Glitter and glam! 100 days to the Eurovision Song Contest 2018

(image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

On the night of 13 May 2017, with the cheers and encouragement of the packed International Exhibition Centre in Kiev, Ukraine ringing in his ear, and the landslide votes of Europe propelling him to a resounding victory, Salvador Sobral secured an historic first victory for Portugal in the Eurovision Song Contest with the arrestingly-beautiful song “Amar pelos dois (Loving For Both of Us)”.

That epic moment, and it was deeply-affecting for variety of reasons, meant that Portugal, a small country on the Iberian peninsula, won the right to host the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest which will take place this year in the capital, Lisbon at the Altice Arena with a total of 43 countries participating, and the theme “All Aboard” providing a highly-inclusive feel to the event.

 

 

It’s a high honour for any country given the long history of the contest.

The Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson, kicked off back in 1956 as a way of drawing a WW2-fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music. Open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition, past winners have included, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

While the event does come with some gorgeously kitsch overtones and may not always reflect on-point musical trends, it remains a major event on the European calendar with national contests such as Sweden’s Melodifestivalen (10 February to 3 March), the UK’s publicly-voted  Eurovision: You Decide and France’s newly-minted Destination Eurovision, currently underway across Europe to select each country’s representative.

 

(image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

One of the big milestones on the way to every Eurovision Song Contest is the draw to determine which countries go into which semi-final.

The two semi-finals, which will be held on Tuesday 8 May and Thursday 10 May European time – broadcast at the wholly inelegant time of 5 a.m. in Australia where true believers all will gather to watch and yes, vote – are the lead-up to the grand final, to which the Big Five (UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) and host country Portugal, are automatically entered.

The draw for the two semi-finals, which will feature 19 countries and 18 countries respectively, was held on 29 January at Lisbon’s City Hall in a ceremony presided over by two of this year’s four event hosts Filomena Cautela and Silvia Alberto (with EBU’s Mr Jon Ola Sand keeping a sharp eye on proceedings), resulting in the following countries finding their temporary performing home, in the hopes of being one of the 24 entrants to make it to the grand final.

 

 

SEMI-FINAL 1
Estonia (F), Armenia (S), Ireland (S), Austria (S), Finland (S), Cyprus (S), Greece (S), Croatia (S), FYR Macedonia (S), Iceland (F), Israel (F), Azerbaijan (F), Lithuania (F), Belarus (F), Czech Republic (F), Belgium (F), Albania (F), Bulgaria (F) and Switzerland (S).

SEMI-FINAL 2
San Marino (F), Montenegro (S), Sweden (S), Poland (S), Latvia (S), Ukraine (S), Slovenia (S), Georgia (S), Hungary (S), Moldova (F), Denmark (F), Serbia (F), Romania (F), The Netherlands (F), Norway (F), Australia (F), Russia (F) and Malta (S).

Once this was decided, the countries were then divided into the two halves of their various semi-finals, the order of each semi-final determined closer to the actual event. (Letters “F” for first and “S” for second indicate which half of the semi-final the country will appear.)

 

 

 

Only a few countries have selected their final entrant – for Australia it’s Jessica Mauboy, and for Russia, the controversial Julia Samoylova – so we’re sure who is singing exactly for whom yet but this is an important step towards knowing who will be directly competing against whom in what is always a fiercely-contested battle of the voices, even in a Contest dedicated to peace and pan-European camaraderie.

In addition to the semi-final selection, the official handover of hosting duties from the previous host country Ukraine to Portugal known as the Host City Insignia Handover Ceremony took place with Mr. Fernando Medina (Mayor of Lisbon) officially taking charge of the Eurovision baton from Mr. Vitalie Klitschko (Mayor of Kyiv).

(sources: ESCToday and Eurovision.tv)

 

(image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

So with the third wave of ticket sales underway, what can we expect sound-wise from the event?

It’s way too early to say definitively, with many countries yet to seal the deal on their singer of choice, with no real sense if 2018 will be a ballad-heavy year, a glitter-showered dance-a-thon or somewhere rather middlingly in-between.

Early indications are though that we’re in for some rather cool songs.

 

 

Take the Czech Republic’s very handsome Mikolas Josef who will be performing the insanely catchy, retro funky, rap-drenched Marilyn Monroe-referencing big band-influenced song “Lie to Me”, a sentiment which doubtless does not apply to how good the song sounds or how well he’ll do in the contest. (Then again creative types have notoriously thin skins – I should know, I’m a writer – so maybe he wants to lie to his face, and often.)

