Monday, April 11, 2016

The Baroness Redecorates - Absolute Perfection


The Baroness Redecorates (Source: Amazon)


The Baroness Redecorates is perfection. I can count the number of records I consider 'perfect' on one hand, and this is always the one that I name first. I remember when I ordered this EP from Canada, the disclaimer on Maple Music said it would arrive in 10 weeks. 9 weeks and 6 days later I received it in the mail - and it did not disappoint. Every track on this album is perfect.

The Baroness Redecorates marked a (celebratory?) parting of ways from Sarah Slean's record label. While my appreciation of The Baroness grows with each listen, I found it to be the slowest of Slean's catalogue. The Baroness Redecorates couldn't be a further departure, and it's jaw-dropping that this outstanding collection of tracks were considered B-Sides. The result, however, is a brilliant 30 minute EP which literally never leaves my collection.

The album is beautifully meditative and reflective at times, and wild and upbeat in the remainder. The coquettish 'Parasol' is a tango with a habanera flavoured rhythm paired with hysterical musings, and in a similar vein 'Compatriots' is a frantic number of bristling city life. The slower numbers are beautiful - 'The Lonely Side of the Moon' and 'Modern Man I & II' are wistful and evoke a feeling of longing and wanderlust. The best track of the album (which shifts to any given track on any given listen) might be 'The Rose'. This remarkable piece is at once sorrowful and celebratory, an ineffably beautiful reflection about how all life in the world must end.

The lyrics are scintillating, sparkling with wit and originality. A lot of this comes from the fact that these songs are not constricted to the theme of love - they're refreshingly abstract themes such as life, environment and trust.

Instrumentation is almost entirely piano and strings, with the strings in particular - all of which are written, arranged and conducted by Slean - being superb. They circumnavigate the melodies to embellish them, but when needed they suddenly descend into passages which are heavenly, dramatic or even becoming a piece in themselves. The album includes Slean's first string quartet, a 6 minute movement called 'The "Disarm" Suite' which concludes the album as the perfect encapsulation of what we've experienced.

TL;DR - this is the best album I've ever heard and owned. An absolutely outstanding record created by a vastly under-rated and unappreciated artist.



'The Baroness Redecorates' by Sarah Slean is available digitally on iTunes and Amazon.com, and is also available on Spotify & physical CD.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The bewitching bells of Notre Dame


(Source: Amazon.com)


Sometimes it just doesn't seem feasible to create a product like this - a whole orchestra, brilliant core cast and a choir of 30, assembled for a complete recording of a musical that will probably never make it to Broadway. Therefore, I believe we need to chalk this recording of The Hunchback of Notre Dame up for the sheer sake of artistry.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the vastly under-rated scores of the Disney cannon. After missing out on the Oscar in 1996 it (along with the movie) disappeared into this void. Which is disappointing, considering the influences it draws upon and the complexity of its composition. This is also a score and film that doesn't shy away from complex themes and issues - the uncomfortable nature of sexuality, death, racism and [exclusion] all rear their glorious, ugly heads here encapsulated in this music. Originally the show was made in German to great acclaim in 1999, before making its long awaited English premiere in 2014. Now, it finally comes to a recording, and it couldn't be more perfect.

The cinematic feel of this recording is absolutely spine-tingling. No corners have been cut - this isn't a typical Disney musical soundtrack where you can hear a piano clomping around in the middle of the music holding it all together. The instrumentation and orchestrations behind the singers are absolute world class quality and pulls out all the stops - it potentially rivals the movie's original soundtrack. This music is powerful, oozing with grandeur and sparkling with brilliance. 'The Bells of Notre Dame' and is repeated motifs are breath-taking, as is 'God Help the Outcasts' and 'Heaven's Light'. And of course, one of the highlights is the brooding and dark twisted cry 'Hellfire'.

