Jen Cloher self-titled third album review

The self-titled fourth album from Jen Cloher is brilliant and deeply personal

Jen Cloher is the fourth album by the Milk Records label co-owner. Her writing here is sharp, profoundly personal, and at times acutely analytical of her relationship and gender.

In ‘Analysis Paralysis’ she sings of being paralysed by the politics and public debate over same-sex marriage in Australia:

I’m paralysed

In Paradise

While the Hansonites

Take a plebiscite

To decide

If I can have a wife

Evocative of an Australian summer, Regional Echo meanders like the Murrumbidgee in contrast to the album’s most rocking track, Strong Woman, which burns with fire and pride. In the latter, Cloher sings of her own growing up and the difficulties she faced, and pays homage to her mother and grandmother as strong role models. So emotionally charged is this song it gave me goosebumps.

The album is seasoned with quite clever references to classic Australian bands and songs. In Great Australian Bite Cloher examines the difficulties faced by Australian musicians due to the isolations of distance and ignorance, and namechecks The Go-Betweens and The Saints, among others. There is also shared joy in the reverential awe Jen holds for The Dirty Three in Loose Magic:

No, nothing could ever feel

Like the first time

Sue’s Last Ride

Messed you up for real

 

Like partner Courtney Barnett’s take of an Elvis Presley lyric in her song Avant Gardener, and equally without sounding trite, Cloher cuts’n’pastes some Rolling Stones lyrics into Forgot Myself, the current ‘radio song’ of the album.

Cloher’s vocals are at the fore in the quieter, more contemplative moments, while her and Courtney Barnett’s guitars (and also that of Kurt Vile on Loose Magic) play off each other, at times straying in transposition before returning to key. Bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Jen Sholakis provide the skeleton that holds this body together. There are hints of Patti Smith (also namechecked), The Velvet Underground and The Breeders throughout, and enough contrasting of musical light and shade to please any hardened indie fan.

Jen Cloher is a beautiful collection of works, and deserves to sit within the catalogue of classic Australian albums next to The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional, The Cruel Sea’s This Is Not The Way Home, and Magic Dirt’s What Are Rock Stars Doing Today. It’s an absolutely essential album, and one I’ll be listening to right through the coming Australian summer.

Jen Cloher is out now on Milk Records.

Addendum 23 November 2017: I had mistakenly referred to this album as Cloher’s third album and have corrected accordingly.

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A tribute to Strange Tenants drummer Jeff Denny

I was very sad to have learnt a few days ago of the passing of Jeff Denny, drummer for Melbourne ska legends Strange Tenants.

From Strange Tenants’ Facebook page, posted 24 July 2017:

It is with enormous sadness that early Sunday morning 23 July, Strange Tenants farewelled our beloved drummer and brother, Jeff ‘Bongo I Dread’ Denny, after he finally lost his long and courageous battle against cancer. Out of respect to his family, we waited until today to formally announce it.
Those who have seen us perform or who have listened to our many recordings over the past 36 years will know the incredible musical legacy Jeff has left behind. From the moment he joined our band in early 1982, he changed our music and helped us create a unique power ska sound, which we have come to call a ‘militant style’. There’s no other drummer in the world who played ska and reggae rhythms, with such passion and power. The rhythm section of Jeff on drums with Chris Rogers on bass, was absolutely world class and unrivaled by any combination on the planet.
However, more than anything else, Jeff was an integral part of the Strange Tenants band of brothers, and his energy and infectious cheekiness was always on display.  If ever, things got too serious around the band, Jeff would always be the one to crack a joke and lighten the moment for us all. He was always looking forward to the next tour, the next album, or the next gig. He loved playing with the Tenants and we loved playing with him. We have lost a member of our family, but at least Jeff is now at peace. Rest in peace brother Jeff. You will always be in our hearts. xx

 

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I was a bit of a fan, discovering the band via the Australian music TV program Countdown when the music video for their single ‘Hard Times’ was featured in 1983.

During the summer holidays of that same year, I was at my mum’s place in Lismore, northern New South Wales. I had the radio on, Lismore’s community radio station 2NCR-FM, and the presenter announced that there was a double pass to see Strange Tenants at Bangalow Bowls Club to be won. I phoned in and, to my excitement, won the double pass.

A few days later mum and I went to Bangalow to see Strange Tenants, and despite being only 15 years old I was let in to what was an 18+ gig.

