LIVE REVIEW: Kirin J Callinan @ Oxford Art Factory

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Kirin J Callinan, Spike Fuck, Hviske @ Oxford Art Factory, June 10th 2017

Sydney has produced a number of forward thinking songwriter/musicians in recent years who blend differing levels of theatricality into their performances. From Jack Ladder to Alex Cameron and Mossy, they all cultivate a persona and carefully consider an image as part of their creativity. Kirin J Callinan though, is out on his limb of kaleidoscopic eccentricity.

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Hviske were cruelly given low volume as the first act and it was a disservice for their industrial -tinged techno sound that requires an immersive sound for full effect. Augmented by the buried vocals of Kusum Normoyle which acted as another instrument rather than a lyrical tool, they showed enough (at low volume) to suggest they strike a nice balance between headphones and the dancefloor.

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Spike Fuck is another emerging enigma, from the challenging moniker to an ambiguous fashion sense, she sang over laptop backing tracks, peppering the songs with Alan Vega-styled whoops and an emotionally battered yet righteous blend of Las Vegas croon, country pastiche and melancholy-drenched synth music. There was plenty to like in her performance though adding a backing band would really allow her music to shine in the live sense.

One microphone, bathed in a sea of blue light. A static image delayed for minutes before a large brimmed, heavy-jacketed figure strode on-stage. The unmistakeable figure of Kirin J Callinan had arrived, taking the audience from the first and owning them until the final parting clang of heavily treated guitar.

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Callinan and band mixed it up, digging into both the Embracism and Bravado albums. Like Bowie taking his stage cues from Lindsay Kemp, Callinan has created a distinct stage manner of grand gestures, quirky dance moves and facial expressions that run the gamut from knowing sleaze to innocent glee.

Many of the new album tracks worked even better live, stripped off their production sheen and layers. My Moment was epic EDM, Callinan playing the build and drop to the hilt. Living Each Day was a perfect twee pop song, from the audience’s response S.A.D felt like a hit single, while Family Home showed at the heart of the pomp and primp it’s the strength of songwriting that holds everything up.

An audience member tore Callinan’s leather cod-piece from his person, exposing him literally and figuratively yet he embraced the moment and made the most of the opportunity to test and titillate his audience. This was a magnificent return home for Sydney’s singular pop provocateur.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Kirin J Callinan

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BEHIND THE BRAVADO

Down the line from LA, where he’s between tours with Pond and Mac DeMarco, Kirin J. Callinan gives Chris Familton an insight into the creative process behind his new album Bravado and why it took four years to complete.

Kirin J. Callinan is something of a modern day renaissance man, a polymorphic pop provocateur who revels in stretching creative boundaries and treading a fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous. His debut album Embracism explored industrial tension and bittersweet balladry but Bravado takes a different kind of maximalist approach, combining brash, over-the-top EDM synths with Callinan’s trademark effect-laden guitar playing, answerphones, didgeridoos, whistling and that voice that recalls the orotund tones of Scott Walker, Matt Johnson (The The) and Alan Vega (Suicide). It’s a bold transition, yet it’s not a great departure from his core aesthetic.

“I wanted to make the same record again and explore the same ideas and the weirdness I’d created but push it further. In the past there was this moody, kind of violent, shadowy, industrial murkiness with all these spiritual ballads. I wanted those electronic sounds that were previously industrial and threatening to now be inclusive and fun. The ballads were previously more poetic and self-serious. I wanted the new ones to have a more heightened sentimentality and be more inclusive and accessible, rather than the idea of being elitist or cool. I wanted to do away with all that and make it fun,” he stresses.

“I kind of hated this record and didn’t feel motivated to finish it,” recalls Callinan, when asked why four years have passed since he released his debut solo album. “The truth is that the vast majority of this record was a made in 2014. The songs were written then and they haven’t changed much since mid-2015. I guess what did change was my perspective. I was able to flick a switch and love all the things I hated about it and see it for what it was and understand its beauty and humanity and the truth in its ugliness, bombast and bravado.”

Callinan was encouraged to finish the album when “a bunch of different guests, who made cameos on the record, heard what I had and wanted to be part of it. That definitely fills you with confidence when you have doubt over something.” Some collaborations were with friends while others such as Jimmy Barnes and the Finn family were happy accidents that he pursued. “I emailed Jimmy and told him I was a fan of his music and particularly his scream. I didn’t hear back for months and eventually I landed in LA and in my inbox he’d sent me a bunch of WAV files of him screaming and I worked it into the song which was cool!” enthuses Callinan.

When it comes to how Bravado will be received, Callinan is already looking ahead to the next album. “I already have a completely crystallised view of what I want the next album to be. I’m going to start work on it in Las Vegas where there is absurdity, amorality and the idea that there is no good or bad, just wanton desire. It’s a strange place with a mix of families, tourists, gambling, prostitution, extreme wealth and poverty, the desert and bright neon lights. I’ll be getting to work on that at the first opportunity.”

