And so, it is 2019. I haven’t had much time to reflect on this, however, as I have finally reached the apex of my life to date: I am over halfway through my — as our American friends would say — “Senior Year” of high school! It’s all been a bit stressful. I’ve had some interesting roadblocks, which have made my goal of an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank* of at least 95 somewhat trickier than I had originally accounted for. (The short of it is that music subjects are woefully underfunded by Australian government education, resulting in some less-than-effective teaching, but I won’t bore you… It’s all sorted now, anyway, and I’m looking set to get an A!) I’m, holistically and unusually, studying an interesting class schedule of English Literature, Music, Art, Psychology, and Physics. Although I am performing academically well and am enjoying learning so many new things, I am much too busy for my liking; I cannot wait to graduate in November and progress to university next year!
But nonetheless, there have still been some particularly enjoyable moments. I’ve inserted some of my favourite photos from my Year 12 Formal — or, alternately, my “Senior Prom” — a couple of months ago! I took my best friend as my date (she even bought me a corsage!), and wore a beautiful 1950’s fire-red chiffon dress with a fur-trimmed bodice that was imported from America. It was hosted at one of the most beautiful venues in my hometown of Adelaide, the glass conservatory at the Victorian Ayers House; fairy lights were strung along the roof and glass chandeliers were placed at the centre of each table. The food and drink, including orange “mocktails”, ravioli, and passionfruit creme brûlée, was delectable, and although the music tended to be immensely terrible, it was very fun to twirl around the dance floor and yell the lyrics to ABBA and Grease tunes without shame! My best friend and I decided that we would end the day with a late night binge-watching session of Parks and Recreation, a wonderful ending to a perfect fairytale night.
I also don’t think that I’ve posted since I completely overhauled the appearance of All You Need is The Beatles about six months ago! It looks a little more sophisticated now, matching just how much I’ve grown up in the five (!) years that I’ve been writing this blog. I hope you enjoy the formatting’s cleancut, cubist minimalism and retro fonts — and that it is now easier to navigate, since I have turned on ‘Infinite Scroll’ and updated its capabilities for the social media age!
I’ve also finally bit the bullet and signed up to Spotify. My username is, as it is on everything, “tangerinetrees99“, if you care to listen to my hilariously specific and carefully curated playlists!
But now I’m going to end my personal ramblings and — if you’re still reading! — launch into some musings on the music that I have also been particularly enjoying this year. (I also have some thoughts on some of my favourite literature, television, film, and fashion of late — but this post is getting ridiculously long, so I’ll save those for another day!) My busy-ness has meant that I’ve spent more time dipping into the comfort of old favourites rather than making new discoveries, but regardless, there is still plenty to write about…
‘The Secret Life of Arabia’, David Bowie
As with most of his discography, I own at least four copies of David Bowie’s “Heroes” album: a first-pressing L.P., a CD in my fancy, $200 A New Career in a New Town boxset, an MP3 file in my iTunes library, and another CD from the ’90s in an el-cheapo jewel case that I got back in 2015. It is my job to annually change the music in my mum’s car’s CD changer; this year, I decided it was high-time that I included an album from my most favourite era, the “Berlin” period, of my most favourite human being’s discography! Hence, my cheap ’90s surplus copy of “Heroes”, the only one I could even begin to consider parting with, became CD Number 1 in the changer.
I picked out and changed the CDs, this year, on the morning of my Year 12 Formal. We listened to them for the first time in the car on the long drive through the Adelaide Hills — which, in Autumn and Winter, looks more like it should be situated in a quaint small town in East Coast America than, as it actually is, on the outskirts of the Australian desert — to the day spa where I was to have my hair and makeup appointment. As we traversed the hilly, foggy freeway and turned down tiny streets shrouded in orange and red leaves, David’s abstract poetry and intricate, ambient synthesisers enchantingly and delicately weaved around us. In particular, the restlessly futuristic funk rhythms and the bewitchingly dissonant harmonies of ‘The Secret Life of Arabia’, on which “Heroes” concludes, held the most exquisite mirror to my feverish anticipation and intrigue for the night that lay ahead.