This feels like the only Alan Manken musical where the additional material fits into the same world, and feels like it's actually adding something to the story. 'Flight to Egypt', 'Thai Mol Piyas', 'In a Place of Miracles' and 'Made of Stone' are terrific additions, and the excellent 'Someday' which was cut from the original movie is re-purposed here (as a side note, 'Flight in Egypt' replacing 'A Guy Like You' is one of the best choices that Disney has ever made - it totally transforms the mood). A longer score has also allowed him to really flesh out brilliant themes. Stephen Shwartz might not have the same light and silly touch as the late Howard Ashman, but Schwartz manages to craft lyrics that aren't dumbed down to children. They speak esoterically and abstractly, and as such makes the material suitably feel more epic and suited to a musical.

You couldn't find another cast that would reach this level of confluence. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent, and absolutely rock their musical theatre ensemble feel and also . The remainder of the core cast include Ciara Renee's crystaline Esmerelda, Patrick Page's dark and authoratative Frollo, and Erik Liberman's flashing cheek and humour Clopain. The star of the show is Michael Arden, who brings an incredible flavour to Quasimodo. While Tom Hulcet's Quasi is quiet, refined and well spoken, Arden acts the role with a slight . But when he belts - and it's done fairly frequently - it's breathtaking and sounds like he can flatten mountains. 'Out There' made my eyes water from his emotion. Absolutely awesome.

You can tell that this soundtrack is the result of many hours of labor and passion of the collaborators - and for a measly $15 you'll get a slice this brilliance forever, along with a beautiful glossy 32 page book along with lyrics, pictures, and a forward from the creators. Please buy this soundtrack to support these gutsy, incredible artistic gambles. Everyone wins when the product is as great as this!!

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', composed by Alan Menken with lyrics Stephen Shwartzr, is available digitally on iTunes and Amazon.com, and is also available on Spotify & physical CD.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Into the Heart of the Jungle

Heart of Thorns soundtrack cover (Source: Games-OST.com)
After completing the score of Guild Wars 2, original composer Jeremy Soule signed a contract where he was to exclusively write music for the Everquest series. With Soule refined to his tiny MMO cage, we now have the pleasure of Maclaine Diemer and Lena Chappelle (featuring a bit of Stan Le Pard) creating the music behind this absolutely spine tingling addition to the Guild Wars musical canon.

The music couldn't be a further departure from Soule's style. Whereas Soule's work is fantastical, this team know how to capture that fantasy sound but also create atmosphere. The score is lyrical, blending amazing orchestration (brass, strings and percussion being the strongest featured) and the traditional fantasy soundtrack with inspiration of indigenous voices and Eastern tonalities. The results are gorgeous, forlorn, and overall, exceptionally powerful.

There are no throw away tracks in this score. The thunderous 'Heart of Thorns Theme' is brilliant - a brooding, dark overture which pulsates with a rhythm driven by powerful percussion, strings, and brass. It's nothing short of awesome. Other picks are the mysterious and serene 'Quaggan Command' (dat name tho), the escalating 'Maguuma Overture', the exquisite candor of 'Tarir, the Forgotten City' and the ethnic and jaunty 'Jaka Itzel' (which along with 'Faren's Flier' provides some nice light relief to the otherwise serious score). There is also this beautiful discourse of intoxicating mystery which comes across in tracks like 'Rata Novus', 'Dangerous Beauty' and 'Taming the Jungle'. The score closes with 'Mordremoth', a final ode to the treaterous jungle which encapsulates the whole score with lightning strings, intricate rhythms and percussion and alien languages and ritualistic chanting.

There's also a very impressive preservation of themes previously appearing in the series - Soule's Guild Wars motif echoes throughout, featuring prominently on 'Leaving Tarir', and Crystal Oasis (all the way back from the original Guild Wars: Prophecies) features on 'An Exalted Lullaby'. However, the team integrates them only as brief fragments before they evolve to take on a life of their own. And I won't go into great detail on excellent battle tracks like 'Attack on Tarir' or 'Mouth of Mordremoth' - all you need to know is that they feature far more melody and structure as Soule's work, but unlike Soule, manages to actually make something enjoyable.