It’s bright, preppy and the sort of song that, properly performed – that’s not always a given; Exhibit A is France’s Anggun whose song “You and I” shone in the studio but tanked live due to an inert performance – will do extremely well both with the arena crowd and the televoters of Europe. (Countries get to vote by the way in selected semi-finals with the big six divided thus – UK, Spain and Portugal will vote in semi-final 1 while Italy, France and Germany will vote semi-final 2.)

 

 

France’s Madame Monsieur goes a little more mid-tempo but their easygoing song “Mercy” is an intoxicating mix of chilled and upbeat, anchored by a confidant, assured performance by a French duo (vocalist Émilie Satt and producer Jean-Karl Lucas) who have been around since 2013.

Their music, which has been favourably compared to the chart-topping Christine and the Queens by The Huffington Post and Wiwibloggs, is cutting-edge avant garde pop that should play well to an audience who have shown an aptitude for music that is both of the moment and a little bit familiar too.

 

 

Meanwhile Spain have gone delightfully old school with the duo effort “Tu Canción” which features Alfred and Amaia – not a couple but goddamn that chemistry: I am shipping them heavily and so is everyone else with the hashtag #Almaia getting quite a bit of traction – channelling a highly-emotional piece of music that’s sure to silence everyone with its sheer theatricality.

Forget the fact that it hews very closely to last year’s entry from Portugal in both sound and intent – there are always copycats in the following year, who attempt to replicate the previous sound but as experience has shown, what wins one year is left in the voting dust the next – it’s a seriously beautiful song that may just capture everyone’s hearts, proving that some genuine manufactured emotion will get ’em every time.

Granted you cannot a contest determine with just three songs but as this year’s Eurovision Song Contest draws near, and trust us it will happen so fast it will leave your pyrotechnic-loving head swiveling between rapid costume changes, the signs are good that this will be a contest to remember.

 

Scary or lovable? Either way, Smallfoot is coming your way

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
An animated adventure for all ages, with original music and an all-star cast, “Smallfoot” turns the Bigfoot legend upside down when a bright young Yeti finds something he thought didn’t exist—a human. News of this “smallfoot” brings him fame and a chance with the girl of his dreams. It also throws the simple Yeti community into an uproar over what else might be out there in the big world beyond their snowy village, in a rollicking story about friendship, courage and the joy of discovery. (synopsis courtesy Coming Soon)

You know who whenever you see a snake or a shark or something creature that may or may not do your harm, there’s always someone, and yes you know who you are thank you, who will pipe, half authoritatively/half nervously “Oh they’re more afraid of you than you are of them?”

To which I reply “Ha! Bloody unlikely”, followed by “But hey you may be a little bit right if the new animated film from Warner Bros., Smallfoot, is anything to go by.” (Why yes, I do italicise and properly punctuate my spoken sentences.)

This delightful film, with characters voiced by the likes of Gina Rodriguez, Channing Tatum and Zendaya. pivots on the idea that Yetis are every bit of scared of us as we are of them, and possibly way more if this gorgeous teaser trailer is any kind of guide.

It’s a lovely twist on an old idea, and while I suspect that Yeti and human will come to realise there is less to fear and more to love about each other as is the way with animated offerings, it looks like we’re going to have a lot of fun getting to that point.

Smallfoot opens in Australia 27 September and USA 28 September.

 

 

Not only dies Smallfoot have a whimsically-adorable teaser trailer but it has a series of wonderful characters, the full range of which you can see at IMP Awards

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Star Trek Discovery: “What’s Past is Prologue” (S1, E13 review)

For me I am Lorca, and I have a plan, and I shall be emperor and rule the galaxy and … uh, never mind (image courtesy CBS)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SOME SHONKY MYCELIUM NAVIGATION … SHOULD’VE BOUGHT THE SPORE TOM-TOM UPGRADE PACK …

It has long been said – well since 1918 anyway when Senator Hiram Warren Johnson reportedly made the sage observation – that the first casualty of war is the truth.

It sadly make sense – if you want to best your enemy, you need to say and do whatever it takes to make sure that your position is the one that prevails, even if that means sacrificing anything and everything that looks even remotely like the truth.

This truism of conflict was brought home with great force in “What’s Past Is Prologue” when the true import of Lorca’s (Jason Isaacs) long-game deception came to light, leaving the Terran Emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) battling to hold onto her always-precarious position, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to her life and that of the crew of the Discovery and the Federation still waiting for that vital shield information which, ahem, a little over due. (But hey, what could possibly happen while the Discovery is M.I.A.? Oh 20% of the Federation is occupied by the Klingons who won the war? Oh, oops).