David, as always, was the greatest good-luck charm I could have asked for, confirming my hypothesis that his discography is the perfect soundtrack to every possible scenario in life. My Formal was nothing short of a fairytale! (His presence during my preparation — I also played Hunky Dory and Young Americans as I was getting ready to leave — also made up for the horrendous Justin Bieber and Kanye West “tunes” that the D.J. decided to play on the dance floor… )
‘Romance’ from Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22, Henryk Wieniawski
I spend so much of my time here talking about popular music that my next statement may read a little shocking: I’m a very serious classical violinist. I’ve been playing, save for a few years of rebellion in early adolescence, since I was six years old. I practise for upwards of an hour or two everyday and do advanced supplementary tuition in theory and musicianship; I’m planning on taking my studies further as a part of a Bachelor of Arts at university. I’m currently working towards my Grade 7 Australian Music Examinations Board qualification, a place in Adelaide’s prestigious youth orchestra, and becoming a violin teacher and music theory tutor next year, but my most immediate task is the 40% solo performance component of my Year 12 Music class.
Among the repertoire I’m preparing for this assessment, including Telemann’s ‘Fantasie No. 9’, the ‘Canzonetta’ from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and Bartok’s ‘Bagpipers’ and ‘Bear Dance‘, the above Wieniawski piece is undoubtedly my favourite. It is so delicately and strikingly perfect that even the arrangement of legerlines on the written score has a precise curvature to it. The piece is beautifully meditative, with its lilting waltz rhythms and uplifting key of B-flat major; but, its intense dynamic swells, the exaggerated use of vibrato that it calls for, and its effortless traversing of almost the entire violin register imbues it with a sense of dark, dramatic passion.
Particular mention should be made of its climax, where, following a legato, modal ascension from the violin’s bassiest depths, it sharply shifts into fortissimo octave glissandos up among the instrument’s highest pitches. Somehow, it conveys force and intensity, as if gears have been cranked and shifted, yet sounds as fragile and ethereal as a piece of antique lace. The piano score, too, is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard, with its expressive passages of dissonant, expressive tremolos and glissandos. My mum described it best when she said that the piece sounds as if, in the most beautiful way, the violin is weeping; to perform it is to completely lose yourself and to let the music entirely possess your soul.
I already adored this piece and had been performing it for several months when it brought about something even more beautiful. Just under a week ago, my Grandad — who helped to instigate my love of classical music and would always take time to discuss the nuances of Tchaikovsky and Mozart with me — passed away. On the last afternoon I spent with him, I played a video of my first solo performance recital for my Music class, where I played this piece. His fingers fluttered as if he was playing the piano and the corners of his mouth upturned into a smile. I like to think that, every time I now practise this piece, I can feel his spirit watching over me.
If you’re interested in hearing about any of the other classical pieces that I love, most of my favourites lie within the Romantic-era repertoire of Russian composers. Russian music from the 19th Century is endlessly fascinating to me. It uniquely and enrapturingly combines conventions of German/Austrian Romantic music, melancholy minor tonalities, and a sense of rhythm and harmony adapted from the folk musics of adjacent Asian countries.
Particular favourites of mine, although maybe a little cliche, are Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Nutcracker ballet suites. Despite my complete lack of coordination, I very much wanted to be a prima ballerina when I was a little girl, and I become once again overwhelmed by that completely unrealistic ambition every time I listen to them. Some of my favourite excerpts include the ‘Marche’ (which I did a tango and jazz-style arrangement of for Music class!), ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, and ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from The Nutcracker, and the ‘Second Dance of the Queen of the Swans’ (which I am comparing with Philip Glass’s Glass Violin Concerto for an essay I’m about to write) and ‘Finale’ from Swan Lake.
Fear of Music, Talking Heads
This is definitely my favourite Talking Heads album, and the perfect soundtrack by which to “let my hair down” after a long studying session. Its status as my favourite was cemented by two things: 1) By Track 2’s, ‘Mind’, description on one of the music websites I peruse as (to paraphrase), “The sonic equivalent of watching your best friend finally discover David Bowie,” and 2) by the use of ‘Track 8’, ‘Heaven’, in a pivotal moment in one of my favourite episodes of the excellent television series, Halt and Catch Fire.
