Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fly, Fly Away

Well, my holidays have come to an end and I am back in Australia.  I also have a hideous head cold which I got around Christmas, so the congestion just added to the joy of a long haul flight.  Thankfully the flights were smooth and I didn't have any major coughing fits.  However, the pressure on my ears when landing was a bit painful and I'm still waiting for them to completely pop.  I watched three movies on the flights: Pitch Perfect, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I also got to see the sunrise while at Auckland Airport waiting for my flight to Melbourne.  At least I have another day to recover before returning to work on Monday.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Dinner

It has been two years since I was last home for Christmas so I was really looking forward to the annual Christmas dinner at my parents' house.  Before dinner though there was a lot of cooking and cleaning to be done.  I baked up a storm on Christmas Eve, making sugar cookies, snowball cookies and pumpkin pie while Mom made tiramisu.  When my aunt Chrissie and cousins Leilani and Meinani arrived we had the cookies along with cheese, dip and crackers for hors d'oeuvres as well as my favorite holiday drink- mulled cider.  As is the case most years, my brother had to work so he was unable to join us.  Simi, her parents, Logan and Kylie were running late, so by the time they arrived and settled we were ready to sit down for dinner.

As requested Mom and Dad made some of my favorites for dinner.  We started off with vegetable soup, and then had turkey, stuffing, scalloped potatoes, green beans and biscuits for dinner.  Lei brought one of the sparkling wines from our little wine country adventure- the Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi, which everyone enjoyed.  Logan was pretty well behaved throughout dinner, but the lure of presents under the tree became too hard to resist, so as we finished we headed out to the living room to open presents.  All my gifts were Aussie themed this year as I bought nearly everything before I left Melbourne.  We were also treated to a photo slide show of Chrissie and Lei's trip a few months ago to Sicily and Italy during dessert.  It was a lovely evening, and the kids were very well behaved. 
Today Mom, Dad and I headed up to James and Simi's for lunch.  It was good to finally see their new place, which they moved into a couple months ago.  We also got to give James his presents and finished up opening the rest of ours.  It was a bit sad to say goodbye to everyone as I have had such fun spending time with my niece and nephew on this trip.  Tomorrow afternoon I head back to the airport for the long flight to Australia.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Angela and Kevin's Wedding

Yesterday was my cousin Angela's wedding, which she thoughtfully scheduled during the time I had already planned to be in the Bay Area.  The ceremony took place at Saint Ignatius Church in San Francisco, which was decorated for Christmas and looked amazing.  Since this was a black tie event everyone was dressed very glamorously as they arrived at the church.  Thankfully the rain held off so we didn't get drenched.  It was a rather large wedding party that preceded the bride down the aisle, including Angela's sister Jennifer who was the matron of honor (and got married a little over a year ago).  Angela looked beautiful in her dress and they did a full mass for the wedding ceremony.  After mass they took group family photos on the alter before we all headed off for the reception.
The reception was at the San Francisco Design Center which they decorated in a winter wonderland theme.  We had the cocktail hour up on the second level before coming down to our tables for dinner.  All the cousins were sitting together near the back of one side of the room, while our parents were on another table closer to the dance floor.  When we discovered that there was a photo booth we went to do a few shots in there before dinner service started.  Once again we had a multi-course Italian feast that was both good and filling.  During speeches my uncle Tony pointed out the generational family connections between the bride and groom, which was interesting to hear.  After the father/daughter dance we all hit the dance floor.  They had the same band that was at Jennifer's wedding, so it became a real party atmosphere.  While the female cousins let the bridal bouquet fall to the floor around us, our cousin Alan somehow ended up with the garter during the toss.  The cake cutting went smoothly and each layer was a different flavor (I sampled the vanilla and chocolate pieces).  After some more dancing and another dash to the photo booth we decided to call it a day and head for home.  It was nice to see all my extended family again and I wish Angela and Kevin all the best in this next phase of their life together.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wine Country Adventures- Napa

I knew Day 2 of our wine country adventure would be rainy, but it was a bit of a worry waking up to torrential rain this morning.  However, Lei and I were brave and headed out for breakfast at Bubba's Diner in San Anselmo (the creme brûleé French toast did not disappoint) before hitting the road to Napa County. 

Thankfully the rain calmed down as we arrived at our first stop for the day, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards in Sonoma.  Their tastings are seated, which allows you to relax and take as long as you need.  Lei and I were interested in sampling sparkling wines not on their tasting menu, so we each ordered two glasses.  However, since they weren't tasting size we actually got four full glasses of sparkling wine, which was a little much at 10:30 am!  Our four choices were:
- 2004 Extra Brut
- 2007 Brut Rosé
- Anniversary Cuvée
- Va de Vi
Even though the Va de Vi was more sweet and fruity tasting, I liked that one the best.  The staff in the tasting room were very knowledgeable, and having four separate glasses allowed us to revisit each one as it warmed up.