Lorca, of course, back in his own universe with any concern he had for the truth, long gone let’s face it since he’s spent years pretending to be his good Federation doppelgänger, giving way to grabbing hold of the throne he feels is rightfully his, and his alone.

Yeah, who wants truth when you can spout all kinds of extremist fascist drivel about restoring the purity of the Empire, too many immigrants making humanity soft and accommodating and rally everyone to some fabulously corrupt and twisted vision of the future? (Remind you of anyone? Yeah, and the other guy too.)

Thing is, this great revolution of Lorca’s, necessary because apparently the Terran Empire isn’t already f**ked up enough with hatred, power drunkenness and dog-eat-dog dynamics (Let’s have some more shall we?!), all took place solely on the Emperor’s flagship, where it brightly and briefly flared before turning to literal ashes as Lorca fell into the great mycelium power source at the heart of the ship.

As revolutions go, it was a tad abortive and likely not the stuff of illustrious military examples that will be taught to upcoming generations, but my lord, was it action-packed.

 

“Will you be my evil Mirror Universe buddy Burnham? Will ya? Will ya, huh? We can rule everything and … uh, never mind (image courtesy CBS)

 

We had biological weapons deployed – turns out the spore drive makes a mighty nifty genocidal device and no, Evil Stamets (Anthony Rapp), that is not something of which you should be proud – on seventeen decks killing countless people, fierce face-to-face battles where you didn’t die so much as get vapourised and bitterly-fought hand-to-hand combat where big, Bloody Swords of Sharpness were wielded, especially by the Emperor who did away with Lorca just as he thought he’d won the day.

Haha … NO.

See the thing is, and this was a nice reiteration of the great idealism that power the Federation, and this Burnham and the crew of the Discovery, is that cooperation, concern for your fellow person and camaraderie are not signs of weakness as the Terrans seem to think but actually signs of real, enduring strength.

Lorca all but admitted that when he called into the Discovery, under the wise command of Saru (Doug Jones) who did a lovely job of rallying his crew against seemingly impossible odds – more on that in a moment – and talked up their strong bonds and fighting prowess.

Of course, Lorca didn’t say all that to create a warm-and-fuzzy moment, the kind that Hallmark would rush to put in a card; his praise, along with sweet talking of Burnham, hiding and plotting in the bowels of the ship, was simply to buy enough time to engage in yet more self-serving skullduggery and derring-do.

Inadvertently though, and the narrative prosecuted this to full glorious effect, even if Lorca’s great reveal smacked of a little too much too late at times, making it abundantly clear, and not in some aw shucks, hokey polemic way, that the Federation make look weak to fascist eyes but is in fact far stronger because of its idealistic cohesiveness. (Except when it comes to Klingons who kill, maim and still prevail … sort of.)

Given the events of our time, it’s a timely addition to Discovery’s narrative, and one they managed to mix it without it looking too obviously timely.

It’s a reminder, of we in fact needed one, that many of the great awakenings and fightbacks in humanity’s history have come from creative people who dared to stand in opposition to the prevailing creed, or wanna be prevailing creed of the day.

 

Hmmm why is the Discovery flying at us like that? What’s it up to? It’s almost like it’s going to … uh. never mind (image courtesy CBS)

 

Alas, all that strength which help the crew of the Discovery, with Burnham once again saving the way in spectacularly chutzpah-y fashion, blow up the Emperor’s flagship and ride the shockwave back to their own universe, didn’t help so much when they got back to the Federation to find out the Klingons had won the war.

Yeah, remember the war? While Discovery were off fighting Mirror Universe Nazis, and doing rather well at that too, the Federation was losing the war, surrendering many lives and great chunks of its territory in the process.

So all the “Yippee we’re home!” cries (to be fair that didn’t happen out loud but I like to think the Discovery’s crew was thinking it) soon gave way to Stamets admitting that the re-enabled spore drive – which itself, along with the entire mycelium network, facing destruction thanks to the Terrans misuse of it; hence why the Emperor’s flagship was blown it since as the mycelium goes ie. dead, so goes all life in all the universes – had got them to the right spot but yeah, not the right time.

Meaning that for all the Discovery’s great moral and military victories back in the Mirror Universe, they hadn’t been able to get the Klingons’ cloaked ship codes to the right people in the Federation in time and all seemed lost.

How lost you wonder? That remains to be seen.

With just two episodes left in the first season of this impressively substantial show that has hewed close to the spirit past Star Trek iterations while advancing where the franchise could go and the stories it could tell, it’s entirely possible they’ll rush a speedy resolution to things or may, and this seems likely, set things up for some robust storytelling in season 2.

