Democracy Has Issues

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You probably know that Winston Churchill famously said “Democracy is the worst form of Government… except for all the others that have been tried.” It’s funny because it’s true. I don’t have a better alternative, but I do believe that we should be looking for one because Winston Churchill also gave us the less-known observation “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

democracy-is-the-theory-that-the-common-people-know-what-they-waRight now it’s the morning after the 2016 US Presidential Election in which Donald Trump won, I’m watching a string of Facebook comments that support Churchill’s claim and I’m wondering how I can reflect on the outcome without being accused of bitching the way I was in 2013 when Tony Abbott was elected in my country.  I was openly displeased with the outcome, which I thought would be disastrous for refugees, women, racial minorities, the working class, the unemployed, the LGBT community, and the environment. People still chose to characterize me as a whiny loser and gave me condescending lectures about democracy and that’s how democracy works and if it’s democracy it must be the right answer. I wonder what those people, who’ve seen how disastrously it did end up and now agree that it was a truly horrible outcome, feel about democracy now?

Even though the word Democracy gets conflated with other concepts like ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ and ‘equality’ it doesn’t necessarily mean or entail those things. It’s pure utilitarianism, the will of the mob. It favours bullies and conservatism. People assume that a democratic process is a way of finding and selecting “the best” even though a lot of the people who subscribe to that theory exclaim that the democratically-chosen candidates we get to vote for are very far from the best choices we could have.

Democracy is not a process of selecting the best, it’s a method of revealing the popular.

meme-definition-of-democracyBelieving that democracy is a process of choosing the best, we’d all have to agree that Coke is the best beverage and McDonalds make the best burgers. Gourmets will nearly always seek an alternative to Maccas. Nobody thinks Big Macs have the most nutritional value. People agree that tastier options are easy to find and that Maccas is neither the coolest or the best value, but they sure sell a lot. And Coke? It would be better for you if it were distilled from the tears of exploited lepers and it tastes like rusty capitalism blended with head lice and bitter regret , but it’s a wildly popular drink.

Democracy is at best a compromise – such as when 7 people in a living room people watch a TV show they can all agree on. Just because they settled on Celebrity Family Feud doesn’t mean it’s the most entertaining show, just that only 2 wanted Game Of Thrones and 4 of them refused to give Westworld a go.  Nobody is that into Celebrity Family Feud but it won’t challenge them or make them think. The outcome isn’t a result of the people’s hopes and dreams – it’s the result of satisficing and the result is a dumbed-down lukewarm acceptable alternative to what anyone actually wants.

frabz-youre-democracy-is-bad-and-you-should-feel-bad-5870e0At worst, Democracy (which purports that everyone in the room has the same value) completely ignores and removes the value of the people in the room who are the least common. Five Purple people and four Green people in the room? Democracy says that the Green people get equal input, but there’s zero chance their interests will be met at all. If the Purple people declare that their policy will be to enslave the Green people, the Green people are going to have a hard time accepting that their enslavement is right because it was arrived at democratically. This might be why coloured people in America will be feeling nervous today. This process was never about giving all the people having a say and determining the aggregate will of the people was. There was no process, just a revealing of who got a say and who didn’t.

bnepw0xiaaeqwmzAs far back as in Plato’s “The Republic” we were informed that the mob was going to win a Democratic process even though they were less informed, less moral and just plain wrong. Is the mob always right? The mob didn’t wanna hear the truth so they all voted to kill the guy who was telling it. Democracy, bitches!

Of course, Plato and Socrates kept slaves and the Oligarchic alternative that they promoted was both self serving (“Philosophers should be the ruling class”) and unfair. I’m not saying they’re always right – I disagree with most of their utterances. I’m just observing that Democracy has been getting it hideously wrong for a very long time. Democracy has precisely zero checks and balances to ensure everyone gets a fair deal. Worse, it thinks it is a system of checks and balances to ensure fairness. That’s dangerous – especially when the cruel people outnumber the kind ones.

14963400_10154274930488645_1908159882608897399_nLet’s talk Brexit, because Trump isn’t the only democratic fuckup this year. Democracy is supposed to be great because it gives people an informed choice. Except most people don’t make informed choices. They make choices, usually influenced by marketing campaigns. With Brexit, there was a landslide vote to “Leave” and then the morning after the election result, people started googling and trying to learn about what they’d already voted for. Then there was remorse from the “Leave” voters and judgement from everyone else when they finally realized what they’d done. With Trump, as there was with dickhead Tony Abbott, there’s a high chance that people are going to realize that what they thought they were buying and what they were really buying are two different things.

downloadI don’t have an alternative to promote but I do want people to stop referring to democracy as a perfect system that’s always right and always produces the best results. Democracy has flaws, so can we please stop referring to it as if it’s the last word and validation of all outcomes? The “The People have spoken, democracy chose the winner so the winner must be right because it’s democracy” claim is every bit as circular and fallacious as Hegel’s “history is always right because it’s what happened,” the self-congratulatory reverse-engineered praise of liberal democracy in Francis Fukuyama’s “The End Of History”, the naive “best of all possible worlds” claims made by Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, and Hitler’s “conflict is good because it produces winners” arguments.