“No matter what people say about Bravado, it’s original and singular which is more than can be said for a lot of things. I’ve been and excited and validated by the response to it so far. It’s nothing new for me to be divisive. If they like it or hate it, who gives a fuck.”

NEW MUSIC: Kirin J. Callinan – The Teacher (feat. Connan Mockasin)

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Callinan has finally released some new material to follow up his 2013 LP Embracism of which we said “he has been overwhelmingly successful at marrying violent dissonance and the traditional art of songwriting”. ‘The Teacher’ sees him hitting new romantic power ballad mode with an emotional tale of teen lust, role models and positions of power and influence. The tongue in cheek angle has been upped and I’m not sure in this case if it benefits the song. I personally preferred the darker  intensity of Embracism but who know where the rest of the new album will go when it emerges blinking into the daylight.

LIVE REVIEW: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders, Alex Cameron @ OAF, Sydney (16/05/15)

Alex Cameron | photo by Chris Familton
Alex Cameron | photo by Chris Familton

Alex Cameron’s (Seekae) saxophonist and off-sider Roy Molloy arrived first, setting up his instrument, pacing the stage with Corona in hand and chatting to the front rows. Cameron’s strikingly skeletal frame joined him, his designer suit a couple of sizes too small, hanging from his lanky bones. He has a commanding stage presence, throwing Nick Cave-styled poses and dance moves that alternate between mid-period Bowie and Elvis in Las Vegas mode. Musically the pair played and sang over backing tracks of minimal synth and electro that brought to mind Kraftwerk and Suicide laced with Scritti Politti, enhanced by Molloy’s sax solos. There’s a fair amount of schtick going on but Cameron plays the role convincingly as both a songwriter and performer and it’ll be interesting to see how he evolves his solo career.

Jack Ladder’s career has also undertaken a number of transformations with last year’s Playmates album finding him settling into his most comfortable stylistic zone. It’s hard to go wrong with a band like the Dreamlanders. They seem like a composite scene from a David Lynch cabaret scene: Kirin J Callinan’s borderline psychotic stage personae, all twitches, lunges and futuristic guitar flourishes, Donny Benét’s exceptional bass playing that saw him play a consummate solo intro at the start of the encore, keyboardist Frank Sutherland and drummer extraordinaire Laurence Pike (PVT). Out front Ladder commanded the stage during the songs but seemed, as usual, strangely distant, aloof and subtly cynical between them. Playmates provided the bulk of the material with the dark and sleazy Depeche Mode glitter stomp of Reputation Amputation and Neon Blue working particularly well. The Hurtsville album also got a look-in with the graceful airiness of the title track resplendent in its melancholic grandeur. It was an evening of absorbing and emotive post-modern art rock.

Chris Familton

VIDEO: Donny Benét feat. Kirin J. Callinan – The Edge

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Carrying on the audio visual brilliance of videos and tracks from Donny Benét’s excellent 2014 LP Weekend At Donny’s is the new clip for the track ‘The Edge’, featuring the Dave Gahan meets Andrew Eldritch vocals of local legend Kirin J. Callinan. And to think this pair was passed over to represent Australia at Eurovision. The event needs and the audience surely craves the duo’s shadowy and neon eroticism.

FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2013

DS 2013 faves

2013 was a pretty strong year for music. From the established artists hitting their late-period straps to newcomers breathing new life into old forms, it felt like a year where a whole range of styles rose to the top.

There were plenty of surprises with new albums appearing out of the blue from Bowie and MBV and also irritating marketing campaigns that felt like they were bleeding their albums dry before they were even released. I’m looking at you Daft Punk and Arcade Fire.

As usual here at DS we kept our ears closely tuned into what was going on in Australia and New Zealand with both countries producing a wealth of great albums. Records from this part of the world make up 40% of our favourite records in 2013. Let us know what seduced and moved you this year and let’s do it all again in 2014.

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1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

A record that perfectly blends rich narrative and darkly cinematic sonic backdrops. One of Cave’s finest works and the moment where his and Warren Ellis’ musical collaboration becomes fully realised.

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2. Bill Callahan – Dream River

On his exceptional new album, Bill Callahan (formerly Smog) has recorded his most peaceful and meditative set of songs. There is a bucolic, contemplative feel to the eight songs on offer as they weave across percussive landscapes, led by flutes and hypnotic guitars. Sonically the album is rooted in pastoral folk, much of it soaked in dub-heavy reverb and delay. The focus though is firmly on Callahan’s voice, high and focused in the mix as he delivers typically brilliant lines like “All I want to do is make love to you in the fertile dirt with a careless mind”.