One thing is for sure, Star Trek Discovery has shown no fear no fear when it comes to tackling big storyline and some equally big ideas, not always perfectly but far better than many other sci-fi shows in recent memory, and I can see the team behind it changing their tack now, now with so many rich narrative ideas left to explore.

  • And now Discovery is safe and sound back in the Alpha Quadrant where … uh, never mind … just watch out for those Klingons will ya?

 

The short and the short of it: The burning irony of TIMBER

(image via Vimeo (c) Nils Hedinger)

 

SNAPSHOT
A group of logs is about to freeze to death in a cold, icy desert. When they realize that the only fuel for a warming fire is their own body, things start heating up. (synopsis via Vimeo)

This is such a clever short film.

What it accomplishes in terms of whimsically-dark, damn near Lord of the Flies storytelling and serving up of pitch-perfect irony is beyond impressive.

If you ever thought humanity had a lock on rampant, self-interested shortsightedness, TIMBER by Nils Hedinger will make you think again.

Yes, yes I hear you say but trees are not actually sentient in real life – ah, but what if they were? If they were, and who’s to say they’re not; our pagan forebears believed they very much were – then they might behave just like this …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Telly’s screaming? Ernie’s abstract? They are but it’s all the name of art #SesameStreet

Ernie and Piet Mondrian (image via Twitter (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

You may or may not have come across, depending on your social media exposure, an app that allows you to find out which person from famous works of art you most represent?

Known as Google’s Culture & Art app, it’s a lot of silly fun that gives you a giggle and not much else since the visual similarities are dubious at best.

Sesame Street, ever in tune with the zeitgeist, has decide to have some fun of their own with the idea, comparing some of our favourite with their own take on well-known artworks.

The results are, quite predictably, a joy, both visually and pun-wise and really exceed any satisfaction you might get from Culture and Art app-ing yourself by a considerable margin.

Trust Sesame Street to once again take a cool if ephemeral trend and paint rings around the originator …

(source: Sesame Street – official Twitter account)

 

Oscar and Jackson Pollock (image via Twitter (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

Telly and Edvard Munch (image via Twitter (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

Cookie Monster and Grant Wood (image via Twitter (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

Abby and Leonardo da Vinci (image via Twitter (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

Elmo and Leonardo da Vinci (image via Twitter (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

Who is the “Secret Alien”? You’ll spot him … the crew? Not so much … @chris_and_jack

(image via YouTube (c) Chris & Jack)

 

You know those space dramas, and they are legion, where a sneaky alien, but aren’t they all, had snuck onboard a spaceship, inhabited the body of a crew member and created mayhem/death/destruction/an unexpected detour to Arkazuma 4?

It’s a standard storytelling trope for many genre shows and one that, in the right hands, can work nicely in exposing fractures in crewmate relations, deluision with the mission and a host of other fissures that are narrative gold.

Chris & Jack, YouTube sketch artists with a gleeful eye for the absurd, have taken on this mainstay of sci-fi storytelling with alacrity, offering up “Secret Alien” which explores what happens, with the requisite amount of melodramatic poignancy and naturally someone called Martinez, when an alien embryo escapes its onboard container and runs amuck, hiding inside one of the crew members..

You’ll spot the affected person immediately but that is, of course, precisely the point with much faux-serious silliness following throughout this gem of a sketch.

 

Book review: One Hundred Days of Happiness by Fausto Brizzi

(cover image courtesy Pan McMillan Australia)

 

Imagine being told you have approximately 100 days to live, thanks to an incredibly aggressive tumour in your liver that has now metastasized to your lungs?

No, seriously, go on do it; not that easy is it?

That’s because, explains Lucio, the incredibly likable and real protagonist in Fausto Brizzi’s Italian bestseller One Hundred Days of Happiness, we always envisage death as a future tense scenario.

We all know we’re going to die, that it’s all but inevitable; but when you are confronted with its stark reality, with its very here-and-nowness you can’t shunt it off to an agreed point far into the future.

It’s happening now and the only decision you have left, apart from whether you are going to fight it with everything at your disposal, is how you will spend the time remaining to you.

Lucio does make some effort to fight his killer, which he ironically names “my friend Fritz”, in an attempt to give his mortal enemy a face beyond cancer, going to see a naturopath and undergoing chemo, but by and large this intensely poignant story that will you crying by its concluding pages is about how Lucio makes his peace with life.

A life that he, like many of us, has not lived as fulsomely as he thought he might as a child.