Halt and Catch Fire deserves a much longer entry on this blog at some point. Following the lives of four fictional computer industry innovators from 1984-1995, it often gets sold a bit short by constant comparisons to the peerless Mad Men and its slow first season; but, it’s a stunning exercise in writing, aesthetics, and human emotion in its own right. It’s lusciously filmed and unconventionally costumed and set-designed, preventing it from falling into cliche Dallas territory, and fascinatingly provides perspective on such an important moment in our recent history. The protagonists, whose characterisations, triumphs, and sadnesses are stunningly fully-formed, traverse the most thrillingly realistic life journeys, and you really grow to care for them; very few stories have hit me in the heart quite as hard as when serious tragedy strikes in Season Four. Although it had perennially low ratings and concluded after only four seasons, it even still managed to conjure up one of the best series finales of all time.
Most importantly, though, it had an incredible soundtrack. A wild computing convention afterparty in Las Vegas, and two characters’ overwhelming love for one another, is set to my favourite Pixies song, ‘Velouria‘. My favourite protagonist, the Steve Jobs-esque Joe MacMillan, sets up a new business to Tom Waits’ ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’; ‘Absolute Beginners’, my favourite ’80s track by my beloved David Bowie, plays at a glittering house party held by Joe. The Violent Femmes, Yo La Tengo, Elvis Costello, Pavement, P.J. Harvey, they all make appearances — and I never thought that I’d like Peter Gabriel as much as I did when ‘Solsbury Hill’ is used to magical effect in the series finale. The writers must have had a particularly overwhelming love for Talking Heads, though, as there are at least four references to them within the series; there’s the aforementioned Season Two episode, which is even named ‘Heaven Is A Place’, whilst a Season One episode opens with ‘Psycho Killer’, one Season Three episode wraps up to ‘Burning Down the House’, and another is named ‘And She Was’.
But it’s this Season 2 featuring that is my most favourite of all. ‘Heaven’ infuses uplifting, polished gleam with a slight sense of nostalgic melancholy; its use in the episode sublimely mirrors the characters’ complex emotions as they uplift their lives into new businesses, relieve themselves from broken relationships, and move from Dallas to Silicon Valley at the end of the season. I’ve come to associate the rest of Fear of Music with this sublimity, and for good reason. The rest of the album equally carries this sense of alluringly unusual, cosmopolitan masterfulness, and it’s thrilling to listen to. It’s full of beguiling discordant harmonies, and enthrallingly irregular, African-infused rhythms, and trebly, sharp instrumentation that practically glitters. Its structure, or lack thereof, leaves it with no sense of grounding, providing the listener with the wonderful sensation of floating through outer space. There’s plenty of great tracks on Fear of Music, including the iconic ‘Life During Wartime’ and ‘Drugs’, but my favourites are the two tracks that introduced it to me: the acidic, disco-infused vitality of ‘Mind’, and, of course, ‘Heaven’.
I spent the better part of last year searching for Fear on Music on CD, which ended up being ridiculously difficult as apparently almost all Talking Heads studio albums are out-of-print. I finally found a brand-new, sealed copy in the local record store of a small New Zealand town, New Plymouth, whilst I was holidaying there in January. New Zealand is such a strikingly, lushly green place — very different from my home state of South Australia, “the driest state in the driest continent in the world” — and is filled with so many lovely people and fascinating artistic attractions. New Plymouth, in particular, is home to the Len Lye Centre, an incredible contemporary art gallery where we met this fascinating volunteer who grew up in the high society set of Manhattan in the 1960s. It was meant to be that I finally found my copy of this captivating album in such an enchanting country!
