It’s time for some new music ,as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from indie folk singer Sufjan Stevens, Aussie trio Middle Kids, Sydney electro freaks (neighbour) and the soundtrack to Elton John biopic Rocketman.
New EP from a New Artist
Middle Kids: New Songs for Old Problems
I must admit I chose this album based entirely on the title, as up until yesterday I’d never heard of Sydney trio Middle Kids. This may be partially due to their idiosyncratic approach to publicity, putting out little to no information about themselves. Despite releasing debut album Lost Friends last year, their official site lists the dates of their current tour and allows you to both stream and purchase their music, but doesn’t tell you anything about the band — not even their names.
Their Facebook and Twitter pages are little better and even font of all modern knowledge Wikipedia only has the bare bones of an entry. To really find out anything about the band, you have to dig into the interviews they’ve done with various music sites, which reveals that Middle Kids are made up of singer Hannah Joy, multi-instrumentalist Tim Fitz and drummer Harry Day. Joy and Fitz are married, which would be fairly irrelevant if it didn’t inform so many of the tracks on New Songs for Old Problems.
There is a deep familiarity with in the lyrics, particularly on tracks like Salt Eyes, detailing the universal couple experience of being dragged to a party where you don’t know anyone but your partner. Sounding like a cross between Fleetwood Mac and the Arcade Fire (with a distinctly Australian vibe), Middle Kids make music that rewards repeat listens, revealing layers of nuance and meaning among the hooks.
It’s not all wine and roses, however, as Middle Kids take a shot at modern hypocrisy with opening track Beliefs & Prayers, and the looking-for-offence generation with Call Me Snowflake. If you’ve never heard of Middle Kids, check them out now before they get huge.
Standout tracks: Salt Eyes, Call Me Snowflake
Sample lyric: “Friday night, drink of cab sav at your stupid party…” (Salt Eyes)
Verdict: 7/10 — well worth a listen for those who appreciate nuanced Aussie music.
Album I Expect to Suck
Sufjan Stevens: Love Yourself / With My Whole Heart EP
There was a time when I would have anticipated a new Sufjan Stevens release with anticipation, rather than the mild expectations of disappointment I feel when first playing Love Yourself With My Whole Heart. To be specific, that time was mid to late 2005, shortly after Stevens released his landmark album Illinois. With songs based on history and legends from the great state of Illinois, the album was whimsical and charming, and was mooted to be part of an ongoing project to record albums based on every state of the United States of America.
My interest in Stevens started to wane when he declared the whole 50 albums for 50 states thing had been a publicity stunt (after completing exactly 2 albums, Illinois and Michigan), then proceeded to make album after album about how hard it was to be an artist in a world that doesn’t understand you. Between albums, he worked on deliberately obscure projects like The BQE, a ’30 minute symphonic and cinematic exploration of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway’ and a ballet collaboration with choreographer Justin Peck.
The slightly frustrating thing about Sufjan Stevens is that he’s clearly talented, yet constantly feels the need to reiterate how much more arty and creative he is than everyone else. This was painfully evident in 2015’s Carrie and Lowell, a heartfelt tribute to Stevens mother and stepfather that couldn’t resist being just a little too clever in terms of instrumentation and creative flourishes.
Released in support of Pride Month (which is undoubtedly awesome), Love Yourself/With My Whole Heart is a throwback to the time when cassingles were a thing. Including the demo of Love Yourself recorded way back in 1996, this EP includes only 4 tracks, which at least means that it’s over quickly.
Standout tracks: Love Yourself
Sample lyric: “Make a shelf, put all the things on, that you believe in.” (Love Yourself)
Verdict: 5/10 – good intention doesn’t outweigh bad music, unfortunately.
Soundtrack of the Week
Rocketman (music from the motion picture): Elton John & Taron Egerton
Full disclosure: I have not yet seen the Elton John "fantasy musical" Rocketman — although with the amount of promotional material that's been blanketing the global media, I feel I’ve got a decent grasp of the story. It’s about Neil Armstrong, right?
Starring Kingsman lead Taron Egerton, Rocketman tells a fantastic version of Elton’s career, so much so that everyone involved goes to pains to point out that this isn’t a biopic. Much like Bohemian Rhapsody (also directed by Dexter Fletcher), songs appear out of chronology and life events appear out of order, but it’s all in service of telling a compelling story.
The big difference between Rocket Man and Bohemian Rhapsody is that Taron Egerton does all his own singing, as opposed to that "blended vocals" bollocks they tried to push for Rhapsody. We know what Freddie Mercury’s voice sounds like — Fox. As good as Rami Malek’s performance was, he was lip synching, through some truly heinous false teeth, no less. The fact that Egerton puts his own spin on the songs makes this album more than an alternate Greatest Hits album — this is something different altogether.
Drawing tracks from across Elton’s career including classics like Crocodile Rock and more obscure tracks like Amoreena, Rocketman is an aural depiction of one of the greatest musicians of our generation, portrayed by an actor who has the potential to be almost as good. Just don’t buy this hoping to hear Elton John sing — he appears on exactly one song.
Standout tracks: Your Song, Crocodile Rock, Tiny Dancer
Sample lyric: “I remember when rock was young…” (Crocodile Rock)
Verdict: 8/10 — surprisingly deep for a soundtrack.
Ch… check it out
(neighbour): Freaky Hoes
Like a grimy, funky version of The Mighty Boosh, Leichardt natives, (neighbor) make music that doesn’t fit into the mainstream, but has a glorious weirdness that must be celebrated. Made up of singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist Rory Asquith and singer/guitarist Cam Lam (neighbour) are a band with almost unlimited potential.
So fresh as a band that little information is available, it seems the duo came together in early 2019 and started making music, releasing their debut single Pinot Dreams in April. Sounding like a vaguely impaired cross between MGMT and Lil Peep, (neighbour) mix spoken word with a laid back flow that evokes a lazy Sunday spent getting nicely toasted with close friends.
With a mystery clip filmed using the people and surrounds of Leichardt as a canvas, new single Freaky Hoes is an incredibly catchy electro pop number, embracing the inherent eccentricity of inner Sydney. After a single listen, I found myself humming this song as I wandered around the office, vaguely wondering whether declaring myself a Freaky Hoe would damage my future job prospects.
Sample Lyric: “Your mum told you to leave, and it’s not too Christianly.”
Verdict: 9/10 — possibly the best song I’ve heard this week.
Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).
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