“This killer has just a short, simple first name, astrological and deeply unfunny: cancer. Some call it a ‘tumour’ … but doctors call it a ‘neoplasm’. But I’ve always called it ‘l’amico Fritz’, in Italian, just like the name of the opera by Leoncavallo. My friend Fritz.
This is the story of how I lived the last hundred days of my existence on planet Earth in the company of my friend Fritz.
And how, in spite of all expectations to the contrary, those were the happiest days of my life.” (P. 5)

Along with two very close friends from school days, Umberto, a single vet who is like a brother to him, and playboy airline pilot (living the stereotype!) Corrado, he had written down a long list of accomplishments as a child that he was sure, as you are in your formative years, that he would have hands-down achieved by the age of 40.

But as he stares down his last all too finite one hundred days, he realises he hasn’t become the water polo player of his dreams – though he has coached a team of school age players that really shouldn’t have done as well as they have – working in an underground gym far from the bright lights and life-conquering hopes of his imagined adulthood.

One point in his favour – he did fall in love with and marry the beautiful, sweet, playful and absolutely wonderful Paola, have two kids Lorenzo and Eva, and carve his own piece of (under-realised) domestic bliss.

So points scored there on the great scale of life; the downside? He recently cheated on his wife of 10 years with a gym client, immediately regretted it but not before his wife found it, inperiling the only thing he really feels he has achieved, and more importantly, never regretted, in life.

Taken in, by of all people, his gregarious pastry maker father-in-law Oscar, who sees Lucio as more of a fallible son than anything else, Lucio has to make some tough decisions and fast? What will be his priorities in the closing days of his life? Does he quit his job? Go tick major boxes on not yet fully-formed bucket list or seek Paola’s forgiveness as a matter of urgency?

 

Fausto Brizzi (image courtesy The National)

 

Given how great and life-defining his relationship with Paola is and how much else of immense value radiates out from it, Lucio naturally picks that as his main goal for the final 100 days of his life, which are counted down chapter-by-chapter with ominous speed.

But making a decision and enacting it when you have a very angry, emotionally shut down estranged spouse are two very different things, and though Paola does come to the party and take Lucio back in and help with him medical appointments and counsel on major decisions, it is does under duress, powered only by the now-covered-over great love she has for him.

One Hundred Days of Happiness does then have, as you would imagine, a ticking clock of epic proportions at the heart of its story (as well as a burgeoning appreciation for Leonardo da Vinci who pops up everywhere; or at least his inventions, and Lucio’s appreciation for them do) and yes, it’s impossible not be deeply and profoundly affected by the litany of final goodbyes that fill Lucio final days.

But there is also great humour and insight too, with Lucio able to self-depracatingly and blisteringly honestly able to address many of the deficiencies and mistakes of his all-too-short life.

As he moves through the initial shock to a growing sense of what he has to do to (maybe) win Paola back, cement life lessons with his kids, honour his enduring friendships and maybe just create some new precious ones, you never get the sense that this is some trite, Hollywood-by-the-numbers effort to document someone’s life and death.

There is no last minute cure, no sense of final escape from the eternal guillotine hanging over Lucio’s head; after all, he tells us right at the start of the story that he’s died (so trust me not a spoiler) so that, very sadly, is that.

“The final goodbye takes place at a bus stop, where a long-distance coach is waiting that will take me to Lugano. I load my small light suitcase into the luggage receptacle in the belly of the bus, then I kiss the kids and hug Paola. An embrace that never seems to end.” (P. 351)

What do you get is a man who’s happy to prank the Vatican with Umberto and Corrado. Who takes Paola and his kids on an unforgettable carpe-diem trip through places he knows well in Italy and places he has always wanted to go, and who makes some of the most important and enduring accomplishments of his truncated life when most people would be climbing into a chair and burying their heads in the proverbial sand.

One Hundred Days of Happiness isn’t necessarily inspiring; again, it’s not written by Brizzi, who writes with bright, sparkling prose that is as lively as you would expect a well-lived life to be (even if it takes death to engender that), with that intent.

What it is, and in ways both epically moving and intimately affecting, is heartfelt and real, as you come to know and love Lucio, Paola and his impertinent, inquisitive funny kids, his friends, Oscar (and his day-starting donuts) and the ever-widening satellite of people who surround a man condemned to a premature death but determined to make the most of what’s left of his life.

Death is never treated as anything but a thieving implacable foe, but throughout this beautiful book that left me blubbering as a baby but immensely grateful that I went on this sparklingly honest journey with Lucio, you come to appreciate that you have a real choice should death come knocking far earlier than expected.

You can either surrender to your mistakes, your losses and your failings and regret, or you do as Lucio does, imperfectly but he does them and that’s the critical thing, and you make what you can of those final months, weeks and days and suck every last piece of memory-creating, love-affirming marrow of experiences new and old, with humour, tears, truth and sobering insightfulness (and yes even some cheekiness) and go out with as victorious an exit as death will allow you.