Our next stop was Domaine Carneros in Napa, which features an impressive château that houses a tasting room overlooking the organic vineyards.  We decided to do the sparkling wine sampler which included:
- 2008 Brut Cuvée
- Brut Rosé
- 2008 Verméil Demi-Sec
Our server was a lovely guy who really took care of us when he saw Lei's tasting wheel and notebook.  He generously also allowed us to sample:
- 2008 Ultra Brut
- 2006 Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs
- 2007 Le Rêve Rosé
Along with these fabulous sparkling wines we also got a cheese platter of both soft and hard cheeses from producers in the North Bay.  It was a really wonderful tasting experience, and the 2008 Brut Cuvée was my favorite one.

We next headed to Domaine Chandon in Yountville.  I had been to their winery in the Yarra Valley in Australia a few years ago, so I was expecting similar service.  However, the servers in the tasting room seemed distracted and not very interested in us as potential customers, which was disappointing.  Lei and I shared two different tastings.
Prestige Tasting:
- étoile Brut
- étoile Rosé
Reserve Tasting:
- Reserve Blanc de Blancs
- 2007 Carneros Vintage Brut
- Reserve Brut
I preferred the 2007 Carneros Vintage Brut, which is exclusive to the winery.

After so much sparkling wine I was ready to take a break for a late lunch.  We went to this great place that is well known by the locals in Napa, the Rutherford Grill.  I had the hickory burger which was very filling.  The place had a comfy vibe to it, so I can see why Lei used to be a regular here when she lived in Napa.

Our final stop on the two day sparkling wine tour was Mumm Napa.  We were fortunate enough to have a seated tasting and another excellent server who looked after us since Lei was in the wine industry.  We shared two different tastings of sparkling wines which were at least 3 years or older.
Club Vivant Taster:
- 2008 Devaux Ranch
- 2007 Blanc de Blancs
- Brut Prestige Extended Tirage
Staff Favorites:
- Brut Reserve
- Brut Reserve Rosé
- Santana Brut (done in partnership with guitarist Carlos Santana)
Our lovely server also treated us to the 2000 DVX, which was amazing and my favorite wine of the day.  It had a strong creme brûleé scent and taste right from the start, and I think Lei ended up buying two bottles!  Although my palate was a bit blown out by the end of our wine tour I still had a great time. 

We finished up our Napa adventure by heading over to the Oxbow Public Market for a light dinner.  It reminded me a lot of the San Francisco Ferry Building with its boutique artisan stalls.  I tried some oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. (and discovered I am not a raw oyster fan).  Since I was still full from lunch and all the sparkling wine, I settled for dessert from the local and organic Three Twins Ice Cream (I remember when Neal was just starting out the business at his Terra Linda scoop shop).  The scoops of lemon cookie and peppermint stick ice cream were amazing.  I also picked up some holiday themed cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes to share with the family.  After a quick drive around Lei's old neighborhood in Napa we headed back on the road for home.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wine Country Adventures- Sonoma

My cousin Leilani (writer of the blog Wine Deviant) decided that since I was in town we should hit up some wineries for tastings.  She organised a mini two day sparkling wine tour for us, and today we focused on Sonoma County.  Our first stop was J Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg.  We sampled from their J Sparkling Flight option which included:
- 2002 J Vintage Brut Magnum
- 2003 J Vintage Brut Magnum
- 2005 J Vintage Brut
- J Bin 1008, NV Brut
- J Cuvée 20
The woman leading us through the tasting was knowledgeable and even threw in a Brut Rosé for us to sample. Since she provided each sparkling wine in its own glass it allowed us the opportunity to let them breathe and return to each one after it had warmed up (I found it interesting how much more you could smell/taste).  My favorite was the 2003 J Vintage Brut Magnum.

Next we drove to the Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, which were established in the late 1800s.  Lei and I each chose four different complementary sparkling wines to sample and share:
- Le Premier
- Master's Reserve Blanc de Noirs
- Brut (made with organic grapes)
- Brut
- Chardonnay California Champagne
- Brut Rosé
- Sec Anniversary Cuvée
- Riesling
At this tasting we used the same two glasses throughout so we didn't get the opportunity to go back and compare each one.  After finishing we went to their delicatessen for lunch and both ordered the warm pastrami sandwiches and shared a roast vegetable salad.  The sandwiches tasted amazing and were perfect for a cold day.

Our last stop was Iron Horse Vineyards in Green Valley.  Their tasting room is outside on a hill overlooking the vineyards but undercover with heat lamps to keep you warm.  Thankfully the rain held off while we were there.  Lei and I shared two of the flight options.
Sparkling Flight:
- 2008 Wedding Cuvée
- 2008 Classic Vintage Brut
- 2008 Russian Cuvée
- 2003 Brut LD
- 2006 Brut Rosé
Reserve Sparkling Flight:
- 2007 Ocean Reserve
- 2008 Brut-X
- 2008 Fairy Tale Cuvée (made exclusively for Disney)
- 2004 Chinese Cuvée
- 2008 Winter's Cuvée
I really liked the informal and rustic tasting room which allowed for different groups to chat with each other during their tastings.  Unfortunately we once again only had the two tasting glasses, and therefore couldn't really do a full comparison of the sparkling wines.  Iron Horse seems to partner with different organisations for limited edition wines, and the Russian Cuvée was originally served at the Reagan Gorbachev summit meetings!

