Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2012 music roundup

This list is not in any order, and there's certainly some that I've forgotten. These are the songs that made an impact on my consciousness in 2012. I listened to a lot more chart music this past year, primarily because I joined a gym that played Channel V non-stop. And while that was a largely painful experience - 99% of music today is still aimed at helping moronic 19 year olds shake their azz and get with all the hotties at da cluuub - some good stuff managed to sneak in there too.

Gotye featuring Kimbra - Somebody That I Used To Know
Belgian-born Melbournian Wally De Backer, aka Gotye, notched up some impressive feats in 2012 - among them, the first Australian artist to hit number 1 in the US since Savage Garden, over 300 million views on Youtube, topping the charts in 23 countries, and apparently the most popular song ever in the history of the Dutch charts. Quite a feat for an "alternative" artist, whatever that tag means these days.

Kendrick Lamar - Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe
As someone who still remembers the Golden Age of Hip-Hop (aka 1988 - 1994, give or take), I pretty much hate every rapper who comes out these days. But Kendrick's all right. We can hang.

PSY - Gangnam Style
The first song ever to amass a billion views on Youtube, a worldwide phenomenon that had everyone doing the horse dance, making videos or their own versions (see the video below) and singing along to words in Korean that they didn't understand. Gangnam Style might be a sign of the weird times we now live in, but it is also the triumph of infectious pop music to overcome the barriers of culture and language.
While a whole lot of people are undoubtedly sick to death of hearing Gangnam Style and seeing its associated dances, this shouldn't detract from what is a pretty good song. Yes, on one level it is lowest-common-denominator dance music (it borrows liberally from LMFAO's Sexy and I Know it, which was clearly not designed for people with high IQs). But it functions on other levels too: a poke at the Korean establishment (even if non-Koreans won't quite understand that), and a complete reversal of many of the conventions that most pop stars play by.

Guy Sebastian featuring Lupe Fiasco - Battle Scars
The inaugural winner of Australian Idol back in the day, Guy Sebastian seems like a lovely dude, but he's also seemed kinda lame in everything he has released; a waste of one of the better talents to have graced that show. With Battle Scars, he has achieved the feat of actually recording something credible without sacrificing his pop instincts, and it is far and away the best thing the Malaysian-born and Adelaide-raised singer has ever . Lupe Fiasco's rap on the song is a nice addition because it doesn't seem tacked on like many rap-cameos do. In fact, the two vocalists blend so well together that they can be featured on Letterman as "Lupe Fiasco featuring Guy Sebastian" and it doesn't seem completely off.

Rudimental - Feel the Love
This British collective took a genre of music many of us had forgotten existed (drum n bass), dressed it up with jazzy trumpet solos and Stax-era soul touches, and somehow had a major worldwide hit. And then did it all again with Not Giving In. Who knew the world was crying out for this style of music? Both tracks have amazing videos too.

Azalea Banks - 212
(This is actually from the back end of 2011.) One of the dominant trends in popular music is the fusion of hip-hop with club music. This is hardly a new trend – back in the late 80s and early 90s there was a lot of this stuff going on, some of it pretty good – but it is ever-present at the moment. And much of it is pretty awful, to be frank, epitomized by the dubious likes of Flo Rida and Pitbull. A better example is Azealea Banks’ 212, which succeeds largely because it samples Lazy Jay's Float my Boat, which can stand on its own merits as an instrumental track, and is not as mind-numbingly populist as most of the big club-rap tracks around. But Banks' quirky personality is also a huge drawcard, and makes the video eminently watchable, while her fairly confronting lyrics take sexual braggadocio into dimensions rarely explored in hip-hop.

The Bamboos featuring Megan Washington - The Wilhelm Scream
Melbourne's top purveyors of deep funk give this James Blake tune a smoky, majestic makeover.

Solange - Losing You
Truth be told, I've never been a huge Madonna fan, and have cared little for the previous output of Beyonce's little sister Solange. So I'm not quite sure why I find Solange's Losing You to be one of my favourite tracks of the year, given that it sounds more like Madonna than anything Madonna has done in the last 20 years. I didn't even think much of it on first listen either, principally for its extreme Madonna-ishness... but once its hooks are in it doesn't let go.

Miguel - Adorn
In a similar vein to the Solange track, RnB singer Miguel gives a big nod to the 80s with his biggest hit Adorn. But in this case, he echoes late-career Marvin Gaye. A great example of how a track that is very obviously synthesised can sound sexy and soulful and not at all plastic; a "commercial" RnB track that is notable for its subtlety. Miguel's album is not all that, unfortunately, but he at least shows that his excellent track All I Want Is You from a few years back was not a fluke.

Carly Rae Jepsen, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots - Call Me Maybe
Worth it for the faces of The Roots as they play away in the background.

Frank Ocean - Thinking About You
It used to be that if you wanted to make proper soul music and avoid making stupid commercial RnB, the only way was to go retro, harking back to an era when people knew how to make proper soul music. Frank Ocean, like Miguel to an extent, is making "proper" soul while still sounding very contemporary. His album Planet Orange is one of the very best you'll hear this year. The revelation, in the lead up to the album release, that Ocean is somewhat less than 100% heterosexual, is a brave move for any "urban" artist. Had he been a white pop singer, of course, no one would have cared.

