Monday, October 12, 2009

Rage Roundup (ish)

Not much Rage on this blog, lately? Yeah, I know. Here's a couple of tunes to tide you over.

Liam Finn has produced some impressive music lately. His band Betchadupa (currently "on hiatus") never made a huge impact, but I'll Be Lightning (2007) – Liam's melancholy solo album – was a more substantial success. Now that his musical partnership with Eliza-Jane Barnes (daughter of Jimmy Barnes) has moved to equal-billing status, there's a new enthusiasm to the music that's seriously punchy.

Both Finn and Barnes are multi-instrumentalists, and it's clear they have a passion for unusual musical arrangements. To construct this tune they've surrounded a glam bass riff with 1960s psych organ, 1970s synth bleeps and modern drums. It's an odd blend, and the central riff is very simple – you might even say, "old-fashioned" – but the arrangement overall is crafty and energetic. The guitar solo buzzes and twists like a drunk wasp, the organ chords generate great texture and tension (especially in the bridge – check out the way the organ plays against the background vocal harmonies), and the "sshhhpp!" percussion effects remind you to dance. It's great stuff.

The video shows Finn and Barnes flashing rapidly in and out of existence on their various instruments in the recording studio, showing off their simultaneous multi-instrumentalism. It's an interesting visual effect, but it's probably more uncomfortable to watch than it should be – the flashes are so rapid, it's surprising the video doesn't come with an epilepsy warning. Enjoy!

Lots of songs begin with only piano and voice; it's an elegant combination that flatters a nice voice, so singers tend to enjoy it. Jessica Says's new single starts with only piano and voice, but then it does something unusual: it refuses to add a single extra instrument as it goes along. (Listen carefully and you might notice occasional background vocals from New Buffalo's Sally Seltmann, but that's it.) One instrument, no overdubs – as far as pop ballads go, that sort of approach is practically punk! Luckily, the vocals are strong enough for the song to work well with piano alone, and it creates a wonderfully pure and clear, "live" sound.

It's tempting to compare Jessica Says (a.k.a. Jessica Venables) to Kate Bush – they share a similar songwriting taste for sweet-and-sour melodies, and there's even a vocal resemblance – but it'd be unfair to mark this as any kind of rip-off. Venables possesses a unique edge of her own, and this is simply a great song; the musical craft and spirit on show are undeniable.

The video is interesting, too. It looks like a homage to 1960s European art films (dubious sexual politics included); production-wise it's obviously cheap, but it's adequate. A song this good really deserves something better, but Jessica Says will hopefully be successful enough to demand a bigger music video budget next time. Looking forward to it!


  1. nice post. my internet is so slow this week i cant actually watch the videos, but you know what, i think i have a pretty good idea just from what youve written :)

  2. Thanks! They're both pretty good songs and (probably) worth listening to, sometime . . . but the videos aren't that great; if I wasn't writing for Triple J (youth! pep! yes!), I would have been more scathing of the videos.

    Also, I think I met Jessica Venables at a party once, and I love it when people I've vaguely met become vaguely famous; I'm kind of pathetic that way ;)