Overall I enjoyed this first day of tastings and learned about the percentage blends of pinot noir and chardonnay that make up different types of sparkling wines, as well as some new terms such as dosage.  I am looking forward to tomorrow's trip to Napa.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shopping And The City

Since it is the holiday season I think everyone is currently focused on shopping for Christmas presents.  I have been to every major mall in Marin County over the past week and a half, even though I bought nearly all my gifts before I left Melbourne.  However, when I come home I do stock up on clothes and other items, so it's been a mixture of online and store shopping for myself. 

I have also been catching up with family, friends, and former work colleagues. We attended Logan's preschool Christmas pageant last week, which consisted of his class walking up an aisle to a Christmas song and waving (very cute and short!).  Today I headed into San Francisco with Lynne for some shopping around Union Square.  It was a sunny yet cool day in the City, and I had Boudin's clam chowder in a bread bowl for lunch and then we went over to Ghiradelli Square for some hot fudge sundaes after our shopping adventure.  Both were very yummy and quintessential San Francisco!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Back In The Homeland

Yesterday was my epic long day of travel across the Pacific.  I killed my time on the plane trying to sleep, listening to music, and watching a few movies- The Campaign as well as the documentaries I Am Eleven and Paul Kelly: Stories Of Me.  I arrived to a crisp but sunny San Francisco Bay Area and repeated December 7th all over again by catching up with my family and trying on my online purchases.

Today we had my nephew Logan's family celebration of his 3rd birthday that was earlier in the week.  He is so much more talkative than when I was last home, but still a whirlwind of activity.  I also got to meet my niece Kylie for the first time, but spent the majority of my time playing with Logan outside as he rode around on his little bike and scooter.  We had a very yummy lunch of my Dad's clam chowder and my favorite Bordenave's sourdough bread.  After opening presents we gathered around to sing "Happy Birthday" to Logan- his third celebration this week!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fave Albums: Oh Mercy - Deep Heat

My final fave album is actually my favorite release of 2012: Oh Mercy's Deep Heat. This is their third album and lead singer Alexander Gow took a different tack this time and wrote lyrics in the third person, which resulted in each song taking on the perspective of a different character.  Steve Berlin does some amazing saxophone work throughout, particularly on "Fever" and the Roxy Music inspired "My Man."  While the album is very different sonically to previous Oh Mercy releases, at the end of the day it's all about the songs, and they stand up whether played by the full band or solo on acoustic guitar.  From the driving beat of "Europa" and "Deep Heat," the urgency of "Pilgrim's Blues," to the reggae sounds of "Still Making Me Pay" and the groove of "Drums" it is a great leap forward for Oh Mercy and foreshadows an exciting musical future.

Favorite Lyric: I met the Governor of California, I called him mate ("Fever")

Favorite Song: "Pilgrim's Blues"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fave Albums: The Ocean Party - The Sun Rolled Off The Hills

Melbourne (via Wagga Wagga) band The Ocean Party released their debut album The Sun Rolled Off The Hills early in 2012.  In the great tradition of the Australian singer-songwriter the album features quite honest lyrics that tell a story about everyday life with references to the Australian landscape.  It is a subtle album that features jangly guitars, piano, and Lachlan Denton's laid back vocals on songs such as "The Farm," "Shakin' Like A Leaf," "Still Raining," "Shepparton" and "Every House."  For a relatively young band it is a solid debut, and they are also prolific as they have recently released their second album Social Clubs.

Favorite Lyric: Shakin' like a leaf when I said it was my first time ("Shakin' Like A Leaf")

Favorite Song: "Still Raining"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fave Albums: Gotye - Making Mirrors

You would have to have been living under a rock during the past year to have not heard Gotye's (aka Wally De Backer) worldwide smash hit duet with Kimbra "Somebody That I Used To Know."  The track comes off of Gotye's third album Making Mirrors, which was released in 2011.  For this album Wally not only used samples from records he had found, but also recorded different types of instruments note by note onto his computer so he could play them in new ways.  The very first single "Eyes Wide Open" includes samples from the Winton Musical Fence and has a strong environmental message.  The album contains a range of songs, from uplifting tracks like "I Feel Better," "In Your Light" and "State Of The Art" (written in honor of his Lowrey Cotillion organ) to more introspective numbers such as "Giving Me A Chance," "Save Me" and "Bronte."  Gotye is more than a one hit wonder, and this album proves it.