I swear – if Democracy shit the bed I would have people telling me that the bed-shitting is good because it’s democratic. Fact is, Democracy’s been (metaphorically) shitting the bed for a very long time and with all of the sophisticated and massively funded resources that go into campaigns now, it’s not going to get better. There is a huge amount of inequality in the world and our existing processes have only served to increase it – which is the exact opposite of what democracy’s fans think it does.

“The worst form of Government… except for all the others that have been tried.” I don’t have an alternative to promote, just the suggestion that we maybe consider we need to look for one. People never discovered the earth isn’t flat or the center of the universe while everyone was saying we had the final word that should never be questioned. I have a suspicion that if we all stopped congratulating ourselves about how democracy is always right we might actually have a fairer system already.

“Jockin My Style”

images (1)So Die Antwoord have been accusing the Suicide Squad movie of “jockin my style.” The phrase is apparently a thing and unfortunately I have one of those brains that locks onto a phrase like that, replaying it in my mind and forcing me to think about it in the middle of the night when I need to sleep (I spent a sad 2 months with “Boris backs a Brexit” repeating inside my head). Apparently ‘Jockin’  means to copy, steal or follow closely and this group have decided that the visual aesthetics of the film have been appropriated from their act. Is it true? I don’t know – though I’m pretty sure the Joker and his hair came first – but I think I have some reasons why I don’t care.

13906749_1249197615120529_7439592988305933352_nImagine a school classroom where one student points at another and says “You can’t wear a hat! I wear the hats! Hat wearing is my thing!” you might deem that childish and unreasonable behaviour. You might think they’d command more respect if they stop acting like a spoiled butthurt brat with an unreasonable belief that he has a monopoly on hats. Now imagine adults doing this – High profile supposed adults – artists, no less –  doing it on the internet for the whole world to see.

download (1)Frankly, it’s fucking ridiculous. You can have wacky hair, but unless you can acquire a patent for it a patent, you don’t own wacky hair. To get that patent you’ll have to prove why you own wacky hair and prove nobody else should have it either. It’s not as easy as you think. And if what you think you own is tatts and bling and wanky wannabe gangsta posturing and just happens to shared by a big chunk of gen Y, then perhaps you should STFU and quit while you’re ahead before one of them accuses you of stealing from them.

images (4)Artists have to be protective of their work these days. It’s hard to get paid for your music. But in a world where musicians are fighting to protect their actual work – the ideas, the music, the writing, which are often appropriated by companies and other bigger artists. But that’s the actual work itself. U2‘s contribution to their field isn’t the sunglasses that Bono inexplicably wears indoors. Supposedly they have a music legacy of some merit. . The Cure might wear lipstick but it’s their music they don’t want you to steal.

download (2)Real artists don’t worry about anyone “Jockin their style” – Real artists worry about people “Jockin their substance.” If you’re an artist and if what you’re worried about is people stealing your fashion sense, then perhaps you might be seriously lacking in the substance department. Some people dress similarly. The movie industry looks to the music industry for inspiration all the time. And the reverse it true also – plenty of bands appropriate film aesthetics. And that’s generally OK because it rarely matters. If someone can steal your fashion sense, then you probably didn’t really own it. The Cure don’t worry about these things – they know that Hollywood can make a movie inspired by their aesthetic (like The Crow) and they still get to be The Cure without feeling like anything was stolen from them. I can’t help but feeling that in an age where musicians struggle to own what’s theirs, the ones who are bitching that other people like to dress in the same way are only diminishing the concerns that artists face

 

An Announcement

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This is a significant announcement in the world of Alternate Parallel Reality. Having just released the 10th APR album “Here Goes Nothing”  (of which I am very proud – get yours for free HERE) I am suspending the project indefinitely: I try never to say “never” and I’m not making any promises here, but I don’t plan to release any more albums of new music under the APR banner.

I never expected it to last this long. When you commence a musical project you might imagine reaching certain milestones and establishing a legacy or catalogue of work, but not too many musical artists imagine themselves older and nor do they think too much about still doing it a decade later and what that might be like.

It was 2003 or 2004 when I starting morphing my old project (the cringe-worthy ‘Sean X’) into APR and I wasn’t even sure that APR would be making music – I felt at the time that music wasn’t necessarily the best vehicle for my creative drive. Music didn’t seem to have the sense of cultural importance it held for me as a teenager; not the value or reverence or sense of social relevance or power for cultural change (though that might just be my subjective view…and it might just be a good thing. I’m losing the sense of urgency to treat music as a sacred cow.) At the time, I was more interested in philosophy, literature, stand-up comedy, and visual arts.

I was still writing music (I’m not sure whether “Insignificant” or “Four More Years” was the first APR track) but I didn’t intend for my focus to be on music and this site was always intended to reflect my thoughts instead.