Chiddy Bang - Mind Your Manners
In hip-hop, a genre that revolves around being a badass, it's often forgotten that the music was once fun as well as cool. (The hip-hop fun test is whether you can dance to the track without making an "attitude" face.) I'm not sure how cool Chiddy Bang really are, but in Mind Your Manners they have a track that is fun and accessible without sounding horrible, which is actually quite hard to do.

Labrinth - Treatment
The charts are full of rock bands fooling around with dance and urban elements (guest rappers, four-to-the-floor beats, DJ scratches and electronic effects). Meh. When an urban/dance artist starts fooling round with rock, I expect it to suck. This doesn't.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sunny... Yesterday my life was filled with rain

Okay so the reason I haven't posted anything for quite a while is that I have recently moved house. Not just to a nearby suburb, but to a whole different state. Queensland to be precise, and the Sunshine Coast to be more precise*. It's a trade off: I get marvellous warm weather instead of grim Melbourne unpredictability, but I lose the feeling of smug superiority that comes with living in Australia's most cultured and self satisfied city.

It's a temporary move, for either a year or two. My partner got a job offer up here that was too good to resist, so I quit my job, and undertook the 2000km drive northward during a heatwave, narrowly avoiding bushfires along the way. I also realised after driving the first 900km that my car registration had expired some days ago, and so I was risking a massive fine were I to be caught by the fuzz. But that's the way I roll, baby... Thug life.

The drive can be done in less than 24 hours if you are a particular hardcore mofo. we did it in 6. 6 days of driving is a long time to spend with your partner, and it can be the making or breaking of a relationship. It's also a long time to hold in a fart, if you are a gentleman and care about such small courtesies. The Sunshine Coast is not exactly the outback, but it is still too small-town for a city slicker like myself. It resembles my home town of Melbourne only in that it is in Australia and people speak English. In other respects, it is utterly foreign to me; there are no hipsters, and it's hard to get a coffee good enough for hipsters to approve of in any case. People love to leave their doors unlocked and car windows rolled down, which would normally be a sign of a friendly small town, yet seems highly bizarre behaviour in a town where every second dude has tattoos, missing teeth and walks around shirtless. I can now get mobile phone reception only if I stand up against the fence in my backyard and pray that the heavens are aligned in my favour.

On the plus side everything is pretty damn beautiful, life is pretty cruisy, and I now wear sandals everyday rather than shoes (see the aforementioned thug life). It's easy to love the beaches and scenic subtropical landscapes, and one day I may even come to love the hordes of bogans who populate this part of the world. And I am going to enjoy the walking-around-shirtless thing once I start hitting the gym real hard.

Moment that brought home that I was now living in a small town: 
Asking the lady in Maroochydore's only Indian grocery if they sold fresh curry leaves, and her reacting as if I'd just asked to buy a space shuttle.

Bogan kid's name of the day: 
Jacob, but spelled "Jakeb".

One of the great pleasures of the great bureaucracy that is the modern nation state is that local and state governments each have their own set of hoops that you have to jump through. So, lets just say like me that you have a car that is registered in Victoria (or was up until a week ago). That does not wash with our friends in the Queensland government, who determine in their wisdom that rather than just switching over to Queensland registration, I have to get a roadworthy check done before it is deemed ready to be registered here.
Or, lets just say that I am a qualified teacher, and that one of my subjects that I am qualified to teach is the Indonesian language. The Queensland government considers that to be hearsay, and wants to make me undergo testing and a special interview to prove that I am not just making this shit up and somehow fooled the whole Victorian education system.
Oh, the oppression. I'm out.

* I'm typing this on an iPad, and when I misspelled the word "precise", it autocorrected to "erectile". Just thought you'd like to know that.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Aceh is a cautionary example for Indonesia

Since the end of the three decades under military strongman Suharto, Indonesia has emerged as the most vibrant democracy in South East Asia. Yet this new freedom might prove costly to the character of a nation frequently held up as a beacon of moderate Islam. As we are seeing from the Arab Spring, some of the things that emerge after the fall of a dictator are not so nice. The absence of a tough-guy ruler in Indonesia has meant a rise in Saudi-funded Islamic fundamentalism and acts of terror, from bombings targeted at Westerners in Jakarta and Bali, to persecution of Shi'as and Ahmadis.

If Indonesians want a glimpse at a possible future of their nation, they need only peek over at Aceh, a province where Islam reigns supreme. The Acehnese have fought a long struggle for independence, against the Dutch and now against Indonesia, but their fight for self-determination might garner a little more sympathy if they didn't seem so keen to turn Aceh into SE Asia's capital of Islamic lunacy.

The administration of Lhokseumawe, Aceh, is planning to issue a bylaw banning women from straddling motorcycles, arguing that the practice is “improper” in a province governed by Islamic law. Lhokseumawe Mayor Suaidi Yahya said that women should sit sideways on motorcycles, with their legs dangling off to one side. The planned regulation had been discussed with many parties, including local ulema, Suaidi said in his 2013 New Year’s speech. The mayor said that the ban would restore fading local values caused by poor morality and make it easier to differentiate women from men when riding pillion. He said that the planned regulation could in fact uphold the dignity of women in the region.

Unspun has it right. This has nothing to do with what women wear or do, but everything to do with the idea that men are incapable of controlling their basic urges. And when you set such a low standard for men to follow, it's not surprising when they lower themselves to it.