Favorite Lyric: We walk the plank with our eyes wide open ("Eyes Wide Open")

Favorite Song: "State Of The Art"

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fave Albums: Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Seattle's Fleet Foxes make some of the most beautiful folk music out there today.  Their second album, 2011's Helplessness Blues, is full of layered vocal harmonies and these incredibly epic songs that sonically change direction halfway through.  "Montezuma," "Battery Kinzie," "Helplessness Blues," "Lorelai" and "The Shrine/An Argument" are my personal favorites on an album that is full of high quality lyrics and instrumentation. 

Favorite Lyric: So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me? ("Montezuma")

Favorite Song: "Helplessness Blues"

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fave Albums: Sarah Blasko - As Day Follows Night

Australian singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko's third album As Day Follows Night was released in 2009 and led to a Best Female Artist award at the ARIAs.  Starting with the beautiful piano driven "Down On Love," the album goes from haunting songs such as "All I Want," "Bird On A Wire," "Is My Baby Yours?" and "Night & Day" to the more upbeat sounding "Hold On My Heart," "We Won't Run" and "Over & Over."  It's a moving album that takes you on an emotional journey from start to finish.  And if you are lucking enough to get one of the deluxe versions of the album, you can enjoy the Cinema Blasko disc of Sarah covering some of her favorite songs from various movies (including an unexpectedly lovely version of "Xanadu").

Favorite Lyric: Hold on my heart, find your stronger parts ("Hold On My Heart")

Favorite Song: "All I Want"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fave Albums: Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

New York band Vampire Weekend released their eponymous debut album in 2008 to much hype and acclaim.  Their sound has hints of African beats and ska music and the album spawned the singles "Mansard Roof," "Oxford Comma," "A-Punk" and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa."  There really isn't one bad song on this album, and it all flows really.  It is uplifting and fun to listen and sing along to.

Favorite Lyric: Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma ("Oxford Comma")

Favorite Song: "A-Punk"

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fave Albums: Little Red - Listen To Little Red

The first time I saw Little Red live in 2007 I knew they were something special.  After winning the hearts of Melbourne with their entertaining live shows and a couple EPs, they finally released their debut album Listen To Little Red in 2008.  It is full of their self proclaimed "doo-wop punk" style and some of the sweetest vocal harmonies you may ever hear.  The three main songwriters take turns singing lead throughout the album, with highlights including Tom Hartney on "Coca Cola," "Little Annie" and "Jackie Cooper," Quang Dinh on "Witchdoctor," "Fool" and "If You're Lonely," and Dominic Byrne on "It's Alright," "Stare In Love," "Misty, I" and "Fight Song."  This album is how I will always remember Little Red, with all those fun gigs around town and watching them become more and more popular.

Favorite Lyric: If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, well honey I got two shoulders and they're strong ("If You're Lonely")

Favorite Song: "Misty, I"

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fave Albums: The Basics - Stand Out/Fit In

Any regular readers of this blog would know that I am a big fan of Melbourne's The Basics and a frequent attendee at their live shows.  This album, 2007's Stand Out/Fit In, is what first got me into the band.  The album cover is shot out in front of The Espy in St. Kilda with Kris Schroeder, Tim Heath and Wally De Backer wearing their trademark grey suits.

This album is full of so many songs that are staples of their live set, including "Rattle My Chain," "Memory Lane," "Have Love, Will Travel," "Hey There!," "Just Hold On," "Lookin' Over My Shoulder," "Better" and "Three Cool Cats."  The musicianship and vocal harmonies just shine through on all these songs as Wally and Kris take turns on lead vocals (with the occasional song from Tim).  It's such a fun and uplifting album that you can't help but sing along and want to dance while listening to it.

Favorite Lyric: We're going nowhere fast, but I'm just glad I'm going there with you ("Hey There!")

Favorite Song: "Lookin' Over My Shoulder"

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Fave Albums: Amy Winehouse - Back To Black

2006's Back To Black was the album that put Amy Winehouse on the map with the breakout hit single "Rehab."  Produced by Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, the album is a mix of British soul and ska music that features Amy's honest lyrics and unique voice.  Standout tracks include "Me & Mr Jones," "Back To Black," "Tears Dry On Their Own" and "Wake Up Alone."  Despite her well publicized personal issues and untimely death, there is no doubting Amy's incredible talent.

Favorite Lyric: And no I'm not ashamed, but the guilt will kill you, if she don't first ("Just Friends")

Favorite Song: "Back To Black"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fave Albums: Starky - Starky

The fantastic eponymous second album by Sydney band Starky was released in 2006 and spawned the hit single "Hey Bang Bang."  It's a synth and guitar driven album that you can really dance to throughout, especially on the songs "Me Michelle," "We Don't Exist," "The Wreckery," "Is This How It Ends" and "We Generate Friction."  From start to finish there isn't one bad song on there.  It's too bad though that Starky didn't record any further albums before breaking up (especially considering this one was successful).