‘Sometimes, Always’, The Jesus and Mary Chain
As I’m writing this post, it is less than 2°C outside and everything is shrouded in ice — unfathomably cold for Adelaide, an arid city on the outskirts of the Outback where temperatures of at least 45°C last for endless stretches of days during Summertime. Maybe it’s because it’s such a novelty to me and it never really dips below 0°, but I adore Winter. There is something so beautiful about the lush, mysterious fog that looms on the horizon; the percussive satisfaction of heavy rain pelting down on our roof after long, dry Summers; the ice that fragilely sparkles on the tips of blades of grass; the hot-chocolates and mohair jumpers and wood fires and Spanish leather ankle boots that I can finally enjoy without being struck by hyperthermia.
There’s music that, to me, embodies the essence of true warmth in its intimacy and softness, and always feels especially appropriate for Winter listening; as in, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Carole King, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, the Twin Peaks soundtrack, Scott Walker and Laura Nyro and Yo La Tengo. One such song is this beautiful track by the ever-wonderful Jesus and Mary Chain. I won’t say that much about it because it’s difficult to convey the extent of its exquisiteness. However, its softly swaying rhythms, the vocals’ cosy timbre, and the delicate gleaming of its instrumentation sounds just like the intricate pitter-patter of those satisfyingly heavy rains. Listening to it is to be completely warmed and enchanted by the sparkling, magical contentment that is falling in love, just like the song’s protagonists.
Whatever and Ever Amen, Ben Folds Five
Ever since I first saw Ben Folds live when I was twelve years old, I’ve been a bit in love with his witty lyricism and piano virtuosity. I’ve since seen him twice more (and counting!), and he has the honour of being among a precious few artists whose entire discographies I probably know by heart. Additionally, he lived in Adelaide — a small city that is often, unfairly, the laughing stock of the “big smokes” of Melbourne and Sydney — for some time and is always so kind about us when he reflects back, so that’s pretty cool.
His work with the Ben Folds Five is my favourite because I love how contradictory it is. The band carries the funniest, ironic brand of grungy angst, to the point that my family’s original ’90s copies of their albums still have the “Parental Advisory” stickers on their covers; but they blend this with warm, poppy piano melodies and three-part harmonies so pitch-perfect that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Carole King or Supremes record. Ben’s lyrics are frequently hilarious in their bleeding sarcasm and dorky pop culture references, but his depth has emotional resonance more impactful than any of his contemporaries. My most favourite album of all is 1997’s Whatever and Ever Amen, an exercise in lyrical poignancy, melodic masterfulness, and album sequencing so flawless that it would undoubtedly feature in my High Fidelity “Top 5 Albums of All Time” list. Some particular highlight tracks include the heartbreaking tenderness of ‘Evaporated’ and ‘Brick’, the invigorating, sing-along angst of ‘One Tiny Dwarf (and 200 Solemn Pictures of You)’ and ‘Fair’, and the amusing ode to caring too much in the age of aloof cool in ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less’. However, my number one will always be the jazzy, swinging whirlwind of trumpet solos, drum fills, yelling that is ‘Steven’s Last Night in Town’.
Mid-century lounge music
When I wrote above that I’ve been delving into comforting old favourites, I really meant it. My childhood played out in a kind of beautiful 20th Century timewarp, way before Mad Men made mid-century modernism “trendy” again. I know very little about kids’ television in my era of the mid-2000s, because I spent most of that time watching nightly reruns of Happy Days and The Brady Bunch. Our house was a cornucopia of 1950s and ’60s interior design; until I was fourteen or so, my mum worked as a very talented restorer of mid-century furniture, and she would often keep her greatest finds — including Fler lounge suites, Noblett sideboards, a teak stereogram with a working record player, and a fantastic white and red swivel chair designed by Robin Day — for our own home. And when I was very, very little, my parents bought one of the first iPod Nanos and filled it with the compilations of culty and kitschy 1960s cocktail jazz, soul, and “space age pop” that they had amassed on CD over the years. I barely remember listening to anything else until I started buying my own records; I have only ever had a passing knowledge of whatever was popular with my classmates at that time (I remember taking a particularly fiery hatred towards Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’), but I probably learnt to talk to the lyrics of our Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick best-of albums.
