Posts Tagged ‘Beach Boys’

Queensland musician Ben Craven describes himself as a cinematic progressive-rock singer-songwriter-performer-producer. But internationally he is regarded as a true Prog Lord.

His last album – Great and Terrible Potions – was entirely created, performed and recorded by Craven. Great and Terrible Potions gained kudos from the international progressive rock community, including Beach Boys’ collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Cover art was designed by YES album-art wizard, Roger Dean and Craven’s album track ‘No Specific Harm’ was included on a UK PROG magazine cover-mount CD.

tuneleak1‘No Specific Harm’ sounded powerful and lush on its own, but set amongst the beautifully sequenced suite that is Great and Terrible Potions – complete with overture and coda-outdo – it is something else again: part of an experience as rich and dramatic as a film or novel. It is meant to be heard as part of the larger work – but in today’s world of fragmented, half-digested, fast-forward pop culture stream that experience seems almost lost.

Ben Craven has gone beyond just creating astounding, world-class music. He has applied some truly progressive thinking and some impressive web skills to creating his own digital music platform, TuneLeak – a unique hybrid of individual tracks and album-consciousness that allows listeners to absorb the album as it is being built, ever mindful of the symphonic architecture of the thing.

I asked Ben a half-dozen questions on this idea (and others). He was generous with his responses.

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1. What is TuneLeak?

TuneLeak is a release and funding platform for albums. It features albums as they’re being recorded. It allows artists to “leak” early versions of tracks, and fans to download and purchase them. When the album comes out, fans get a discount equal to the total amount they spent purchasing the leaked tracks.

2. What is the idea behind it?

I’ve been watching fan-funding models with interest for a long time. The ones I’ve supported in the past generally involve the artist asking for funds up-front, then they disappear for a while and eventually deliver an album, or a book, or whatever it might be.

I’m not all that comfortable asking people for money up-front. And I think the radio silence that can happen between funding and delivery is a wasted opportunity. I’d much rather see people get something for their money immediately, and often.

This idea fits in perfectly with the way I record albums. That is, I tend to take my time. The downside is for most of that time I’m sitting on music that I’m pretty excited about but have to keep to myself. TuneLeak is the excuse I need to release songs as I record them, safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to be completely finished yet. Plus I get to engage with people during the whole recording process, so it becomes an event rather than a secretive activity.

3. Why is the idea of the ‘album’ so important to you?

I spent an unreasonable amount of my childhood and teenage years listening to music, both in the foreground and the background. I took many long journeys, figuratively speaking, absorbing albums from start to finish and embedding them in my consciousness. Most major events in my life I can remember by which album I was listening to at the time.tuneleak2

And that was before I started recording music myself. Now I see the album as a snapshot in time of a musician’s journey through life, and hopefully an important cohesive artistic statement.

Not everyone sees it that way of course, and it was much easier when I was younger and had a much smaller music collection to invest the time to appreciate it. One thing I’m trying to do with TuneLeak is to recreate some of those circumstances where someone can get to know an album gradually over a meaningful period of time.

4. Do you think platforms such as iTunes and Spotify are hurting music – or can all platforms, yours included, co-exist in a valid way?

Unfortunately for musicians, a new generation of listeners has grown up not paying for music. The horse has already bolted. Music now has no value. Spotify reinforces this notion by tapping into what’s left of the market and making it uneconomical for people to even bother pirating music. It’s terrific for consumers and might be a useful tool for discovery. But I don’t think any artist can reasonably expect to make any significant income from Spotify unless it’s part of a greater business model that includes touring, being a judge on television shows and endorsing fast food.

Another one of the aims of TuneLeak is to get listeners involved early-on during the recording process, so they can appreciate and feel invested in the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Maybe that way we can help promote the idea that music still has value.

5. Your chosen genre of Progressive Rock has seen many changes since its inception in the 1970s. What are your thoughts on the current state of the genre form?

I don’t know what the current state of the genre really is. On the one hand we have “progressive rock” which refers to an ambitious but static style of music that peaked in the early-to-mid seventies and featured fantasy-landscape artwork. And then we have “progressive rock” which is now applied to anything from metal to post-rock, whatever that is!

Today though I suppose “progressive rock” is a rallying cry to a specific audience which enjoyed the 70’s prog bands and finds little pleasure in any music in the charts today. That audience can be incredibly loyal and incredibly demanding, not least because most of them are probably musicians themselves. It’s not hard to imagine some of the classic prog bands feeling trapped within the genre, yet they’re incredibly lucky to have such devoted fans.

But ask anyone outside of that fanbase what “progressive rock” is and they’ll probably stare blankly at you.

6. And finally, what are you thoughts on music today in general?

There is still great new music being produced. It’s just harder than ever to find it amongst all the background noise. The old adage they tell you, that in the end it all comes down to the song, is wrong. It doesn’t matter one bit if you don’t have anyone’s attention.

 

Ben Craven’s site is www.bencraven.com

TuneLeak can be found at www.tuneleak.com

 

 

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The story of US pop singer Karen Carpenter is well-known – the squeaky clean all-American girl-next-door who, with her brother Richard as the duo The Carpenters, had sunny hit after sunny hit during the cloudy 1970s.

What is maybe not so well known is the dark shadow behind the perfect Colgate smiles – the spectre of Richard’s prescription drug addiction and, most tragically, Karen’s awful battle with anorexia nervosa which ultimately led to her premature death at the age of 33.

It is this tragedy which adds an aching poignancy to Carpenters’ hits such as ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ and ‘Yesterday Once More’ – a poignancy amplified by the bittersweetness of Karen’s woodsmoke voice and Richard’s widescreen arrangements. It is genius capital-p Pop, on par with the hit-radio triumphs of Björn Ulvaeus ABBA or Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys.