Favorite Lyric: Here's to you and me and all the things we'll never be ("Is This How It Ends")

Favorite Song: "The Wreckery"

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fave Albums: Bic Runga - Birds

New Zealand singer-songwriter Bic Runga released her third album Birds in 2005.  It's a bit of a darker and more mysterious affair than her previous albums, but contains many moving songs such as "Say After Me," "Listen," "Birds," "If I Had You" and "Captured."  There are also the more upbeat songs "Winning Arrow" and "Blue Blue Heart," as well as the country-tinged "No Crying No More" and Nick Cave-esque "Ruby Nights."  It's quite a beautiful album even with its sense of melancholy.

Favorite Lyric: A crazy love that waits for you, why must it wait forever? ("If I Had You")

Favorite Song: "Winning Arrow"

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fave Albums: Doves - Some Cities

Some Cities is the third album by British band Doves, which was released in 2005.  It is full of indie guitar rock with the driving beat of "Some Cities," "Black And White Town," "One Of These Days" and "Sky Starts Falling," the beautiful jangly guitar parts in "Almost Forgot Myself," "Walk In Fire" and "Ambition," as well as the trip hop feel of "The Storm."  It's a lovely album which I seem to associate with driving on East Bay freeways to and from work.

Favorite Lyric: Too much history coming down, another building brought to ground ("Some Cities")

Favorite Song: "Almost Forgot Myself"

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fave Albums: The Redwalls - De Nova

I first saw Illinois band The Redwalls perform on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and knew immediately that I had to get their album, De Nova.  Their second release, which came out in 2005, is full of 1960s garage rock on songs such as "Robinson Crusoe," "Love Her," "It's Alright" and "Rock & Roll."  There are also the political messages in the lyrics of "Falling Down," "Front Page" and "Glory of War" alongside the heartfelt "Thank You," "Build A Bridge," "Hung Up On The Way I'm Feeling" and "How The Story Goes."  It's a fantastic album by a band that is unfortunately no longer together.

Favorite Lyric: Well in times like these you better watch what you say, watch them take your fucking rights away ("Falling Down")

Favorite Song: "Thank You"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fave Albums: Interpol - Antics

New York's Interpol released their second album Antics in 2004.  It's a beautifully atmospheric album driven by the rhythm section and melodic guitars, as well as Paul Bank's vocals.  The singles "Slow Hands," "Evil" and "C'mere" are all fantastic songs.  It's a very coherent album and the perfect listen for a dark, wintry day. 

Favorite Lyric: I submit my incentive is romance, I watched the pole dance of the stars ("Slow Hands")

Favorite Song: "C'mere"

Friday, November 16, 2012

Naked Bodies- Single Launch

Photo by Greta Parry
Last night I headed off to The Workers Club for the debut single launch by Quang Dinh's band Naked Bodies.  The first act for the evening was Melbourne singer-songwriter Grizzly Jim Lawrie.  He played a beautiful set of his folk songs on acoustic guitar, including "Take Things Fast" and "Over The River."  He's been a part of the local music scene for years and his debut album is out this week.  Next up was Melbourne four piece Quince.  They played an energetic set of psychobilly and punk music.

The room was much more full by the time Naked Bodies took the stage.  The band were launching their double A side single Fiction Tree/Monkey Blues, both songs which they played on the night.  The other songs in the set were good as well with a couple standouts.  Having a band member on violin for some tracks added a unique dimension to their sound.  It was good to see Quang back in the swing of things and I look forward to future releases from them.

Here's the video for "Fiction Tree"

Fave Albums: The White Stripes - Elephant

The White Stripes fourth album, 2003's Elephant, contains probably their best known hit single "Seven Nation Army." Jack White is incredibly talented and there are some great songs on here such as "Black Math," "Ball & Biscuit," "The Hardest Button To Button," "Hypnotise" and "Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine."  There are also little surprises dotted throughout the album such as their cover of Burt Bacarach's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself," the spoken word intro of "Little Acorns," Meg White singing lead on the song "In The Cold, Cold, Night" and the humorous lyrics of the album closer "It's True That We Love One Another."

Favorite Lyric: Be like the squirrel, girl ("Little Acorns")

Favorite Song: "Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fave Albums: The Living End - Roll On

Melbourne's very own The Living End released their second album Roll On in 2000.  Not only does it have their trademark rockabilly/punk sound, but I think it's one of Chris Cheney's strongest albums lyrically as he tackled political issues such as the 1998 Melbourne waterfront dispute on "Roll On" and the stolen generation on "Killing The Right."  There are some absolute rockers on here such as "Pictures In The Mirror," "Carry Me Home," "Don't Shut The Gate" and "Uncle Harry" along side the more melodic tracks "Staring At The Light," "Dirty Man" and "Blood On Your Hands."  It's a very cohesive album that also showcases what an amazing guitar player Chris was even in the early years of the band.

