why you love fiction.

More and more of the townsfolk become caught up in the events: Carl White, a violent, pokie-addicted burnout; Kevin, a widowed dairy farmer, and Davo, Rosie’s rebellious boyfriend. Yet others hover on the periphery, touched by the fallout and the creeping paranoia: Edna, forever ready to report an “outrage”, various gossipy women, bogan men and runty kids and most memorably, the tragicomic busybody Fitzy, a woman convinced the Bureau of Meteorology is shafting the town.

This motley cast is watched over by a sensitive, complex and eminently huggable narrator in Jean, who begins the story as a mostly passive presence, observing the goings-on with her sardonic, tomboyish friend George and faithful dog Backflip before becoming a slightly bolder figure involved in the ailing town’s collective anguish. She even experiences Goodwood’s version of feverish courtship, when the lanky Ethan invites her to “go see the cows” with him.

There may be more promising dalliances afoot; she notices Evie, a beautiful new girl at the school and gradually their paths cross in one of the most minimally sketched but memorable romances in recent memory. It’s an almost wordless seduction, two comets of lust and excitement on a collision path on the fringes of the town.

Fashioned with gentle humour, sharply observed detail and deep reservoirs of well-directed rage, the story has so many moving parts you could easily miss something as subtle and brilliant as the elegant symmetries that cast a new light on Jean’s narration. Where other books have clunky revelations, this has grace notes.

There is some of Tim Winton in Goodwood’s DNA, that wry affection for a peculiarly Australian dagginess and the rhythms and rituals of small-town life. Everything is observed with equal parts poetry and realism: the social life that revolves around the CWA and the town’s twin pubs, the unintentional kitsch of a fishing parade, the banter over the counter at Bart’s butcher shop and the reverence towards his geniality and decency.

The debut novel of Holly Throsby, also a noted singer-songwriter, Goodwood is many things: a satisfying and conscientiously constructed mystery, an affectionate but clear-eyed portrait of a time and place, and a darkly lovely coming of age story. But most of all, it’s a complete revelation, the conjuring up of a sad, beautiful, indelible little world of its own.

Art Uncategorized

The MCA’s ‘Tatsuo Miyjamia: Connect with Everything’ exhibition

Whether lying on your back and looking up into the deep red neon haze of ‘Arrow of Time (Unfinished Life)’ or surrounded by the chilly beauty of ‘Mega Death’, the works of Tatsuo Miyajima are deeply immersive, drenching everyone in their proximity in light. Epic in scale and engaged with the grandest of ideas, his is a thematically unified and stylishly recursive body of work.

One of the major names in contemporary Japanese art, Miyajima’s work has been exhibited over 300 times, but the Museum of Contemporary Art’s summer blockbuster ‘Connect with Everything’ is his first major solo retrospective in Australia. Visitors will find all the key room-scale installations and LED-based sculptures from across his remarkable career.

They’re visually spectacular, but also steeped in deep melancholy. A recurring motif in Miyajima’s work are displays of scattered numbers counting down from 9 to 1, then cycling through the process again, creating a kind of infinite loop of life, death and rebirth.

Speaking through an interpreter, Miyajima says the countdown ties in with his Buddhist beliefs. “In Buddhist philosophy, we’re born, we live, we die, but then we come back, so there’s a cyclical nature to that journey”.

Growing up in postwar Japan, he was surrounded by childhood mortality (including his own serious illness) and the legacy of nuclear destruction, both of which informed his work. “I actually despaired for humanity at times” he says. “But it’s a Buddhist thing to fight that evil, that utter darkness within us”.

Rachel Kent, the Chief Curator at the MCA and the curator of this exhibition, says Miyajima’s installations are fascinating partly for how they deal with death without ever becoming maudlin. “There’s a wonderfully redemptive quality,” she says. “There’s a sense that life eventually resumes again.”

It’s very much a passion project for Kent, who says her initial exposure to Miyajima’s work, back at London’s Hayward gallery in 1997, was a hugely memorable one. “I was in the early stages of my career as a curator… and it was a beautiful big exhibition and it just made this incredible impact on me,” she explains. “It stayed with me for years. I can still remember different parts of that exhibition today.”

She reconnected with Miyajima’s practice for the MCA’s 2012 exhibition ‘Marking Time’, introducing him to Sydney audiences and paving the way for future collaborations. “That (exhibition) was all about how artists mark the passage of time so Tatsuo was obviously central to my thinking, and it was a good way of starting a conversation towards a major retrospective of his work, ” she says. This current exhibition is the culmination of more than three years work and feverish planning.