Over the past year, I have found all of those old CDs and been playing them so much that I have memorised their track listings. My favourite is the All That Lounge series, a three-disc selection of carefully curated easy-listening kitsch. Disc 3 is my current pick, encompassing the floaty romance of Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Days of Wine and Roses’, the dreamily mod chic of Trini Lopez’s ‘Made in Paris’, several delightfully atomic-age percussion novelties by the likes of the infamous Esquivel, a schmaltzy ’70s saxophone instrumental by Grover Washington Jr. that has become a serious guilty pleasure, and no-words-needed mid-century icons like Bobby Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife’ and Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’. Disc 1 is also pretty great, with Aretha’s ‘Natural Woman’, the intricate soulfulness of Dean Martin’s ‘You Belong To Me’, the sophisticated swing of ol’ Blue Eyes’ ‘My Blue Heaven’, a sitar arrangement (!) of ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, and more shimmering ’70s schmaltz and bubbly ’60s futurism from the likes of ‘Just The Two of Us’, ‘Killing Him Softly With His Song’, and other choice Esquivel cuts.
Other pretty great tracks can be found in the two-disc Room Service series, such as the ultra-cool poolside ambience of Jose Feliciano’s cover of ‘Light My Fire’, the mythical ethereality of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s ‘Some Velvet Morning’, the smooth sensuality of Stevie Wonder’s ‘My Cherie Amour‘, the twinkling yearning of Glenn Campbell’s ‘Galveston’, and, one of my most favourite childhood songs, Mama Cass’s ‘Dream A Little Dream of Me’. Another such CD that has been on constant rotation lately, just as it was ten years ago, is Dusty Springfield’s The Silver Collection, with the buoying, sparkling soul of ‘Am I The Same Girl’, the sultry allure of ‘The Look of Love’, and the impassioned theatrics of ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’. My rekindled love for this music even inspired a recent purchase of my very own “space age pop” compilation to add to our collection, called Stereo Action Dimension. It’s full of wonderfully jazzy, “way out” instrumentals featuring all of the innovative instruments and sound effects that were developed over the course of the 1960s, evoking a sense of futuristic optimism.
The music is great to study to; it’s not so imposing as to distract from my work, but is bubbly and interesting enough as to still provide a wonderful listening experience (and an outlet for dancing should I require a procrastination break)! Plus, it’s really cool to be able to pretend that our living room is the venue of a groovy cocktail party in mid-century Palm Springs, or the set of an episode in Mad Men.
Sadly, though, my rekindled love has also lead to another discovery: other than that of the most well-known artists, most of this music of the Swinging ’60s set is really, really hard to find online. It’s too weird and unconventional to gain mainstream appeal, yet too garishly innocent to attain the cult significance of, say, The Velvet Underground or The Modern Lovers. As many of our music libraries become situated in the sticky nexus of the World Wide Web, these obscurities are fading into oblivion. Whilst part of me kind of loves how unique this makes my love of this music, I feel that it’s really important that, in the midst of our fast-moving digital age, we remember to preserve our roots. The music is an adorable time capsule of such a wonderful era. We need to remember it and ensure that it comes with us into the future.
Anyway, that’s my musical life at the minute! Hopefully my next post is a little more recent, and a little less long (!), than my recent track-record would suggest. Please send me comments about what you’ve been enjoying of late — I love hearing from you all! I shall be back soon (maybe)… In the meantime, I’ve inserted my favourites of my carefully-curated Spotify playlists for your listening pleasure below!
*In Australia, you get admitted to university based upon an ATAR. This adds together the scored grade out of 20 you receive for your four best Year 12 subjects (eg. an A+ is a 20/20), plus the score out of 10 you receive for the compulsory Research Project subject, giving you a “University Aggregate” out of 90; this is then used to rank you within your state’s student cohort. This gives you an ATAR, the percentile at which you are ranked out of a maximum 99.95. Yep, that’s right — we are admitted to university based only on our academic performance in Year 12! No extracurriculars, personal essays, standardised tests, or worrying about grades in Year 9 (woo hoo)!