Favorite Lyric: There's too much work and not enough pay ("Roll On")

Favorite Song: "Carry Me Home"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fave Albums: Ben Folds Five - Whatever And Ever Amen

The newly reunited Ben Folds Five released their second album Whatever And Ever Amen in 1997.  The band members are all exceptional musicians and combined with Ben Folds' lyrics this album covers a gamut of emotions.  On one hand there is the humor of "One Angry Dwarf And Two Hundred Solemn Faces," "Song For The Dumped" (whose chorus I can definitely relate to due to an incident with my ex-best friend), "Battle Of Who Could Care Less" and "Steven's Last Night In Town." Then you have the emotion of songs such as "Selfless, Cold And Composed," "Smoke" and the hit single "Brick."  It's a wonderful album that shows the breadth of songs Ben Folds Five can create.

Favorite Lyric: See I've got your old I.D. and you're all dressed up like The Cure ("Battle Of Who Could Care Less")

Favorite Song: "One Angry Dwarf And Two Hundred Solemn Faces"

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grizzly Bear- Shields Tour

Last night I ventured to Billboard The Venue after work to see Grizzly Bear's sold out side show in support of their fantastic new album Shields.  The opening act was Sydney musician Kirin J Callinan.  He started solo on stage with just his guitar and some samples and then brought out a few female friends (including Pikelet) to play bass, drums, guitar and keyboards.  It was quite an interesting set to watch as he took us on this sonic adventure with lots of different soundscapes.

I had a great position up the front for Grizzly Bear and was so excited to finally have the opportunity to watch them perform these richly layered songs in a live setting.  Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen traded off on lead vocal duties throughout the night.  They played most of Shields as well as songs from Veckatimest and Yellow House.  There were many highlights throughout the nearly two hour long set, but my favorite songs were "Yet Again," "Sleeping Ute," "Two Weeks," "Gun-Shy" and "While You Wait For The Others," which had everyone singing along and their keyboard player fulfilling a band request to crowd surf.  For the last song of the night we were treated to an acoustic version of "All We Ask."  It was such an amazing show and a real privilege to see them play in a small club.  Definitely go check them out live if you get the chance.

Here's the video for "Yet Again"

Fave Albums: You Am I - Hourly, Daily

You Am I's third album, Hourly, Daily was released in 1996 and always reminds me of my study abroad year in Melbourne.  It's a very Australian album with Tim Rodger's lyrics about daily life and the various things he references in songs.  Besides the expected guitar rock of "Good Mornin'," "Mr. Milk, "Soldiers" and "Flag Fall $1.80" there are also surprising orchestral arrangements on songs such as "Tuesday," "Heavy Comfort" and "Please Don't Ask Me To Smile."  It's an album that takes you on a journey through one day and tells stories from different points of view along the way.

Favorite Lyric: Now your friends are like eyelashes, too many dropping off these days ("Heavy Comfort")

Favorite Song: "Mr. Milk"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fave Albums: Portishead - Dummy

Portishead's debut album Dummy came out in 1994 and won the 1995 Mercury Music Prize for best British album.  Portishead is considered part of the trip-hop genre with its use of samples, electronica and the sullen vocals of Beth Gibbons.  Highlights on the album are the hit singles "Sour Times" and "Glory Box," as well as the songs "It's A Fire" and "Roads."  It is the perfect album to chill out to or listen to on a stormy, wintry day with its dark and melancholy feel.

Favorite Lyric: We're all looking at a different picture through this new frame of mind ("Glory Box")

Favorite Song: "Roads"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fave Albums: Blur - The Great Escape

In the battle of Britpop I am firmly in the Blur camp.  The Great Escape, Blur's fourth album, was released in 1995 and contains the hit singles "Stereotypes," "Country House," "Charmless Man" and the sweeping orchestration of "The Universal."  There seems to be an overall theme running through Damon Albarn's lyrics of people unhappy with their lives and searching for adventure or something better.  There is also a cheeky lyrical humor throughout the album, especially on the songs "Mr. Robinson's Quango" and "Ernold Same."  This is probably the most Britpop sounding album that Blur produced before turning to a more lo-fi indie guitar sound on their future recordings.

Favorite Lyric: He's never cheap or cheerful, he's Hugo and he's boss ("Top Man")

Favorite Song: "Country House"

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fave Albums: Dave Dobbyn - Twist

Singer-songwriter Dave Dobbyn is like New Zealand rock royalty (and has even received an Officer New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) from the Queen).  He has had a long musical career both in bands and as a solo artist.  His third solo album, Twist, was released in 1994 and was produced by another Kiwi legend, Neil Finn.  This album features the hit singles "Language," "Lap Of The Gods" and his duet with Emma Paki on "Naked Flame."  There is a nice balance on the album between the more rock sounding songs such as "What Do You Really Want?" and "Rain On Fire," and the heartfelt lyrics of "It Dawned On Me," "Protection" and "I Can't Change My Name."  In addition, Neil's influence can be heard throughout, especially with the use of the optigan on "Betrayal."

