Call it coincidence or a covert attack, but as I sat down to sort CDs for my column this week, I realized that I had a whole lot of interesting stuff hailing from Down Under. If this is any indication of the music scene in Australia and the surrounding isles, then I’m ready to emigrate.
These four guys spin sleek, peppy power
pop; lots of chiming guitars and easy listening beats, a transparent penchant
for ripping into Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel harmonies and darned catchy
songwriting should make Imaginate an easy instant Top 40 hit.
Bands like Glass Tiger, Savage Garden, Jellyfish, Johnny Hates Jazz and The Outfield have all played in this mid-tempo pop-rock field before with some success and Taxiride bring their own lush spin to the genre. Their sitar-enhanced, Savage Garden-esque single "Get Set" has already debuted on the Election soundtrack and I’m guessing more bits of Imaginate will be turning up in a lot of other places very soon. This is summer music to hum along with — definitely a ride worth the fare.
At first breath, Julia Darling sounds like another Tori Amos-inspired singer-songwriter with alt-rock guitar pretensions. When they turn up the amplifiers, the background six-strings get just the right amount of Alanis grind to them, and Darling’s vocals are just edgy enough to lift her away from the deadly tag of "folk-rock." But when you give a closer listen, you quickly discover that this 22-year-old New Yorker (by way of New Zealand and Australia) does have more to say than your average pop tune allows — and she does it in a quirky, refreshing fashion. With a quiet voice that easily conveys emotion and a mix of strumming guitars, softly plunked pianos and a variety of understated orchestration, Darling sings of love, spiritualism and other less-easily pinned down items with a group of talented instrumentalists adding in their two cents on bagpipes, marxophone, chamberlin, cello, didjeridoo and other offbeat instruments. While there are some yawn-inducing forays into singer-songwriter land, the best two songs on Figure 8 kick into gear without hesitation (and both just happen to have spiritual themes). "Bulletproof Belief" takes a cue from Joan Osbourne and celebrates unfailing faith in the divine despite complete lack of help from the power above with a great guitar riff. Likewise, the opening track, "Overloading God" is a call for help from the divine in a field of abandonment.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you want to get a taste of Darling’s unique perspective, point your computer to the Internet and visit www.juliadarling.com, where four songs from the CD are available for listening.
Girl in the Moon
(Indigo Moon Records)
In the age of the Internet, having a record label to promote your music is becoming less and less of a necessity.
gilli moon is an Australian-raised singer-songwriter now based in Calfiornia whose work I stumbled on while doing some Internet surfing. Several of the songs from Girl in the Moon, an album she released on her own label last year, are available through (and popular offerings of) various sites on the Internet, including www.mp3.com and www.audiohighway.com. "Girl in the Moon," with its sinuous bassline and exotically crooned chorus ("the girl in the moon/she’s fallen in love/the girl in the moon/coming out of the dark/the girl in the moon/has captured your heart") captured my ear. Some more online searching led me to gilli moon’s homepage (www.gilli.net) where you can purchase the disc.
Turns out, moon (a.k.a. Gilli Aliotti) was born in Italy, was raised playing classical piano in Australia and currently sings for both her own project, gilli moon, and the band Jessica Christ. She’s been getting good reviews and predictions of fame for the past couple of years since relocating to these shores, and is due to release an album with Jessica Christ on California’s Tribe label sometimes this year.
Girl in the Moon is a sleek, sensuous album that serves as a great showcase for what may well be the "next big thing" on the adult contemporary pop charts. The title track turns out to be the best song here, but Girl in the Moon is a great find nevertheless — miles above the usual "independently released" fare. Moon has a light, sometimes vaguely bluesy vocal touch that melds perfectly with the oscillating mix of synthesizers and percussion that back up her mostly mellow, often deliciously mysterious tunes.
"Too Much" is a gorgeous piano-based ballad that would be a huge smash if it was released as the single from a romantic movie soundtrack, "Didgeridoo Dreaming" is a homage to her down-under roots, with an electronic beat but exotic Aussie instruments and flavors as she sings of recalling the outback from her transplanted home in California and "Stay" is a haunting interlude of piano, breathy wanting and hint-of-jazz guitar. This one is worth writing away for.
(Contact Phoenix Management at email@example.com, 818-700-3446 or write P.O. Box 250400 Glendale, CA 91225-0400).
Man to Steam
Well he’s not actually Australian, he’s French, but this album mines a "Down Under" kind of New Age sound and is out on the same label as the aforementioned gilli moon, so I had to mention it here.
Multi-instrumentalist Lucien has pulled together an airy mix of percussion, bass, flute and piano (with the occasional ethereal vocal); Man to Steam is an exotic jungle soundtrack that’s perfect for relaxing or meditative listening. The opener "Meandering" has an intoxicating mix of percussion and flute, while "Alone" rests on a soothing piano melody akin to the work of bestselling New Age artist Robert Miles. If my clock radio CD player wasn’t broken, I’d use this as my entree to dreamland every night — I’m quite sure it would aid in spinning some interesting unconscious tales. (contact Tribe Records at ADItrybe@aol.com, 818-700-3446, or write P.O. Box 250400 Glendale, CA 91225-0400. The disc is also sold online through www.airmusic.com.)