And then I got inspired. 13 years later I have an APR legacy about which I feel very proud: 10 albums I like, some of which have reflected exactly what I wanted to communicate, some great (and some not-so-great) gigs and opportunities to share the sounds with people, being chronicled and honoured in 2014 not just for my contributions in the 1980’s but also for Alternate Parallel Reality to the Brisbane electronic music scene in a fantastic hardcover book and boxed set called BNE.

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I never “made it” in any commercial sense, and I sometimes feel as though I’ve been shouting into the void for over a decade. Creators of art of music or literature have very few metrics to measure whether their expressions are heard, enjoyed or understood or were worth doing. Sales, profits, awards, etc might be some of these but if I used them I’d be disappointed. When I morphed from Sean X I stopped selling CDs and vowed I was going to do this thing without advertising or selling my wares so, while many of my peers in music measure their success in terms of how much respect in the form of dollars are paid to their releases, I was never going to use that as a gauge. While some of my friends will site the number of Soundcloud plays they get or how high they are on the Indie post-angst folk metal psychedelic funk hamster spam charts  at wankmusic.com, I’ve never respected this as a measure of anything more than someone’s success at spamming and system-gaming, so I’ve never even tried to get this kind of “success”

There have been times where it seems nobody is listening, and there have been others where I’ve had delightful and meaningful feedback. At no point did I think I was going to be able to quit my day job for APR but that’s never been the intention. APR has been a platform to make a lot of friends, to express what I’ve needed to, and to build a catalogue of music I enjoy which is also available else to access if they like it too. APR has exceeded my humble expectations.

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So why stop? Well I’m still getting requests for remixes, etc and I should explain what’s going on and what I’ll be doing because I’ll still be here, present on this site but I won’t be working on APR music. I’m not giving up or going anywhere, but I’ll be channelling the creative drive into other areas. Every time I’ve worked on an album it’s felt like it could be the last, not sure whether I’ll have more to say. At this point in time, I feel like I have plenty to communicate, but I have reached a point where instrumental music isn’t sufficient to express it. My feelings about the role of music aren’t the same as they were in 2003 and that existential crisis is behind me, but I have a slightly different and more personal idea about the suitability to music as a channel to communicate with these days.  I’ll be working more with words in the future. Watch this space for future developments.

I still do have a couple of items to work on – a couple of remix projects that I’ll announce soon – but I’m happy to call album 10 the final one (some might even correctly deduce that the title “Here Goes Nothing” was actually a partial reference to that) and cap things off there.

There will be two more releases and they’ll be compilation albums – Distant Stars which will be a collection of the prettier and more accessible tunes like Sparkle Motion, and Dark Matters which will be some of the more energetic and esoteric work like Panopticon. This pairing will be curated as an introductory sampler or reflective review, depending on how you look at it. And as always, they’ll be completely free of charge, so I don’t want to hear any cynical “cash in” accusations that usually accompany compilations!

I’m happy with closing the APR chapter and excited about the next phase and the creative work that will entail. Thanks for your support so far and please stay in touch!

Here Goes Nothing

a2470365798_162016 is one of those wonderful rare years in which I’m able to offer two Alternate Parallel Reality releases. The new one is called “Here Goes Nothing.” I’m very proud of it but I’d like to know what you think. Details over on the Music Downloads page.

In the fuhrerbunker with Keith from Deadlights

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Keith Whitham is the evil genius behind §Wired§ which showcases exciting underground electronic music on alternate weeks (Friday nights in the UK, Saturday mornings here in Oz). The show (which you should totally check out – details on the Links page here) is Keith’s main platform to share his boundless passion for intelligent electronic music and while it often reveals deep music knowledge it also demonstrates his willingness to research and explore to find sonic gems to share. 

Given this, it should probably not be surprising to learn that this passion also translates into another platform where Keith makes music of his own. Deadlights is his project and though it feels lazy to describe it as intelligent dark ambient music (which has become such a cliche,) it kinda fits. It’s moody evocative music that isn’t written for dancefloors; But where so much music in the ambient genre aims to quiet the mind, Deadlights is interested in stimulating the brain instead. And while most “dark ambient” music I hear just refers to music that’s beatless, atonal and dreary, what Keith makes is often very pretty and melodic. Deadlights tracks are more engaging to me than most of the ambient stuff I come across, and a great deal of it’s because he has something to say and imbues it with a sense of structure.

12802734_1699479676957265_5664850861371841704_nIf I sound a bit judgmental here it’s not because I hate the genre – far from it – but that so much of it lets me down. Ambient to me is a bit like Horror films; I like the genre but I have to admit that 99% of it’s bloody awful.  I feel like the kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes when I hear a lot of indie ambient because I get impression that about 15 seconds of idea has been stretched out to 13 minutes, that the creator has cunningly chosen to create “ambient” so they won’t be called out for failing to work on melody, rhythm or structure or any kind of songwriting craft. If you’re not a musician and you want to bluff your way into calling yourself one, ambient is pretty easy to crank out.