Favorite Lyric: Blood red bloom - pohutukawa, the black dunes hiss with the grasses' breath ("It Dawned On Me")

Favorite Song: "Language"

Friday, November 09, 2012

Rock For Recognition

Did you know that Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples are not recognized in the Australian Constitution?  The Rock For Recognition concerts are hoping to change that by raising awareness and informing people of the issues ahead of any vote on a constitutional referendum to recognize the unique cultures of Australia's First Peoples.

As Tash, Michelle and I entered the Corner Hotel last night we were treated to DJ Ken Eavel from PBS who was spinning tunes before and after each act.  The first artist to grace the main stage was Leah Flanagan, who played a bluesy and soulful set with her band.  She has a great voice and talked about the importance of this event, which was illustrated by the song "Alywarre Girl" about her grandmother who was part of the stolen generation.

The main floor filled quickly as people crammed in to get a spot for Dan Sultan's set.  He started off solo on mandolin and electric guitar for a few songs before being joined by his band on stage.  They played a rocking set of music that had the sold out crowd dancing throughout.  Dan sounded great and his trumpet player really added a lot to the songs in the set, which included "The Door Is Still Open (To My Heart)," "Lonesome Tears," "Nyul Nyul Girl," "Walk Through My Dream," "Fear Of Flying" and "Letter."  We were also treated to the new song "Kimberley Calling," which was about Dan's visit to the burial place of his grandmother in The Kimberley.  In the encore "Old Fitzroy" got a huge reaction from the crowd and had everyone singing along.  Dan is such a charismatic singer and performer and seemed really on tonight, especially with his wonderful band.

Here's the video for "Old Fitzroy"

Fave Albums: The Breeders - Last Splash

The Breeders were originally a side project for Kim Deal from the Pixies, but gained success in their own right, particularly with their second album Last Splash which was released in 1993.  It features the hit single "Cannonball" and is a guitar driven album that fits right in with the grunge/alternative rock of the early 1990s.  There are so many great songs on this album, but my favorites are "No Aloha," "Divine Hammer," "Hag" and "Saints." 

Favorite Lyric: Saw it on the wall, motherhood means mental freeze (freezeheads) ("No Aloha")

Favorite Song: "Divine Hammer"

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Fave Albums: Inspiral Carpets - The Beast Inside

My final "Madchester" selection is Inspiral Carpets and their wonderful second album The Beast Inside, which was released in 1991.  Inspiral Carpets were another band whose sound could be defined by the swirling organs courtesy of Clint Boon.  There are a lot of atmospheric tracks on this album such as "Born Yesterday," "Sleep Well Tonight," "Beast Inside" and "Niagara."  In addition, there is also the uplifting songs that make you want to dance around like "Caravan" and "Mermaid."  I do love this album and never get tired of listening to it.

Favorite Lyric: Open your eyes to a brand new world, dreams are all we have ("Dreams Are All We Have")

Favorite Song: "Caravan"

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Fave Albums: The Charlatans - Some Friendly

Another band associated with the "Madchester" scene (although not actually from Manchester) was The Charlatans.  Their debut album Some Friendly was released in 1990 and contains the hit singles "The Only One I Know" and "Then."  The heart of the band's sound on this album is the organ playing of Rob Collins, particularly on "White Shirt," "Believe You Me" and "Sproston Green."  Tim Burgess was also the perfect pin-up front man with his bowl cut and pouty lips.  They were one of my favorite bands in high school and I managed to see them live once or twice (and had the bruises to prove it from being up against the barrier in the pit).

Favorite Lyric: Have you seen my polar bear? It's that white thing over there ("Polar Bear")

Favorite Song: "Sproston Green"

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Fave Albums: The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses

The next few choices in my fave albums series come out of the "Madchester" scene of the late 1980s/early 1990s.  I was never a raver, but I really liked a lot of the bands associated with this scene while in high school.  One of the key bands of the era was The Stone Roses, whose eponymous debut album came out in 1989.  The Jackson Pollock inspired cover artwork was done by guitarist John Squire.  His guitar playing is a highlight throughout the album, especially on the songs "Made Of Stone" and "I Am The Resurrection."  The music, along with Ian Brown's vocals, give the album a laid back and psychedelic feel, especially on "I Wanna Be Adored," "Waterfall," "Don't Stop" "Shoot You Down" and "Fools Gold."  There's also the more traditional British indie sound on the songs "She Bangs The Drums," "Elephant Stone" "Bye Bye Badman" and "(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister."

Favorite Lyric: My aim is true, my message is clear, it's curtains for you Elizabeth my dear ("Elizabeth My Dear")

Favorite Song: "She Bangs The Drums"

Melbourne Cup 2012

Photo by Jason South
The first Tuesday in November for Melbourne means it's Melbourne Cup Day (and a public holiday).  The rain managed to hold off for the race that stops the nation, and the winner of this year's Cup was Green Moon, with Fiorente finishing second and Jakkalberry third.  Favorites such as Americain and Dunaden did not do as well as expected.  The Cup trophy was presented by the Duchess of Cornwall, while Prince Charles presented the trophy to the winner of the Diamond Jubilee Plate.  The royals added a bit of class to the day, and are off to Adelaide for the next stop of their Australian visit.