Anyway, the band were off to a flying start, and the punters were really into it, when maybe half an hour in a summer storm struck causing a blackout. It was really disappointing for everybody, until Jeff Denny decided to just jam on drums for a while. For the next half hour or so he played tribal rhythms on his kit like a man possessed, while the lads on brass jammed over his drumming. The gig ended up looking like an ancient ritual with a very typical north coast crowd dancing maniacally, limbs flailing, dreadlocks whipping around, whooping and chanting. Unfortunately the power didn’t come back on and the gig had to be wound down, but there were huge grins on faces as we left the venue. I’ll never forget that night.

Thanks so much for the music Jeff, and may you Rest In Peace.

 

 

Playin’ with fire…

In the late 1980s as house music took off in the clubs of the UK, fragmentation of the genre began to take place. Around the same time that acid house became a sub-genre of house, some producers had begun to blend disco and house to form another sub-genre: disco house.

Though it may not have immediately been named disco house, and while house music itself had its roots in disco, innovative producers were beginning to produce tracks with the familiar four-to-the-floor rhythms of house music, and heavy on the sampling of disco records.  One such innovator was UK DJ/producer Dave Lee, a prolific producer of many great tracks under many production monikers, including his best known, Joey Negro.

Around 1987, in partnership with Rough Trade Records, Lee set up Republic Records, a label which for the next few years would release a slew of brilliant house and garage (the New York/New Jersey house sound) records, including his own productions under various names.

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One such name was M-D-EMM, the trio of Mark Ryder, Dave Lee, and Emmanuel (Mike) Cheal. Together they produced a series of 12″ singles which blended house, acid house, Philadelphia disco and rare groove.

This release, ‘Playin’ With Fire’, is a collection of remixes of tracks which had been released on earlier 12″ singles by M-D-EMM.

This is ‘Don’t Stop, We’re So Hot (Body Sizzling Mix)’, the lead track off the EP.

If you’re into disco house or want to explore further, any of Dave Lee’s releases are highly recommended. The good news is that Lee is still making great records, like this one:

 

 

This is a journey into sound…

A Journey Into Stereo Sound is a vinyl LP I found for $1 at Lifeline Bookfest, a huge, twice-yearly book sale in Brisbane held by the charity Lifeline. I was anxious to get it home and play it, because it was dusty, but well cared for, and it looked like it had a lot of history.

Two things about the LP caught my eye: one was the title, which seemed familiar, and the other was the small ‘ffss’ (full frequency stereophonic sound) logo above the Decca logo on the front cover which looked very similar to the logo of the FFRR (full frequency range recordings) Records label. On the back of the LP cover are the slogans FULL FREQUENCY RANGE RECORDING and FULL FREQUENCY STEREOPHONIC SOUND. Once I got this record home, I learnt some interesting facts about it.

In 1958, when A Journey Into Stereo Sound was released, stereo sound was still quite new, and this was an introduction to stereo on vinyl.

Decca Records had already developed their full frequency range recording system (ffrr), which came about via a recording system developed in WWII which was designed to record and individually catalogue (by engine noise) enemy German submarines.

What began as a recording system, and then marketing slogan, much later became a dance music label when FFRR Records formed in 1986. FFRR went on to become a successful dance music label distributed at first by London Records and using the same original FFRR logo. So there was the connection with the logo designs and slogans.

ffrr_silver_on_black_lp

FFRR Records 1989 compilation double vinyl LP ‘ffrr – silver on black’

Back to the other thing which intrigued me about this LP: the title, A Journey Into Stereo Sound…

 

In 1987 US hip hop duo Eric B & Rakim released the excellent Paid In Full album, and the title track was released as a single.

The track, Paid In Full, was remixed by UK producers and Ninja Tune label heads Coldcut . The full length remix (titled ‘Seven Minutes Of Madness – The Coldcut Re-Mix’) also featured on the soundtrack to the 1988 Hollywood film Colors.

If you know the Paid In Full remix, you’d be aware that at the beginning there’s a vocal sample of a British man proclaiming ‘This is a journey into sound…’ If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the video…

So it turns out that Coldcut used some of the narration from A Journey Into Stereo Sound in their Paid In Full remix, and I had wondered if this LP was that sample source when I picked it up at the sale. What a find!

The voice sampled by Coldcut is that of British actor and newsreel narrator, the late Geoffrey Sumner. The LP is essentially a demonstration record, with brilliant stereo recordings of classical pieces by various orchestras, as well as recordings of a train, a car race, and so on. Narration by Geoffrey Sumner features throughout as he introduces recordings or asks the listener to consider the delights of stereo sound. It’s really a beautiful piece of history on wax.

I’m not sure if this record was originally sold or given away for free as a marketing tactic, but having been released in 1958 it’s one of the first stereo LPs issued. It’s certainly a treasure to me, and I’m glad to have found it.