Ahhhh… but the other 1%… the 1% of brilliant ambient makes it all worthwhile. Cousin Silas and Deadlights are both examples of what it looks like when a talented artist makes sincere art. These guys are the measure by which I am so critical of the pretenders. Yes, I’m a Deadlights fan ever since “11 Ghosts Of Chhogori” so I was pretty thrilled when I got an advance listen of the latest Deadlights release – “We Can Go Down, But We’ll Take A World With Us (Four Evenings In The Führerbunker)”

bunkercoverHunt through the Ambient listings in any music store and you’ll find lots of titles referring to nature, to desirable mental states like bliss and serenity, and with lots of words like ‘reflections.’ I’ve not personally come across a Nazi-themed ambient album before. But then you’re not going to hear any pan pipes, trickling water or whale farts here either. What we have is four lengthy meditations on a historical social phenomena, four sessions spent staring into the abyss. Four reflections on how it can happen and what we can learn from it, an urgent search for prescience to approach our own precarious situation with.

“There’s dangerous times ahead for sure” Keith tells me when I observe that he might really be making a comment on our post-911 times.  “I think that’s part of Deadlights’ writing process – looking at subjects that are not exactly taboo, but are generally put to one side of the regular persons brain as they’re a bit hard to think about seriously…the subjects have been 9/11, nuclear war, Nazism…” He agrees that this sort of thing is not what people often turn to music for, and he says his greatest struggle with Deadlights is to present the material that needs to be addressed in a way that’s palatable.

wired23This is his challenge when using the sonic medium. A visual artist could create a piece that makes a powerful statement and is aesthetically ugly but still sit in a gallery without losing any points for it’s lack of appeal. A musical artist still seeks aesthetic appeal. There are strains of music that pride themselves as being unlistenable but Keith has no interest in creating that sort of thing. We both have a laugh when I mention that the unlistenable music rarely  comes with a redeeming message or statement to justify the cacophony,

We also discuss some of the other musical acts who’ve referenced Nazism. Industrial acts who implement the insignia and aesthetic of the movement seem to glorify fascism. I mention Prodigy’s “Fat Of The Land” album titled from a Goering quote that proudly adorns the CD booklet (“Steel? We have no butter, but I ask you- Would you rather have butter or guns? … Preparedness makes us powerful. …Butter merely makes us fat” to which Prodigy’s Liam responded that he’d repurposed the quote like a sample. Prodigy aren’t Nazis – 2/5 of the band is black – but it was still borrowing the “tough guy” posturing of a fascist movement.)  Deadlights‘ approach to the subject matter is more akin to the way in which Joy Division and New Order referenced aspects of the phenomenon… a grotesque fascination and desire to understand the atrocity exhibition (to borrow a Ballardian phrase), to dwell on the signposts and markers of civilisation going awry. “How the fuck did those loonies end up with so much power?” Keith asks “(it)still boggles the brain.”

a0724486959_16Keith’s pulled off quite and achievement with “Führerbunker”; something that’s dark and ambient but still has melody and evolution and structure, a work which references an evil movement without glorifying, appropriating or preaching. The EP works on a visceral level.

Finally I have to ask why Keith doesn’t promote his work more enthusiastically – he is very reluctant to plug or play his material on his §Wired§ shows, despite the temptation it would present to many. His answer (with which I can only concur) is that while champions the self-published indie scene,  he also finds the necessary promotion to be the most distasteful aspect aspect of it. He says that while he’s proud of his releases, he’s “not a shouter” and disinclined to cheapen his brand, his relationships or his standing with shameless self-promotion. He laughs and adds that it also “might be a Brit thing.”

We Can Go Down, But We’ll Take A World With Us (Four Evenings In The Führerbunker) is uniquely engaging and enjoyable listen. It’s simultaneously pleasant and unsettling, and I’ve found more depth and complexity in it with every listen. At a mere AUD$3 I would recommend you get a copy and check out one of the more interesting sonic artists in the indie scene today. Visit This Page to download or listen for free. 

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You get what you vote for

braceBrace Yourself. Election Time Is Coming! This is a time of trepidation, or excitement, of optimism and cynicism. And I sincerely hope for everyone out there, it’s a time for reflection. A time to consider what the last few years have brought us, who we currently are as a nation and who we want to be in the future. History is something that can be learned from, and my most optimistic self hopes that we all review and consider every time we vote in a process of continuous improvement, ensuring that the trajectory of this country, through corrections, is toward a brighter future.

In the spirit of reflection, though, I recall an unpleasant exchange with a good friend right after the last election, right before the Tony party romped to power on a platform that outlined an even harsher and more conservative than we’re used to seeing from the LNP. It was a regrettable interaction that seriously damaged the friendship and went a little like this:

  • They: “My friends are all judging me. They’re saying I’m against LGBT rights and the environment and refugees and immigrants and stuff”
  • Me: “That might be because you voted against LGBT rights and the environment and refugees and immigrants and stuff”

I can’t do justice to my friend or his case by paraphrasing soundbites – he’s a very smart guy who actually thinks about policies and their implications rather than simply inheriting a bias like so many people I know. But the conversation went south and he ended up telling me that my comment wasn’t exactly dripping with class, to which I responded that the choice of wording was telling and that my manners weren’t at issue here…  and things got tense and stayed that way for an extremely long time.

