The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy
Yesterday saw the release of the delightful second album from folk/indie outfit The Middle East. They’re one of the few bands I know of that hail from my hometown of Townsville, and although I’d been aware of their presence for a few years, they really caught my attention after I was lucky enough to witness an incredible live gig of theirs at the 2010 Sydney Laneway Festival. Their storytelling, performance and musicianship struck a resonance with me and made me proud to be a Townsvillian.
I’ve been anticipating their next release for quite some time not only because of the Townsville connection, but also because it follows their superb EP from 2008, The Recordings Of The Middle East, which featured the beautiful and highly memorable masterpiece, Blood. It’s one of those songs where every time you hear it, you end up whistling the hook line to yourself for the rest of the day, without fail. Do yourself a favour and listen to it here if you haven’t before:
So I headed on down to my local record store today to grab a copy of the new LP – and lo and behold – I discover that of the thirteen listed tracks, not one but TWO of them are dedicated to Aussie locations. Which means I get to blog about it here at Australia By Song!
The first of these tracks to appear is an ambient instrumental piece entitled Sydney To Newcastle. It comprises of a poignant solo piano with a field recording of the upcoming train station announcements between the two cities, overdubbed ever so lightly in the background. I have made the three hour journey by train from Sydney to Newcastle myself once before, about a year ago, and sitting here listening to the piece, eyes closed with headphones on, really does transport me to the scenic wonder that I experienced whilst on that trip. The recording itself is set around the Central Coast suburbs of Ourimbah, Tuggerah and Wyong (situated around the halfway mark on the way to Newcastle), however I cannot help but recall the area a few stops beforehand, between the lush Hawkesbury River and the lakeside town of Woy Woy.
The majority of the commute by train is gorgeous though, and you can listen to the Middle East’s interpretation of it below:
Sydney To Newcastle then melds magically into the next track, Mount Morgan. Situated about 40km south-west of Rockhampton, the song’s namesake is an historic and once-bustling mining town, the population of which has dramatically declined following the early gold rush days and the cease of mining production in 1981 after nearly 100 years. The town today still obtains a unique country charm, and although a shadow of its former self when it comes to the mining trade, it remains a popular tourist destination and boasts one of the world’s largest man-made holes (albeit full of noxious acid).
The Middle East’s tribute to Mount Morgan takes quite the melancholic musical viewpoint. On playing the track, an amalgamation of sounds soon materialize, beginning with the haunting introduction of beautifully crafted harmonica, guitar, banjo and vocal harmonies chanted over a bushlike soundscape, and then exploding into what may well be the most soul-stirringly epic portion of the entire production.
I have found a version of the song performed along with Hunger Song, recorded live for a radio station at the SXSW festival in 2010. It’s well worth a watch, although it does posses a slightly different dynamic to that experienced in the studio recording.
Other highlights of the album include the popular first single, Jesus Came To My Birthday Party (which I admittedly picked as being a Noah & The Whale song when I first heard it many months ago), and the epic 8 minute closer, Deep Water (I’m a sucker for long songs). In my opinion, however, the standout track is the toe-tapping Land Of The Bloody Unknown, featuring the most memorable of the melodies on the album. It sticks in my mind in that same joyful way the hook for Blood does.
I Want That You Are Always Happy is available now from iTunes and all good record stores, and be sure to catch the always happy Townsvillians on their much-anticipated tour around Australia in June 2011:
Friday 3rd June – Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns
Saturday 4th June – Riverway Arts Centre, Townsville
Wednesday 8th June – Fly By Night, Fremantle
Friday 10th June – Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide
Saturday 11th June – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Monday 13th June – Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Wednesday 15th June – The Old Museum, Brisbane
Thursday 16th June – Joe’s Waterhole, Eumindi
Friday 17th June – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Sunday 19th June – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy track listing:
1. Black Death 1349
Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under
Hello and welcome to the new-look Australia By Song! Big thanks to Miss Megs for doing a damn fine job with the artwork and layout. This is the first installment of what will hopefully become many blog posts promoting the great music out there that pays tribute to our country.
