TOP PICK \ Music
TAMER ANIMALS \ Other Lives
BURST APART \ The Antlers
There’s a strange distance to Tamer Animals, the second album from Oklahoma group Other Lives. On first listen, it’s as if the songs are playing next door, so that we have to press our ear to the plaster to make any sense of them. Tracks rumble and reverberate, with the vocals sitting low in a mix concerned more with ambience and texture than any sharp edges.
As such, it’s not a record that will come knocking, but one that will lie in wait to snare the listener. Indeed, when the melodies emerge, the effect is miraculous. Up close, songs reveal clear, stunning tunes that leave you wondering why you hadn’t noticed their beauty from the start. Throughout, there are echoes of Radiohead’s recent output, imbued with the warm humanity of Fleet Foxes. Even better, the title track echoes behind the ribs in much the same way as the National’s best work.
On one level, Burst Apart from The Antlers is far more immediate. But where Other Lives have sunk simple melodies beneath a morass of noise, this Brooklyn group have hidden complex depths beneath appealing pop tunes. Dirty guitars scratch against electronic beats, hammering experimental noise into tidy rock songs.
Again, this is a work of atmosphere, where dark undercurrents transform pretty songs into unsettling works. The result is an album that manages the rare feat of seducing with a glance, while still holding back enough surprises to keep us coming back for more.
UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS UKTV, Saturday June 11, 8.30pm
Costume dramas are the last great British export, so we shouldn’t grumble too much if two come along at once. Channel Seven has been promoting the hell out of Downton Abbey, and it has already proved a mainstream success. Upstairs, Downstairs, on the other hand, has been locked in the cable basement, to be largely ignored.
As it is, Upstairs is really quite good. The script rattles along, the cast is uniformly impressive and it’s shot with a steady, artful eye. There’s also a pleasingly modern dynamic to the class relations, with rumblings of a revolution from downstairs as servitude begins to lose its sheen.
Certainly, we’re clearly intended to sympathise more with the basement crew, especially wise Rose and impetuous young Ivy. On the other hand, the young lady of the house is (initially, at least) so cartoonishly posh she might have been christened Cruella. Even more appealing are the political undercurrents, as British fascism surfaces in the shadow of the Nazis.
If there’s anything to criticise in Downton’s rival, it’s that there’s simply not enough of it. Confined to a mere three hours, it attempts to pack in too much, meaning subtlety is often sacrificed for narrative economy. Pacing aside, this is solid family entertainment, even for those of us jaded by cut-glass accents and old-fashioned clobber.
TRUE GRIT DVD and Blu-ray (Paramount)
We were on our summer break when the Coen brothers rode into town with their latest masterpiece, but its home release this week provides an excuse for a bit of reassessment. After all, the film was nominated for an extraordinary number of Academy Awards yet somehow went home empty-handed.
On the surface, it’s hard to imagine why. The premise, in which a young girl employs a bounty hunter to track down her father’s murderer, frames a classic story, told with winning clarity and, well, plenty of grit. As drunken Marshal Cogburn, Jeff Bridges gives the standout performance, but he’s ably supported by Matt Damon. In a lesser film, brave and handsome Damon would be our hero, but giving the role to a teenager doesn’t mire the movie in child-acting hell. Instead, Hailee Steinfeld displays the sort of single-minded determination adulthood tends to wear down.
If there is a problem, it’s that the film might be too good for adults alone. The harsh violence and grim realism, while expertly handled, often seem out of place beside our youthful hero. Of course, that’s partly the point. The intent is to show a child out of her depth in the wildest of adult worlds, but the effect is equally as disorienting to the viewer. More than that, behind the gore is a timeless adventure tale, which you suspect a younger audience would have found just as thrilling.
TRACY McNEIL Bella Union, Saturday June 11, Tickets $12
A few years ago, you’d find the country section lurking in the dustiest corner of the record shop, visited less often than the desolate towns its albums sang about. Thanks to Americana acts such as Wilco blurring the line between credibility and countrified, a love of C&W is no longer reason to be ashamed.
Tracy McNeil has built herself an impressive reputation since stepping off a plane from Canada four years ago. There’s little genre-bending with her work, which feels as comfortable and authentic as a tin of beans on an open fire. This is no-frills, straightforward country that finds the shortest path to your heartstrings.
As one half of Fireside Bellows, McNeil won plaudits touring all corners of Australia, but returns to Melbourne this Saturday to launch her second solo album. It’s a pretty, intimate collection of songs likely to woo plenty of new admirers, no matter how far their hearts lie from Nashville.