Was I a jerk? Probably – I often am. Was I being a sore loser? Sure (though I was more concerned with the fate of Australia than whether I had voted for the winning team or not).  Was I wrong? I don’t believe so, even now I look back on the consequences of that election.

abbott-on-housewivesThe Tony party lied about a lot of things; “No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS” and then did exactly the opposite. A mere ten months into his “leadership” he broke his 50th election promise, which is an impressive record. He did all sorts of things that he never indicated he’d do, from using public money to fund his vanity published book, to scamming a scholarship for his daughter and bullying the girl who blew the whistle on it, replacing school councillors with Chaplains to put his personal religious agenda into the government, and giving Prince Phillip and knighthood on Australia day. His talk about reducing the nation’s debt didn’t make us think he’s actually double it.  We knew he was sexist and creepy but it was still shocking just how much so we never guessed he’d appoint himself “Minister For Women” before  (anticipating Trump), objectifying his own daughters, his own female staffers and women he was photographed with. Nobody ever could have imagined he’d advocate paying off people smugglers. The stupid and dishonest things he did that we didn’t expect could fill volumes.

abbott-on-housewivesBut Tony was incredibly honest about some things – He openly stated that he’d resist any progressive moves to giving the LGBT community  marriage equality or any other kind of equality. He was very clear about his position on global warming and the environment, stating that climate change is “absolute crap”. He absolutely told the truth about what his position on immigrants and asylum seekers were and made it clear he was going to treat refugees really inhumanely . He made his positions on these things really clear. He was pro-Christianity, anti-gay, anti-refugee and anti-environment. He delivered completely on those promises.

abbott-on-housewivesWhich is why I said what I did. You can’t say you’re a friend to Mexicans if you vote for Trump. And you can’t say you’re a friend to the environment, the LGBT community or asylum seekers if you select the guy that says he’s going to crush them and then give them the power to do so. If you voted for the Tony party, you knowingly elected certain things – three more years without a hope of marriage equality, a massive setback to any progress that could be made on the climate front, increasing intolerance and worsening conditions for asylum seekers. Those are direct consequences of voting that way and I still can’t understand why anyone would claim to be sympathetic to these causes and elect a government so committed to crushing them.

abbott-on-housewivesIt was suggested to me at the time that these causes weren’t the reason why people voted that way, though the reasons weren’t disclosed so I can only speculate (though if it had anything to do with improving the economy, a cheaper NBN, education reform, worker’s rights or healthcare, then I’m guessing we’re all disappointed). But here’s the thing – it’s a package deal. Shitting on gays, refugees and the environment comes with the vote and though there might have been other promises that were more important to you, saying you didn’t vote against these things sounds to me like “Oh I don’t smoke because it’s cancerous, I only smoke for the flavour”

I’ve worried a lot about publishing this because I don’t want to re-ignite any ill will from a good friend, and I do apologise if I’ve misrepresented or pissed him off. but as I look back on what has happened to Australia since 2013 I don’t think there’s any doubt that we took giant strides backwards for gay rights and climate change, and that we basically became internationally known human rights offenders for how badly we treated asylum seekers. There were hundreds of other fuckups too, and even the rest of the LNP ousted Tony for being both bad and bad at it – and those three little things he promised which might have seemed small to the people who voted for him have turned out to be a pretty big deal, things that have seen us devolve into a nasty and depressing nation.

abbott-on-housewivesI’m not going to tell anyone here how to vote in the upcoming election – there will be enough people doing that – but I will urge voters to actually look at policies. Because even though it’s suddenly cool for everyone on social media to claim that “all parties are the same” it’s just not the truth. It reminds me of when guys in high school used try and sound jaded and experienced by saying “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” about naked women’s bodies which you would only think if you have not even seen one. They really are different from each other – there’s only one party you can count on to challenge the rights and wages of the working class. There’s only one party with a policy against campaign donations. Some of the parties might overlap in places but they are most definitely not all the same, so your vote really does matter. And if a politician tells you that your energy bills might be cheaper and he’s going to unleash Cthulhu onto an unsuspecting world, think before you vote for the first bit because the second bit might be the promise he actually keeps.

Recommended: The Sweetest Condition

3d0dece8d2075a94b1fd9433bf6fc823_legacy_largeMention Nashville, Tennessee and you might imagine that the music coming out of it will have a distinctive Country or Bluegrass flavour. This is very far from the whole story, though: Nashville calls itself “The Music City” and is as rightfully proud of it’s melting pot of genres and sonic styles as of it’s 100+ live music venues. It’s a city passionate about it’s music and thriving modern music scene and the home of my current favourite pop band, The Sweetest Condition.