 

(cover image courtesy Amazon UK)

Weekend pop art: One man and his girlfriend in a host of animation styles

Adventure Time (image via Mashable (c) Kells O’Hickey)

 

The Bee Gees once rather harmoniously asked “How deep is your love?” (let’s be fair they asked they asked everything that way and it sounded SOOOO sweet)

One person who doesn’t need to ask or even have that question answered is the partner of illustrator Kells O’Hickey who gave his beloved ample proof of his deep and undying love in the form of illustrations of the couple in the style of some cartoons du jour.

Ranging from Bob’s Burgers to The Simpsons, Dragon Ball Z to Adventure Time, the ten illustrations are a lot of fun, full of love and yes Lindsay loved them:

“On Christmas Eve, when we both got off work, we exchanged gifts.

“She ripped the tissue paper off, grabbed the drawings and ignored the other gifts in there for about 30 minutes as she carefully paged through the drawings. When Linds finished, her eyes looked pretty puffy, she jumped on me and gave me a huge hug and kiss, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I love you to the moon and back,'” he continued. “It was perfect, her reaction nearly made me cry.” (source: Mashable)

So there you are – if you’re a talented illustrator, and O’Hickey most definitely is, this is the best, most complete way to your loved one’s heart, no questions needed.

 

Dragon Ball Z (image via Mashable (c) Kells O’Hickey)

 

Bob’s Burgers (image via Mashable (c) Kells O’Hickey)

 

Rick & Morty (image via Mashable (c) Kells O’Hickey)

 

The Simpsons (image via Mashable (c) Kells O’Hickey)

Now this is Australian music: The Presets, Bajillionaire, GAUCI, Stella Donnelly, India Sweeney

 

It’s Australia Day and while there is considerable, very much necessary debate about the validity of observing our national day on a date seen as Invasion Day by indigenous people, it is still a good day to reflect on what makes this country great. (For the record, I think the date should be changed.)

Like it’s music.

Australia has a long and vibrant history of amazing musical achievement, gifting the world everyone from AC/DC to Men at Work and yes even Air Supply, and as these five artists powerfully demonstrate, it’s a tradition that is set to continue well into the future.

All five create music that is not simply beautifully listenable but says something true and real about life, the perfect marriage of melody and meaning that elevates each song to something well worth savouring.

 

“Do What You Want” by The Presets

 

The Presets (image courtesy official The Presets Facebook page)

 

Lordy but I love the power and energy of pretty much any track from Sydney duo  The Presets (Julian Hamilton – vocals, keyboards and Kim Moyes – drums, keyboards).

Hamilton’s vocals have a beguilingly energising mix of aggression, passion and playfulness, with all those facets on full glorious display in “Do What You Want”, an encouragement to just go and do it already.

Styled as a sort of “comeback single”, the song has quite the interesting genesis, one that explains its driving beat and unbridled, kick-up-your-heels hard-edged vibrancy:

“We struggled with this track for a couple of years do get it right – there’s 60 other versions. We wanted to make a techno version of an Aussie pub rock song, like the Angels or something”, though, they admit “we’ve always been doing that.” (abc.net.au/triplej)

Mission accomplished with this powerfully anthemic piece of goosebump-inducing electronica, the lead single from their as yet untitled new album due out early this year.

 

 

“Not Enough (ft. Amber Fahey)” by Bajillionaire 

 

Bajillionaire (image courtesy official Bajillionaire Facebook page)

 

Hailing from Sydney, 19-year-old Charlie – he, quite sensibly, has gone down the Madonna route of a single memorably, and in this case, cheekily playful, single-name moniker – says on national radio station Triple J’s Unearthed website that he “make[s] music because it’s the only thing I’m good at.”

We leave that up to his friends, family and therapist to rule on that piece of typically Aussie self-deprecation but one things is for sure – the music he creates is eminently catchy and alive with beauty and emotion, which is pretty much what you want from your music.

Teaming up with singer Amber Fahey, he has delivered up “Not Enough”, a lightly trippy piece of bouncy electronic pop that delightfully shudders and shimmers through its captivating length, a genuine slice of euphorically transportive music.

It’s impressive from someone fresh out of high school, and frankly if creating songs this sublimely wonderful was all I could do, I would be most pleased with the state of my life.