Here at Australia By Song HQ, I get a little bit excited whenever I hear about a newly released song that namechecks a location around our fine land, especially if the recording artist is not local to our shores. So it’s with great pleasure that I write today about Bostonian singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer, who has succeeded in not only releasing a track named after the country itself, but a whole album dedicated to the land Down Under, not to mention our Kiwi friends across the Tasman as well.
It was 2004 when I first came across Amanda’s work, as part of her punk cabaret duo alongside Brian Viglione, the Dresden Dolls. I had only just begun listening to Triple J, and I specifically remember Coin-Operated Boy as being the first song that stood out to me on this newfound non-commercial radio station. I could only describe it as being eccentric – completely different to any other song I’d heard before – and it quickly cemented itself as one of my favourite tunes of the year. I’ve kept a slight interest in Amanda’s career ever since then, but it wasn’t until the release of Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under back in January of this year that I began to fully appreciate her incomparable musical talent.
The majority of the tracks that appear on her aptly-entitled second solo LP were recorded live at the Sydney Opera House in 2010, many featuring special guests and hilarious on-stage banter. On more than one occasion this banter pertains to her morbid dislike of Vegemite (aka “The Black Death”) – and there’s even an awesome impromptu audience singalong of the Happy Little Vegemite song!
A couple of studio recordings make for an interesting and upbeat break between her concert performances, namely the first single Map Of Tasmania, featuring British electronic act the Young Punx. You’ll understand the innuendo behind the title if you’re an Aussie, but who better than Amanda Palmer to educate the rest of world about said colloquialism, thanks to her true kaleidoscopic and risque style:
The gorgeous heartfelt tribute to Australia appears early on in the album, and upon hearing it I am left with the impression that foreigners to our terrain really do think of us as an alluring island on the other side of the world, a visit of which offers the opportunity to break out of your shell and discover the person you wish you could be back in your homeland. Or, perhaps the person somebody else wishes you could be:
I could tiptoe on a tightrope made of fear and looking down
See all the people, do they see me, I can wave or I could carry
All the dishes that they gave me that are keeping me steady
Or I could go to Australia
And carry a bowie knife
And wear my hair like Hepburn parted on the side
Equally as beautiful, but doubly as haunting, is Amanda’s studio recording of a song written by Kiwi musician Peter Jefferies, On An Unknown Beach. Far from the joviality of most of the other tracks that comprise the LP, this is a song about a lone and melancholy man who finds himself on a secluded beach somewhere in New Zealand, contemplating what he sees (and doesn’t see) around him. You can read more about the story behind the song at Amanda’s blog, and I highly recommend watching her video clip, which was admittedly filmed on a beach in Texas but is meant to signify the New Zealand shoreline mentioned in the song:
Back to the fun & games of her usual buoyant self, and still on the Kiwi theme, it’s hard to go past the solo acoustic ukelele rendition of her disparagingly cute testimonial to all things Wellington. Before she begins the song, she states “it was written as a challenge because I had just written Map Of Tasmania, which is a great song, but someone from New Zealand was like ‘where’s our fucking song?’ ” Considering she only had 20 minutes to pen the lyrics, and that she was experiencing… err.. women’s problems at the time, you can only imagine the outcome!
Other highlights of the album include the burlesque & carnivorous Formidable Marinade (featuring Mikelangelo and Lance Horne), a curious enquiry as to whether Doctor Oz and his Australian medical ways will assist in restoring good health, and a superb encore of Nick Cave’s classic The Ship Song:
Altogether, I vote we should adopt Amanda as one of our own, and I encourage you to check out the album if you haven’t done so already. You can find the CD in all good record stores, but you can actually purchase a download of the WHOLE ALBUM at her very own website for as little as US $0.69! Although, it’s worth a lot more than that.
The only thing I regret throughout this whole process of discovering the true genius behind the voice is that I missed her Australia Day Opera House show earlier this year. Next time she Goes Down Under, I will be there for sure.
1. Makin’ Whoopee