 

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Jason & Leslie – The Sweetest Condition

I’m not sure that Jason or Leslie who together are The Sweetest Condition would necessarily agree with my description of them as a ‘pop band’ – they define their sound on their official website as a blend of “iconic sounds of the ’80s, industrial muscle of the ’90s, and cinematic soundscapes.” I agree but the term ‘pop’ as I’m using it here is the accessible melodic likeable music that uses hooks to sneak into your psyche and get you right in the feels before making it’s home in your head and your heart so when you hear it years later you’ll like it even more, want to sing along even if you’re no singer, and surprise yourself at how well you remember the words.

me as aspiring pop star, 1989

me as aspiring pop star, 1989

I resent the ‘throwaway’ tag that people assign to pop music; Good pop is often treasured for decades after the hipster alt music press politbureau’s current flavour of the week is replaced by another. Pop can totally communicate social meaning – think of Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, Ed Sheeran’s A Team – and you’ll find plenty of depth in the better examples.  I absolutely and unreservedly love great pop. Exhibit A: one of my all-time favourite albums is titled “Pop” with absolutely no irony. Exhibit B: my own song-writing contributions in my old band would also be considered examples of pop. I consider pop music to be one of the most culturally significant and powerful forms of music –  and I assign it as a compliment.

a0255352598_16I can hear the industrial influences in The Sweetest Condition’s music, I can definitely feel the cinematic drama, and I can see that acts like Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails are definitely in their DNA, but to me this is great pop and does all the things that it should. Every track on their new album Edge Of The World is immediately engaging and catchy, a potential hit single in it’s own right. Yes, there are darker edges to some of the material and it definitely has substance – Fall In Line‘s challenge to throw off the chains of corporate slavery and the anti-love position adopted in Watch You Fall both spring to mind here – but we have fantastic eighties-style melodies given muscle with 21st century production and perspective. This is pop at it’s best; simultaneously sweetly seductive and seriously sinister (and the award for most astute application of alliteration goes to me!). It’s an iron fist in a velvet glove and I’m fully convinced that both Edge Of The World and The Sweetest Condition themselves would be massive if exposed to mainstream audiences

thumbI’ve had Edge Of The World on heavy rotation on my ipod this week (alternating between it and Satyricon by Meat Beat Manifesto) and while it’s one of those rare albums that I enjoy beginning to end (I’m tempted to skip at least one track from most albums in my music library) it’s the opening track Beyond The Blue that’s stuck in my head and the most likely candidate if I ever sang in the shower. They describe as “our tribute to a grand love that can only evolve between lifelong friends. The girl who waited. The raggedy man. One lost forever in the blue beyond. One left behind. One day, they’ll be reunited.”

Check out The Sweetest Condition at their official web site and check out Edge Of The World at it’s bandcamp page where you can listen to the whole lot for free or purchase it for a mere $10.

Two excellent releases this weekend that you can download for free

Music lovers are living in wonderful times. In my youth I had to move heaven and earth to access a shop that would stock cool alternative music and sell it to me for a costly “Import” price. Worse, I didn’t even get to find out about most of the cool sounds that were being made all over the planet. Now in the 21st century you don’t have to leave your living room to find the most exciting music being produced all over the globe and you can get it instantly, often for little or no cost.

This weekend a couple of great EPs got released by friends of mine and they’ve both made their works available to you free of charge. Let me tell you about them. I would describe both releases as minimalist, sexy, subtle, sinister and cool, though they’re very different from each other.

a0611464665_16Sky High Diamonds – “Ghosting The Edge”

Sky High Diamonds is my friend Sarah in Bristol, UK. This self-produced three-track UP is an amazing balance of strength and sensitivity that pulses tribal rhythms and is beautifully broken. Comparisons that spring to mind are PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple‘s song Container, some of the rhythmic aspects of The Creatures and Miranda Sex Garden, though Sky High Diamonds doesn’t sound like any of these – she’s definitely got her own thing going on. Ghosting The Edge has gotten a few plays here in the last 24 hours and it only gets better, so I suspect it might find a place in your heart and home too. Sarah’s offering it completely free of charge at Bandcamp HERE 

a4246708751_16The Black Hundred – “Freedom Is A Lonely State”

The Black Hundred is my friend James, formerly from Melbourne but now residing in Sweden.  James’ work all has a cinematic quality though this release is more ambient than his previous release Orwell which evoked images of a big automobile gliding down the freeway at night on the way to a sinister meeting. Freedom Is A Lonely State feels more like feeling one’s way around an empty building looking for clues about what happened here. My closest sonic comparison might be Dead Man Ray (thinking especially of the Trap album) but probably a better indicator are the literary references James often makes, Track 1 here is titled Thomas Pynchon though he has also referenced George Orwell, Shakespeare, Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. Even though there is a chilled ambience to Freedom Is A Lonely State it’s got lyrics, structure and a sincerity that makes it a bit more than background easy listening. This album is a mature slow burner that will endear itself with repeated listens. I recommend it highly and James is offering it on a free (or name your own price) basis over at Bandcamp.