I have a sneaking feeling Charlie is quietly smiling to himself …

 

 

“Hurry” by GAUCI

 

GAUCI (Image courtesy official GAUCI Facebook page)

 

Sydney again – trust me this is simply luck of the draw and not an inherent bias against the musicality of the rest of my home country – and trio GAUCI (brother and sister Antonia and David Gauci and Felix Lush – Purple Sneaker) who create thumping lo-fi electronica that comes appealingly armed with Antonia’s lushly ethereal vocals.

It creates a verdant sense of all-consuming emotion, that quite rightly, makes you feel all the things as Purple Sneakers notes:

“This song doesn’t express emotions so much as conjure them. Its diffuse vocals create an ominous, urgent feeling that is reinforced by the ambiguity of the lyrics. ‘I feel it’s coming / And it’s after me’, sings Gauci. It’s not clear here what the ‘it’ refers to, but the song’s sumptuous reverb is effective in creating an almost physical space in which listeners can lose themselves. The slightly menacing line ,’You better hurry / You better hide’,  soaring on the last syllable), will linger in your mind for days.”

The welcomingly long drawn out song, the latest effort from the trio who have been creating music since 2016, when not pursuing their own musical endeavours (Antonia as a producer, sound engineer and solo artist Leftenant, David and Felix in bands Publique and Death Bells respectively), is one of those immersive affairs that subsumes you in the most beautiful of music experiences.

 

 

“Mechanical Bull” by Stella Donnelly

 

Stella Donnelly (image courtesy official Stella Donnelly Facebook page)

 

Now this is how you make a stand against people harassing you and refusing to hear “No” as “NO!”

Perth-born Stella Donnelly has crafted a declaration that resonates with potent anger and frustration that her pleas aren’t being heeded, every last drop of her vehement pushing back captured in her remarkable, emotionally-resonant voice.

It is her voice that really marks this gorgeous stripped piece of sublime guitar pop as something special, a voice that readily lends itself to the storytelling inherent in this song and others she has released (via sole EP Trush Metal), a quality that Purple Sneakers remarked upon when discussing this wholly unique artist who says a lot in the most understated of ways:

“She is a brave story teller, unflinching from baring truths in all their ugly reality, with a soft yet commanding presence. You can’t underestimate her though, as she’s unafraid and powerful because of that. Donnelly’s music is raw, honest and deeply personal, and there is an underlying warmth to her vocals that welcomes us all in.”

 

 

“Fly” by India Sweeney

 

India Sweeney (image courtesy official India Sweeney Facebook page)

 

Back in NSW, and specifically Wollongong, south of Sydney in the beautiful Illawarra – honestly I love you Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, NT, ACT and SA! – we meet the immensely-talented India Sweeney.

Her voice may sound light and fey at first, a quality that adds luminously-buoyant lustre to “Fly” but there is real emotional power that you underestimate to your great disadvantage.

With a foot in the traditional thanks to a background in classical jazz and piano, and one in the digital future thanks to exposure to electronic music, Sweeney brings a wealth of musical richness to “Fly”, which offers everything from “subtle yet striking guitar strums underlaying the verses … [to] the sexy and smooth brass bookending each line of the chorus.” (Purple Sneakers)

It’s a striking beautiful piece of work that draws you in utterly and completely, proof positive that you don’t have to shout from the rooftops to make people sit up and listen.

 

 

 

NOW THIS IS AUSTRALIAN MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Australia’s very own Kylie Minogue has debuted her first new song in quite some time, dance pop/country banger “Dancing”, the lead single from her 14th studio album Golden, due for release on 6 April.

For more, go to EW.

 

Worth a thousand words: the top ten best Australian children’s picture books (curated content)

Reading from an early age can instill healthy habits for a lifetime. “Possum Magic”, by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas / Scholastic (cover image courtesy Scholastic)
by Nicholas Reece, University of Melbourne  (December 2012)

 

The academics and the “mummy bloggers” are in furious agreement – reading picture books to children is one of the best things you can do for a child’s development.

It also happens to be, in the opinion of this humble author, one of the best things an adult can do for their own development. A reminder that the greatest joys in life are often the simplest.

 

(“Imagine” by Alison Lester / Allen and Unwin)

 

Yet this year’s Christmas stockings seem more likely to be filled with electronic devices and other digital distractions.To fill a young mind with a lasting sense of wonder and teach a child the joy of reading makes a picture book among the most valuable gift you can give.

Book sales have been in a state of decline in recent years and picture books have not been immune. According to Neilsen BookScan, sales for picture books fell about 6% in the past 12 months while sales for all books are down around 11%.

The realm of imagination

Call me nostalgic but I am not sure that the new competitors for children’s attention carry the riches of a book or are the sort of gift that can last a lifetime or change a life.