Sydney cabaret chanteuse, Meera Belle’s ‘Close to You: A Tribute to Karen Carpenter’ – performed over two nights at the inner-City Italian Forum as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival – took on both the sunshine and the moonshadow of Karen Carpenter’s art and life. The songs were hung on a smartly scripted monologue – shared between Belle and backing vocalist Rob McDougall – detailing Karen’s sunny highs and nightblack lows over a two-part show.

It worked beautifully too: the first half – kicked off fittingly with the almost too cute ‘Top Of The World’ – is the sunshine. Meera Belle, cool in a pale mint gown, recounted the meteoric rise of the Carpenter siblings under the eye of A&M Records hitmaker, Herb Alpert. She touched on the irony of Karen, who only ever wanted to be a drummer (and she was a damn good drummer),  growing to become one of the world’s most beloved singers.

A smart touch here was the featuring of young Sydney jazz drummer Lauren Benson in the band – between Benson’s cool swing and Meera Belle’s rich, assured voice they created a kind of composite Karen for us, drummer and singer.

The band, led by astute musical director and keys player Ray Lemond, somehow managed to recreate – with very spare means – those huge luscious Richard Carpenter arrangements. Veteran bass player Phil Scorgie and alto/flute/clarinet man Scott Simpkins rounded out the intrepid quartet that achieved this magic. (Kudos to Belle for not using backing tracks – these songs deserve more respect than that).

Meera Belle returned for the second half in black with a simple gold belt, reflecting the somber nature of the moonshadow half of ‘Close to You: A Tribute…’ The backstory here was of the personal decline of both Carpenters, focussing on Karen’s snakes-and-ladders love-life and, of course, her descent into anorexia nervosa – the wracking slimmers disease that, in the late 70s, was still barely acknowledged. She always wanted to be perfect – the perfect wife and suburban Mom, the perfect show-biz face and figure. Her parade of faithless lovers robbed her of the former, anorexia robbed her of the latter, and finally her life.

‘Close to You: A Tribute…’ did not shy away from the tragedy of Karen Carpenter’s life but allowed her story to colour and illuminate the way we heard the music. And what music it is – one of the rare bodies of work that, like the music of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, is beloved by millions now and into the future. Perfect pure pop – beauty, born, like Brian Wilson’s, of pain.

 

Published September 2012 on megaphoneoz.com

The last time I saw the remarkable duo called TonksGreen – multi-instrumentalists Matt Tonks and Syd Green – perform I thought they sounded like five people. Their Heavy Yen project is five people, but now they sound like ten, sometimes twenty.

The addition of vocalist/guitarist Bridie O’Brien, vocalist/cellist Kate Adams and fretless bassist Richard ‘Bongo’ Davidson to the already cinematic TonksGreen sound has yielded an album – Heavy Yen – of widescreen, atmospheric rootsiness. By turns both wonderfully large and sweetly small – big and open, or intimately whispered – this great collection of songs was cooked up over four months in a country farmhouse near Bowral. The quintet of friends and collaborators wrote, arranged and recorded everything here, surrounded by trees, marsh and mist – and you can hear it.

Tonks and Green brought song ideas to this five-person kibbutz and they were developed organically by all concerned over time. Eight of the nine songs on Heavy Yen were written by Matt Tonks (with lyrics on the shimmering ‘Patterson’s Curse’ by Bridie O’Brien). And time seems to have been as much a musical ingredient as melody, rhythm and groove – the shortest tune is three-and-a-half minutes and the longest almost six, each song taking its own time to build, unfurl or circle back.

The only cover here is Peter Gabriel’s ‘Digging In The Dirt’ rearranged away from electro-throb of Gabriel’s original towards a more rolling, winding feel, wrapped in vines of fingerpicked guitar. The cello passages on ‘Digging In The Dirt’ have an astonishing effect, widening the music suddenly as if a window has been thrown open on a view of fields and clouds. The cello, across the whole album is by turns sighing string section, throbbing ostinato or stabbing jabs.

In fact, the collective uses every music-making thing at their disposal to great effect throughout – at their fingertips they have voices, lap steel, dobro, acoustic and electric/acoustic guitars, cello, ukelele, mandolin, bass, drums and percussion.

The massed voices that open and close the melancholy ‘Mary’s Bells’ are reminiscent of the ethereal Beach Boys’ most spiritual harmonies. The use of Bridie O’Brien’s highly distinctive voice, harmonising, singing passages, weaving in and out of Matt Tonks’ lead vocal filigrees the music like fine gold thread through rougher fabric.

Richard Davidson’s bass adds a jazzy suppleness here and there amongst the acoustic guitars and slapped brushes – his fretless opens the album at the beginning of ‘Till The Money Runs Out’. The driving bass of the harrowing ‘Candid’ – with its repeated refrain of ‘This time you’ve gone too far…’ –reminded me of Danny Thompson’s double bass with the UK folk-jazz group The Pentangle.

It is these touches that snatch this music away from the skeletal sea-hag grip of the folk-roots purists and give it back to all of us. TonksGreen have always been pretty much unclassifiable – melding celtic folk, flamenco, blues and rock’n’roll (even surf music) with an open-eyed awareness of today’s music as well as yesterday’s. With the additional talents that they have now fused with to create Heavy Yen they have stirred jazz, country and classical music flavours into the heavy, heady brew. The Heavy Yen album points the way to an exciting journey – a trip I can wholly recommend.

Heavy Yen is released  18th March and is available from the Mononest website – www.sydgreen.com.au

Heavy Yen will be performing at the Blue Mountains Folk Festival on the 17th and 18th March and at Lewisham Livehouse 30th March.

Published February 2012 on theorangepress.net