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Sky High Diamonds

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The Black Hundred

I don’t often say that the best things in life are free, but when I do it’s usually about the amazing music being produced by my extremely creative and passionate friends. Check them out – they’ll be grateful for the interest and you’ll become the coolest person on your block for supporting vibrant and interesting modern alternative music.

desert island albums – “Blue Sunshine” by The Glove

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In 1984 I saved my pennies and caught a bus which was a round trip of over 5 hours to the city of Brisbane to buy an expensive import copy of Blue Sunshine by The Glove. I wasn’t even sure that stores would have it, but this was an age where I was lucky that in my small country town I was able to learn the existence of a rare and new album decades before the internet would become the way people found out about this stuff. I clutched the album cover and studied the cover in the long trip home, frustrated about the wait before I could finally drop the needle to the vinyl and hear it.

glove-whiteglove-full-picAnd when I did? Totally worth it. The Glove’s only album Blue Sunshine is one of my favourite ever, and listening to it now still gives me the same visceral thrill that I got 22 years ago.

Who were The Glove? Robert Smith from The Cure and Steve Severin from Siouxsie And The Banshees, joined by Jeanette Landray for the vocals on half the tracks. Robert Smith was contractually prevented from being the main singer in anything but The Cure so he only sings on two of the songs here – Mr Alphabet Says and Perfect Murder, both very lyrically consistent with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club era Beatles.

hqdefaultThere’s also a demo version of Looking Glass Girl and a This Green City with Robert Smith singing instead on youtube that were only released later on a bonus disc with the re-release and they’re interesting to me but I frankly like the album as it is. I was a massive Cure fan when I bought the album and wanted more Robert Smith on it, but listening now I think that Jeanette Landray’s vocals are pretty perfect for most of the songs on Blue Sunshine.


downloadThe Glove
were deliberately psychedelic (something I love more and more with each passing year) and the album was titled after the  cult 1978 movie of the same name about a drug (Blue Sunshine) that turned it’s users into murderous bald psychopaths. I’m a fan of most 1970’s science fiction films and love the fearful apprehension that dominated them when thinking about the trajectory of society – Rollerball, Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green – though I’m not sure that Blue Sunshine is best example of them (Rollerball is my favourite) but it is a cool reference for the group and hints that altered states informed the tone and the content of the album.

imagesThe Glove’s as a band name and logo is a nod to The Beatles‘ album and animated movie Yellow Submarine which had a giant flying glove in it and had the phrase “It’s all in the mind, y’know” across the top of it’s promotional posters.

imagesWith these references you might expect the sound of Blue Sunshine to be incredibly psychedelic and you would be very right. Like a lot of my favourite psychedelic albums (I’ll be covering Male Or Female‘s Invented Scenes album in a future Desert Island Albums article as well as Amorphous AndrogynousThe Isness) it first sounds really retro but quickly becomes timeless. A 33 year old album that still sounds fantastic in the 21st Century is quite an achievement. Listening to it again today, I get the same chills and goosebumps hearing Punish Me With Kisses that I did in my teens, and Mouth To Mouth is still a composition I can get lost in. I would recommend Blue Sunshine as essential listening to Cure fans and play it more than anything else in Robert Smith’s extensive catalog. I would recommend checking it out to anyone  who likes psychedelia, progressive music, The Cure, The Banshees or even Alternate Parallel Reality. I really think it’s an astounding album that will find a place in the hearts of people who allow it in – it certainly has with me.

images (1)Some Youtube videos:

about the albums – “Your Call Is Important To Us”

a4287595476_16Presenting a series of album features where I look at each item on the APR discography and discuss it’s context, themes and technical info

I made Your Call Is Important To Us available in August 2014. It was the first album I did where the only hardware I used was my laptop (no guitar, even for midi control) and I only used software (Propellerhead’s Reason) for the sounds. My aim was to make a trippy and engaging experimental and psychedelic album that threw away the rulebook and “took us down the rabbit hole.”

dark-matters

This would have been the cover for my original vision

This wasn’t the original vision for the album. My first mental blueprint was for a release that was going to be called Dark Matters – using the dark matter/dark energy phenomenon in physics as a metaphor for dark matters and unspoken concerns in the human psyche. For the original concept I’d planned to write it like the soundtrack for a sinister science fiction film that didn’t actually exist.  I feel that the album I planned actually would have been a pretty good release but, as I have stated elsewhere, I tend to “pivot” my vision and let it morph into something new as the material begins to take form – and Your Call Is Important To Us is what it pivoted into.