The fertile field of a child’s imagination makes a picture book a powerful medium – to transport them to an imaginary place, captivate them with magical themes or have them convulsing in stitches of laughter.

 

(“Amy & Louis” by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood / Scholastic)

 

A well written children’s story allows children to explore their own blossoming emotions and make connections between the book and their own experience in the real world.

Australia punches above its weight in children’s entertainment. The Wiggles frequently top the annual list of our highest earning entertainers and other global success stories include Bananas in Pyjamas and Play School.

In children’s books we have an equally proud record. Since 1945 the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) has worked to promote Australian authors and illustrators and engage the community with children’s literature.

 

(“The Hero of Little Street” by Gregory Rogers. / Allen and Unwin)

 

Judging books beyond the cover

In the shadow of that long tradition I have attempted the superficial task of selecting the ten all-time best Australian children’s picture books.

In doing so, I have made some attempt at objective criteria.

For the sanity of the grown-ups it must be a story that can be read many times over. The language should be economical, with a rhythmic meter or memorable rhyme. The storyline must resonate and surprises are great.

 

(“Diary of a Wombat” by Jackie French / HarperCollins)

 

Great children’s books can be beautifully simple while also containing complex ideas and multiple layers. The best picture books are compact little stories that also feel complete.

My selection criteria are also unashamedly subjective. The acid test is my three daughters – if they don’t love the book then all the critical acclaim in the world does not count a jot.

Finally, I have not judged a story more favourably because it is heavy on Australiana. Yet the final list is unmistakably Australian. This probably tells us something about the sorts of stories we tell our children and how in turn we understand our country.

 

(“Where is the Green Sheep” by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek / Penguin)

 

I should also mention that in my children’s affections, this list of Australian stories rank alongside the international classics. It seems even children know when they are reading a story that is close to home.

The list

So at the risk of causing offence to many, here is a very subjective guide to ten Australian picture stories we don’t want our nation’s kids to leave childhood without having read.

1) Fox – Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks (2000)

An emotional journey into the heart of darkness and hope – set in the searing Australian outback. A fable on friendship, trust and loyalty. This is a masterpiece that can be appreciated by adults and children alike.

 

(“Fox” by Margaret Wild /
Allen and Unwin)

 

2) The Hero of Little Street – Gregory Rogers (2010)

A boy and a dog jump into a famous Vermeer painting and find themselves transported to seventeenth century Holland – danger, excitement and adventure follows. Plus some wonderful high-end cultural references for grown-ups.

3) Animalia – Graeme Base (1986)

The exquisite detail of the illustrations will captivate children as they search for hidden objects and alphabetized things. This is a book to get lost in.

 

(“Anamalia” by Graeme Base / Penguin)

 

4) Possum Magic – Mem Fox, Julie Vivas (1983)

It’s as Australian as meat pies, Vegemite and Possum Magic. This is probably our best-loved children’s book ever.

5) Amy and Louis – Libby Gleeson and Freeya Blackwood (2006)

This is a beautiful story about a deep friendship between two children and how they cope following separation.

6) Tiddalick The Frog Who Caused a Flood – Robert Roennfeldt (1980)

Based on an Aboriginal Dreamtime story, Tiddalick was so thirsty that he drank up all the rivers and billabongs in the land. And the other animals had to find a way to get the water back – much humour follows.

 

(“Tiddalick the frog who caused a flood” by Robert Roennfeld / Penguin)

 

7) Imagine – Alison Lester (1989)

Written by one of the greats of Australian children’s literature I chose this book from the almost 40 she has written simply because it happens to be my daughter’s favourite.

8) Where is the Green Sheep? – Mem Fox, Judy Horacek (2006)

Here is the blue sheep, and here is the red sheep. Here is the bath sheep, and here is the bed sheep. But where is the green sheep? The simple syntax and wonderful metre make this a perfect story to read to infants and also as a first reader for four and five year olds.

9) Stanley Paste – Aaron Blabey (2009)

Stanley Paste is small. Really small. And he hates it. But when a new girl arrives at school, Stanley learns that perhaps being small is not so bad after all. A sublime and memorable story that teaches young people about standing tall and celebrating diversity.

 

(“Stanley Paste” by Aaron Blabey. / Penguin)

 

10) Diary of a Wombat – Jackie French and Bruce Whatley (2003)

The ConversationDiary of a Wombat depicts the cheeky antics of Mothball, “a wombat with attitude”. This wombat leads a very busy and demanding life. She wrestles unknown creatures, runs her own digging business, and even trains her humans. This book has attained cult status and has been used for several subversive send ups.

Nicholas Reece, Principal Fellow – Melbourne School of Government | School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.