Archive for the Music Category

If you haven’t heard the guitar-driven, expansive, ululating, call-and-response Tuareg rock of Tinariwen then you should download their new live album for free!

If you haven’t fallen in love with Malian music by the end of the album, I recommend Rokia Traore (who is at least 18 different kinds of awesome, and one of 3 women I would bind myself into eternal slavery for on the strength of their voices), Amadou and Mariam (my favourite ever blind, husband-and-wife musical duo), and Toumani Diabate (sublime master of the kora: prepare to be transdimensionally transported).

Apparently, writing up the 15 albums that you’ll always remember, or that really rocked your world, is a facebook meme that’s been doing the rounds. I’m either scanning my facebook updates too irregularly, or my friends are all too cool to go in for facebook fads…

So my 15 albums (in no particular order):

  1. Document – REM
  2. Flood – They Might Be Giants
  3. Doolittle – The Pixies
  4. Tje ni Mousso – Amadou and Mariam
  5. Goo – Sonic Youth
  6. Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads
  7. Graceland – Paul Simon
  8. Brothers in Arms – Dire Straits
  9. Slanted and Enchanted – Pavement
  10. Little Girl Blue – Nina Simone
  11. If I Should Fall From Grace With God – The Pogues
  12. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
  13. One Step Beyond – Madness
  14. Tom Waits – Bone Machine
  15. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic – The Sundays

Best novel

I couldn’t decide between Shadow Country & The Tutor of History. They’re both chunky, beautifully written door-stops of novels that tell compelling stories through the eyes of multiple characters and bring complex geographies and social realities to life.

Shadow Country, by Peter Matthieson, is a brutal, intricately characterised and stunningly rendered account of turn-of-the-20th-century frontier life, violence, and exploitation of place and people in Florida’s Everglades. It’s a reworking of Matthieson’s Mister Watson trilogy, and – for a novel that starts with its ending (almost) fully revealed – a gripping and suspenseful story.

The Tutor of History, by Manjushree Thapa, is equally beautifully written. It is a quite wonderful account of family and personal struggle set during a fictitious election campaign in Nepal. Her characters are flawed, failing, trapped and yet full of desire and struggling to work out the possibilities for their own personal liberation within a social and political context that is both deeply conservative and also changing beyond recognition. Marvellous.

Best Science Fiction

River of Gods and Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald. Both to reflect my own reading habits, and the strength of this novel and collection of stories, I needed a separate sci-fi  category. River of Gods couldn’t quite have won in the best novel category, but it would have gone close. Well written (though occasionally just a shade over-written) story of personal, political and environmental intrigue and conflict set in a fractured India in 2047. The big-picture stuff is, indeed, big-picture – India has fractured into multiple smaller and competing states, climate change has weakened the South Asian monsoon, leading to water conflict, various Artificial Intelligences approach break out point only to be put down like rabid dogs – but they never overwhelm McDonald’s gritty depiction of street-level reality, engaging characters and cracker of a story. Cyberabad Days, a collection of short stories, is an edgy, pacy set of snapshots of life in this same setting.

Best Album

Tchamantche. Without a doubt. Rokia Traore is one of two women I have fallen in love with on the basis of their singing voices. The other is Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays. And I can’t understand a word either of them sing.

Best Theology

But possibly worst title: Inhabiting the Cruciform God, by Michael Gorman. And definitely worst subtitle: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Building on an exposition of Philippians 2:6–11 as Paul’s “master story”, Gorman elegantly argues that God’s nature is cruciform – fully revealed in the paradoxically emptying, abasing and negating movement of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion. And, following this, that to be truly human is to participate in and be conformed to this divine nature in holy communities of self-giving love.

There are lots of insights into Pauline texts – I often found myself seeing familiar passages in new ways – and Gorman’s weaving together of justification and holiness, the crucifixion and resurrection is compelling. His arguments in support of a theologically informed non-violence are  clear and cogent. Though I found his way of preserving the possibility/reality of a future judgement (by arguing that the narrative structure he identifies in Philippians 2 may express the nature of God but does not exhaust it) troubling. Taking this route seems to me to have the potential to undermine much of what Gorman had argued to this point.

Best Day

Sunday 19 July.

Best Taste

Samosa chat from a street vendor in Surkhet. It’s spicy, creamy, potatoey goop over samosa fragments, served on a banana leaf plate. Delicious. But Urmila’s tomato and coriander achar runs a very close second.

Best Movie

Up (Disney/Pixar).  Gorgeous. Heart-breaking and hilarious animated family feature.

We didn’t need an alarm this morning as a wedding band in the yard next door started up at 7am. A riotous wall of sound. Modal melodies and off-beat rhythms. Call and response led by a trumpet and clarinet followed by the rest of the band, mostly brass. It reminded me strongly of klezmer, actually, and it was impossible not to smile while listening.

The Itunes shop is relatively unfriendly to set up – though it has lots of stuff. So I haven’t done much music buying online. But what I have purchased online has been rippingly good.

Hanne Hukkelberg – Rykestrasse 68

Bright Eyes – LIFTED

Radiohead – Hail to the Thief

They Might be Giants – The Else

György Ligeti– Piano works and cello concertos

Arvo Pärt– Summa

Steve Reich – Variations

I’ve loved every second. The music has made me laugh. It’s made me cry. It’s made me bleed from my eardrums.

This time the tunes that got me down the mighty Hume and the Federal Highway were: Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for piano and cello as well as his Lamentate. The piano and percussion in this piece, coupled with the strings, range from delicate and haunting to very forceful, stirring and almost strident. It’s great driving music actually.

I also played not one, but two, Eels albums: Beautiful Freak and Daisies of the Galaxy. I really like the Eels’ quirky sensibility, the offbeat narratives of loss and exclusion that sit back to back with upbeat celebrations of the rich weirdness of life. E’s voice, too, just works brilliantly well with the music he sings – a combination of gruff ordinariness and fragility.

Listening to the B Minor Mass, I find it hard to shake the feeling that Christian music took a wrong turn somewhere shortly after JS Bach. Harsh? Maybe, but there’s certainly no contemporary Christian music that gives me the chills.

I like the John Butler Trio without being blown away by them. But having seen them at the Zero Seven Make Poverty History gig on Friday, I’m revising my opinion.

Watching them take the campaign chants of the yoof audience (… “Zero Seven” … “Face up to poverty“…) and crank out some awesome jams around the chants was magic.

I drive to Canberra a few times a year for work, and it’s generally the longest car trip I do, so I like to listen to good music when I make the journey.

This time round, though, I didn’t play any music at all. Just made my own.

For about 6 months last year when our car radio and CD was broken, I taught myself harmonic singing – singing a drone note while making changing harmonics over that note by changing the shape of my mouth which acts as a harmonic echo chamber. It has quite an eerie and – I think – beautiful effect.

So I thought and prayed and sang these harmonics on the way to Canberra yesterday.

It was fun.

I can’t really come to Canberra for Micah Challenge events and lobbying (about which, more later) and not post my traditional Canberra drive music blog post (or as we in the ‘calling it the TCDMBP trade’ call it, ‘the TCDMBP).

This time it was a bit of a mixed bag. I had the very agreeable sensation of blending from Thelonious Monk into Augie March and then the very unsatisfactory experience of reaching for the Nina Simone CD cover and coming up blank, trying to cover my disappointment by going for Amadou and Mariam’s Dimanche a Bamako and coming up blank again! I’d left them both in the CD player at home.