The recording of the orchestra isn't the highest possibly quality, but that's what makes it such a refreshing listen to after hearing so much of Soule's scores. You hear little scuffs, pages shuffle and people taking breaths, and at one point you can even hear someone's muffled cough in the background. These don't detract from the music - on the contry, it gives it a magical, living and breathing feeling. I understand there is a certain amount of instrumental patches used, but I couldn't be happier that there's a real orchestra in use to some capacity, and I hope it carries on for the next Guild Wars expansions.

I can't comment on how appropriate this music is within the game's instances, but the quality of music and melody here is extremely strong, and easily stands alone as an excellent soundtrack. My jaw dropped from the moment I hit play on a sample up until the final note had settled on the finale. I hope Diemer & Chappelle stay with ArenaNet for a long time, and I'm eagerly going to await their foray into Cantha, Elona, and beyond.

''Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Original Soundtrack' by ArenaNet, composed by Maclaine Diemer, Lena Chappelle & Stan Le Pardl is available digitally on iTunes and Amazon.com. Available for pre-order on physical vinyl. I wish it was available on CD, but who actually buys them anymore?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Joyá-rible

The latest soundtrack by Cirque du Soleil (Source: Spotify)
I guess that Cirque du Soleil is past the point of caring about creating exquisite melodies and transportive works. Joyá is a clumsy and bombastic half-hour of music that we could've all done without, and will go in one ear and out the other whether you want it to or not.

This Spanglish (read: what white people think Mexican music sounds like) product is brought to you from the dinner show which performs at the Riviera Maya Resort in Mexico. From what I gather, the performance itself takes a backseat from the food - and it sounds like the music is an after-thought to even the background. 

The composition is very slap dash, nothing special and certainly doesn't 'feel' like a Cirque du Soleil score. There have been competitors knocking off Cirque for years with foreign sounding lyrics and 'zany' compositions, but it seems we've reached a full cycle where Cirque du Soleil is now imitating that exact style. There isn't really anything in terms of lyrics, and while there is a use of 'motifs' they are so basic it's like listening to a nursery rhyme on repeat.

One of the lines is 'Ai yi yi yi yi'. Guys, we get it, we're in Mexico.

The mix of instruments just doesn't work. The core instruments are guitar, keyboards/percussion and trumpet, with a female and sometimes male voice joining them. Even when the score tries to be upbeat, it sounds cheesy and low energy. The mixing of the CD is really bizarre too (instruments surge and pan between ears, weird effects on instruments), and there's also an unfortunately gross sounding synthesised strings plug-in that features prominently (and when it does it sounds ridiculous). The whole recording feels very lifeless.

If 'Comedy of Errors' had been in another show as a clown act, I would've commended the composers for finally making a cute, goofy and interesting cue. But it's not for a clown act - it's literally the only stand-out in the score for simply not being derivative, and even then it's not something you could listen to for an extended period of time. Nothing here is going to endure over time or become a proud hallmark of the company's musical catalog.

Even if you've been to the show, I can't think of a single reason why you'd want to listen to this boring mess. If you're a diehard Cirque fan and you need to own it, be prepared to go through some annoying lengths as the physical record is only available at the show. It's cheesy clichés galore and it sounds like hackneyed background noise at a family friendly themed restaurant - oh wait, that's *exactly* what the pitch is.

'Joyá' by Cirque du Soleil is available digitally on iTunes, Amazon.com and Spotify. Available on physical CD at Joya's Official Boutique onsite. .

Friday, December 18, 2015

Thoughts on I WANT TO KNOW WHAT LOVE IS [*]


How do you wipe tears away when your eyes are dry? I Want to Know What Love Is by The Goodroom is such a celebratory piece about romantic love there’s no reason to cry during it, despite running the gamut on everything known humanly possible when it comes to love. It has its ups and downs in terms of mood, and the many weird phases that love has, but if anyone that chalks it up to be a mere ‘hour of entertainment’ they're wrong. Unless you have no emotions, but then I'm also not sure you'd call it entertainment.

