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Published February 6th 2013
From bedroom recordings to toy pianos
2012 has been and gone and the music writers have published all their 'best of' lists. I know I'm a little late, but I wanted to celebrate three left-of-centre Australian CDs that I bought and loved last year. They're the kind of things it's easy to overlook in the flood of mass-produced commercial music.
First cab off the rank is Old Noise, by Melbourne-based alt-country singer Harry Hookey.
I heard one of Hookey's songs when I stumbled across the Saturday Night Country show on ABC radio one evening. Among a lot of traditional C&W that failed to ignite a flicker of interest in me, his tunes were a breath of fresh air. Funny, interesting, sly, with some darker guitar thrown in. And not your typical country themes. Check out the live version of his song 'Misdiagnosed' below to see what I mean.
A follow-up interview with the singer-songwriter, who won the Telstra Road to Discovery music quest in 2011, revealed a clever, droll fellow, who is currently neglecting a law degree to take his music on the road. Hookey then played a couple of songs live on the radio, including the gorgeous 'Audrey's song', a sweet, yearning piece that would melt many a girl's heart.
Inspired, I tracked down the Harry Hookey website and ordered a copy of his 6-track CD ($15 including postage). I think it's a fresh alt-country debut worth noting, with memorable lyrics and catchy hooks in just about every song. It's up there with Sherry Rich's Dakota Avenue* as my favourite Australian alt-country discovery of 2012.
My second pick is a self-titled indie-pop bedroom album recorded by another Melbourne artist, Bored Nothing (real name Fergus Miller).
Another debut, it was mostly recorded by Miller on a four-track recorder and features lots of dreamy, swirly, jangly guitars, muted vocals, and waspish lyrics hidden inside sweet melodies (first track is titled Shit for Brains). You can get it from some mainstream suppliers, but I got it for just $14 online from one of my favourite indie outlets, Spunk Records.
While there aren't many 'official' Bored Nothing clips, I'm loving this YouTube effort that a fan's put together.
If you hate the lo-fi DIY aesthetic, Bored Nothing isn't for you (I think the sound quality is actually pretty good, but you certainly won't find any crystal-clear vocals or remastered rock here). But if you're happy to drift on a tide of washed-out guitar magic, I think you'll enjoy the trip. Miller now has a Bored Nothing band together, and I'm kicking myself that I missed their recent album launch at Black Bear Lodge in the Valley.
My third and final artiste is the gloriously eclectic classical-with-a-twist pianist, Sally Whitwell. Hailing from Sydney, she released her second album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward through ABC Classics last year ($27.99 from their website).
Whitwell is classically trained but offers anything but a traditional experience of well-known piano pieces. She also composes her own works, incorporating instruments like harpsichord, recorder and toy piano.
As Spaghetti Western fans may have guessed, The Good, the Bad and the Awkward has a cinematic link, assembling and re-interpreting gorgeous music from a range of movies. Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly features alongside pieces from Twin Peaks, The Piano, Amelie and many more. Classical pieces by Debussy, Haydn and Bach (used in various films) are also included, as are pieces by modern composers like Philip Glass and Michael Nyman.
Coming in at 77 minutes, The Good, the Bad and the Awkward manages to seamlessly integrate more than 20 tracks and take you on an unpredictable but effortless stroll through a world of lush imaginings. Friends who've seen Whitwell live say she's also a knockout on stage. She wins my vote for best instrumental CD of 2012, just edging out rockin' Brisbane nu-wave brass band Bullhorn, with their self-titled debut.**
So there you have it, my friends -- three CDs that you probably haven't heard of elsewhere, but that just might tickle your fancy if you take the time to play a track or two. If you have your own indie/obscure favourites from last year, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.
* Yes, I know I said I'd stick to three CDs, but there's so much good music out there. And the story of how Rich's decade-old tracks (which feature members of alt-country giants Wilco) were finally released is noteworthy in itself. Visit her website to find out more, or go to Vitamin Records to buy her CD.
** Ok, so that makes it five. But Bullhorn really are fantastic, and I would have been remiss not to mention them. You can check out their stuff at the Reverbnation website. Better still, come to their next gig at The Joynt at South Brisbane on Friday 22 February.