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3. Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Vile has gone from strength to strength with each album and this is his finest yet. Finely tuned hazily motorik songs that sit in the pocket and keep drawing you in deeper and deeper with each listen.

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4. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Isbell’s coming of age as a songwriter, though not that he was in any way a slouch in that department prior to Southeastern. He doesn’t waste a word, he builds phrases with economy and poetic grace while encasing them in that rich southern drawl.

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5. Houndmouth – From The Hills Below The City

This was a real surprise record that came out of nowhere for me. It was recommended by a fellow Americana fan and reminded me of the best of what the Felice Brothers do when they blend irresistible melodies with sharp yet not overly polished harmonies and an instrumental mix of country and folk.

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6. Bryan Estepa – Heart vs Mind

A relatively unsung hero amongst Australian songwriters and possessing an angelic voice, Estepa embraced his inner pop and rock obsessions to craft this record that pulls influences from The Jayhawks to Hall & Oates. This is a superb album that excels in effortless, meticulous and timeless songwriting.

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7. Bad/Dreems – Badlands EP

Mix small town pessimism, youthful optimism, suburban nihilism and a lo-fi aesthetic and you have some of the ingredients that make the essential sound of Bad//Dreems. Badlands is another crucial addition to the canon of classic and quintessentially Australian releases.

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8. Wooden Shjips – Back To Land

This is the Shjips doing mainly what they always do, locking into psych drone grooves and riding them into the sunset and/or sunrise. Repetition is the key. They’ve let more light into this one and it opens up their sound into some new areas, rewardingly so.

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9. Ducktails – The Flower Lane

The solo project of Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile, this is an album built on 80s dream pop with sax solos and warm glowing melodies. Easily the best in show for this kind of music.

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10. Kirin J Callinan – Embracism

The agent provocateur of Australian art rock realises his ambition with this wide-ranging album that blends dissonance and a healthy pop heart. Victoria M is one of Embracism’s high points, tempering the intensity with gorgeous, swelling piano and bittersweet baroque pop in the vein of Suede. Elsewhere we get Callinan channeling David Sylvian on Scraps, Bowie on the schizophrenic Chardonnay Sean and Suicide on Way II War. Debut album of the year.

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11. Popstrangers – Antipodes

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12. Austin Lucas – Stay Reckless

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13. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Ready For Boredom

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14. Ooga Boogas – Ooga Boogas

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15. The Drones – I See Seaweed

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16. Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day

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17. Vista Chino – Peace

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18. Civil Civic – Rules

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19. Basko Believes- Melancholic Melodies

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20. Sharpie Crows – 12 Omeros

21. Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In 

22. Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost

23. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

25. Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record

26. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

27. Daughn Gibson – Me Moan

28. The Phoenix Foundation – Fandango

29. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas

30. Mark Moldre – An Ear To The Earth

31. Anna Calvi – One Breath

32 .Matthew E. White – Big Inner

33. Califone – Stitches

34. The Haxan Cloak – Extinction

35. DJ Koze – Amygdala

36. Zomby – With Love 

37. Jen Cloher – In Blood Memory

38. Savages – Silence Yourself 

39. Forest Swords – Engravings

40. The Necks – Open

DS Favourite Songs of 2013

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It’s always a mighty challenge to narrow down all the songs you’ve heard in one year and slot them into order on a nice tidy list of 20. I’m sure I’ve missed a handful of gems but these are all songs that have either captured my imagination, feet, ears or all of the above and made me think “damn that is a great song”.

1. Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Jubilee Street

3. Houndmouth – Penitentiary

4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – So Good At Being In Trouble

5. Bad//Dreems – Caroline

6. Wooden Shjips – Everybody Knows

7. Kirin J Callinan – Victoria M

8. Ooga Boogas – Sex in the Chillzone

9. Ducktails – Under Cover

10. TV Colours – Beverly

11. Popstrangers – Heaven

12. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Any Day Now

13. Eleanor Friedberger – When I Knew

14. Sharpie Crows – Thanks You Ladies For The Spread

15. Bill Callahan – Small Plane

16. Neko Case – Night Still Comes

17. Guy Clark – My Favorite Picture of You

18. Arcade Fire – We Exist

19. Suede – Barriers

20. Depeche Mode – Heaven

Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Jubilee Street

Houndmouth – Penitentiary

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – So Good At Being In Trouble

Bad//Dreems – Caroline

Wooden Shjips – Everybody Knows

Kirin J Callinan – Victoria M

Ooga Boogas – Sex in the Chillzone

Ducktails – Under Cover

TV Colours – Beverly

Popstrangers – Heaven

Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Any Day Now

Eleanor Friedberger – When I Knew

Suede – Barriers

Sharpie Crows – Thanks You Ladies For The Spread

Bill Callahan – Small Plane

Neko Case – Night Still Comes

Guy Clark – My Favorite Picture of You

Arcade Fire – We Exist

Depeche Mode – Heaven