The ambitious and technologically based nature of the work made for huge logistical challenges, Kent says. “There’s been an enormous amount of construction (for the exhibition), we’ve pretty well had to rebuild parts of the gallery, knock down walls, drop ceilings.” Some 9 tonnes of coal were shipped in for ‘Counter Coal’, while installing ‘100 Time Lotus’necessitated bringing in some 6,500 gallons of water as well as live fish and lotuses.

The huge undertaking has produced a fascinating exhibition which feels both futuristic in its tangles of electric wires and microcomputers, and in thrall to the past, having a strong memorial aspect. It’s a collection that bridges technology and humanism, and you won’t be able to look away for a second.

‘Tatsuo Miyajima: Connect With Everything’ will be showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art from 3 November 2016- 5 March 2017. Book tickets here.


Sydney Fringe Comedy: Our picks of the festival make their own festival picks

Read the full article at The Guardian.

Book reviews Music

Book review: ‘I am Brian Wilson’ by Brian Wilson and ‘Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy’ by Mike Love (2016)

When Mike Love described Brian Wilson’s masterwork Pet Sounds as “Brian’s ego music”, he set himself up as one of pop culture’s ultimate heals, the philistine who lucked into a golden age and complained about how yellow everything looked. While his bandmate (and cousin) has long been cast as the tragic hero, Love has occupied the role of the moustache-twirling villain, the crass opportunist to Wilson’s wounded artistic genius.

Love writes about a pronounced split in the Beach Boys fanbase between those who prefer Brian’s innovation and sophistication and “the masses” attracted to the more straightforward nostalgia of his version of the group, which continues today with Love as the only remaining original member.

This schism dates back to Pet Sounds, the greatest pop album ever. The shadow that work cast hangs over both these memoirs; I Am Brian Wilson even utilises its familiar Cooper Black font. For Wilson, it set a benchmark he could never live up to and coincided with his withdrawal from touring life. In Love’s version of events, the record’s relative commercial failure and Brian’s increasing drug use signalled an end of the wholesome early version of the band.

As suggested by the oddly declarative title, I Am Brian Wilson foregrounds Wilson’s take on events which are already much-publicised and analysed. He has worked with a ghostwriter, but anyone who has seen his spectacular solo shows or seen him interviewed will recognise the voice immediately: vulnerable, faltering, pained, unexpectedly funny.  He describes the narrative as “a music story and a family story and a love story, but (it’s) a story of mental illness, too”.

There’s a lot of pain here, from the abuse he suffered at the hands of a cruel father to the pressure he put on himself to his years as the virtual captive of a quack psychotherapist, Dr. Landy, who he remembers as “a tyrant who controlled one person”. Yet there is a candour and even a childlike openness to how he describes the battling voices in his head and the self-doubt and self-imposed pressure which led to him abandoning the ambitious, visionary Smile project, which was originally conceived in 1966 and eventually revisited and completed in 2004.

While Love usually only features in Wilson’s book in connection with some legal action or other he is launching, Brian is a constant feature in Good Vibrations, with Love trying numerous angles to dislodge him from his position as a figure of pathos and empathy, the wayward genius fighting a losing battle with his demons.

Other times, Love too closely resembles the drunk uncle at a wedding whose speech has rambled on too long and worked a little too blue. He revisits his infamous, ranting speech at the group’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and blames his sourness on that occasion at not having meditated that day.

Elsewhere, he is content to throw shade at Wilson’s achievements, with the glorious ‘God Only Knows’ (named by Paul McCartney as his favourite ever song) perfunctorily described as “one of the album’s most celebrated numbers” and the haunting ‘Til I Die’ is only mentioned as evidence of “Brian’s gloom”. His co-written kitsch monster ‘Kokomo’, however, is poured over like it was the Zapruder film.

Love’s moments of finger-wagging anger and self-serving revisionism do sit alongside some fascinating details, like his account of writing the lyrics for ‘California Girls’ and recording the song’s heavenly harmonies and counter-harmonies. He had to sue the rest of the band for his contributions to that song (and others) to be recognised, a point he makes with some insistence.

Ridiculous as it often is, Love’s outsider perspective is undeniably fascinating and sometimes his rage is well justified. In contrast, Wilson’s memoir has a weepily beautiful mellowness and a real poignancy that shines through the acrimony and wasted years.

One cannot help but be moved as he describes the redemptive, celebratory mood of his latter-day return to the live sphere and his view of creativity as something hallowed and elusive. Most memorably, he likens song writing to catching goldfish in your hands: “They dart one way and you see a little flash of orange, but you don’t really know whether they’re coming or going”.