Can we start by immediately establishing how accessible the piece is? How great is it that everyone is going to look at this show through a different view? Some people having been in love for a long time, some just starting out, some ending. Work like this is essential because it's accessible for everyone. Everyone, not just the usual 40something crowd that come to theatre with their dinner jackets and their diamond monicals. Literally everyone - love is like a universal desire, and the fact that it's been jammed into a 60 minute theatre piece is a feat in itself. 

Look, me writing is pretty personal and more of a reason to vent than reflect on what a terrific show this is. The last time I saw this production was during the original incarnation during Brisbane Festival 2014. I was with my ex-boyfriend at the time, and unknown to me, we were on the cusp of breaking up. He broke it to me pretty soon after that he just wasn't feeling it so we had about two months later. We got back together but the same problem of not wanting to be tied down reared its head again, so this time I around I saw it without him, but he was in the same room seeing it with someone else. So, this time it's going through my first big breakup and I'm far more compelled to write about it now. Just a disclaimer. And also an update, if you used to read this blog for the personal updates (which I have since REMOVED). 

The structure of the show itself mirrors an ending relationship. There is actually the finale at the start - an, exuberant ineffable joy and declaration that live is alive and real. It is then yanked off stage by lost, moving through grief, coping, acceptance and then the unknown future. The four actors are just terrific and are extremely versatile, moving between vignettes and moments of over 800 real-life submissions on what people perceive what love is. It seems so simple but it's utterly genius. How has this not been done before (*prior to 2014) and how has the world not seen this show yet? Hopefully it will.

Right now, when I think about my ex my blood boils to the point where if you slit my throat open, you would be thrown on your back and your flesh would burn off (I think I'm in the coping faze?). It’s amusing to be reminded that pain, joy and sorrow felt while you’re in ‘love’ (and post) aren’t unique. You’re not special or particularly interesting, and what I really like about this show is that the reassurance that seems to echo everyone's life. We all go through your friends/parents/colleagues saying “We all hated him/her”, “You can do better”, “I’m hotter anyway”. Then also the promises you make in the ENDLESS conversations that you're obliged to have about it with everyone. "I'm fine" "I've got space for me" "Everything is going okay". I've never seen a show packed with so much emotional truth within the text because these are ACTUAL human reactions. I can't comment on the actors experience with love but some seem to grasp it a little better than others - but that's not even a flaw, since the nature of the piece is that perceptions of love are organic and change over time. Lovely.

I suppose I'll be pretty much the only one to point out the design of the show is just gorgeous. Kieran Swan has created this luscious Garden of Eden battle arena where thousands of petals descend the stage admits a forest of pull-down banners of posters which echo different sentiments of love. Lawrence English is an absolute revelation and is too good for Brisbane'd sound design community for theatre - probably why we only get to see works from him like one a year. The music of appropriately thunderous or soft whenever it's needed and it really assists in helping out where you stand on a certain viewpoint of love. I've said it like a thousand times for all the thousands of shows that Jason Glenright has lit, but you couldn't ask for more appropriate and seamless lighting. Chumps will cluck their tongues and complain about lighting states being reused all over the place, but there's only so many types of lights in one rig. It's a marvellous marriage of elements and nothing could've been done better. 

The piece is really important since its smoulders with truth and such emotional honesty. The feeling of community that you feel watching the piece - the comfort that people have been where you are, or have been, or even where you're going to be. It's at once therapeutic, exciting and sad, but overwhelmingly celebratory.


I really wanted to buy a ticket and just throw it into the wilderness so someone could enjoy that but for some fucking reason I went to CANBERRA - THE CITY OF DREAMS last weekend so I literally don't have enough to buy one. So, in my failure of that, I'd recommend make the effort to clear your calendar (probably don’t set someone up and dump them within the same sentence - that would make you a massive cunt - also, what is the point?), and try to get along to see I Want to Know What Love Is. It finishes this Saturday and then who knows when you'll be able to catch it next? When you're next in LOVE? HAHAHAHAHAHA. 

Tickets for The Good Room's I Want to Know What Love Is are $33 - $39 (not including Booking Fee), and is showing at Brisbane Powerhouse until 19 December. Duration of approximately 1 hour. Book by visiting Brisbane Powerhouse's website.