Hungry Kids of Hungary- Sharp Shooter Tour

Last night was Cup Eve so Mary and I celebrated by going to see Hungry Kids of Hungary at the Northcote Social Club.  We got into the band room in time to see the second act of the evening, Brisbane three piece Gung Ho.  They had a sort of punk/surf band sound, and played their own songs as well as a cover of Friends' "I'm His Girl."

It's been about a year and half since we last saw Hungry Kids of Hungary play live.  They started their set with "The Vacationer" and played a mix of old songs and new ones from their upcoming album.  It was great to hear "Coming Around," "Wristwatch," "Scattered Diamonds," and "Eat Your Heart Out" from Escapades, as well as "Old Money" and "One By One" from their EPs. 

The new songs sounded absolutely amazing on first listen, including current single "Sharp Shooter" and the soon to be released "Twin Cities."  I cannot wait for this album to come out next year!  They finished the main set with "Let You Down" and for the encore played "Set It Right" and finished with a cover of the Talking Heads' "Road To Nowhere."  This may end up being my gig of the year- lots of fun, dancing, good energy and those fabulous vocal harmonies.

Here's the video for their current single "Sharp Shooter"

Monday, November 05, 2012

Fave Albums: The Trash Can Sinatras - Cake

Scottish band The Trash Can Sinatras released their debut album Cake in 1990 to much acclaim and success.  The album features a mix of heartfelt songs such as "Thrupenny Tears," "Funny," "The Best Man's Fall" and "You Made Me Feel" as well as uplifting numbers like "Maybe I Should Drive," "Circling The Circumference" and the radio hits "Obscurity Knocks" and "Only Tongue Can Tell."  It is an album full of well written lyrics and music, and twenty-plus years later Cake still holds up and sounds as fresh as the day it came out.

Favorite Lyric: So typical, a battle of wits, and I've come half prepared ("You Made Me Feel")

Favorite Song: "Circling The Circumference"

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Fave Albums: The Sundays - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

The debut album Reading, Writing and Arithmetic by British band The Sundays was released in 1990 and did quite well in the charts based on the success of the single "Here's Where The Story Ends."  Harriet Wheeler's voice is pretty amazing, especially on the songs "Skin & Bones," "Can't Be Sure" and "My Finest Hour."  It is a beautifully atmospheric album with fantastic jangly guitars by David Gavurin and soaring vocals throughout.

Favorite Lyric: England my country, the home of the free, such miserable weather ("Can't Be Sure")

Favorite Song: "My Finest Hour"

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Fave Albums: The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead

The Smiths were one of the most important British bands to emerge in the 1980s.  Their third studio album, The Queen Is Dead, was released in 1986 and is regarded by many as their best work.  The songwriting partnership of Morrissey (lyrics) and Johnny Marr (music) has produced so many amazing and memorable songs, many of which feature on this album: "Cemetry Gates," "Bigmouth Strikes Again," "The Boy With A Thorn In His Side," "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" and the title track "The Queen Is Dead."  Morrissey's lyrics have always had a dark sense of humor to them, and Johnny Marr is one of the best guitar players in the business.  These two talents combined should have been unstoppable, but The Smiths only ended up releasing four studio albums before disbanding in 1987.  However, the band's influence lives on and can still be heard in numerous bands today.

Favorite Lyric: A dreaded sunny day, so I meet you at the cemetry gates ("Cemetry Gates")

Favorite Song: "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"

Friday, November 02, 2012

Fave Albums: The Chills - Submarine Bells

Staying in the Southern Hemisphere, my next fave album is Submarine Bells by The Chills, which was released in 1990.  A proponent of Flying Nun's Dunedin sound, this album was their major label debut and got lots of airplay on US College Radio.  The first track, "Heavenly Pop Hit" may be one of the best songs of all time and always makes me happy when I hear it.  There are a variety of song types on the album to keep things interesting, from the urgency of "The Oncoming Day" and "Familiarity Breeds Contempt" to the beauty of "Don't Be - Memory" and "Submarine Bells."  I love the swirling keyboards throughout, and jangly guitar solo on "Part Past Part Fiction" is a definite musical highlight.  Lead singer Martin Phillipps' lyrics are also quite good, and I will never understand how he manages to get all the words out on "Efflorensce and Deliquensce" without getting tongue-tied.

I did get to see The Chills live once when they opened for Split Enz at the Millennium shows (yes, that's right- I went to New Zealand for Y2K and lived to tell about it).  And if you have ever wondered where my Twitter handle (@softbomb) comes from, it is one of their album titles.

Favorite Lyric: Deep and dark my submarine bells grown in greens and grey ("Submarine Bells")

Favorite Song: "Heavenly Pop Hit"

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