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Rufus and Sean

I’d been writing this grim futuristic music and, taking my daily evening walk with my dog Rufus when the new direction for the project hit me and I realised I would have to change the title and content to make this album. The new vision originated from the classic early Pink Floyd track Interstellar Overdrive (If you’re not familiar with the 17-minute psychedelic masterpiece, check it out here.) Two of the defining characteristics of Alternate Parallel Reality are “psychedelic” and “philosophical” so the idea to use the manic daring exploratory psychedelia of this track as the DNA for my own philosophically inspired one became the new design template and I changed the working title of the album to Existential Overdrive. My plan was to make the album less structured, more experimental, to ignore polite production techniques and to experiment with crazy sounds. I wasn’t writing for clubs or radio: I was writing something I might listen to one day in the future while stoned, something I could get lost in (the irony is that I’ve not indulged at all in the time since YCIITU was released. But one day….)

0aa4dabc44a78d8b6896f4a5268f4293Many of the themes I was working with were retained – solipsism, panopticism and paranoia, as well as the perennial question of epistemology and how we know what we know and whether we can trust knowledge we get through our senses. These are themes I use a lot but I really wanted to explore questions like  “Do you think what you think you think?” and “how do you know what you think you know?” The very first track Cotard Delusion refers to the psychological delusion where people think they’re dead. The sample came from comedy/satire book The Onion Book Of Known Knowledge. The other delusion I reference the Capgras Delusion in which “in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member (or pet) has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.”

This theme of being able to trust one’s own senses is also why I reference the writing of Philip K Dick  as it’s a recurring theme there – for instance in the movie Blade Runner (or the book Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) the Replicant-hunting Deckard is asked how he knows he’s not a Replicant and cannot satisfactorily answer. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said like the novel of the same name alludes to the intersection of perception and reality – I was tempted to title the track “KR3” which is the name of the reality-bending drug in the book.  I also explored the idea of panopticism (a favourite theme of mine) – a A Scanner, Darkly references the novel of the same name where the protagonist is disguised and asked to spy on himself (I highly recommend this brilliant book and film) and the track Panopticon features a sample from a university lecturer discussing it. I’m not particularly into new age-y or spiritualist imagery so when I decided to push the envelope for a psychedelic album, questions about how we trust our senses seemed like the most natural ones to ask.

thetruI wrote most of the album during a period where I was working my first ever job in a call centre for a telecommunications company, so it might be reasonable to assume that’s where the title of Your Call Is Important To Us originates, but I would actually cite Laura Penny’s excellent book Your Call is Important to Us: The Truth about Bullshit as the inspiration for the title… Though yes – I was in a weird place at the time – doing my very first Call Centre work, unaware I was going to make a career of it, and working weekends as Tarot Reader for the first time in a very long time too. It was an extremely surreal time and listening now I believe that the oddness of it is reflected in the music – how at middle age I was trying to keep everything afloat while being way out of my depth in unfamiliar and insecure territory.

apryciituSonically, I wanted to play mad-scientist. Unlike a lot of other electronic musicians, I’m usually quite OK about using presets and I don’t spend all of my time writing synth patches. I think like a guitarist – We don’t write patches, we write songs – and guitarists don’t feel obligated to make a completely new guitar sound for the songs they write – using the stock sounds doesn’t invalidate the worth of the song or your legitimacy as a musician. But for this album I focused on the sound design. Reason (the tool I use) wonderfully allows you to do crazy things with the way you can connect instruments and push the limits of what’s possible with synthesizers, etc… all without any risk of blowing up real instruments (which I sadly have done in the past) and so I was free to design insturments and sounds that did strange things.

b66bfaf3-cdbd-4f42-a927-9542d2975354For Target Market, for instance, I really only had two instruments in addition to the drum machine – they just happened to be doing several things at once. I think I only used 3 or 4 channels in total on the mixer, which is a fraction of what I usually do. I tried to leave mixes unpolished and resisted the urge to perfect the sound or invoke traditional mastering guidelines – I wanted to create a compact listening experience that starts weird and turns into a maze you can get lost in, getting crazier over time – so it starts with pianos but by the time the album ends it’s with a furious meeting between hard drum & bass and industrial noise.

The other big decision I made with Your Call Is Important To Us was to give the visual aesthetic an overhaul. I had stuck mostly with a consistent visual style guide for the better part of a decade with the logo being alternateparallelreality in an arial font (highly under rated) and the use of photography presented in widescreen letterbox format. Part of ‘throwing out the rules’ was to cease conformity with my own branding and use the crazy mesh of photography-meets-illustration in the images I chose (which, curiously enough, are Stock Art) and a brasher more assertive font.

Did Your Call Is Did this succeed? I’m not sure, but it does sound almost exactly as I planned it in my head (which might be the first time ever) and I’m extremely happy with how it turned out. These days I actually listen to it quite a lot (though I still haven’t had the “420” listening experience I planned for it, maybe some day…

Does Your Call Is Important To Us succeed? I’m not sure, but I like it and it does sound almost exactly as I planned it in my head (which might be the first time ever) and I’m extremely happy with how it turned out. These days I actually listen to it quite a lot (though I still haven’t had the “420” listening experience I planned for it, maybe some day…)

Download Your Call Is Important To Us (opens in new window)